The possibility of NEW and CHEAP analog synths

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The possibility of NEW and CHEAP analog synths

Post by soundxplorer » Sat Mar 08, 2008 3:35 pm

There was a brief discussion in the "I just bought an Andromeda" thread a few weeks back discussing analog synth manufacturing costs:
http://www.vintagesynth.org/phpBB2/view ... 3&start=60
(starts about half way down the page)

The general consensus was that the chips/PCB were not what made a synth so expensive. It was the other stuff like design cost, knobs & interface, etc.

All that popped back into my head today as I was looking at my mixer: an extremely modest Soundcraft Compact 4. It has 29 knobs and 17 switches on it, and it cost me $99.

I've always thought that synth manufacturers cut back on the knobs because they made the synth so much more expensive. If that's true, then it's hard for me to understand how I can buy a complete product like the Compact 4 mixer (with some sort of PCB inside, no matter how simple) that has 29 knobs, 17 switches and 22 audio jacks (those aren't cheap either) for only $99. I'm certainly not comparing a synth to a mixer, I'm just saying that the physical components of that mixer can obviously be assembled and brought to market for under $100. So, using the sometimes-faulty-but-well-meaning logic circuit in my brain, I have concluded that adding 29 knobs and 17 switches to a newly-designed analog synth should only raise the retail price of that synth by about $100. Right? :D

Now, I know that manufacturing cost alone is not what determines the selling price of a synth. I'm quite sure that when a company decides the selling price of a product, they have to take into account how many units they think they can move. If you can sell a ton of them, then you can mark the price down and have a lower margin of profit per unit. If you are a boutique company, then you obviously have to have a higher "per unit" profit margin, because you aren't going to sell as many of them. And a larger company can absorb the R&D cost more so than a smaller one.

Now, let me say that Dave Smith is absolutely my hero. I love the Sequential Circuits sound, and his new stuff is amazing. An 8-voice all-analog synth with a full compliment of knobs for only $1999 is a real deal. And the rack version for $1499 is even more amazing. But I'd say that DSI is still quite a "boutique" company.

I really do think that if Roland, Yamaha or Korg got back into the business of making analog synths using the same cost efficient chip/PCB technology that Dave Smith is using (or like Alesis used in the Andromeda) that we could have a market full of new analog synths at prices that rivaled what people are paying for vintage synths right now.

Just keep the feature set VERY simple: one knob/switch per function with no hidden menus. Those detract from the experience anyway. No LCD display. Maybe a very simple patch storage system with a two-digit LED display.

Oh, if only those big companies would do it.

:D

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Post by felis » Sat Mar 08, 2008 4:19 pm

I think that's very possible, but unlikely. :(

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Re: The possibility of NEW and CHEAP analog synths

Post by Yoozer » Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:06 pm

soundxplorer wrote: All that popped back into my head today as I was looking at my mixer: an extremely modest Soundcraft Compact 4. It has 29 knobs and 17 switches on it, and it cost me $99.
Because the market for those is - you won't believe it - bigger, and parts of the design are reusable; just cut out a bigger piece of sheet metal but use the same template. Inside: lots of flatcables, and the design is simple. The mixer does not require any digital logic for keyboard scanning, memory, a MIDI interface, and there are only so many ways to design a mixer and EQ.
An 8-voice all-analog synth with a full compliment of knobs for only $1999 is a real deal. And the rack version for $1499 is even more amazing. But I'd say that DSI is still quite a "boutique" company.
Yes, but that's because the biggest market is in the sample-based preset stuff. A piano sound can be applied everywhere; a soaring synth lead, not so much.

Let's emphasise that it's a real deal - so big of a deal that if you calculate inflation with it, you'd immediately stop hoping for anything cheaper. Analog circuitry does not benefit from Moore's law, only from surface-mount technology (and only for bigger numbers).

The original Prophet-5 retailed for about $5000, right? With inflation, that's over sixteen thousand dollars nowadays. And now you get more voices and more possibilities for 1/8th of the original price. The possibility of cheap new analogs isn't a possibility, it has been a reality; just not one with the big three.
I really do think that if Roland, Yamaha or Korg got back into the business of making analog synths using the same cost efficient chip/PCB technology that Dave Smith is using (or like Alesis used in the Andromeda) that we could have a market full of new analog synths at prices that rivaled what people are paying for vintage synths right now.
Here's the list of problems, because this has come up before, and I haven't seen any solid refutations for this:

- RKY don't have any analog synthesizer designers at the moment, as far as I know.
- RKY would completely have to figure out an entirely new assembly line process, program SMT machines, etc. This costs a lot, and you don't get it signed off easily.
- the vintage synth market is a niche compared to the arranger / workstation / digital piano market. If there's nothing to grab, they won't take the risk.
- RKY would have to fight against their own legends - their Jupiter 8, their Mono/Poly or MS20, their CS80. Even Moog and DSI weren't spared - people complained that the old version was better. What have you gained, then?
- If it costs a lot more than $2K, forget it, because even if it does the dishes, it costs too much, and we'll get the same complaints all over again. Making music has never been cheaper. Completely ignore anyone signing petitions or claiming on internet message boards that they'll buy it, because that's a worthless metric.
- Did Minimoogs get cheaper after the Voyager was released? Not necessarily, but a group of people who wanted a Mini were satisfied with te Voyager.
- The boutique companies would risk being blown away because the big three can dump their stuff on the market. Then, after deciding that it wasn't such a good idea after all (for a long time, the MS2000, JP8000 and AN1x were the only VA machines while Nord, Waldorf and Access kept trucking), they'd cease the production. Gone are the boutiques because they couldn't fight with numbers and marketing, and gone are the original analogs. Just great. Nowadays there's an incredible diversity for modulars and analogs out there; so what if they're small? Give 'm time, they'll come up with something.
Just keep the feature set VERY simple
And there's another problem. Make it too simple and you end up with a useless Juno - of which there are enough, and at least the old ones were fun. Make it too complex and it'll be horribly expensive, and nobody'll buy it.
Those detract from the experience anyway. No LCD display. Maybe a very simple patch storage system with a two-digit LED display.
You aren't familiar with the JX8P, MKS80 and Memorymoog?

LCD displays are awfully convenient, and a great way to handle all the system settings (MIDI channels, etc); you'll only get into trouble if you try to offload actual synthesis functionality in there.
Oh, if only those big companies would do it.
Here's a better idea : win the lottery. Then start a company and see if you can do it. Instead of using your mixer, go make a bill of materials for a single oscillator and see how much place it takes and how much it weighs. Then build your polyphonic out of those theoretical bits. Economy 101, and a valuable lesson, too.
Last edited by Yoozer on Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by rjd2 » Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:15 pm

or, go find the ship #'s on the P08.

dollars to donuts, analog synth people are a tiny bunch of esoteric geeks, myself included.

you think that the market is waiting around for a 300 dollar juno? i dont think you have spoken to a gigging musician in a bit. we are a SMALL market indeed.

the people on the yahoo cs80 group have estimated that all-in, a new run of all the IG chips alone(the custom ones) would cost yamaha roughly 100k.

the simple fact that a guy like dave smith(dedicated synth enthusiast, not dedicated marketing guru) is at the relative top of the heap in ANALOG synth design tells me that this is a small market.

or, in short, go buy a damn memorymoog before its 20k on the global market, post-US dollar collapse.

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Post by Neonlights84 » Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:45 pm

rjd2 wrote:or, go find the ship #'s on the P08.

dollars to donuts, analog synth people are a tiny bunch of esoteric geeks, myself included.

you think that the market is waiting around for a 300 dollar juno? i dont think you have spoken to a gigging musician in a bit. we are a SMALL market indeed.

the people on the yahoo cs80 group have estimated that all-in, a new run of all the IG chips alone(the custom ones) would cost yamaha roughly 100k.

the simple fact that a guy like dave smith(dedicated synth enthusiast, not dedicated marketing guru) is at the relative top of the heap in ANALOG synth design tells me that this is a small market.

or, in short, go buy a damn memorymoog before its 20k on the global market, post-US dollar collapse.
I know you guys speak the truth about this, and it probably isn't worth it for the big three to get back in the analog synth game...but can't a esoteric analog geek dream big dreams? Cause really. they have the money to do such a thing...it just wouldn't make them much money, if any. But it is very very frustrating to scan ebay with every free moment, drooling at 25 year old instruments, then going down to your local music shop and finding nothing but the same Nick LeShea (TM) Motif repackaged over and over in slightly different ways. It is just a sad set of circumstances that leave us in a place where we desperately hope someone at RKY would help us out.
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Post by Yoozer » Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:48 pm

Instead, you have Studio Electronics and Dave Smith helping you out with polyphonic analogs :).

No, the best way to dream big dreams is to get into the profession and see what you can do. If Ken Macbeth could start from 0, so can you - and you're most likely younger ;).
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Post by DIGITAL SCREAMS » Sat Mar 08, 2008 8:47 pm

To be honest, I have had the same set of thoughts as Soundxplorer.

Ironically though, I have now come to the conclusion that it would be better for the industry if the big players didnt get involved.

What we have now are a growing number of specialist companies doing what they do best, with PASSION and a healthy dose of obsession (thanks Ken :wink: ). The overall quality (in terms of sound/build) and range of new SE, Moog, DSI, MacBeth, Doepfer synths + modulars is very high.

Cast your mind back to when the Andromeda A6 was announced in 2000. It was deemed to be the last true analog polysynth.....one could not help but think there was an element of truth in that. It's with a great sense of relief that we now find ourselves in a situation where many of the great minds behind the 70's and 80's synth movement are designing and producing contemporary analog products. I wouldnt change this trend for the world. These guys are making decent sounding, affordable analogs for the masses. No one foresaw this 5/6 years ago......one can only get excited about the next 5 years will bring 8)

If the big 3 got involved, I would have my doubts they would really know what analog users would want.....they would be too out of touch. Their expertise is in samples and workstations.....that they do well. For the industry to progress (which I think its doing quite nicely now)....everyone needs to know their place, know where their strengths lie. We all benefit from this in the end.

My thoughts...

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Re: The possibility of NEW and CHEAP analog synths

Post by soundxplorer » Sat Mar 08, 2008 8:50 pm

Yoozer wrote:The possibility of cheap new analogs isn't a possibility, it has been a reality; just not one with the big three.
That's kinda my whole point. If Dave Smith can do it and make a profit (pun completely accidental :)), then certainly the big three can. Yes, it's a wishful dream, but I believe in the power of positive thinking. There's so much negativity on the internet. Not just on this board, but on every board covering any possible subject.

I totally support small boutique shops. I own an Evolver, and my next purchase will probably be a Future Retro XS. And I don't think they would be put out of business if Roland started making analogs again.

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Post by gs » Sat Mar 08, 2008 10:16 pm

The big 3 have no interest in appeasing the opinions of small numbers of hobbyists on boards like these. Now, if a bunch of professional, well-known synthesists and keyboardists in the music industry began to call up the big 3 companies and make these suggestions, they MIGHT listen. Because the big 3 want their names up there on the stage, so if it meant more exposure for their product line, they just might make a line of new analogs expressly for that purpose, with the intention of reimbursing the financial loss of building analogs by doing endorsements with these famous artists.

Short of this secenario, I see the big 3 not getting involved in analogs at all. They have no real interest and no real passion for it. And, thinking about the previous comments about the big 3 putting boutiques out of business by dumping low cost analogs on the market and then withdrawing the product a few years later when it's no longer feasible to continue manufacturing, I think it's best left that way.
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Post by BluMunk » Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:21 am

Well, I vaguely remember reading here or elsewhere about the lifespan of electronics. Is there a point in the not too distant future when analog synths that are already 30 years old are just going to cease to function? Are enough of them made with proprietary components that we'll become unable to repair these synths after a while? If so, it seems to me that that's the point at which it becomes financially wise for more companies to pump out analogs (ie, the competition from the used market of vintage synths decreases dramatically).

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Post by steveman » Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:58 am

DIGITAL SCREAMS wrote: ... I have now come to the conclusion that it would be better for the industry if the big players didnt get involved.
Agree totally. Let's just say the big 3 did get involved, with their potential economies of scale and bigger marketing budgets they could quite easily finish off the boutique companies - just like last time...
Roland and Korg in particular brought out cheap analogue polysynths with just enough features and undercut their American counterparts. This alone didn't finish SCI. Moog, Oberheim etc. but it sure didn't help...

What's the big deal about the big 3 anyway, will they be able to make synths that much better than the current boutique players? There are a handful of true Roland classics, but given the number of synths they made there should be 1 or 2 worth having ;) Likewise Korg and Yamaha. The Rolands became classics in the dance genre because they were cheap, not because they were thought to be good.

At the time the Japanese manufacturers were regarded as playing catchup, few of their synths were as higly regarded as their US counterparts (though this was in part due to cultural snobbery - this was the start of the 'Japanese invasion').

I'd rather they stayed out of it.

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Post by Hossinfeffa » Sun Mar 09, 2008 2:02 am

BluMunk wrote:Well, I vaguely remember reading here or elsewhere about the lifespan of electronics. Is there a point in the not too distant future when analog synths that are already 30 years old are just going to cease to function? Are enough of them made with proprietary components that we'll become unable to repair these synths after a while? If so, it seems to me that that's the point at which it becomes financially wise for more companies to pump out analogs (ie, the competition from the used market of vintage synths decreases dramatically).
That's what I'm afraid of. To be honest, I hope none of my analogs as well as digitals die on me at least until I die. (Unlikely, but I still hope that.) I can't even stand the idea of one of my synths quitting on me and really having no way to repair it because one of the parts is long out of production/impossibly rare.

In the future, you'd have to go with Moog, DSI, etc. if they're even still around. That or get a modern VA synth.

Speaking of which, is there any good way to extend the life of your electronic components on the board?
Well fffff.

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Post by Neonlights84 » Sun Mar 09, 2008 2:12 am

steveman wrote:
DIGITAL SCREAMS wrote: ... I have now come to the conclusion that it would be better for the industry if the big players didnt get involved.
Agree totally. Let's just say the big 3 did get involved, with their potential economies of scale and bigger marketing budgets they could quite easily finish off the boutique companies - just like last time...
Roland and Korg in particular brought out cheap analogue polysynths with just enough features and undercut their American counterparts. This alone didn't finish SCI. Moog, Oberheim etc. but it sure didn't help...

What's the big deal about the big 3 anyway, will they be able to make synths that much better than the current boutique players? There are a handful of true Roland classics, but given the number of synths they made there should be 1 or 2 worth having ;) Likewise Korg and Yamaha. The Rolands became classics in the dance genre because they were cheap, not because they were thought to be good.

At the time the Japanese manufacturers were regarded as playing catchup, few of their synths were as higly regarded as their US counterparts (though this was in part due to cultural snobbery - this was the start of the 'Japanese invasion').

I'd rather they stayed out of it.
Wow...some good points...now i want RKY to stay the h**l away!
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Post by tim gueguen » Sun Mar 09, 2008 5:26 am

Korg certainly has no real incentive to produce a true analog synth again when they've sold tens(?) of thousands of Microkorgs over the last 5 years. Yamaha can't be bothered right now to compete with the Korg Radias/R3 family or the Roland SH201, so they're likely to have even less interest in doing something analog.
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Post by DIGITAL SCREAMS » Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:01 pm

Hossinfeffa wrote:
BluMunk wrote:Well, I vaguely remember reading here or elsewhere about the lifespan of electronics. Is there a point in the not too distant future when analog synths that are already 30 years old are just going to cease to function? Are enough of them made with proprietary components that we'll become unable to repair these synths after a while? If so, it seems to me that that's the point at which it becomes financially wise for more companies to pump out analogs (ie, the competition from the used market of vintage synths decreases dramatically).
That's what I'm afraid of. To be honest, I hope none of my analogs as well as digitals die on me at least until I die. (Unlikely, but I still hope that.) I can't even stand the idea of one of my synths quitting on me and really having no way to repair it because one of the parts is long out of production/impossibly rare.

In the future, you'd have to go with Moog, DSI, etc. if they're even still around. That or get a modern VA synth.

Speaking of which, is there any good way to extend the life of your electronic components on the board?
I distinctly remember back in 2000/2001 people saying analog synths were about to die - that the components they used only had a 20 year shelf life......that they would all just suddenly pop their clogs. To a young chap like myself who didnt know better.....it really scared me. My opinion at the time was 'Im going to buy this Pro-One.....its going to cost me £350....and hopefully I might get two years out of it' It was a risk I was prepared to take purely for the fact I wanted to be able to say I owned one.

How wrong was I. Let me just tell you something. I passed up on buying some mint Prophet 5's and Jupiter 8's for £1k a piece because I was brainwashed into thinking it would be incredibly stupid to do it. The reality is this - the mechanical features of your old synth analog, the buttons, the knobs are going to need replacing, servicing long before any of the major analog components die.

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