(updated 7/22/2021)

Frequently Asked Questions about Synclavier II and Synclavier systems

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Question 0: I'm interested in your special offer for the Synclavier II. Is it still available?

Answer: If you see it on Synclav.com, it is still available. It would not be on there if it were not for sale.

When they are sold, they are removed from the page......instead of doing like one of the out-of-business ex-competitors always did, listing and relisting the same system (and never being upfront and giving any actual prices for anything on the whole website, the idea is to get people to write an e-mail, get the big schmooze, then get hit with the price), then saying it is sold, then---instead of removing an item that isn't available anymore---relisting it again and again, marked with big red letters that say SOLD   SOLD   SOLD (to an undisclosed---but always happy---buyer).

From time to time, new Synclav.com specials are offered, usually put at the top of the systems page. It's almost always current and if one of the specials is sold, it's taken off the site.

Question 1: I see your page and can't pay so much for things I don't need. I don't need Direct-to-Disk because I already have a better hard disk recording system, and I don't need sampling because I already have a better, more modern sampler. I just need a Synclavier II with the FM voices, and only 8 voices, because I use a DAW and polyphony will never be an issue.
(this is a question that comes all the time in various forms, has been asked and answered many times over the past twenty years, the above is just a comprehensive restating of several issues in one question)

Answer: This is FOUR ways wrong, as they don't have a better sounding/performing disk recording system (what they have is something that uses the same $2 Asian delta-sigma oversampling DAC chip as a $30 CD player at K-Mart and can't even play its own tracks in sync with itself, forget about keeping tracks in sync with external time code...), they don't have a sampler that sounds anywhere near as good as the Synclavier (the same $2 DAC and DSP sample rate conversion smashing all the tone out of each note by sample rate converting every single note to 44.1 kHz---even the tonic note that was sampled at 44.1 kHz), and it doesn't have the same quality of sampled sound libraries (you'll find that sound libraries that cost $1,300-$4,950 each, some even $12,500, and still command prices in the hundreds of dollars, were made with a lot more studio budget and quality than $149 CD-ROM libraries made for Asian boxes [Akai, E-mu E4-on, Ensoniq, Kurzweil K2xxx-anything, Roland, Yamaha] that are pirated across the internet the first day), and the partial timbre synthesis method of stacking up voices to create rich, complex synthesizer sounds system means that an 8-voice Synclavier II can't even play one note of some complex sounds (many of the most famous sounds use eight voices per key, one or two complex sounds actually use TEN voices per key), so polyphony is always an issue with the Synclavier II.

Question 2: I need a Synclavier, fully updated with everything, with FM voices only, I don't need the sampling or Direct-to-Disk.

Answer: This is not completely possible, because everything NED did from April 1984 until the end in June 1992 for the polyphonic sampling voices and Direct-to-Disk system. So it's not going to be that updated. And in fact, very, very little was done to change or improve the polyphonic sampling system after the $14,000 full 100kHz stereo user sampling option (this is just the A/D converters for input, the output/playback side of it was done and working in October 1984) was added around June 1986. Basically they just changed the software and some ROMs to allow a second or third poly bin for 64 or 96 voices using an interface card they had already designed back in 1983.

So when someone says they want synth voices only, they are cutting themselves off from eight years of NED hardware and software development (1985-1992), which was the period in which the most engineers did the most work spending the most money to create the most hardware and software.

NED didn't do anything with the Synclavier II synthesizer ("FM") voices after 1984.

NED didn't add anything new to the the Synclavier polyphonic sampling voices after June 1986 (when the $14,000 100kHz user stereo sampling option was in full production), just the capability of having more of them with more memory.

Everything they did in hardware and software from 1985-1992 was an add-on to, or centered around, the Direct-to-Disk system.

This includes SyncNet and most of the full-color applications (an option then, still an option now), DSP, and digital I/O, plus almost anything added on many of the terminal pages, including all of the terminal pages added in that eight year period (Sound File Directory, Missing Sound Display, Sound File Editor, Optical Disk Storage, Project Directory, Track Display, Audio Event Editor, not to mention that the Subcatalog Directory, Sequence Editor, Recorder Display, Multichannel Display, MIDI Display, Signal File Manager, and even the whole main menu and menu concept itself didn't exist in synth voice only times because there wasn't a need or a practical need for it).

The Synclavier polyphonic sampling system from late 1984 was the best sounding, best performing digital sampler of all time then and it is still the best now (35 years later), but avoiding the Direct-to-Disk option just cuts the user off from everything that NED developed from 1986-1992. For some users, that is fine and doesn't matter. For others (many), it ends up with a lot of questions about "Why can't I do this?" or "Why don't I have that?" and being reminded that Direct-to-Disk is used here at Synhouse every day, wouldn't be without it.

If you are strictly working as a composer scoring to picture, not doing sound effects, and not doing user sampling to create your own sounds, but rather working from the huge Synclavier libraries all the time, and recording only in Logic or Pro Tools, then yes, the Direct-to-Disk will be something that you will never use.

It is, however, possible to order a custom built system that has only synthesizer voices, but has the highest D processor and the best updated software, and many of those have been built by Synhouse since 1992, but there's almost no benefit to it. Aside from being able to access the VK Panel Option (virtual keyboard on the Macintosh screen, either in parallel with the real V/PK keyboard or instead of it) and the ability to boot and run with no keyboard at all, really nothing is added, and it would be just as well to have the C (Fast Processor) if it needs the MIDI Option retrofitted to it, or the B processor if it doesn't need MIDI.

And for absolute, 100% faithful performance of the original famous Synclavier II synthesizer sounds, that really requires the oldest hardware, which brings us to the next question...

Question 2A: Which Synclavier system makes those famous sounds? I want that one.

Answer: Well, there actually aren't any particularly recognizable famous sounds from the Synclavier (October 1984-June 1992, polyphonic sampling and V/PK keyboard w/76 wooden velocity/pressure keys). You are more likely to have heard that on hundreds of television commercials, as sound effects in movies, or on the Predator soundtrack.

The really, really famous and recognizable sounds, the sounds that simply could not have been made on any other instrument, are ALL from the older Synclavier II mini-system (June 1980-April 1984, ORK keyboard w/61 plastic keys).

The most famous Synclavier II sounds are all the mono sounds on the factory disks, mostly disk 3. These are synthesizer sounds such as the opening sound on Michael Jacksons' Beat It, Naked Eyes' Always Something There to Remind Me, the George Lucas THX/Lucasfilm/The Audience Is Listening sounds you still hear in the theater before any movie, and some orchestral sounds which you'd probably recognize from cinema and TV, such as the string symphony sound (disk 3, bank 8, entry 2).

Michael Jackson Beat It sound is disk 3, bank 5, entry 6. And Michael Jackson used the original/mono Synclavier II voices on the Thriller album for a simple reason: The Stereo Option voices didn't exist in 1982!

The 1985 Release J Synclavier software changed the timebase of the entire system. This was needed as a major performance improvement for the Fast Processor, polyphonic sampling voices, adding the SMPTE Reader Option, and doubling the tracks in the Memory Recorder from 16 to 32 (then to 200 later on). At the same time, the synthesizer parameters got more precise mathematical precision and slightly better tuning resolution.

For that reason, an absolute purist would have to have an all-original Synclavier II with original/mono voices (with the SS5 DAC output cards, not the Stereo Option SS7 cards that sound slightly different and didn't exist when any of those famous recordings were made) and no MIDI to get the exact same sound as the Thriller album or other famous stuff. The older setup
running one of the older software versions (something before Synclavier Release J) has more grit to it, the later software made it smoother, and the later hardware has a slightly different sound with less clarity to it. This is probably not unlike comparing the PPG Wave 2.2 to the 2.3, one is technically a lot better in capabilities than the other, but many (if not most) people think the less capable one sounds better.

Question 2B: I feel like I want to get the 100kHz Direct-to-Disk live recording option with my Synclavier order, but I'm going to spend some time pondering weather (sic, "Stormy Weather...") or not to get the 16 tracks of DTD or just 4 or just the Synclavier without any DTD at all...

Answer: This is understandable, $xxxx (prices have gone up again and again and will continue to, won't put pricing here, check the systems page for current pricing) is a lot of bread, but there are several issues to consider, here are a few details that might put it in a context that will help you figure out what is worth what to you:

The $xxxxx system (cheapest DTD option) with 4 tracks of Direct-to-Disk doesn't really make a lot of sense relative to the $xxxxx system (most expensive DTD option), because for only $xK more, it is upgraded to the latest NED spec with nearly all options and beyond that, it has four times the tracks, the added flexibility of the MaxTrax upgrade (which means doing 1, 2, or 4 tracks per drive, instead of just 1 or 2), and the future-proof digital I/O of the UDIO module that will allow lossless direct digital audio transfers to new DAWs and the lossless importing of audio and samples from anything with AES/EBU or S/PDIF (CD music from a CD player, DAWs, DATs, etc.) for use with the polyphonic sampling system.

For ripping sounds off vintage instruments, compiling and making sound libraries, the Direct-to-Disk will be the best and fastest way to do it.  The Direct-to-Disk system offers sampling with limitless time and superior audio metering and quick cue/block editing and transfer to the poly bin using the Xfer to poly function without driving yourself crazy re-arming the sampler, sampling, then saving the file, then repeat, repeat, repeat 300 times in a session. The Q. Audio Event Editor page is essentially a user-configurable control panel of functions from other pages as well as a lot of things only on the AEE page, and the block editing function allows you to make hundreds or thousands of files as fast as you can hear them. Really. If you are, say, ripping the entire set of sound blocks quickly from a borrowed (another leading national brand) sampler, you can just set the level on the meter bridge, the press record on one track for mono or two tracks for stereo, and just play each sound it has in each register it has a different sample, switch through all of them, then stop. The cue/block editing function is then used to save every one of those hundreds of sounds to their own file, very quickly. Just set the basic file name, such as USA, then press play, and as it plays and you listen, click the BLOCK button after each sound has finished, all the way to the end of the recording, in real time, then you will see that it has saved all those sounds on the Synclavier Winchester (old term for hard drive, NED used it until the end in the 90s, even though it was really a term from the 1970s) automatically with the file names of USA001, USA002, USA003, etc.. Then you can erase that DTD recording, and access those newly saved files by loading them into the RAM of the poly bin using the wonderful L. Sound File Editor page, and play them on the Synclavier keyboard. You can then do micro-surgical editing of those sound files on the L. page, or just do the basics of trimming the blank sound off the heads and tails, and end up with the whole sound library in the new format. If that recording/sampling was done in AES/EBU legal sampling rates like 44.1kHz, 48kHz, or 96kHz, then those can be transferred to another platform via AES/EBU using the UDIO digital transfer module on the DTD.

If that sort of sound work were going to be the main usage, and not the normal multitrack recording it was meant for, then a 4-track Direct-to-Disk system with the UDIO added onto it might be fine. But the full 16 tracks would still be a lot better.

It seems like a lot of money, but it's really not.

At the Synhouse/Synclav.com prices, the $xxK Reference Standard polyphonic sampling system is about two cents on the dollar of the $250,000 it cost new.

The Direct-to-Disk 100kHz live recording option is not only the best sounding/performing multitrack recording system of all time, but it was also far and away the best and most expensive option available for the NED system. When the average polyphonic sampling system was $250,000, adding 16 tracks of Direct-to-Disk to that was another $240,000.

So if the $xxK Reference Standard polyphonic sampling system is about two cents on the dollar of the $250,000 it cost new, the $xK upgrade to the $240,000 Direct-to-Disk is a penny on the dollar of the $240,000 it cost new.

The Direct-to-Disk is essentially a second Synclavier tower (though the latest PostPro SD puts both in a single, very heavy tower, and Synhouse has built many custom single tower systems with both polyphonic sampling and DTD in one tower) that is optimized for live audio recording with SCSI drives emulating the RAM for long track times. This is why it was as much money as a whole other Synclavier then and still isn't a small amount of money now. It is also very hardware intensive. Each option that was added to the NED system was an entirely separate hardware subsystem, not just ten million more lines of code added on to software that is already bloatware and taxing the processor even more, which is how it is done by Pro Tools, Cakewalk, Vision, Logic Audio, etc., etc., etc.. This is just one of 10,000 reasons why the NED system performs better than everything else.

For this reason, the 4-track Direct-to-Disk is the same second tower with the same number of bins and power supplies and everything else as the 16-tracks, it is just lacking a few of cards and drives, so it usually makes economic sense to get all 16 with UDIO or no Direct-to-Disk at all.

The only real exception to this considered justifiable would be for someone who absolutely has to have digital I/O but is positive that they will never, ever do any multitrack recording on the Direct-to-Disk because they have to use something else like Pro Tools or Logic Audio. In that case, they could add the UDIO to the $xxxx system for roughly $1,300 more (2018 price).

Question 3: This type of set-up would work for me the best, and it sounds like it is the most user friendly to service as well.

Answer: Yes, the PSxx series systems (October 1984-late 1988, a few more custom ordered after that) in the classic blue ATS cases are definitely the easiest to move around, with eight handles on each Control Unit, one set of handles on each side in both the upright and laid down orientation, and with most of the weight being split between two boxes, two normal strength guys can easily move them in and out of a pickup truck, up five steps on a porch, or most anywhere. They are also the easiest to work on, having discrete 19" rack panels instead of doors, and this is partly why there is a (presently $500) price premium on the polyphonic sampling systems with doors (the other reasons are the relative rarity of the newer hardware, and because the newer hardware is much, much more time consuming to configure and test).

Question 4: I'm a professional sound designer and I noticed your page. I have been wondering about getting a Synclavier for quite some time. How many people still using the Synclavier today?

Answer: There are hundreds of Synclavier IIs and Synclaviers in use today, but only a very small percentage are in professional use.

Question 5: I have seen the Synclavier system Gary Rydstrom used at Skywalker Sound. It seemed very powerful and quick in creating sounds, is it really so fast?

Answer: Yes, Lucas bought a lot of NED systems and used them on everything. His people were also some of the longest running users of the NED system.

When Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, Lucas and one of his sound designers showed 60 Minutes how they created the special out-of-this-world sounds of the pod racers, etc., and they gave a live demonstration in their studio, which had almost nothing but the Synclavier V/PK keyboard in it, and they worked all the controls like crazy to manipulate the sound. This was watched here with great interest, and the entire piece went by without anyone pointing out that the "state of the art sound creation system" they were showing was 15 years old (in 1999) and was made by a company that hadn't even existed for seven years! Their V/PK was covered with Permacel tape with markings on all the keys and all the buttons, and was worn down to the nubs from 15 years of nonstop use. The 6/1/2002 Mix Magazine article pretty well explained how, when, and why Skywalker Sound got off the NED system (the lack of support from a now out-of-business ex-competitor, er, their inability to make their own lies come true regarding Macintosh operating systems).

The 60 Minutes piece really showed some of the finer points of the real time quickness of the Synclavier.

Question 6: Honestly, Does the Synclavier do something that modern systems do not?

Answer: It sounds better and performs better than modern systems.

Aside from that, no, not really anything.

Question 7: Does the Synclavier have a unique work flow that betters more modern digital samplers?

Answer: Not really sure what "work flow" is with a sampler.

"Work flow" probably means anything to anybody and 99% of all samplers are sold to people who never use a single sample they made on it.

If someone were to go about making really, really good musical samples and completely multisampled keyboard performance patches for them on the Synclavier, it would be a time consuming process. Not sure if anything else could do it faster, though, as it takes a lot of time to do a lot of work. Maybe this is why 99% of sampler owners have never used one of their own samples.

That said, once the sound was done on the Synclavier, it would sound better than anything else by a good measure.

When that sound would be put to use with several other Synclavier sounds that were also made just as carefully, the grand total sum of everything playing together would utterly dwarf the sound of any other system. Nothing else would be even barely close to the sound of the Synclavier.

Where the Synclavier really saw the most use was outside the pure music field, in TV/film music and in spotting sound effects to picture. Not only did nothing sound as good or perform as well, but nothing could do it so quickly. That is why companies would buy one Synclavier, try it out, then run out and buy five more, it increased productivity like nothing before or since. For that kind of sampling, it was work flow like wildfire, you could pick a library sound and place it on one of 200 tracks, slide it around in time, time compress a cue to fit a video edit, or sample a sound off a DAT or multitrack and place it in a keyboard patch in an instant, and save the total configuration of the instrument. In that kind of situation, it was very, very fast, just making a sample and putting it on a key with minimal modifiers, and saving that.

It is in making massively multisampled keyboard patches with velocity cross switching alternates where you end up spending hours or days making it sound perfect all across the keyboard. This, of course, accounts for a lot of the cost, all of the libraries were over $1,000, most over $3,000, one even cost $12,500 and just the studio time making it was over $200,000. Just placing samples to be retriggered to picture was a very fast process.

Some of the more popular libraries of the 1990s and 2000s were originally made for the Synclavier, and let's go ahead and spoil the surprise and tell you that they sound better on the real system than they do on the Asian boxes.

The real time modification that the Synclavier can do on sounds in the analog and digital domain is very powerful and, for most things, very quick to do. Above all, where some other systems might have some extra convenience or functionality to them, the end resulting sound isn't anywhere near as good as the Synclavier.

When you are making a sound with an Akai, E-mu, or Kurzweil, it goes one of two ways:

    1) It screws up and sounds unusably bad.

    2) All goes well......and it ends up sounding like a CD.

Neither sound anything like a Synclavier, which is more than double CD quality and has infinitely more tone and power right from the start.

Then, when you get into doing things that use many voices, the gulf between the Asian boxes and the Synclavier grows wider, because a Synclavier has however many voices it says it has (usually 16 or 32, but anything from 4 to 128 is theoretically possible), and the Asian box says it has 64 or 128 voices, but "voices" is really one voice, because it's all virtual voices, constant sampling rate TDM type of processes, and it all comes out one $2 DAC like a sound card or CD player would have. This is one of the top 10,000 reasons why it ends up sounding like a CD. Flat, and squashed. That, plus the fact that the hardware is the same as on any cheap CD player.

All of this isn't even touching on what was the most expensive and important option (and invention of the Synclavier), the Direct-to-Disk live recording option. It, too, sounds better and performs better than everything else. The integration with the polyphonic sampling voices and the ability to quickly flip any audio from the DTD tracks to the keyboard and back just multiplies the power of the whole system.

It should also be pointed out that, although your questions seem to be pointed mostly towards the Synclavier application being sound design and a lot of important sound design has been done on the Synclavier (from Back to the Future to Star Wars, much of it before the term "sound design" even existed), sound design was never the main use for the Synclavier......or anything else. Sound design hasn't been the sole or main supporting business of any product or industry. Sound designers have always been inventors of taking things from other fields and putting them to new use in sound design.

So, if you ever get the cold feeling that the tools you are using weren't designed for you, that's because they weren't.

Question 8: As I was reading about Gary Rydstroms work on Jurassic Park, I noticed the bit about the Synclavier being able to stack multiple samples on one key. Am I to understand that you have the ability to, say, place a sample with a specific pitch on middle C, then stack another out of tune sample on middle C and then tune it to match the pitch or harmonize with the original sample?

Answer: Yes, that's pretty pedestrian stuff on the Synclavier. You could probably do it with not just different pitches tuned together, but different tuning systems per sound (i.e., standard Western and some kind of microtonality).

You could do that four times without even having to think about it.

That is what the four partial buttons on the upper left side of the keyboard are for.

All NED systems use the partial timbre synthesis method (in this case "synthesis" being the literal dictionary definition, to combine). When you just do one sound, that has defaulted to partial #1, and the PARTIAL 1 button will be illuminated (if you have the hardware V/PK, if not, it will be illuminated on the button on the VK Panel on the Mac, or both). You can press #2 and do another one there, then another two more, then turn them on and off by pressing their buttons (like mutes on a mixing console), then bias the audio levels between them with the data wheel, or by patching in something else from the modulation matrix to control it.

On the polyphonic sampling system, things are limited mostly by the RAM and voices available. The number of samples that can be active on the keyboard/Memory Recorder at any one time is unlimited, it is limited only by the RAM you have to keep them in. That was a really big deal in the late 1980s, when most other systems could only have eight sounds active at one time. It was figured out here once and the answer was 304 or something like that, it was 76 keys x 4 sounds per key.

The Synclavier isn't doing anything in software, it's all hardware so you have all the resources to use however you want all the time, up to the limit of how much hardware you have. The system is never too slow or not able to do what you want.

The Synclavier has the ability to play pitched and non-pitched samples, the ability to play a normal keyboard pitched sound, then stack another sound on top of it that had a predetermined pitch that was the same for all keys. It was back in 1984 that Release I added the use of fixed pitches for partial timbres, to create guitar pick or drumstick click noises, or a key click to a Hammond organ sound, etc. to go along with the pitched tone part of the sound, and  other special tuning functions were added.

Question 9: So if this is possible, then this is quite amazing to be able to do "at the console" rather than fussing about in a little window on a computer screen.

Answer: Yes, but only to a certain extent, must be honest and take this opportunity to overturn a myth here. For decades, people have been drawn to the Synclavier because "It has buttons for everything, with buttons and functions laid out in a 1:1 ratio, instead of having everything in menus!"

Well, those 160 red buttons on the V/PK are very nice, but this isn't an Asian box. The Synclavier has vastly more functions than 160 buttons and an alphanumeric LED matrix display can address. The modern (post-1988) Synclavier uses a Mac as a terminal/user interface, and it has menus and menus, and more menus inside those menus...

Not that the Synclavier is a menu thing, but most everything in the Synclavier has many, many functions and options to choose from.

Even some of the things you can choose from buttons you'd prefer to choose from a Mac screen.

If, for example, you need to assign the MIDI outputs to sounds or tracks, or assign sounds or tracks to specific Multichannel Distributor outputs, you can either:

1) look at the alphanumeric LED matrix display and punch a button several times, then change the mode, and then punch the button many more times, then repeat, repeat, repeat, then go back toggling through the modes to verify those settings or

2) just type H or J on the Mac keyboard to go to the Multichannel Distributor or MIDI display page, take a quick glance at the grid that shows what it routed to what, and use the mouse/arrows and keyboard to change those values to what you want.

All of the sample selection and editing is done on the screen of the Mac.

Once you have selected the sound and made it live on the keyboard, all the synth-style real time editing parameters (six stage envelopes, the most precise and beautiful chorus ever, vibrato with 20-some waveforms, the modulation matrix, etc., etc., etc...) are done without looking at the Mac. Once you save your work (if you do, at the Mac), it can be recalled from the keyboard if you like (so long as you are in the correct subcatalog of the Winchester hard drive).

Some people criticize the MIDI implementation of the Synclavier as being poor, but MIDI doesn't even barely address ANYTHING that the Synclavier can do:

The Synhouse Master Sound File Library for the polyphonic sampling systems has 14,772 sound files available at the click of the mouse. What MIDI patch number calls those up?!?!?

Instead of simply using a string symphony sound, you can program individual tracks of single violins and single violas and tune each one individually in Hertz to make a rich string symphony with the precise amount of pitch width/chorusing you desire, and save that all to disk. MIDI can't do that.

Any time you go outside the NED box, you are taking a big step down. Although it's impossible to sell a polyphonic sampling system without MIDI, it was surprising to see how many big post houses were using $250,000-$500,000 Synclaviers that didn't have MIDI on them. They never used it. They did pretty much everything inside the NED system, and used the SMPTE/VITC to sync to everything else. The polyphonic sampling voices sounded better than anything else, and the 200 track Memory Recorder was better than any other sequencer, and the total setup of everything could be saved to a sequence file for total recall at the next session, so there was no compelling reason to stoop down to something else, in most cases.

Question 10: What is the learning curve?

Answer: Every aspect of the system that people normally use is very easy to learn. Most of it is completely self-explanatory just by looking at the legend on the button panel.

Even in the early 1980s, people could walk up to a Synclavier II and make a multitrack multitimbral composition in just a few minutes.

That said, there are many aspects to the system, and learning all of them well could take years.

Question 11: What are some lesser known uses of the Synclavier II on records?

Answer: A lot. Here's one: The 1985 Play Deep album by The Outfield. They recorded it at Air in London, and, although they aren't known as a Synclavier band, song #6 Mystery Man has more Synclavier II synthesizer sound in it than almost anything else. It sounds good, too. It starts with a freaked-out FM effect passage, then uses the Synclavier II Hammond B3 organ sound and a really awesome could-only-be-a-Synclavier II grinding synth sound. And those guys could really sing in tune. Which brings on the next question...

Question 12: What's a really well known use of the Synclavier II on a record?

Answer: The Genesis song That's All from 1983, they used the Synclavier II Hammond B3 organ sound (preset) for the B3 solo because they thought it sounded better than the real one would in the track, it stood out better.

Question 13: What's the difference between the sound of the Synclavier and everything else?

Answer: Users say that nothing approaches the body of the sound given off by the Synclavier, and it's not even close. They love the power of some of the new software synths and some samplers too, but they all sound thin in comparison to the Synclavier. People who are not  able to experience the difference won't know what they are missing.

The big difference between the sound of the Synclavier and everything that has come out in the last 30 years (since 1987) can be boiled down to these four things:

1) everything else uses constant rate sampling instead of variable rate sampling, therefore every note is (poorly) sample rate converted, no note of the Synclavier is ever sample rate converted (unless you intentionally sample rate convert it with the Signal File Manager software or the DSP70 for some reason---the NED system did sample rate conversion in 1981-82, eight years before anything else could), try sample rate conversion on all your recorded masters and CDs and see how that sounds compared to the original unconverted recordings

2) the DAC output hardware is vastly superior

a) 100x the cost
b) real resistor string instrumentation DACs, not delta-sigma DACs (1-bit, MASH, etc.)
c) not using oversampling
d) the outputs are not filtered (everything else has "noise shaping filters" to compensate for how terrible the cost cutting oversampling     technique is)

3) every voice and each channel of every voice, and each partial of every channel of every voice of...(to infinity) is coming from an entirely separate digital audio/analog back end hardware subsystem, 1 sound is from 1 DAC (where anything else has 128 "voices" created and mixed in the digital domain and coming out of a single consumer-grade CD player DAC) this is why a Synclavier simulated orchestra sounds like dozens of instruments coming at you from many places, not a mixed/smashed/sample rate converted CD

4) all the separate voices are mixed and attenuated (or muted by being physically disconnected if not sounding) in the analog domain in the Multichannel Distributor, which is the equivalent of a computer-controlled analog mixing console, this always sounds better and more like you expect to hear it than mixing in the digital domain, ask any record producer who has made records in the last 50 years

and a bonus #5

5) the libraries are better and were made to a scale that doesn't exist anymore

Notice how this answer didn't glibly dismiss everything else by merely saying "the Synclavier has 100kHz sampling, therefore it is better than anything that doesn't"?

The fact that it is 100kHz instead of 44.1kHz is just an extra bonus, the Synclavier sounds better than anything else even when it is doing 44.1kHz. And it can do any sampling rate down to 1kHz, for super deep bass and grungy grinding sound design effects, and can play back 100kHz samples at up to 400kHz.

It takes some real listening and experience to figure out that it isn't just 100kHz versus 44.1kHz that makes it better.

A look at the Synclavier circuit boards will show just how poor and abbreviated the hardware is on everything else.

Question 14: Why is the older Synclavier II mini-system (June 1980-April 1984, ORK keyboard w/61 plastic keys) called the Synclavier II and the newer one called the Synclavier (October 1984-June 1992, V/PK keyboard w/76 wooden velocity/pressure keys)?

Answer: Because of stupidity. The Synclavier II that went into production in June of 1980 (relatively mass produced with venture capital) was a considerable advance in design, packaging, and functionality over the relatively handmade original 1978 Synclavier that, before the internet, almost no one ever heard of (only a few academics and avant garde musicians had heard of it), maybe one was made at the end of 1977 without a keyboard and 19 more were made with keyboards in 1978 and 1979 (those numbers are approximate). Again, before the internet, no one except the people at New England Digital called it "II" as in the Synclavier II, it was always referred to in the 80s as the Synclavier, and you can check many, many album credits as a reality check on that. Actually, it was even dumber and more cringey than that, NED didn't call it the Synclavier II, they called it Synclavier II, as seen in the June 1980 introductory advertisement for it,

This confusing nonsense was finally stopped after production of the Synclavier II mini-system ended in April of 1984. The V/PK (Velocity/Pressure Keyboard) and polyphonic sampling hardware/software development were being completed and in the second half of 1984 and the new system was simply named Synclavier.

Question 15: What happened with the Synclavier II synthesizer voices after 1984?

Answer: Nothing, basically. The Synclavier II was discontinued April of 1984. The last ones made would have probably had Release H5 software, just a wrinkle different than H, H2, H3, etc., most out there were running Release H or even something much older (the famous blue Synclavier II manual came out New Year's Day 1982 and was based on Release G, actually ALL of the Synclavier II Releases were good and there were no bad ones, just a lot of functions added along the way and support for newly added hardware that didn't exist in the beginning).

A few hybrid nameless systems came out in the interim between then and the introduction of the polyphonic sampling Synclavier in October 1984, and at least several of the V/PK (Velocity/Pressure Keyboard) keyboards (new in July 1984 for $11,000.......less a fake $3,500 trade-in credit for the old ORK keyboard, a keyboard they didn't want back and wouldn't take back, just a part of trying to make good on their idiotic 1980 promise that no part of the Synclavier II would ever become obsolete, uh, let's go ahead and tell how that story ends, the last systems off the line in 1992 didn't have one single board---out of 70-150 boards per system---in common with the June 1980 Synclavier II, so yes, by definition, it was 100% obsolete, as it really had been by 1985, for the most part) were retrofitted to existing mini-systems using a new cable, a few hardware changes to the Control Unit, and a crippled patch version of the software called Release V (V for Velocity, the only one in the Release A-Release O series out of sequence, Release V came after Release H [actually H5, the last version of software for the Synclavier II] and Release I [the first version of software for the Synclavier]) to let it work with the old hardware before the proper Synclavier Release I (the first proper version of software made with the Synclavier name) came out. Release V left a lot of the keyboard buttons dead, for example half of the 32 individual track arming buttons for the Memory Recorder, as the
Memory Recorder was only 16-track until the proper version Release I came out with support for 32 tracks. Less than three years later, Release M expanded the Memory Recorder 200 tracks with an eight million note capacity (and chain, insert, and delete features, selective MIDI filtering, MIDI song pointer, MIDI echo, the mapping of input MIDI channels to the Memory Recorder, a new hard disk catalog structure allowing a chain of up to four hard disks on each of two SCSI ports with up to 8 gigabytes of storage per system...).

These few mid-1984 hybrid nameless systems were nameless because NED had stopped using the Synclavier II name anywhere. The disks didn't say Synclavier II and the manuals didn't, either. They were still using old panel designs that said Synclavier II on them, but in advertisements and brochures they blacked out the "II" on those panels, as they did on the remote button panel units for the Synclavier II Digital Guitar system.

NED re-edited the old Synclavier II synth sound libraries for the velocity, wheels, and alphanumeric screen of the V/PK that came out in July 1984, making names you could see on the screen instead of just Roland-style bank and entry numbers like "5-6", and completely stopped developing anything having to do with the Synclavier II synthesizer voices. The Stereo Option Synclavier II voice cards used from mid-1983 through April 1984 (and beyond, in polyphonic sampling systems that had polyphonic sampling voices + synth voices, well more than 95% of those synth voice cards were used cards recycled from removals and trade ins but sold/given as new, which is illegal) used a screwy adapter called a SAM (Stereo Adapter Module) to jam two SS7 cards into one slot meant for the SS5 card of the original (mono) voices, it used a huge amount of hardware and was very labor intensive to build, sawed by hand with a hacksaw because they used the wrong connector type, and they couldn't be machine soldered, they had to be entirely hand soldered and only after bending all the pins around because, again, they used the wrong connector type.

In March 1986 they did make a proper synthesizer backplane that had enough slots for all the cards (no explanation given for why they didn't just do that in 1983), reducing the amount of hardware used and the amount of manual labor required to build them, and added an inch to the existing Synclavier II SS7 card so that the tail would be in the same place for the wiring harness, and that new SS7X card (eXtended) was used sometimes in place of the old backplane and old SS7 cards, but more often than not, some or all of the other cards in there (SS1-SS2-SS3-SS4) were used cards recycled from Synclavier II trade ins. The backplane and card wiring circuit was electrically the same, the componentry was the same, so the sound was exactly the same as the SS7 before it, and the other cards (SS1, SS2, SS3, SS4) were the same as for all the rest before it.

NED had a bad and illegal habit of putting used cards in new machines. Many systems have been examined that had cards that were years older than the purchase date. Considering the extremely high cost of RAM ICs and other ICs used, and the fact that many of those RAM ICs had their prices lowered month after month following their release dates, it is a total impossibility that NED, for example, manufactured M32K cards and held them in stock, then installed them still new four years later. In 1985 they sold a guy a system with an entire bin of synth cards that were four years old!

Making this all even more confusing is that they did manufacture a few more batches of synth cards along the way (in 1985, again a very few in 1987-1988, it's unlikely any were made after that) to cover card shortages from failed cards and the fact that many of the trade ins were mono systems with SS5 output cards that could not be used in the PSxx polyphonic sampling systems (panning polyphonic sampling voices should be used alone, or with Stereo Option synthesizer voices, not the original/mono SS5 type). And when they did make those few cards again, they had new revision numbers (which for NED means date codes, like SS1-180 means an SS1 of the January 1980 revision) put on the same old cards. They did this again and again, sometimes even putting new mistakes in old boards that had to be corrected by hand with jumpers. For example, the SS1-180 and SS1-1085 have the same components connected in the same circuit, but a different name on them for no reason.

In software, no new functions, bug fixes, or improvements were done for the synthesizer voices after July 1984.

NED never made any new synth sounds, never added new synth parameters, and never advertised the synths after 1984.

Question 15: I'm assuming the polyphonic sampling cards can also do the FM/additive synthesis in addition to sample playback.

Answer: No, not both. And, to be really clear, no other sampler does, either.

The Synclavier polyphonic sampling cards are the cards that do polyphonic sampling playback.

The Synclavier II synthesizer voice cards are the cards that do "FM/additive synthesis", as you say (more to really clarify on that in another question below).

The polyphonic sampling voices play waveforms that can be from a variety of sources, mostly audio samples from the libraries of great sounds, but the Signal File Manager software can create standard synthesizer waveforms and alter them with a variety of methods in the digital domain right there in SFM, so you don't need to start with a real audio sample, though it really speeds things up to do so, and it's the normal way, as with any sampler ever made.

Question 16: Do you have any idea the sound difference between the Synclavier II and the Yamaha DX series?

Answer: The sound difference is total, and there is nothing whatsoever in common between the DX-series and the NED synths, mostly because the concept, hardware, and everything else are completely different.

Question 17: What are the FM voices? Basically like a Yamaha DX7, right?

Answer: (short answer) Well, to start off, they aren't FM voices. The Synclavier II is a highly complex additive (precision control over many harmonics, partial timbre synthesis method to stack many oscillators/different sounds) and subtractive (4-selection fixed analog filters on the output synthesizer. On the Synclavier II, FM is just an effect added to the sound using the FM Ratio control, but that is the effect that makes classic Synclavier II sounds what they are, making those way-out harmonic sidebands. 

To clarify, the Synclavier II synthesizer voices do not do "FM synthesis" as in DX7 style synthesis, which is a programmable digital algorithm synthesizer with different algorithms. The Synclavier II synthesizer voices play waveforms that can be from a variety of sources, mostly harmonics dialed in with the controls on the keyboard control panel, and they can apply FM as an effect, like FM on a modular analog synth. It does not create the high frequency harmonic overtones of the DX7, nor the round Rhodes electric piano sounds the DX7 is known for.

Question 18: What are the FM voices? Basically like a Yamaha DX7, right?

Answer: (long answer) Well, to start off, they aren't FM voices. The Synclavier II is a highly complex additive (precision control over many harmonics, partial timbre synthesis method to stack many oscillators/different sounds) and subtractive (4-selection fixed analog filters on the output synthesizer. On the Synclavier II, FM is just an effect added to the sound using the FM Ratio control, but that is the effect that makes classic Synclavier II sounds what they are, making those way-out harmonic sidebands. 

No relationship can be found between the 1978 Synclavier/1980 Synclavier II and the Yamaha DX-series at all. It's been discussed and researched here for over 25 years. The hardware is 100% different, the concept and architecture is 100% different with not so much as a single parameter in common, and the sound is very different.

The DX7 can do a number of really good piano sounds (excellent Rhodes piano sounds on Whitney Houston records, etc.) that the Synclavier II can't do. The Synclavier II does NOT do good piano sounds.

The Synclavier II does an amazing variety of string sounds from gypsy fiddles to string symphonies, where the DX7 hasn't had any good strings of any type at all, ever. The DX7 pads are a joke. The Synclavier II makes some string sounds, both solo and ensemble, that are far better than any on any Yamaha DX series instrument. They have a depth and detail that is uncanny. That line from the old 1980 Synclavier II advertisement about hearing the rosin on the bow wasn't just a line, it is really true. Some of the string sounds you'd recognize right away, like disk 3, bank 8, entry 2.

The DX7 can do a lot of unique pitched or non-pitched percussive sounds like koto, log drum (Lost In Emotion), and others which cut through a track like nothing else.

The Synclavier II (mostly with upgrades and the later third party sounds to access 2,000+ sounds with alphanumeric names quickly from a hard drive) can do a lot of synthy types of sounds, some digital sounding, some analog sounding, which are simply amazing. It can make a buzz and grind like nothing else. This is a matter of opinion, but most people would think that the DX7 hasn't ever had any good synthy types of sounds, and the fact that almost 100% of the thousands of records the DX7 was used on were using purely imitative sounds (Rhodes, piano bass [Danger Zone], tubular bells, harpsichords, etc.) really confirms that.

The DX7 and Synclavier II sound completely different. A lot of the characteristic Synclavier II sound is coming from the analog filters. They are not typical dynamic synthesizer filters controlled by ADSR envelopes or anything like that, just two switches to select four different fixed settings on the output: high filtered, high/mid filtered, high and high mid filtered (the default setting for every NED sound preset, this is essentially how it is supposed to sound), and unfiltered. These filters really make the sound what it is and give it a low buzzing rumble. Saying it has a low growl like a like a Memorymoog or OB-X might be an exaggeration, but it kind of does.

The DX7 doesn't have any analog filters controlled by the user, it doesn't sound like it has any analog filters at all, and if it does it is just some sort of noise shaping filter that is well out of the normal audio band (as the DX7 is especially known for having audible harmonic overtones very high up in the audio band that wouldn't exist if any filter were there with a cutoff set to 15kHz or less).

The comparison of the sounds of the DX7 and the Synclavier II in an audio spectrum analyzer shows that it is like comparing a tuba and a snare drum, they have no harmonic characteristics in common.

(anything heard here about FM patents, payments, and licensing is unverified rumor that can't be verified and therefore won't be repeated here)

Comparing the user interface and controls of the DX7 (What controls?) and the Synclavier II (128 LED buttons, numeric display, data wheel), there is a little more immediacy with the Synclavier II, as there are dedicated controls (large illuminated red LED buttons) for all the harmonics, 6-stage envelope generators, FM, and more, right on the keyboard, and with a newer (Synclavier w/Synclavier II synthesizer voices added) and better equipped (highest D processor and updated software) system, you don't even need the keyboard, you can access all 160 buttons of the V/PK right on the Macintosh screen. If you have the correct hardware to sample or have sound files already on disk,  you can do Resynthesis/analysis on the screen, and play that sample as a Resynthesized sound right through the synthesizer voices. The Yamahas can't do any of that.

The basic difference between the Synclavier II and the DX7 is........everything:

The Synclavier II can play any waveform you can imagine out of the oscillators. Anything. You make your own waveform by dialing up all your desired harmonics using the harmonic controls on the left hand side of the keyboard (similar to the functionality claimed by the Beilfuss Performance Synthesizer, difference here is that the Synclavier II actually exists), and that data is loaded into the wavetable memory and played by the oscillators. That, of course, is just the original method of doing it from day one in 1980, the later Sample-to-Disk and Resynthesis developments allow you to load snippets of recorded live audio samples (similar to the PPG Wave sound generating method) into those wavetable memories using the Signal File Manager software, and play that out the oscillators (Frank Zappa called that fake poly voices). The DX7 can only do a low accuracy sine wave, no other waves at all.

If you look up on the panel of your DX7, you will see that it is, according to the panel graphics, a "Programmable Digital Algorithm Synthesizer". This is a perfect description of it, as you can see the diagrams on there showing the different (preset) ways that the six operators (oscillators) can be patched together as carriers and modulators. This gives the user different algorithms to choose from, and those make the internal "patch".

The Synclavier II doesn't have any programmable algorithms at all, it just has one internal "patch" and it doesn't change. It applies FM as an effect, you can just set the FM amount, that's it.

A hundred lifetimes with the Synclavier II won't give you a clue as to how to program the DX7, and a DX7 plus all the DX7 programming skills in the world won't touch the capabilities of the Synclavier II. There really is no common ground here. A quick look at the buttons on the Synclavier II will show you that it has nothing to do with all the rate/level scaling stuff that is in all the DX7 menus.

Question 19: So then are they called "FM voices" or Synclavier II synthesizer voices?

A general rule applies: If it has the FM effect on it (which polyphonic sampling voices can't have), it will be referred to here as the Synclavier II synthesizer voices, because that is what they are. It doesn't matter if it is installed in a Synclavier II made in 1980 or a Synclavier 9600 with the optional synthesizer voices made in 1990, the voices are the same and the voice architecture is the same, the sounds are being created in SS1, SS2, SS3, and SS4 cards that are the same in all systems with synthesizer voices. The only difference is in the output cards that can be SS5 (original/mono), SS6 (stereo), SS7 (stereo), or SS7X (stereo).

Question 20: What is Resynthesis?

Answer: Live sampled audio played by a synthesizer.

Resynthesis makes sounds that aren't real sounds, but they have an uncanny realness to them in some ways, sort of a caricature of a real sound. You can tell it's a synthesizer, but it has an element of realism to it.

In 1984, NED created Resynthesis (fully implemented in Synclavier Release I---and really never updated or revisited again) as an offshoot of the Sample-to-Disk system (Full name: Synclavier II Digital Analysis/Synthesis Option) from back in late 1981/early 1982.

When the Synclavier II came out in June of 1980, it was a sophisticated additive digital synthesizer, it could 
can play any waveform out of the oscillators by dialing up the desired harmonics using the harmonic controls on the left hand side of the keyboard, and that data was loaded into the wavetable memory and played by the oscillators.

The Sample-to-Disk and Signal File Manager software that came with it made them realize that with some software changes, ANY data values could be loaded into those wavetable memories, even digitally sampled live audio samples, if they were just cut down to tiny snippets of real sound, just one single waveform cycle in length, using the Signal File Manager software. This is similar to the sound generating method of the PPG Wave synthesizers. Frank Zappa referred to this as fake poly voices, which he used for a while before making the $165,000 upgrade to polyphonic sampling voices (which required a total repackaging of the system, new keyboard, new computer bin, etc.), after which he never used Resynthesis or the Synclavier II synthesizer voices ever again.

Question 21: What is the difference between a Synclavier Digital Music System and a Synclavier Digital Audio System?

Answer: A lot. Or nothing, depending. They were just NED terms that were almost arbitrarily applied to systems by silkscreening them on the rack panels, keyboard front panel, and keyboard rear panel. Two identical PSMT polyphonic sampling systems made in 1987 might say Synclavier Digital Music System on one and Synclavier Digital Audio System on the other (and the latter might have MIDI on the keyboard button panel and badly silkscreened markings overall, and panels powdercoated black instead of black anodized, it varies a little, functionality is the same) but are exactly the same system.

It actually went like this:

(June 1980-April 1984)
Synclavier II Digital Synthesizer (silkscreened on the front and rear ORK keyboard rear panels, and on the front and rear rack panels)

(July 1984 only)
Synclavier (silkscreened on the V/PK keyboard rear panel, Synclavier Digital Music System on the V/PK keyboard front panel, most people have never seen this, but the hardware exists at Synhouse, it's very rare, the late George Duke had this type)

(July 1984- roughly mid-1987)
Synclavier Digital Music System (silkscreened on the V/PK keyboard front and rear panels)
(some referred to this as the "DMS", but when they did, they usually meant those few odd systems made/upgraded in mid-1984 and later that were a Synclavier II mini-system Control Unit with a V/PK keyboard [and later MIDI] retrofitted onto it, and not the polyphonic sampling system that was produced from late 1984 through mid-1987 with Synclavier Digital Music System on the V/PK keyboard front and rear panels)

(roughly mid-1987-June 1992)
Synclavier Digital Audio System (silkscreened on the V/PK keyboard front and rear panels)

The famous blue Synclavier II manual says Synclavier II Digital Synthesizer, the silver 3-book box set of manuals says Synclavier Digital Music System, the spiral bound books that came here and there around 1986-1988 can say Synclavier Digital Music System or Synclavier Digital Audio System, the smaller black books that came in library boxes say Synclavier Digital Audio System.

NED liked to make up a lot of names that had little meaning ("PostPro" was a "Direct-to-Disk" with nothing changed, but they filed for registered trademarks on both, both were put interchangeably on the same machines), and filed lots and lots of copyrights, patents, and registered trademarks, none of which ever made any money in production or prosecution, and never restrained a competitor from doing anything, and NED repeatedly signed those copyrights, patents, and registered trademarks over to banks, venture capitalists, pretty much anyone who showed up with money. Countless machines from NED, The Synclavier Company, etc. say Synclavier Digital Music System on one side and Synclavier Digital Audio System on the other side.

It doesn't mean anything. What makes a Synclavier what it is is the hardware inside.

Question 22: What is ORK and what is VPK?

Answer: The ORK (stands for ORiginal Keyboard) is the Synclavier II keyboard, it was made from June 1980-April 1984, has 61 plastic keys without velocity, 128 large red LED buttons, and numerical LED display. It's almost always natural wood color (hand rubbed mahogany). The V/PK (stands for Velocity/Pressure Keyboard) is the Synclavier keyboard, it was made from July 1984-June 1992, has 76 wooden keys with velocity and pressure sensitivity, 160 large red LED buttons, alphanumerical LED matrix display, Moog wheels, large ribbon controller, and Yamaha breath controller input. It almost always has a black finish.

There are various alternate finishes and subtypes of hardware in/on each.

Question 23: I see your special offer at the top of your system page for a Synclavier II. It doesn't say MIDI, but it has MIDI, right?

Answer: No. The internet tends to roll 13 years of hardware into one mythical instrument that was always available.

The Synclavier II (June 1980-April 1984, ORK keyboard w/61 plastic keys) never hand MIDI. The MIDI Option hardware didn't exist until 15 months after the Synclavier II was discontinued, and the first software Release with MIDI didn't exist until 25 months after the Synclavier II was discontinued (a temporary version called K and various beta versions were used before that to test the hardware/software, but Release L from May 1986 was the first version. No floppy disk of software supporting MIDI has ever said "Synclavier II" on it.

In fact, all through 1985, lots of $250,000 polyphonic sampling systems were shipped that also didn't have MIDI. They didn't have SCSI for most of 1985, either, again because the hardware didn't yet exist.

This is a good question and might be the biggest misunderstanding people have about these systems. Most people coming to the party now are assuming that exists what they want exists, and it doesn't, it never did.

A lot of buyers, particularly younger players, want a smaller system with Synclavier II synthesizer voices, MIDI, SCSI interface, SCSI hard drive, and Superfloppy (because those three things are system requirements of the MIDI hardware/software, well, technically, there are ways around it, but those ways are more cumbersome than just doing it the right way with MIDI, SCSI hard drive, and Superfloppy), also the Macintosh interface/Macintosh computer, and sometimes the V/PK velocity keyboard if they want to pay approximately $1,500 more.

But absolutely none of those things (except the Synclavier II synthesizer voices) existed during the production run of the Synclavier II (June 1980-April 1984, ORK keyboard w/61 plastic keys).

Many, many of the famous Synhouse/Synclav.com compact Synclavier IIs with MIDI were built and sold all through the 2000s (only privately and on eBay from 2001-2003 because Synclav.com didn't go online until 2004) by taking all those V/PKs, fast processors, Superfloppies, Winchester hard drives, memory, and MIDI cards off of $250,000 polyphonic sampling systems, which was an expensive habit that (at least for 10-15 years until all the missing parts were replaced with new production) took a lot of polyphonic sampling systems out of the market.

You can write directly to hear a more complete list of the more than $3,000 ($3,282 as of 12/2018) parts that have to be added/changed to make the later MIDI Option work on the Synclavier II, but basically the Synclavier II synthesizer systems came with the B processor/ORK keyboard combination which can't possibly run polyphonic sampling voices, so that was pretty much the dividing line in the development of the system from Synclavier II to Synclavier.

Very generously, NED later (1986 and 1987) made somewhat cracked/crippled Releases of MIDI-enabled software for Synclavier IIs with the ORK keyboard and also for Synclavier IIs that had been retrofitted with the V/PK keyboard. Some of these are very good, quite remarkable, with amazing MIDI implementation (an ORK version that responds to incoming MIDI velocity even though the ORK doesn't have velocity keys, and has many buttons repurposed for new uses with MIDI), but still aren't anywhere near having a real Synclavier with polyphonic sampling voices, updated software, and the highest D processor.

This is how the costs got to where they are, and why the polyphonic sampling systems are relatively cheaper with a lot more options included as standard (because a MIDI/C/SCSI/Mac/SMPTE/VPK system has many key pieces of a polyphonic sampling system included in the price, because that's where those pieces of hardware came from).

This minimal 1 MIDI input/4 MIDI outputs upgrade retrofitted to a Synclavier II cost $8,500 from NED in 1986 (and that's without the hard drive upgrade, and the system is not sensible without the hard drive, and just that hard drive alone would have been $7,500 more), and was $4,000 from one of the now out-of-business ex-competitors in 1997. Synhouse/Synclav.com (2001-2018 and beyond) has never charged more than $1,850 for it as a package price if it can be done at the time of a system build and the older hardware is traded in for use in other system builds/repairs.

Question 24: Does the Synhouse Reference Standard Synclavier PSMT system have stereo voices? Or mono?

Answer: The correct term there that we need to stick to is just what it says on the page, "panning polyphonic sampling voices", as it says on the systems page. The opposite of which is "non-panning", which it says on the hardware page.

It is hard to grasp what "panning" means, so it should be explained:

It does not have anything to do with stereo user sampling or stereo sample playback (any Synclavier can play back a true stereo sample using two voices automatically assigned left and right in the mixed outs or to two channels of the multichannel distributor on a system so equipped, and all systems should be so equipped).

"Panning" means that the whole voice card of four sample playback voices coming from four separate single channel DACs is doubled by adding four MORE separate single channel DACs, and played in unison (phase locked which only the Synclavier can do so it doesn't have phase cancellation in normal play, velocity cross-switching, etc.). The relative amplitude (volume) of the left and right channels are biased based upon the software-controlled stereo parameters (LFO making panning tremelo, ribbon controller pans left and right, exactly the same as on the Synclavier II stereo synth voices). This was a VERY expensive way to make panning, but it is a beautiful effect, incredibly clean with no audio artifacts whatsoever. It makes the famous ADR Panscan effect sound like dirt.

The panning polyphonic sampling voices are very good for doing sound design and doing synthy sounds (the polyphonic sampling voices can act as synthesizers in many ways, you can transform a cello sample into an Oberheim 4-voice string pad in 30 seconds with a few tweaks at the keyboard), they just can't apply FM as an effect the way the Synclavier II synthesizers do), but it is of no benefit when playing sampled sounds (violins, drums, etc.) that are supposed to sound natural. It's an effect.

To repeat, any Synclavier (even 3200 "mono" voices) can play back a true stereo sample using two voices automatically assigned left and right, and a Synclavier panning polyphonic sampling voice setup will play back a true stereo sample exactly the same way, by using two voices automatically assigned left and right, although in that case, it can still do the fake stereo mode panning effect with that stereo sample as well. It's really a remarkable system. And keep in mind that since playing a true stereo sample is using two voices, it will cut the available polyphony in half, so if it is a 32 voice system, it will have 16 note polyphony.

It is best to avoid the "mono" term that everyone else uses. From "Oh, it's not polyphonic?" to "It's not a stereo sampler?", it causes lots of confusion.

The first samping option from NED, the Synclavier II Digital Analysis/Synthesis Option AKA the Sample-to-Disk system from back in late 1981/early 1982 (the 2U rack unit with the big silver knob on it) was monophonic in polyphony and monophonic in audio (it was just one single channel DAC output). So here at Synhouse, it's always been said to be "panning" or "non-panning".

The system software utility page that sets up the system configuration so it will play correctly refers to panning voices as "standard" and non-panning voices as "Mono/3200". Some might also refer to non-panning "Mono/3200" voices as "sound design voices", as these were the voice cards used in the latest and last NED system, the PostPro SD, even though the panel had two output jacks on it.

Question 25: What are the stereo option synthesizer voices shown on your hardware page? What's stereo about it?

Answer: This is a good question. And the answer should be known. That page shows two sorts of hardware, the "original style mono" and the "stereo option"  synthesizer voices. It's just an extra channel of output card that can be used in patches. None of the famous Synclavier sounds or the famous 3-disk NED preset sounds use this extra channel (they were made three years before the stereo hardware/supporting stereo software existed).

The "original style mono" were all that existed from 1980 to the first half of 1983, and while no one seems to know and acknowledge this, NONE of the famous songs/soundtracks of Synclavier II synth voices were stereo, they simply didn't exist then, so if someone is buying it strictly for the famous sounds and insists on the stereo option, this is nonsense, none of the famous sounds were done with the stereo option.

You can see from the list of cards in those sets on the hardware page that it is all the same stuff in any revision, mono or stereo, up to the last card(s), which is the output, so it can be one SS5 or two SS7/SS7X cards. It isn't computing twice as many sounds inside there, just making an extra channel that can be routed to, if desired.

Let's consider a 16 voice Synclavier II as an example. It it has the stereo option voices, it's not like you are getting 16 voices free on top of first 16 voices, it's just an extra output channel for the same 16 oscillators, but routed through a 2-channel (stereo) analog filter card instead of the 1-channel analog filter (this part of it, the analog filter only, is the exact same sound, and this is crucial for the sound of the voices, it gives them that Memorymoog growl on the low end and a very smooth top end).

You can think of it as if it were a 16 channel mixer that has a mono output, just one jack there. It has one microphone plugged into each input channel, for a total of 16 microphones in all, the relative volume levels for each can be adjusted, and those are mixed to one channel, so it is mono.

Making it a stereo output mixer a panning control on each channel strip and two jacks for the output instead doesn't get you 16 more microphones or 16 more channels, it's just a panning control on each existing channel and a second output so it can be routed to one output, the other output, or anywhere in between.

Question 26: I would like to purchase one of your Synclavier systems. I'm coming to America for a vacation soon and I can come to Los Angeles and pick it up so I don't have to pay for shipping.

Answer: You can certainly collect it in person and save a lot of company time here by doing so, but what you can't do is ship it to where it has to go as well as Synhouse does. No one can.

A Synclavier II or Synclavier can't just be checked as airline baggage. It would be destroyed if checked as airline baggage. Not to mention excess baggage fees, and that there are at least two pieces of the system that would exceed the maximum baggage size and weight limits. This isn't the way to go.

This is delicate electronic instrumentation equipment that requires expertise to ship. A Synclavier II mini-system packed the Synhouse way can be as little as 76 kg, but it is really delicate. It can't just be handed over as baggage on an airline or something like that, it would be destroyed. The Synhouse special handing is a part of the cost, unless you are local and can pick it up to bring on a very gentle car ride.

Synhouse ships domestic US system orders by truck freight, while very small export Synclavier II mini-systems sometimes go by economy air freight, some small mini-systems and all big systems (several system orders in the last ten years have been more than 680 kg/1,500 lbs) go by economy ocean export. More than 70% of all Synhouse shipments since 2002 have been to Western Europe, so there is considerable shipping and export documentation expertise here.

Question 27: I live in Brazil, but I have family in USA, so you can send to them and they'll send it to me.

Answer: See the answer to the previous question above.

There's almost no possibility it's cheaper, there is a 100% chance it will be damaged (Synhouse has been repairing mis-shipped junk people have bought on eBay since 2002), and a very, very low probability you will want to pay for a service call to Brazil (it's barely once or twice per year that anyone wants to pay for any work done outside Los Angeles, though quite a lot of hardware has been shipped here for repair, see the service page about that) to fix the damage that's been done.

The shipping prices paid for these systems are a combination of actual shipping cost from the carrier*, packing labor, packing materials, and driving on this end.

Just because it's done by the best, it doesn't mean it has to be expensive. For a reference price, as of December 2018, the last Synclavier II mini-system shipped to Europe, the client wanted it shipped by air and it cost him exactly $787.66, including all packing labor, packing materials, and driving on this end.

But it's your choice and Synhouse will ship it anywhere you like.

*Synhouse gets considerable discounts not offered to one-time shippers calling out of the phone book, not to mention that Synhouse Multimedia Corporation is a known and federally recognized shipper since the terrorists attacked in 2001, and Synhouse deferred air shipments can ride in extra available cargo space on passenger airlines, which can result in even more money saved because it's unused/unsold space, and your shipments may not ride in passenger aircraft because they haven't been carrying your shipments for twenty years, just two of the nice benefits of being in the internation mail order business for 28+ years (as of December 2018) and counting.

Question 28: Does the Synclavier have 96 voices that can do everything, sampling and FM and DTD, so if you use 48 voices for FM, you only have 48 voices left for DTD?

Answer: There are four basic types of sound generation devices and audio outputs on NED systems, and at least a few subtypes and revisions of each. There are some combinations between them used at certain times due to the flexibility and expansive nature of the NED platform. Each sound generation device can play the audio program material from a variety of data sources or media, and the files themselves can be stored on a variety of media with different file types:


Hardware: Synclavier II synthesizer voices (also supplied as an option in some later NED systems such as the PSS, PSMT, PST, and 9600)

Hardware variations: original type (mono) and stereo (various revisions of each, including the SS6 Stereo Option and the later SS7, which was first put into the original mono bins with up to two 10-slot backplanes for 20 slots maximum and SAM adapters putting two SS7 cards into a single slot intended for an SS5 card, and later the SS7X put directly into bins with a single 24-slot stereo backplane)

Number of voices/channels: 8, 16, 24, or 32 voice systems are common, though NED specified 128 voices as the upper limit for system polyphony, any number of voices over 32 would have a progressively higher combined noise floor and latency in the upper voices due to the SS4=SS4=SS4=SS4=next bin=SS4=SS4=SS4=SS4, etc. daisy chaining control method (which was not employed in 64 voice and 96 voice polyphonic sampling systems that have each bin controlled directly from a dedicated interface card)

Type of sound generated: synthesized timbres, Resynthesis timbres

Sounds created by: user programming or from libraries

Sounds played directly from: core computer memory

Files stored on: floppy drive, Winchester drive, Kennedy tape drive


Hardware: Sample-to-Disk module (also known as the ADX/DAX Conversion Unit) with D66 computer interface cards

Hardware variations: original Sample-to-Disk option for the Synclavier II (also known as mono sampling, which leads to a lot of confusion), various revisions of each card in the module and computer bin

Number of voices/channels: 1

Type of sound generated: sampled sounds with sampling rates from 7.5 kHz up to 50 kHz

Sounds created by: user sampling, from libraries, or by user programmed computation of sine waves, waveforms with known harmonic content, impulse trains, and random white noise, all can be processed with ring modulation, pass band filters, stop band filters, comb filters, and by creating filters through spectral manipulation

Sounds played directly from: Winchester drive through small external RAM buffer

Files stored on: floppy drive, Winchester drive, Kennedy tape drive, optical drive, magneto-optical drive

File type: sound files


Hardware: Synclavier polyphonic sampling voices

Hardware variations: original type panning PSV cards (Polyphonic Sampling Voice cards) and later standard (panning) DDV voices or 3200 (mono) voices, and various revisions of each

Number of voices/channels: 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, or 32 voices are possible per poly bin, with up to three bins in a single system to make a maximum of 96 voices both right and left

Type of sound generated: sampled sounds with sampling rates up to 100 kHz stereo (samples can be played back at up to 400 kHz stereo)

Sounds created by: user sampling, from libraries, transferred in from Direct-to-Disk audio tracks using cue editing and the Transfer to Poly function, or by user programmed computation of sine waves, waveforms with known harmonic content, impulse trains, and random white noise, all can be processed with ring modulation, pass band filters, stop band filters, comb filters, and by creating filters through spectral manipulation

Sounds played directly from: dedicated polyphonic sampling RAM

Files stored on: floppy drive, Winchester drive, Kennedy tape drive, optical drive, magneto-optical drive

File type: sound files


Hardware: Direct-to-Disk voices

Hardware variations: original type panning DDV cards and later mono cards (various revisions of each)

Number of voices/channels: 4, 8, 12, or 16 tracks both right and left are possible per Direct-to-Disk machine, an unlimited number of machines can be synchronized through SMPTE, VITC, MIDI, or other system clocks

Type of sound generated: live audio recorded Direct-to-Disk, other disk recorded or sampled sounds, all with sampling rates up to 100 kHz

Sounds created by: direct user recording, transferred in (sample rate converted as necessary through the DSP70 option) from sound effects libraries on optical or magneto-optical disk, transferred in from Winchester, optical, or magneto-optical disk via the Synclavier polyphonic sampling RAM

UDIO can be added for one or two channel AES/EBU digital input and output

Sounds played directly from: battery of dedicated Winchester drives, with 1, 2, or 4 tracks per drive

Files stored on: initially recorded on battery of dedicated Winchester drives, recorded tracks can be backed up with two types of NED tape backup drives or other SCSI devices, by using cue editing, can be transferred to optical or magneto-optical drive or transferred to Synclavier poly RAM to be stored on floppy, Winchester, Kennedy tape, optical, or magneto-optical drives

File type: DTD file, cues may be saved to the polyphonic sampling bin and Winchester drive as sound files

It is possible for a single system to have all four types of sound output hardware.

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