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Ensoniq Mirage DSK
|Dates||1984 - 1988|
|Oscillator||digital PCM sampler, 8 bit|
|Synthesis type||Digital Sample-based Subtractive|
|Filter||analog low-pass VCF|
The Mirage was Ensoniq Corporation's first product, introduced in 1984. Priced below $1700 with features previously only found on more expensive samplers like the Fairlight CMI, it became a best-seller. The mirage was one of the earliest affordable sampler-synths.
The Mirage was an 8-bit sampler featuring a 61 key velocity-sensitive keyboard, a two-digit LED display, extensive MIDI implementation, analog filters, a 333-event sequencer. It had 128kB of RAM (64kB for each keyboard half) and it was not expandable. Sample rate was variable from 10 kHz to 33 kHz with available sample time ranging from 2 to 6.5 seconds accordingly (for each keyboard half).
It included a built-in 3.5 inch SS/DD floppy drive, which was used to boot the operating system as well as store samples and sequences. Each disk had a copy of the operating system and could be used as a boot disk, obviating the need for a separate boot disk.
Each disk stored six samples and up to eight sequences. The keyboard was 'pre-configured' into two halves, each functioning as two independent instruments, though the split point could be moved. This made it easy to have one sound for the right hand (an 'upper' sound) and another for the left (a 'lower' sound). However, the standard OS could not move samples between keyboard halves. Thus the diskette could save three 'upper' sounds and three 'lower' sounds. Ensoniq later made an alternative OS available called MASOS which traded off performance features for editing features, including the ability to copy an 'upper' sound to a 'lower' sound and vice versa.
Using a feature called multi-sampling, the Mirage was also capable of assigning multiple samples to different keys across its keyboard. Using this technique, the Mirage essentially turned into a polyphonic mult-timbral MIDI sound module complete with a velocity-sensitive keyboard that could be used to drive other MIDI sound modules as well its own sound engine.
The Mirage sampler has become a minor sought-after item due to its low bitrate converters, being somewhat second place in the quest for Akai MPC60's and S900's due to its complex programming system which is based on hexadecimal coding. In addition, as of 2005, a software-based sampling synthesizer such as Native Instrument's Kontakt or Tascam's Gigastudio can load a 1 gigabyte instrument on a properly configured new personal computer without placing too many demands on the hardware. Despite this, many industrial producers have championed the Mirage for its abrasive sound qualities.
The Mirage was the brain child of Robert Yannes, the man responsible for the MOS Technology SID (Sound Interface Device) chip in the Commodore 64 and the Ensoniq Digital Oscillator Chip (Ensoniq ES5503 DOC) used in the Apple IIGS computer (actually it is the same chip as used in the Mirage, ESQ-1, and SQ-80).
There were three versions of the Mirage. The first had a spongy feeling keyboard and large square black buttons. The second had a better-weighted feel keyboard and small calculator-like buttons. The third was shorter and in a plastic case, had a non-weighted keyboard and sold for about $1300 USD. A 2U rack-mounted version was also produced.