GEM S2
VINTAGE CONTRIBUTIONS

In comedy, they say that everything is down to timing.

This is also true of the music business and had Italian manufacturer, GEM, released this product a few years earlier, it is likely that it would be regarded as a market leader... a classic even!

As it is, the GEM S2 was largely perceived by most as just another 'wannabe' music workstation keyboard that was simply cobbled together to go head-to-head with the competition of the time.

Which is is a shame because the S2 was (is) a very capable synth, workstation and keyboard.

With each voice having two oscillators (each one accessing hundreds of multi-sampled waveforms), two filters, several multi-stage envelopes, an LFO and a lot more besides, this was actually quite a serious synth. In keeping with its workstation status, it also had a 250,000 event sequencer and dual multi-effects - it also had one of the best, most comprehensively programmable keyboards available in a product of this nature making it an ideal master keyboard with functionality that rivalled (or even exceeded!) many dedicated master keyboards. It was also possible to load Akai S1000 samples (via the separate - and optional - Sample Translator software) from the floppy disk drive into its modest (2Mb) complement of on-board RAM to integrate in the factory sample set.

The S2 also had eight dedicated sliders which could be used to set volume, attack, release, filter 1, filter 2 and pan position making the S2 ideal for quick tweaking live or in the studio. Uniquely, however, in the special 'organ' mode, these same sliders could also be used as drawbars.

GEM also made the S3 which had a 76-note keyboard.

The S2 and S3 weren't successful for this Italian company. Perhaps it was the name - GEM's background in the home organ and home keyboard market was maybe a bit off-putting to pro musos. Or perhaps it was the stranglehold that market leaders such as Korg had on the world's workstation market at the time. Maybe it was price (though the S2 and S3 compared favourably with the competion). Perhaps it was the somewhat limited 16/32 voice polyphony (16-voice in 'dual oscillator' mode, 32 voices when only one oscillator was used). It was more than likely a combination of all these factors that contributed to these keyboards' downfall - just another workstation product from a relatively unknown company that didn't really offer anything significantly new and which wasn't significantly cheaper than the leading manufacturers' products.

It certainly wasn't the sounds that let the S2/3 down. Although I only had a cursory play with one at a trade show, what I heard was very impressive and if you seek out any info about these keyboards on the net, you'll find users and reviewers almost unanimously eulogising about the quality and clarity of the sounds.

You can decide for yourself with these sounds that have been very kindly donated by my good friend Louis van Dompselaar from his own S2 - if big, dramatic sci-fi padscapes are what you want, look no further!

FOOTNOTE

GEM have now largely retreated from the professional synth/workstation market, concentrating instead on home keyboards, a market where they are much more comfortable and successful.

However, well worth a mention is GEM's only current 'professional' keyboard: the truly magnificent ProMega 3 performance keyboard.

Offering 320-voice (!!!) polyphony and a stunning range of sounds that are played from an 88-note piano-action weighted keyboard, this thing is a performer's dream.

It has what appears to be possibly the finest collection of stunningly authentic acoustic piano sounds available on any keyboard or digital piano today along with a variety of electric pianos and clavinets (including Stevie Wonder's own Rhodes and D6 apparently!). It also has a wide range of strings, brass, electric and church organs, pads, basses and more - there are even Mellotron strings and choir samples in there!

The ProMega 3 also features instrument modelling, sympathetic resonance modelling and many more cutting edge features besides. Furthermore, its user interface is simplicity itself with LED-collared encoders and motorised faders. Find out more at: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/May03/articles/gempromega3.asp