SUZUKI SX-500
VINTAGE CONTRIBUTIONS

The chances are that you have never heard of this rare and obscure synth module from Suzuki.

To be honest, neither had Iuntil it was brought to my attention by Hollow Sun regular, Louis van Dompselaar who bought one recently.

Ordinarily, this would be yet another feature of one of Louis' collection of unknown synths but some research into the Suzuki SX-500 reveals a rather curious and interesting history.

Suzuki (not - I think - to be confused with the motorcycle manufacturer) had enjoyed a certain amount of low-key success in the 'consumer' market with the musical instruments they had been making since 1954. However, like so many other such manufacturers at the time, they wanted a slice of the 'professional' market but in the absence of any 'in-house' synth technolgy, Suzuki looked outwards to find their solution. They found it in Italian manufacturer Siel.

Siel too had been striving to enter into the 'pro' market with products such as the DK-series, the Cruise, the Orchestra and others. In the mid-80s, they released the EX80, an inexpensive 8-voice analogue table-top synth expander module. Suzuki presumably saw a chance with this and so the product was licenced, re-badged and sold as the Suzuki SX-500, identical to the EX80 in every respect - in fact, open up a Suzuki SX-500 and you'll see the ROM labelled "EX80" and "Made in Italy by Societa Industrie Elettroniche" on the serial number plate ... something of a giveaway as to its origins!

It had a spec that was typical for the time - 2 x DCOs offering sawtooth and square waves, a filter, a VCA, ADSR envelopes, two LFOs (one for the DCOs, the other for the filter). There was also a chorus unit on the output. The EX/SX also had a built in 2-track 'scratchpad' sequencer offering storage for 300 notes - this could also be used to control external MIDI gear and it could be synchronised to external clock sources such as a trigger pulse and MIDI. The EX/SX had 50 presets (40 fixed factory / 10 user) and sounds could be layered in a special 4-voice mode.

However, the EX/SX had one major limitation - there was only one filter to service all eight voices and it wasn't truly polyphonic. In fact, it was more like the ARP Omni or PolyMoog from ten years earlier in that it had a polyphonic audio source but monophonic audio processing. It had options for single or multiple triggering to help go some way to overcome this limitation but it was still a major restriction.

But this is where it gets interesting.....

At almost exactly the same time as the Siel EX80 hit the market, Korg also released their EX800 which was (coincidentally!) also an 8-voice table-top analogue synth expander using the same technology found in their Poly800 II.

As well as a very similar name, the Korg EX800 also offered pretty much the same specification as Siel's EX80 including the single filter restriction.

It also had an identical parameter access user interface!

The Korg EX800 also had a chorus unit and a scratchpad sequencer - it even looked uncannily similar! Coincidence?

It's impossible to speculate what was going on here - was it just a coincidence or was someone copying someone... or were there licencing deals going on that we weren't privvy to? Did Korg develop their Poly800 and licence that technology to Siel (and hence Suzuki) or was it the other way around - did Siel licence their synth technology to Korg who were looking for a budget successor to their PolySix? It's all very curious (and wonderful fuel for corporate conspiracy theorists!).

Whatever... if these three products (the Siel EX80, the Korg EX800 and the Suzuki SX-500) had a common failing (apart from the obvious single filter limitation), it was that they were all accused of sounding weedy and brittle. However, that's not my experience here in this collection of sounds kindly donated by Louis who recently acquired an SX-500. Quite how Louis finds these obscure little modules is a mystery to me but the five multi-sampled sounds he has given don't give me any significant indication of sonic weakness. For sure, it is obvious that they are not from a MemoryMoog and the bass end does appear to have a 'fizzy' quality to it with an HF 'overtone' but they are useful, usable sounds nonetheless and, as always, I am grateful to Louis.