Ensoniq came from nowhere in 1983/4 with their Mirage sampling keyboard which offered pretty much the same sampling possibilities as Emu's original Emulator.

It was limited, had a lo-fi bandwidth, minimal (144Kb!!) memory and it was difficult to use with nothing more than a 2-digit LED display but it was a quarter of the price of the Emu and was an influential product nonetheless.

Ensoniq followed this up not with another sampler but with a powerful three-oscillator, analogue-style synth, the ESQ1, which not only offered comprehensive modulation possibilites to rival the Oberheim Matrix but also a sophisticated (for the time) 8-track, multi-timbral sequencer. When Roland introduced their D50 that used simple samples to construct sounds, Ensoniq tried to fight back with their SQ80 which was basically an ESQ1 but with an expanded set of waveforms that included some rudimentary 'attack' and 'loop' samples. It was a great synth but it was a half-hearted attempt to keep up with the new breed of S+S synths.

This changed in 1989 when Ensoniq released their VFX that offered not only a wide range of multi-sampled waveforms but also, using their 'transwave' technology, a form of wavetable synthesis not unlike that found on PPG synths. It also had two multi-mode filters, three 11-stage envelopes and much more besides including 24-bit effects derived from their outboard processors. The VFX (and its successor the VFX-SD) had several innovative performance features for live work that allowed quick and easily accessible layering using dedicated front panel switches. Whilst not the most versatile synth, the VFX was an excellent choice for rich pads and textural sounds. Unfortunately (for Ensoniq), the poor old VFX had a hard time competing with the Korg M1 which was dominating the market at the time.

In a cost-down exercise, Ensoniq released the SQ1 that retained the VFX's basic voice engine but lost the performance features offering instead a smaller, menu-driven 2 x 16 LCD. An offshoot of this was their SQ-R, a rack-mount version of the SQ1. This was superceded by the SQ-R Plus which had a different voice ROM and added 1Mb of multi-sampled piano.

My thanks to Louis Van Dompelsaar (again!) who has carefully multi-sampled his own SQ-R+