ARP 2600

The ARP 2600 is undoubtedly one of the most revered synthesisers in history.

Designed as a compact, portable modular synthesiser, it had an ingenious patching system where there were hardwired internal connections that followed the typical signal path (oscillator > filter > amplifier) but by inserting a patch cord into any of the front panel mini-jack sockets, the internal connection was over-ridden with whatever was plugged into it.

In this way, you could get a sound out of the 2600 with no patch cords and operation was much like their later Odyssey. However, you had the flexibility of a true modular synth where literally anything could be connected to anything.

The onboard facilities were very good too. It included three voltage controlled oscillators, a very flexible noise generator, a voltage controlled lowpass filter, a voltage controlled amplifier with a stereo output and two envelope generators.

All fairly standard fare so far but the more esoteric modules also supplied included a fully programmable sample and hold voltage processor, a slew limiter, inverters and signal/voltage mixers, a bi-directional voltage switcher, a voltage processor/DC generator, a ring modulator, an input pre-amp, an envelope follower and a spring reverb - it even had two speakers making it totally self-contained. Because of this, the 2600 was quite popular with US schools and universities as a teaching aid for the principles of sound - in fact, ARP were keen to promote it as an educational tool and it was partly designed with that in mind. Ironically, the units that did go into education mostly resided in the physics labs rather than the music department!

The keyboard shown above was initially optional when the 2600 was first released. However, ARP released an upgraded keyboard later on that was duo-phonic (you could, at a push, play two notes at a time... but only just!) and had a simple LFO for vibrato.

There were several things that set the 2600 apart from its Moog rivals : the oscillators were considerably more stable than Moog's (which could wander out of tune if the studio door was opened and room temperature changed!). Each 'module' also had a mixer at its inputs (the Moog relied on separate mixer modules that needed to be patched in) thereby greatly reducing patch cord tangle. ARP chose sliders over knobs because they thought that sliders were far better for 'seeing' the sound (much like a graphic equaliser is good for 'seeing' an EQ shape). For the facilities on offer, the 2600 was quite compact and cost-effective (compared with a Moog modular). However.....

The 2600 lacked oscillator sync, one of the envelope generators was only a simple attack/release type (Moog's were all ADSR) and there was only a lowpass filter (the Moog modulars also offered highpass). The keyboard's pitchbend knob was not good - a rotary control with a dead area at 12-o-clock - which could not compete with Moog's pitchbend and modwheel (although this was a limitation all ARP synths suffered).

It was also not a truly 'modular' synthesiser. A modular synthesiser by definition allows you to add modules as required - the 2600 was a 'WYSIWYG' modular with no option to add or replace modules. It interfaced well with external gear and other synths, however, so this wasn't a huge limitation.

That the 2600 sounded good is undisputed. It was not as 'powerful' a sound as the Moog but was still full sounding. It enjoyed enormous success and was endorsed by Stevie Wonder who pioneered its use in his early seminal albums. Other famous users include Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), Herbie Hancock, Pete Townsend (The Who), Tony Banks (Genesis) and of course, the most well known users of all..... Hollow Sun!!!

Yes - I had one and I loved it! As well as 'stock' sounds, it was capable of some truly bizarre sounds and effects if some adventurous patching was applied. It was also capable of great subtlety - I remember creating a sublime gong sound using its ring modulator that was thoroughly realistic. I also worked on the soundrack for a TV program and created seagull sounds which, combined with stereo multitrack layers of various colours of 2600 noise sweeps to simulate surf, created a very convincing seascape that totally fooled the program producers!

In 1986, however, due to a highly embarrasing financial situation here at the studio, very reluctantly, I had to sell it along with other analogue equipment. With the decline of analogue synths, I had bought it for a mere £350 and I hung on to it for as long as possible during the DX7 onslaught but in the end, no-one was interested in analogue sounds and it just wasn't being used - people didn't really even want samples of it! Sad but true and in these enlightened times, quite unbelievable. I sold it to an enthusiast/collector for a good price.

However, before it went, I managed to grab a few samples from it which I managed to unearth. Unfortunately, only one floppy disk survives, a collection of synth basses which are offered here.

Please remember that the only currency at the time for sample storage and distribution was the floppy disk so I had to work within a 1.3Mb limit. As a result, the sounds are small. However, they are good and fruity and, despite their age, are very contemporary and useful in any number of today's musical genres.