It was a cheap and cheesy
toy and it sounded fairly horrible... but what else would you expect
from a toy manufacturer's attempt to cash in on the emerging drum
machine market of the early '80s?
Someone at Mattel.... who are famous for their Barbie
dolls and other children's toys... obviously had this idea that
the company could (somehow) capitalise on this trend and make a
To be fair to Mattel, though, whilst everyone else was
scurrying to make drum machines that played patterns, the Synsonic
was more like a kid's mini-Simmons that could be played manually
using the four large velocity sensitive pads.
Of course, it was all analogue - no samples - and as
a result, not one of the sounds was in the slightest bit realistic!
Those sounds were a kick (mostly click), a snare (burst
of white noise), toms 1 and 2 (sine/triangle waves with a pitch
sweep) plus a hi-hat and cymbal (more bursts of white noise) and
these were triggered by the pads. Tom 1 was tunable using a thumbwheel
control on the side of the unit.
Across the bottom were several buttons that would play these sounds
at 1/4-note, 1/8th-note and 1/16th-note divisions of the tempo.
However, by pressing combinations of these keys, you could play
'rock', 'waltz', 'off-beat' and ''shuffle' patterns. According to
the manual, you should "experiment with different combination
of drum control keys - you can create over 4,000 patterens using
these keys". Hmmmm!
It was also possible to record your own patterns in a complicated
and rudimentary fashion.
The Synsonic also sported a 5-pin DIN socket
on the side but this is not to be confused with MIDI (which hadn't
been born when this thing came out). Instead, you could wire up
your own footswitches (or whatever) to trigger the sounds externally.
Considering that the Synsonic was essentially a toy, someone at
Mattel obviously had loftier aspirations for the thing by including
this (almost) professional connectivity.
It could be powered from batteries or a mains adaptor. The Synsonic
had a stereo output with a thumbwheel volume control on the side.
Of course, much like the Dubreq Stylophone, the Mattel
Synsonic was a novelty product but, nevertheless, it was one that
was that had obvious appeal and was actually used by quite a number
of musicians, the most notable of which were probably Teutonic synthmeisters
Kraftwerk. When you hear the sounds, you'll appreciate why.