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The Ensoniq Mirage is one of the earliest affordable sampler-synths, introduced in 1984. As Ensoniq's first product, it became a best-seller. It was priced below $1700 with features previously only found on more expensive samplers like the Fairlight CMI.
Ensoniq Mirage DSK
|Dates||1984 - 1988|
|Oscillator||digital PCM sampler, 8 bit|
|Synthesis type||Digital Sample-based Subtractive|
|Filter||analog low-pass VCF|
The Mirage is the brainchild of Robert Yannes, the man responsible for the MOS Technology SID (Sound Interface Device) chip in the Commodore 64. The Ensoniq Digital Oscillator Chip (Ensoniq ES5503 DOC) that he designed was used in the Mirage as well as in the Apple IIGS computer and Ensoniq's ESQ-1 and SQ-80.
There are three versions of the Mirage. The first has a spongy-feeling keyboard and large square black buttons. The second has a better-weighted feel keyboard and small calculator-like buttons. The third is shorter and in a plastic case, has a non-weighted keyboard and sold for about $1300 USD. A 2U rack-mounted version was also produced.
The Mirage is an 8-bit sampler featuring a 61 key velocity-sensitive keyboard, a two-digit LED display, extensive MIDI implementation, analog filters, a 333-event sequencer. It has 128kB of RAM (64kB for each keyboard half) and it is not expandable. Sample rate is variable from 10 kHz to 33 kHz with available sample time ranging from 2 to 6.5 seconds accordingly (for each keyboard half).
It includes a built-in 3.5 inch SS/DD floppy drive, which is used to boot the operating system as well as to store samples and sequences. Each disk has a copy of the operating system and can be used as a boot disk, obviating the need for a separate boot disk.
Each disk stores six samples and up to eight sequences. The keyboard is 'pre-configured' into two halves, each functioning as two independent instruments, though the split point could be moved. This makes it easy to have one sound for the right hand (an 'upper' sound) and another for the left (a 'lower' sound). However, the standard OS can not move samples between keyboard halves. Thus the diskette can save three 'upper' sounds and three 'lower' sounds. Ensoniq later made an alternative OS available called MASOS which trades off performance features for editing features, including the ability to copy an 'upper' sound to a 'lower' sound and vice versa.
Using a feature called multi-sampling, the Mirage is also capable of assigning multiple samples to different keys across its keyboard. Using this technique, the Mirage essentially turns into a polyphonic mult-timbral MIDI sound module complete with a velocity-sensitive keyboard that can be used to drive other MIDI sound modules as well its own sound engine.
The Mirage sampler has become a minor sought-after item due to the distinctive sound of its low bitrate converters, although not as desirable as similar-sounding samplers such as Akai's MPC60 and S900 due to its complex hexadecimal-based programming. Despite this, many industrial producers have championed the Mirage for its abrasive sound qualities.