The Fifty Quid Fairlight From 1987

US Music Machine promised a lot. Did it deliver?      20/11/23

The Fifty Quid Fairlight From 1987


It would be hard to understate the popularity of the Sinclair's ZX Spectrum Computer. Released in 1982 for a reasonable £175, Sinclair's colour computer for the everyman reduced costs in ingenious ways, such as utilising "the good half" of half-knackered memory chips, bought for cheap; or by asking a local rubber shower-mat company to produce it's iconic "fleshy" keyboard.

Sinclair had the foresight to include an expansion connector at the back of the machine. During it's lifetime, this connector saw a myriad of expansions available including joystick interfaces, light pens, video digitizers, speech synthesizers and a fair few musical add-ons, one of which we will focus on today.

In 1987, an advert for RAM's Music Machine made an incredibly bold claim.

At around £50, Fairlight ought to be more than a little worried.

Advert Scan: Ad - RAM Music Machine (MT Nov 86) (muzines.co.uk)

It went on to say that although the Fairlight CMI might remain a dream for most of us (I'm still waiting on mine!) your £50 could go a long way if you were to buy their product. The RAM Music Machine offered the following features:

  • Roughly 1 second of 8-bit 19.4Khz Sampling (Crusty!)
  • Real-time Echo effects
  • 3 voice polyphonic drum kit playback (8 different samples) OR
  • 2 voice polyphonic pitched sample playback
  • A 255-bar sequencer for both drum and pitched sample parts
  • The ability to route one sequence to the internal sampler, and one to an external MIDI instrument(!)
  • Full MIDI IO on Din Sockets
  • Included Microphone (of apparently dubious quality)

 

Whilst there were separate expansions from competitors that offered sampling, drum sequencing (SpecDrum!) and MIDI IO, no other company had managed to condense it all into one box, meaning that your £50 could cover the functionality of 3 or 4 £30 units. Through my 21st century gaze, it certainly looks like it had enough about it to give the hobbyist access to the fun of samples and sequencing, indeed, Music Technology's review stated:

It's not going to worry Fairlight (as if anyone thought it actually would), and it's not going to give drum machine manufacturers any sleepless nights, either. Some enterprising - and penny-conscious - home studio owners, however, may well take this and make music with it and generally have a whale of a time. And why not?

Article: RAM Music Machine (MT Jan 87) (muzines.co.uk)

For those of a certain age, before the explosion of cheap and easy sampling, such products would have allowed young creatives to take their first steps into the world of electronic music production. Whilst I didn't own one of these devices (and had to wait for my Amiga in order to experience sample-based tinkering) I'm sure that there must be a generation of people who look upon the machine fondly.

I say this, because units are highly prized still and fetch upwards of £80 on the second hand market. The charm of lo-fi sampling, the novelty of using a 1982 computer as your MIDI sequencer, these things mean a lot to certain type of music tech-head.

I've been looking for 4 years and just managed to acquire one, so I'll definitely be covering it via the medium of Youtube at some point! If you'd like to hear the unit in action, you're in luck! A demo tape existed and a digital copy is available here:

markfixesstuff.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/MusicMachineThe-DemoSong-SideB.mp3
 

 

Crunchy!

Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.



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