Paradigm-Shifting Firmware Updates pt.3

US Part 3 on revisions that made synths into brand new machines      14/05/24

Paradigm-Shifting Firmware Updates pt.3

We've seen some doozy firmware updates over the years. Revisions that added new sound shaping features, workflow improvements or even full-blown synth engines! Thanks to reader suggestions & my own research, we have enough of these to last quite a while! Here's a couple more that totally changed the game.

Roland MC101

The MC101's v1.8 update was pretty earth-shattering.

The instrument has always contained a powerful Zen Core engine, just like the larger MC707 groovebox. However, unlike it's bigger cousin, the 101 was initially released with very limited sound design options.

The cutoff and resonance could be altered alongside some basic envelope controls (Soundcanvas, anyone?) but none of the juicy VA/PCM/FM/Ringmod/Sync "partial" parameters were available to tweak.

1.8 dropped, adding a way of creating sounds at the partial level, and I immediately ordered one. I expected a slightly cumbersome UI experience with the tiny screen - but in reality, I've had much worse, and I got access to Zencore hardware at a bargain price - with all of those lovely JD/JV/XV waves! I think that the results were definitely worth it.


Wersi MK1/EX20

Yay, an oddball! 1987's Wersi MK1 Stage Performer (plus the rack-mount cousin - the EX20) is an amazing, rare, additive beast with a paraphonic analogue filter! Check the specs:

  • 20 additive voices (each voice generated by it's own Zilog Z8611 CPU!)
  • "Envelopes for amplitude and frequency modulation can be programmed through a set of predefined envelope modules, each of which can be chained after one another to provide changing ever-changing modulation as time progresses."
  • The combined voices are fed into an analog filter module, "containing a digitally controlled switched capacitor filter (AF-20) or a SSM2044 analog VCF, mono distortion stage, mono noise stage, stereo phase effect stage ("WersiVoice") and finally a noise-reduction stage ("Dynafex")."
  • "Additionally, an optional DH-10 or DH-11 filter module mixes reverb, delay and compression into the final audio output."

Despite awesome potential, the 32-partial behemoth seems somewhat err..."quirky" to program. The panel buttons take on different functions in different modes, and therefore the little, easily lost flip book(!) is essential when programming your own sounds.

Some people persevered of course, such as Waldorf sound designer, Wolfram Franke:

I got my first synthesizer in 1986, a German one with awful preset sounds. So I had to start programming my own sounds on the very first day I got it. The architecture and the user interface of that synth were very complex and so I became quite skilled very soon. It was an additive synthesizer which helped me learn how overtones influence timbre.

Less than a year later I sold my first sound set ("Kling Klang") to the manufacturer of that synthesizer and they brought out a ROM cartridge with these sounds. A little later I sold further sound sets to them and after I finished school I did an internship in their company.

Flip book? Schmip book! Fast forward 40-ish years and, the wizards at have developed a new firmware (sold on ROM chips - cute!) that lets you connect the Wersi to a web-based browser! Edit those envelopes to your heart's content!

Wersi web editor

I think that this 32-partial instrument sounds super special and I'd love to own one, one day! If you'd like to read more about the Wersi, here's a contemporary article. I'll leave you with the magical work of Acreil:

There's plenty more examples of game-changing firmware that we can explore in future articles, let us know which updates you enjoyed the most!

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

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