I have a friend in Santa Cruz who is always finding strange toys to play with. She recently called me to have me service her E-Mu Proteus. She gave me an extra Proteus Custom she had sitting around (yay!) and I also got a weird ass rack with no faceplate decals on it. It looked to me like a piece of beat up hardware with nothing remarkable about it. Until she turned it over and I saw the business card for Dana Massey, the DSP engineer at E-mu systems during the ’90s. It suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at a factory E-Mu test bed. I was excited to get it home to see what kind of patches were saved on the unit from the lab. I figured I might be able to find some cool patches and stuff.
Alas, upon inspecting it while plugged into my soundsystem with a MIDI controller, I realized the patches were just the same shitty factory patches Dave Rossum had shipped with the original units. I was unable to find anything impressive or interesting about it while I played it. It seems like most of Rossum’s rack products: useful when it came out, and then within months or a year, each model became a thing of the past as newer and easier to use systems hit the market. The other thing about the Morpheus and Proteus modules are that they are ROM-plers, as in “samplers you can’t sample with,” as all of their sounds are just ROMs sampled at the factory. I personally like synthesizers and samplers much better, but ROM-plers like the E-Mu Proteus are still used all the time to make HipHop and Electronica.
Z-plane filters, which are Rossum’s unique contribution to the field of sound synthesis, are pretty cool. The Z-plane is a type of digital filter whose cutoff frequencies change over time. They’re usually 18 poles, as opposed to the 4 pole analog filter that Moog popularized. The Z-planes sound spacious and very pretty. The tones they produce can be bell like or very ambient and pretty. The Z-plane filter itself was always the domain of rack mounted E-Mu systems modules in 19 inch racks, until Rossum released the Eurorack Z-plane filter for modular synths. The Z-plane filter module for Eurorack is clearly his best iteration of this software, as it is the most versatile, useful with other hardware, and you can drive the module to do crazy shit the original rack synths couldn’t do. I also should note: I really don’t care for digital filters in general, so take my synopsis with a grain of salt.
From what I can tell, it looks like Dana Massey or whoever at E-Mu, was blowing up some ICs from time to time inside the unit. I can see where the quad flat pack ICs for interfacing with the slot inside have been resoldered. I can also see that the GAL/PAL ICs are socketed and most are unlabeled with the usual sticker. There are also several EPROM ICs with their windows uncovered on the PCB. I surmise that this unit was used as a test platform for Morpheus EPROMs or as a test bed for the slot on the PCB. The slot looks like it could be a slot for an E-Mu ROM expansion, but I looked into it and nowhere does it advertise the Morpheus as expandable, so I assume it could have been the programming or testing interface for mass production. I’m not sure.
Starving Musician in Santa Cruz apparently gave my friend Christina this unit for free, as it did not have a label on the face and also seemed to have Dana Massey’s business card on the bottom. The guys at the shop said they couldn’t sell it, so it went to Christina, and now to me. A fun little project, but altogether a little disappointing. The Morpheus sounds whack in my opinion, and who in God’s name wants to menu dive for 5 minutes for each parameter tweak. The Z-plane is interesting, and pretty cool. I was hoping to find some really crazy ass patches onboard, but no such luck, all patches were factory standard. If I were to get a Z-Plane device for my studio I’d be interested in the Eurorack module but not much else. This test bed goes back to Christina!
Below are some more photos:
You can see everything is Rev. A, 1.0, etc. Pretty cool. EPROMs still have the original labels and stickers. Everything looks great inside despite it’s beat up exterior.
Above are more Atmel programmable devices in their sockets, with their windows exposing the bare IC dies inside of the ICs.
Above is the Analog Devices ADSP-2115 DSP IC on it’s breakout board with it’s complimentary programmable devices on the right and what I assume is flash on the left.
Above is the output section, with it’s Analog Designs DACs, low noise N-FET output op-amps, big thick SMT resistors and caps, a Zettler relay (just like in an electric car!) and finally the E-mu ASICs on the bottom of the shot. Pretty cool.
A friend of mine recently went to work for Dave Rossum. He’s very very happy, as anyone who’s ever used an E-Mu product would be. Dave’s work with samplers gave the world hiphop. Basically, all on his own (aided by the team of professionals who enabled his vision.) Thank you, Dave Rossum. We are in your debt.
Dave is certainly an OG in Audio design, and love or hate the products, he’s worthy of praise as a designer, marketeer, and visionary in electronic audio. Just like Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim, Don Buchla, Bob Moog, and all the myriad of new designers who are now creating tomorrow’s classic hardware. But the when and where of Dave’s samplers, especially, had a very very deep impact on music production and changed the whole world. He was capable of seeing samplers as a new instrument, not a computer. An instrument that I believe still has not had it’s limits properly philosophically tested.