Ensoniq ESQ-1


The Ensoniq ESQ-1 is a versatile hybrid synthesizer released in 1986. Ensoniq made 50,000 units up until 1989. Today, used units go for around $500 or less.

The ESQ-1 is mostly a digital synthesizer - only the filter and amplifier stages are analog. The oscillators utilize a custom chip made by Ensoniq that produces single cycle loops of 32 different waveforms, ranging from the usual saw, square, tri, and sine on through to sampled instruments and noises (bass, piano, voice, etc). Because there are three oscillators per voice, it’s possible to create a huge range of basic textures by combining the different wave types. You can take this idea further by controlling the amplification, filtering, and LFO of each individual voice as well. There’s even osc sync and amplitude modulation capabilities as well.

The filter section boasts eight analog, resonant lowpass filters (one per voice) whose cutoff can be modulated a similarly broad amount of ways thanks to its digital controller. There are three assignable LFOs and four EGs here, and all can be sent just about anywhere. Programming everything is fairly painless thanks to a larger than typical screen and thoughtful menu layering. There’s also an 8 track sequencer.

The ESQ-1 isn’t without limitations. There’s no headphone jack, for one, and changing any parameter on this synth doesn’t impact the sound until the next note is triggered. There’s also no on board effects. These are small grudges to hold, however, as the ESQ-1’s hybrid design does a great job of mating the flexibility of digital technology with the warmth and width of analog. Both at the time of its release and at the time of writing, the ESQ-1 is very affordable next to its competition. Ensoniq may not enjoy the notoriety of Roland or Korg, but this is a classic synth worth considering.

Technical Specifications

Year of release: 1985 Polyphony: 8
Oscillators: 3 DCOs per voice Modular: No
Multitimbral Parts: 9 Patch Memory: 40
Filter: 1 resonance lowpass VCF per voice Keys: 61
Effects: None LFO: 3 (tri, saw, square, noise)
Control: MIDI


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Ensoniq ESQ-1