An Illustrated Guide to E-Mu Samplers, Drum Machines & Synths

When Oli Freke was a kid, he'd flip through the pages of Julian Colbeck's Keyfax II and Keyfax III, absorbing as much as he could in the volumes of synthesizers, studying the images and details of instruments he could only hope one day to play.

Synthesizer Evolution

In the preface to his own book Synthesizer Evolution: From Analogue to Digital (and Back) (out now on Velocity Press), Freke pays his respects to these early inspirations, presenting the key facts of every major synth released from the early 1960s through the mid-'90s, along with important drum machines and samplers.

But Freke's own art sets his book apart.

An illustrator and synth fan, Freke has been drawing synthesizers for years. If you're into synths yourself, you've likely seen his work, which has been found everywhere from coffee mugs to an exhibit at London's Design Museum.

The new book presents original drawings and the essential bits of info for each instrument: Akais, Buchlas, Korgs, Moogs, Yamahas, and everything in between. Velocity Press was kind enough to allow us to run an excerpt below on the E-Mu Systems synths, samplers, and drum machines in the book.

Pick up Synthesizer Evolution now, and keep scrolling to read—and see—Freke's take on E-Mu.

Click any of the hyperlinked titles to find classic E-Mu instruments on Reverb.

E-mu was formed in 1971 by Dave Rossum, Steve Gabriel, Jim Ketcham, and were joined later by Scott Wedge. Initially called Eµ, they changed their name to ‘E-mu’ for the release of their first product, the E-mu modular synthesizer (1973). During the 1970s they developed and licenced a digital keyboard scanning technology to Oberheim, which was used in the Oberheim Four Voice and Eight Voice, and to Dave Smith for the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. Royalties for these were an important income source for E-mu through the leaner years of the late 1970s.

After the vastly expensive and unsuccessful Audity synthesizer in 1980, which was made untenable when Sequential stopped payment of those royalties, E-mu made a name for themselves in the world of sampling. Making use of the new Z80 chips and collaborating on the design of the SSM chip, E-mu was able to release the relatively affordable Emulator in 1981 and built upon that early success with a series of updated versions and sampling drum machines throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, E-mu was bought by Creative Technology and continued to release the series of Proteus ROMpler instruments. Creative Technology then attempted an ill-fated merger of E-mu and Ensoniq which ended both companies.

E-Mu Synthesizers

E-Mu 25

E-MU 25 1971

Mono / 3 VCOs
The prototype for the later modular system, only two were made.

E-mu Modular


Mono/Duo / Modular
E-mu's first products were modular synths, though they became better known for samplers in the 1980s.

E-Mu Audity


Digital Waveforms
16 note polyphony / 1 voice card per note
Was commissioned by Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream, and the prototype was shown at the 1980 AES convention. However, it was never productionised.

E-Mu Proteus


Sample & Synthesis
32 note polyphony / 2 Samples per voice
Sample playback machine leveraging E-mu's expertise in sampling. Subsequent versions included the Proteus 2 & 3.

E-Mu Drum Machines

E-mu Drumulator


12 PCM sounds / full polyphony
Tears for Fears - 'Shout' (1985)

E-Mu SP-12

E-MU SP-12 1985

8 PCM sounds and sampler (12 bit / 26kHz / 1.2 seconds)
The 'Sample Percussion 12' was popular in hip-hop and dance music production; the subsequent SP-1200 (1987) became a mainstay.

E-Mu Samplers

E-Mu Emulator


8-bit / 128KB RAM / 2s at 27kHz (mono)
Available in versions with either 4 or 8 note polyphony
Stevie Wonder received Emulator serial number #1.

E-Mu Emulator II


8-bit / 17.6s at 27kHz (mono)
8 note polyphony
An improved Emulator with 512kB, expandable to 1MB. An Emulator II+ offered 2MB.


E-MU EMAX 1986

12-bit / 10kHz - 42 kHz / 12s at 42kHz (mono)
8 note polyphony
Came in keyboard and rack versions; also includes additive synthesizer.

E-Mu Emulator III


16-bit / 33.1kHz or 44.1kHz / 67s at 33kHz (stereo)
16 note polyphony

E-Mu Emax II


16-bit / 20kHz - 39kHz / 6.7s at 39kHz (mono)
16 note polyphony
Later models added stereo sampling.

E-Mu Emulator IV


16-bit / 22.05kHz - 48kHz / 47s at 48kHz (stereo)
128 note polyphony
Although the top of the range, the last of the Emulators was displaced by cheaper samplers and the rise of increasingly powerful PCs.

E-Mu ESI-32

E-MU ESI-32 1994

16-bit / 22kHz - 44.1kHz / 11s at 44.1kHz (stereo)
32 note polyphony
E-mu's new generation of samplers following the Emulator series.

comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

iOS app store button
Android play store button