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"Like many science and engineering students who grew up during the '60s, Dave Rossum and his friends from Cal Tech dabbled in analog synthesizers while they were still in college. The dabbling resulted in the Eµ 25, an actual working analog synthesizer. (The symbol "µ" is the Greek letter mu, hence the company's name, Eµ.) The first model was built in the summer of '71, and the second (and last) shortly after that. The Eµ 25 was a stand-alone instrument, with many of the basic synth functions on a one-piece front panel.

"'We sold them for about as much as the parts cost us,' Dave Recalls. 'While we were working on the second Model 25, Scott Wedge, a friend of mine from highschool, joined us. From our involvement with the 25 we learned that modular systems were a lot more fun than fixed-front-panel instruments, so in 1972 we got our business license and started to design a modular system.' It was a garage-based shoestring operation, the sort of stuff that high-tech legends are made of. Dave lived in the back of the garage and Scott lived with his parents. They printed a brief, folksy catalog, and advertised their products in Popular Electronics and in Electronotes, a newsletter for engineers and serious experimenters.

"By 1973, E-mu's catalog listed modules that were capable of performing virtually all of the then-popular synthesizer functions. Especially noteworthy were the keyboards that Dave and Scott designed. The first was a monophonic keyboard that was digitally scanned, resulting in a more reliable mechanism than the then-common analog keyboards. A short time later, [in 1973] E-mu introduced their digitally-scanned polyphonic keyboard, which featured a built-in digital sequencer." This polyphonic keyboard "allowed the first polyphonic synths from both Oberheim and Sequential to be developed . E-mu also developed the SSM synth module chips that made Dave Smith's [of Sequential] Prophet-5 a reality. However, E-mu's own synth business was focused largely on modular systems until [Dave] Rossum and [Scott] Wedge saw the Fairlight CMI at an AES convention in 1979.

"Wedge recalls, 'We saw the Fairlight and recognized that the one feature that people would really find useful was it's sampling capabilities. But there was no way it should have cost $30,000, so we set out to build a dedicated sampling keyboard - the original E-mulator [1981].'"

[excerpted with permission from the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc]

E-mu is one of the few early synthesizer manufacturers that are still around today. They manufacture synthesizers and computer soundcards that are all direct descendants of the original Emulator.

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