About a week ago I stumbled upon a used Ensoniq SQ-80 at the downtown used music shop called “Hard Off” here in Japan. The hard shell case was dinged up a bit and I didn’t know what was inside, but it said Ensoniq on the outside. At first I thought it might be an EPS sampler of sorts. I have never seen either an ESQ, VFX, or ASR-10 series keyboard in any used store, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it was an Ensoniq SQ-80. The condition of it was really good with only one exception which was the door or lid of the floppy drive was missing. Other than the power cord there were no disks or other accessories.
This was my first time both seeing and playing an Ensoniq SQ-80, so I quickly checked the web with my iPhone in the store to get more info. It seemed to have positive reviews and definitely not all that common “in Japan”. So I dragged it up to the front desk and asked to give it a whirl. Immediately there was this patch that I played that sounded almost EXACTLY like the sync patch sound in the Cars “Let’s Go”. Now I know the SQ-80 was not the synth used on that record, BUT, it was very convincing nonetheless and it sounded just plain cool! What I also liked was how responsive the modulation wheel was. I could pump out a bass line and modulate it into some funky electro riff. It was instant fun playing the SQ-80 and I knew right then I had to take this thing home.
In total, the sales clerk allowed me to have it for $100 USD. I thought that was a pretty good price. I believe he reduced the price because he thought the floppy drive was broken. Later I found out that it was in perfect working order and just the front door piece was missing. The previous owner probably used the floppy drive quite a bit and it broke off or something. Not sure.
A couple of notes. I tried the sequencer and thought it worked very well. You definitely can create some interesting 80’s oriented stuff with the sequencer for sure. It was pretty easy to record a pattern, loop it, and add tracks which was fun. It’s not a loop sequencer, but it comes close. I need to fine the Ensoniq CVP-1 Expression Pedal as nothing worked from either Korg, Yamaha, or Boss. Not event he Boss EV-5 worked at all. The Ensoniq appears to be very picky with what Expression Pedal it takes. I’d like to use it to control the modulation wheel so I can keep both hand on the keys. I just love that MOD wheel with some of these SQ-80 bass and Sync patches.
I also was able to send patches to and from the SQ-80 with ease using Sysex Librarian on my Mac G4. Some patches I found on the web had the extension .MDX, but I found that if I simply changed that to .SYX, SYSEX Libarian would load and transfer the patch bank just fine. So I guess .MDX is the same as .SYX for at least transferring patches. There are some great patches to be found on the web and apparently you can also use any of the ESEQ-1 patches as well. I was surprised a little to see that there were still many commercial patch sets up for sale. With a synth this old, I generally encounter free patches, but it seems the SQ-80 is still in demand, so patches are still priced at a premium. There are also cartridges available, but I found having a working Floppy Drive to be sufficient. The prices on these cartridges for all Synth Brands are crazy these days.
All in all, the Ensoniq SQ-80 was a fantastic purchase. I also have the Ensoniq EPS Classic and love that sampler as well. Ensoniq makes great stuff and I’m pretty excited about the SQ-80 and EPS combo. They definitely make a unique and wonderful sound.