Con Brio Advanced Digital Synthesizer 100 & 200. Tim Ryan, Alan Danziger, Don Lieberman. USA, 1979

Con Brio ADS 200 1980

The  Con Brio ADS 100 & 200 has become something of a legendary instrument due to it’s phenomenal price – USD$30,000 or about GBP£17,000 in 1980 – and it’s futuristic sci-fi looks. The instrument was designed by three California Institute of Technology students  – Tim Ryan, Alan Danziger, and Don Lieberman in 1979, and was one of the earliest digital synthesisers. The first version  – originally designed to test audio perception in their university research – evolved into the ADS100 and was capable of several types of synthesis modes via it’s 64 oscillators; additive synthesis, phase modulation (Used later in the Casio CZ series.), and frequency modulation (FM synthesis – which brought Con Brio into conflict with Yamaha, owner of Chowning’s FM patent). Despite it’s high price and negligible sales, the ADS 100 did claim some fame when it was later used to generate sound effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Con Brio ADS 100
Con Brio ADS 100
Con Brio ADS 100

The ADS100 was based on 3 MOS 6502 processors (also used in Apple I, II and Commodore 64 computers at the time) and could display sequence patterns and waveform envelopes on a video display. The instrument consisted of a large filing-cabinet sized wooden box for all of the computer peripherals – hard drives, cables and so-on, two detachable 61 note keyboard plus a control panel consisting of numerous coloured lights and a video monitor. The ADS100 was completely hand wired and took over seven months to build only one is known to have been sold – for $30,000 to film composer David Campell, (Beck’s father, who also arranged music for Tori Amos, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, Aerosmith) and later acquired by musician and vintage synthesiser collector Brian Kehew.

Con Brio ADS 200

In 1980 the ADS was updated to the ADS 200. The upgrade added another two 6502 processors to make a total of five, new software included a new sequencer that could display musical notation and play four tracks at a time sync-able via CV/Gate interface. The five processors allowed the instrument to run 16 oscillators on each key which multiplied by it’s its sixteen voices capability gave a total of 256 simultaneous oscillators. The smaller ADS200 had a microtonally tunable, split-able keyboard

“‘It was totally configurable in software…we had 16 stage envelope generators for both frequency and amplitude, so it was kind of like the grandfather of the Yamaha DX7. On ours, you could build your own algorithms, using any of all of the 64 oscillators in any position in the algorithm. If you wanted additive, you could add 16 of them together. The phase modulation was similar to what Casio did with their CZ series. You could designate any tuning you wanted and save it. You could split the keyboard, stack sounds, model different parts of the keyboard for different parts of the sound, and save that as an entity – the kind of things that are common now.”

Brian Kehew

1982 saw the release of the  200-R which featured a a 16-track polyphonic sequencer with 80,000 note storage capability editable from the video display. This version was priced at $25,000. Only one was ever built. Like many other High-end, expensive digital synthesisers, the days of the ConBrio ADS were numbered with the arrival of cheaper and available technology – specifically the Yamaha DX7 FM synthesiser (1983) – as well as affordable personal computers running sequencer applications such as Steinberg’s Cubase. After Con Brio’s demise, Danziger and Lieberman have become successful manufacturing semiconductors. Tim Ryan cofounded The Sonus corporation, which later became M-Audio, a leading manufacturer of computer audio interfaces, MIDI controller keyboards, and studio monitor speakers.

Images of the Con Brio ADS 100/200/200R


Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc

One thought on “Con Brio Advanced Digital Synthesizer 100 & 200. Tim Ryan, Alan Danziger, Don Lieberman. USA, 1979”

  1. I was hired by Con Brio in 1980 or ’81 to help develop and market the ADS-200. I was responsible for helping to develop the user interface to make it appear to operate in a way that was already familiar with analog synthesizers. I also helped build two of these instruments (an ADS-200 and the ADS-200R), spending many hours “wire-wrapping” the circuit boards. So I am in a position to correct a few errors in this article.

    1. The ADS-200 was offered for sale at a price of $20,000 not $25,000 or $30,000. However, it was possible to order an instrument with MORE virtual oscillators than the standard 256, which would raise the price.

    2. Three ADS-200s were built. One was sold. I was loaned the other one as Con Brio began to fold and when I started a small production company with Adam Holzman and George Sanger located at Digital Sound Recorders in Highland Park (Los Angeles area). This is the one eventually acquired by Mr. Vail. The ADS-100 was never sold. It was really just a prototype and was never seriously marketed.

    3. David Campbell bought the other ADS-200 not an ADS-100.

    4. The ADS-200 was NOT smaller than the ADS-100. The ADS-100 was considerably smaller than the ADS-200. The ADS-200R’s dimensions put it physically in the middle of the pack – larger than the 100 but smaller than the 200.

    5. The third photo above, the color picture labeled “ADS-100” with the all-black cabinet is not an ADS-100. That is the “portable” version of the ADS-200R. It was functionally identical to the larger dual-keyboard ADS-200 with the walnut-veiner cabinet. However in an effort to lower the price, this instrument was offered with only a single keyboard and a smaller cabinet.



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