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.
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.
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.”
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