Here is a bank of famous patches that have been available on the net for a number of years.
They were culled from many sources, including the various revised preset banks.
Of interest to collectors, a number of these sounds came from rare Ensoniq “Dealer Demo” cartridges which were never made available to the general public.
Also, a few of the patches came pre-loaded on certain factory EEPROM carts, which makes them some of the most ephemeral of all. --Working musicians tend to over-write everything, especially, somehow, the sounds they really want to keep!
Finally, I wrote a couple of these patches myself, LONG ago, when I fit inside much thinner pants. They are included here to help round out the bank. (The sounds, not the pants.)
Make no mistake: By calling these patches “ESQ Hits” I am not saying these are the best patches for the machine.
Let me repeat: these are not intended to represent the “best” ESQ sounds (whatever that might mean). In fact, you might be able to create more preferable versions of these sounds yourself.
No, these patches were "hits" simply because they were foundational: We’re talking about some of the first ESQ sounds heard in music stores and on stages in 1986. Like "Digital Native Dance" on the Roland D50 or the ubiquitous DX7 "E. Piano 1", these are some of the sounds that made people say “Wow!” in 1986. It doesn't mater if you like the presets or not (or are a "preset hater" in general), the ESQ had a particularly high "Wow" factor.
Let the listener beware (Caveat Auditor?), you may love some of these sounds and hate others. More likely, you will find yourself both loving and hating certain sounds. The banks is heavily weighted toward tuned percussion, probably because mid-80’s synth buyers were demanding DX7-like tones, and clangorous metal was a hallmark of FM synthesis.
Indeed, many of these sounds may be classic, but not necessarily "classics" (if you take my meaning). Some have stood the test of time and some have not. Either way, it's up to you to get the best sound out of your ESQ or SQ80.
After all, even cliché sounds can be used in fresh new ways that make you sit up and say “Wow” all over again.
Patch 01 = PIANO2
This is one of the better piano sounds on the platform, and its the second one in the default patch bank. It’s better than the Roland D50 piano, and good to have available if your main piano goes south.
Keep in mind that this patch would have been a revelation in 1986: No synth at the time was capable of producing a piano sound that would make the average minister’s wife say, “that’s a piano”. Trust me, a more typical response was (Korg Poly 800, Juno 60) “That’s a piano?”
Patch 02 = DIGPNO
Default DX7 electric piano sound. Pretty good with a built-in chorus. With this sound and the Solid Bass sound-alikes on the ESQ, many DX7 users found their expensive FM synths rather redundant.
Patch 03 = ICYORG
The two organs on this bank are not representative of the hundreds of excellent tonewheel and transistor organs available for the ESQ-1. This patch delivers a haunting, autumnal tone halfway between a pipe organ and a console replica.
Patch 04 = PIPES1
A big pipe organ with a lot of character. Always good to have in your kit.
Patch 05 = PLKBRS
Big poly brass with a more complex attack than you’d get on a contemporaneous Korg or Oberheim. I think Ensoniq considered this their signature synth-brass, based on its positioning on the ESQ demo song.
Patch 06 = VANGEL
This patch was designed to be layered behind a piano (which explains its minus-1 octave tuning). I wrote this patch, so its hardly a ‘classic’, but if you have need of a stock Vangelis Yamaha CS-80 brass, then this one may suffice. The nasty grit comes from a PULSE wave on OSC 2, which you can replace with a SAW for authenticity. The PULSE grit helps it sit in a layer with a piano better.
By way of apology, I have learned much more about the CS-80 architecture and Vangelis as a composer in the intervening years, and I have done much better replica work in my second decade with the ESQ-1 than my first! Check out Youtube for some Vangelis hits off my premium bank.
Patch 07 = AHHHHS
80’s vocal patch with a specific character. Very reminiscent of a similar sample set for the Ensoniq Mirage. I remember this one showing up on the soundtrack of the Bruce Willis TV series “Moonlighting” with some regularity.
Patch 08 = STRBAS
This is a personal favorite. A very organic upright bass pluck. You can distinctly hear the slap of the string against the wood! Who says the ESQ doesn’t do imitative instruments?
Patch 09 = KEBASS
A profound Moog bass. None of this one-oscillator all-in-the filter bass nonsense that ruled the 90’s! (even though there are some pretty famous 303 basses for the ESQ also!)
Patch 10 = ANSYN1
This is a preset in one of the ESQ firmware revisions. This is one of the most hybrid sounding “AN SYNS” ever! I think they were shooting for a PWM poly lead. Its that darn pulse on OSC 2 giving this sound its gritty edge. It’s pretty awesome, but you can tame it (if you wish) by replacing OSC 2 with a SAW or a very MOOG-ish SQUARE wave.
Patch 11 = PNOSTR
Not a layer. More of a string patch created with piano waveforms. This patch exhibits a lot of deeper character that you wouldn’t get with all-analog oscillators. The consensus of the SQ80 list is that this is the patch that features prominently on the Adamski track “Killer” (the tune that gave Seal a steady job).
Patch 12 = 5OFSWE
Can anyone explain that patch name? The “5” is probably for “Prophet 5”, but this is a lot like that Roland evolving brass pad sound. This is the prototypical Pad.
Patch 13 = SHRTST
This collection has a number of first rate string ensembles. This sound certainly ranks among the best analog strings. The patch name refers to the fast attack, but it sounds as good as many slower-evolving ensembles. I could score an entire X-Files episode with nothing but this patch (But you might not want to listen to it).
Patch 14 = E STR
Another top-flight string ensemble. This one is geared more toward the upper registers. It would make a great split/layer with a deep, rich string section. Or sampled cellos. I speak from experience.
Patch 15 = CHOIRX
This is meant to be layered with Patch 20, CHOIR2. The duo makes a killer combo that completely buries the famous Fairlight choir.
A lot of fun can be had with this solo, un-layered patch by setting the filter to 35, turning the resonance WAY up, and setting the first filter modulator to WHEEL with a value over 100. Now talk-play the patch and make it “go robot” with the MOD WHEEL!
Patch 16 = SLOBEL
Weird warbling bell sound that would be equally at home in a horror movie as in a Manheim Steamroller Christmas album. The first ESQ patches were heavy on bells, probably in order to show up the then-ubiquitous DX7, which was good for bells and other sounds with a lot of unpitched harmonic noise.
In the lower octaves, this bell sounds like the engine to some interplanetary UFO. If you are controlling the ESQ or SQ8L from a keyboard with more than 61 keys, check out those C-Minus-1 octaves. It’s like a subterranean choir.
Patch 17 = GLDBEL
Nice multi-envelope bell that makes good use of the poly glide and the release envelope for a little after-effect! Doggone clever programming.
Patch 18 = D BELL
“D-Bell” surely stands for “digital bell” here. It’s like a version of the famous DX7 tubular bell. Frankly, Glenn Javaheri does it much better in his “Heaven” banks (check eBay for availability), but “D BELL” is a rich and emotive sound in its own right.
Patch 19 = FRIDAY
It’s like a massive harpsichord hammered out of a Blaster Beam. I love this sound, but can anyone explain the name to me?
Patch 20 = CHOIR2
This is a more natural choir sound, quite unlike the synth choirs that came before it. It has a lot of similarities with the Fairlight choir, which inspired the Roland Sound Canvas and GS-style choirs (the first sound in The Simpson’s theme).
Patch 21 = KLUNKS
It’s a brassy comp, a clav, a pad, and a synth lead all in one. Playing the famous KLUNKS on a good-feeling keyboard is more fun than you deserve. Its the kind of patch that just inspires creativity and evokes a certain musical era when we really were only limited by our imaginations. “These are the '80s!” Raves Synthmania.com on their KLUNKS review. Sammy James writes at synthmuseum.com, “most of us will remember fondly sounds like "Klunks" as some of our first-ever flirtations with synthesized sound.” If you’ve never played around with KLUNKS, give yourself 10 minutes with it. It’s amazing how 10 minutes can quickly become the better part of an hour.
Patch 22 = PWRSNK
“He who is tired of POWERSYNC is tired of life!” Honestly, how can anyone not be blown away by this massive sound? I’d advise you to play it loud, but there is really no possible way to play this tremendous sound quietly.
Hit a low C, wait a moment, and then hit another C. You’ll hear a great example of polyphonic LFO’s, sorely lacking in many of today’s commercial VSTs. A LFO is “polyphonic” by virtue of each voice having a dedicated LFO. Yes, there are only 3 LFOs in the original architecture, but that is 3 LFOs per voice! That’s 24 LFOs in all. Contrast this with 2009’s top VST Omnisphere, which forces you to share the LFO “pool” across all the voices.
I don’t mean to bash Omisphere. I like Omnisphere. Its just that (for example) when its promo videos promised “patch preserve”, my musician buddies didn’t believe that I had a synthesizer back in 1986 with the same feature: The Ensoniq ESQ-1.
Patch 23 = BIG 1
BIG 1 may be an early attempt at the Van Halen Oberheim OB-Xa “Jump” preset. You’ve probably got a handful of versions of this sound in you library. Even if half of them are more Oberheim-ey than BIG 1, when taken on its own, there is still something great and uniquely “ESQ” about this patch. It’s as if someone created a sound-sculpture of a jet stream of fire burning across the sky. BIG 1 has the correct name, all right.
Patch 24 = CTHDRL
I have no idea why its called “Cathedral”. It’s a trumpet, and a pretty decent and bitey one. This is a good solo complement to the famous 3TRUMS preset in the main bank (not included here--if you don’t have 3TRUMS yet, go get it ASAP).
Patch 25 = MINIM3
Poly Brass with a good burn. Flip on MONO and add some GLIDE to go “Moog” more authentically!
Patch 26 = MIAMIW
The famous Miami Vice arpeggio sound has more uses than it’s name would suggest. Like the echo of a cosmic bass. Also good layered with thin, cutting lead sounds and evolving brass.
Patch 27 = "EOWW"
Face it, some of you old-timers: This is one of the sounds that convinced you to buy the keyboard back in 1986! You figured if this axe could nail this famous sound so closely, it could do almost anything. This is the famous synch sound that The Cars used in hits like “Let’s Go”, “Hello Again” and more.
Patch 28 = SYNLED
On their Laserdance tribute site, Staffan Öhman & Lauri Turjansalo write, “Who hasn't been touched by the beautiful melodies that Laserdance played with their synlead sound. The sound has a nice falling pitch that doesn't require the pitchwheel and it gives a feeling that the sound is alive.”
This patch is the “electric guitar” that many of you heard in the first ESQ demos at music stores. It is actually a great example of a pure analog mono synth lead. Keith Emerson would be proud.
Patch 29 = STLGUT
Not much to love here for some, but the cool thing is to play this with the ESQ’s special “Pedal Guitar” pitch bend modes.
Patch 30 = CLOUDS
Have you ever been in a recording session where the engineer says something like “I need a ‘whoosh’ on the next take. And one, two, three --GO!” If so, here is a patch that reminds me of meteors passing overhead. Good harmonic content, too. Not just a blast of white noise.
Patch 31 = MUSCBX
MUSIC BOX, and the next patch, ORCHESTRAL BELLS, present two different sides of a similar sound. MUSIC BOX fits a specific musical roll. When you need a sound of this type, this one sits in a mix much better than actual music box samples, but doesn’t sound as “synthy” as the legion of DX7 music box patches.
Patch 32 = ORCBEL
This is MUSIC BOX’s more useful twin. A great high register sound I use to “punch-in” any time a composition needs some emphasis. These orchestral bells are not as noisy as most glockenspiel patches. Many synthesists seem to assume that a glock has a loud “TICK” and sustained white noise. I can assure you from experience that most of them produce crystal-clear tones, and a good GLOCK player minimizes the noise of the strike.
Patch 33 = BOTTLS
BOTTLES is ORCBEL’s big brother. Trust me, if banging on pop bottles sounded this good, they would teach it in conservatory. The Jazz fusion band Hiroshima1 used this sound in their source music tracks for Star Trek IV, and possibly on other recordings.
I can’t believe nobody corrected me on this! On the Star Trek IV soundtrack, the track “Market Street” features the BOTTLS sound in the first bars. But the track is performed by The Yellowjackets, not Hiroshima. Both bands are extremely long lived jazz acts, and both were featured in the soundtrack of a Star Trek film, but they’ve maintained entirely different sounds throughout their long evolutions.
But to set the record straight, Hiroshima played on The Final Frontier, Yellowjackets played on The Voyage Home. Somebody with more time than me should figure out a mnemonic device to help remember this fact. Extra points for making it a palindrome.
Patch 34 = F-111
Show of hands: How many of you have used this sound as an easy way to get into, or out of a song? No need to be embarrassed. It’s a good trick, as this effect demands attention.
The real-life F-111 Tactical Strike Aircraft was one of the first swing-wing afterburner-enabled fighters, so it did have a rather unique sound signature. I say that as one of the few synthesists to actually sit in a F-111 cockpit.
Patch 35 = CHNSAW
I can verify that this Ensoniq sound came packed on an EEPROM cartridge, and was easily overwritten if you were not careful. --Which would be too bad, because this sound effect is tons-of-fun to play--and much safer than a real chain saw, to boot.
Have fun playing it like an electric guitar. Talk about heavy metal! When producers weren’t looking, I used to drop this patch on tracks in place of the MIDI guitar lead .
Patch 36 = STARS*
Here is a trio of STAR sounds to complete your planetarium compositions. Space music enthusiasts won’t be the only ones to find a lot to like about this collection of Outer-Space harp sounds.
Patch 37 = STARS%
Ensoniq must have considered the STARS patches to be signature sounds, as there are at least a dozen variations of them floating around. They not only feature nice initial hits, but many of them also do interesting things if you hold down the keys.
Patch 38 = STARS(
If you like these STAR sounds, purchase the official VPC master disk from Syntaur Productions (more info below) as Ensoniq had a number of takes on this idea represented across all 11 original volumes.
Patch 39 = GONG1
You call it “GONG”, I call it “THE SATURATOR®”! This is a BIG sound that will take up almost ALL the harmonic space in your mix! Listen with caution, as it starts off more subtlety than it finishes. This is a good example of a fully-fulminating percussion effect--it packs quite a wallop.
Patch 40 = COPTER
Didn’t a helicopter effect find its way onto the General MIDI patch list? Either way, this sound is more interesting than most. It has a lot of interweaving LFO motion, which makes it a good test subject to tear apart and see how it works (unlike a real helicopter).
Every time I hear this I have the urge to play “Ride of the Valkyries” or the “Airwolf” Theme!
Well, that’s it. Thanks for taking a look at the sounds. If you haven’t done so yet, download them from the link below and give them a try-out. I look forward to your comments, and if you have and improvements, extensions or other useful modifications, be sure to share.
And as Casey Kasem might have said in the 80’s (if he played these patches), “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for some STARS%!”
If you’ve played through a few of these patches and want more like them, we recommend the complete Ensoniq “ESQ Master Disk” from Syntaur Productions. This collection includes every single ESQ preset that Ensoniq ever officially released. That’s 880 different sounds, available either as a SQ80 disk or as system exclusive bank. These sounds were created by the same designers as the contributors to these “ESQ Hits”. So get out there and groove with some classic sound design.