Anyone that knows me will tell you that I like to talk about analogue synths an awful lot, and then some. In this blog infested world, it makes sense then to write about them too so I shall…
Rather than focusing entirely on tech specs, oscillators and such (though there will be some of this), I prefer to talk about the creative and practical possibilities of the various analogue synthesizers that I regularly use or have owned over the years.
I should point out that I’m not an analogue snob (I’ve met a few). If I like the sound, I will use anything regardless of how shitty it is. And that brings me nicely to the Akai VX90 Analogue Expander!
The term ‘sound module’ fills me with dread and reminds me of all those awful Sound Canvas things that I used to sell in the 90′s so I will be calling it an Expander for that reason in case you were wondering.
I picked this thing up in the late 80′s when music shops were literally giving analogue synths away because they were no-longer musically fashionable and everyone wanted that bloody piano sound from the Korg M1 – a synth that I despise to this day! They were using it to prop open a door so I bought it as a job lot along with a Groove Stinger (4 EDP wasps in a rack-nice..) , PG200 and a Moog Prodigy I seem to remember.
What you basically have here is a modular 1 VCO per voice poly synth akin to the Korg Poly 6 and Roland Juno 106 but without the lovely knobs and sliders. It’s an AX73 without the nasty keyboard. Because of this lack of control and interaction, programming it is a fairly un-inspirational and unpleasant process. However, and its a big however, it has proper Voltage Controlled Oscillators unlike the Rolands that were doing the rounds at the time. This means that you can stack them up to get some pretty fat founds. Try stacking the oscillators on a Juno 106 and it sounds terrible.
Akai were more known for their affordable samplers than synthesizers which is a shame because they made some lovely instruments such as the AX80. The VX90 looks like a sampler in fact. Incidentally, you could plug the S-612, S-900 and S-950 samplers into it and run samples through the VX-90′s analogue filter and envelope sections. I never did this because -
- I couldn’t be arsed
- I’ve never been interested in samplers enough to try it though I did own an S900 for a while.
I wonder if anyone outside the Akai factory actually tried it. Let me know..
The Akai VX90 is good for…
The VX90 is good for cyclic filter effects and weird stuff. Stick a massive reverb on it and you’ve got instant Aphex Twin ambient weirdness circa 1995. It’s also great for sequenced early Depeche Mode type rhythmic filter stuff. I just can’t get enough of that…sorry. You can get quite metallic sounding noises out of it too should you be so inclined. Its also great for layering and adding a bit of definition to an otherwise dull pad sounds.
The Akai VX90 is not good for…
You wouldn’t want to use it for huge and luxurious Vangelis type string pads on its own or screaming Moog lead sounds for that matter. The bases are pretty weak too but not without charm. You need its big brother for that – the mighty Akai VX600 Matrix Synth which will blow the balls of a Rhino at twenty paces and is one of my favorite all time synths. More on this to come..
If you want to hear any of the above machines in action, listen to any of my songs. I use the VX90 on pretty much every recording these days.
To conclude then, I like this synth and it is underrated. I suspect that this is because of its lack of ‘street cred’. It’s a reliable machine with no dead voices….yet. I think it has the famous Curtis 3340 oscillators like the Prophet 600. They sound similar to me anyway. There isn’t a great deal going on in terms of synthsis and routing but it is a very capable synth in the right hands and it will slot seamlessly into your MIDI set-up without the need for MIDI to CV converters.
Lets not forget that it has pretty decent MIDI spec too and any ‘real’ VCO synth with MIDI is worth checking out. Especially when you consider that you can pick these machines up for peanuts now. For more info check out http://matrixsynth.blogspot.com/2010/05/akai-vx90.html