Commodore SFX

c_sfx_thumbLately, I’ve been totally blown away by the sounds and capabilities of the Elektron Analog Four sequencer/synthesizer (yes, the same Elektron that produced the SIDStation). The capabilities of this machine seem endless and it’s something I’ve put on my birthday wish list, so honey, if you’re reading this…
Not that I’ll be pursuing a career in music, but I’ve been seriously thinking at giving the production of some chiptunes a go, so with this little gem in the house, along with the trusty breadbox, I’ll be ready to make my way into the billboard top 100… right…

So while I’ll be running the sequencer on the Analog Four, I’ll be playing the C64, either in a Lukhash style, or perhaps by means of a keyboard overlay like that of the Commodore SFX series of products.

Now hang on there, Commodore SFX? Did Commodore release its own music peripherals and software? And was this called the SFX line of products?
Well, not exactly, as SFX was a line of products from the UK based “Music Sales Ltd.”, who specialized in sheet music, songbooks and other music peripherals. Most likely, Commodore marketing wanted to tap into the growing interest of computer music (well, they had the best synth around at the cheapest price: the SID) so it was probably set up as a joint venture.

The SFX series consisted of a series of play-a-long songbooks and pre-recorded songs on disk, a plastic keyboard overlay for the breadbox and a separate keyboard that could be hooked up to the expansion port.
Probably the best known product was the Music Maker, which featured the plastic keyboard overlay, basic software and a songbook to get you started and teach you how to make music.


SFX also released the Sound Studio, a complete MIDI controller/sound studio and perhaps the most interesting components of this series: the Sound Sampler and Sound Expander.
The former offered users the ability to record and playback sampled sounds and apply some basic effects such as echo/delay, with the latter being sort of its bigger brother and more professional package.
It was based on the Yamaha YM3526 OPL FM synthesis chip, driven at 3.6 MHz, providing eight voices, automatic intro and outro, sequencer (yay!), 12 pre-programmed rhythms, and a keyboard split so you could play dual voices. The neat thing is that later versions of this chip made it into the PC AdLib and SoundBlaster cards.


Price-wise, the products were off the charts. They were by no means intended for the professional musician, but the prices suggested otherwise. What else can a product be, than intended for the professional market, if it comes at a price in excess of 200 USD, as was the case for the Sound Expander… and this was back in the early 80s!

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