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Monotimbral (from the root prefix mono meaning one, and timbre meaning a specific tone of a sound independent of its pitch) is usually used in reference to electronic synthesizers which can produce a single timbre at a given pitch when pressing one key (if the synth is monophonic) or multiple keys (if the synth is polyphonic).


An electronic musical instrument may be multitimbral, [1] which means it can produce two or more timbres (also called sounds or patches) at the same time. Instruments which may be multitimbral include synthesizers, samplers, and music workstations. A multitimbral instrument might be configurable in a variety of ways:


Multitimbrality is achieved by having a synthesizer with more than one sound producing module. In a fully digital system, each sound module is virtual, since in reality algorithms combine samples together in real time for output to a single D-A (digital to analogue) circuit.

Synthesizers that can combine n timbres together are called n voice multitimbral. For example, a synthesizer capable of playing eight voices or timbres at one time would be an eight voice multitimbral instrument.

Multitimbrality is distinct from polyphony, which is the number of notes which can be played at the same time, not the number of different timbres. All multitimbral instruments are polyphonic, but not all polyphonic instruments are multitimbral.


Inexpensive multitimbral synthesizers combined with a MIDI equipped computer made home studio recording much more accessible to the digital musician, particularly keyboard players. By capturing information digitally via MIDI, one could play back an entire work with several voices on a single multitimbral synthesizer. This, combined with a relatively cheap four track tape machine or higher-end 16 and 24 track reel-to-reel machines would allow a musician to layer a number of keyboard tracks digitally, and then use a single track for MIDI information and the rest for analogue sounds, without requiring intermediate mix-downs to gain additional needed synth tracks.

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Electronic musical instrument Musical instrument that uses electronic circuits to generate sound

An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

Analog synthesizer

An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument providing the facilities of:

Electronic keyboard

An electronic keyboard, portable keyboard, or digital keyboard is an electronic musical instrument, an electronic or digital derivative of keyboard instruments. Broadly speaking, the term electronic keyboard or just a keyboard can refer to any type of digital or electronic keyboard instrument. These include synthesizers, digital pianos, stage pianos, electronic organs and digital audio workstations. However, an electronic keyboard is more specifically a synthesizer with a built-in low-wattage power amplifier and small loudspeakers.

Roland D-50

The Roland D-50 is a synthesizer produced by Roland and released in April 1987. Its features include subtractive synthesis, on-board effects, a joystick for data manipulation, and an analogue synthesis-styled layout design. The external Roland PG-1000 (1987-1990) programmer could also be attached to the D-50 for more complex manipulation of its sounds. It was also produced in a rack-mount variant design, the D-550 (1987-1990), with almost 450 user-adjustable parameters.

Novation Digital Music Systems British musical equipment manufacturer

Novation Digital Music Systems Ltd. is a British musical equipment manufacturer, founded in 1992 by Ian Jannaway and Mark Thompson as Novation Electronic Music Systems. Today the company specializes in MIDI controllers with and without keyboards, both analog and virtual analog performance synthesizers, grid-based performance controllers, and audio interfaces. At present, Novation products are primarily manufactured in China.

A rompler is an electronic music instrument that plays pre-fabricated sounds based on audio samples. In contrast to samplers, romplers do not record audio and have limited or no capability for generating original sounds. The term rompler is a portmanteau of the terms ROM and sampler. Both may have additional sound editing features, such as layering several waveforms and modulation with ADSR envelopes, filters and LFOs.

Ensoniq ESQ-1

Ensoniq ESQ-1 is a 61-key, velocity sensitive, eight-note polyphonic and multitimbral synthesizer released by Ensoniq in 1985. It was marketed as a "digital wave synthesizer" but was an early Music Workstation. Although its voice generation is typically subtractive in much the same fashion as most analog synthesizers that preceded it, its oscillators are neither voltage nor "digitally controlled", but true digital oscillators, provided by a custom Ensoniq wavetable chip. The signal path includes analog resonant low-pass filters and an analog amplifier.

The Yamaha AN1x is a DSP-based analog modeling synthesizer, produced by Yamaha Corporation from 1997 to 1998, and was marketed as an "analog physical modelling control synthesizer".

Korg DW-8000

The Korg DW-8000 synthesizer was an eight-voice polyphonic hybrid digital-analog synthesizer 61-note keyboard instrument released in 1985. By the time of its launch Korg had already begun a common trend in 1980s synthesizer design: using numerical codes to access or change parameters with the Korg Poly-61, which was widely regarded as the company's first 'knobless' synthesizer. This was a move away from the heavily laden, complex control panels of earlier designs.

Polyphony is a property of musical instruments that means that they can play multiple independent melody lines simultaneously. Instruments featuring polyphony are said to be polyphonic. Instruments that are not capable of polyphony are monophonic or paraphonic.

The Nord Stage is a digital keyboard or stage piano, manufactured by Clavia Digital Music Instruments of Stockholm in Sweden. There have been five editions of the instrument; the original Nord Stage in 2005, the Nord Stage EX in 2008, the Nord Stage 2 in 2011, the Nord Stage 2 EX in 2015, and the Nord Stage 3 in 2017.

The Yamaha SY85 is a digital music workstation introduced in 1992. Unlike other Yamaha synthesizers of the time the SY85 does not use FM synthesis. Instead, its sounds are based on samples, which can be layered and modified to create new sounds.

Guitar synthesizer

A guitar synthesizer is any one of a number of musical instrument systems that allow a guitarist to access synthesizer capabilities.

The Novation SuperNova, released in 1998, was a 3U rack-mounted virtual analogue polyphonic synthesizer with 16+ note polyphony and multitimbral operation, made by the British company Novation. Unique to the Supernova was the addition of multiple effects options which were retained per part in multi-timbral use, allowing a much richer sound than had generally been possible with a multitimbral synthesizer. The SuperNova and its successor, the SuperNova II, have been used by a wide range of artists including Orbital, ATB, The Faint, Ozric Tentacles, Sin, Jean Michel Jarre and A Guy Called Gerald.

The Yamaha V50 is a digital music workstation introduced in 1989. It combines a sequencer, rhythm machine, a FM synthesis - based sound module and a MIDI keyboard.

The Roland JD-990 Super JD is a module version of Roland JD-800 synthesizer with expanded capabilities, which was released in 1993. JD-990 is a multitimbral synthesizer utilizing 'wave-table' sample-based synthesis technology. It is equipped with 6 MB of ROM containing sampled PCM waveforms, four sets of stereo outputs that are assignable to individual, internal, instruments, and standard MIDI in/out/through ports. JD-990 has a large LCD display and programming takes place through a keypad on the front panel of the unit. The unit can generate multi-timbral sounds reminiscent of the vintage analogue synthesizers but is also capable of generation of modern digital textures. There are several expansion boards available for JD-990 that can be installed in the provided expansion slot in the chassis of the unit.


The Split-8 is a polyphonic analogue keyboard synthesizer manufactured by Sequential Circuits. Built in Japan and going by the alternative name "Pro-8" in some markets, this was one of the last synthesizers produced by the company and was assigned model number 608. It was released in 1985 at a list price of $1,199. This and some other Sequential Circuits synthesizers were built around the Curtis Electronics CEM 3394 "synth-on-a-chip" integrated circuit, and used a Z80 as their central microprocessor.

Casio CZ synthesizers

The CZ series is a family of low-cost phase distortion synthesizers produced by Casio in the mid-1980s. Eight models of CZ synthesizers were released: the CZ-101, CZ-230S, CZ-1000, CZ-2000S, CZ-2600S, CZ-3000, CZ-5000, and the CZ-1. Additionally, the home-keyboard model CT-6500 used 48 phase distortion presets from the CZ line. The CZ synthesizers' price at the time of their introduction made programmable synthesizers affordable enough to be purchased by garage bands. Yamaha soon introduced their own low-cost digital synthesizers, including the DX-21 (1985) and Yamaha DX100, in light of the CZ series' success.

Yamaha YS200

The Yamaha YS200 is an FM synthesiser and workstation produced by Yamaha, introduced in 1988. It combines a sequencer, rhythm machine, a FM synthesis soundchip and a MIDI keyboard. It was called the EOS YS200 in Japan and was also released as a more home-oriented keyboard in the form of the Yamaha EOS B200, which also featured built-in stereo speakers. The YS200 is the keyboard equivalent of the Yamaha TQ5 module. The forerunner of the YS200 was the almost-identical Yamaha YS100.


  1. Russ, Martin. Sound Synthesis and Sampling. ISBN   1136115099.