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ELKA EK22
"Son of Synthex"



Cheap and obscure the ELKA EK22 was released in 1986 as one of the last synthesizer models  from the ELKA synthesizer factory, and for that also one of the last Italian analogs, ending a great legacy that included the mighty Elka Synthex.  What we have here is the usual 6 voice analog 2 oscillator synth with some exotic modulation, sync routings and multi stage envelope generators. Not quite an Oberheim Matrix 6 in its synth modulation capabilities but coming close and on some fronts even superior. A broad range of sounds is possible and its all there; haunting strings, eerie pads, deep monophonic portamento moog basses and leads, fine harps, metallic stuff, low-end brass etc. All with a very good character, tight and compact...a good punch but also enough warmth..Actually this synth sounds pretty darn excellent! I am pretty sure its got faster envelopes then a Matrix 6 and also sounds less gritty/grainy/plasticy. Its an often overlooked synthesizer, proberly not many were built and programming goes with the typical 80ies numerical interface, sluggish like on the matrix 6.
Programming is not the only thing that is sluggish on an EK22, it can't cope with MIDI very well when it is playing. Try changing some parameters when it is being sequenced by MIDI and it will slow down, missing notes and say take it easy please! There is a knob on the ELKA that sais MIDI on/off and that might not be a luxury.
At times the programming interface is quite cryptic (as is the manual, some things are never fully explained) and feels a bit shabby, not entirely finished and too "technological", i.e. there has been no regard to any friendly interaction design, but after a while you get the idea and it ain't too complicated.

The one here in the studio is pretty ghetto, its held together with duck tape and the wood on the front is just stick-on paper with wood structure on it to cover up some plastic damage, but it still works perfectly.
This synthesizer has been used on the Squadra Blanco - Night of the Illuminati album and also on the 2008 Dune Man Soundtrack

Some more interesting pro's: Exotic analog sounds, Juicy vintage sounding portamento, creamy chorus, extremely good aftertouch response on the keyboard (plays like butter!!!), weird but awesome wireframe TRON 3D graphics on the casing, bi-trimbal, you can play 2 different sounds at once.
Bad sides: Sluggish slow brain...errr...there is probably one chip doing everything.

Some mp3 snippets I made from the Elka (recorded withouth any effects):

Haunting Brass & Strings Sloppy slow attack bass sequence reminding us of an other Italian synthesizer called the BIT, with some strings/pads layered behind it
Panoramic analog strings The sizzling wonderfull built in chorus poors a broad sauce over everything, almost an Elka Synthex!
Moogish solos leadbass The lower part of the keyboard is sequenced with a baseline while I play a moogish lead over it with the other side.
Synced Krimi soundtrack sounds Harsh synced late 80s tatort schimanski atmosphere!
Experimental sound effects flow into dark pads and synth noodling Some random stuff going through some presets. distorts a little now and then because the recording went into the red.
Portemento PWM synth Nasty PWM modulated sounds



Futuristic wireframe TRON graphics!



There is also a tabletop module version of the EK22, the EM22, it looks something like this, I don't have it:



Chips
Its snack time! oh no - we're going to talk about the soundchips inside the EK22: The Curtis CEM3396 uP Controllable Dual Waveform Converter / Processor.
Synthesizers that also use this chip are the Oberheim Matrix 6/6R/1000, The Cheetah MS6.
There are similarities in the sound between all these synths because they use this chip, but they definitely do not sound the same, there is a lot more going on to give each its own character.




Tips and Tricks

You can download the English manual here

Family of the Elka
Also the exotic and obscure EK44 and EM44 exist, but these are completely different synthesizers, they are digital FM synthesizers that use 8 (!) operator  (most FM synths use 6 operator FM) just like the extremely rare Yamaha FVX and the 90s FSR1 module. I never played one but I am very curious about how it sounds, though I can imagine that editting 8 operator FM with the same interface as on the EK22 must be quite a hard job.
The EK44/EM44 is also related to another even more obscure ELKA FM expander synth, the ER33.

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