E-mu Vintage Pro Review

I'm a sucker for these "vintage" sound boxes, so once Emu announced the Vintage Pro, I knew it was only a matter of time before I bought one. After discontinuing the Vintage Keys and Classic Keys modules several years ago, I've been waiting to see what Emu came up with to replace them. Ok, it's not analog and doesn't pretend to be, although you can use the knobs on the front to tweak away most of the paramaters.

The Vintage Pro is part of the newer Proteus line and shares the same architecture with their other modules, but with a different sound set: 32 MBs of samples, 128-note polyphony, 32 parts, two sets of midi connections, modulation matrix out the wazoo, four-layer voice architecture, S/PDIF output, 24-bit effects, 16-channels of arpeggiators, etc. You either like them or you don't. The difference with the Vintage Pro is that the knobs are slightly bigger, and more retro, than the other modules in the line.

Since the features are the same as all the other Emu modules, I'll just focus on reviewing the sounds for the most part. Since I've used the Roland expansion boards that cover a similar soundset (Vintage Synth and Keyboards of the 60s/70s), I'll compare the sounds of the two companies.

The Vintage Pro covers your typical vintage sounds from the 60s and 70s: organs, electric pianos, mellotrons and synths (from Moogs to Arps and everything in between). There's also some stuff from the 80s: PPG Wave, DX and analog drum sounds (808 and 909). The good news is that all the samples are new and not the same ones from the Vintage Keys or Classic Keys. In general, all the samples are of high quality, realistic (some more than others) and aggressive. Here's some notes on each of the general sound category waves.

Synths. Nice selection of moogs, prophets, arps, etc. Not a big selection of waves, but they went for quality rather than quantity. The stock patches make good use of the synth waves for leads, basses, pads and sound effects. There's a nice triangle patch that does a dead-on Keith Emerson sound. You can use the modulation matrix to add some noise and pitch wavering to get a good analog approximation.

In comparison to the waves on the Roland boards, the Emu ones are grittier and more aggressive. Keep in mind I turned off the effects to judge this. The Roland Vintage Synth board came out 10 years ago and is definitely showing its age. Particularly in the XP and later JV series instances, about 80 percent of the expansion board waves can be easily replicated by the onboard ones. Although there are a lot more synth waves on the Roland board, it's hard to tell many of them apart.

Electric Pianos. The Emu has a good selection of Rhodes, Wurlitzers, Clavinets and CP-70s. Again, the waves are on the aggressive side and cut through the mix. The Wurlitzers in particular sound very realistic and blow away the waves on the Roland Keyboards of the 60s and 70s expansion board. It's somewhat of a toss for the Rhodes waves. The Roland has more, but the Emu sound better and have a nice roughness to them. The clavinets are good on both. The Roland has no CP-70 waves, but does have RMI and Pianet waves for some nice Tony Banks sounds. Still unsure of this category, but I give the Emu an edge because the Roland can sound a little wimpy.

Mellotrons. These are the waves I first went to when trying out the Emu. For the most part, the Emu does a nice job across strings, choirs and flutes. The Roland spreads these across the two boards. The best comparison I can come up with is that the Roland replicates the studio sound of the Tron, while the Emu presents a more live version. The Roland reminds me more of the Moody Blues, while the Emu hits King Crimson territory. The strings and choirs, in particular, are loud and gritty. The Roland has a bigger variety of Tron choir waves, but the Emu is more usable across a greater range of the keyboard. The Emu Tron flute is much better than the Roland version. As a bonus, the Emu has a Tron brass wave, which the Roland lacks.

Organs. The Emu uses some of the waves of their B3 module, sampled from John Novello. If you like the organ sounds Novello and Niacin gets, you'll be happy with these. The Roland has lots more variety of waves, but again it's the difference between a live and studio sound, with the Emu on the aggressive side. The Roland has more variety patches out of the box, but the Emu is no slouch in this area either. Both have a good selection of Farfisas and Voxs, but the Emu sounds slightly more realistic.

Drums. I was pleasantly surprised at how many drum sounds and waves were present in the module, and this was a deciding factor to buy the Vintage Pro. Since I like using electronic percussion this doesn't bother me, although I've read some reviews that wish Emu used the memory for more synth waves. The Vintage Pro has solid 808 and 909 kits, as well as a host of other percussion sounds, from acoustic to highly synthetic. There are two drum kits made up of Korg MS20 waves that are fantastic. Nice move on Emu's part to be this creative (shock!). I've hooked up a Korg Electribe R to the second set of the Vintage Pro's midi connectors to use X0X programming to trigger the drum sounds, and there's enough variety to create some interesting percussion noises. The Roland has no drum waves, so there's no comparison there.

Overall, it was a good purchase. Again, you either like Emu's products or not. There's a lot of menus to go through, but the knobs make this easy, in addition to the ability to change much of the sounds in real-time anyway. Certainly a big step up from the Vintage Keys and the Classic Keys for less money. The filters are nice and there's 50 different types. The effects are high quality and there's lots of reverbs, delays, etc. In addition, there's six outputs as well as the digital one. Finally, the power transformer is inside, so no wall wart. Since these units have three more slots for 32MB simms, it would be nice if they release an expansion board with more synth, organ and mellotron waves, or maybe they should have just split the sounds up like Roland did from the beginning.