Electronic Music Wiki

Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Ltd. (not to be confused with EML) was the leading manufacturer of synthesizers and other electronic music equipment in Great Britain in the 1970s. The company was founded by electronic music and psychoaccoustics researcher Peter Zinovieff in 1969, along with David Cockrell and Tristan Cary, and released its first product, the now-famous VCS3 synth, that same year. Over the next several years, EMS released several variations on the VCS3 theme, such as the portable Synthi-AKS, the Synthi-E for the educational market, and the high-end Synthi 100. The company owned its own studio which featured both its commercially available products and a huge variety of prototypes and one-offs that never went into production. The studio was available for commercial use but was used mostly for R&D. EMS also worked closely with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, supplying new products and providing support to the Workshop.

In the mid-'70s, the company turned its attention to vocoders, releasing several products, including one that was used on the Alan Parsons Project's "The Raven", a groundbreaking use of the vocoder. EMS, never a big fan of keyboards, also delved into alternate controller devices for synths, including ones that sensed performer body movements and others that sensed light. Although expensive and sometimes quirky, EMS's products were highly regarded by performers and always in demand. Despite this, the company collapsed in 1979 after a series of financial missteps, including an attempt to enter the mass market for guitar effects.

The assets were acquired by another company, which soon put a halt to R&D efforts. Zinovieff left, along with several of the design team. The company has changed hands several times since then and is now owned by former employee Robin Wood. It is still in business, but its business consists primarily of refurbishing its vintage products today. The company resumed very limited production of the VCS3 and Synthi-A in 2011; some units are being delivered, but the waiting list is years long. (The Synthi-AKS cannot be produced due to obsolete parts being unavailable.) All EMS products are highly sought after on the collectors' market.

An interesting aspect of EMS's history is that founder Zinovieff experimented extensively in the 1970s with digital synthesis, processing, and control techniques. But little of this ever found its way into EMS's products, which were nearly all based on analog technology. A design called the Computer Synthi was worked from 1975-77, and follow-ons of that project could have beaten the Prophet-5 to market. But the first models of the Computer Synthi were far too expensive for any but institutional customers, and the company lacked the resources to bring the proposed follow-on models to market.