Review - The E-mu Proteus 1 Synth
I could not image ever working in my studio without my collection of vintage sound modules. It's so nice and convenient to have hundreds of perfectly pre-recorded sampled instruments at your fingertips. These sounds are staples of my production arsenal and I would have to spend hours or even days trying to re-create those sounds by other means.
One of my all-time favorites is without a doubt my E-mu Proteus 1. It was called the Pop Rock Module. I have a few other Proteus models but this one was my first and still my favorite.
Let's get into the history of the Proteus a bit. In the early 80s I was introduced to the E-mu Emulator, one of the first sampling keyboards and one of the cheapest at the time. I think it was somewhere around 7,000 bucks while the competition, like Fairlight and Synclavier had price tags around $30,000. Honestly, few people really knew what to do with the sampling technology of these monsters besides the now infamous sampling of vocals on 1980's dance records. Like "Baby, Baby, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba….Baby!"
What was interesting and useful at the time were the sample libraries that came with the Emulator. There were some fantastic sounds on those Floppies (yes, floppies!) and the Emulator brass sounds for instance, made it possible to have a brass track on your song without hiring 3-4 studio musicians to actually play the parts.
In 1989, E-mu Systems decided to package some of the best sounds from the Emulator III into a 19" rackmount sample playback module, called the Proteus 1, the Pop Rock Module. Other models like the Proteus 2 came loaded with orchestral samples and the Proteus 3 came loaded with ethnic sounds.
This was the birth of the Rompler, the sample playback module. The Proteus was a major success for E-mu and thousands of these modules were sold, which is great for us, because to snatch up a Proteus 1 at a decent price these days is not hard to do, there are a lot of them around. The prices of the other models do lie a lot higher.
Here are some of the cool things about the Proteus 1: It has 32 voice polyphony, full 16 part multi timbal operation and 6 independent outputs, making it absolutely ideal for multi-tracking. This module and all of the Proteus modules were just perfect for the studio. The price of 995 dollar was hefty at the time but nowadays, you could snatch up a Proteus 1 for less than the price of a good sample pack.
The Proteus 1 quickly earned his pedigree in the studio and found it's way unto recordings by Genesis, the Pet Shop Boys and countless others.
Now, what is so cool about the Proteus 1?
Let's start with what's not so cool…. the drum sounds. They are just not up to par and even in the early 1990's, I can't really imagine anybody ever using them on a recording. Flat, lifeless and boring. Not much use for it. But then, there's the good stuff.
The Brass. Absolutely my all-time favorite brass sound to use on a recording. Played properly, it's the most realistic sounding brass sample that I know of. From the lowest registers to the highest octave, it sounds spot on. Multi layer a couple of cool brass lines and stabs and add a nice reverb on top….voila, you got a brass track that sounds convincing.
That alone, is worth the price of a used Proteus. Use it as an instant brass section for your recordings and never touch any other preset and you still got your money's worth.
But that's not all folks! There are a lot of other cool, useable sounds found on the Proteus 1. The guitar sounds are very nice and realistic. The acoustic guitar sounds sweet, clear and very authentic. It's one thing to record a good acoustic guitar sample but does it still sound good from Octave 1 right up to Octave 3? The Proteus guitar sounds do. The acoustic guitar sound of the Proteus 1 is super useful and so is the electric guitar, a nice chorused typical Fender Strat sound. The muted guitar is also very nice and useful. Steel String Guitar? Also great. So, the 5-pack of guitar sounds that are found on the Proteus 1 are all useful and not in the least dated by today's standards.
Another favorite of mine is the choir sound. It's called the "Irie Choir". Not sure why, but the sound is great for a new age spacy kinda feel. The string orchestra sound is also quite useful. Even though, strings sound more realistic when you multi layer different samples, if you want a quick "string section" on a track, this patch sounds quite convincing.
And then there is….Heaven! A combo of strings with an acoustic piano on top. It is so nicely layered, you could orchestrate a beautiful ballad with just a voice and the Heaven patch. It just works perfectly. Worth the price of a used Proteus 1 anytime.
Some of the other sounds are less convincing, some may fit just right into the project you are working on. There are some weird sounds that are actually quite cool like the Tiki Treat, a Marimba inspired percussion sound or the many pad sounds, some with weird names like "We ate Flangers" and some that you would probably never use. But all in all, this device is worth it's Ebay price anytime and will make quite a useful addition to your studio.
Of course, there are many other Proteus Models. There is the Proteus 2 Orchestral Module and the Proteus 3 World Module and then there is the Pro-Cussion, an all-drum and percussion module. After the success of the Proteus series, the Ultra Proteus arrived on the scene, featuring the Sounds of Proteus 1, 2 and 3 all in one unit. All of these units have the same technical specs and all of them have the 6 individual outputs and the same multi-timbral qualities.
After the original Proteus series of Romplers was discontinued somewhere around 1993 or 1994, a new generation of Proteus models emerged. We'll discuss those in another lense.