E-MU UltraProteus


E-Mu started life in early 70’s Santa Cruz making modular synthesisers. They weren’t always good (the first one was ceremoniously thrown out a window) but included technology (like the polyphonic keyboard) that other companies like Sequential Circuits and Oberheim licensed and turned into gold. It wasn’t until sampling came along that E-Mu found their niche – taking the guts of the Fairlight and brewing them down into cheaper circuits that quartered the price. Which wiped Fairlight out (for the first time).


Meaner, hungrier dogs came along – Akai and Ensoniq both cut the ground from underneath E-Mu’s Emulator 3. The company branched into ROMplers with the 1989 Proteus. That did very well for E-Mu, but a race down to lowest common deROMinator was going to end badly with Roland and Korg becoming interested. E-Mu decided to use their one advantage – a vast technology pool to get the jump on the competition. And so in 1993 they dreamed up what they called the Morpheus – the world’s most advanced synthesiser.


The Morpheus is what you get when you cram every technological gizmo and doodad E-Mu had available into a single box. It was unlike everything else they was selling, and more like something that had crawled out of their Santa Cruz modular days. They quickly followed it up in 1994 with the UltraProteus, which I think was an anxious concession to brand familiarity. It was all the rat packing of the Morpheus, PLUS a bunch of sounds familiar to Proteus users.


Thing is, you say ‘Proteus’ to any synthesiser nut and they think you mean shitty sampled piano. Confusion all around and they soon retreated to the Planet Phat et al. which had a very reduced feature set to the UP.


Sensible Review.


The Bag of Tricks.


The best known trick is the Z-plane filter. Filtration is done by the ‘H’ chip capable of a wild variety of configurations, from low pass to combs, flanges, complex EQ curves and so on. The problem is controlling that zoo of frequencies. The UP has 288 filter types which can be dynamically morphed along one vector by a controller such as a envelope. Two other vectors are set at note on – so for example the filter can open up over increasing pitch and change with velocity.


The second, lesser known trick are the three Function Generators. These have 8 segments, which can be any of 63 different shapes, including chaotic forms, and each of which can have algorithmic jump points. Relative settings means the function can drift in shape over time.


The third is a virtual patch cable system of some complexity. When graphed it looks like the pin panel on an old EMS synthesizer, but every pin point is a pot.


The fourth is true of all Proteus models. Unlike a standard ROMpler the individual sample is part of a pool of waveforms. The start point, direction, loop, volume envelope are all editable and it’s possible to loop the entire contents of RAM if that would make you happy.


Probably none of that made too many people happy. You can buy one for about $150, not much more then the standard Proteus. The presets wilfully avoid any of this complexity and my guess is that the Morpheus bombed, they panicked, repackaged it as an ultra Proteus and that bombed.


There’s some legit reasons as well. 288 filters include a hell of a lot of indistinguishable flanges and some hokey formants. Roland wisely puts that stuff in the effects area where you can see what you are doing. Many of the filters apply to very particular frequency ranges, outside of which they seem useless. The function generators are cool but too much trouble and you can’t tell the difference between the various ‘chaos’ types, they all come down to sample and hold effects. So the UP sounds better on paper. It’s a feat of engineering – but when you listen you can hear how to simplify the design and lose almost nothing.


UPDATE: it has taken months of occasional twiddling, but by God I think I’ve got the hang of this thing. It’s not so much by system as methodical exploration, but once you map the thing in your mind it really can make that ‘lofty ambient soundtrack’ stuff for which it is renowned. The sonic comparison is with the way Eno would run a Yamaha CS80 through a whole range of effects. The key is the sample library which, like the Rolands, has a whole slather of samples you won’t use and a bunch of very useful moog, arp, and other waveforms tucked up the back that work in league with the filter section. I guess the Morpheus has only those, and it’s all you need.


Once you can get the right tone with the right filter some very subtle and flowing movement is available, especially in the high mid range – very mid 70’s and watery. Now if only they hadn’t screwed up the effects by only attaching them to multi-patches, you’d have the ultimate in new age in a 1u rack.








It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.