The SK-1 is a cheap and un-assuming 8-bit synthesizer and keyboard sampler from the mid 80s. It's super gritty and lo fi in almost every regard — from the frequency-squeezing mic input to the uber-funky PCM based sampler (which gives you a whopping 1.4 seconds to cram whatever idea you have into it).
But what sets this toy-like instrument apart from all the other garage sale bound keyboards out there? The sound, of course! Coupled with its ease of use, it's no wonder almost all users have a soft spot for the synth (seriously, try to find some negative reports on this guy). The SK's sound is grainy, unique and charmingly archaic.
There are a lot of cheap and cheerful synths out there, and many of them have nostalgic roots that justify their desirability. But the SK-1 has maintained its popularity over the years, rising above the thousands of other consumer grade keyboards, because its sample engine is just so distinct and easy to use. Record your voice, dog barking, or clang a fork on a glass, and instantly spread the sound across the keyboard. That cheap digital converter sounds unlike anything made by today's higher standards:
Our primary concerns when sampling the SK were to expand its narrow sonic boundaries, and clean up the tone a little (not too much) along the way. Recording custom vocal and percussion samples through both the internal mic and an SM57, we also captured all of the synth's original presets and drum loops (recorded to tape), applying some further sculpting with various outboard (Overstayer MAS, Reddi, API 550B, and even a hand-tweaked space echo). We multi-sampled the SK's vibrato, sustain and glide, making for some killer portamento synths:
The SK definitely has a distant, lo-fi flavor, reminiscent of an early John Carpenter VHS playing in the background of your living room. This makes for perfect wobbly pianos, dark vocal synths, grainy trumpets and gliding synth patches. And with a touch of onboard vibrato (one of its two sweet FX!), you can get a spooky, warbled piano worthy of accompanying the The Prince of Darkness on Halloween:
We sample a lot of high end stuff on this site, so why would we even give this toylike keyboard the time of day? Because the SK1's low spec converter can give you that grainy, lo fi sound that's impossible to achieve with higher end synths. Try getting those aliasing pads or 8 bit piano from a Voyetra - it's impossible.
In a world overflowing with expensive synths to choose from, the SK1's sounds remain musical, unique and unpretentious. It's an unassuming little keyboard full of surprises and inspiration that can't be found elsewhere.