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Voyetra 8: (Legacy Products) The original rackmount analog polysynth

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Keyboard Magazine August 2000 Review by Mark Vail:


Octave-Plateau Voyetra Eight
The original rackmount analog polysynth
By Mark Vail

An Octave-Plateau Voyetra Eight (above). As shown in the inset photo (below),
this one sports XLR MIDI connectors on its back.

During the late '70s/early '80s, numerous manufacturers introduced different
flavors of polyphonic analog synths. Among them were the Sequential Circuits
Prophet-5, Moog Polymoog, Oberheim Four Voice, Korg Polysix, and Roland
Jupiter-8. Meanwhile, a lesser-known company called Octave-Plateau came out
with an eight-voice synth -- the Voyetra Eight -- in a format no one else
had considered: rackmount.

Previously called Octave Electronics, the company was best known for its
relatively inexpensive duophonic synth, the Cat. The Cat played a key role
in the development of the V8. "The Voyetra Eight had the analog guts of eight
Cat synthesizers, "explains Octave's founder Carmine Bonanno," coupled to
a 6502 processor for storage of patches, scanning the keyboard, and all the
things a computer has to do. For example, you had to push a button to tune
the 16 analog oscillators.

"The V8 was very complicated, 90% analog, and extremely difficult to build.
Whereas the Prophet-5 had luxurious space for two large circuit boards,
the V8 had a motherboard with ten daughterboards plugged into it vertically.
There were four oscillator cards, two filter cards, a mixer card, a CPU card,
and two modulation cards, plus a power supply. The front panel was two layers
deep: It had switches on one layer, and knobs on the other. It was like trying
to fit a battleship into a shoebox.

"I came up with the concept and designed the hardware, and a programming
genius named Bruce Frazer did all the firmware around the 6502. It took the
two of us about a year from concept to reality. The funny part was, we had
to work on the same prototype, so Bruce worked through the day and I worked
through the night so we didn't interfere with each other."

Why did they make it a rack module? "The concept was that you could use
one keyboard to control multiple modules. We made a five-octave polyphonic
keyboard controller called the VPK-5, which sold for $495 and had a joystick
and key-pressure sensing. It was pre-MIDI, so we developed a parallel
connection called the 'V-bus.' The VPK-5 connected to one or more V8s through
a standard microphone cable up to 30' long. When MIDI came out in 1983,
we abandoned the V-bus and retrofitted all the pre-MIDI V8s."

They didn't abandon the mic cable, though. "Back in the early days of MIDI,
I had this bias against the five-pin MIDI DIN cable. I thought it was too
fragile. I was pushing other synth manufacturers to use XLR connectors,
which they rejected for fear someone would damage a mic by plugging it into
the MIDI XLR. But being the adamant guy that I am, I said, 'Well, to hell
with you! I'm going to use XLRs.' Thus there are a lot of V8s out there with
XLR connectors for receiving MIDI, and you have to buy an adapter to make
them work."

"Voyetra Eight" wasn't the original name of the product. "At first we called
it the 'Voyager Eight.' But our trademark attorney told us, 'Voyager is a
generic name. You want to come up with something unique.' So we locked all
the employees up in one room and said, 'Nobody's leaving until we come up
with a different name.' One guy said, 'I've got to pick up my car because
they're going to lock the parking lot.' Somebody else asked, 'What kind of
car do you drive?' 'A Toyota.' So they wrote that on the board. Then somebody
else said, 'Hey, let's combine Voyager and Toyota and call it the Voyetra.'
We said, 'Yeah, that's great. We'll use it,' and everybody got to go home.
We trademarked the name, and it stuck. In 1986 we officially changed the name
of the company from Octave-Plateau to Voyetra, because that's what everyone
was calling us anyway."

- Produced: 1982 to 1986. Development began in 1981.

- Description: A rackmount polyphonic analog synth that originally used a
  pre-MIDI interface and was later retrofitted with non-standard XLR MIDI

- Total number made: 2,000 to 2,500 Voyetra Eights, and over 1,000 VPK-5s.

- Manufacturer: Octave-Plateau, now doing business as Voyetra Turtle Beach,
  a MIDI sequencing and multimedia software developer for the PC platform.

- Insider information: Carmine Bonanno founded Octave Electronics in 1975.
  Octave's first product was the Cat synthesizer, a duophonic analog synth
  with a three-octave keyboard. ARP sued Octave Electronics for infringement
  on a resistor-based duophonic keyboard patent. In 1978, Bonanno introduced
  the Cat SRM, which used a digitally scanned keyboard.... The Cat and Voyetra
  Eight generated sounds using single-chip oscillators, filters, and VCAs from
  SSM....Famous users of the Voyetra Eight included Edgar Winter, New Order,
  the Eurythmics, and David Bryan of Bon Jovi.

- Original retail price: $4,995.

- Current value: $600 to $1,200.

- Current support: Double-Take Studio Services, 246 Fifth Ave., Suite 206,
  New York, NY 10001; 212-685-7900; click here
For more info and documentation click here

The second edition of senior associate editor MARK VAIL's Vintage Synthesizers
book is available from Miller Freeman Books (, Borders, and

Photos by Stephen Fortner & Mike Wright

(C) Copyright 1994-2000 Miller Freeman, Inc. All rights reserved.


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