Zoë Blade's notebook


Like its rival, the Commodore Amiga, the ST (short for Sixteen/Thirty-two) was a series of home computers released in 1985, the kind that politely hid under the keyboard. Also like the Amiga, it was built around the 16- and 32-bit Motorola 68000 chip, and sported a graphical user interface, making it a more affordable alternative to the Apple Macintosh. Unlike almost any other computer, it had built-in MIDI ports.

A lot of musicians swore by the ST's tight timing. While I have no opinion on this particular matter, it certainly had a lot of MIDI sequencers written by various companies, chiefly two in Germany: C-LAB and Steinberg.

If you read a lot of interviews with British electronic musicians in the 1990s, you'd see a popular combination emerge: to sequence the music, an Atari 1040ST (the big two sequencers required a whole meg of RAM) running either C-LAB Creator or Steinberg Cubase; to make the sounds, a sampler, usually the Akai S900, S950, or S1000, or perhaps the more affordable Casio FZ-1 or FZ-10M; to add a splash of effects, an Alesis QuadraVerb; and finally, to combine the sounds together, a cheap line mixer.

Comparing the two rivals on their own, the Amiga sounded far better. It had a sound chip with such good PCM capabilities that people wrote tracker software for it, which combined the functionality of the whole studio setup, minus the effects, and with only four channels to play with. But because it could control professional musical instruments, the ST sounded as good as whatever you connected it to.

As Teddy Riley pointed out, the standardisation and lack of internal storage made home computers like these interchangeable, which could be very useful if one broke, as you could simply swap it out with an identical replacement and carry on as if nothing had changed.


520ST tech specs

The 520ST was the first in the series. Like its rival, the Amiga, it included half a meg of RAM — a lot at the time.

Later on, Atari released the 520STE, an enhanced version with more colours, genlock support, a blitter coprocessor, and 8-bit PCM audio with direct memory access... very Amiga-like features.


1040ST tech specs

Atari ST running C-LAB Creator
Atari ST running C-LAB Creator

The 1040ST built upon the 520ST, adding a few minor improvements. Most notably, the RAM was doubled from 512 KB to 1024 KB (1 MB).

There are a few slight variations: the original 1040ST is more properly the 1040STF; the 1040STFM had an RF modulator, allowing it to use a regular TV set instead of a purpose-built monitor; and the 1040STE, like the 520STE, was enhanced with more colours, genlock support, a blitter coprocessor, and 8-bit PCM audio with direct memory access.




You've seen them on the Michael Jackson project, I had seven of 'em. And every time one broke, all I did was took my floppy disk in the next one, I'm good to go. You can't do that with a Mac. If a Mac breaks, you've gotta fix it. On the Atari, bring another one in.

— Teddy Riley, producing Michael Jackson, 2014[4]



MIDI sequencers



MIDI sequencers

Notable users



Mega 1

Mega 2

Mega 4

See also


  1. "Silica Shop" Silica Shop (Vendor), Sound On Sound, Feb 1989, p. 99
  2. "Silica Shop" Silica Shop (Vendor), Sound On Sound, Nov 1993, p. 179
  3. "ST manual" Atari, p. 83
  4. "Music Producer Teddy Riley — Pensado's Place #169" Pensado's Place, Jun 2014
  5. "~~ rephlex ~~ aphex ~~ drn ~~" Ben Middleton, alt.rave, Oct 1992
  6. "The Aphex Effect" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Apr 1993, pp. 22—23
  7. "Cagey, Canny, Krafty" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jul 1993, pp. 52—58
  8. "'Destroy' Aphex Twin studio photo circa 1993"
  9. "Aphex Twin Live in Paris" Apr 1993
  10. "International Rescue" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, May 1990, pp. 40—46
  11. "Past, Present and Future" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1992, pp. 61—66
  12. "Future Talk" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1994, pp. 16—18
  13. "Headache music..my rig was MC-303, with AKAI S1000, an Atari 1040 running Creator which would become Logic. As far gear went this was my set up, & a Roland JV 880. I'd had a Nord Lead too but it got burned out when lightning hit our building & I couldn't afford to get it fixed." @iamclintmansell Twitter, Apr 2020
  14. "The Magic Circle" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jun 1993, pp. 56—60
  15. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  16. "All Systems Go" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Oct 1991, pp. 36—42
  17. "Deep Vibrations" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1991, pp. 60—65
  18. "Machine Head" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jul 1991, pp. 56—62
  19. "Waxing Lyrical" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Sep 1991, pp. 36—39
  20. "Touching Bass" Simon Trask, Music Technology, May 1992, pp. 48—52
  21. "The Heart Of The Bass" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, Nov 1990, pp. 52—56
  22. "William Orbit" Paul Tingen, Sound On Sound, Oct 1991, pp. 58—64
  23. "The Rhythm Method" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1992, pp. 50—53
  24. "Message In A Sample" Phil Ward, Music Technology, May 1993, pp. 36—42



Deep dives



Home computers: Amiga | Beige box | ST

Atari ST: 4-Op Deluxe | Creator | Cubase | Dump-It! | M | Pro-24 | Realtime | ST MIDI sequencer timeline | ST Speech | Sweet Sixteen | Tiger Cub