Zoë Blade's notebook

Vintage Keys

Vintage Keys tech specs

  • Released: 1993
  • Initial price: £799[1][2]
  • Company: E-mu
  • Type: Rompler
  • Polyphony: 32 voices[3]
  • Timbrality: 16 parts[3]
  • Sample rate: 39 kHz[3]
  • Sample resolution: 16-bit[3]
  • Audio out: stereo pair (×3)
  • Control: MIDI
  • CPU: Motorola 68000[4]
  • ROM: 8 MB[3]
  • Display: 16×2 character LCD
  • Features: Different tuning systems[3]
  • User programs: 256[3]
  • Preset programs: 256[3]
  • Size: 1U

The Vintage Keys was released by E-mu in 1993, as part of their second wave of romplers. It offers recreations of various electric and electronic keyboards.

Its sounds include electric pianos and organs, the Mellotron (as much as a fraction of 8 MB will allow), and various synthesisers and string machines. While it probably wouldn't fool anyone when pushed to the front of a mix, it's compact and convenient, and certainly helped add flavour to a lot of nineties songs.

It's effectively like having several electromechanical and electronic keyboards, without the hassle of maintaining them and separately wiring them up, but being sample based, you won't be able to stray too far from the presets. In short, it's useful for keyboard musicians. Less so for maverick sound designers.

Note that the original Vintage Keys was released slightly too early to implement newfangled bank switching. In order to select more than the first 128 programs over MIDI, you have to map each MIDI program number to a desired target program number, allowing you to access any 128 programs over MIDI, not just the first. This isn't ideal, but it's something, at least.

The Vintage Keys was superseded by the third wave Vintage Pro.

Vintage Keys Plus

Vintage Keys Plus tech specs

  • Released: 1994
  • Company: E-mu
  • Type: Rompler
  • Control: MIDI
  • ROM: 16 MB
  • Display: 16×2 character LCD
  • Size: 1U

Released in 1994, the Vintage Keys Plus added a second ROM of additional vintage sounds (not just keyboards), making for a total of 16 MB.

Classic Keys

Classic Keys tech specs

  • Released: 1994
  • Company: E-mu
  • Type: Rompler
  • Polyphony: 32 voices[5]
  • Timbrality: 16 parts[5]
  • Sample rate: 39 kHz[5]
  • Sample resolution: 16-bit[5]
  • Audio out: stereo pair
  • Control: MIDI
  • ROM: 8 MB[5]
  • Display: 16×2 character LCD
  • User programs: 128 × 2 banks[5]
  • Preset programs: 128 × 2 banks[5]
  • Size: 1U

At the other end of the spectrum, the Classic Keys removed the extra outputs and digital filters to create a rompler that was more streamlined, and therefore cheaper. With no pretense of going beyond the presets, this is arguably the most honest of the bunch.

Curiously, while it has 8 MB of ROM like its predecessor, this now includes some other sounds, such as acoustic drums, brass, and guitars.[6] This presumably leaves less space for the titular keys. At least it supports MIDI bank switching.


Vintage Keys

The Hammond and the Rhodes are just breathtaking...

— Jimi Goodwin, Sub Sub, 1993[7]

I'm not that impressed with this, really. I went through a stage of going into my local music shop, and every time they had a new bit of equipment, I convinced myself I needed it. I had to get out of that. I've used this a couple of times — on Jilted Generation I used it on about three tracks — but I'd sell it any day.

— Liam Howlett, The Prodigy, 1996[8]

Notable users

Vintage Keys

Vintage Keys Plus


  1. "Sound Control" Sound Control (Vendor), Sound On Sound, Mar 1993, p. 57
  2. "Turnkey" Turnkey (Vendor), Music Technology, Jul 1993, pp. 16—17
  3. "Vintage Keys manual" E-mu, 1992
  4. "Emu Vintage Keys" Julian Colbeck, Sound On Sound, Apr 1993, pp. 76—80
  5. "Classic Keys manual" E-mu, 1994
  6. "Modern classic" Nigel Lord, The Mix, Feb 1995, pp. 74—76
  7. "Sub Culture" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jul 1993, pp. 18—21
  8. "Liam Howlett: The Prodigy & Firestarter" Paul Nagle, Sound On Sound, Sep 1996
  9. "Classic Tracks: Fatboy Slim 'Praise You'" Tom Doyle, Sound On Sound, Jan 2017
  10. "Future Talk" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1994, pp. 16—18
  11. "Rob Playford: Producing Goldie" Christopher Holder, Sound On Sound, Jun 1998
  12. "Kracked Plastik" Roger Brown, The Mix, Dec 1994, pp. 110—114
  13. "Under New Orders" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Apr 1994, pp. 44—48
  14. "Second Course" Future Music, Oct 1993
  15. "Playing With Fire!" Robin Green, The Mix, Mar 1997
  16. "Mixing up the motor city" Rob Green, The Mix, Apr 1995, p. 18
  17. "SNAP! to tomorrow" Roger Brown, The Mix, Nov 1994, pp. 84—88


Vintage Keys

Classic Keys



E-mu: Carnaval | Orbit 9090 | Planet Phatt | Vintage Keys

Romplers: Carnaval | JV-1080 | Orbit 9090 | Planet Phatt | R-8 | U-110 | Vintage Keys