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Dave Rossum, EMU, and Rossum Electro

Dave Rossum is another one of the founders of the modern music production ecosystem and had a unique relationship with several other key synth figures including Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim.  

In fact, it was core technologies that Dave developed that allowed Oberheim and Sequential Circuits polyphonic synthesizers to be developed in the 1970s. 

Dave was born in 1948 and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. He “dropped out of high school” to attend California Institute of Technology and graduated in 1970 with a degree in biology. 

After he graduated from college, he moved to Santa Cruz, Ca to study at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) with the intention of getting a PhD. 

His molecular biology professor, Dr Harry Knoller,  was also an accomplished musician and had heard that UCSC had just received a new musical instrument, a Moog Model 12 synthesizer.  

In his 2022 Synthplex presentation presented below, Dave described what happened next.  

This was the moment when God took me by the nose and said “Over here, Dave”

by Dave Rossum on unpacking a Moog Model 12 synth at USSC in 1970. 

Dave Rossum’s talk about the history of EMU at Synthplex 2022 

 If there is one definitive source about the history of EMU, this is it.  

Special thanks to Michael Lehman Boddiker and Synthplex for arranging and recording Dave’s amazing presentation about his impact on the history of modern synthesizers. 

In 1971, Dave and two of his friends from Cal Tech, Steve Gabriel and Jim Ketcham, formed E-mu Systems with the mission to build their own modular synths.  

They were soon joined by Scott Wedge, who would eventually become president of EMU.  
Legend has it that Dave and Scott flipped a coin and Scott lost so Dave became CTO and Scott became President. 

EMU started building their own modular synths like the one pictured below.

EMU Modular Synthesizer

EMU also developed several core technologies that were instrumental (pun intended) in getting some other notable synth companies off the ground.
EMU designed and patented a digitally scanned polyphonic keyboard that was licensed by both Oberheim for the Oberheim 4-Voice and 8-Voice synthesizers and by Sequential Circuits for the Prophet 5. 

EMU also worked with Solid State Micro Technology for Music (SSM) in designing chips that were used by many synth companies at that time. 

1978 Data Sheets for EMU/SSM chips

The Emulator Sampling Keyboard is born

In 1979, Dave and Scott saw the Fairlight CMI and LM-1 from Roger Linn at the NAMM show. They both realized the potential for sample based instruments and the advantages that EMU had in being able to design their own chips. 

According to some sources, there was discussion about licencing the Emulator technology to Sequential Circuits.  However at around the same time,  Sequential decided to stop paying royalties for the EMU keyboard scanning chip.  This lead to a dispute between the two companies and also forced EMU to come out with the Emulator on their own.  

This proved to be a wise decision on EMU’s part because the Emulator line of sampling keyboards- 

Emulator (1981)

Emulator II (1984)

Emulator III (1987)

Emulator IV (1994)

set the direction for the company for the next ten years. 

The list of artists that used the Emulator samplers is too large, but here is a summary from Wikipedia. 

The Emulator II was popular with many musicians in the 1980s, such as early adopter Stevie Wonder, and was used extensively by Front 242, Depeche Mode, 808 State (on their 1989 album Ninety) New Order, ABC, Genesis, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, Yes, OMD, Stevie Nicks, Mr. Mister, and many more. The list is far from complete however as it became the staple sampler of just about every recording studio that could afford one in the 1980s, and thus was used on a multitude of albums at the time.

It even featured in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where Ferris uses the Emulator II to play sounds of coughing and sneezing in order to feign illness on the phone. 

by Wikipedia

The overall impact of the Emulator sampler on the history of synthesizers can’t be underestimated as it soon led to sample based instruments with samples stored in ROM memory that included Ensoniq products, the Roland D-50, the Korg M1 and many, many more products including sample based software and hardware products that are still sold today. 

EMU Drum Machines

EMU released the first affordable ($999) drum machine with ROM based samples in 1983 (right on the cusp of the MIDI revolution).  

They followed up with the SP-12 in 1985 which allowed users to create their own samples.  The SP-12 was based on the Emulator ( and even had some parts that were interchangeable).  The SP12 was also help start the trend of integrating sampling and sequencing together.  This combination being able to create your own sounds and then sequence them helped fuel the hip hop revolution that was starting to happen right around the same time. 

In fact, the SP-1200 (the 1987 follow up to the SP-12 with more sampling and sequencing memory (and MIDI) is considered one of the most influential products in the history of Hip Hop. 

EMU and Creative Labs

In 1993, E-mu was acquired by Creative Technology, the Singaporean company that was focused on computer sound cards (with MIDI interfaces, of course).  Products like the Creative Wave Blaster II and Sound Blaster AWE32 used the EMU8000 effect processor. 

Also in 1990s, E-mu made many different sound modules based on the Proteus series which were rackmount MIDI tone generators. In 1998, Creative Technologies merged Ensoniq, another American synthesizer company they had acquired together with EMU. 

From the late 1990s to 2011, Creative Labs continued to build sound cards using EMU technology.  However Creative was in the brutally competitive, low margin business of PC peripherals.  There were lawsuits with other companies (notably Aureal and Apple) which drained resources. As well the market for hardware peripherals shrank as computers became more powerful and software synthesis became more dominant. 

In 2011, Creative Technologies shut down EMU.  

Creative Technologies still sells products under the Soundblaster name. 


Sound Blaster Internal and External USB DAC and Amp Sound Cards and Buying Guide – Creative Labs (United States)

The Sound Blaster product range has an audio upgrade solution – internal and external—for every setup. Don’t stop at stunning visuals. Redefine your audio experience with Sound Blaster.

Rossum Electro-Music

Fortunately Dave Rossum’s contributions to the world of synthesizers didn’t end with Creative Technologies.  

In 2015, Dave formed Rossum Electro Music and started creating new synthesizer products. 

Some of these products go back to his early roots and take advantage of the renewed interest in modular synths created by the EuroRack format.

Other products are reissues of some of the most famous EMU products like the SP1200.  

Like Alan Pearlman, Bob Moog, Don Buchla, Dave Smith, Ikutaro Kakehashi, Roger Linn, Tom Oberheim, and Tsutomu Katoh, Dave Rossum’s impact on the modern music production environment is not relegated to the past, but continues to evolve and shape the future of the way people make music.  

From more information about Dave Rossum, EMU, and Rossum Electro, check out these excellent resources


Rossum Electro

Rossum Electro-Music creates uniquely powerful tools for electronic music production. Driven by the creative and technological vision of electronic music pioneer Dave Rossum, Rossum Electro-Music is the culmination of Dave’s 50 years of designing industry-defining instruments and transformative technologies.


30 Years Of Emu

A number of hi-tech music manufacturers are celebrating important anniversaries this year and next year. In the first of several articles on these companies, we look at the milestone products made by Emu, who drove the sampling revolution in the ’80s.


Interview: Dave Rossum E-MU, Part One – English Version – AMAZONA.de

E-Mu Mastermind Dave Rossum. He has to be mentioned in the same gasp as synthesizer-pioneers like Bob Moog or Dave Smith.


Interview: Dave Rossum E-MU, Part Two – English Version – AMAZONA.de

E-Mu Mastermind Dave Rossum belongs with Bob Moog, Alan Pearlman, Don Buchla and Tom Oberheim to the most important pioneers of American synthesizer-developers.


Interview: Dave Rossum E-MU, Part Three – English Version – AMAZONA.de

Dave Rossum, founder and mastermind of E-Mu, in an interview with Peter Grandl, exklusively at AMAZONA.de


Blast from the past: E-MU Emulator | MusicRadar

Now remembered as a seminal instrument in music history, the Emulator was conceived in an act of desperation.


Dave Rossum | NAMM.org

Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge attended college together and soon developed a few clever ways of combining their engineering training with their passion for music. They began creating sound controllers for the boom of synthesizers hitting the market in the 1970s. While supplying a growing number of electronic instrument companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, they decided to form their own company, E-mu. E-mu has been described as one of the cornerstone organizations that pioneered a number of products critical to the growth of electronic musical instruments – a list much too long for this bio.