Fairlight CMI

Published: October 20, 2021
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In 1979 a new machine hit the music scene: an instrument that claimed to contain all others. The Fairlight CMI was the first commercially available digital synthesizer with a sampling function, a technology able to digitally reproduce acoustic instruments and sample any sound in the world. This game changer opened completely new scenarios of exploration for new and experienced musicians alike. New genres like techno and sample-based hip hop were born this way. The Fairlight CMI is a keyboard that most of us have probably never even seen, let alone played, yet it was one of the most prominent synths of the early? and mid?'80s and set the agenda for the way 'ordinary' synths would later develop. Sampling, graphic sequencers, multitimbrality, software?based synthesis and the concept of the 'workstation' can all be traced back to this instrument. Coming from Australia, a country not known for producing synthesizers, this was the keyboard that broke all the established rules, even down to its colour. Consisting of several large (cream?coloured) parts plus loads of cables, it became the 1980s digital equivalent of the large analogue modulars that were produced 10?15 years earlier.

fairlight synthesizer

It's one thing to create a groundbreaking instrument, but another to get it into the hands of musicians. This could've been an uphill battle for the Australian creators Vogel and Ryrie. Another thing that made it an uphill task its the astronomical price of approximately USD $25,000, almost $100,000 in today's money. Through a serendipitous connection, Fairlight had their entrée into the US market. On the strength of a single prototype, Vogel went on an all-star studio tour. The first Fairlight customer: Stevie Wonder.

From 1979 to 1985 several versions of the Fairlight were produced, with the Series III being the last of them. Each new series added updates to the Fairlight as technology developed through the early eighties. The Fairlight 1 and 2 had only 16 kByte of Memory per voice, and only eight voices but expanded to several megabytes and double the polyphony by the Fairlight III. The IIx was the first Fairlight to offer MIDI. The Series III added aftertouch capability to the keyboard. They all had pitch/mod wheels, an 82-key alphanumeric keyboard, 15 function keys, a Graphics Tablet for drawing sounds and a Video Monitor for seeing what you're doing while editing.

Musicians saw huge potential in the way samples could be used creatively. With the CMI as part of their toolkit, artists could take a whole new approach to production but still maintain total musical control. It also served a practical purpose: sound designers and film composers could replace entire orchestras with the CMI and shape the tone of traditional instruments in new and exciting ways.


Watch Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones groove in this Fairlight CMI demo on YouTube.

Fairlight CMI value and price guide

What's your Fairlight CMI worth in 2021? Here are some recently sold items with prices.

Item Title Date Price
Fairlight Boxed Since 1982 1983 RARE Boxed Since 1982 1983 RARE Fairlight CMI 08/2021 $ 5 668.00
Fairlight Off Fairlight Type CMI II Off Fairlight Type CMI II Mixer 09/2021 $ 282.27
Fairlight Fairlight USB2CMI USB mouse Fairlight USB2CMI USB Mouse Keyboard 07/2021 $ 340.07
Fairlight Fairlight CMI T Shirt 100 Fairlight CMI T Shirt 100 Cotton Retro 08/2021 $ 20.29
Fairlight Fairlight CMI system ConBrio Fairlight CMI System ConBrio ADS200 08/2021 $ 8.79
no pictureSee all sold items on eBay for more prices12/2021-.--

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