Bontempi ES 3300 (sick sounding sound bank keyboard with absurdly crappy lo-fi rhythms)

This small tablehooter from 1987 (CPU copyright date) is one of the worst sounding polyphonic Bontempi keyboards.

Despite it has 50 fancy named preset sounds, they all sound similar and are made from a few static digital waveforms (each 2 mixed sine waves?) with very few and primitive volume envelopes. All sounds are infested with strong digital aliasing noise and have audible zipper noise. In unmodified state this thing yells ear tormentingly loud out of its tinny speaker unless you turn volume lower, but this makes the sound even worse because the digital volume control steals bits from the low resolution DAC.

The digital rhythms sound so extremely sick, thin and distorted that I thought that my specimen has a broken capacitor. Although there theoretically might by still some "electro" tekkno fans those think they are "cult", you can believe me that when even I consider them crappy, then it is very unlikely that you will like them. The percussion neither sound in any way natural nor are nice blippy synth sounds, but resemble rather the harsh digital cracking ping noises from a skipping old audio CD player fed with a broken CD. The drums are impulsive popping noises like when a dog would bite into a microphone, while the cymbals are made from a dull digital hiss that contains a harsh high beep and reminds to a fresh tinitus with water in the ear. Only in combination with the cheesy accompaniments of the chord sequencer they sound a bit better.

main features:

model ES 3300, serial no. P2420292



The user interface of this little tablehooter is quite awkward; it has not even individual volume control buttons but the tempo +/- buttons serve this purpose when pressed while holding the "rhythm sel." button (which normally selects preset rhythms on white keys). Preset sounds are selected by holding "sound sel." and typing a 2 digit number with the white keys. (Tip: The ciphers are written badly visible below the keys, but the better visible note numbers "1" to "10" in the cyan row above the keys correspond to them also.) The PCB has trimmers for tuning and volume preset. You can add here a real volume potentiometer or at least turn down the preset volume (very recommended), because the given volume control badly reduces the (anyway low) bit resolution of the sound. Near the CPU are 2 resistor arrays (for DAC?).

Attention: After dismantling this instrument, it can be only successfully re-assembled in a zero- gravity environment ;-) because always either the plastic buttons or the PCB falls out depending on its actual position. To prevent this, use a strip of adhesive film from outside to hold the buttons in place while closing the case.

Despite the 50 main voice preset sounds include exciting names like "xilo spring", "analog", "fx piano", "cosmic" 1..3, "fantasy" 1..2, "fantasy piano", "peak" 1..2, "metal guitar" etc., they are all made from each a static digital waveform (Hammond- like timbres, possibly 2 mixed sine waves) combined with one of only few different attack- decay envelopes, thus most presets sound not remotely natural. It is not worth the effort to explain them in detail here, because at first hear they all simply resemble either cheap tooting analogue home organ tones or Rhodes piano sounds (with different decay rates), but unlike these they contain harsh digital aliasing noise. The preset sounds contain neither vibrato nor tremolo nor any pitch changes (not to say complex stuff like ringing mandolins) and with sustain off all notes stop immediately after releasing a key. I guess they employ only about 5 different  envelopes {envelope- less toot, toot with slower attack rate, 3 differently fast decay envelopes}. Instead of this pseudo- sound- bank Bontempi better should have added 4 synth buttons (envelope +/- and timbre +/- like the "voice variator" on Yamaha PSS-80) to combine every waveform with every envelope in an easy and logical usable way. By the too high preset volume (gladly advertised as "high power speaker") the blatant sound flaws get even more obvious, because the thing always comes up at maximum volume after power- on, which makes the tiny speaker distort unless the digital volume control is set so low that the this way reduced bit resolution ruins the sound quality instead. Likely this was intended to yell together all shopping center customers to make them quickly turn their head and look for the sudden noise source, but I severely doubt that when found this made them in any way interested in buying one of these tablehooters - not to forget that it certainly made the shop staff as quickly decide to remove all batteries and power supply from such a roaring beast in the display shelf to make it stay quiet for the rest of the season until it collects dust.

The percussion sounds IMO really awful. The drums are a percussive popping very distorted noises (like smashing a microphone or the digital cracking ping noise from a broken audio CD that skips in an old CD player). The cymbals are made from a dull digital hiss that contains a harsh high beeping component and reminds to a fresh tinitus with water in the ear. With most rhythms the tempo can be only adjusted between medium low and medium high.

The chord sequencer is started by pressing "record". You can now play manual single finger chords in the middle section of the keyboard. Press "ecp/ play" after every chord to store it. Press "record" or "full keyb." when you are finished. You can now play the recorded chord sequence by pressing "ecp/ play" during melody play (one key play - 1 chord per press). When you start a rhythm (press "start/stop"), instead of organ chords the automatic accompaniment will play in this mode. Press "full keyb." to end the chord mode (also stops rhythm). Annoying is that the "auto power- off" erases the entered chord sequence. The accompaniments of different rhythms contain different sounds (1 for chord, 1 for bass); many employ sweetish, arpeggio- like patterns those may be nice for synth pop musics. (I don't own the manual of this thing, thus there might be still hidden features I don't know.)

Predecessors of this instrument were the Bontempi ES 3100 and ES 3200. Successors include the Bontempi ET 202 (great effect sound and accompaniment) and Bontempi GT 509 (666 sound combinations). A bigger and slightly less awful sounding tablehooter based on the same sound generator like the ES 3300 (with even 160 way too similar sounds!) was the Bontempi KS 4600.

 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
back to tablehooters collection