Ensoniq Mirage

The Ensoinq Mirage was one of the first Affordable Samplers.it's an 8bit Sampler with 128Kb of Ram. It has 6 CEM3328 Analog filters and an ES5503 DOC Digital Oscillator.

The ensoniq mirage is controlled by a 6809 based embedded computer, it's operating system is loaded from a floppy disk on startup, there are various operating systems for the ensoniq mirage:

Mirage OS: this is the standard Operating system it features sampling, playback, parameter editing and a simple sequencer.

MASOS: the Mirage Advanced Sampling Operating System, this is a variant of the Mirage OS that lacks the sequencer but features some basic sample editing functions, sample dumping to and from a computer and an infuriatingly Simplistic Sysex implementation that allows a computer to change the parameters of the currently loaded program all at once.

Soundprocess: this is a third party operating system by Trident, it turns the Mirage into a sample based synthesiser with much more sonic variation than the Standard Mirage OS or MASOS, it features a much better sysex implementation, that allows each parameter to be controlled individually. Soundprocess was sold until recently by Syntaur, but has now passed into the public domain.

"It's Dangerous To Go Alone! Take This!"

Editing the mirage:

In order to reduce the hardware cost to the absolute minimum, the mirage interface is pretty basic, a numeric keypad, and a 2 digit led display. many values are displayed as hexadecimal rather than decimal, and they didn't even print the parameter numbers on the front panel.
so you probably want this parameter card tattooed on your forearms. i have mine printed on a bit of paper until the tattoo artist has a free appointment.

To call the experience of programming the Ensoinq mirage from the front panel "Menu Diving" makes the experience sound positively user friendly. There is no context, no menus, some values are displayed as decimal and some as hexadecimal, you just directly alter the memory structures in the mirage by setting a Parameter/Value Pair. This is fine for editing The synth like parameters like filter and envelope settings, but Try setting up a multisampled instrument and see what i mean.

Blank Software SoundLab

Ensoniq was fully aware that the Mirage was hard to edit from the front panel, so they partnered with several companies to Create computer based Visual Editing Systems (VES).

There were VES systems available for both popular computer systems of the Day: The Official Ensoinq VES for The Commodore 64 AND the Apple II. Later systems were developed for the ATARI ST (by Steinberg), the IBM PC had Synthassist, and a system by Turtle beach software that would eventually become Sample Vision. For the Apple Macintosh there was SoundLab by Blank software.

The developer of Soundlab, Donny Blank knew people at Ensoniq Headquarters and worked closely with them to create SoundLab, it was billed as the deluxe VES and officially distributed by Ensoniq, and it cost a lot of money, but if you had a Macintosh you were probably rich anyway.Contemporary reviews were lukewarm about most of the VES systems but they absolutely raved about Soundlab. So when i saw a copy on Ebay i bought it immediately.
After a lot of trial and error and RTFM i managed to make a copy of the original Macintosh disks and the Mirage format Masos-M disk.
The Masos-M disk was especially hard because some of the tools that i normally use for copying mirage disks wouldn't recognize it. SoundLab will not work with the regular version of MASOS, You absolutely need the MASOS-M disk.

Soundlab will ONLY run on the following models of Macintosh:Mac512k, Mac512ke, Mac Plus, Mac SE, Macintosh Classic, The Macintosh Portable and maybe The early Powerbooks.
Although the software will run on system 6, it might crash occasionally, if you the Mac with the Soundlab disk, which contains a version of system 5, it is very stable.

It needs a 68000 Cpu and a 512 × 342 black and white screen, it will NOT run on an SE30 or a Mac II. This software was released when the Macintosh 512k was the new hotness, and this version, 1.1 was updated to support the Macintosh Plus. there was a later update, which i do not have. but there is a review in transoniq hacker issue 31

You will also need a midi interface for your Mac, even better if you have two, then you can edit the mirage on the mac whilst playing it with a sequencer. (you don't need to configure this, just plug in two midi interfaces).

To use Blank Software SoundLab, you will need to copy the disk images to your mac and make real floppy disks with DiskCopy4.2. The Masos-M disk can either be made into a real floppy disk with OnmiFlop on a PC with an internal floppy drive or used with a Gotek Usb floppy emulator in the Mirage.

Disks Images And Manual are available Here:


Since the mirage is really just an 8bit computer with a nice sound card and a piano keyboard instead of a typewriter keyboard, it was just a matter of time before people started writing software for it. the best know piece of software for the mirage is the amazing Soundprocess by Triton that turns the Mirage into an esq1ish synth.

Soundprocess is now in the pubic domain, and you can find disk images and manuals in my mirage data archive.

Mirage 101:

Did you just buy a mirage and have no idea how to get started? does it even work?

Obviously i can't fix your mirage without seeing it, but the following are general guidelines to diagnosing mirage boot problems.

The mirage needs a boot floppy, otherwise it will just an error message on the screen at startup while clicking the floppy drive,

nd means there is no disk in the drive.

dE means disk error. (this could be either your disk or your floppy drive)

nF means that the disk is not a mirage disk

if your mirage doesn't even get this far it probably has a power supply problem.

When you have a good boot floppy the mirage will click the disk drive and the screen will flash randomly.

If you have problems at this stage it is probably your disk drive.

Then the screen will go blank for several seconds, and then finally you will see 27 on the screen and you should be able to play the first sample on the disk.

When the screen goes blank during loading the mirage is tuning the filters, if this takes a really long time it means you have a problem with your filters. Even if you do have filter problems your mirage should eventually boot.

If you need a mirage fixed, get in touch. it's one of my favourite samplers and i've spent quite a lot of time inside mirages.

Unobtainium parts and cannibalism

There's quite a few hard to get parts in the Ensoniq Mirage

ES5503 Doc: This is the heart of the mirage, it reads samples from memory and plays them back. it is also found in the AppleIIGS. some people have sacrificed Apple IIgs computers so that a mirage might live again,

CEM3328 Filters: These are hard to get, so valuable that (bad) some people buy mirages just to harvest these chips. Some other CEM chips have been cloned,but not as far as i know, the CEM3328.

825153n FPLA this is a custom chip, it may be possible to clone it. it's a mystery to me.

6500/11 keyboard controller:
Along with several other Ensoniq keyboards the mirage has a custom mask programmed chip that scans the keyboard and sends key down and up messages to the CPU.
Unfortunately this chip is often damaged if you spill beer on your mirage.
Although these were available as spare parts for a long time, stocks are running low. There have been attempts to copy the rom contents using dark voodoo magic , but there is still no way to reproduce the original chips.

Mirage or Delusion?

I am working on a replacement for the Ensoniq mirage Keyboard controller, based on an stm32 It will have an entirely new firmware but will do the same thing as the original 6500/11, maybe even more.

Experimental boards will be available fairly soon.
if you have a mirage and have experience developing embeded software, get in touch and i'll send you one.
the current iteration is a pcb with level converters that allows the connection of an stm32 blue pill development board to the
Mirage in place of the 6500/11

The eventual plan is to develop a board with an stm32f103 and some level converters, which will just be a plug in replacement.

here is my huge but disorganized mirage archive you will find many good things there.
if you have anything mirage related which is not in the archive, please get in touch!

you can also find this collection on archive.org: archive.org/download/ensoniq-mirage-files-collection