One of the most popular digital synths ever was the DX7 from Yamaha, released in 1983. It featured a whole new type of synthesis called FM (Frequency Modulation). It certainly is not analog and it is difficult to program but can result in some excellent sounds! It is difficult because it is non-analog and thus, a whole new set of parameters are available for tweaking, many of which seemed counter-intuitive and unfamiliar. And programming had to be accomplished via membrane buttons, one data slider and a small LCD screen.
Still the sounds it shipped with and that many users did manage to create were more complex and unique than anything before it. Percussive and metallic but thick as analog at times, the DX-7 was known for generating unique sounds still popular to this day. The DX-7 was also a truly affordable programmable synth when it was first released. Almost every keyboardist bought one at the time making the DX-7 one of the best selling synths of all time! It also came with MIDI which was brand new at the time – Sequential had already released the first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600. Roland wouldn’t get around to adding MIDI for another year with the Juno-106, and it would be three years before Roland can counter the popularity of the DX7 with a digital synth of their own, the D-50.
The DX-7 has been used by the Crystal Method, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Orbital, BT, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Tony Banks, Mike Lindup of Level 42, Jan Hammer, Roger Hodgson, Teddy Riley, Brian Eno, T Lavitz of the Dregs, Sir George Martin, Supertramp, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Daryl Hall, Steve Winwood, Scritti Politti, Babyface, Peter-John Vettese, Depeche Mode, D:Ream, Les Rhytmes Digital, Front 242, U2, A-Ha, Enya, The Cure, Astral Projection, Fluke, Kitaro, Vangelis, Elton John, James Horner, Toto, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Chick Corea, Level 42, Queen, Yes, Michael Boddicker, Julian Lennon, Jean-Michel Jarre, Sneaker Pimps, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Greg Phillanganes, Jerry Goldsmith, Jimmy Edgar, Beastie Boys, Stabbing Westward and Herbie Hancock. Pretty impressive for just a partial listing!