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[ Fairlight CMI ]  
General info
General info  
  Fairlight (founded in 1975 by Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie in Sydney, Australia)
Fairlight ESP ("Electric Sound and Picture", since April 1989)
(The content of this web site reflects the personal opinion of the author, the information given is not guaranteed to have anything in common with the products of Fairlight. This web site is in no way affiliated with Fairlight ESP. Please visit their web site for information about their products.)

Machines discussed on this page:

: general purpose dual-6800 (later 6809) computer, control architecture for CMI. Originally developed by Tony Furse (Creative Strategies).
CMI ("Computer Musical Instrument"): sampler + additive synthesizer + sequencer, QASAR control computer architecture.
MFX ("Music and Effects"): hard disk recording system/digital audio workstation, older models based upon CMI.

Design philosophy:
dedicated multi-processor architecture
with multitasking real-time operating system

The Fairlight CMI is one of the very first samplers and music-workstations (integrated synthesizer/sampler/sequencer). Sound generation is simply based upon sample playback (with loops) from waveform RAM. Waveform data is generated via sampling and/or non-realtime sound editing software.
Early models (Series I/II/IIx) had a sample resolution of 8 Bits (linear coding), whereas the last Series III provided 16 Bits. Even with the latest 16-Bit model, the CMI has its "own" sound. One of the reasons is the usage of analog VCFs and VCAs for subtractive sound post-processing, providing a certain "warmth" in the sound quality. On the other hand, a variable sample read-out clock is employed for pitch variation (possibly with excessive jitter due to the usage of BRMs). Since no sample value interpolation is employed in the digital domain, lower playback rates produce audible frequency images at the DAC outputs if the VCF cutoff frequency is set to very high values (disabling analog interpolation). This artifact however is phase-coherent with the played waveform (due to the variable clock principle) and is therefore incorporated within the total sound reception as a "crispy", "hissy", "breathy" or "smoky" component. Apart from sampling, sound creation and manipulation is possible via (non-realtime) software functions (like FFT, adding, mixing, envelope shaping, flanger etc.).
Based upon the CMI Series III model with an XDR upgrade, the MFX1 and MFX2 disk recorders were released as successors, still supporting the CMI functions.

Used as a sampler, the CMI is famous for its (infamous) orchestra-hits ("stabs"), "smoky" synthetic vocal sounds, low-pitched "crispy" percussions, and the unique library of natural instrument samples. (The sound of older 8-Bit models with their limited bandwidth is sometimes critized to be like a "nasal honk".) As for the additive synthesizer capabilities, the CMI typically produces very bright artificial sounds (which can be characterized by adjectives like: "breathy", "organ-like", "glass-like", "metallic", "technical", "digital").
Series IIx: See Greg Holmes' page for sound examples of 8-Bit models.
Series III: Click here for a demo (copyright disclaimer).
  (...thanks to Jean-Bernard for many new links and lots of technical information!)
  • Qasar (I) (1970-1971, digital/analog hybrid synthesizer):
    (prototype, by Tony Furse (Creative Strategies, Sydney).)

  • Qasar II (1972-1973, duo-phonic digital/analog hybrid synthesizer):
    (prototype, by Tony Furse (Creative Strategies, Sydney), supported by Federal government funding from the Australia Council, The Canberra School of Electronic Music, and especially Don Banks.)

  • QASAR M8 (also "M8" or "Multimode 8", 1975, digital synthesizer, 8 Bit, 8 channels, 4KB shared sound data RAM):
    (by Tony Furse (Creative Strategies), wire-wrap STTL technology, reworked (with PCBs) by Fairlight and released as the Fairlight QASAR M8 in 1976, direct ancestor of the Fairlight CMI)
    dual-6800 Main CPU, 2slot/8Bit/16Bit QASAR Bus, combined channel processing (8 channels with 4KB shared memory), light-pen

  • CMI (Series I) ("Computer Musical Instrument", 1979, sampler + additive synthesizer, 8 Bit, 8 channels, 8x separate 16KB waveform RAM, max. 24kHz sampling, pitch by variable sample clock rate, based upon the QASAR M8 which gave the name "QASAR" for the control computer part of the CMI):
    dual-6800 Main CPU (running QDOS, Q026 + Q032), 2slot/8Bit/16Bit QASAR Bus, 64KB system RAM (Q096), 512x256 B/W graphics (Q045 + Q025), light-pen interface (Q148), 8 channel boards (with 16KB private waveform RAM, CMI-01), channel master board (main sample clock, sample in, CMI-02), optional analog interface board (CMI-07)

  • CMI Series II (1982, max. 30.2kHz sampling):
    (Improved CMI Series I)
    new channel boards (CMI-01-A), optional MIDI (68B09, CMI-08)

  • CMI Series IIx (also called "CMI-09", 1983):
    (improved Series II with new dual-6809 computer; typically Q2xx, CMI-2x)
    new main board (CMI-25), new front panel (Q137), dual-6809 Main CPU (running 6809-QDOS or OS-9/6809 Level 2, Q209 + Q133), 256 KB system RAM with MMU (Q256), 512x256 B/W graphics + light pen interface (Q219), optional MIDI (68B09, CMI-08), later optional 68000 general interface (CMI-28, for MIDI/SMPTE, output board: CMI-29), optional DMA hard disk interface (Q077)

  • CMI Series III (1985, 16 Bit, 16 channels standard, max. 14 MB shared waveform RAM, max. 50/100kHz sampling, pitch by variable sample clock rate):
    (Basically, the main computer parts of the Series IIx and the Series III are the same: Q209, Q133, Q256, QFC9, Q219, Q014, Q137; and even some CMI parts: CMI-28, CMI-07. The waveform processing with shared waveform memory is a new design: CMI-3x, CMI-3xx, software Rev6 and below)
    dual-6809 Main CPU (running OS-9/6809 Level 2, Q209 + Q133), 2slot/8Bit/16Bit QASAR Bus, system RAM with paging hardware (2xQ256/1xQ356: 512KB/1MB), 512x256 B/W graphics (Q219, light-pen interface not used: graphics pen integrated into Preh Alpha-keyboard), general interface (68000 CPU,CMI-28, for MIDI/SMPTE, output boards: CMI-332, CMI-333), SCSI board (Q777), waveform processor (68000 CPU, CMI-33), 8slot/16Bit/23Bit waveform Bus (14MB waveform address space), waveform RAM boards (2MB, CMI-39, 7 slots for max. 14MB), channel support board (CMI-32), 8x channel cards (2 channels per card: clock + address generators, 6 DACs for CVs (for VCFs/VCAs on analog board), 68B09 control CPU, later optional alternating looping, CMI-31), 8x analog output boards (2 audio channels per card, VCFs/VCAs/Main DACs, CMI-331), sample input board (2 channels, CMI-337)

  • MFX sound design console (also "MFX III" (not to be confused with MFX3), MFX="Music and Effects", 1987, audio post-production option)
    (special control keyboard for CMI Series III, for use with Cue List timecode sequencer and DTM (later: MDR) harddisk recording software)
    MFX keyboard "generation 0" (68000 master CPU, 6809 slave CPU for trigger keys, built-in: Alpha-keyboard, trigger-keys, mode/transport-keys, jogger-wheel, character LCD-display, mouse-port)

  • Waveform Supervisor, etc. (1988, max. 32MB waveform RAM)
    (upgrades for CMI Series III; typically CMI-4x, CMI-34x, software Rev7)
    waveform supervisor (replaces waveform processor CMI-33, 68020+68881+68450 CPU+FPU+DMA, on-board NCR5380 SCSI controller, CMI-41), 8slot/16Bit/24Bit waveform Bus (32MB waveform address space), new waveform RAM board (4MB, CMI-40, 7 slots for max. 28MB), new sample input module (digital + analog, CMI-346+347)

  • XDR ("Extended Disk Recorder", 1989, now Fairlight ESP):
    (upgrade package for Series III, software Rev8 with dynamic channel allocation, preliminary 8(16)-track version of MDR harddisk recording software; typically ESP-xxx)
    waveform supervisor (see above, CMI-41), new waveform RAM board (8MB, CMI-43D, now 32MB possible with 7 slots), 24(12) channel output router (arbitrary dynamic mapping/mixing of the 16 channel outputs to 24(12) extra outputs, ESP-RT1), new 2-channel analog + digital sample input + digital output module (56001 24-Bit DSP, sample-rate conversion, ESP-348+349)

  • MFX1 (also called "MFX" or "MFX.DR", 1990, hard disk recording system/sampler)
    (CMI Series III XDR and new MFX keyboard, 2/24 channels in/out with 16 simultaneous and 8 tracks sustained output, software Rev9, full CMI functionality, MDR hard disk recording software, support for 2-channel digital audio output)
    new "Mini-Floppy" controller (for PC-type floppy drives), color graphics controller card (ESP-CG1, and new monitor), MFX keyboard (generation 1)

  • MFX2 (1992)
    (improved MFX1, 2/24 channels in/out with 16 tracks sustained output, software Rev10 and Rev11, full CMI functionality)
    8slot/16Bit/25Bit waveform bus (64MB waveform+extension address space), TurboSCSI card (NCR53C94 SCSI controller, higher SCSI transfer rate for 16 tracks simultaneous and sustained output, contains CMI-32 functionality, ESP-TS1), improved graphics card (ESP-CG2/CG3), optional waveform accelerator card (96002 32-Bit DSP, multiple banks of SRAM and WRAM, ESP-96K), MFX keyboard (generation 1)

  • MFX3 (1994, digital audio workstation/hard disk recording system, not to be confused with "MFX III" console)
    (24 channels analog+digital 16-Bit in/out, software Rev12 and Rev13, CMI functionality still supported in Rev12)
    QASAR CPU (Q256, Q133, Q209), 2slot/8Bit/16Bit QASAR Bus, Waveform Supervisor (CMI-41 or CMI-41R w/o CMI sample input), 8slot/16Bit/25Bit waveform bus, SMPTE/MIDI (CMI-28), color graphics (ESP-CG3), TurboSCSI card (ESP-TS1 or ESP-TSR w/o CMI-32 functionality), digital channel cards (ADSP-21020 SHARC 32/40-Bit floating point DSP, multiple banks of SRAM and WRAM, 4 channels audio I/O per card, ESP-DCC), 8Bit timesliced bus, digital audio I/O cards (4 channels
    per card, 68HC11 control CPU, ESP-DIO), optional analog audio I/O (ESP-AIO, daughter board for ESP-DIO), SYNC card (68030+68882 CPU+FPU, AES/EBU I/O, ESP-SYN), Digital MFX Synchronisation I/O (frontend to SYNC, ESP-MIDI + ESP-PLL + ESP-9PIN + ESP-LTC), optional CMI channel + WRAM cards, MFX keyboard (generation 1)

  • MFX3plus (1996)
    (improved MFX3, revised MFX keyboard, 24 channels analog+digital 16...24-Bit in/out, no CMI functionality anymore, software Rev14)
    Wave Executive (68040 control CPU, running OS-9/68K, PCI-Bus interface, ESP-WX and ESP-RIO frontend, replacing: QASAR CPU + CMI-28 + CMI-41) with new color graphics (ESP-CG4, replacing ESP-CG3), PCI bus interface (PCI interface, 56002 DSP as PCI-to-waveform-bus DMA bridge, ESP-PCI), optional TurboSCSI controller (ESP-TSR), optional PCI SCSI controller, optional PCI 100MBit/s Ethernet controller, MFX keyboard (generation 2)

  • MFX3.48 (2000)
    (improved MFX3plus, 48 channels analog+digital 24-Bit @48-96kHz in/out, software Rev15)
    QDC channel cards (8x ADSP-21061 SHARC 32/40-Bit floating point DSP, 128MB private waveform RAM, 24 channels audio I/O per card, max. 8 QDCs in system), MFX keyboard (generation 2)

Please see disclaimer for downloads !
Also try this to find more software on the KMI site.

  Programs, Disk/Tape Images
Schematics, Datasheets
Sounds, Samples

  • OS9/MDR-DOS file system manager for ftp-like access to Fairlight disks and for backup purposes: cmios9 (Rev.2.0)
    (to be used with an image file or device, e.g. "cmios9 /dev/rz4c" for access to drive rz4, read-only via -r option)
  • OS9 module information, extraction, fix CRC: ident9 (Rev.55)
    (for OS9/6809, OSK=OS9/68K, OSK J-modules, and OS9000 modules)
    (bad CRC/header overwrite via -f, extract module via -x <modname>, -s <start>, fix CRC via -c (OS9/9000) or -j (J-module))
  • CMI screendump to bmp converter: bmp9 (Rev.2)
  • BMP-file to MFX2 picfill picture converter: bmp2pic (Rev.1.0)
  • MDR MT-file tools (file info and MT-to-WAV converter): mdrtools (Rev 1.0)
  • CMI Series III voice file information: voice (Rev.9)
  • 6809 disassembler with automatic label generation: dis9 (Rev.1003)
    originally posted to comp.sys.m6809 by Didier Derny (didier@aida.remcomp.fr), minor hacks by Alan DeKok, changes by Klaus Michael Indlekofer (KMI) (11-24-01)
    (generates verbose output and assembler output,
    compile options for "cc -O2 -o dis9 dis9.c":
    -DOS9 for OS9 and CMI-specific extensions,
    -DP1EXEC for CMI P1-task-specific extensions,
    -DCMI31 for CMI-31 extensions.
    -DQDOS for QDOS-specific extensions.
    usage example: "dis9 myfile f123 ffff f000| more": disassemble from $f123 to $ffff with $f000 at file begin.)
  • DSP56001 disassembler: dis56 (Rev.31)
    (still alpha-grade!)
  • DSP96002 disassembler: dis96 (Rev.91)
    (still alpha-grade!)
  • CMI Series III Alpha-keyboard code list



Please see disclaimer for downloads !



Peter Vogel's Failight gallery:
prototype (with Tony Furse)
prototype (with Bruce Williams)
Fairlight's QASAR M8 prototype

see also www.soundbyte.org and AMOL: switched on for Qasar II and M8

CMI (Series I)

front, boards
front panel

Q014 (Rev2a)

CMI Series II

System (Greg Holmes)
cardcage (Peter Vogel)

CMI-01-A (Joe Britt)
other cards see CMI Series I

CMI Series IIx

System (Greg Holmes)

CMI-08 (Joe Britt)
CMI-01-A (Joe Britt)
Q256 (Joe Britt)
Q014 see CMI Series I
Q133 (Joe Britt)
Q209 (Joe Britt)
Q219 (Joe Britt)

CMI Series III, XDR:

System (Greg Holmes)
XDR: Fairlight ESP News 1 (1990)

CMI-39 (Rev2.5)
WFM32 (Joe Britt, Joe Britt)
CMI-31 (Rev1.9, Rev2A, Rev2A.4)
CMI-32 (Rev2)
CMI-41 (Rev1, Rev2.4)
Q256 (Joe Britt)
Q356 (Joe Britt)
Q014 see CMI Series I
Q133 (Joe Britt)
Q209 (Joe Britt)
Q219 (Joe Britt)

ESP-348+349 (Rev1.5), ESP-348, ESP-348 solder-side
CMI-331 (Rev7.1)
ESP-RT1 (topview with ESP-RT1B)

SMPSU (open cover w/o fans)

front view (Joe Britt)
top view
bottom view, bottom view with open SMPSU
back view (Greg Holmes: first model)
connectors MFX version
drives: floppy, tape, harddisk
front panel
main switch, phones output
back control LEDs

Startup logo (Rev9.34)
Sample page (Rev6 Joe Britt)
FFT page (Rev9.34)

MFX keyboard

MFX III sound design console (generation 0):

www.fairlight.free.fr: old MFX keyboard
Fairlight Newsletter 12 (1988)

MFX1/MFX2/MFX3 console (generation 1):
Peter Vogel: MFX1 keyboard + B/W monitor
www.fairlight.free.fr: MFX2 keyboard
Greg Holmes: MFX3 keyboard + monitor
MFX010 board (Rev1)
MFX2 keyboard inside (MFX040+LCDs left, MFX020 right, MFX010 top)

MFX3plus/MFX3.48 console (generation 2):

www.fairlight.free.fr: MFX3plus keyboard
www.fairlightesp.com.au: MFX3.48 keyboard


MFX.DR announcement: Fairlight ESP News 1 (1990)



www.fairlight.free.fr: MFX2 brochure cover
MFX2 main-frame (taken from MFX2 brochure)

CMI-41 (Rev1, Rev2.4)
ESP-CG3 (Rev 3.0)
ESP-TS1 (Rev3.1T)
ESP-96K (Rev1)


Greg Holmes: MFX3 keyboard + monitor


keyboard + monitor (Peter Vogel, fairlight.fr)
Fairlight ESP Newsletter (November 1996)


keyboard + monitor (fairlight.fr)

Fairlight ESP News Bulletin (IBC 2000 issue)

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Designed by K.M. Indlekofer. See disclaimer. Send comments about this site to Klaus Michael Indlekofer. Last updated 07/24/2005.