Product

EMS Synthi Hi-Fli Prototype (HiFli)

A very rare prototype Synthi Hi-Fli, dating from 1972, in excellent condition following a full overhaul by EMS earlier this year. One of only ten pre-production units made.

Select Currency

PRICE: $11,075.50 (No Added VAT)

ADD TO CART

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

A very rare prototype Synthi Hi-Fli, dating from 1972, in excellent condition following a full overhaul by EMS earlier this year.

One of only ten pre-production units made in 1972. David Gilmour reputedly still owns two of them…

Description

Ultra-rare prototype EMS Synthi Hi-Fli – this is a knob-twiddler’s dream of an effect and the ultimate in hens’ teeth: your guitar will never sound the same again.

Different sound and spec to a standard Hi-Fli – this is the second such unit we’ve had and it broke my heart to sell the last one (I’ve been a committed HiFli nut since I bought my first one many years ago and have always had at least one in the studio ever since).

The prototypes don’t have the growl function, which was introduced about 18 months later. Production Hi-Flis all have the Buzz switch, but only the first ten prototypes had the Fuzz switch, which adds some interesting colouration to the up and down-octave sounds.

Ten production prototype Hi-Flis were made in 1972 but a redesign quickly followed the launch at the Frankfurt Fair to try to reduce the factory cost (the prototype design is not especially ergonomic for a guitar player to use – you have to lean back somewhat to access the pedals underneath the main unit). This original design features a removable aluminium pole which plugs into the underside of the main console and the top of the base unit, acting both as a stand and a conduit for power and signal connections (pole not included with this unit). The heavy-duty nylon-dipped base houses the power supply and sturdy twin pedals.

Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd is reputed to still have two of these original units, which, according to Phil Taylor were first used for the Dark Side of The Moon tour that started in May 1973 at Earls Court. Opinion is divided as to whether a Hi-Fli featured on the DSOTM recordings: I can only say that it certainly sounds like it did.

Number one in Analogman Tom’s list of rare guitar effects from his excellent book.

Used by David Gilmour – see this Gilmourish blog for further details – he bought a prototype in 1972 and from what he recalls it was “very, very expensive”; Gilmourish also suggest it was used during the recording of Dark Side Of The Moon

The physical design of the control panel differs from later Hi-Flis. The font used for the legending is different, as are the four rotary control knobs and caps for the sliders.

The specification of the Mk1 Hi-Fli prototype is slightly different to the main production run which followed. Whereas the Phase Filter section with six effects (vibrato, phasing 1, phasing 2, waa, waw and meow) and six control waveforms is the same, the Octave Shift section on the left is different. Instead of Octave Shift and Ring Mod mix sliders it has Up/Down and Level. With the Up/Down slider set halfway the octave shift has no effect and a clean signal results. Moving this fader down from the mid-point introduces progressively more down-shifted signal. Moving the fader up introduces ‘up-shifted’ signal. The level fader to the right controls the overall level of the signal passing through the Octave Shift section. Note there is an extra switch here labelled ‘Fuzz’. This provides a different (more subtle) colouration to the up/downshifted signal than that provided by the ‘Buzz’ switch. The Top Boost and Sustain Fuzz sections perform as normal. Note that the pedal assignment switches are on/off rather than plus-off-minus.

The Hi-Fli is supplied with a separate 8-way female-female connector cable which can be used in situations where the aluminium pole (missing) is not required. The AC mains connection is via a detachable mini-Bulgin lead (as used on EMS Synthis).

The Hi-Fli was designed by David Cockerell in 1971 for EMS. Only 350 were originally made making it a very rare beast indeed.

The Hi-Fli was actually referred to as a synthesizer in the original ad, but it’s basically an analog multi-effect processor, which can be used on vocals, guitars and organs. It has two footpedals, which could be routed as control voltages/expression pedal to any of the slider functions. It’s got no memory to bank up settings, – everything is in real-time, so one had to manually tweak the sliders for each tone change. You’ll suddenly hit upon an amazing combination while tweaking the knobs – be sure to hit record as repeating it can prove elusive.

Se the item photos for a shot of David in his home studio in 1972 with a prototype of the Hi-Fli.

=========
In my experience, there is one unit that stands above the rest: the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli. This is the ultimate vintage guitar pedal, whether for its features, sound, looks, size, scarcity, price, or simply its star quality. I’ve been fortunate to own four or five over the years, with some overlap between different variations. At one point, I had a rare early prototype and one of the last MkII units. They all sound different, and each one has its own unique character. This is due to the varying degrees by which the 40-year-old components in these complex, discrete circuits have aged. I could have justified keeping them all on the basis that each had unique qualities I enjoyed. But my keeper unit is one of the last produced by EMS. Built starting in 1972, the Hi-Fli was designed a year earlier by David Cockerell, who was also responsible for such legendary synths as the EMS VCS 3, Synthi AKS, and Synthi 100. In ’74, he moved to Electro-Harmonix, where he designed many classic pedals, including the Small Stone, Electric Mistress, 16 Second Digital Delay, and Microsynth. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is the most renowned early adopter of the Hi-Fli. He began using a prototype onstage in 1972-’73 and in recording Dark Side of the Moon. A Hi-Fli is also visible in the film Pink Floyd: Live in Pompeii. He has two units to this day, though Floyd gear expert and Gilmour tech Phil Taylor maintains that he didn’t use the Hi-Fli extensively. The prototype was displayed at the stunning Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum last year. Around 350 Hi-Flis were made, and other notable users include Steve Hackett of Genesis and Todd Rundgren.

Industrial designer Martin Holbrook’s iconic look for the Hi-Fli was a futuristic, curvaceous cream-colored fiberglass console, typical of late-’60s space-age design—although it was disparagingly referred to as “the toilet seat.” After the first 10 prototypes, which featured twin foot pedals built into the stand that supported it, the design was changed to a separate stand and pedals.

David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is the most renowned early adopter of the Hi-Fli. He began using a prototype onstage in 1972-’73 and in recording Dark Side of the Moon.

The prototype design, though undoubtedly far more aesthetically pleasing, was less successful ergonomically. Access to the pedals under the sizeable control section was difficult while playing guitar. After EMS ran out of cream fiberglass cases, the final 10 or so units produced by Robin Wood were housed in garish orange-painted wooden boxes.

While the early prototypes miss some of the later units’ improvements, and some mid-period Hi-Flis didn’t have the “growl” modification, all examples I’ve played have been utterly captivating. I know of no other effects unit that is as sonically versatile or as compelling and expressive. The Hi-Fli oozes inspiration, but if you find a sound you like, be certain to hit record quickly, because it can be difficult to precisely recreate settings. There are many variable parameters, and the slightest movement of each of nine faders has a significant impact on the sound. So, the Hi-Fli has all the flaws, foibles, and idiosyncrasies you’d expect in an analog synth from the early ’70s. It is one of those rare magical devices that surprises and delights one moment, only to obfuscate and exasperate the next.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
The Hi-Fli is complex and nuanced. Of course, you can just plug in and move sliders and switches until you get a sound you like. But the Hi-Fli is divided into two main sections by the bypass mixer, which controls the wet/dry mix. On the left are the top boost, octave shift, and sustain fuzz controls, and on the right are the controls for the stunning and multi-featured phase filter section. This is where you select and shape the various phaser, vibrato, and filter settings: vibrato, phasing 1, phasing 2, waw, wawa, and meow—tags that provide a tantalizing glimpse of what’s possible.


Three faces of the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli (from left to right): one of the 10 original prototypes with pedals directly beneath the unit; a final production model after EMS had run out of fiberglass housings, with the “growl” switch in the phase filter section and a bypass switch in the midsection; and a mid-period example without the growl mod. The middle unit is the author’s and can be heard in the sound clips online.

Running along the bottom are the switches to control the left and right foot pedals. Being able to select positive or negative voltage for the various sliders (or leave them off) for each pedal puts a vast array of control options at your disposal. On the top left is the solo/strum switch, which determines the attack/decay time sensitivity. Later units also feature the growl, which uses a subharmonic to modulate the phase filter, yielding even wilder sounds.

If I filled this entire magazine, I’d still fall short of conveying the depth, scale, and sheer craziness of the sounds the Hi-Fli can create. One minute you’re in the amphitheater at Pompeii making seagull noises; the next you’re like an axe-slinging Kraftwerk mannequin. Yet it also excels at gentle and subtle phasing and vibrato. This is a design of staggering quality and ambition with possibilities that stretch far beyond anything else created for use with an unmodified electric guitar in the ’70s. Like a guitar, the Hi-Fli will sound very different depending on who is playing it. Over the years, I’ve created all manner of scrumptious electronic noises using different Hi-Flis, and I still don’t feel I’ve come close to exhausting the sonic possibilities of this wondrous device. But in the neighborhood of $5,000 and up today, Hi-Flis are an investment in more than a learning curve.

“AnalogMan’s Guide to Vintage Effects” by Tom Hughes

and the David Gilmour Gear Forum.

Excerpts from the Gilmourish post written by HiFli owner “Richard”.

Condition

In excellent cosmetic condition with only minor scratches on the face. The case is very good with some dings and signs of wear. See photos for more information on cosmetic condition.

Tax

For sales in UK/EU, this item is on the margin scheme for second hand goods. VAT-free sales are not possible for this item.

Voltage Information

220/240v unit. A step-up transformer will be required for use on 110/120v supplies. Please ask if you need advice on what to use. We do not recommend using cheap, generic Chinese mains transformers.

DIG DEEPER...

EMS Synthi Hi-Fli Prototype (HiFli)

Gear feature

Gear History

EMS Synthi Hi-Fli

Tony goes deep into the Synthi HiFli - history, some of the ways it can be used, and the different versions we've had through the studio...

PUBLISHED: 2nd Oct 2018

DISCOVER MORE
EMS Synthi Hi-Fli Prototype (HiFli)

Machines With Soul

Not a another guide to Synthi AKS, but an account of my experience encountering and using one of these remarkable instruments.

PUBLISHED: 17th Jul 2018

DISCOVER MORE

TESTIMONIALS

"Still in shock! Can not believe how good the seller is. This product was inspected, and shipped from the UK to the USA quicker than orders from my home state. Highly recommend these guys."

Thomas Tedesco

"Excellent equipment, wonderful service. I fully recommend Soundgas to anyone in the vintage gear market and I will definitely be a return customer. The gear itself was exactly as advertised and in great condition."

Hallam Kite

“I have bought two Moog synths from Soundgas over the past year, and I cannot say enough wonderful things about their selection of vintage products, the level of service, diligent responses to email, and expedient shipping with copious protective packaging. Soundgas is an impressive operation. My synths also sound amazing! These folks have made my vintage keyboard dreams come true in short order!”

J Yates

"DREAM. COME. TRUE. My music has taken me around the world a few times...and if you are like me and absolutely adore vintage gear...Soundgas is the stuff of LEGENDS. It's the shop that people like us search for our whole lives- fantastic and rare selections, and the technical know-how to repair and or mod these vintage items to get them into shape to flow with your modern setup."

Tom Gossin

“The perfect place to hear, learn about and then buy your most wanted piece of vintage music gear! I've not only managed to buy a rare piece of equipment I really wanted, but I have the guarantee it's been serviced, and I got it from people who are clearly passionate and knowledgeable about what they do, as well as super friendly and responsive by email. Thoroughly recommended!”

Colleen / Cécile Schott

"When you are spending big money of vintage gear it's nice to have the confidence of impeccable service, sales and support... some of the best in the industry! Impeccable people, incredible equipment… my poor poor fiancé"

James DLR - Sofa Sound/Metalheadz

"The packing job to get it over to the US was superb, and the sound and performance of my Space Echo exceeds all of my expectations. I hope to do business with Soundgas again in the future. Many thanks!”

Rhett Daily

"Soundgas provided the absolutely top service in terms of item quality as well as service and communication. Shipping was fast, packing was top notch. These people deserve the best reputation they already have. Many many thanks, guys."

Dupille Luc

“I’ve bought a number of items from Soundgas recently, and have been really impressed with their service. It takes the stress out of buying vintage gear to know it’s been properly (and faithfully) serviced or restored. Their after-sales service has also been exemplary. Highly recommended.”

David Wrench

"Soundgas has an unbelievable selection of the cool, old stuff that’s hard to find. Tony knows his stuff and goes out of his way to make sure the transaction is a smooth one. Thanks guys!"

Tucker Martine - Flora Recording

“If not a new language, then at least a very challenging, old dialect that will take me some time to assimilate. I’ve been waiting a long time for the challenge. Thank you @soundgasltd, she’s a beaut...and nobody prepares and packs like you fine folks.”

Justin Meldal-Johnsen

“If you are a vintage audio gear head then this is the place you have been looking for all your life. Pretty much any piece of classic or obscure kit that you are after is available here... But the clincher for me is that the gear they sell has been restored by their top techs (unless otherwise noted) which is really very important when dealing with, for example, synths from 30 years ago.”

Lincoln Barrett / High Contrast

"Finally, a company that tracks down all those brilliant curiosities that bring so much character and personality to a studio."

Matthew Herbert

“Imagine the perfect eBay.... with everything you never knew you wanted… and you can rest assured that your vintage and rare wobbly sound device will turn up on time and in one piece and possibly in even better condition that when it left the workshop. Soundgas - literally amazing."

Josh Lloyd-Watson & Tom McFarland - Jungle

"Soundgas offer a great service, sourcing esoteric gear that works great."

Tom Rowlands - Chemical Brothers

“I purchased a completely overhauled vintage valve Binson Echorec 2 T7E modified with varispeed, wet-only output, and a new paint job from Soundgas in early 2018. Tony and his team did an amazing job during every step of the purchase”

Matt Morton

"Just received my Roland RS 505 Paraphonic! Thanks so much - arrived very promptly, well packaged, in great condition and sounds amazing! Best seller."

Koko Hiras

"Packed with love and care. A stampede couldn't have crushed this thing. Works great and sounds like a dream. I love you Soundgas."

Ben Van Vlissingen

“The Space Echo made its way to me - it looks and sounds beyond dreams, thanks guys for your great service and communication.”

Julius Bonson

RECENT BLOG ARTICLES

Grampian & Soundgas Type 636 Q & A Session

Gear Info

Soundgas News

Grampian & Soundgas Type 636 Q & A Session

Video from the Q&A session we did on the Grampian and Soundgas Type 636 units, plus an update on the Soundgas 636 build. Also Jane Weaver!

PUBLISHED: 29th Oct 2019

DISCOVER MORE
Live Q & A Sessions – Space Echoes & Binson Echorecs

Gear Info

Tips & Tricks

Live Q & A Sessions – Space Echoes & Binson Echorecs

We’re running live sessions on Tuesdays at around midday-1pm GMT. These are the videos of the first two on Space Echoes and Binsons.

PUBLISHED: 16th Oct 2019

DISCOVER MORE

OUR GUARANTEE

We stand behind our gear with a guarantee of your satisfaction - see the FAQ section above for full details and buy with complete confidence.

SHIPPING DISCOUNTS

When buying more than one item you only pay the shipping on the item with the highest shipping cost. Calculated automatically at checkout.

NEED HELP?

Get in touch via the contact page. We know & love our gear and we want to ensure you get something that matches your needs (that, and we just like talking gear).

Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro