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Stylophone: The Original Portable Synth

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

The little synth from Leeds has found popularity once again as the Dubreq Company re-imagines the original Stylophone and offers many new models.

Invented by Brian Jarvis in 1968, the original Stylophone was conceived when Jarvis was repairing a toy piano for his niece. He had an idea to replace the keys with a metal keyboard that was played with a hand-held stylus, and the rest is history. Designed with a single oscillator, the Stylophone is simple and fun to play. It is one of the best-selling musical instruments, selling over 4 million units.

Stylophones have been used by many professional musicians throughout their long history most notably, Kraftwerk, Blondie, the White Stripes, and David Bowie. The latter has been honored with his own limited edition Stylophone released in 2021, featuring an all-white finish and the Bowie logo molded into the grill. Other versions of the Stylophone have been released as part of the company’s revival.

Firm foundation

In 2007, twenty-eight years after production ceased, a new digital version of the Stylophone called the S1 was released. This version, manufactured in China, used sampled sounds of the original Stylophone instead of an analog oscillator. Following the S1, Dubreq continued in 2009 with a slightly different instrument, the Stylophone Beatbox. It featured a circular touchpad with 12 sections. Played by the typical stylus like the S1, it triggered samples of Beatbox Champion MC Zani. It also included steel drum sounds and bass sounds that could be layered up with a recording and playback function. As the company gained popularity it released the British-made, all-analog S2 model in 2012, which featured a 37-note keyboard, a 12 dB/octave filter, dual VCO, a sub-oscillator, an 8 waveform LFO, and a CV input. The S2 was a unique instrument and very playable but its high price point meant that it only appealed to true Stylophone enthusiasts. In 2019 the Dubreq company released the next-generation Stylophone, the Gen X-1. This model features many functions that electronic artists are looking for in a portable synthesizer including an LFO with square and triangle waves, a low pass filter with resonance, an envelope generator with attack and decay, and an analog delay effect with time and feedback controls. At a price point of less than $100, it is very accessible. Also, in 2019 Dubreq released its most ambitious model to date, the Gen R-8. This limited-edition model was fully analog with many features commonly seen on more expensive synthesizers. Only 500 were made and featured a 3-octave keyboard, dual VCOs, an 8 waveform LFO, a 16-step sequencer, a delay effect, ring modulation, a high pass and low pass filter, and 19 patch points to allow connectivity to a growing number of modular and semi-modular synthesizers. Finally in 2020 Dubreq replaced the digital version of the S1 with an all-analog version based on the 555-timer chip, which sounds much more like the original Stylophone.

Something for everyone

Building a solid product line over the past 15 years, Dubreq has created something for everyone. Although some of their models have been limited editions, they are still available on the second-hand market if you look hard enough. But the S1 is a great place for a beginner to start their synthesizer journey. For mobile musicians, the Stylophone offers a lot of helpful features, such as battery power, a small footprint, and in the case of the Gen X-1, built-in delay and auxiliary inputs. Whether you play it live or sample it into your favorite iPad app, the Stylophone offers a unique sound that may be what you are looking for. Stylophone has come a long way from the curious toy keyboard to a full-blown professional synthesizer, but they have been able to stay true to their roots and their fans.

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