Thayer Professor and Student Invent the Synclavier

The Synclavier, built by Thayer professor Sydney Alsonso and Cameron Jones ’75, Th’77, was the world’s first digital synthesizer.

The Moog synthesizer, the prime electronic instrument of the 1970s, linked a piano keyboard to an analog computer — but it had no memory. Wanting something better, Dartmouth music professor and composer Jon Appleton turned to Thayer School.

The resulting Synclavier was the world’s first digital synthesizer. Built in 1975 by Thayer School research professor Sydney Alonso and programmed by then-B.E. candidate Cameron Jones ’75, Th’77, the Synclavier pioneered digital sampling, hard-disk recording, and professional sound editing. It was just what Appleton wanted. “It did so many things, and the software was so beautifully integrated,” he says.

Alonso and Jones left Dartmouth and went into business, founding New England Digital Corporation in 1977. The Synclavier rapidly became the Rolls Royce of the music industry. Despite price tags ranging from $75,000 to $500,000, the Synclavier was the instrument of choice for Sting, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, and many others. 

Read more from Dartmouth Engineer Magazine