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Boards of Canada Gear Rundown: Minimalist Tech Makes The Best Noises

Boards of Canada Gear Rundown
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When it comes to gear, Boards of Canada favor a less is more approach. And this is key to how they developed their iconic sound


Key Takeaways:

  • Boards of Canada’s signature synth is the Yamaha CS-70M, an analog polysynth from the 1980s.
  • They also use the Roland SH-101 monophonic synth for its thick, beefy bass tones.
  • For sampling, they rely on the Akai S1000 and S3200 samplers, with the S1000 being their favorite.
  • The duo records extended jams onto tape using vintage machines like the Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel, Revox recorders, Grundig machines, and cassettes.
  • Apple Logic Pro is their main DAW for arranging tracks, but they prefer hardware synths over plug-ins and soft synths.
  • Other notable gear includes the Yamaha AN1x, Taylor Big Baby steel-string acoustic guitar, Soundcraft Spirit Folio SX mixer, and the Casio CZ-101 digital synth.

Scottish electronic music duo Boards of Canada, known for their ambient, downtempo style, have crafted a distinctive sound using a surprisingly minimalist setup.

Despite the complex, layered nature of their music, the gear they rely on is relatively simple and straightforward.

And this, in our age of GAS and myriad plugins, is something we should all learn a lesson from.

Whether you’re making metal, doom, ambient or electro music, cutting down on the accoutrements is something a lot of us could benefit from. 

Chris and I talk about this A LOT on the podcast. Stop chasing gear for specific sounds and/or tones, work with what you have, get experimental, actually limit yourself (gear-wise) and see what you can come up with. 

Boards of Canada’s entire ethos is based around less is more. Creating sounds and unique palettes from equipment that most people wouldn’t even look twice at – aging samplers, cheap, thrift-store samplers.

The Gear Boards of Canada Use To Make Music

At the heart of their setup are a handful of classic synthesizers. The Yamaha CS-70M, in particular, has been cited as their “trademark” synth.

This analog polysynth from the 1980s is featured prominently across their discography. They also make use of the Roland SH-101, a compact monophonic synth known for its thick, beefy bass tones.

For sampling, Boards of Canada turn to the tried-and-true Akai S1000 and S3200 samplers.

Synths, Samplers & Dusty, Old Casio Keyboards

In a 2005 interview, they praised the S1000 as their favorite, noting “It’s an old tank now, and the screen has faded so that I almost can’t read it, but I know it inside out. It’s the most spontaneous thing for making up little tunes.”

Boards of Canada Gear Rundown: Minimalist Tech Makes The Best Noises

When it comes to recording and arranging their tracks, the duo keeps things relatively old-school.

They often record extended jams onto tape using vintage machines like the Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel, Revox recorders, Grundig machines, and even ordinary cassettes.

Of course, you cannot escape using computers when it comes to things like arrangements and getting stuff ready for release. And Boards of Canada do have a preference when it comes to DAWs.

Boards of Canada Uses Logic Pro To Arrange Everything

Boards of Canada Gear Rundown: Minimalist Tech Makes The Best Noises

They use Apple Logic Pro as their main DAW, but generally eschew plug-ins and soft synths in favor of their hardware.

Other notable pieces in their studio include the Yamaha AN1x, used during their Lighthouse Party performance, a Taylor Big Baby steel-string acoustic guitar, and a Soundcraft Spirit Folio SX mixer for live shows.

Even the humble Casio CZ-101, an affordable digital synth from the 80s, has been spotted in their live rig. I saw them at The Deadbeat Festival YEARS ago and can confirm that this synth was used on a few tracks.

The gear choices of Boards of Canada demonstrate that you don’t always need the latest, most hyped equipment to create groundbreaking music.

By focusing on a core set of flexible, characterful tools – and knowing them inside and out – you can actually create something that not only sounds brilliant but will also stick out from the droves of

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