A synthesizer manufacturing company, founded by Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge. Rossum and Wedge started the company while they were students at the University of California-Santa Cruz in 1971. After a couple of false starts, E-mu found its niche manufacturing modular synthesizers with very high-quality circuitry, controls, and panels. At the same time, the company experimented with both digital systems and microelectronics, resulting in a large body of patents, including the scanning keyboard and a number of synth building-block circuits which were licensed to SSM. For most of the 1970s, the company derived a significant share of its income from patent and design licensing, particularly the licensing of the scanning keyboard patent to Sequential Circuits for the best-selling Prophet-5.
In 1979, the company took a crack at designing an ultra-high-end polyphonic synth of its own, the Audity. However it proved to be a very expensive synth to build. At a trade show, the E-mu reps found customers put off by the $50K+ price tag. At that same show, they observed the Fairlight CMI, a far more capable synth priced at $35K. Shortly after that show, E-mu became embroiled in a licensing dispute with Sequential, and Sequential stopped paying patent royalties to E-mu on the scanning keyboard. Faced with a sudden financial crisis, Rossum and Wedge decided to shelve the Audity and go in a different direction. They designed a sampler with a circuit that allowed multiple voices to access sample memory simultaneously, and that with some other improvements made possible a sampler that could be produced for far lower cost than the Fairlight. The result was the Emulator, the first sampler affordable to most musicians.
The introduction of the Emulator created a new market; suddenly, everyone had to have a sampler. E-mu quickly realized that there was money to be made selling not only the synths, but also packaged libraries of samples. This led to further designs with samples pre-installed in ROM, and the results were the hugely popular Drummulator digital drum machine, and the Proteus line of sample playback synths. Manufacture of modulars ceased, and for the next twenty years E-mu concentrated on samplers, sample playback synths (eventually over two dozen models were produced), and other digital technology such as the "Z-plane" complex response filters pioneered in the Morpheus.
Rossum and Wedge sold the company to Creative Technologies in 1993. Rossum remained with Creative, but Wedge departed immediately after the acquisition was complete. Production of synths continued, but by 2001, software samplers were cutting into E-mu's market. The last samplers and sample playback machines were introduced in that year, and production of all hardware instruments was discontinued in 2004. At that time, the company introduced the Emulator X sampling soft synth, and shifted its hardware design efforts to high-end sound cards and audio interfaces. An attempt in the mid-2000s to get into the digital studio gear market failed, and Creative's acquisition of Ensoniq and attempt to merge it with E-mu created staffing and morale problems. After several years of losing money, Creative shut down E-mu in 2011.