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Marion Systems Prosynth

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Multi-timbral analogue monster


Tom Oberheim may have lost the right to use his name on his own synths, but his legendary sounds live on in the shape of Marion Systems products. Roger Brown oscillates towards Tom's latest analogue masterpiece, the Prosynth...


Anyone interested in synthesising a techno sound is spoilt for choice these days. All manner of units are appearing, offering ready-made sounds to make your tracks sound just like everybody else's.

The more interesting of these units are the replicas of analogue classics, which have become legends in their own looptime. Although the Deep Bass Nine and BassStation began life as clones of the acid king — the TB303 — it is their MIDI control, and ability to program up a variety of original sounds that has endeared them to lovers of house and techno.

Amongst the former giants of analogue synthesis, no-one has even bothered to develop one of these new hybrids, much to the chagrin of enthusiasts, and the delight of retro specialists. There is the Oberheim OBMX, but it's beyond the price range of most of us. It may bear his name, but as those of you who read my piece on Tom Oberheim last month will know, it owes little to his genius.

Tom hasn't been idle since losing the right to use his own name though, and those of you hunting for a thoroughly new analogue unit will have been pleased to read about the MSR2 and Prosynth. Both the MSR2 and the Prosynth use a custom-built Analogue Synth Module, utilising custom HROs, or High Resolution Oscillators. These take their timing source from the MIDI clock, and this provides for extremely stable tuning; far more stable than any analogue synth in my experience. They're also far finer in their resolution, providing tuning to within .02 of a cent. The even better news is that there are eight of these HROs, providing eight-note polyphony.

Note allocation is dynamic, meaning you don't have to assign the number of notes available to any channel, as the available notes are shared between the channels on a 'last note in, first note off' basis. The ProSynth is 16-part multi-timbral, not eight as I erroneously reported last month, although I doubt you would be able to run more than eight parts simultaneously, without some rather obvious note-stealing going on.

Down to business



Running eight parts is a dream though, as is the operating system overall; reminiscent of the Emu Classic synth series in its mode of operation. As on those synths, you dial up the individual channel number, then assign a voice to it. MIDI program changes are also read of course, and in its application of this and other MIDI functions, the ProSynth impresses with the speed of its communications.

Tom has made full use of the capabilities offered by his rather clever idea of placing the global controls, MIDI routing and patch settings on a separate motherboard from the synth. With each running a Motorola 68000, this distributed computing means none of the power of a voice is lost when running several voices in multi mode, as invariably happens on any digital synth running everything through one CPU.

This is what makes the timing so tight, and the MIDI implementations so seamless in operation. There are no horrible pauses if a patch change is selected in the middle of a bar, and modulation, pitch and all other MIDI controllers are received and dealt with with a most satisfying promptness. Full marks to Tom here, for using distributed computing, an innovation the big boys would do well to emulate.



"The Marion is such an expressive synth that even an absolute beginner will be programming up killer patches in no time."


In use, the Marion is simplicity itself, with the large Page knob enabling you to scroll through either editing or global settings, and a large Data knob which alters settings once your cursor has alighted on the relevant parameter.

In Poly or Omni MIDI modes, this knob simply scrolls through the presets, whilst in Multi mode you must use the cursor arrows to first decide which channel you wish to alter from the display marked C1, C2, and so on, then move over to the preset voice indicated, and change that. Settings for Volume, Pan and so forth, are contained within the patch parameters, and a simple push on the edit button affords access to these simple settings, as well as the more complicated patch programming parameters.

Siren voices



Editing voices is a breeze. Simply push the Edit button and you're straight in to the editing pages, all 55 of them! To the right of the LCD display are two big knobs marked Page and Data respectively. The Page knob scrolls you through the aforementioned 55 pages of LEO, waveform, filter and amplitude settings, while the Data knob is used to change settings.

If there is more than one setting on a page, two cursor arrows conveniently mounted above the Data and Page knobs move the little flasher about. Unfortunately, dedicated Mac/PC editing software is not yet available, but anyone with a basic knowledge of analogue synthesis will be able to work everything out. For those without a brain full of filter settings, the answer is to play around until you come up with something you like. This is half of the joy of analogue synthesis.

Small though the ProSynth's LCD display may be, and tiresome as flipping through pages can become, the Marion is such an expressive synth that even an absolute beginner will be programming up killer patches in no time. Up to five editing parameters may be mapped to MIDI controllers, allowing you to open and close the filter, say, from your keyboard's modulation wheel. This allows full expressive control of those analogue parameters, for expressive virtual knob twiddling. It also provides a way of 'programming' some elements of the ProSynth from your keyboard.



"To hear the full throated roar of an analogue synth with no unstable tunings is a delight"


The sounds themselves are amazing. To hear the full throated roar of an analogue synth with no unstable tunings is a delight, and stacking up eight of them in multi mode, a hitherto forbidden pleasure. From classic Obie strings to gutwrenching Moog-style basses and leads, it's all here. There are even a limited variety of drum sounds included amongst the 200 presets, which sound as though they just popped out of a TR909 or SCI Drumtraks.

All in all, there exist enough basic patches for you to use as a start-off point for your own editing. Swept filter pads are Tom and the ProSynth's speciality, and I spent a whole weekend just playing around with these and editing up variations. With the tuning and timing read from MIDI clocks, setting up envelope followers to produce perfectly timed delays is the forte of Tom's new baby, and this is a particular delight. I can think of no other analogue synth that allows you to do this so transparently, and there are not that many digital ones which read incoming MIDI clocks and set delay times accordingly.

Verdict



Unlike the aforementioned digital synths, this is the real thing; not just a clutch of samples of analogue gear all bunged together in a box and labelled 'techno'. I have had a lot of callers to THE MIX asking about some of the dedicated sample replay boxes aiming at the techno market, and now I have a real analogue module I can point them toward.

Its multi-timbrality means this could be the only box you'll ever need to produce some of the most stunningly original sounds around. Now we can all develop our own sounds on a synth which can play those sounds expressively. As a starter synth for anyone aspiring to become the next Aphex Twin, the ProSynth is without equal.

The dedicated synthologist could only be lured away from the ProSynth by the extra polyphony offered by the MSR2. My only gripe is the lack of multiple outs at the rear. While the stereo pair do a sterling job, and anyone using the Marion in Poly or Omni mode would not miss those extra outs, switch to Multi mode, start stacking up the voices, and you'll soon find yourself wishing for some extra outputs, to EQ up all those sounds separately. Tom was made aware of this, and plans to address the problem in the future. In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to buy eight of them!

The essentials

Prices inc VAT: £699
More from: Soho Soundhouse/Turnkey, (Contact Details)


On the RE:MIX CD

It's his idea of Spring cleaning, but Roger's so good at sweeping synth pads around, we called his demo Hauswerk. It features some of the swept pads featured on the ProSynth.

Here are the sounds used in Roger's demo as individual samples for you to sample.

Rezz Wimp
Swellin' Up
Pulse Giggle
Moonlite Sweep
Swept Away
Industry Rezz
Saucers
Rap Kick
Rap Snare


Spec check

Polyphony 8 note
Waveforms Sawtooth, Triangle, Clipped Triangle, Variable Pulse, Square, Noise
HROs 2 per voice
Oscillator Sync Yes
VCF 2 pole/4 pole low pass response with voltage controlled resonance.
VCA Features voltage controlled PAN
Inputs MIDI In
Outputs MIDI Out, Thru
Stereo 35mm jacks
Memory 200 RAM, 200 ROM, 100 Layers.


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Better than the reel thing

Next article in this issue

Back to the future


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer Module > Marion Systems > Prosynth


Gear Tags:

Analog Synth
Polysynth

Re:Mix #12 Tracklisting:

17 Marion Prosynth
18 Prosynth samples x7


This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #12.

Review by Roger Brown

Previous article in this issue:

> Better than the reel thing

Next article in this issue:

> Back to the future


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