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Akai MIDI Effects

EffectsCheck

Two little boxes to let your MIDI gear do more than you ever thought possible — Curtis Schwartz reports


Note experimental concrete rack


With the advent of very cheap MIDI sound modules such as Yamaha's FB-01, it is not too unreasonable to assume that quite a few of you might find yourselves in the position of having a MIDI module or two, and a relatively straightforward MIDI keyboard such as Roland's Juno 106 to control them from. Akai have two new units to add to their range of rackmounting MIDI effects boxes which should make your life quite a lot easier and more interesting. These are the ME30P programmable patch bay, and the ME25S programmable note separator.

ME25S



The ME25S retails for only £99 and can turn any basic MIDI keyboard into a versatile multisplit mother keyboard. It enables the note data from any MIDI source (including guitar and bass synths) to be split via the ME25S into four groups, each with their own MIDI channels. Each of these groups can be sent to different destinations — MIDI sound modules, arpeggiators, other MIDI synths, drum machines and sequencers.

Furthermore, the ME25S can store up to 64 different settings of all of this performance data, which can easily be selected via either the program select buttons on your synth or footswitch.

The ME25S comes in a 1U 19" rackmounting unit. It is quite shallow and is finished in a smart looking white, as is now standard for all of Akai's professional range of gear. All connections are on the rear panel, except for a single footswitch socket labelled 'Bank Up' on the front panel.

Each of the 64 memories is called a bank, and each of these banks consists of five parameter functions. These are MIDI Channel, Split Point, Program Change, Octave Shift and Wheel. The first of these selects which MIDI Channel each of the four split areas should transmit on, and the second set of parameters sets the high and low limits to each of the four split areas. Naturally, you don't always have to have four split areas; if you only wanted two split areas, then the ME25S can easily accommodate this. (You could have the bottom two octaves of your keyboard transmitting on MIDI Channel 2, and the higher octaves transmitting on MIDI Channel 3, for instance.)

The next set of four parameters set the Program Change information. Each of the four outputs can transmit program change information, so that when you select, say Bank 25, the ME25S could already have been programmed to change the programs of your remote MIDI destinations. You could, for instance, select program 10 on your DX7, and this would then go into a multi-split mode and change your Juno 106 to patch 81, TX7 module to patch 32, Korg Poly 800 to patch 11, Casio CZ101 to patch 12, and then split and/or layer them over the DX7's keyboard. Believe me, it's dead easy and very effective.

If you've only got one MIDI instrument, the ME25S's usefulness is somewhat diminished, although it can be used to make a single synth play octaves or multiple octaves with itself via the Octave Shift parameters: when used in a multi keyboard set-up, the Octave Shift can transpose one or more of the four outputs up or down by three octaves. This can be particularly useful as it is not always easy to transpose the remote modules from a master keyboard. The Juno 106's transpose function, for example, only transposes its own keyboard's output, rather than its synth, which means that if it is being played from another keyboard, then its octave settings and therefore filter cutoff point have to be raised or lowered accordingly.

The last of the ME25S's set of parameters is simply for selecting whether or not Pitch Wheel information should be transmitted over the four MIDI busses.

All of the information is displayed quite legibly on red LEDs on the Akai's front panel. On the rear panel are simply four MIDI sockets — MIDI In, two Outs and a Thru socket. And that is all there is to it: a simple device, although its manual makes it sound rather complicated. But it will turn your boring old synth into a mega-master keyboard, as long as you have MIDI sound modules to control from it.

ME30P



The other new rackmounting unit for the MIDI-mad is the ME30P programmable patch bay. This consists of a single 19" rackmounting unit with the same dimensions as the ME25S, with four MIDI inputs and eight MIDI thrus (called outputs for some reason) on its rear panel — and fifteen programs into which any matrix configurations can be stored.

On the front panel is a single red LED readout. This displays the fifteen bank numbers (1-9, A-F) or output channel numbers (1-8). It is very fast and easy to program a set of MIDI routings into a bank. This is done by first selecting the bank you want with the bankswitch. Then you must press the next button labelled 'Output Ch', and this enables you to look at each of the eight output channels in succession. If an output channel is connected to one of the input channels, then the LED above that input channel's button will illuminate at anytime the number of the output channel comes up on the display. Also, a red dot in the display comes on for every output channel that is connected to any input channel.

To connect an input to an output, you simply select the output channels' number on the display, and then press the input channels' button. This will then be memorised into the current bank, to be recalled instantly at the touch of a button. Once again, the manual tends to overcomplicate and confuse what it is trying to explain — however I believe it was written by an American, which would explain a lot. (That's rich coming from you Curtis — Ed.)

In use, the ME30P proves to be a great help, as it enables you to have more than one input working at a time. You could, for example, route a sequencer output to one synth whilst you overdub into the sequencer from another and still be playing a sampler module. This can't usually be done with more basic MIDI Thru boxes, and I found myself getting quite accustomed to working with complex, but versatile configurations — I had a MIDI drum machine playing a Juno 106 and clocked (via MIDI) from a sequencer. At the same time I had the sequencer playing a DX7 and Mirage whilst I programmed into the sequencer some tom overdubs (played on the Mirage but sounding from the drum machine).

The ME30P makes these kinds of set-ups easy to achieve, and quite easy to figure out what's going on thanks to another feature it has. This is the 'Check' button, which simply plays a Middle A (MIDI note 69) on any unit that is connected to one of the 'live' MIDI outputs. Another feature found on the ME30P is, every time any output is switched off, the ME30P automatically sends note-off information to every key to make sure you don't get any rogue notes hanging on. This is an excellent feature (also found on their ME25S incidentally) which shows just what degree of thought Akai put into their products.

Conclusion



These are two excellent products from Akai, which offer a lot of possibilities to the MIDI musicians, as well as value for money. £99 is what many companies expect you to pay for a few disks or a single RAM cartridge, and I find Akai to be a much more responsible company than most when it comes to giving the struggling muso as much for his money as possible. Well done.

Akai MIDI Effects - RRP: See copy


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Electrovoice EV1503

Next article in this issue

Tosco Rotocasts


International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

 

International Musician - Sep 1986

Review by Curtis Schwartz

Previous article in this issue:

> Electrovoice EV1503

Next article in this issue:

> Tosco Rotocasts


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