Alesis HR16 Drum Machine & MMT8 MIDI Recorder
Following the success of the MIDIverb, Alesis have ventured into the realms of drum machines and sequencers. Bob O'Donnell lends an ear and discovers that economy doesn't necessarily mean compromise.
WHEN WORD FIRST reached us that Alesis planned to introduce some impressive new products at the NAMM Show, we were thinking along the lines of cost effective signal processing. A programmable MIDIverb III? A MicroMiniVerb, perhaps?
So imagine our surprise when we arrived in Chicago and found that, while the company did have some new signal processing gear (in the form of the MicroLimiter, MicroGate and MicroEnhancer), the big news was a 16-bit drum machine and a companion eight-track MIDI sequencer. And, of course, their prices are ridiculously low. A drum machine from Alesis, though? And a sequencer? We were intrigued.
Well, if you read our NAMM Show report last issue you'll already know that these units caused quite a stir. In fact, the drum machine sounded so good and the sequencer seemed so complete people were flocking to the Alesis booth to see just what the fuss was all about. Obviously, you're going to have to hear and see for yourself before you make your decision, but let me give you a few of the specs to whet your appetite.
The HR16 - or High Sample Rate Digital Drum Machine - has 48 individual 16-bit sounds onboard. These have been sampled at a rate of 47kHz, which translates to a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. Each sound can be panned to any one of four outputs (two sets of stereo pairs) and tuned over a two octave range: up about a fifth and down about an octave and a fifth. The sounds themselves consist of a variety of acoustic drums - eight or nine snare drums and kick drums - electronic drums, cymbals and percussion instruments. Don't look for slapped basses or weird sound effects though, because you won't find any. This is most definitely a drum machine.
The HR16 has 16 audio channels, so any 16 of the 48 available sounds can be made to play at any one time. You can even have a single sound playing polyphonically - such as having a cymbal overlap itself for a more realistic ride effect. The sounds can be assigned to any one of the machine's 16 velocity-sensitive pads and eight levels of velocity are available from these.
Each of the 100 available pattern memories will store your sound selection, tuning and panning for all 16 pads. So, if you want to use the HR16 as a source of drum sounds rather than a drum sequencer, you can use these locations to store 100 drum kits, which can then be called up via MIDI program change commands. Each of the pads can be assigned to any MIDI note, and this too will be memorised for each pattern or kit. The machine will also respond to, and record from, external MIDI keyboards or MIDI drum pads.
Patterns can be linked together in any one of 100 songs (the machine's total memory capacity is 25,000 events) and both patterns and songs can be named. Patterns can be recorded in real time or step time and a single step editing mode allows you to make minute changes to velocity or anything else you might choose to edit.
Programming is greatly assisted by a backlit 32-character (16X2) LCD - which is also to be found on its companion, the MMT8 sequencer or Multi-Track MIDI Recorder, as Alesis would have it.
The specs for the MMT8 are worth a quick drool as well. Like the HR16, the MMT8 has 100 songs and 100 patterns - although here they're called Parts. Each part holds eight tracks of information, and each track can store data from all 16 MIDI channels. The parts can be combined into any of 100 songs - the total memory being 10,000 notes - and each part and song may be given a name of up to 14 characters.
In addition to recording note information, the MMT8 will also record controller information and SysEx data. If you prefer, you can selectively filter out the controller data you don't want to save memory space. The filters can also be used when copying or erasing individual tracks or parts.
Editing on the MMT8 is possible at single event level, and anything which can be recorded can be edited - pitch, velocity, duration, MIDI channel, pitch-bend, other controller information and SysEx data. Best of all, the information is presented in English, so for example, if you come across some pitch-bend data the display will read Pitch Bend and give its value. So there's no need to know how to read raw MIDI data.
Tracks can be merged and unmerged by MIDI channel, and portions of a track can even be rechanneled at a later time. Eight different levels of quantization are available and quantization can be turned off for a resolution of 1/384 note. In addition, four types of quantization are available: you can adjust the start of the note, the end of the note, both the start and the end or adjust the start of the note but retain its original duration.
The sequences can all be looped, and dedicated track buttons allow you to easily mute and unmute each track individually. If you're in song mode these mute on and offs will be memorised. There's also a dedicated button for turning the MIDI Echo feature on and off.
Like its percussive brother, the MMT8 includes the facility to transmit and respond to MIDI Song Position Pointer information. Both units also have a tape sync facility, MIDI In, Out and Thru connections and memory dump to cassette or via MIDI System Exclusive data.
The one spec I haven't yet detailed about either of these machines is the most important and most impressive of all: their price. To maintain the suspense, I'll let you read on to the bottom of the page before telling you. But be warned, you may need a seat or a stiff drink afterwards.
Needless to say, as soon as we get hold of these puppies, we'll be giving them full reviews. Personally, I hope it's very soon.
Price HR16 £449; MMT8 £299
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