Anatek Pocket FX
Pocket Filter, Pedal & Merge
What's the size of a fag pocket, comes in enough varieties to ease almost any studio problem and isn't covered by British drug laws? Vic Lennard investigates a new line in MIDI effects.
Take all the little problems with MIDI that frustrate you, package the solutions in small boxes and you've got the Anatek Pocket philosophy.
HOW MANY STUDIOS use a master keyboard with MIDI modules to save on space? How many of these are lacking in certain facilities that the studio would like? The answer to both questions must be "plenty". Roland's MKB1000 is one of the best wooden weighted keyboards of all time, yet it has no volume controls; Yamaha's older PF series have no pitchbend facilities. One solution to the problem is offered by Yamaha's MCS2 MIDI Control Station add-on, which allows access to most MIDI controllers. The trouble here is that, from past experiences, the MCS2 is unhappy working with non-Yamaha equipment - it is also now discontinued.
Another common studio problem is the filling-up of sequencer memory with unwanted data such as all-notes-off and aftertouch. Most small hardware sequencers lack the input filters that would allow this unwanted data to be filtered out during recording. Some MIDI patchbays, such as Digital Music Corporation's MX8 have a filter section built in, but are an expensive option if the filtering is the only facility required.
Visual editing of sound modules via computer, controlling a system via an external drum machine clock, and jamming with two keyboards into the same module are all situations requiring a MIDI merge unit.
As we can see, there are quite a variety of problems facing the MIDI user. Fortunately for the frustrated technophile, Anatek, a Canadian company, have just released a range of MIDI accessories called Pocket Products. And, conveniently, three of these units are just what's required to deal with each of the above situations.
THE THREE UNITS in question are called the Pocket Pedal, Filter and Merge respectively. They are all very small, measuring approximately 3" X 2" X 1", and weigh in at around 70 grams, being cased in black plastic. No batteries or mains power supplies are required as they derive their power from the 5V present in any MIDI In port.
The Filter and Pedal each have eight micro rocker switches, which are used to assign the functions that they control. In the case of the Filter these are: aftertouch; all controllers; pitchbend; program change; all data containing a MIDI channel number (which will exclude the likes of MIDI clock/start/stop); notes on/off; system exclusive/ common (which includes song select/position pointer); and system real time. The Pedal has two 1/4" jack sockets, one for a continuous controller selected from volume (MIDI controller No. 7), modulation (No. 1), pitchbend and portamento time (No. 6), and the other for an on/off foot switch chosen from sustain (No. 64), sostenuto (No. 66), portamento (No. 65) and system real time start/stop, which is used for drum machines. The Merger simply has MIDI In 1, 2 and MIDI Out with input 1 providing the power. All three units have an LED which is on when there is no MIDI data present, but goes out when data is being passed through.
"Most small hardware sequencers lack the input filters that would allow this unwanted data to be filtered out during recording - cue the Pocket Filter."
BY PUTTING EITHER the Pedal or Filter into Setup mode, individual MIDI channels can be chosen for each of the foot controllers and for any of the filters, by selecting the function and then pressing a white key on the keyboard between C3 and E5, according to the chart drawn on the information sheet provided. If more than one MIDI channel is selected for a foot controller, then multiple messages will be sent out, one for each selected channel. For instance, using a volume pedal on channels 1, 2 and 4 will send out three times as much data, and as MIDI is serial this will take three times as long - so care needs to be taken to ensure that what you intend the pocket pedal to do is what is actually occurring.
THE POCKET PEDAL has to be one of the most welcome MIDI devices to have appeared on the market in a long time. As mentioned in the introduction, there are few master keyboards (and even fewer synths and samplers) around with full MIDI control facilities. The Pedal was tested with a Roland MKB300, which has the same MIDI spec as the MKB1000: pitchbend wheel and modulation control with sustain and soft pedals, not a MIDI volume slider in sight. Having connected the pocket pedal in line, I wondered what type of footpedal to use for the continuous controllers. All that should be required is one that sends a variable resistance when the pedal is moved - an old Schaller volume pedal was found to function perfectly with its output connected to the Pedal input. To begin with, the pedal appeared to be working in reverse, with zero volume when fully depressed, but this appears to depend on the position of the pedal when the micro switch is turned. This, of course, means that you can choose to have the pedal working in either direction. Two pedal functions can be selected to operate simultaneously, for example, modulation and volume, which can be effective on a swell-in.
The pitchbend filter has a special function built in. Depending on what position the pedal is in when pitchbend is selected, one of three ranges are available; downwards gives bend only if the pedal is fully up, upwards gives bend only if fully depressed and full bi-directional bend is given if the pedal is set anywhere in between. In fact, the initial position is taken to be the centre point, so that you can have more control over the bend in one direction than the other (although re-centering is an effort and can cause distinctly unsociable noises if unsuccessfully attempted). The pitch wheel function has 7-bit resolution, which gives 128 positions from one extreme to the other - quite acceptable.
It is a shame that channel pressure (aftertouch) wasn't one of the chosen functions, perhaps in place of portamento time. Older synths used aftertouch simply as another modulation trigger but the likes of the Korg M1 and Roland D50 can have various performance aspects mapped to aftertouch. In practice this means that playing one of the modular versions from a non pressure-sensitive keyboard does not allow you to use aftertouch.
One use to which the Pocket Pedal will most certainly be put is the control of MIDI assignable functions on the current crop of effects units. For instance, the Quadraverb can have the Leslie effect motor on/off and speed controlled by selected MIDI functions; using one of the footswitch choices and, perhaps, soft pedal on the keyboard, can get you some way towards the feel and sound of a real Hammond organ from something like a TX7 module.
"The advantages of the Pocket units include the lack of mains leads (to fall over), batteries (to run out in the middle of a gig), and their very small size."
The Pocket Filter is a little less immediate in its applications. The obvious use is on the input to a hardware sequencer which has limited MIDI filter capabilities - the problem is that the cost of the pocket filter is probably half the cost of the sequencer. Also, there are problems filtering two of the worst offenders for MIDI errors: all-notes-off and active sensing. The former can only be filtered along with all other controller information, while the latter is categorised as system real time. However, system real time includes MIDI clock, start and stop, so you can't filter out active sensing without losing your clock information. One possible solution is to use a system with a multitimbral source (such as the Roland D110) which recognises patch changes on all its allocated MIDI channels as a signal to change the timbre of that channel, but requires a patch change on the channel one less than its lowest to actually change to another patch. The Pocket Filter can be used on the input to filter out program changes on certain channels, but this effectively ties up nine MIDI channels and can lead to problems when running other synths -like running out of MIDI channels.
The Pocket Merge behaved itself perfectly when combining the MIDI signals from two keyboards and when visually editing a Matrix 1000, but it was far from happy dealing with SysEx one-way bulk dumps over 16 Kbytes or so. Here it corrupted data, and with handshaking dumps of any length it actually locked up due to buffer overflow. As it's unlikely the unit has a very large buffer, and SysEx dumps are a continuous stream of MIDI data, this isn't too surprising. It's just a limitation of the unit. More happily, I couldn't get The Merger to misbehave no matter how many MIDI channels of data were passed through it from a sequencer, which is more likely to be its true position in life.
THE LACK OF an external power unit demands a short explanation. In much the same way as a guitar effect pedal requires a 9V battery in order to operate, MIDI needs a 5V supply to create the necessary 5mA loop. This is usually provided within a device and sent through the MIDI Out or Thru cable to the next unit, where a similar process takes place. In the case of the Pocket range, there is no "refreshing" of the power rail, and so there is a consequent drop in supply voltage across these units of about 0.5V. As the microprocessors in the Pocket series probably run on 3V, there should be no problems in linking together two or three of them. If you feel that this method of obtaining power is dubious, I can report that in ten days of having these devices wired into a busy 16-track studio, with the Pedal on the output of a master keyboard and the Filter on the input to a computer sequencer which had its own internal filtering turned off, I had no problems at all.
The one concern I do have concerns the miniature rocker switches on both the Pedal and Filter, which are of the dual, in-line package type. These are awkward to work with, being so small, and bearing in mind that the setup procedure requires you to turn all eight of them on, then off, their longevity, and consequently that of the unit may be short.
WHEN I FIRST heard about the Pocket series my reaction was "what a good idea". The fly in the ointment is their price - £99 per box. While the Pedal is an excellent proposition and without competition, the Filter is less useful and the Merge is much more expensive than the Philip Rees 2M, with fewer facilities - only one merge Out, no MIDI Thrus, and problems handling system exclusive. The advantages include the lack of mains leads (to fall over), batteries (to run out in the middle of a gig), and their very small size - a couple of double-sided sticky pads on the back of a synth job. The applications of the Pocket series are not limited to studio use as they make useful, convenient live MIDI management units. Whether their advantages are sufficient to justify their cost rests with you.
Price £99 each including VAT
Review by Vic Lennard
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