C-Lab Explorer 32
Atari ST Software
Not only will Explorer 32 edit sounds on Roland's MT32, MT100, E10, E20, D5, D10, D20, D110, D50 and D550, it will also store edits in C-Lab's Creator and Notator sequencers. Ian Waugh is Our Man in LA.
If you've spent any time using Roland's now extensive range of LA synths, you'll have found them subtly different as well as laborious to operate. Explorer 32 sets out to solve all your LA problems.
C-LAB'S EXPLORER 32 (review v2.00) is a Sound Manager and Editor for Roland's LA synthesisers. It has recently been updated to support the *following synths: MT32, MT100, E1O, E20, D5, D10, D20, D110, D50 and D550. I'd call that pretty comprehensive.
If you've struggled to understand the meaning of and difference between LA terms such as Tone, Timbre, Partial and Patch, don't worry - you're not alone. Even Roland don't appear to know what their right hand's doing all the time as different LA synths use different terms to describe the same thing and vice versa. Confused? You will be. The Explorer manual, however, helpfully lists the differences and similarities.
AS THE MOST complex voice arrangement is used by the D5/10/20/110 range, Explorer uses their terms. So that other LA synth owners aren't completely in the dark, could MT32/100/E10/20 owners mentally note that a Tone is equivalent to one of their Timbres and a Timbre is equivalent to one of their Patches? D50/550 owners will know a Tone better as a Patch, a Part as a (current) Patch and they'll be pleased to note that their very own Tone has no equivalent in other models and hence is not used by Explorer. Still with me? Good.
But just as a rose is a rose by whatever name, so the internal architecture of the synths is sufficiently similar to allow Explorer to handle them all from the one program. Assuming that we all know what we're talking about (I'll take two out of three), let's see what Explorer has to offer.
First of all, it will now run on a colour monitor, which will be good news for many ST owners. It will also work with 512K (a single-sided disk is available on request) although in this case the Tone Editor cannot be accessed.
A certain amount of file renaming may be necessary before you get started, so be sure to read the manual and the eight-page read-me file on disk. The disk is copy-protected and the manual suggests you make a backup copy by normal means (using the Master disk to boot the program) but you can't. Still, you can copy the files you need to alter.
AFTER PLUGGING IN and booting up, you'll realise that Explorer's library is organised differently to those in other editors - the sounds are arranged in a chain. This can be as long as you like, memory permitting (around 1130 sounds on a 1040), enabling you to store and manipulate many banks (Tones?) at once.
The library is listed in two columns on the right of the screen. A smaller window centre left, the Parts window, but called the Tone Temp Area, shows the Tones making up a Part. The contents of the centre of the screen varies according to the current mode. In Tone Mode it shows the synth's 64 internal sounds. In Timbre Mode (not applicable to the D50/550) it shows the Timbres (in two sets of 64) which will normally be accessed by program change instructions.
In Patch Mode (not MT32/100/E10/20/D50/550) the Parts window just shows the current Part, while the central window shows the Patches in two sets of 64 (if you have a D10/20).
There's no doubt that sorting out which name/parameter does what and to which synth will stimulate your grey matter, but once you've got it sussed copying, inserting and moving sounds between the windows is a doddle. You simply click and drag and you can define blocks of sounds for bulk movement.
With Autoplay in operation, a short tune will play when you select a new sound. This is programmable and savable and compatible with Creator/Notator files. You can also play the ST's keyboard.
A NEAT FEATURE is the Find facility which will find similar or exact occurrences of a sound's name. For example, "gitar" will not only find names which include 'Guitar' but also 'Sitar' and 'Digital'. Another option will find Same Structures, Same Partial Mutes and Same Structs/Mutes while yet another routine will find sounds with similar parameter values.
There's one more Find feature and that's TCS Tonal Characteristic Search - which reports various tonal characteristics of selected sounds. These can include the Partials, filter, envelope, reverb and chorus settings. You can select a range of characteristics and the program will show which sounds contain the ones selected, only the ones selected, or none of those selected.
The program can sort the Library names alphabetically and it can report sounds with similar characteristics and those with identical names and prompt for deletion. A sort by tonal characteristics would be useful, but then perhaps I'm being greedy.
YOU CAN SAVE a complete Library or just a range of selected sounds. Libraries can be merged. You can also save complete setups (which includes all Tone, Timbre, Part and Rhythm data) which can be loaded into Creator or Notator as a track. As you can place a track wherever you like, this allows you to change voice, reverb settings and so on at any position within a piece of music. MT32 owners will probably benefit from this the most as the MT32 has no internal RAM for voice storage but D10/20/110 users could find it useful, too.
A separate program on the disk called LA-LOAD will transmit complete setups to up to 16 LA synths. You can copy this to your sequencer's boot disk and run it from an Auto folder so the setups are sent automatically upon booting. It can also be configured as a desk accessory. Handy.
PERHAPS AT THIS stage you're wondering how Explorer handles sounds for the different types of synth. Well, sound data is stored in the format for the synth from which it originated, but - and it's a big but - Explorer's Device Converter can convert it to any of the other synths' formats, although it cant, obviously, compensate one hundred percent for internal differences.
The conversion process is automatic. The current synth can be changed from the Settings menu and when it is, the internal data is changed, too - totally painless.
This is one of Explorer's best features, allowing any LA synth owner to access the wide range of D50 sounds, for example, and I'm sure it will be welcomed by everyone with more than one type of LA synth.
LIKE THE LIBRARY, Explorer's Tone Editor is rather different to what you might expect, too.
One of the advantages of computer-based graphic editing is the ability to show lots of parameters on screen at once and to display envelopes in graph form. But graphic displays take up VDU space and it's very difficult to squeeze everything onto one screen.
"You can load setups into Creator or Notator as a track allowing you to change voice and reverb settings within a piece of music."
Explorer's approach is to use a window larger than the VDU which scrolls as you move the mouse through it. It's reminiscent of horizontal scrolling arcade games but it works fine. Neat. You simply slide along the screen to the parameters you want to edit.
The Edit screen can flip between eight Tones although as you move from screen to screen the program takes a few seconds to 'generates each new one. This is, apparently necessary because of memory limitations although generation still occurs on a 1040. However, if you work with just one Tone, once generated, you can flip from the Edit screen to the main screen instantly. A Blitter chip will speed up screen scrolling and drawing.
Editing uses faders, sliders, steppers and graphic displays. Just about every parameter can be adjusted with the mouse (although Explorer has keyboard equivalents for just about everything, too). Nodes on the envelope graphs can be grabbed and dragged, waveforms and samples can be stepped through and values can be adjusted by clicking on and moving sliders.
Faders can be adjusted Relative to the position of the mouse (the value doesn't change until you move the mouse) or Absolutely, that is values move immediately to the mouse position. Link Mode allows you to edit the Partials collectively, again using Relative, Absolute and Proportional adjustments.
There are comprehensive copy facilities - most are simply click-and-drag - and should you get into an indeterminate mess Undo will undo the last change or else take you back to the original Tone settings. This can be used as a Compare function although it involves more screen generation.
There are, of course, several randomise functions without which no voice editor is complete. Randomisation can be limited to a given percentage or it can be a blend of parameters which lie between neighbouring parts.
THE FIVE EDITORS are basically one-window affairs and allow quick editing of their parameters.
The Rhythm Editor lets you set up sounds, volumes, pan settings and output assignments for the synths' internal rhythm section. The System Area Editor controls Partial Reserve, MIDI channel allocation, output level and reverb settings. The Timbre Editor lets you assign those little things which make a Tone what it is such as key shift, fine tune, pitchbend range, Partial assignment and so on.
MT32 owners don't have to worry about Patches, but for those of you who do the Patch Editor is the place to be. The structure of a D110 Patch is quite different to that of a D10/20 Patch (which, in turn, is similar to a D50 Patch) and different Editor windows are used for each.
Finally, the Level and Pan (or Panorama to give it its full title) Editor lets you quickly assign volumes and pan settings to the Parts (assuming your synth has Parts).
The manual is written in a fairly straightforward, if rather matter-of-fact way, but it plies you with instructions for all the synth types together. The program has separate screens for each synth, why not have separate chapters in the manual? It would be much less confusing. Some sort of tutorial would be helpful, too. It has an informative contents page but am I alone in wanting an index?
Other program functions include the ability to print out the Library (got plenty of paper?), the Rhythm Setup and Selected Tones, Timbres and Patches. The Library listing is particularly useful and includes the Partial types, Structures and the synth the sound came from.
Due to the vagaries of some LA synths, certain models may not work as you would like. Explorer takes into account the slight differences in the mid1988 D10s and D20s but it is less helpful regarding some other problems. For example, although it says some D110s won't transmit SysEx if the Control Channel is set to "off", it also says software versions older than v1.06 can be to blame. Well the D110 I used (software version v1.07) wouldn't divulge its Tone info (but it sent levels and pan settings and so on) to Explorer, but it works fine with Dr.T's D110 Editor. Hmmm.
ASSUMING EXPLORER WILL work with the software version of your equipment (and it's wise to check), how does it perform?
Well, I like the way the Library handles a whole lot of sounds. Coupled with easy copying and editing facilities it makes multitimbral setups a breeze to construct, and you can probably access all your sounds in a single library - or maybe two. Absolutely marvellous.
The Device Converter is a whizz - an essential requisite for anyone with more than one kind of LA synth and very handy, too, just in case you pick up some sounds not directly compatible with your instrument.
Even if you're not interested in programming your own sounds, Explorer is worth looking at for these facilities alone. If you are a programmer then I think you'll like the edit screens, too.
However, at times, it is Explorer's very versatility and near-simultaneous coverage of all those different types of LA synth which can cause some head-scratching. Having said that, I reckon it's better to be able to edit all the synths from one program than to have to resort to several programs in order to get the job done.
Patience with the manual and the program will reap its own reward.
Price £110.00 inc VAT
Review by Ian Waugh