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Call the Analyst

At last the MA-36 MIDI Data Analyser is here to diagnose all your MIDI illnesses

Got a problem with your MIDI set-up - no one else can help? Who ya gonna call...?

In the "good old days" - whenever they were - electronic musical equipment may have been fearfully complicated, but it had a certain immediacy to it. If a Filter Frequency knob was turned down, you could see why there was no noise coming out of your synth. If little red lights ran from left to right, your sequencer was working. Then came MIDI, with a whole lot of solutions to problems, and a cartload of new problems.

Because MIDI is a digital system which works entirely within the microprocessors of the electronic equipment, the poor MIDI user has to rely entirely on the equipment's (often inadequate) data display to tell him what MIDI is trying to do. If things just aren't working as you want them to, it can take hours of leafing through manuals and paging through displays to find the answer. Is the MIDI Soft Thru enabled for channel 16 of your drum module? Is your sequencer receiving system exclusive signals from your synth's memory banks? Is your synth in fact connected to your sequencer, or has the MIDI cable got tangled up somewhere in the spaghetti on your floor?

Questions like these, the MA36 MIDI Data Analyser is qualified to answer. Goodness knows why something similar hasn't appeared before; it's a sort of digital "Swiss army knife" of the MIDI world, and especially at this price, should end up being standard issue in all MIDI studios.

The principal is blissfully simple. The MA36 is a black box the size of a cigar box. It can be powered by a 9V battery or an external main adaptor which plugs into the side. There's an on/off switch next to the socket. Switch it on, and the Power LED begins to blink.

You'll notice that the Power LED is in good company there are 36 other identical red LEDs on the MA36. Each is labelled with a different MIDI function, and quite simply they serve to indicate what type of MIDI information is being routed through the MA36.

On the top of the unit are two MIDI sockets, IN and THRU. Simply connect the MA36 between any two bits of equipment which are giving you aggro. If you switch the MA36 off, it still passes MIDI information THRU; so you can leave it installed in your system permanently if you like, for instance between your sequencer and your synth modules.

Start hitting notes or activating other MIDI functions and the MA36 lights up like a Christmas tree. The columns of LEDs on the right shows the MIDI channel in use, 1-16; below this is the LED which indicates a MIDI Error. Between the two columns are the System Reset LED, which shows if any MIDI message sent through the MA36 was complete nonsense; and the Active Sensing LCD. Active Sensing isn't implemented on all MIDI equipment; it's a repeating signal which simply says "Hello", I'm a piece of MIDI equipment and I'm here". This is useful if, say, you accidentally pull out a lead in the middle of a solo; not receiving the Active Sensing signal, the synth or sampler will generate an All Notes Off message, avoiding "hanging-note embarrassment".

The left-hand column of the MA36 features seventeen of the most commonly-encountered MIDI messages. Note On and Note Off mark the beginning and end of a note. All Notes Off, as we've seen, indicates that all hanging notes are killed. Poly Pressure is an aftertouch signal from an individual key; Channel Pressure, from the entire keyboard.

Program Change is an instruction to move to a different memory preset, while Control Change records a movement from a modulation wheel. Pitch Wheel, of course, marks a bend up or down. A separate section indicates MIDI Clock activity. There are separate LEDs for Clock Start, Continue, Stop and Timing.

The final section involves less common MIDI activities. System Exclusive indicates that data such as patch information or sample data is being transmitted, while End Exclusive of course shows that it is safely completed. Song Position is the signal which can synchronise sequencers and drum machines by giving them a time reference; Song Select of course merely indicates which song to play next. Lastly there's Tune Request, which makes a synth go through a self-tuning routine.

So how exactly can all these Christmas decorations help you to sort out the average family MIDI problem? Well, how's this for an example. My sequences were recorded, my MIDI modules set to the correct channels and everything was playing along nicely. But when I tried to record another sequence, the sequencer just wasn't recording. Bash in the MA36, doodle with the keyboard and the answer soon became obvious; all the light for NOTE ON/OFF, CHANNEL PRESSURE and CONTROL CHANGE lit up happily, so the output from the synth was fine. But it was all on MIDI channel 16, and the sequencer was set to receive only on channel 1. I'd changed to a new synth program using a silly keyboard channel. Problem solved. How about this one? The MIDI RECEIVE light on a sampler was flashing happily, so it was obviously receiving data from the sequencer. But any sound? Not on your life. What was going on? Was the sequencer acting up? Use the MA36 to analyse the data going out. All MIDI channels correct, NOTE ON/OFF happy, everything OK; the sequencer was fine - the fault had to be with the sampler, and the problem turned out to be a filter turned to zero.

There's only one rival to the MA36 on the market. It's the Roland A110, a 19-inch rack-mounting device using an LCD screen to indicate activity over an 88-note range. OK, the MA36 doesn't indicate which individual notes are being played, but it's a fifth of the price of the A110 and goes in your pocket.

Studiomaster claim that the MA36 is "As essential to the MIDI user as a tuner is to a guitarist". Crikey, I'd say it was a bit more essential than that!

Produce: MA36 MIDI Data Analyser
Price: £50
Supplier: Studiomaster UK, (Contact Details)

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Out Of Pocket

Micro Music - Copyright: Argus Specialist Publications


Micro Music - Oct/Nov 1989

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

MIDI Utility > Studiomaster > MA36


Previous article in this issue:

> Out Of Pocket

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