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Computer Checklist

Article from Electronics & Music Maker, December 1985

The turn of sequencers, software packages and computer music systems to receive attention from E&MM’s unique price guide.

CHECKLIST returns to the subject of dedicated sequencers, software packages, and computer music systems this month.

As usual, this is the area that's the most difficult of the three to compile, especially on the software side of things, where product lists, specifications, and prices are subject to constant fluctuations. Please bear with us if you find something in the High Street music store isn't quite as described in the list that follows. And if you discover something that isn't listed here at all, drop us a line. Getting information out of manufacturers can be a pretty thankless task at times!

As we said in last month's leader comment, the software revolution hasn't quite got into gear yet. There's plenty of it about, of course, but the market for dedicated sequencers has been relatively unaffected by its appearance - hence the arrival of a couple of new dedicated models three months ago. If there's one section of the software industry that's really booming, it's that for upmarket packages based on suitably upmarket computers, like the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh. Unfortunately, the availability of some of these programs (most of which are American in origin) in the UK is open to question. We're in the process of compiling a thorough rundown of what's available and from where, and we hope to publish the results soon.

Problems aside, the CHECKLIST formula remains unchanged. A make-by-make listing of products, complete with typical retail prices, some brief specification details, and the comments (for, against, and concluding) of our reviewing team where applicable.

Next month: back to the beat, with an up-to-date rundown of drum machines and electronic drum kits.



SZ1 - £299 Four-track digital MIDI sequencer, step- and real-time recording options; storage capacity 3600 notes (step time), 1800 notes (real time); switchable touch data response, cassette and cartridge storage, MIDI-only synchronisation.
+ Cheapest dedicated MIDI recorder yet, and without too many sacrifices, two MIDI Outs, easy to use;
- doesn't store pitchbend data, available memory could be restricting, cartridges aren't cheap;
= inherent limitations are tolerable given machine's big price advantage over everything else, thus good value, two SZ1s MIDI'd together would make a neat eight-track sequencing system for not much outlay.


SQD1 - £599 Two-track MIDI recorder, step-and real-time recording options; 15,000-note storage capacity; MIDI In, 2 MIDI Outs, Sync 48 (Korg standard) and tape sync facilities, quick-disk storage.
+ Logical layout gives excellent ergonomics, hence machine is one of easiest to use, disk storage is quicker, more convenient, more reliable than just about anything else;
- non-variable clock rate obliges you to buy adaptor unit if your system's not a MIDI one, two-track format could prove limiting;
= viable and presentable alternative to previously-available machines, with more than the odd bit of design inspiration to help it on its way, shares QX7's 16-channel MIDI assignment system, which is good.


DSX - £1195 Sixteen-channel (eight CV/Gate outs) digital sequencer; 6000-note, ten-sequence, ten polyphonic track capacity; patch change, split and double control parameter information; cassette storage, internal or external sync options.
+ Part of comprehensive Oberheim system comprising excellent DMX/DX digital drum machines and OB8 poly, does its job smoothly and efficiently;
- not MIDI-compatible, but see below;
= obvious choice for Oberheim system owners that's been subject of recent price reduction, now has limited MIDI capability thanks to US company J L Cooper's Oberface - if you can find it.


MC202 - £160 Two-channel digital CV/Gate monophonic sequencer; real or step-time recording options, approx 2600 note capacity; tape storage, portamento and accent facilities, internal or external (24ppqn) sync options, battery or transformer operation.
+ Built-in sound-generating synth module, second sequence channel, very low price;
- no MIDI facilities, synth section sounds nothing special and incorporates no patch memories;
= excellent introduction to sequencing sadly approaching the end of its useful working life, but still difficult to ignore if money is tight.

MSQ100 - £399 Single-track, 6100-event polyphonic sequencer; step- and real-time recording options, velocity parameter information, cassette storage, internal or external sync (24ppqn) option,
+ 16 channels of MIDI recording, cost, power-down memory retention;
- multifunction controls make many options difficult to access, no overdub editing facilities;
= versatile, cost-effective machine outperformed by Yamaha QX7, but probably a better bet for existing Roland sequence users.

MSQ700 - £799 Eight-track digital MIDI and DCB sequencer; real- or step-time recording options, 6500-event capacity, voice, envelope and filter parameter information; tape storage, MIDI In and Out.
+ Ease of operation, DCB connection means JP8 and Juno 6/60 owners can use their synths in MIDI systems;
- no MIDI Thru and only one MIDI Out, high cost for what's inside the machine;
= a deservedly and consistently good seller, but position of prominence now under threat from recent rivals and arrivals.


QX1 - £1999 Eight-track digital MIDI sequencer, real-time recording with extensive step-time editing facilities, 32 songs, 999 measures, pitchbend, modulation, key velocity, aftertouch control parameter information; approx 80,000 note capacity, disk storage, MIDI In, Thru, eight MIDI Outs,
+ Unrivalled (for a dedicated machine) editing and MIDI track assignment options, tailor-made for Yamaha's own superlative TX816 sound rack;
- inadequate display, silly keyboard, costs a lot for a jazzed-up eight-bit micro;
= has spent a year at the top of the dedicated sequencer tree and deservedly so - contemporary technology's version of the Micro-Composer, but polyphonic and a lot more flexible.

QX7 - £449 Two-track digital MIDI sequencer, step or real time recording options; key velocity, aftertouch, pitchbend, modulation, foot control, breath control parameter information; cassette storage, internal and external MIDI syncing options, MIDI In, Out, Thru,
+ Ease of use (considering multiplicity of job commands and functions), track assignment flexibility, cost;
- only one MIDI Out;
= well thought-out machine that offers versatility of computer software in a more musically-accessible package, 16-channel MIDI recording affords more potential than two-track format would indicate, still a good bet for the money.



BBC MIDI Hardware Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connections. MIDItrack Composer - £50 Disk-based, steptime sequencing package for BBC B.
+ Reasonably comprehensive range of editing facilities;
- like a lot of early step-time packages, too laborious to make using it enjoyable or even tolerable;
= designed for computer buffs rather than musicians, if you're one of the latter, you'll be disappointed.

Performer - £80 Eight-track, disk-based, realtime sequencing package for BBC B; Graphics - £37 Graphics-generation package for BBC B, responds to input of MIDI music information; Notator - £40 Forthcoming disk-based link package for Composer, permits hard copy of music; BBC Editor - £40 Forthcoming disk-based link program for Composer and Performer, allowing both real-time and step-time input. All above EMR BBC packages to be reviewed.

CBM64 Hardware MIDI Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connectors. Performer - £80 Eight-track, disk-based, realtime sequencing package for Commodore 64. To be reviewed.

Spectrum MIDI Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connectors.

MIDItrack Performer - £80 Eight-track, cassette-based, real-time sequencing package for Spectrum.
+ Easy to use, above average use of Spectrum's limited graphics capabilities;
- still a few editing idiosyncracies, won't work with any hardware other than EMR's own interface;
= a definite and welcome improvement on EMR's earlier BBC package, let's hope they keep it up.


Island Logic 'The Music System' - £40 Real-and step-time MIDI sequencer for Commodore 64, available on disk only, compatible with SIEL and Passport MIDI interfaces.
+ '16-bit' graphics on an eight-bit machine, complete with icons and pull-down menus, excellent cut-and-paste facilities on music display within step-time section;
- long loading times between sections, system obviously designed for SID chip and adapted for MIDI later, thus MIDI facilities limited;
= beautifully structured, reasonably priced sequencing package, and a glimpse into the future of MIDI software design.


MIDIC 1.1 - £300 (10K), £350 (10K with battery backup) Intelligent interface between MIDI and RS232 computer-standard connection. Includes utility program that allows incoming MIDI data to be viewed on-screen to assist users wishing to write their own MIDI software.
+ Excellent idea put into practice with competence by company with limited resources, system is essentially open-ended;
- current software lacks non-MIDI facilities, R&D costs passed on in high-ish selling price;
= one of the best thought-out MIDI packages to appear since the system's inception, though its eventual success will depend on the software-writing skill of others. Also available: interfaces for Yamaha REV1 and AMS 15-80S, both £400.


Commodore 64 MIDI Hardware Interface - £90 MIDI In, MIDI Thru, three MIDI Outs, external Clock In; made for Jellinghaus Music Systems by SIEL in Italy.

12-track Recording Studio - £100 12-track, 7677 event, disk-based real-time sequencer for CBM64; velocity, pitchbend, aftertouch and ' program change parameter information, internal or external sync options.
+ Potentially easy to use, plenty of channel assignment options;
- terrible manual hinders rapid acclimatisation, both hardware and software have their idiosyncracies;
= flexible system from a company that knows - what it's doing in the programming department, even if the hardware sometimes lags behind a little.

Sequence Chain Program - £45 Add-on for 12-track Recording Studio, acts as link between sequences of various tempi and time signatures, allows storage of patch changes. To be reviewed.

SixTrak Sound Editor - £50 Commodore-based patch-editing program for Sequential SixTrak and MAX polys. To be reviewed.

Scorewriter - £340 Combination program produces hardcopy screen dump of music notation display from sequencing software; price includes 12-track Studio and Sequence Chain programs stored on EPROM. To be reviewed.


Music Composer System - £250 Eight-track, disk-based, real-time and step-time sequencer for CBM64, sold complete with hardware interface; 6000-note capacity, MIDI In, three MIDI Outs, internal or external sync options.
+ Excellent low-level Music Composition Language, syncable to non-MIDI clock (selectable time-base), easy to use considering complexity;
- relatively high asking price;
= the premier MIDI software package for CBM64 users, so far produced in small numbers by Worcestershire company particularly responsive to musician's - rather than programmer's - requirements and suggestions.


Apple MIDI Card - £TBA MIDI In, three MIDI Outs, external Clock In, footswitch jack, for use with Apple home computer and Apple-compatible lookalikes.

Future Shock Software - £TBA Disk-based eight-channel, real-time sequencer package, 2900-note capacity.
+ Easy to use thanks, to single-keystroke commands and handy Help page, decent editing facilities;
- Apple isn't exactly world's best-value home micro;
= well thought-out and eminently usable real-time sequencing package.

AMP 83 Software - £TBA US-originating collection of Apple-based MIDI programs, including step- and real-time sequencer (16 channels, 4000-note capacity), and delay program that introduces time delay between MIDI Receive and Transmit signals.


RAP Software - £37.50 Drum sequencing and arranging software for MIDI drum machines and Spectrum or Commodore 64 computers, works with variety of hardware interfaces.
+ Ingeniously written package acts as central rhythm programmer for collection of MIDI drum machines, allows transfer of patterns from one machine to another;
- could have shorter tracks and the ability to store more than one machine configuration at any one time;
= a brilliant piece of software that costs little, does a lot, and deserves to be in the home of every MIDI drum machine owner.


Apple MIDI Card - £220 MIDI In, MIDI Out, Drum Sync In/Out (24, 48 or 96 ppqn), plugs into expansion slots on Apple motherboard.

MIDI/4 Plus Software - £120; MIDI/8 Plus - £180 Disk-based real-time sequencing packages for Apple II and CBM64; four-track, 5500-note capacity (MIDI/4), eight-track, 11,000-note capacity (MIDI/8).
+ Extensive overdubbing facilities now matched by a decent range of editing options, plenty of support from one of computer music's most active companies;
- still too expensive to be a really major force in the UK marketplace, though they do at least have a distributor now;
= better than average software at a higher than average price.

Music Shop Software - £80 Step-time music transcription package for Commodore 64 and Passport MIDI interface.
+ Excellent display/printout facilities, ease of use, cheaper than you expect;
- doesn't really make the most of MIDI, no real-time input;
= one of the best music transcription packages available for budget micros.


MPU401 Hardware Interface - £160 'Intelligent' interface for Apple and IBM PC; MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, Sync Out, Tape In/Out connectors; additional computer bus allows four MPUs to be connected in parallel.

Microware Software - £TBA 48-channel MIDI sequencer for IBM PC and Roland MPU401. To be reviewed. 'Muse' software for Commodore 64 could be available soon.


900 - £35 'DumpTraks' software facilitates program and sequence dumping to CBM64 disk from any Sequential polysynth equipped with MIDI; 910 - £75 Disk-based CBM64 expansion for SixTrak poly, allowing up to two keyboard splits and assignment of voices, display and alteration of voice parameters using pitch and mod wheels and memory for storing and editing sequences; 920 - £75 Similar to above for MAX polysynth, capabilities include 'superpatch' stacks, keyboard split and voice assign, and voice creation and amendment using 64's QWERTY keyboard; 931 - £TBA 4000-note capacity Recorder/Editor/Composer for SixTrak and MAX; 932 - £TBA Printer for 931 Composer showing up to six voices on conventional stave format, tempo and transposition details; 933 - £TBA 'Album Series' package facilitates performance of current musical favourites on SixTrak, MAX and Drumtraks digital drum machine, allows control over tempo, key and voice timbre; 964 - £75 Disk-based polyphonic MIDI sequencer for CBM64 with 4000-event capacity; velocity, pitchbend and mod parameter information, facilities for overdubbing, copying, correction.


Spectrum MIDI Hardware Interface - £79 Spec similar to JMS interface unit.

Spectrum Live Sequencer - £22 Cassette-based, single-track, polyphonic, real-time sequencer for Spectrum; control over tempo, looping facility.
+ Simple to use, inexpensive;
- obvious limitations of single-track format;
= good starter program for the short term.

CBM64 MIDI Hardware Interface - £79 Spec similar to JMS interface unit.

CBM64 Live Sequencer - £69 Disk or cassette-based, 16-track polyphonic, real-time sequencer for CBM64; editing and transposition facilities, song memory.
+ Remembers velocity and aftertouch data, fairly easy to use, who can argue with 16 recording channels at this money?;
- needs more editing facilities, laborious playback routine;
= almost, but not quite, the perfect player's software package.

Expander Editor - £53 CBM64/Spectrum disk-or cassette-based graphic parameter control program for Siel Opera 6, DK600 and Expander 6.
+ Excellent graphics program puts 'analogue' visual on computer monitor for rapid, straightforward patch editing;
- nothing, except that DK80 Editor has even better graphics;
= a real winner, shows Siel have programming ingenuity in abundance.

BBC/CBM64 Multitrack Composer - £39 (disk), £36 (cassette) Six-channel step-time sequencer, 9000 note capacity, QWERTY input of information.
+ Highly versatile, masses of editing facilities for very little money,
- can be a real pig to use;
= should succeed among composers rather than musicians, but still too many keystrokes per note for our liking.

MIDI Data Base - £39 CBM/Spectrum disk- or cassette-based synth program file, stores 250 patches for any MIDI synth except Yamaha DXs and Casio CZs.
+ Versatile program that lets you house synth patches in related 'families', among many other things;
- nothing we can think of;
= well-conceived and user-friendly package that does something really novel with the MIDI standard, and a real bargain.

Digital Echo/Delay - £54 CBM64 disk- or cassette-based digital delay program, works by inserting delay between MIDI Receive and Transmit signals; 5mS-200mS delay, control of signal/effect balance, 14 'heads', auto-loop, MIDI-assignable file sequence. To be reviewed.

Keyboard Tracking Program - £75 CBM64 disk-or cassette-based program facilitates assignation of master keyboard with splits, arpeggiation, sequencing to control any MIDI source. To be reviewed.

DK80 Editor - £55 CBM/Spectrum disk- or cassette-based Editor for DK80 polysynth, gives full control over user-adjustable parameters by joystick or QWERTY keyboard, complete with real-time waveform shaping, Help pages.
+ Excellent graphics, coupled user-friendly operation;
- the fact that similar packages don't exist for a bigger range of synths, sluggish cursor movements, the odd bug or two,
= makes parameter editing more rewarding, proves new technology can assist sound-changing to good effect.

DX7 Editor - £TBA Voice Editor and patch memory for Yamaha DX7. To be reviewed.


DX7 Editor - £25 Cassette-based DX7 voice editor program for Sinclair Spectrum, works with most major Spectrum MIDI Interfaces; allows libraries of voices to be built up on cassette.
+ Excellent and easy-to-use (if rather derivative) graphics, even more remarkable given humble Spectrum origins;
- nothing unless Yamaha are planning to sue for graphics plagiarism;
= another patch-editing winner, all the more useful in the context of DX7's unhelpful LCD window, saves Spectrum owners the cost of CX5M and appropriate software.


UMI 2B - £495 British-built all-in-one MIDI sequencing package for BBC B, comprising ROM-based step- and real-time sequencing software with extensive editing and songchaining facilities, DX7 voice dump.
+ Sequencer beautifully easy to use in either entry mode, compaction facilities allow removal of memory-intensive dynamic and mod wheel data, informative and helpful graphics layout;
- only the cost;
= superbly conceived and well laid-out sequencer package that's gaining increasing support from the professional fraternity.


Micon MIDI System Controller - £108 Eight-track (mono) real- and step-time sequencer for 48K Spectrum; 10-sequence, 24,000-event capacity; comes complete with hardware interface incorporating MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, internal or external sync options.
+ Sync to non-MIDI clock (selectable timebase); excellent step-time editing facilities, very creditable music notation display, open-ended structure offers scope for user-programming;
- poor real-time facilities;
= again, British programming cleverness beats inadequacies of host micro to produce a really usable and versatile package, too good to ignore unless real-time editing is top of your list of priorities.



CPZ1000 Music Computer - £TBA MIDI music computer incorporating twin 3.5" disk drive in 19" rack-mounting format. Specifications as yet undisclosed, but auxiliary hardware includes RZ1000 recorder panel, EZ1000 editing module, and MZ1000 CRT display unit, all expected to be available before end of year. To be reviewed.


520ST Home Computer - £700 68000-based home micro with 512K RAM, mono monitor and disk drive included in price; built-in MIDI In and Out sockets, GEM graphics system, BASIC and logo programming languages.
+ Excellent graphics, interfacing, language implementations add up to extremely attractive computer package on which MIDI is even more attractive bonus;
- no MIDI software available yet, internal sound chip is a bit of a let-down, package too pricey for most first-time home computer buyers;
= all in all, probably the immediate future of non-dedicated computer music systems, or at least a major part of it, even more musician interest now that downmarket 128K model has been resurrected - should be available here soon.


Emulator II - £7250 Eight-voice, eight-bit sampling system, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, split and layering facilities, analogue filtering and LFO, disk storage.
+ Superlative sound quality, maximum 17-second sample length, onboard sequencer, MIDI compatibility, ease of use in all areas, especially looping;
- long loading times, poor keyboard;
= great improvement on original Emulator, and one of the easiest and most cost-effective routes into high-quality sound-sampling.


Mirage - £1295 Eight-note polyphonic soundsampling keyboard; built-in 3.5" disk drive, sequencer and analogue sound-modifying section, five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard with split options, full MIDI Compatibility.
+ Superb sampling sound quality, good range of sound-modifying options, user-friendly control layout, European version's better (than US equivalent) keyboard and disk drive;
- lack of step-time facilities limits sequencer's usefulness, demand outstrips supply in some areas;
= wonderful sampling machine with a (recently reduced) price that brings the technique within reach of vast numbers of people for the first time, now with user-formatting and advanced sampling software built in for the first time.


CMI - £28,500 + VAT (basic system) Eight-voice, eight-bit digital synthesis and sampling, built-in dual disk drive, six-octave music and QWERTY keyboards; wide range of sound creation and music production software packages.
+ Designed as a total computer music system from the outset, and it shows;
- comparatively poor sampling quality, soon to be replaced by 16-bit Series III;
= an industry standard, though showing signs of being left behind by cheaper, newer technology, Series III could change all that.


DS3 - £250 Four-voice, eight-bit, disk-based digital sound-sampler for Apple II/IIe; optional (£200) five-octave keyboard, onboard real-time sequencer,
+ Sounds surprisingly good for cost, new looping and editing software improves system's versatility;
- not very easy to use, poor interfacing;
= still one of the cheapest ways of getting into polyphonic sampling, if you have an Apple, Greengate have lots of new things in the pipeline, but they won't tell us about them.


250 - £10,995-£18,035 12-voice, disk-based sampling system; 88-note velocity-sensitive weighted keyboard, split facility.
+ Excellent sound quality thanks to unique 'Contoured Sound Modelling' system, comprehensive interfacing, onboard sequencer and chorus, 12-channel outputs;
- user-sampling requires (expensive) addition of Apple Macintosh computer;
= after all the pre-release hype, the Kurzweil delivers the goods: but elements of its design could be a lot more cost-effective.


Synclavier - £24,500-£105,000 Eight- to 32- voice, 16-bit FM digital synthesis and sampling system; 76-note, individually pressure-sensitive, weighted keyboard, 32-track onboard sequencer, internal or external sync options, SMPTE syncing facilities.
+ Vast range of software updates and options, future ones include fully polyphonic sampling;
- outrageously expensive, Yamaha's DX exploits have made FM synth section look very silly;
= an excellent system for studios, musicians and composers with more money than they know what to do with.


Wave 2.3 & Waveterm B - £5245 & £6760 Eight-voice, 16-bit, additive synthesis and disk-based sampling system; five-octave velocity-and pressure-sensitive keyboard, onboard sequencer software.
+ Versatility of analogue/digital hybrid synth system, relatively cost-effective;
- suspect build consistency;
= highly versatile and justifiably popular studio system, now with notable better (16-bit) sampling quality and upgradable with Expansion Voice Unit and weighted Processor Keyboard.


Prophet 2000 Sampling Keyboard - £1995 Eight-note polyphonic sound-sampling keyboard; built-in 3.5" disk drive, analogue synth section, and arpeggiator; five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard with split/layer options, full MIDI compatibility.
+ Incredible sound quality for price, looping and editing facilities are comprehensive and user-friendly, unsurpassed MIDI spec includes transfer of samples;
- synth section doesn't exactly live up to Prophet ancestry, though it's still useful, arpeggiator is waste of space;
= a very welcome addition to the world of low-cost sampling machines, sets the standard for all of them, but could be out of date come Frankfurt '86.


CX5M Music Computer - £299; MSX software cartridges - £39; YK10 full-sized keyboard - £165 32K MSX micro with onboard eight-voice FM digital sound chip of similar spec to that in DX9 poly,
+ Excellent sound capability thanks to Yamaha's unbeatable FM system, superb voice editing, composing, and drum editing software packages;
- silly miniature keyboard supplied, lots of documentation/specification hassles;
= for the time being, the only serious contender in the cheap music micro stakes.

CX7M 128 - £TBA 128K version of CX5M for introduction in early '86, details to come. To be reviewed.

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Publisher: Electronics & Music Maker - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Dec 1985

Scanned by: Stewart Lawler


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