Dynacord MIDI Control Computer
On the face of it, Dynacord's MCC-1 looks a worthwhile investment for those who wish to by-pass the Spaghetti Junction of MIDI cables in the studio. But it faces stiff competition from other manufacturers' products. Paul Gilby fathoms its depths and draws his conclusion.
Paul Gilby examines yet another unit that should make life a little easier amongst the Spaghetti Junction of MIDI cables.
Over the past few issues of this magazine we have taken a look at a variety of 'MIDI control units' that fall into one or both of the following two categories: that of a MIDI patchbay for linking a network of equipment together, or that of a MIDI data manipulator which alters the MIDI information as it passes through.
Examples of these types of unit are the Quark MIDI-Link, Sycologic M16, Drawmer MIDMAN, Akai MIDI Effects, Simmons MTM and the many small MIDI splitter boxes from Roland, Yamaha and other manufacturers.
The Dynacord MCC-1 continues in this vein and performs the simple task of re-assigning up to four different MIDI Channel and Program numbers to the data as it passes through the unit. This new data is then made available on four independent MIDI Out sockets located on the back panel. Once each output has been programmed with a different Channel and Program number, you can then store the configuration in any of the 200 onboard Master Memories of the MCC-1.
The benefit of holding these different configurations in memory means that you can MIDI together five pieces of equipment, dedicate one of them as the Master by plugging it into the MCC-1 MIDI In socket, and then hook the rest up as Slaves on the MCC-1 MIDI Out sockets. By selecting a Program number (patch) on the Master keyboard (say a DX7), you're able to call up the corresponding Master Memory on the MCC-1. You can then automatically select via the MCC-1 a different MIDI Channel and Program number on the other four pieces of equipment.
Figure 1 shows a simple table that illustrates the idea more clearly. In this example, a DX7 is being used as the Master instrument and it's transmitting on MIDI Channel 1, and Memory 1 has been selected. Each of the four units connected to the output have also been assigned to Channel 1 - therefore, the three Slave keyboards hooked up to MIDI Out sockets 1 to 3 will all play the same musical notes as those played on the DX7, but with different patches (sounds) being heard. The fourth socket in Figure 1 is connected to a digital reverb unit, and in this case, Program 15 has been selected.
If we move on to Memory 2, you can see that the MIDI Channels remain the same but new Program numbers have been assigned to each of the Slave units.
You can therefore imagine that after programming the MCC-1 with all the relevant configurations, it becomes a very powerful tool for both live or studio work, since by the press of one button on the Master keyboard, you're able to instantly select all the right MIDI Channels and Program numbers across each of the Slave instruments, ready for the next song.
To set up a desired configuration you first of all choose the patches you want on each Slave instrument. In this example let's say we want a massive string sound. You sort out the string patches that you want and make a note of them eg. Casio CZ101 - patch 20, Korg Poly 800 - patch 2, and a Roland Juno 106 - patch 7.
As mentioned, each instrument will be played via the Master (DX7) and so you have to programme the MCC-1 so that each MIDI Out socket transmits on MIDI Channel 1. You then key-in the correct Program number for each of the four sockets, using the numerical pad on the MCC-1 front panel, and store these as Master Memory 1 - MIDI Channel 1.
This results in Program 1 of the DX7 selecting Master Memory 1 on the MCC-1, which in turn selects all the right Channel and Program data on the Slave instruments-pretty simple really!
The system of operation that has just been outlined works well, and would prove to be a great boon to anyone looking for a fast way of solving the time-consuming task of copying patches into the correct order in your synth's Program memories. However, there are one or two anomalies present within this Dynacord unit.
The Dynacord MCC-1 only provides access to Program numbers up to 100 (0-99) and therefore leaves you well short of the 128 provided for by the MIDI specification and present on most keyboards. This, of course, isn't such a great shortcoming if you're one of those people who uses factory preset sounds all the time and never looks beyond using the strings, brass and synth lead-line sounds, no matter what the instrument!
Anyway, the reason for this imposed limitation on the Program numbers isn't known, but whatever it is, it surely can't be cost!
The next area of conflict concerns where you count Program numbers from - zero or one? Dynacord have chosen to count from zero, therefore the majority of MIDI keyboards on the market (which count from one) will always be one Program number out with respect to the MCC-1 Program display. Hardly what you would call a 'user-friendly' approach, and one that isn't going to endear too many people to this product unfortunately. Again, this is evident in the MCC-1's memory area as, instead of having 128 Program possibilities as is the norm, Dynacord actually give you two banks of 100 memories (0 to 99) designated User A and B. I'm afraid to say that it's yet another example of how manufacturers who don't stick to the agreed MIDI format aren't helping the novice get to grips with the concept of MIDI. How can he if they keep on hanging the rules for each bit of gear he wants to buy?
Well, enough of these minor (major?) niggles and onto the supplementary features the MCC-1 has to offer.
As we're dealing with MIDI Channel information it's not surprising to find that the Dynacord unit includes a number of other MIDI manipulation modes. Most important is the Omni/Poly status and here you can select Omni if you want the MCC-1 to acton a Program change transmitted on any MIDI Channel, or Poly mode if you only want a specific channel to be used. The next option is the MIDI data filter which allows MIDI information such as Note On/Off, Pitch-Bend etc to pass directly through ie. the MCC-1 is transparent to this sort of data. Alternatively, you can switch in the filter and suppress all MIDI data except for the Channel and Program numbers - useful if you wish to cut out unwanted 'memory-gobbling' velocity/pressure info that is transmitted continuously by a DX7, when used with a software MIDI sequencer package, for instance. These conditions are only relevant to the MIDI Out sockets and in either situation the MIDI Thru socket on the device will always pass data unaffected.
The final section of special modes are referred to as 'codes'. There are many such codes and each is called up via the MCC-1 's keypad. You can, for example, programme all of the Master Memories to have the same MIDI Channel number, or copy and load memories from one MCC-1 unit to another. You can also switch between Omni and Poly modes via external control and, if you really are a computer buff, enter the analysis mode and inspect the MIDI data streams, byte by byte, in full hexadecimal code!
The Dynacord MCC-1 is unquestionably a useful box to have around and will help to decrease the time you have to spend setting up the MIDI receive conditions across a large number of instruments. From a user point of view, the designers seem to have given the MCC-1 a few unimportant features in preference to fulfilling some of the more fundamental ones,such as only 100 Program numbers and the non-standard counting procedure.
However, the concept of the unit is a good one - as proven by the fact that many other manufacturers are marketing similar devices. What isn't good about the MCC-1 though is its price. At £535 including VAT, it costs slightly less than the new Simmons MTM (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) which offers far more scope in the MIDI tricks department alone. And when the new Akai MIDI Effects arrive at around the hundred pound mark, Dynacord are going to have a big problem on their hands.
If you want musicians to justify spending money on what appears to be just a means of saving time, then manufacturers have got to price their units well below the cost of 'another instrument'. For whether it's right or not, that's what the average musician is always going to give first priority to on his/her shopping-list.
RRP £535 inc VAT.
Review by Paul Gilby
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