Possible answers to the question, 'which is the best micro for music?'
On average, I get three phone calls a week from people asking me what micro they should buy for music: one of the penalties for appearing on the box now and again, I guess. Unfortunately, there's really no cut-and-dried answer, and I usually fall back on the cliche of wait and see what happens, which you could say is tantamount to a cop-out of the first order.
The problem is that the micro business is a veritable battle-ground of conflicting standards and expectations. On the one hand, you have the Sinclair cohorts with the advance party of the 32-bit (alternatively, 16- or 8-bit, depending on your viewpoint of the 68008 processor) QL finally making it to the shore for a small number of less than entirely satisfied customers.
On the other, there's Acorn, whose Cambridge empire has grown by leaps and bounds into a mighty oak tree with branches going off in all directions of entrepreneurial endeavours.
Finally, there's the new boy on the block, MSX, embodying the collective might of multiple Japanese companies, about which it could be said there's more confusion than enlightenment.
But, I hear you cry, what about the CX5? Well, unlike other magazines, we're adopting a cautious stance on this. Yes, it looks exciting. But let's not be seduced by all the hype that's surrounded it. The CX5 is merely a fairly standard Z80-based micro with a none-too-brilliant QWERTY keyboard and enough space in its belly for an FM synthesis module. And, of course, it's unlikely to be in the shops until late autumn at the earliest.
So, at present, the one clear favourite is still the BBC Model B Micro. Mind you, it's not cheap - the version with disk interface won't leave much change from £500 - but if you're after a machine that's expandable and with lots of software support, there's no two ways about it, really. And even more so now, since there are not one but three companies working on digital synthesis add-ons for it - namely, Hybrid Technology, Clef Products, and Digitalent.
In addition to getting their add-on past the prototype stage, Hybrid Technology have been doing some interesting work in the field of digital-synthesis-on-a-chip, and there's every indication that future computers will pip quite a few other manufacturers to the post in the sound department, courtesy of Hybrid Technology's developments - Yamaha or no Yamaha.
Clef Products, of course, are behind the PDSG project that's been running for the past few months in CM under the guise of 'E&MM Digital Music'. Well, not quite 'running' as yet: more like eagerly waiting to spring off the starting block. Apparently, everything's working just as nature intended, but gearing up of the production line is being held until field testing has been completed. That explains why we haven't been able to quote any firm prices or delivery dates. As they say, watch this space for developments.
And Digitalent? Well, this is a Government-sponsored company centred around the excellent Nottingdale Technology Centre in London. Original plans were for a cheap, analogue polysynth that interfaced with the BBC Micro, but all this has changed in the direction of a system that's more akin to the PPG approach but intended to sell for under £500.
So, given all these developments, who could blame us for sticking with the BBC Micro? Maybe it's a touch jingoistic, but if it means that we end up with a synthesis system that can rank with the world's finest, who'll be complaining? Not I.
After all, isn't that the benefit of waiting to see what happens rather than jumping on the bandwagon?
Editorial by David Ellis
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