Ensoniq TS10 synthesiser
Check out that rarest of products - a new synthesiser
Fancy a bit of S&S? Ian Waugh can't get enough, and Ensoniq have got just the thing...
God no! Not another S+S synth! The last few years have seen more variations on S+S (samples + synthesis) instruments than Lloyd-Webber has written songs around C, F and G.
Ensoniq's TS10 doesn't actually break new ground in the S+S department, but it does have a refreshing approach to instrument design. Here's a company that's done its homework, researched the market, listened to the punters and produced an instrument to fill a need - the performing musician.
What we all want are sounds, good ones, lots of 'em and with easy accessibility. The TS10 has 180 factory presets and 120 user-programmable sounds - that's 300 in all. They are arranged in banks of six, selected by ten Bank buttons which are in turn organised into Banksets, of which there are five, selected by repeatedly pressing the Bankset button. It's easier to operate than it sounds - honest!
One nice feature of the TS10 is the ability to load new samples into the memory, and up to 20 can be stored in two other Banksets. You get 2Mb of RAM with the machine, which can be expanded to 8Mb.
The main display is two long lines of LEDs which can show the names of up to six sounds. You select one by pressing one of six soft buttons around the names, and the selected sound becomes underlined. You can layer this with one of the other sounds by double-clicking on another button.
The basic unit of sound construction is the Voice. A program or sound is made up from six Voices and one Effect. A Preset is a combination of three sounds - think of them as handy 'performance memories' - which let you create sound combinations, splits, layers and so on. The organisation of sounds is actually a little more intricate, because each of the three sounds in a Preset has a set of associated Track parameters such as mix, pan, timbre, transpose, detune MIDI channel and so on. In fact, the TS10 manages to integrate the sounds and sequencing side of itself very well.
The sonic architecture is very powerful and sophisticated, with a myriad of programming options. To create sounds, you can use the built-in 254 waveforms or user-loaded samples. A neat feature is the Surrogate Program option. The RAM is volatile, so the instrument forgets loaded samples if the power is removed. In such cases you can assign an alternate ROM-based sample to act as a stand-in.
Now that idea must have come from a guy plagued by intermittent power supplies - although one would have thought the obvious and better solution would have been to provide battery-backed RAM. Unfortunately, that's not an option on the TS10.
The sound effects are provided by a custom Ensoniq chip. There are 74 effects algorithms with variation controls which can be linked to performance parameters such as aftertouch and velocity.
Put all this together and you can create everything from analogue synth sounds through new-age pads to techno basses. Strong features are the Transwaves and Hyper-Waves which let you create vector-style sounds. The Hyper-Wave architecture allows up to 16 Waves to be defined in a list which can be swept, cross-faded and timbre-shifted. It's got the lot!
OK, so the sounds are mega. Let's look at the performance controls. The keyboard has 61 keys, velocity sensitive of course, and it has both Channel and Polyphonic Aftertouch. Ensoniq as a company seems very fond of Polyphonic Aftertouch, and it certainly adds a level of performance to the instrument.
The Pitchbend and Mod Wheels are to the left of the keyboard as usual, but half-recessed, which is somewhat unusual - although they aren't uncomfortable to use. Above them are two Patch Select buttons which are unique. They let you select alternative groups of Voices within a sound, so you can very easily change a sound either dramatically or subtly.
The disk drive is used to save and load songs, sounds and samples. It can handle quad-density disks - that's a potential capacity of 1.6Mb - as well as lower-capacity disks with a maximum capacity of 78 files. However, the system doesn't recognise standard MIDI Files, so you simply can't prepare your material elsewhere.
The manual is very good, but a few more pictures wouldn't have gone amiss - and at over 300 pages it's just slightly lighter bedtime reading than War And Peace - although the story line lacks a certain je ne sais quois. It's thorough - and it needs to be in order to explain all the TS10 functions. No one could accuse the TS10 of being underdocumented.
As a performance instrument the TS10 shapes up well, but there are many users who want an instrument to double as a multitimbral sound source. The TS10 is only 12-part multitimbral, which must lose it some potential buyers. Furthermore, it doesn't even acknowledge the existence of General MIDI. Well, OK, that's cool.
Obviously the TS10 is aimed at the pro - who, of course, probably doesn't know what General MIDI is. Still, GM is an added selling point and, after all, the machine will not be bought exclusively by professionals.
Its 32-note polyphony is the minimum you'd expect from a new, current instrument, and it assigns its Voices dynamically so you shouldn't run out of notes - except perhaps in mad bouts of insane pyrotechnics - and certainly not while playing live.
Niggles? Well, the LED display isn't as high-tech as you might expect, and it is certainly a drawback when it comes to graphics - but it's a whiz for cutting through a dark stage.
The lack of MIDI File compatibility must also be a major drawback, even to the pro. There surely can't be many musos now who don't use a computer-based sequencer, or at least a good dedicated hardware sequencer.
I've yet to see any built-in sequencer with a tenth of the facilities or friendliness of a computer sequencer, and I really don't want to learn how to use an arcane system which I didn't want to find in the keyboard in the first place. But that's just me, and regular readers will know my dislike of workstation sequencers (Don't we just. Ed). But, having moaned my head off, the TS10's sequencer is one of the best I've seen.
Apart from the performance aspects, the TS10 is heavily into synthesis - a programmer's dream - but not something the average user, pro or otherwise, will be able to drop into and pick up. Without a doubt, such users will be happy to use these off-the-shelf sounds.
Other than that, the TS10 is just about as complete a synthesiser - in the full sense of the word - as has appeared on the market in, ooh, ages. At home or in the studio, the TS10 is a very desirable piece of kit, and if you were only allowed one keyboard on stage it would be difficult to think of a stronger contender.
|Ease of use||Easy on a performance level, but beware hidden depths|
|Originality||It is S+S, but with many nice touches|
|Value for money||Heavy bucks, heavy machine|
|Star Quality||A winner for the performing muso|
|More from||Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Waugh
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