Future History FS1 and FST Turbo switches
An interesting diversion - or two
Having trouble configuring your MIDI set-up? It could be time you made the switch...
It's amazing how expensive the little bits that run a MIDI studio are. Take the common set-up of sequencer, synth, sound module and drum machine: if the latter is short of a MIDI Thru (Figure 1), any slight change to the set-up - the addition of another sound module, for example - will require you to re-configure the system, placing the new module between your existing module and the drum machine. A more elegant solution would be the use of a MIDI Thru and a MIDI Switch Box which would allow you to configure the system in a variety of ways for long-term flexibility. But of course, this is where cost begins to enter the equation; MIDI utilities are often expensive for what they are, and usually come a long way down most people's 'must have' lists.
Are there cheaper alternatives? Well, a company called Future History seem to think they've come up with a couple - both retailing for less than £20. The idea behind them is rather ingenious: each box has a number of MIDI sockets capable of functioning as MIDI In, Out or Thrus and one or two switches to configure the connections between them. Future-Switch FS1 has five MIDI sockets and a single rotary switch. The three small diagrams on the top panel show how connections are made according to the switch position; two positions have one of the bottom sockets routed to the opposite side, while the other is connected to the top socket. The third connects together the two bottom sockets and the top one.
As an example of a possible use this can be put to, take the problem of a synth that doesn't support Local Control Off and so has the keys permanently connected to the internal sounds. This causes each note to trigger a sound twice, once via the keys, and the second time via the incoming MIDI data from the sequencer's soft-Thru facility. Using the FS1, in one position you can route the MIDI Out from the sequencer to a second sound module, then, at the flick of a switch, have the MIDI data routed back to the keyboard for playback. Of course, this may not be seen as a major problem, but remember we are dealing with a product whose price tag makes it a justifiable way of overcoming such minor irritations.
With the third position of the switch connecting three sockets together, it may be imagined that it could be used to merge MIDI data from a couple of keyboards. But in fact, the Future-Switch is a purely passive device and as such cannot be used for merging. The use of this third position would actually be limited to some kind of part-time MIDI Thru: while you could have a single keyboard connected to two sound modules in this way, the MIDI signal is reduced in strength, and consequently you're more likely to get MIDI data errors such as stuck notes. In practice, short MIDI cables (three feet long) were found to work satisfactorily, and while this is not an arrangement that I would normally be happy to recommend, it could be used to get you out of a 'I need another MIDI Thru' situation.
The Future Switch Turbo FST has a total of eight sockets and a couple of switches and so can be used to configure a rather more complex system. The bottom of the unit has four of the sockets, of which two may be used at any one time, via one of the switches. The other switch operates in the same way as the FS1 except that there are a pair of linked sockets to provide a MIDI Thru, similar to the one detailed above and with the same proviso of the MIDI signal being weakened.
There are a variety of interesting uses to which the FST can be put. For instance, you can use it as a two-way selector for two keyboards and two sound modules. You could even use it to route tape sync to the MIDI In of your sequencer while simultaneously incorporating a synth and sound module, by connecting the MIDI Out from the tape sync box to one of the linked MIDI sockets and the MIDI In of the sequencer to the other. One possible problem is the fact that pin 2 of all of the MIDI sockets is connected to ground which isn't necessary for MIDI In: consequently, there's a chance that ground loops could be created. Should this happen, Future History can provide specially wired cables at a nominal charge.
The preliminary manual included with the FS1 and FST has been revised to include detailed descriptions of the switch positions and a host of connection diagrams, many of which should fit your system. However, accepting that it's rather difficult knowing whether you have a use for a Future Switch until you actually buy one, Future History are offering a 60-day money-back guarantee. They clearly believe the versatility of units will speak for itself once you've had time to get to know them. I have a feeling they're right.
Price: FS1 - £15; FST - £20. A three foot MIDI cable is included free of charge. Add £1.50 to each for P&P.
More from: Future History Products (Contact Details)
Review by Vic Lennard
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