Hot House Flowers
The excessive heat in London's Olympia gave the latest hi-tech gear a run in the "who's hottest" stakes at this year's British Music Fair. Simon Trask sweats it out.
THIS YEAR'S BRITISH MUSIC FAIR CAME COMPLETE WITH ITS VERY OWN GREENHOUSE EFFECT. AS THE TEMPERATURE SOARED AND OLYMPIA TURNED TROPICAL FOR SIX DAYS, THE BMF PROVIDED VISITORS WITH A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO SEEK OUT THE HOT NEW PRODUCTS.
IT'S THAT TIME of year again, when the musical instrument industry shrugs its collective shoulders and prepares to spend six days immersed in an almighty cacophony which would no doubt be music to John Cage's ears. Quite how many of the attendees at this year's British Music Fair felt themselves to be participating in an avant-garde musical experience is unclear, but they were probably outnumbered by those who didn't. What we think we're doing as opposed to what we're actually doing: now there's an interesting subject. Which way are your ears tuned?
From irony to paradox. The more successful the Fair is, the less successful it is. Like our avant-garde experience, it's all a question of perspective. The greater the number of people attending the Fair, the less opportunity each individual has to try out the gear and ask questions about it, and the more unpleasant the general ambience gets.
This year saw the BMF return once again to London's Olympia, now seemingly its permanent home following the widely unpopular relocation to Wembley a couple of years back. As well as playing host to a greater number of exhibitors, and taking up a greater amount of floorspace, than last year, the Fair was able to proclaim several firsts: the introduction of a Learn To Play centre, a Children's Musical Adventure Playground and the Young Guitarist of the Year competition, and the throwing open of the Fair both to companies who are not members of recognised British trade associations and to non British-based companies. Theoretically this means that any company anywhere in the world that's trading within the broadest confines of the music industry can take a stand, so to speak, at the BMF. The ultimate aim of the organisers is to make the BMF an event of international significance - a daunting thought for anyone who's ever attended the gargantuan Frankfurt Music Messe.
This year the BMF's fortunes were somewhat mixed. While trade attendance over all six days was up by around seven per cent on last year, and exhibitors were generally pleased with the volume of business they did, public attendance over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday was down by around six per cent. So is the BMF a more essential event for the trade than it is for the public? And is July - heatwave, holidays and all - the best time to hold the BMF? Food for thought which is no doubt presently being digested by the organisers.
It wasn't only members of the public who didn't show up. This year saw some big names staying away from the Fair, with Akai, Peavey, Marshall and Cheetah all choosing not to exhibit for one reason or another. However, one company present in full force were Yamaha, who for the first time were displaying their band instruments, tuned percussion instruments and even their hi-fi units in addition to the more familiar presence of synths, portable keyboards, pro audio gear, guitars, drums, Clavinova digital pianos and Electone organs. Latest addition to the company's new generation of synths is the TG77 (£1299), a 3U-high 19" rackmount expander version of the SY77 minus the latter's onboard sequencer and disk drive but with the welcome addition of eight polyphonic individual audio outs alongside the existing two stereo output pairs. The expander's internal AWM2 samples are the same as those on the SY77, but it comes with a new set of Preset Voices which reflect the growing experience of programmers with AFM/AWM2.
No doubt mindful of the problems which musicians had programming first-generation FM synthesis, Yamaha are leaving nothing to chance this time around. They now have three waveform and Voice card sets available for the SY77 and TG77: Sax 1, Drums 1 and Rock & Pop (£99 each). The waveform cards can also be used with the SY/TG55. Yamaha Japan have produced a further five SY/TG77 Voice cards (£69 each), while from America and the company's London R&D Centre come nine Voice disks (£30 each), including 'Best of DX', Classical', 'Atmosphere Textures' and 'Pop Music'.
The London R&D Centre is also responsible for four SY/TG55 and three SY22 Voice cards, all of which are loaded RAM cards retailing at a not inconsiderable £95 each. It seems ironic that SY77 owners can buy disks of sounds for £30 while owners of the much cheaper SY22 and TG55 have to pay around three times as much to get their sounds. Perhaps a useful alternative would be for Yamaha to provide their 55 and 22 Voice libraries on disk as SysEx data dumps which could then be transferred via MIDI from various computer-based sequencing and generic patch librarian programs - much as Kawai are starting to do for their K4 and K4R synths.
If you're looking to add a MIDI percussion controller to your setup but can't afford an Octapad, check out a new addition to the Digital Drumbanks range of preset drum machines from Yamaha's Portable Keyboards division, the DD11 (£149.99). In addition to a chord sequencer, five melodic voices, 32 PCM drum and percussion samples and 100 rhythm accompaniments which range in style from cool jazz to speed metal (would I lie to you?), the DD11 has eight touch-sensitive drum pads and comes with a pair of full-size drumsticks. Each pad can be assigned any one of the 32 onboard samples. However, while these samples are respectable sounds in themselves, the DD11's primary recommendation to MT readers is its MIDI triggering capability.
While we're lingering in the Portable Keyboards division, if you're on a tight budget and can't afford an SY22, let alone an SY77, two new keyboards in the PSS range, the PSS590 and PSS790 Workstations, might be worth considering if you're not put off by mini keys and lack of velocity sensitivity. While today's home keyboards are breaking out of the traditional "Latin pops" mentality by providing an eclectic selection of musical styles in their accompaniment sections, they're also less inclined to be the poor relative to synths when it comes to the sound-generating technology.
The new PSS keyboards are a case in point, with a varied collection of musical accompaniments for those that want such things, 100 AWM sounds and 28-note polyphony. Both are MIDI-compatible, and the 790 even has an onboard eight-track sequencer and an implementation of vector synthesis complete with a dinky front-panel joystick controller, together with Bass Boost speakers and eight assignable drum pads which are situated in front of the keyboard. The 790 has a very respectable five-octave keyboard span, the 590 a reasonable four octaves. And the prices? £149.99 for the 590, £229.99 for the 790.
Yamaha are extremely active in the recording field these days, and two new items at opposite ends of the price spectrum illustrate the scope of their involvement. The MT100 II (£379) is the company's latest four-track, and as its name suggests it's an enhanced version of the MT100. While retaining the basic specification of the MT100, the II adds what Yamaha term "important performance and control refinements": a track-assignable five-band stereo graphic equaliser, mic/line compatibility on all four input channels, a stereo instead of mono auxiliary effect return, an improved metering system and a stereo monitor out in addition to a stereo out. MT100 owners might well feel that these "refinements" should have been on their machine in the first place - especially as the new four-track is virtually the same price as its predecessor.
Without a doubt, Yamaha's most sophisticated and most significant recording machine to date is the new DMR8 digital multitrack machine, which integrates an eight-track tape machine, a digital mixer, mix automation, an auto-locator and three digital effects equivalent in quality to an SPX1000/900 into a single unit. Certainly no-one can accuse Yamaha of skimping on signal quality. All signals inside the DMR8 are handled as 24-bit digital audio with up to 32-bit processing (including 32-bit parametric EQ), and are stored on tape as 20-bit data, giving a 120dB dynamic range.
The compact Yamaha M20P Metal Particle tape cassette specially developed for use with the DMR8 can record 20 minutes of digital audio at a 48kHz sample rate (44.1kHz and 32kHz are also possible), and in addition to its eight PCM digital tracks, includes two analogue tracks (for laying down click or guide parts), a timecode track and a control track. Virtually every mix parameter of the DMR8 can be automated, and mix moves can be locked to the timecode on tape to a frame-accurate resolution. Real-time fader and controller movements are recorded as a sequence which can subsequently be edited, re-recorded or overdubbed, and mixes can be built up stage by stage. Up to eight mixes can be stored in the DMR8's memory, while a finalised mix can be stored in a special area at the beginning of the tape and subsequently loaded and replayed. Additionally, up to 32 scene memories (snapshots of the system configuration) along with other information such as track and channel names can be stored to a Yamaha MCD64 RAM card.
The DMR8 provides a 24-channel "virtual" mixdown facility when Yamaha DRU8 Digital Recorder units (essentially the DMR8 without all the mixing console capabilities - c. £13,000 plus VAT) and/or AD8X eight-channel, 19-bit A/D Converter units (£tba) are connected to it, so you can run up to 24 digital tape tracks or a mix of tape and sequenced tracks.
DAT/SPDIF, AES/EBU and Yamaha's own MEL2 digital I/O formats are provided (the latter allowing direct digital interfacing with, for instance, Yamaha's DMP7/7D and DMP11 mixers and SPX100 and DEQ7 effect processors), while a V-Sync input is provided for synchronisation with composite digital video tape recorders. The DMR8 can also sync to MIDI Time Code as either master or slave, with dedicated MTC in and out MIDI sockets in addition to regular MIDI In and Out connections. The DMR8's internal Event List can be slaved to MTC (and therefore to a MIDI sequencer which is capable of outputting MTC), while DMR8 parameters can be controlled via MIDI controller codes. The Digital Mixer/Recorder can also output MIDI clocks and SPP via its MIDI Out for more traditional MIDI synchronising. Additionally, remote computer control of DMR8 parameters is possible via nine-pin and 15-pin RS422 inputs.
All in all, the DMR8 is a trailblazer - and, crucially, it sounds superb. Currently undergoing trials in Japan, production shipments are expected in October. Yamaha in the UK are currently quoting a price of around £22,000 plus VAT for a package of DMR8, AD8X and HA8 head amp.
The two big new instruments on show from Roland, namely the D70 synth and S770 sampler, have already received the MT in-depth review treatment. Also being exhibited were the company's latest Micro Composer, the MC50 (£549), and a new variation on the Octapad theme, the somewhat ambitiously named SPD8 Total Percussion Pad (£399), an Octapad II minus a few features but plus 39 built-in drum and percussion sounds. Watch for the reviews to follow soon.
In many ways the most intriguing new item from Roland is the MV30 Studio M, which manages to cram a 16-track sequencer, multitimbral RS-PCM sound source, signal effects processing, automated eight-track mixer, 3.5" DSDD disk drive and intelligent tape sync capability into one compact, lightweight unit which is expected to retail at £1500. Delivery is scheduled for November, but in the meantime you can discover more about the MV30 by turning to our preview elsewhere in this issue.
Kawai have been lying low on the hi-tech front of late, but the BMF saw them launch three new hi-tech units: the Spectra KC10 synth (£450), XD5 dedicated drum expander (£tba, under £600) and MM16 MIDI mixer (price tba, under £300), all of which are slated for November delivery.
The company's latest synth combines the K4's 16-bit clarity with a voice architecture more akin to that of a scaled-down K1 - hence two instead of four PCM sources per patch, and definitely no filtering. Emphasis has been placed on operational simplicity and, presumably, cost-saving, with editing controls being kept to an absolute minimum and a two-character LED display replacing the more usual LCD window.
The sonic basis of the Spectra is provided by 128 wave samples, including some 30 drum sounds, which are stored in 1Mb of ROM. The synth comes with 64 preset patches and allows you to program 32 of your own along with 16 MIDI multitimbral memories (four synth parts and one rhythm part). SysEx transfer of data is possible for remote storage purposes.
Kawai have given the Spectra an inbuilt arpeggiator and 36 preset rhythm patterns (plus intros and fill-ins) which can be synced to MIDI clocks or the arpeggiator. Signal processing is confined to stereo chorus. With the Spectra, Kawai appear to be trying to span the (admittedly narrowing) divide between synth and home keyboard. It can also purportedly be used as a strap-on MIDI remote keyboard, though as its (velocity-sensitive) keyboard has a 61-note span I'll reserve judgement on that.
The XD5 dedicated drum expander comes with 256 16-bit 44.1kHz sounds stored in 2Mb of memory, is 16-voice polyphonic and has eight individual audio outputs in addition to the usual stereo pair. Sixteen 88-note kits can be programmed in internal memory, with up to four sounds per key. Boding well for the sonic versatility of the expander, samples can be processed via filter, amplifier and LFO sections. The XD5 uses the same filters as the K4, which means that you can apply resonance to your drum and percussion sounds.
Kawai's compact MM16 MIDI Mixer deals purely with MIDI data. Two sets of MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets on its rear panel combine with split/merge capabilities to allow it to be used in a variety of MIDI situations. Its 16 assignable front-panel sliders allow realtime editing of MIDI controllers or MIDI SysEx parameters, so that, for instance, you could mixdown volume on all 16 MIDI channels by assigning MIDI controller #7 to all the sliders, or edit up to 16 sound parameters on one or more instruments by assigning the appropriate SysEx edit commands to the sliders.
Another option provided by the MM16 is realtime MIDI velocity scaling, using the 16 assignable sliders as a kind of "graphic EQ". In true mixer fashion, a 17th slider has been dedicated to master volume control - which in this case means that it sends out MIDI controller #7 on all 16 MIDI channels.
A total of 64 16-slider setups can be programmed into the MM16 and then called up snapshot-fashion by means of MIDI patch changes. Apparently the mixer will come programmed with SysEx editing templates for the DX7, the D50 and the M1 as well as Kawai's own K1, K4 and K5 synths.
Kawai are also set to release a library of K4/K4R patches and drum patterns on 3.5" floppy disks, in formats suitable not only for their own Q80 sequencer but also for Pro24, Cubase, Creator and Notator. Volume 1 will offer 300 drum patterns, one Soundbank and two demo sequences. An interesting development, and one which other manufacturers would do well to emulate.
Korg were trumpetting their two new hi-tech developments, the Wavestation synth (reviewed in last month's MT) and the S3 drum machine (£899), both of which were making a mightily loud noise within the confines of the company's demo booth. To my mind, there's still plenty of mileage to be had from the dedicated drum machine. Whether manufacturers exploit the possibilities of the medium or continue to turn out variations on a well-worn formula is another matter.
Fortunately, the S3 is not just another drum machine - which is no doubt why Korg have chosen to call it a Rhythm Workstation instead. To begin with, it takes a leaf out of the general-purpose sequencer's book in allowing a mixture of recording methods, with four tracks dedicated to pattern-based recording and four to linear recording. You can also use S3 tracks to sequence external MIDI instruments, so that the drum machine isn't limited to a purely rhythmic function.
Another feature which sets Korg's new drum machine apart from the crowd is its inclusion of stereo digital effects processing. The S3 has two independent effects processors and a selection of 28 different effects including stereo reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, phaser and tremolo and dual-type effects such as equaliser/chorus and delay/hall reverb.
With its SMPTE In/Out connections the S3 can become the interface between your tape machine and MIDI sequencer, while its ability to transmit MIDI Time Code via its two MIDI Outs opens up further interesting possibilities (triggering samples in a cue list, for instance). Other features of the S3 include 12-voice polyphony, eight touch-sensitive pads, 75 internal waveforms together with the ability to access further waveforms via two PCM card slots, and four polyphonic individual outs in addition to the familiar stereo pair.
But the feature which most sets the S3 apart from other drum machines comes in the area that matters most: the sounds. Korg have managed to separate out the attack and sustain portions of their drum and percussion sounds into different samples, so, as well as being able to combine the attack of one instrument with the sustain of another, you can for the first time tune the sustain portion of a sound down without losing the sharpness of its attack.
Touted by its makers, Luton-based company Evolution Synthesis, as "the first of a new breed of programmable algorithmic synthesisers", the 1U-high 19" EVS1 multitimbral digital synth expander (£299) uses a powerful 24-bit sound synthesis DSP chip to generate several forms of synthesis including FM, Phase Distortion and Wavetable. The EVS1 is 16-note polyphonic and eight-voice multitimbral, with 16-bit 44.1kHz audio quality. Each voice can make use of four assignable six-stage level and rate envelopes, while additionally there are two independent LFOs with a choice of nine modulating waveforms and five modulation sources. Included is a bank of drum and percussion samples, and the expander comes with 100 patches, 20 of which may be edited using external software. The EVS1 is unusual in that it comes complete with free editor/librarian software for the ST and an accompanying library of patches on disk, a reflection of the fact that full programmability is only available via MIDI SysEx.
The EVS1 is being distributed by Sound Technology, who as you probably know also handle the C-Lab range of software and hardware add-ons. Which leads us neatly to version 3.0 of Creator/Notator - a substantial upgrade to the existing software which comes with a substantial new manual and, for Notator users, an extra disk containing a selection of fonts (see below). Existing Creator and Notator users will have to pay £39 and £49 respectively for the new version, but the retail prices of the two programs remain the same (£299 and £499).
So is v3.0 worth forking out the upgrade fee? Well, you can start to ponder this question while reading about the new features in the following overview (which comes free of charge to both new and existing MT readers). An Arrange Pattern Overview window allows you to see at a glance what patterns are being used in the Arrange list and what patterns are free, while a Macro function allows any number of single or multi keystrokes to trigger user-defined mouse movements and keystrokes, and Adaptive Groove represents a further step towards making quantisation as transparent as possible by allowing different resolutions to operate at the same time. New RMG features include nameable faders, fader grouping, snapshots applicable to fader grouping and able to be restricted to selected faders, the ability to delete data for just one fader, and the addition of 64 user-definable faders for SysEx editing and 64 on/off switches. The Human Touch facility can now trigger a user-defined MIDI note, and song notepads can now be made to auto-appear on loading.
But probably the most notable addition to Creator is the Hyper Edit event edit page, a very accessible graphic editing display, based around vertical beams entered in a bar/beat "grid", which allows you to create and edit 16 "instrument" parts within any track. These "instruments" can be notes or MIDI controllers, with the height of each beam indicating velocity or controller amount respectively. Data can be entered for each "instrument" by clicking or drawing with the mouse. Hyper Edit is particularly effective for creating rhythm tracks or editing the results of RMG inputting.
The Notator upgrade includes all the new Creator features. New features specific to Notator include Diatonic Insert (entered notes adopt the pitch specified by the key signature), miniature cue notes on normal-size staves, MIDI Meaning (note accents in the score are replicated over MIDI by means of velocity increases), Page Preview (extremely useful in that it allows you to preview the printed page layout onscreen and make adjustments to that layout), tuplet scoring, broken chord and quarter-note-equals-tempo symbols, and greatly enhanced font selection for text, lyrics, bar numbers, track names, tempo symbols and the like. The accompanying fonts disk contains a selection of Times Roman and Helvetica fonts in several point sizes, but as the protocol uses *.FNT files, any fonts designed with editors such as Fontkit Plus 3 can be used.
Alesis have been keeping themselves busy. In addition to two new units, the Microverb III multi-effect processor (£199) and SR16 drum machine (£299), the company have developed software upgrades for two of their existing units, the Datadisk (now Datadisk SQ) and the Quadraverb (now Quadraverb Plus). The good news is that these upgrades add nothing to the existing retail prices for new buyers, while for existing owners there's a modest £12 fee to pay.
Scheduled for November release, the SR16 drum machine remained resolutely silent at the BMF. Bearing a marked similarity to Boss' DR550 drum machine in appearance, the SR16 is set to retail for £299 and will offer over 100 16-bit stereo samples (not HR16/16B sounds, apparently), 12 velocity-sensitive pads, 100 user and 100 preset patterns both with fill variations, 16-note polyphony, dynamic voice allocation, tuning and panning of sounds, and four user-configurable audio outputs. A new feature called Dynamic Articulation will allow the SR16's sounds to change timbrally in response to the strength of pad hits, courtesy of multisamples.
E-mu Systems and Ensoniq both chose to exhibit away from the noise and bustle - not to mention the heat - of Olympia, instead opting for the air-conditioned coolness and dignified tranquillity of the nearby Kensington Hilton. New from E-mu are Proteus 2 (c. £1300), Proformance (£449) and Proformance Plus (£529), three preset sample expanders which see the company move away from the predominant all-things-to-all-musicians philosophy and instead attempt to cater for more specific musical requirements. Hence Proteus 2 majors in orchestral instrument samples while Proformance is a dedicated piano module and Proformance Plus has Proformance's 15 stereo piano multisamples plus 17 "related" sounds (including electric piano, vibes, double bass and electric bass). Operation has been made as simple and accessible as possible on the 1U-high, half-19" Proformance and Proformance Plus, with one front-panel pot for selecting the 15 piano sounds and another for selecting the MIDI receive channel. The Plus's extra 17 sounds, however, can only be selected via MIDI patch changes. Additionally, user-definable split-points can be created on the Plus, so that for instance you can play double bass and piano at the same time from your MIDI keyboard.
Long-time champions of the keyboard workstation Ensoniq are set to follow up their SQ1 Personal Music Studio synth workstation with the SQ-R rackmount version. Priced at just under £1000, the SQ-R not only offers all the features of the SQ1 except for the sequencer, it also adds a new feature of its own called Smart Transmit which adds controller keyboard features to any MIDI keyboard hooked into it, allowing you to program eight zones each with independent control over volume, transpose, MIDI channel, patch-change remapping and sustain on/off. These features control both the SQ-R's own sounds and those of any other instruments slaved to the expander.
The VFX SD II (£2025) is an upgraded version of the the VFX-SD, providing an additional 1Mb of ROM sample memory which is dedicated to a piano multisamples, a multitrack record feature which allows the SD's sequencer to record on all tracks at once (making transfer of sequencers from an external sequencer much easier), a step-time entry mode for the sequencer, and a new digital effect algorithm: chorus/reverb with distortion.
VFX SD owners can update their instrument with the new software features (v2.0) free of charge, even though new chips need to be fitted by a service engineer. However, while it will be possible to add the extra ROM sample memory to existing VFX-SDs, doing so will require a new main circuit board to be fitted at a cost of several hundred pounds. If it's a range of quality acoustic piano sounds you're after, opting for a Proformance has to be a much better bet.
Lone Wolf's European distributors Plasmec had a stand at the BMF but were demonstrating the American company's fibre-optic MIDI networking system at nearby Nomis Studios. MidiTap and FibreTap are now joined by the MidiHub, a programmable patchbay/processor available in 8:8 and 16:16 configurations (at around £600 and £1000 respectively) which comes with driver software for the Mac and ST. The MidiHub features full merging of all inputs to any output(s); independent mute, solo, filter, transpose and channelise on each port/channel; program change and volume mapping transmission on all 16 channels of each port: naming of all connected devices; and a panic button for eliminating stuck notes and other "traffic jam" problems.
When coupled with a MidiTap, the MidiHub automatically becomes a MidiTap port expander with all standard MidiTap operations available, enabling it to be used within a broader fibre optic-based networking context. Up to eight MidiTap-compatible LanScapes (expandable to 128) can be stored within the MidiHub, and LanScape programming software is available for the Mac, ST and PC. As with the MidiTap, software updates can be loaded directly into an onboard EEROM chip using CodeLoad software. A bonus for travelling MidiHub users is that the unit can be used anywhere in the world courtesy of its AutoVolt power supply, which accepts any mains frequency and voltage.
Plasmec have now taken on Lynett Systems' ADAC-SE stereo digital recording card for the Mac SE, which we reported on a few months back in MT's Frankfurt Report. The good news for Atari ST owners is that ADAC is now also available for the ST - not only that, but it can even run on a 520ST. The company are talking about being able to use the ST version in conjunction with existing sequencing software as a desktop accessory, though apparently not as a stereo digital recording system - instead you'll be able to treat it more as a sampler, triggering samples from within the sequencer using notes on a particular MIDI channel.
Cheetah International decamped to a very pleasant hotel in the heart of the Hampshire countryside for a couple of days just prior to the Fair, inviting a group of dealers and journalists along with them. Demonstrations of the SX16 sampler, Master Series 770 MIDI controller keyboard (the 7P with polyphonic aftertouch - £849.95), a new three-pad, tripod-mounted electronic drum kit MIDI controller going by the name of Pod (£159.95) and the MD16 stereo 16-bit drum machine (£249.95) occupied the time that wasn't given over to more leisurely pursuits like strolling in the hotel's sizeable grounds.
The l-o-o-ng-awaited drum machine, which is also available in rackmounting form (the MD16R at £349.95), was given a demonstration by its designer, Chris Wright, which left no stone unturned. An impressive instrument it is, too, but I shall say no more until it's actually in my hands for review.
Cheetah also served notice that they're resurrecting their MS800 wavetable-based digital synth expander. Originally intended to complement the MS6, the MS800 seemingly died the death when the original designers failed to come up with the finalised goods. Now set to retail at £199.95, the 800 is 16-voice polyphonic, 16-part multitimbral with dynamic voice allocation, velocity-sensitive, fully programmable from the front panel, and uses a mixture of sampled waveforms, sampled partials and whole samples including drums. Stereo audio outputs and MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets are included along with SysEx transfer of data and an Overflow feature which allows two or more units to be stacked for greater polyphony. At one time Cheetah would have had this particular area of the market to themselves, but now the MS800, when it arrives, will be in competition with the EVS1.
Back at the Fair, another unit which has been a long time coming made its public debut. Philip Rees' PSP Percussion Sample Player (£169.95) represents a first venture into the hi-tech instrument market for a company previously best known for their range of cheap but extremely useful MIDI boxes. The PSP isn't a drum machine but a dedicated drum and percussion expander designed to be triggered via MIDI from a sequencer or other MIDI controller. Coming in a 1U-high half-19" unit with internal PSU, the PSP offers dynamically-assigned four-voice polyphony, four individual outs and five internally-held percussion samples (crash cymbal, ride cymbal and open, closed and pedal hi-hats) with a maximum of 12 more sounds at a time accessible off a plug-in sample card. Cards so far available, at a modest £19.95 each, include Analogue Drum Machine, Techno Kit, Latin Kit, Snare Collection and Tabla. Many of the cards contain sounds recorded at CTS Studios in London by Jonathan Miller. Each PSP comes with one sample card, so you're not immediately forced to dig deeper into your pocket. The sounds are eight-bit companded, giving a dynamic range equivalent to a 13-bit linear system, and have been sampled at 31.25kHz. The samples I heard had a dynamic, sharp, tight quality to them, sounding as if a lot of time and effort had gone into producing them. With the budget drum machine market getting ever busier, is there are place for the PSP? Watch out for a review soon.
Scottish company Q-Logic's MIDI Metro (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) is an intriguing variant on that familiar tool of the musicians' trade, the metronome. Coming in 1U-high, 19" rackmount format, the Metro replaces the mechanical tick and the digital bleep with a light motion derived from the pendulum swing of the mechanical metronome. And yes, you can play along to it. The Metro earns its MIDI tag by being able to sync its light motion to MIDI sequencers and drum machines as either master or slave.
Thanks to Tascam and Fostex the analogue tape machine market, from four-track through to 24-track, has never looked stronger. Now Tascam have a new eight-track cassette machine, the 448, scheduled for November delivery - at the BMF it was still in the "chrysalis" stage. This time round they've opted for a Portastudio-type layout, with built-in mixer. Expected retail price is around the £1000 mark. In amongst a flurry of new items from Fostex are the 280 Multitracker (£599.95) and the G16 16-track (£4995). The 280 has eight inputs offering three-band EQ with sweepable mid, 2 auxiliary sends with stereo auxiliary returns, Dolby C noise reduction and a rear-panel serial link from the tape transport to Fostex' MTC1 MIDI Timecode Controller (see review in last month's MT), providing the same facility for synchronisation to MIDI sequencers as is available to Fostex R8 and G16 owners. The G16 is Fostex' successor to the E16, and continues the hi-tech theme with a built-in synchroniser providing all the facilities of the MTC1 as well as allowing two G16s to be locked together. The G16 has been provided with a quieter and more responsive transport than the E16, and includes extensive memory, locate and zone limit functions. Like the R8 eight-track it also has a removable control panel, allowing operation away from the machine, and like all other Fostex tape machines it uses Dolby C noise reduction.
Other new units from Fostex are the 812 mixer (£1049), a 12-input mixer featuring three-band EQ with sweepable mid and low bands and two effects sends which have been designed to complement the R8 eight-track machine; the 8200 MIDI Mute option (£115) for the 812, which allows channel mutes to be recorded as MIDI data into a sequencer; the 2016 2U-high, 19" rackmount mixer, which can be used as a 16:2 or as two separate eight-channel mixers, and has a rear-panel socket which allows it to be "cascaded" into the 812 mixer; the compact 454 8:4 mixer (£609.95); and, for simplifying all those audio connections in your studio, three 1U-high, 19" 32:32 patchbays: the 3011 RCA phono-to-phono (£46.95), the 3012 jack-to-phono (£49.95) and the 3013 jack-to-jack (£54.95).
And on that note we leave the 1990 BMF and its memories of heat exhaustion and beer deprivation until next year. I hear Anchorage has a pleasantly cool climate and plenty of space - any takers for the 1991 BMF On the Road?
All prices include VAT unless otherwise stated.
Show Report by Simon Trask
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