And on a less spectacular scale, Korg introduce a synchroniser that won't break the bank, though it'll still crack a lot of problems, as Trish McGrath finds out.
Finally, a company has summoned up sufficient nerve to design, build and market an interface box that's affordable as well as extremely useful.
Ever since the new generation of MIDI synths and sequencers hit the scene, musicians have been desperately trying to update their equipment to the new format as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases this necessitates using erstwhile equipment alongside newer MIDI instruments, and coming face to face with that horror of horrors - interfacing.
Basically, what most of us need from a synchronisation point of view is a simple to use unit that will convert clock signals from MIDI to the most popular analogue sync codes, and vice versa. And if it'll also enable you to run your MIDI drum machine from a click track on tape, so much the better. Cue the Korg KMS30.
There's no doubt that the KMS has been launched to further the cause of Korg's own product range as well as to solve some previously insurmountable interfacing problems. After all, if it hadn't been for the new Synchroniser, there'd have been no way anybody could've linked the Poly 800's MIDI sequencer with any Korg drum machine. And besides, the DDM drum machines are incompatible not only with the Poly 800 but also some (let's face it) very popular non-Korg drum machines and sequencers, so the KMS allows the excellent Super Percussion unit to complement a drum machine other than the Super Drums, for example.
Measuring a compact 232 x 35 x 131mm and weighing in at a reasonable 850g, the KMS comes complete with its own 9V AC adaptor and is constructed from a grey metal casing with blue livery. The all-important five-pin DIN sockets comprise one MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, one Sync In and two Sync Outs, with a couple of phono sockets (Tape In and Out) provided for syncing everything to tape. Each of the three Sync sockets enjoys an accompanying toggle switch that's used to select either a 24 or 48 pulses per quarter note sync code, which won't be particularly heartening news to Oberheim owners but should satisfy most other mortals.
Since the KMS doesn't actually generate a clock signal of its own, a Master Clock Select switch provides a means of selecting which of the three kinds of possible clock input signals (MIDI, Sync or Tape) will be used as the master clock for the outputs. A Tempo LED flashes in time with the beat and, as well as a Power On/Off selector, a Synchronisation On/Off switch enables and disables the unit without the user having to unplug cables. Handy.
So that's about it. Those of you expecting a series on Understanding the KMS30 will be a little disappointed since, as far as the actual hardware goes, most of it is pretty self-explanatory. Operating the unit consists of switching it on (it does help sometimes, you know), deciding on which generation of hardware will provide the master clock (let's say it's MIDI), and connecting the MIDI Out from the chosen unit to the MIDI In on the KMS. If you set the Master Clock Select to MIDI, MIDI Outs 1 and 2 will effectively operate as MIDI Thrus, so they could be sending unprocessed data to an expander or MIDI drum machine (normally, both MIDI Out jacks send only clock and start/stop data, note information being disregarded by the unit). Meanwhile, if your KMS is on the ball, Sync Outs 1 and 2 will output whichever sync code is indicated by the 24/48 ppqn selector.
The procedure is pretty similar if you decide to use a sync code as the master synchroniser. Connecting, say, a TR606 to the Sync In socket (set to accept a 24 pulses per quarter note code in this case), with the Master Clock Select switch set to Sync, and the MIDI clock signal is output from the MIDI Out sockets, with the Sync Out sockets emitting either a 24 or 48 ppqn code.
Perhaps a rundown of popular bits of gear whose owners may find a KMS30 useful wouldn't go amiss, so here they are (listed in brain cell data retrieval order):
Sync (24 ppqn) - Roland TR606, TR303, and TR808 drum machines, MC202, MSQ700 and MSQ100 sequencers, E-mu Drumulator*, MXR 185 Drum Computer*, Hammond DPM48 drum machine, and the SCI Drumtraks*.
Sync (48 ppqn) - Korg KPR77, DDM110 & 220 drum machines, the Linn Drum*, and the SCI Drumtraks (input only).
MIDI - Clef Band Box, Korg Poly 800, SCI SixTrak and Max synths, SCI Drumtraks, Roland TR909, TR707 and PB300 drum machines, MSQ700, MSQ100 and PR800 sequencers. (PS. I lied about the Clef Band Box.)
(Both the Yamaha RX15* and RX11* drum machines can synchronise to all the above formats.)
* Machines marked thus may also need to generate a 5V trigger pulse on Pin 1 to start and stop the Roland clock.
Perhaps the KMS30's most desirable feature is its ability to generate a click track, derived from a drum machine or sequencer input (sync or MIDI), which can then be recorded on one track of a multitrack tape machine. Any overdubbed parts will then be in perfect sync with each other, provided the click track has been recorded properly. The procedure for this is straightforward and clearly explained in the KMS30's refreshingly concise user manual. The click-track could also be used for triggering the playback of a computer sequencing package if a Sync In socket is provided on the MIDI interface. The synth's audio outputs are routed to a new track and, like before, a multitracker's capability is extended without actually overdubbing and gaining a generation of tape hiss.
And, if you do use a click track as the Master Clock, it does mean you have the option of recording a guide drum pattern and replacing it later (provided you haven't bounced the drums down or recorded over the click track), as well as actually recording the drum machine audio output directly to the stereo master.
At £155 including VAT, the KMS30 is the solution to many previously unsolvable incompatibility problems, and as such should find favour with the entire hi-tech music fraternity. Korg have obviously given its list of facilities some thought, because its usefulness won't be at an end even when the analogue versus MIDI dilemma has reached its logical conclusion: the tape sync feature will still be as worthwhile as it ever was.
An effective and highly laudable piece of contemporary interfacing, then, that does what it sets out to do with complete transparency and reliability.
Can you afford to be without one?