• Korg SQD8 sequencer
  • Korg SQD8 sequencer
  • Korg SQD8 sequencer

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Korg SQD8 sequencer

If your sequencing efforts are constantly blighted by cassette data storage problems and you long for the convenience of disk storage, then Korg's latest budget sequencer cum MIDI data recorder might be for you. Tony Wride investigates.


If your sequencing efforts are constantly blighted by cassette data storage problems and you long for the convenience of disk storage, then Korg's latest budget sequencer cum MIDI data recorder might be for you. Tony Wride investigates.

In days of old, the average 'one-man band' stood on a street corner with a conglomeration of instruments, often operated by bits of string, and tried to produce the sound of a complete band. Nowadays, the modern equivalent prefers to perform on a stage and plays a range of sophisticated equipment operated by the modern version of string, the MIDI lead! The likes of Howard Jones rely on having all the MIDI equipment controlled from one master device which provides a complete backing to his songs. That device is a MIDI Sequencer/Recorder and the aim of today's little adventure is to take a close look at one of the latest MIDI recorders on the market, the budget-priced Korg SQD8.

Having set the scenario of a one-man band set-up, perhaps I should clarify that an SQD8 could be used in a multi-person band set-up, but I will concentrate on the former since that is the area in which I see it being used. If you are a home musician, or if you operate a studio, then in my opinion you would be better off investing in a computer-based sequencing system which offers much more all-round flexibility.

CONTROLS



The SQD8 is a compact grey box that could quite happily live on top of a keyboard, giving the user instant access to all of its controls. These are neatly laid out and, in keeping with the current trend, consist of a host of 'touch' switches and one slider. 'Oh no!' I hear you say, 'Not another of those boxes competing for the title of "The switch with the most functions on it"!' Well, fortunately, the SQD8 doesn't even come close to that title and is fairly easy to use, being more akin to a tape recorder than a MIDI device.

A large LCD displays all the relevant information and below it are the 20 'touch' switches. Unfortunately the LCD is not backlit, which could be a bit of a drawback on a darkened stage, and you get a positive indication that a 'touch' switch has been successfully selected by a high pitch tone being emitted with each push. To the right of the LCD are two further switches which are used to select which of the six modes the SQD8 adopts, while the single slider acts as a sort of data entry control - more about that later.

To the rear are sockets for MIDI In, Out, and Thru, a mini phono jack for headphone monitoring of the built-in metronome, the on/off switch, and the power supply socket. Unfortunately, the SQD8 requires a separate power supply unit (supplied) which effectively becomes the weak link since, like most such set-ups, the plug becomes loose with continued use.

What makes Korg's SQD8 somewhat better than earlier units is the 2.8" QD or Quick Disk drive housed in the front of the unit. The great advantage of the Quick Disk is the speed of data transfer. On early MIDI recorders, such as the Yamaha QX7, QX21, and QX5, there was no quick means of storing or loading a song without investing in a separate MIDI Data Filer. This meant that in a live performance situation the units were basically unusable. With the SQD8, a song can be loaded from disk in a matter of seconds making it very effective for live work.

To test the SQD8 I set it the task of providing me with a complete musical backing, using my collection of MIDI expanders and drum machine, to which I could then play the lead line. I aimed to make things nice and simple (not the machine's fault, more a human brain limitation!) and planned to record a bass line, a sequencer pattern, and a rhythmic chord progression.

The first thing I will say about the SQD8 is that even I found it easy to use! To start recording simply involves making the appropriate connections, assigning the MIDI channel and track, setting the tempo, and then a couple more button pushes and you're away. Once you press the Start switch the metronome gives you a very audible two-bar count-in before you actually start recording on the first measure. You also get a visual indication of timing from the LED above the slider, which flashes red for the first beat and then green for each subsequent beat of a bar. I found it relatively easy to play in my bass sequence using either the metronome or, with the appropriate links, my drum machine to keep things in time. Having entered the bass line, pressing the Stop and Reset buttons stores your efforts in the appropriate track and returns the measure count to zero ready for playback. A quick mode change using the Function button and you can listen to your first attempts at using the MIDI recorder.

If the first track sounds okay then you progress on to the next track to record the sequence, and so on, until you have your complete backing. All of this assumes that you can confine your music to the memory capacity limit of 6,500 events, which is not a lot.

Now, if you happen to be a good player and haven't made any mistakes during the recording, your latest attempt at giving Howard Jones a run for his money is complete. It can now be stored on a Quick Disk, and you can move on to creating your next chart-topper.

STEP RECORDING



So far I've briefly talked about how easy the SQD8 is to use in its real-time record mode. Now, if you happen to be a masochist, or lack the necessary playing skills, the alternative note entry method is step-time record mode. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh because, provided you follow the method described in the manual and practice, the step-time programming method on the Korg unit is, in fact, better than some I've seen. Basically, you select what note length you require and then press the key, or keys, on your keyboard to enter the pitch data. If your sequence consists of notes all of the same duration, then step entry is quite quick. It is only when you start getting adventurous that things get a bit long-winded. The LCD tries to help you keep track of what's going on, by telling you what note length you have selected and what bar you are in, but it is a definite case of pencil and paper being required if you want to avoid getting totally lost when you get further into your song.

A major omission here is that you don't seem to be able to enter a velocity value, which means that you can end up with a very unmoving piece of music! For my second attempt at using the machine I tried to create a very Tangerine Dream like number with impossible-to-play sequences and chord progressions, and found that although it did take a long time to enter, the end result was what I wanted.


ELEMENTARY EXTRAS



There are several other facilities available to help make life easier but there are also a few things missing that would have made the SQD8 really good. The additional facilities include Erase, Punch In/Out, Data Mix, Volume Control, Repeat, Key Transpose, Echo Back, Quantise, and Clock Select.

The Erase option allows you to wipe either a single track or all the tracks so that you can correct your errors or start from scratch again. The alternative method of correction, if there were only a few mistakes, is to use the Punch In/Out facility which lets you re-record a section within a track. You have three options within the Punch In/Out facility to designate whether you remove only Note On/Off data, everything but Note On/Off data, or simply everything. Care must be taken when using Punch In/Out and it is advised to copy the track to be corrected to a spare track, if you have one, to avoid the fatal loss of precious data in the event of a mishap.

As it is, there is no dedicated copy facility on the SQD8 but you can make use of the Data Mix function. This allows you to combine multiple tracks of data by 'bouncing' them all onto a single track, but it does not allow you to append (join) data to other tracks. This means that you cannot, for instance, record the first 20 bars of your song on one track, record the next 20 bars on another track and then join them together on a third track to produce a complete song of 40 bars. This limitation effectively means that you have to try and record the whole of each track in one pass and that you cannot build up the song in sections, such as verse, chorus, verse, chorus, as is often the norm.

Volume Control allows you to adjust the overall MIDI Volume parameter and enables you to programme fade-in and fade-out effects but, again, you need to think carefully when using the facility and I found I needed to plan everything on paper beforehand.

Like Data Mix, the Repeat function is also rather limited since it appears that you can only choose to repeat the whole of a track and cannot, for instance, set repeats within a track. This means, once again, that to create a complete song you need to enter all the note data for every verse/chorus etc, which requires more of your time and increases the likelihood of making mistakes. It also means that you use up considerably more memory space, and I was surprised that Korg had not implemented a better repeat facility to combat the memory space limitation.

Key Transpose lets you transpose the overall pitch of a track (useful if you want to change key) but can only be carried out while the SQD8 is in a stopped condition. You cannot therefore run a sequence and transpose it while it is playing in the manner of some of the original analogue sequencers. A pity...

The Echo Back, Quantise, and Clock Select facilities are fairly standard features on most MIDI recorders/sequencers and the Quantise feature in particular is a good way of ensuring that your music remains 'tight', even if your usual playing is a bit 'loose'!

QUICK DISK



As already mentioned, the onboard Quick Disk drive makes the saving and loading of sequence data very quick and means that the SQD8 could genuinely be used in a live environment. You can save not only the sequence data from the normal MIDI recorder section but also, by selecting the Data File option, transfer a file of up to 32Kbyte to disk. This 'data file' could well comprise of a MIDI Bulk Dump of the voices (sounds) from your synthesizer, if you wish, and the inclusion of this facility means that you can dispense with the time-consuming cassette storage that you may have previously used. There seems to be no restriction on what type of MIDI data this data file can contain - it could be synth voices, drum patterns, or effects programs, etc - provided it occupies no more than 32Kbytes and that you only store one such file on a Quick Disk side. So, while you may be saving time using the Quick Disk for data storage, you will be spending money buying the 2.8" disks!!

Each Quick Disk has two sides and the disk must be physically turned over to use the other side. You can only save one item per side, so even if your song is only 1 Kbyte long and uses only one track, it will still need a whole disk side to save it!! [This is an inherent limitation of the Quick Disk format; there is no random access facility and so the disk head can only read a disk from start to finish - Ed ] This obviously adds to the cost of data storage and conjures up visions of a pile of disks sat next to the SQD8 to cover the whole performance. More worryingly, since you have no catalogue or title facility available on the LCD screen, you have to rely on being absolutely sure you put the disk in the right way up, otherwise you could have a nasty shock!! Thorough disk labelling is undoubtedly the order of the day.

The other concern about Quick Disks is that you must ensure you store them in their protective cover when not in use, since the magnetic disk area is highly visible (unlike 3.5" disks) and thus very prone to outside interference!

FINAL VERDICT



KORG SQD8 SEQUENCER

  • Number of tracks: 8
  • Memory capacity: 6,500 events (approx. 32Kbyte)
  • External storage: 2.8" Quick Disk, 32Kbyte per side
  • Note entry: Real-time or Step recording
  • Punch In/Out style editing
  • Track bouncing
  • Quantise: full range available
  • Tempo range: 40 to 192 bpm
  • MIDI clock: Internal or External
  • MIDI In, Out, Thru
  • Metronome output
  • Power supply: 9V AC adaptor (supplied)

If you are in the market for a MIDI recorder/sequencer then the 8-track Korg SQD8 is certainly an attractive option, though only one of several in this price range. Various other manufacturers produce some very good MIDI sequencers with onboard disk storage facilities and I would recommend that you spend time in your local music shop comparing the Korg with the competition before parting with those hard-earned readies. In particular, check out the restrictions I mentioned about being able to copy and merge sections of a track and perform repeats. It is in this area that I feel the SQD8 falls short of being a really good piece of equipment. You might also look carefully at the cost of having to use individual Quick Disks for each song, and then consider whether a slightly more expensive unit that uses a 3.5" disk drive with larger storage capacity would better suit your needs.

As far as I'm concerned, although I found the Korg SQD8 fairly quick and easy to use, I'll remain a home musician and continue using a computer.

Price £399 inc VAT.

Contact Korg UK, (Contact Details).



Previous Article in this issue

Animal House Studios

Next article in this issue

Sony Portable DAT Recorder


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Jul 1988

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Sequencer > Korg > SQD8

Review by Tony Wride

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> Animal House Studios

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