Kurzweil 1000HX & 1000SX
For those without the time or the inclination to sample come two expanders dedicated to sampled horns and strings. Simon Trask finds out if Kurzweil's dedication has paid dividends.
If the art of sampling doesn't appeal to you - or you're just looking for a shortcut to sampling excellence - Kurzweil's 1000 series modules could be for you.
SOURCE SAMPLES IN the SX include bowed strings, violin, cello, pizzicato strings, mellow strings, bright strings, very bright strings, mellow cello (really) and synth strings. Viola and double bass are notable through their absence, however.
Because the 1000's sounds are multisampled, some Soundfiles include split textures, such as solo cello and solo violin (obviously the splitpoint is fixed). Many of the basic sounds have mellow/bright variations, and though the difference is more than that of opening or closing a filter, they do help compensate for a surprising omission on the 1000s: filtering.
The SX provides a healthy variety of ensemble-string and solo-string Programs. Among the single-Layer Programs, 'Bowed Strings' (01) is a full-sounding string ensemble, while 'Solo Violin' (02) has a lyrical, warm tone and catches the bow scrape well, 'Solo Cello' (03) has a rich, woody, stately quality, 'Pizzicato Strings' (04) has a dynamic, bouncy quality and captures the unevenness of a string section pizziato effectively, and the slow attack of 'Slow Strings' (05) removes the percussive wood scrape of 'Bowed Strings' to produce a more stately sound. The SX is quite capable of providing large orchestral string sounds without having to resort to layering.
Programs employing more than one Layer include 'Strings S10ctave' (12), which combines bowed strings and bright strings at various octave transpositions to create an expansive string-orchestra sound, and 'Hard Attack Strings', which layers staccato solo violin with bowed strings - staccato playing producing the solo violin only, and legato playing bringing in sustained strings.
To my mind the synthesised sounds in the upper Programs (such as synth strings, synth pizzicato, synth bass, electric piano and harpsichord) are not this expander's strong point, coming across as make-do substitutes in the absence of any better alternatives. Still, you have to take your hat off to Program 162, 'Killer Bees' (on second thoughts, perhaps not), which uses vibrato and delay vibrato Compiled effects on layered mellow strings, bright strings, very bright strings and bowed strings to very good effect. Besides, listening to a swarm of killer bees humming a B13#11 chord is quite something.
"The MIDI Chain Link facility allows you to chain up to twelve 1000 modules together for, in the case of the PX, a maximum 288-note polyphony.
As with the SX, the horn expander provides a good selection of multisampled instruments, though like the SX there are some surprising omissions. Why is the saxophone only represented by the tenor variety (I like my plaintive sopranos and gruff baritones)? Still, you do get a number of excellent trumpet, muted trumpet, trombone and tenor sax samples, and as with the SX you get all shades ranging from mellow to very bright (the tenor sax even manages a growl or two). And just for variety, the bizzarely-named 'Alien Growl' sounds like someone squawking through a sax mouthpiece.
Of the Programs, 'Soft Tenor Sax' (04) has to be a highlight of the HX. Maybe it's not exactly Ben Webster, but it definitely captures something of his seductive, breathy tone. Very expressive. 'Dual Tenor Sax' (07) employs velocity-switching between medium and growl tenor saxes, so you an be mellow or aggressive as the inspiration takes you. 'Solo Trumpet' (01) and 'Solo Trombone' (03) are both extremely good samples of the real thing, while 'Trumpet Mute' (02) somehow doesn't sound quite fragile enough.
The HX also has plenty of ensemble Programs produced by layering various versions of the same instrument or several different instruments. For instance, 'Sax Trio 2' (36) layers "soft", "mellow medium" and "mellow soft" tenor saxes, while 'Brass Section 2' (41) layers "mellow muted" trumpet, "mellow" trombone and "mellow" trumpet.
The HX contains more synthesised sounds than its strings counterpart, including several electric pianos, synth bass and synth marimba. To my mind these aren't the expander's strongest points by any means, and it's a shame they're presets. 'Harpsichord 1' (151) purports to make a harpsichord sound out of a mellow synthesised trumpet. It doesn't succeed too well. However, 'Harpsichord 3' (153) fares better with layered "muted" trumpet, "medium tenor" sax, "mellow muted" trumpet and "mellow" trumpet. It's true, I tell you. Finally, 'Program Z' (that's its name) finds Kurzweil distorting the hell out of 'Alien Mutant' (a pretty distorted sound already) in an attempt to show off the extremes of the HX's modulation possibilities. The result sounds like the TARDIS on a bad day.
BEYOND THEIR SOUNDS, what really makes the 1000 Series instruments so attractive is their implementation of Multi mode. This allows you to assign a single Program (which, remember, can consist of up to four multisampled sounds organised in any fashion across the keyboard) to each of the 16 available MIDI channels. In this context, each selected Program has independent MIDI response. Obviously, with the range of horn and string sounds contained in the HX and SX respectively, you can build up horn ensembles and string ensembles quite easily - while the more varied combination of sounds in the K1000 and 1000PX provide much more varied ensemble possibilities. Ultimately, of course, there's still a limit to the polyphony available (unless you've got lots of money to pass Kurzweil's way, that is), even if these expanders do offer more voices than virtually every other sampler or synth available.
Surprisingly, there's no way of storing more than one multi-channel configuration. Another surprise - even more so when you consider these expanders will primarily be used by professional studios and musicians - is that, despite being able to play up to 16 different sounds at once, the 1000s only sport stereo outputs.
Fans of weird and wonderful tunings should be kept happy by the 1000's 17 Intonation Tables, which in addition to equal temperament provide such delights as just intonation with flattened 7th, 1/5th comma, Indian Raga, Bali Java, Pythagorean with augmented 4th, and Carlos Alpha (I kid you not). If you can't find a tuning that's to your liking, you can always create your own (as cent variations within individual semitones of the octave).
For people who want to have some idea of what's being pumped into their 1000, Kurzweil have included a MIDI analysis routine which allows you to monitor incoming MIDI data in an interpreted form. This tells you what data is being received, on what channel (s) it's being received, and how long (in milliseconds) since the last byte of data was received.
MIDI is also the only means (using SysEx) of storing off your carefully-crafted Programs once you've used up those 64 RAM memories. As well as Programs, you an store velocity maps, MIDI Program maps and intonation tables.
SysEx addressing of multiple 1000s is no problem, as you an assign each expander its own device number. Kurzweil have developed a program called ObjectMover which facilitates storage of 1000 Programs and related features.
It's available for the Mac, while an ST version is forthcoming.
Review by Simon Trask
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