BMF roundup, news, chart, and studio tape listing
B.M.F - A Personal View by Sean Rothman
British Music Fair is a bit misleading these days, the trade show being more of a display case for foreign manufacturers than British industry. The fact that a lot of UK companies don't bother attending doesn't help things. Still, less of the politics, more of the products.
Held over four days earlier this August in five hotels in the Russell Square area of London, this year's trend was pretty obvious. Roland, Korg and Yamaha all showed modular systems — not separate boxes of VCFs and Oscillators like we had in the good old days, but complete synthesisers with separate controllers, keyboards or computers. This, and the continuing move towards software-based instruments was the predominant theme for 1984.
So what was new? Well, both Roland and Korg attempted to halt Yamaha's considerable gains with FM by unveiling more new products than either have done for some tine now. Roland were showing the MKB-300 MIDI keyboard Controller, a budget version of the MKB-1000. It has exactly the same features as the '1000 (128 patches, user definable split, key transpose) but 76 plastic keys rather than 88 wooden. Before you get the idea that the 1000 is an overpriced extravagance as a result, forget it; music's all about feel and, having played both, I know which I would prefer. You can feel the quality with the 1000 and that makes all the difference to your playing.
There were four 19" MIDI sound modules for the MKBs too. The MKS-10 Planet P and MKS-30 Planet S prototypes were displayed last year and production versions have been a long time arriving and now that they're here it's good to see that they justify their price tags. The Planet P in particular is amazing, changing its tone colour in proportion to pitch resulting in the most realistic piano presets I've ever heard. Better than the Prophet T8 in my opinion — it's far more than the 'HP-400 in-a-tin-box' that some people have dismissed it as.
Totally new to these shores was the MKS-80 Super Jupiter and its accompanying programmer, the MPG-80. As the name suggests, the S-JP is based on the Jupiter 8 circuitry but with a number of additional features. For instance, whilst it still has 64 memories, it can also load 128 more via an external RAM pack. Basic specification is unchanged — 16 VCOs, 8 VCFs and 8 VCAs. New life for the analogue. The MPG-80 is simply the MKS-80's counterpart of the JX-3P's PG200 — not essential, but nice for those of you who prefer twiddling knobs to DACS.
The new-named Roland MPC8 MIDI pad controller, the Octopad has eight pads each with adjustable sensitivity and dynamic response. A different sound can be assigned to each pad and programs may be combined too. Roland had it hooked up to a TR909 — they must be hoping it will do something for the '909's sales which by all accounts are 'pretty slow'.
The first of the many remote keyboard controllers, the Axis, which made its debut earlier this year at NAMM, was present, finished in a shade of cherry metal flake. A bit overpriced at £500 — you could get a Poly-800 for that — but nice and light.
The OP8 has been updated to the OP8M, M for MIDI, what else? This is for all those MC4 owners who want an Analogue-To-Digital convertor but in matching box to go with their microcomposer and MTR100. Expect this to have a short life expectancy like the JSQ-60. A round of applause to Roland for not forgetting their old customers.
Roland seem very anxious that the recently formed Digital Group establish their own identity, so I 'll deal with them separately. Besides the MPU-401 (see page 15) they were displaying the CMU-810 Compu-Synth and the CMU-802.
The CMU-810 is not, as I had expected, an update to the old Amdeck Compumusic but simply a SH-101 without a keyboard. The idea is that you can either use one as a synth to hook up to your Apple II or whatever, or as a second voice for your Roland MC-202 microcomposer. No MIDI, just CV minijacks.
The CMU-802 is Roland's answer to the MPC Sync Track, though no-one here was admitting as much. Equipped with 5-pin DINs and the ability to sync-to-tape, it should be in the shops as you read this.
Over at the Rose-Morris stand, Korg's much trumpeted MIDI-equipped Poly 61, the 61M finally arrived which should ensure that there's some life in the old 'board yet. A MIDI buss will also be available as a retrofit for existing '61 owners, price £199. Well, it's cheaper than buying a new keyboard altogether.
The new Super Percussion PCM range of programmable digital drum machines was on display, the DDM110 Drums and DDM220 Percussion machines attracting a lot of interest. Good value for money, but no separate outputs or MIDI.
Occupying pride of place in the R-M displays was the new EX-800 Programmable Polyphonic Synthe Module and RK-100 Remote Keyboard. Designed (and promoted) to work together, they will in fact work with any MIDI equipped instrument.
The EX-800 is simply a keyboardless Poly-800. Very cheap but a few bad points to my mind. First off, there's only one VCF which is disappointing and secondly, it's not 19" rack mounting.
The RK-100 looked the most impressive of all the remote controllers at the show. Three-and-a-half octaves, program down/up, program select, volume, bend and vibrato wheels, octave selector — it's all there, complete with optional 'Walnut' finish.
ES&CM contributor Mike Beecher, from EMR, was showing his company's latest software. The MIDITRACK Composer package is now available for the CBM 64 and Spectrum aa well as the BBC B Micro, and is an interesting notation system which displays your composition in manuscript form and will tranpose and print in any key. There was also the Performer, which acts as an eight channel digital recorder. It will accept program changes, velocity, after touch, modulation, portamento — even breath control information — just about the lot in fact.
Yamaha hired a whole floor of the Imperial Hotel and were content to consolidate their gains and demonstrate already available products but the CX5M (page 18) music computer rightly drew considerable interest.
Casio's much talked about CT-6000 was attracting large numbers of advance orders. It's Casio's first foray into the world of professional keyboards and they looked somewhat shellshocked, if happy, at the reaction their new model was creating.
The CT-6000 has still got what I would politely call 'unnecessary' features like autochords and non-programmable rhythm box but the 20 presets are generally excellent, the Flute and Synth Bells in particular. It's MIDI, touch sensitive with second touch and eight note polyphonic. What more could a man wish for? Well, quite a lot actually, but at around £600 I predict this will be the most sought-after pro-keyboard this Christmas. Just think — even if you don't like the preset voices, it's by far the cheapest touch sensitive MIDI controller for all those new Roland voice modules.
Siel were wowing the punters in their demo room with versions of Starfleet and Flashdance. They also had on show the new DK600 (page 12) and MK 900 synthesisers.
The MK900 is the first of many MIDI-equipped 'Personal' keyboards and at £435 the cheapest MIDI synthesiser bar none. There's an on-board sequencer, split keyboard, 10 combinable presets and all the usual features like one finger chord and autorhythms.
A most interesting item was one of the many programs intended to work with Siel's MIDI interface. Called the Expander Editor, it's basically a programmer similar to the Roland PG200 only software based. Now Siel's Expander can be programmed and used by people who don't only own an Opera 6 or DK600. Brilliant, and very cheap — around £50.
Poor old Sequential Circuits were banished to the Ivanhoe Hotel, the BMF organisers refusing to allow them to exhibit in the official show because SCI have no UK office. They had some software updates but the most important was the new sound chips for the Drumtraks and a new EPROM for the T-8 that allows the internal sequencer to be clocked via MIDI.
Remember the Prelude Chord Computer, that rather clever pocket calculator-like gadget that displays scales, chord inversions and so on? Well, the same people had four prototype PPMs, or Prelude Percussion Modules, on display. There are similar to Ted Digisound units only touch-sensitive and priced at 'less than £45'. The voices in the modules on show weren't that impressive but we're assured that these are provisional and if Prelude get these together, the PPMs should represent excellent VFM.
So, another year, another BMF, another ten products I've suddenly found I can't live without.
News by Sean Rothman
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