Music Production Checklist
The price guide to beat all price guides continues with a rundown of available sequencers, software packages and computer music systems.
CHECKLIST enters its second phase, as we present a thorough rundown of the dedicated sequencers, computer music systems, and software packages currently available in the UK.
The listing follows the same format as last month's polysynth guide. A make-by-make rundown of each individual product and its typical retail price, accompanied by shortform specification details and the comments - for, against, and summing-up - of E&MM's own reviewing team; guaranteed to raise the wrath of the music industry and keep Britain's music-playing population better informed than ever.
But whereas the polysynth CHECKLIST was a piece of cake to compile, product-wise, this month's version has caused our researchers a somewhat bigger collective headache. The reason is simple. By its very nature, computer software is continuously updatable and presents product developers with an essentially open-ended means of working. As a result, the range of available music programs changes more rapidly than that of any other musical instrument sector. And no matter how hard we try, there are bound to be some software packages - particularly those from smaller, less well-known sources — that slip through this month's CHECKLIST net.
To ease the burden a little, we've omitted the lower-end programs aimed at exploiting the internal sound chips of popular home micros, even if they offer MIDI as a selectable option. There's also no space for packages which, while of obvious technological and musical interest, aren't readily available outside their native Japan, Germany, US or wherever.
That aside, you should find the listing to be a valuable source of technical data on today's 'music production' packages, with the added bonus(!) of E&MM 's considered opinion thrown in for good measure. Choosing gear has never been easier.
DSX - £1195 16-channel (eight CV/Gate outs) digital sequencer; 6000-note, ten-sequence, ten polyphonic track capacity; patch change, split and double control parameter information; cassette storage, internal or external sync options.
+ Part of comprehensive Oberheim system comprising excellent DMX/DX digital drum machines and OB8 poly, does its job smoothly and efficiently;
- not MIDI-compatible;
= obvious choice for Oberheim system owners, that's been subject of recent price reduction, but will disappear without trace unless MIDI is fitted - fast.
MC202 - £160 Two-channel digital CV/Gate monophonic sequencer; real or step-time recording options, approx 2600 note capacity; tape storage, portamento and accent facilities, internal or external (24ppqn) sync options, battery or transformer operation.
+ Built-in sound-generating synth module, second sequence channel, very low price;
- no MIDI facilities, synth section sounds nothing special and incorporates no patch memories;
= excellent introduction to sequencing sadly approaching the end of its useful working life, but still difficult to ignore if money is tight.
MSQ100 - £525 Single-track, 6100-event polyphonic sequencer; step- and real-time recording options, velocity parameter information, cassette storage, internal or external sync (24ppqq) option.
+ 16 channels of MIDI recording, cost, power-down memory retention;
- multifunction controls make many options difficult to access, no overdub editing facilities;
= versatile, cost-effective machine outperformed by Yamaha QX7, but probably a better bet for existing Roland sequence users.
MSQ700 - £850 Eight-track digital MIDI and DCB sequencer; real- or step-time recording options, 6500-event capacity, voice, envelope and filter parameter information; tape storage, MIDI In and Out.
+ Ease of operation, DCB connection means JP8 and Juno 6/60 owners can use their synths in MIDI systems;
- no MIDI Thru and only one MIDI Out, high cost for what's inside the machine;
= lone occupier of curiously empty sequencing middle-ground, thus will probably continue selling well for some time to come.
QX1 - £2299 Eight-track digital MIDI sequencer, real-time recording with extensive step-time editing facilities, 32 songs, 999 measures, pitchbend, modulation, key velocity, aftertouch control parameter information; approx 80,000 note capacity, disk storage, MIDI In, Thru, eight MIDI Outs,
+ Unrivalled (for a dedicated machine) editing and MIDI track assignment options, tailor-made for Yamaha's own superlative TX816 sound rack;
- inadequate display, silly keyboard, costs a lot for a jazzed-up eight-bit micro;
= has spent a year at the top of the dedicated sequencer tree and deservedly so - contemporary technology's version of the MicroComposer, but polyphonic and a lot more flexible.
QX7 - £499 Two-track digital MIDI sequencer, step- or real-time recording options; key velocity, aftertouch, pitchbend, modulation, foot control, breath control parameter information; cassette storage, internal and external MIDI syncing options, MIDI In, Out, Thru,
+ Ease of use (considering multiplicity of job commands and functions), track assignment flexibility, cost;
- only one MIDI Out;
= well thought-out machine that offers versatility of computer software in a more musically-accessible package, 16-channel MIDI recording affords more potential than two-track format would indicate, unbeatable for the money.
BBC MIDI Hardware Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connections.
MIDItrack Composer - £50 Disk-based, steptime sequencing package for BBC B.
+ Reasonably comprehensive range of editing facilities;
- like a lot of early step-time packages, too laborious to make using it enjoyable or even tolerable;
= designed for computer buffs rather than musicians, if you're one of the latter, you'll be disappointed.
Performer - £80 Eight-track, disk-based, realtime sequencing package for BBC B;
Graphics - £37 Graphics-generation package for BBC B, responds to input of MIDI music information;
Notator - £40 Forthcoming disk-based link package for Composer, permits hard copy of music;
BBC Editor - £40 Forthcoming disk-based link program for Composer and Performer, allowing both real-time and step-time input. All above EMR BBC packages to be reviewed.
CBM64 Hardware MIDI Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connectors.
Performer - £80 Eight-track, disk-based, real-time sequencing package for Commodore 64. To be reviewed.
Spectrum MIDI Interface - £90 MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, sync (24 ppqn) connectors.
MIDItrack Performer - £80 Eight-track, cassette-based, real-time sequencing package for Spectrum.
+ Easy to use, above average use of Spectrum's limited graphics capabilities;
- still a few editing idiosyncracies, won't work with any hardware other than EMR's own interface;
= a definite and welcome improvement on EMR's earlier BBC package, let's hope they keep it up.
MIDIC 1.0 - £250 (2K), £300 (10K) Intelligent interface between MIDI and RS232 computer-standard connection. Includes utility program that allows incoming MIDI data to be viewed on-screen and assists users wishing to write their own MIDI software. To be reviewed.
Commodore 64 MIDI Hardware Interface - £90 MIDI In, MIDI Thru, three MIDI Outs, external Clock In; made for Jellinghaus Music Systems by Siel in Italy.
12-Track Recording Studio - £100 12-track, 7677 event, disk-based real-time sequencer for CBM64; velocity, pitchbend, after-touch and program change parameter information, internal or external sync options.
+ potentially easy to use, plenty of channel assignment options;
- terrible manual hinders rapid acclimatisation, both hardware and software have their idiosyncracies;
= flexible system from a company that knows what it's doing in the programming department, even if the hardware sometimes lags behind a little.
Sequence Chain Program - £TBA Add-on for 12-track Recording Studio, acts as link between sequences of various tempi and time signatures, allows storage of patch changes. To be reviewed.
SixTrak Sound Editor - £TBA Commodore-based patch-editing program for SixTrak and MAX polys. To be reviewed. Also up and coming from JMS: Scorewriter, DX Sound Editor, RX Data Library, Arpeggiator and 'Drum Human-iser' software packages.
Music Composer System - £250 Eight-track, disk-based, real-time and step-time sequencer for CBM64, sold complete with hardware interface; 6000-note capacity, MIDI In, three MIDI Outs, internal or external sync options.
+ Excellent low-level Music Composition Language, syncable to non-MIDI clock (selectable timebase), easy to use considering complexity;
- relatively high asking price;
= the premier MIDI software package for CBM64 users, so far produced in small numbers by Worcestershire company particularly responsive to musician's - rather than programmer's - requirements and suggestions.
Apple MIDI Card - £TBA MIDI In, three MIDI Outs, external Clock In, footswitch jack, for use with Apple home computer and Apple-compatible lookalikes.
Future Shock Software - £TBA Disk-based eight-channel, real-time sequencer package, 2900-note capacity.
+ Easy to use thanks to single-keystroke commands and handy Help page, decent editing facilities;
- tricky to get hold of in the UK, Apple isn't exactly world's best-value home micro;
= well thought-out and eminently usable real-time sequencing package, and good value in its native Italy.
AMP 83 Software - £TBA US-originating collection of Apple-based MIDI programs, including step- and real-time sequencer (16 channels, 4000-note capacity), and delay program that introduces time delay between MIDI Receive and Transmit signals.
Apple MIDI Card - £220 MIDI In, MIDI Out, Drum Sync In/Out (24, 48 or 96 ppqn), plugs into expansion slots on Apple motherboard, MIDI/4 Software - £110 Disk-based four-channel, real-time sequencer, 5500-note capacity.
+ Extensive overdubbing facilities let you merge four tracks of data onto one, external sync compatibility;
- software-writing lacks imagination, decidedly pricey over here;
= OK, but Passport are capable of a lot better. Revised MIDI/4+ and MIDI/8 packages (for both Apple and Commodore 64) coming soon.
MPU401 Hardware Interface - £160 Intelligent' interface for Apple and IBM PC; MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, Sync Out, Tape In/Out connectors; additional computer bus allows four MPUs to be connected in parallel.
Microware Software - £TBA 48-channel MIDI sequencer for IBM PC and Roland MPU401. To be reviewed.
900 - £35 'DumpTraks' software facilitates program and sequence dumping to CBM64 disk from any Sequential polysynth equipped with MIDI;
910 - £75 Disk-based CBM64 expansion for SixTrak poly, allowing up to two keyboard splits and assignment of voices, display and alteration of voice parameters using pitch and mod wheels and memory for storing and editing sequences;
920 - £75 Similar to above for MAX polysynth, capabilities include 'superpatch' stacks, keyboard split and voice assignment, and voice creation and amendment using 64's QWERTY keyboard;
931 - £TBA 4000-note capacity Recorder/Editor/Composer for SixTrak and MAX;
932 - £TBA Printer for 931 Composer showing up to six voices on conventional stave format, tempo and transposition details;
933 - £TBA 'Album Series' package facilitates performance of current musical favourites on SixTrak, MAX and Drumtraks digital drum machine, allows control over tempo, key and voice timbre;
964 - £75 Disk-based polyphonic MIDI sequencer for CBM64 with 4000-event capacity; velocity, pitchbend and mod parameter information, facilities for overdubbing, copying, correction. All above Sequential programs to be reviewed.
Spectrum MIDI Hardware Interface - £79 Spec similar to JMS interface unit.
Spectrum Live Sequencer - £22 Cassette-based, single-track, polyphonic, real-time sequencer for Spectrum. To be reviewed.
CBM64 MIDI Hardware Interface - £79 Spec similar to JMS interface unit.
CBM64 Live Sequencer - £69 Disk- or cassette-based, 16-track polyphonic, real-time sequencer for CBM64; editing and transposition facilities, song memory.
+ Remembers velocity and aftertouch data, fairly easy to use, who can argue with 16 recording channels at this money?;
- needs more editing facilities, laborious playback routine;
= almost, but not quite, the perfect player's software package.
Expander Editor - £53 CBM64/Spectrum disk-or cassette-based graphic parameter control program for Siel Opera 6, DK600 and Expander 6.
+ Excellent graphics program puts 'analogue' visual on computer monitor for rapid, straightforward patch editing;
- nothing, except that forthcoming Expander 80 Editor will have even better graphics;
= a real winner, shows Siel have programming ingenuity in abundance.
BBC/CBM64 Multitrack Composer - £39 (disk), £36 (cassette) Six-channel step-time sequencer, 9000 note capacity, QWERTY Input of information.
+ Highly versatile, masses of editing facilities for very little money;
- can be a real pig to use;
= should succeed among composers rather than musicians, but still too many keystrokes per note for our liking.
MIDI Database - £39 CBM/Spectrum disk- or cassette-based synth program file, stores 250 patches for any MIDI synth except Yamaha DXs. To be reviewed.
Digital Echo/Delay - £54 CBM64 disk- or cassette-based digital delay program, works by inserting delay between MIDI Receive and Transmit signals; 5mS-200mS delay, control of signal/effect balance, 14 'heads', auto-loop, MIDI-assignable file sequence. To be reviewed.
Keyboard Tracking Program - £75 CBM64 disk-or cassette-based program facilitates assignation of master keyboard with splits, arpeggiation, sequencing to control any MIDI source. To be reviewed.
Expander 80 Editor - £55 Forthcoming CBM/Spectrum disk- or cassette-based Editor for DK80 and Expander 80 polysynths, gives full control over user-adjustable parameters by joystick or QWERTY keyboard, complete with real-time waveform shaping, Help pages. To be reviewed.
DX7 Editor - £TBA Voice Editor and patch memory for Yamaha DX7. To be reviewed.
DX7 Editor - £25 Cassette-based DX7 voice editor program for Sinclair Spectrum, works with most major Spectrum MIDI Interfaces; allows libraries of voices to be built up on cassette.
+ Excellent and easy-to-use (if rather derivative) graphics, even more remarkable given humble Spectrum origins;
- nothing unless Yamaha are planning to sue for graphics plagiarism;
= another patch-editing winner, all the more useful in the context of DX7's unhelpful LCD window, saves Spectrum owners the cost of CX5M and appropriate software.
UMI 1B - £495 British-built all-in-one MIDI sequencing package for BBC B, comprising Aries RAM expansion board, ROM-based step- and real-time sequencing software with extensive editing and song-chaining facilities, DX7 voice editor.
+ Sequencer beautifully easy to use in either entry mode, compaction facilities allow removal of memory-intensive dynamic and mod wheel data, informative and helpful graphics layout;
- only the cost;
= superbly conceived and well laid-out sequencer package that does everything all the others do and more. But UMI 2B is already here...
Micon MIDI System Controller - £108 Eight-track (mono) real- and step-time sequencer for 48K Spectrum; 10-sequence, 24,000-event capacity; comes complete with hardware interface incorporating MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, internal or external sync options.
+ Sync to non-MIDI clock (selectable timebase); excellent steptime editing facilities, very creditable music notation display, open-ended structure offers scope for user-programming;
- poor real-time facilities;
= again, British programming cleverness beats inadequacies of host micro to produce a really usable and versatile package, too good to ignore unless real-time editing is top of your list of priorities.
CPZ1000 Music Computer - £TBA MIDI music computer incorporating twin 3.5" disk drive in 19" rack-mounting format. Specifications as yet undisclosed, but options will include RZ1000 recorder panel, EZ1000 editing module, and MZ1000 CRT display unit. To be reviewed.
520ST Home Computer - £700 New 68000-based home micro with 512K RAM and disk drive included in price. Built-in MIDI In and Out sockets, polyphonic MIDI sequencing software expected in either ROM or disk form when computer becomes available during summer. To be reviewed.
Emulator II - £7250 Eight-voice, eight-bit sampling system, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, split and layering facilities, analogue filtering and LFO, disk storage.
+ Superlative sound quality, maximum 17-second sample length, onboard sequencer, MIDI compatibility, ease of use in all areas, especially looping;
- long loading times, poor keyboard;
= great improvement on original Emulator, and one of the easiest and most cost-effective routes into high-quality sound-sampling.
Mirage - £1695 Eight-note polyphonic soundsampling keyboard; built-in 3.5" disk drive, sequencer and analogue sound-modifying section, five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard with split options, full MIDI compatibility. To be reviewed - available in UK June/July.
CMI - from £28,500 + VAT Eight-voice, eight-bit digital synthesis and sampling, built-in dual disk drive, six-octave music and QWERTY keyboards; wide range of sound creation and music production software packages.
+ Designed as a total computer music system from the outset, and it shows;
- comparatively poor sampling quality, soon to be replaced by 16-bit Series III;
= an industry standard, though showing signs of being left behind by cheaper, newer technology, Series III could change all that.
DS3 - £250 Four-voice, eight-bit, disk-based digital sound-sampler for Apple II/IIe; optional (£200) five-octave keyboard, onboard real-time sequencer.
+ Sounds surprisingly good for cost;
- not very easy to use, poor interfacing;
= still one of the cheapest ways of getting into polyphonic sampling, if you have an Apple...
250 - £10,995 - £18,035 Twelve-voice, disk-based sampling system; 88-note velocity-sensitive weighted keyboard, split facility.
+ Excellent sound quality thanks to unique 'Contoured Sound Modelling' system, comprehensive interfacing, onboard sequencer and chorus, 12-channel outputs;
- user-sampling requires (expensive) addition of Apple Macintosh computer;
= after all the pre-release hype, the Kurzweil delivers the goods: but elements of its design could be a lot more cost-effective.
Synclavier - £100,000 - £200,000+ Eight- to 32-voice, 16-bit FM digital synthesis and sampling system; 76-note, individually pressure-sensitive, weighted keyboard, 32-track onboard sequencer, internal or external sync options, SMPTE syncing facilities,
+ Vast range of software updates and options, future ones include fully polyphonic sampling;
- outrageously expensive, Yamaha's DX exploits have made FM synth section look very silly;
= an excellent system for studios, musicians and composers with more money than they know what to do with.
Wave 2.3 & Waveterm - £3,995 & £4590 Eight-voice, eight-bit, additive synthesis and disk-based sampling system; five-octave velocity-and pressure-sensitive keyboard, onboard sequencer software,
+ Versatility of analogue/digital hybrid synth system, relatively cost-effective;
- Waveterm's limited keyboard and eight-bit sampling quality, suspect build consistency;
= a highly versatile and justifiably popular studio system, upgradable with Expansion Voice Unit and weighted Processor Keyboard: 16-bit sampling still to come.
CX5M Music Computer - £449; MSX software cartridges - £36; YK10 full-sized keyboard - £165 32K MSX micro with onboard eight-voice FM digital sound chip of similar spec to that in DX9 poly,
+ Excellent sound capability thanks to Yamaha's unbeatable FM system, superb voice editing and composing software packages;
- silly miniature keyboard supplied, MSX micro and FM sound chip add up to a lot less than the RRP;
= for the time being, the only serious contender in the cheap music micro stakes, with MIDI sequencing and RX drum machine editing programs arriving shortly.
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