Opcode Studio 5
Macintosh Midi Interface
For those with large MIDI setups, 16 channels just isn't enough; Opcode's Studio 5 offers the Mac muso up to 240 independent channels, plus MIDI patchbay and processing facilities. Mike Collins approves.
Many multi-timbral sound modules now offer up to 16 parts, each of which requires a separate MIDI channel, and many MIDI users have at least a couple of 8 or 9-part multi-timbral units in their rigs. Practically speaking, this means that to use these to the max you are going to need more than 16 channels of MIDI. To cater for such needs Mark of the Unicorn brought out their MIDI Time Piece (MTP), a Mac MIDI interface which lets sequencer programs such as Performer and Cubase address eight independent sets of MIDI In and Out sockets, thereby effectively giving you access to 128 MIDI channels. You can even link two or four MTPs together for 16x16 or 16x32-way operation. The MTP also features SMPTE read/write facilities, will read an audio click when running with Performer, offers event muting (also called MIDI filtering), and has a MIDI channel remapping facility.
Now from Opcode comes the Studio 5 interface, which does everything the MTP does, but has almost double the number of inputs and outputs, and several more MIDI processing features, for just about twice the price. Thankfully, it is highly compatible with the MIDI Time Piece, even to the extent of offering a full-blown MTP-emulation mode, so that it can operate in an identical manner with Performer or Cubase, and even lets you use the MTP 'Fast' communication speed and MOTU's proprietary 'enhanced Direct Timelock alternative to MTC.
Besides operating as a MIDI interface, the Studio 5 is a MIDI patchbay, MIDI processor, and SMPTE-to-MIDI convertor. It has 15 MIDI In ports and 15 MIDI Out ports, with 128 internal patch locations for storing MIDI routing and processing configurations. With OMS or MTP-compatible software, the Studio 5's 15 MIDI ports can be addressed separately, thereby supporting 240 distinct MIDI channels. The Studio 5 can also split, transpose, modify and map MIDI data in many useful ways.
As a SMPTE reader/generator, the Studio 5 will rewrite fresh SMPTE when locked to an incoming signal ('jam sync'), and it will 'freewheel' for short distances if the code disappears, remaining locked despite dropouts or other short SMPTE errors. It also allows an audio trigger to be used as a sync source when working with Opcode's Vision sequencer. If you wish to use VITC you will still need a VITC to LTC (or MTC) convertor, such as the MOTU Video Time Piece.
The unit comes in a 2U 19" rack, and there is a standard IEC mains socket on the back. There are two pairs of MIDI In and Out sockets on the front panel, with LEDs to indicate MIDI activity on the various inputs and outputs, a 2-digit LCD display to indicate the patch number, a pair of increment/decrement buttons to let you select patches manually, and a pair of 'thru' buttons which work in conjunction with the Macintosh cable connection sockets on the back panel. This system lets you hook in a modem and printer, and switch your Mac through to these without having to replug cables — neat. On the back of the unit you will find 13 pairs of MIDI In and Out sockets, with a pair of standard jack sockets for SMPTE in and out, and a third for audio input. There are also two jacks for connecting footswitches for use with Vision's MIDIKeys feature, and one to let you connect a foot controller pedal for panning, portamento, or volume control via MIDI.
You can either use one or both serial ports on your Mac to hook up to the Studio 5. The advantage of using both is that you can separate out more densely-packed data originating from the Studio 5 (such as continuous controllers, SysEx, or MIDI Timecode), and send this via a different serial port to help the system to work more efficiently.
You must use the Opcode MIDI System (OMS) software with the Studio 5, and a new version of this is provided which now has a menu to let you control the Studio 5. To get everything running properly takes a little time at first, because you have to configure OMS to work with your particular MIDI studio. This means you have to define an OMS 'setup' where you name all your MIDI devices, decide which MIDI channels and ports they will work with, and so forth.
You then need to set up at least one Studio 5 patch to get your sequencer working. This will normally be Patch #1, and will do nothing except establish proper communication routes to and from the interface. You may well choose to set up some other useful patches for your MIDI rig at this stage, which you can select manually from the front panel when you aren't using your Mac for sequencing. I set up half a dozen through routings from my master keyboard to my favourite synth modules and sampler straight away, for instance.
To set up a patch, you select New Patch Document from the OMS/Studio 5 File Menu, and up comes a window with three intriguing icons at the top. The first lets you define Virtual Controllers, the second Virtual Instruments, and the third Program Change Sources (more on all these later). One blank patch is in the window by default, and you can give this a name like 'Sequencer Patch', or whatever. There is a small diamond to the left of the patch name to indicate that this particular patch is 'current' or 'active'. When you make a patch current, it is downloaded to the Studio 5, and that patch becomes active on the Studio 5.
To the left of the diamond is a small black selector dot which you double-click to open the Patch Editing window, which includes along the top a total of 13 curious-looking icons representing the various MIDI processing function modules. You click in any of these, then click the cursor in the main part of the window to place a graphic representation of the function module. The idea is that you hook everything up graphically, and use pop-up minimenus or windows (available from the icons which you have placed in the edit window) to make choices about your setup. The available function modules are: MIDI Source; Event Filter; Simple Splitter; Channel Splitter; Note Range Splitter; Velocity Splitter; Transposer; Velocity Modifier; Aftertouch Modifier; Poly Aftertouch Modifier; Control Value Modifier; Control Number Mapper; MIDI Destination.
"It certainly makes a lot of sense to build MIDI processing into such a unit, and everything is very simple to set up and edit."
By way of an example, let's take a look at how you would set up a patch from a DX7II to control a couple of S1100 programs set to the same MIDI channel, but offering different sounds playable from different keyboard ranges. You first route the DX7II to the S1100, using the MIDI Source module, then put a Note Range Splitter module in between the synth and the sampler. Next you select the MIDI Destination icon, and add a second S1100 destination to the Splitter. Now, you just click on the Note Range Splitter's keyboard icon, and up comes a special window showing the range of keys which will operate the first S1100 program, followed by the range for the second. You enter the range by clicking the mouse in the keyboard display, or you can enter values directly into boxes at the left of the keyboard display.
A Virtual Controller is the output of a MIDI device plus some form of MIDI processing. The edit window has a similar set of function module icons to the patch edit window, with the MIDI Destination module replaced by the Virtual Controller Module. For example, you could apply some aftertouch scaling to incoming data from a DX7II, and the result will be subsequently output from the Virtual Controller you have just created. You can then choose this Virtual Controller as a MIDI Source in your patch. This is a handy way to set things up if you expect that you will regularly use particular MIDI processing features with particular devices in your setup. If you use Vision or Studio Vision, you can use these Virtual Controllers directly as MIDI sources within the sequencer software.
Virtual Instruments are, in a sense, the opposite of Virtual Controllers. They are made up of one or more MIDI destinations plus some form of MIDI processing. Again, the edit window has the by now familiar module icons, but this time the MIDI Source module is replaced by the Virtual Instrument module. This facility could be handy if you regularly stack a couple of MIDI devices together to get a bigger sound. Using Virtual Instruments you can create that stack and always have it available as a MIDI destination. For instance, I used the Simple Splitter module to create a MIDI destination including both a TX802 and a TX81Z. Again, these setups can be used with Vision or Studio Vision.
The Program Change Window lets you conveniently change OMS patches from your master controller when you're working with other MIDI applications, without having to activate the current patch or reach over to the Studio 5. You choose a MIDI source module, and set either a particular MIDI channel or leave it blank if you want to be able to use a patch change on any channel. Now, when you send a patch change from a DX7II, for instance, this will be passed through to the Studio 5, and will select the appropriate Studio 5 patch. A second icon is available in this window to let you set up a 'Change Patches' module. Using this, you can specify that patches will only be passed through to the Studio 5 if you are pressing the sustain pedal (or whatever).
There are two more edit windows available where you can set up sequences of MIDI events which will be sent to any device in your rig either 'at the start' when a patch is recalled, or 'at the end' when a different patch is called up to take its place. You could use this facility to send program changes or system exclusive patch data, reset controllers or pitch wheel, or enter Note Off commands.
MIDI merging is also easy to set up, by including more than one MIDI routing within a patch. For instance, you might want to hook up both a MIDI keyboard and a set of MIDI percussion pads to a D110 synthesizer. In fact, all the merge routings for your studio can be set up within one patch document — also resulting in a useful display of your merge routings!
I particularly liked the fact that you can switch patches manually, that you have two sets of MIDI sockets on the front panel, and that there's a proper mains socket on the back panel. I appreciated the large number of MIDI Ins and Outs as well. It certainly makes a lot of sense to build MIDI processing into such a unit, and everything is very simple to set up and edit. Full marks too for implementing MTP compatibility — the Opcode guys have definitely not got their heads buried in the sand, unlike some manufacturers I could mention. All in all, I have to give the Studio 5 top rating for functionality and good marks for both user-friendliness and reasonable value for money.
Opcode Studio 5 £1,049.95 inc VAT.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Mike Collins
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