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Passport Mastertracks Pro

Already a well-established Macintosh sequencer, Mastertracks Pro has now been ported across to the IBM PC and clones. Ian Waugh gets acquainted with a Pro.

I HAVE AN Amstrad PC1640 HD20. Don't laugh - Amstrad have done more to popularise the PC than IBM ever did. And it's a nifty little machine (although better PC buys are available now). It's a little slow and, in true Amstrad fashion, it's not quite 100% IBM PC compatible.

Take the mouse - it doesn't use the serial port like most PCs, it has its own mouse port. So far, it's coped with all the programs (music and otherwise) I've thrown at it but it wasn't at all happy with the run-time version of Windows supplied with MT Pro.

To cut a long story short, the non-standard Amstrad mouse requires a special mouse driver in order to work with Windows and this is only available from one source (as far as I've been able to determine) at a nominal cost of £3.50. However, along with the disk you get a licence agreement from Amstrad which you are requested to sign, basically promising not to give the thing to the Commies unless you first obtain a Cocom export licence.

So my first gripe is aimed at Amstrad - as they're aware of this incompatibility in their machine I'd have expected the fix to be free (I'm talking principles here) and available through many sources, not just one. The Cocom licence agreement is a joke.

Secondly, as one who knows his way around computers reasonably well, it took me a week of phone calls to discover why the mouse wouldn't work, what the solution was and where to obtain it. Even PC Man, my resident PC guru, couldn't offer an answer and what he doesn't know about PCs wouldn't fill an MT Free Ad.

MCM, I'm afraid, weren't aware of the problem - or the solution - although they did contact Passport and one of the program's writers, Perry Devine (sounds like a sparkling drink), rang me from California and promised to send me an updated version of the program - which still hasn't arrived. Of course, no one's heard of the Amstrad 1640 in America so their ignorance of the problem can be excused.

However, if you export software into another country, the least you should do is check out the machines it's likely to be run on. A good PC expert should be able to list any potential problems - although this problem definitely was an exception. If the 1640 was an obscure computer I could understand it, but it's a very popular machine in the UK and this fracas cost me a lot of time. You're reading the words of a disgruntled reviewer.

But I can't take my grievances out on the program because it's really very neat. Interested readers are referred to the original review of MT Pro (July '87 - aren't you glad you kept them all?) and to the review of MT Pro4 on the Mac (MT, July '90). I must point out, however, that this PC program is MasterTracks Pro (review v3.51) and not Pro4. The two names can be confusing. Pro4 is, so far, only available on the Mac and has a few more features than MT Pro.

The ethos of the programs, however, is the same - Track Sheet, Song and Step Editor windows (in Pro4 the Track and Song windows are combined into one Track Editor window), 64 tracks and graphic note and controller editing.

The main omissions are the Global Edit Filter, Song Playlist, Graphic Faders, Notepad (you can write notes onto the track list providing you don't use all 64 of them), Change Filter, Scale Time and Event List. Although one of the advantages of graphic editing is that you don't have to dive about among MIDI events, there are times when an Event List is very useful and it seems strange that MT Pro has never had one. But, how important this is will depend upon the user.

MT Pro will sync to MIDI Time Code and stripe a tape with SMPTE, although a little more info in the manual about this wouldn't go amiss. It also has the Fit Time, Chase Controllers and SysEx storage functions of Pro4. Like Pro4, SysEx data can only be saved to disk and not into a track. Shame.

One of MT Pro's main claims to fame is its ease of use. The Song Editor window which shows the song divided into bars is great to work with, so much so that other sequencers have nicked the idea. Easy to use it certainly is.

I should also add that the PC1640 is hardly the fastest machine alive (it is alive, I tell you) and operation, especially under Windows, can be a little slow. If you're really serious about sequencing. I'd have to say that the two don't make an ideal combination. I did try it on PC Man's super 20Mhz, 386 AT machine and it fair whizzed around. With an "average" 10 or 12Mhz PC it should run fine.

The manual is well written and makes the program easy to get into - in fact the program is very easy to use, due mainly to the Windows environment - although a couple of topics could have been covered in more depth. It has a mammoth six-page contents list but no index. C'mon, guys.

MT Pro already has a good name in the music business as one of the most user-friendly sequencers around. It's certainly that, and one of the most graphic, too, particularly for a PC sequencer. This latest update just makes it a bit more friendly and powerful. If ease-of-use and intuitiveness are high on your list of priorities you'll like it.

Price: £285 including VAT.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Sep 1990

Review by Ian Waugh

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