A wide selection of sound libraries from Sound Source Unlimited, Roland and Stiletto come under the scrutiny of the Patchwork reviewers.
D50 Professional Voicing Series
There comes a time in the life of every synth when it ceases to be "exciting" and becomes "old faithful" - if it's lucky. If it's very lucky, it may become "a classic" like the Prophet 5 or Minimoog. The D50 is lucky because, right now, it's becoming a classic.
There's an important difference between the D50 and the Minimoog, however - the D50 was introduced in an era of "third party support". For most major keyboards you can now buy RAM expansions, programming aids, librarians, MIDI expanders and, the subject of this review, patch libraries. But, after four years, are there any new sounds to be had from the D50, or have they all been heard before? Who, as the D50 moves into middle age, is going to invest time and money producing yet another series of patches? Evidently Sound Source Unlimited feel that there's life and novelty in the old dog yet, and have released six ROM cards for it - the D50 Professional Voicing Series - each holding 64 patches.
I've often thought about producing libraries of sounds for the D50; each library would concentrate on a particular class of sound - brass, strings, woodwind, and so on, much as commercial sample disks do. But SSU are more astute - they've realised that musicians don't want 64 different timbres of trumpet on one ROM. What you and I actually needed are a range of sounds, conveniently available within one library, and each applicable to the same, particular, type of music. After all, there's not much similarity between a hip hop brass stab and the LSO, so there's no sense putting them on the same card. Consequently, we have six ROM libraries, each aimed at a different genre of synthesised music. While you'll find (for instance) bass sounds on all of the cards, the idea is that you'll find appropriately funky basses on the Dance Mix, and rounder woodier ones on the Producer Series.
The first card (in no particular order) is the TV/Film library. Here the accent is on a broad spectrum of sounds, including a wide range of pads and sound effects. As on all of the cards, the patch banks have been grouped into families of sounds - patches 41-48 are pads, the 50s and 80s are effects, the 70s are orchestral, and so on. This is one of the best of the ROMs, and a serious attempt has been made to get away from the recognisable D50 sound. Even on first listening I noted 12 patches that stood out as well above average - a good score for a 64-patch card.
Next up is FM Radio, with its excellent Organ patches and another range of useable pads. Not my favourite card this one, but it has a difficult task. FM implies punchy pianos, loadsa guitars and driving basses - not all of which are the D50's forte. Still, if you don't have access to an M1 and an S900, you could do a lot worse.
Card 3 is the Producer Series, and is a triumph of organised programming. The eight banks are, in order, Pianos, Organs, Brass, Strings, Bells/Vocals, Guitars, Basses, and Orchestras. And very nice too - reliable, solid and safe. If you're looking for conventional sounds with no 'Aliens Taking Off', this could be your card.
Number 4 is another of my favourites: Power Synths. OK, so I'm an analogue junkie, but Power Synths does go a long way towards fooling the world that you've got a lot of that old hardware tucked away somewhere. The D50 will never actually sound like an Oberheim, but this card is a bold attempt to put some of the je ne sais quoi of these classic synths under your digital fingertips.
Card 5 is the Dance Mix. First impressions are of a card unashamedly modern, and you can look at many of these patches as either unutterably tedious or brilliant. I suspect that most prospective purchasers will either love it or hate it, and that your age may well be the relevant factor here. But it's worth giving this ROM a listen even if you're not into house or disco as there are some useful textures as well as the predictable funky patches.
Finally we come to card 6, the Artist Series. Where the names of the other cards are pretty self-explanatory, I'm not sure where this one comes from. It should have been called the Effects (with a few conventional sounds thrown in) Series. If you're looking for unexplored caverns, aliens doing strange things, or Japanese motorbikes audibly rusting, this is your card. Even some of the more conventional synth sounds have the suffix "-ish" (legitimately) attached to them. This is clearly an attempt to mix a conventional card with sound effects, and I reckon SSU simply bottled out of producing a card with 64 weirdos on it. For devotees only.
All the ROMs come in the usual protective plastic wallet, which is mounted on a card (the cardboard type) on which the patch names are printed. Construction and presentation quality are good, and I didn't have a single problem with any of the cards.
There's nothing startlingly new here, but then again, if you're not either stinking rich or an MT reviewer (no-one is both), you're quite likely to find something of interest on at least one of these ROMs. But there is a gripe: the price. At a hundred smackers for 64 patches we're not bargain-hunting here. Fortunately, all the patches are also available on floppy disk for under £28 per library, and that's definitely worth considering. If you haven't got an Atari, however, I'd hesitate to call these ROMs good value for money. Gordon Reid.
Prices ROMs, £99; Disks, £27.99. Both prices include VAT.
More from Executive Audio Ltd, (Contact Details).
Yamaha TX81Z Pro-Sounds
"How'd you like 96 TX81Z sounds for a fiver?"
"OK, Angelo, put down the knife, I believe you."
As with other Stiletto collections, the TX81Z sounds are arranged in a bank template, so as you move through the bank you meet the following categories: pianos, harpsichords, plucked strings, bells, ethnic/oriental instruments, polysynth textures, crosswave sounds, chiffy breathy sounds, vocal sounds, brasses, strings, woodwind, organs, lead lines, percussive sequencer sounds, basses and an oddball sound. The sounds here come in three banks of 32 and roughly follow the above concept (given that a bank holds 32 sounds).
We kick off with 'Rock Piano', quite bright with a hard metallic edge and a little soft distortion, very faint. 'Meta-Cello' sounds like Julian Lloyd-Webber with go-faster stripes. 'Ard'n'Saxy' does a pretty good OTT sax impression and if 'Throat Bass' doesn't blow your tonsils out you've already had them removed. Oddball sound is 'Xenolith', a hard-edged, grating metallic pad with lots of sustain.
From bank 2 I particularly liked 'Grunt+Tine', a tine piano (you're supposed to grunt while playing it, I guess), while 'ppObikord' is good for keyboard-type chords and 'TheBrasses' is just about as full a brass sound as you can get from a TX. Oddball sound is 'Deep Sleep', a soft brass pad which brings in harsher overtones when held.
Favourite piano in bank 3 is 'DigitalEP+'. I also loved 'Rezzo-Klav', a full, funky clav sound and 'BasMunchki' provides a bass accompaniment. Oddball sound here is 'Don't Look', a soft metallic pad - probably the most musically useful oddball of the three banks.
All banks contain plenty of piano-type sounds and bass sounds which the TX synthesises rather well. There are several pads, choral and string ensembles, too. All sounds are Stiletto originals and are available on TX81Z datacassette, Dr T's-compatible files, voice sheets or a free sound injector. This ST desk accessory reads Caged Artist synth files and loads them into the synth.
At just a fiver, can the sounds actually be any good? I was sceptical too, but Stiletto have maintained their usual high standards - I won't say they're all corkers, and some I could find little use for. But preferences are, after all, personal.
I don't know why Stiletto are selling these for a fiver and I wouldn't bother asking - just buy them before they change their mind! Ian Waugh
Price £5 including VAT (Overseas add £2 p&p).
More from Stiletto Sound Systems, (Contact Details).
D-series Sound Cards
These sound cards come from Roland themselves and are compatible with the company's D5, D10, D20 and D110. Each card contains 64 Tones, 128 Timbres and 128 Performance Patches.
Card PN-D10-01 (love the name) is titled Unique D Sounds and tries to capture the "essence" of LA synthesis. There are lots of ethereal floating sounds, strings, voices, pads, sweeps - the sort of stuff you'd expect LA to excel at. There's also a selection of lead sounds, bells, a few instruments and some sound FX and novelty sounds.
In 'Jet Stream' you can almost hear the pilot talking to the tower. Alternatively, if you want to know what a cat sounds like travelling at 100mph listen to 'Tom & Jerry' (children, please do not try this at home). Play 'Calliope' and you can hear those chestnuts roast (you may have to be a film buff or over 60 to fully appreciate this). 'Holly Pipes', when played quietly, is very spooky.
My favourites have got to be the pads, particularly those which contain more than one sound source. 'Future Pad' has an orchestral quality with breathy tines underneath; 'D50 Vox' is slow-attack voices saying "Ah".
This is probably my favourite of the three cards, typifying the reasons why I added LA to my setup in the first place.
PN-D10-02 is entitled Rhythm and Bass Sounds. Now, the D-series is blessed with over 60 preset percussion sounds, and I would have thought that that was enough for most types of music. How wrong can you be? This card contains another 48 - if you want more snares, bass drums, toms, hi-hats and other miscellaneous percussion sounds, here they are.
The other 16 sounds are basses - of the 'Mini', 'Rock', 'Thump', 'Wet', 'Perc' and miscellaneous varieties. Again, if the dozen or so preset basses are not enough, here are some more to add to your collection.
PN-D10-03 is called Natural Variations and contains electric pianos, harpsichords and clavs, organs, saxes, guitars, basses, strings, harps, vibes and brass plus a miscellaneous collection of other "natural" instruments, a few sweeps and some combination sounds.
I liked 'Quartet St', a solo(ish) string sound you can use across the full range of the keyboard, and also 'Floating Pad', a pad with a soft brass attack and a high metallic ring to it.
But are they sufficiently different to the D-series' presets to warrant purchase? Well, in as much as similar preset sounds in the synths are different from one another, yes they are. If you're looking for more "natural variations" on LA sounds, this is a good selection.
Additionally, if you have a D10 or D20, you'll be able to access 128 Performance Patches which are made up from the Tones provided. You can also experience 32 new rhythm patterns (per card) which cover a vast range of modern musical styles from jazz and rock to latin (check out PN-D10-02 in particular for these).
These cards, obviously, work out a little more expensive than just buying sounds. Their advantage is that the sounds, rhythms and performances are always there, ready when you are. If you need instant access, then the types of sounds the cards contain won't let you down. Ian Waugh
Price £56 per card.
More from Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
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