Peavey DPM Si
A new keyboard for those that like their synths off the rack.
Peavey add a 76-key synth to their DPM range - but is it one synth and 15 keys too many? Simon Trask sits in judgement...
Over the years, synth manufacturers have settled on 61 keys as the standard keyboard span. Buying a 76- or 88-note synth often means forking out upwards of £2000 for the privilege, and almost invariably means you'll end up with a fully-equipped workstation synth. If you don't want to travel down this particular path, it's possible to get the keyboard span you need by paying £1000-1500 for a dedicated MIDI controller keyboard or one of the cheaper digital pianos, and get your synth sounds from a MIDI module instead.
All credit, then, to Peavey, who have added a 76-note synth to their DPM range and are charging only £1399 for it - less than the cost of many a 61-note synth. Indeed, Peavey's own 61-note DPM3 SE Plus synth (see MT August '91 for a review of the DPM3 SE) costs £100 more than the Si, while the forthcoming DPM4 will cost £600 more; only the budget-minded DPM2, at £999, costs less.
So where's the catch? Well, the DPM Si forgoes the onboard sample RAM capabilities and built-in disk drive of the DPM3 and DPM4, can use only two digital effects simultaneously to their four, and (like the DPM2) has one oscillator per Program to their two.
But it's not all on the debit side. For instance, Peavey have given their new synth 32-voice polyphony, which is double the number of voices on the 2 and 3 (DPM3 owners will only be able to get 32 voices by purchasing the upgrade kit to take their instrument to DPM4 spec). The Si also has a 10Mb ROM sound set; in comparison, the DPM3 has only 4Mb, but of course allows you to add your own samples via its sample RAM. Peavey will be using the Si's ROM set in the DPM4 and the DPM3-to-4 upgrade, putting the 76-key DPM on an equal footing with its more expensive relatives in this respect.
In creating the new ROM set, Peavey have worked in conjunction with third-party sample developers such as Prosonus, McGill University and Northstar, improving or replacing many of the original DPM2 and DPM3 samples as well as adding new ones. Bearing in mind that the DPM Si will be first and foremost a player's instrument, Peavey have replaced the original acoustic piano of the 2 and 3 with a superior multisampled 9' Steinway from the McGill University Master Sample Library. The expanded sample set also includes new orchestral strings, brass and woodwind. In fact, acoustic instruments are better represented on the new DPM, both in terms of quality and quantity, than they are on the 2 and 3.
Further ROM samples can be added to the Si via an internal expansion slot, though as of writing no expansion ROM sets are available. On the subject of expansion, you can add extra Programs via plug-in RAM and ROM cards - one card due from Peavey will provide a GM-compatible arrangement of Programs.
The Si's 76-note keyboard has a very well-balanced feel, sitting comfortably inbetween synth- and piano-style actions, veering slightly more towards the former but having enough resistance in the key depression to give that all-important feeling of substance. Key release is just right, too, being neither sluggish nor 'flappy'. All in all very playable - definitely one of my favourite keyboard actions.
In keeping with its gigging muso orientation, the Si's factory Programs place the emphasis on keyboards, real instruments and pads - and to very successful effect, too. Yet a listen to the ROM samples and waveforms reveals a much more diverse sonic resource, one which would allow the Si to produce sounds in a more contemporary techno/ambient/industrial vein with suitable programming. All in all, the quality of the ROM sounds is very impressive; particularly evident is the care which has gone into getting the samples of acoustic instruments just right - the Si's samples are among the best you'll find.
The overall sonic character of the Si, as with the other DPMs, is one of richness and warmth combined with clarity. This is an instrument which not only can deliver sounds which have real body and depth, but also sounds which can cut through a mix with impressive bite and definition.
The Si's sonic versatility is well evidenced at the bass end, where the instrument is equally adept at producing full, warm or tight, punchy bass sounds. Well worth checking out - as are the electric piano sounds, which encompass warm, mellow Rhodes sounds and characteristically bright, sharp FM electric piano sonorities. I wouldn't mind betting that many players will be sold on the DPM Si purely on the strength of Program 002, 'Roads X-fade'. One of the best Rhodes recreations I've ever heard, it captures the sonic range of the real thing very effectively and is an immensely playable sound.
In fact, playability is something the Si has in bucketloads. You'll find plenty of excellent sounds across a whole range of categories - acoustic and electric guitars, pads, organs, lead sounds, strings, woodwind... Not that every Program is a winner; the brass sounds are a bit of a mixed bag, some of the ensemble strings are too bright and lacking in body, and the choral sounds tend to be on the thin side. Also, nil points go to the excruciating solo violin, which sounds like it's being tortured by a mad gypsy on acid. But such indiscretions are more than countered by the many gorgeous sounds — check out, for instance, 'Johnny's Flute' (Program 074) and 'Miles Horn' (Program 1 76). One feature of the DPM Si which I find annoying is its inability to sustain sounds over Program changes; select a new Program and the existing one is cut dead - which hardly makes for a smooth transition.
Programming is made as straightforward as possible by the neat, well-structured presentation of parameters via the Si's 2 x 40-character backlit LCD and by the instrument's accessible front-panel layout.
As it is, the Si's synthesis architecture springs no surprises: a single oscillator is routed through a low-pass filter (with resonance control) and a DCA with a 5-stage amplitude envelope. A 5-stage auxiliary envelope and an LFO can be freely assigned as modulators, as can the amplitude envelope, note position and velocity. Si controllers such as channel aftertouch, mod wheel, pitchbend wheel and data slider, plus any four external MIDI controllers (assigned as A, B, C and D). Modulation destinations can have two sources, and you can use one modulator to modulate another, so there's plenty of flexibility in this area.
Effects parameters can also be modulated - though in this case one parameter per effect, with a single mod source. So you could, for instance, modulate reverb (damp, time or mix), delay (feedback or mix) or chorus (mix, rate or feedback) from the Si's mod wheel or data slider or any external MIDI controller. The effects are of a satisfyingly professional quality, have been given a reasonable degree of programmability, and taken as a whole are a moderately versatile collection - aided by a flexible choice of effect configurations.
The 10 built-in Drum Kits, programmed in Global mode, each consist of up to 32 Instruments. You can assign any one of the Si's Waves to each of these Instruments (not necessarily a drum or percussion sound), and set HiKey, coarse & fine tuning, filter cutoff point, decay rate, level, output routing and pan position per Instrument. Peavey have provided several GS Format-compatible drum kits; combine these with the forthcoming GM/GS card mentioned earlier and the Si is well set up for use with MIDI songfiles.
Peavey have got round the potential sonic limitations of the Program's single-oscillator architecture by implementing a Combi program type within Program edit mode. Select Combo instead of Single and you can 'add' up to three other Programs to the main one in split/layer combinations. The Si lets you program both note and velocity splits, and set volume, volume mod source, mod-source scaling, transpose, detune and delay amounts for each Program. In this way you can fatten up sounds (using layering and detuning), assign different sounds to the left and right hands (eg, for a bass/piano split) or create velocity splits or velocity crossfades.
If you want to assign split/layered Programs to different MIDI channels, however, you have to turn to the Si's Performances; there are 100 of these onboard the synth, all of them user-programmable.
A Performance lets you create up to four overlapping keyboard Zones, each of which can be assigned a Program (Single or Combi), note range, transposition amount, volume level, output bus and pan position. Performances don't have their own effects setups - instead you can assign internal or card Program's effects setup. Zoom Edit is a particularly neat feature which allows you to edit any Zone's Program and any selected effects setup within the context of the Performance.
For MIDI purposes, each Zone can be assigned a MIDI channel, bank number, patch number and volume level; you can also set whether or not it will send pitchbend, mod wheel, aftertouch, sustain and volume data generated from the Si. To create a MIDI-only Performance setup, or a Performance which uses a combination of internal and MIDI'd sounds, you just set the Program parameter in the relevant Zone(s) to Off.
The Si can be set to receive 16-part multimbrally via MIDI, and allows you to program up to 50 Multis with Program, volume, output bus and pan position settings for each MIDI channel. You can select Multis manually, or else assign a Multi to any Performance so that it will automatically be called up whenever you select that Performance. Using the Si's Program Map to map MIDI patch numbers to Performances, you could also automate Multi selection from a MIDI sequencer.
While the absence of a built-in disk drive may dent the Si's credibility as a workstation instrument, the new DPM does nonetheless include a 16-track, 80,000-event onboard sequencer which in terms of spec and ease-of-use is up there with the best of the bunch. At the same time, if you have no use for an onboard sequencer the Si is still priced at a level where you needn't feel shortchanged.
The Si's sequencer memory is battery-backed, so you won't lose your Songs and Sequences whenever you switch the instrument off. For external storage and backup you can always bulk dump your sequence data via MIDI to a generic SysEx storage device such as an Alesis Datadisk. Many musicians who work with a computer-based sequencer in the studio use a Datadisk for live work (see, for instance, the interview with Ultramarine elsewhere in this issue).
Operationally and conceptually the Si's sequencer will be familiar to anyone who has used Peavey's DPM3, or indeed any Ensoniq workstation synth (the two companies have very similar approaches to sequencer design). Basically, you record individual 16-track Sequences and then chain them together into a play list to create a Song. The Si lets you have up to 50 Sequences and 10 Songs in memory at once. Individual Sequences can be up to 996 bars long, and can be assigned a time signature in the range 1/4 to 32/4; record resolution can be up to 96ppqn.
Each track within a Sequence can be assigned its own Program, volume level, pan position, play setting (internal only, MIDI only, or both), output bus routing (Main, Subs, Both or Program) and MIDI channel. Recording is via a standard tape-style transport arrangement (Play, Rewind etc), and gives you a choice of replace and overdub record modes. With Sequence looping selected, you can overdub parts on successive passes - ideal for recording rhythm tracks.
The track editing functions available are copy, merge, insert section, delete section, timeslide (to single clock resolution), quantise (with record and playback-only options), erase, transpose and velocity-scale (the latter three optionally with programmable note ranges). Microscope Edit allows you to add, delete and change individual sequence events, while at the other end of the scale a feature called Q-play allows you to cue up Sequences and/or Songs 'on the fly' during playback - though disappointingly there's no way of recording your live selections directly into a Song chain.
If you appreciate sonic warmth, brilliance, grit and sheer ballsiness, you can't afford to ignore today's generation of American synths. Although relative newcomers to the synth scene, Peavey are up their with the best of 'em in many respects, though they have yet to display Kurzweil's or E-mu's propensity for sonic innovation.
If you're looking for a solid and versatile 76-key performance synth for use live on stage, you simply must check out the DPM Si - it's tailor-made for the job. At the same time, the new DPM is also well suited to occupying the central position in a studio-based MIDI setup (somewhere I'm seriously considering putting it). It's worth bearing in mind that even if you don't need the 'extra' keys for synth performance, they can come in useful for remote-controlling MIDI sequencers such as Cubase and Creator/Notator, and for triggering samples and (multimedia alert!) MIDI-controlled images, video and lighting.
I've had the DPM Si for a while now, and far from tiring of it I've grown to appreciate its sonic and other capabilities more and more. On the one hand it provides plenty of instrumental sounds which players will love, on the other hand it has the sonic versatility to satisfy many if not all the cravings of the so-called 'non-musicians'.
|Ease of use||Wonderfully simple/simply wonderful|
|Originality||Mature and well conceived rather than strikingly new|
|Value for money||Excellent|
|Star Quality||A solid performer|
|Price||£1399 including VAT|
|More from||Peavey Electronics (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Simon Trask
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