E-mu Systems, Inc. PROTEUS/1 16 bit Multi-timbral digital sound module
We see how the Proteus One will stand up to the competition of its already booming market
The Proteus comes onto a market which is already booming in the wake of the Home Computer explosion. Pups takes a look.
Today the whole world and his dog have a home computer of sorts and the MIDI Music Industry has not overlooked the fact. So hot on the heels of all the other Do-It-All box makers (Roland, Korg, Yamaha etc.) comes E-mu with the Proteus.
Better known for quality than affordability, E-mu have brought out the Proteus at £900, which puts it in the very enthusiastic amateur bracket rather than that of the serious-dabbler. So what do we get for our money? Let's look...
Having just spent 900 quid on a box you'd expect it to look impressive. Well this is where you're in for your first shock. The Proteus is made from grey light-weight plastic in a 19" rackmount format. Taking it out of the box you feel like the shop assistant gave you the wrong machine but Yes! There in the top left hand corner it says quite clearly 'PROTEUS/1'. The front panel boasts only five buttons and two knobs. A non-muso friend saw it and just said, 'Ain't got many buttons, 'as it?' Which seemed to sum it up, really.
The display is a green LED display which you can alter to suit your viewing position - handy if you have it propped up in the corner when playing your keyboard. The rear contains the obligatory MIDI in, out and thru, three stereo pair outputs, ¼" jack format and a power cable input. With your Proteus you also get a MIDI cable (great!) and a power cable for a two pin American socket (not so great!). So after either buying an adapter or rewiring the cable yourself, you are ready for business.
Well, what's the best way to quickly hear what it's made of? Yep, you guessed it, the inbuilt Demo tune. To play the tune is straightforward enough. First hit the Master button, which changes the display to one of the general, system wide parameters which are all found within this section. The display shows a variable name above with its value below. To change the variable just position the cursor under the name, in this case 'Viewing Angle', and twist the Data knob. This never ending knob, together with the Cursor button will be your main means of moving around the machine. When the display shows 'DEMO SEQUENCE' you then move the cursor to the bottom line which says 'START', by pressing the cursor button. Now the cursor is blinking under the word 'START' and the light above the 'ENTER' button starts to flash. Is this a subtle hint or what? Well I guess I better press it then...
The demo tune has now started and proceeds to play the usual blend of funk, classical and pop tunes. The sounds seem very clear, due no doubt to the 16 bit sample quality. All these sounds are sampled and very clean they are too. According to E-mu they all started life as sounds on the EIII, one of their famous samplers, and were, after tweaking, dumped directly onto the Proteus. So, enough of the demo tune, which always sounds good. What are the sounds like by themselves?
Getting back to the main screen is easy - just hit 'MASTER' again - the light above it goes out and you're back to the main screen. To flip through the voices just press 'CURSOR' until the cursor is flashing under the patch number and then turn the 'DATA' knob to flick through the various sounds.
The Proteus is 32 note polyphonic, which is a lot even in this day and age, and has 192 internal patches, only 64 of which are yours to alter and store.
The sounds themselves are made up of two parts. These parts are called the Primary and the Secondary, and can be any sample on the machine. A piano sound can be mixed with a string sound to create a very atmospheric total. And that's not the end of it. As well as the initial two parts, the sound can also be stacked or as they put it 'linked' with another three programs. This means that up to eight parts can go into one sound which in turn means that some very fat sounds can be created. Massive string sections and some very powerful horns that would blast through anything. The drawback (well there had to be one didn't there) is that with a maximum linkage of eight parts you can only play a maximum of four notes. This is not a problem if you are using the Proteus as an expander to an existing system, but if all your sounds are coming from the Proteus you may be in trub! Favorite sounds of mine included #128 Piano & Strings - a gentle blend of strings and fairly lifelike piano, #006 Modern Gtr - the very lifelike sound of a chorused electric guitar, one you could use without anyone knowing it was a sample. #033 String Orch. was a full and clean string section which would do justice to that song you wanted to hire an orchestra for, but couldn't afford. Many others caught my attention, for good or ill. There are some sounds here, for instance, as on most machines, that I wouldn't dream of using myself. Some caught my attention by their comical names such as 'We Ate Flangers', 'BanJovi' and 'Noise Free LA', the latter referring to Roland Keyboards, I assume, rather than an American city.
The Rhythm section contains a host of drum and percussion effects: Reversed cymbals, powerful snares and the most life-like toms I've heard yet, with a whole bank of bass and snare drums tuneable over two octaves.
As all the sounds are samples a basic alteration of their sources is impossible, but you can edit the sampled sources by 'cutting them up'. For this you'd use the DCA (Digitally Controlled Amplifier). By changing the values of the DCA's ADSR envelope, you can cut out the beginning or end of a sample. You can also fade in one sample with a slow attack and have a fast attack sound played with it to give punch, a good example of this being the piano/strings patch. The piano comes in with a sharp attack when you play a key, followed by a string sound as you hold down the note. This principle can be applied to create a whole new manner of weird and wonderful sounds. There is also a dedicated function to help you do this. The 'Delay' parameter of a sound is the time between hitting a key and the sound playing. At zero the sound would be played simultaneously with the key being pressed and at a higher value there would be a pause. And this is a shortcut to editing sounds. As most of the mixing of sounds would involve the attack portion of one sound and the sustain of another, this function is most useful. Another function 'Sound Start' lets you cut off the front of the sample in small chunks, trimming it to suit your needs. 'Reverse' is an easy way to get an interesting sound quickly (just ask Phil for his favorite function on this machine!).
The 'Crossfade' feature is versatile and imaginative. You can fade one sound with another, altering the amount of mix according to Velocity, Pitch, Mod. Wheel or any one of a dozen sources, making it easy to customise sounds to suit your own style of playing.
The most commonly used facilities for sample editing have been given here, apart from the ability to sample the sound in the first place. The result is a machine which does not have the Sample Editing capabilities that you might expect from a dedicated sampler, but which makes up for the fact with a large array of basic sounds and the ability to link them together. One thing I missed on this machine was the lack of signal processing. A Chorus function is included which works by doubling the playing of a sound and detuning it. This works fine but uses up valuable voices in the process. It would be nice to see this unit with a good Reverb and Delay at least. Still, I suppose that even at a price of £900 some corners have to be cut, the casing being the most obvious if not the most important.
Well, having had only one busy weekend with the Proteus, my opinion has to be based on the limited time I spent getting to know it. The sound quality is very good, as well you might expect from EMU, and 32 note polyphony is another winner. Separate outputs? Excellent! This lack of signal processing could be overlooked if it wasn't for the fact that most of the Proteus' rivals do have this feature. In the end it is a matter of personal taste and if your taste is for good sounds then you will be impressed by the Proteus.
Thanks to Soho Soundhouse for loan of the review machine.
Product: Proteus 16 bit MultiTimbral Expander
Supplier: E-mu UK. (Contact Details)
Review by Pups