Quinsoft 4-OP Librarian
Atari ST Software
Following in the footsteps of their impressive FB01 editor, Ian Waugh reports that Quinsoft's latest editor is a cost-effective method of getting the most from 4-op FM.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS! DOES this belong in Patchwork or is it a piece of software in its own right? You see, the Advanced 4-Op Librarian (review version 1.01) is a librarian program - of course - but it comes complete with 512 voices. At just under 5p per voice - that's ignoring the cost of the program - it's well and truly in the Sounds category. What the heck, let's plumb for program and begin by looking at just that.
"Advanced" refers to the new generation of Yamaha FM synths (well, they were a few years ago) which give you the choice of eight waveforms instead of just sine waves. The program and voices should be compatible with the DX11, TX81Z, YS100, YS200, TQ5 and V50. They can be loaded into the DX21, DX27 and DX100, too, but the "advanced" features will be missing.
So keen to explore these sounds was I that I plunged in without reading the manual. Fortunately, operation is dead easy and I escaped unhurt having missed only a couple of features.
There's only one screen and it shows two blocks of voices labelled A and B. Each block can hold four banks of 32 voices and you flip from bank to bank by clicking on boxes numbered one to four alongside the bank name. The program can also hold and show a Performance and a Setup but only one of each. The Performance names are shown on-screen but not the voices or data they contain. The only information given about the Setup is a name.
Performances and Setups are saved to and loaded from disk and sent to and got from the synth individually, while Voices are handled in banks of 32.
You can listen to individual voices by Clicking on them (this sends them to the synth's buffer) and then moving the mouse around the screen. There's also a MIDI Echo function to let you play them from an external keyboard if you're using the program with an expander.
There's one more voice option and that's Clear Bank. You can copy voices by clicking and dragging but only between banks which are on the screen. You can also swap voices but this option must be selected from the Functions menu. You can print a voice list, too, and this contains room for comments.
After constructing a new bank you can sort it into alphabetical order. You can lock a bank so you can't alter its contents - a feature introduced after a series of accidents, says the manual. You can also invert the screen colours.
I can think of a few other features which would be helpful to have. For example, the ability to rename a voice - "Bell 1' to "Bell H' isn't particularly descriptive and the naming function on the TX and DX synths is a pain. Also a lock on the Swap function so you could perform several swaps without having to reselect the option each time. The screen updates are a little slow, too, after changing banks and swapping voices.
Having used librarians with the ability to create libraries containing large numbers of voices (limited only by memory or program restrictions) I must confess I personally found the 32-voice per bank restriction a limitation. But for the price I don't think there'll be any complaints. And the good news for 520ST owners is Advanced 4-Op Librarian only requires 512K of RAM and will work with a colour or mono monitor.
The program is relatively basic but it does the job it sets out to do - and quite economically at that.
Which brings us to the sounds. There are 16 banks of them, all Quinsoft originals. They are: Basses, BellPlus, Brass, Clavplunk, Effects, Electric Organs, Electric Pianos, Guitars, Percussion, Pianos, Pipe Organs, Reeds, Strings, Synths, Tuned Percussion and Woodwind.
Many voices respond to velocity and modulation changes and they have been designed not to distort even at full velocity.
It must be difficult to create 512 original sounds and many of them are variations on a theme - as the library names suggest. For example, there are 24 basses, 16 bells plus another 16 bell instruments ("BellFlute' and so on). 56 organs and 64 (at least) piano variations. But if you're not a programmer and don't even want to tweak your sounds, there is plenty of light and shade here to choose from although personally I would have preferred variety to subtlety.
And there are some great sounds here - lush brasses, fine bells, atmospheric pads, delicate and raunchy pianos and organs a-plenty. There are some lovely solo string sounds, too, and some of the vibes have built-in tremolo. "Flute 6" produces an overblown sound if you play it hard - very nice - although some of the panpipes were, er, oddly unpan-like.
Finally, the disk contains a bulk-load desk accessory which will load and transmit Voice, Performance and Setup files. The disk isn't protected (ten out of ten Quinsoft) so you can copy this to your master boot disk. It's a shame that there's an error in the very first word of the manual(!) - and others elsewhere, too - and the punctuation is, well, not the way I'd choose to punctuate (sorry, but I notice these things) but the manual is due to be reprinted, hopefully with corrections. But I nitpick, indeed I do. You'll probably only need to read it once anyway, if that.
Nitpicking aside, I can't do anything but recommend this package to anyone on a budget wanting just basic, easy-to-use 4-Op librarian facilities. Whether you look upon it as a librarian with free voices or voices with a free librarian is up to you.
Watch out for more Quinsoft programs in the new year.
Price £24.95 including VAT