Quinsoft Quadraverb Toolkit
Atari ST Software
With software synth editors challenging the instruments' own front panels for attention, Quinsoft have brought the popular Alesis Quadraverb an editor of its own. Ian Waugh looks in on the Quaddy.
There's only one thing worse than an effects unit with no programs, and that's an effects unit with loads of 'em - happily for Quadraverb users, Quinsoft's Toolkit will help restore order.
Quinsoft will be known to regular MT readers as the software house behind a range of editors and librarians, including the only full editor for the Roland MKS70. If you run even a modest studio you may already be using Quinsoft's Trax, a complete recording studio manager which combines a Tracksheet, Cue Sheet and Mixdown page with an invoicing and accounting program. Today we're talking about a librarian for the Alesis Quadraverb, the first and only one in existence as of writing. The Quadraverb is so easy to use that devotees may wonder if they actually need a librarian. But if you're like me you hate to delete anything - including FX patches - and once you've filled the Quadraverb's ten free memories it's bulk dump time.
It's worth pointing out that the original Quadraverb has been upgraded to the Quadraverb Plus. But you don't have to ditch your original machine and fork out for a new one 'cos the upgrade is a new chip which those magnanimous people at Sound Technology are flogging for about £12. The upgrade gives you multitap delay, auto panning, tremolo modulation, ring modulation, resonators and a sampling capability. If you haven't already upgraded...
The toolkit comes on a double-sided copy-protected disk, which acts as a key disk. It will run in hi- or medium-res and it will squeeze into a 520ST. It lets you transfer patches between the Quadraverb and disk.
The program isn't GEM-based but uses its own unique interface, which the manual describes as Object Oriented. Instead of using lists of menus to select functions, all actions are accomplished by clicking and dragging one object to another on the screen.
The program can hold four banks of patches in total - four Source Banks and a Destination Bank. The Source Banks are in the top of the screen and are selected by clicking on A, B, C and D selection boxes. The Destination Bank is underneath. It would be difficult to show two sets of 100 patches on screen, so they're divided into sets of 20, which you select with clearly-numbered buttons. However, I wonder if it would have been possible to show, say, half a complete bank. It would have made operation a little bit easier.
Below the banks are two User Buffers which are useful catchment areas for temporary patch storage, a disk icon, a Quadraverb icon and a MIDI and an Extras box.
The program works as you might expect. To load the contents of the Quadraverb into a bank for saving - the first thing you should do before experimenting - you click on the Quadraverb icon and drag the mouse towards one of the banks. An "elastic" line appears during dragging so you know you're about to connect one object to another.
To load a bank from disk you drag the disk icon to the bank. To save a bank to disk you do the reverse and drag the bank to the disk icon. To transfer banks between the program and the Quadraverb you drag one icon to another. To copy a patch from one bank to another, to a User Buffer or send it to the Quadraverb you click on it and drag it to its required destination. What could be more simple?
The manual suggests that you use the Source Banks as sources, and put the patches you want to use in the Destination Bank for transmission en masse.
Right clicking on some of the icons brings up a small function window containing load, save, get and send icons. All four options are available from the Bank, Quadraverb and User Buffers but only the send option is available from the single patches. This window lets you rename the patches, which is rather easier than using the Quadraverb's front panel.
The Extras window contains a Help button. When it's On, and you try to perform an illegal function, the program tells you why you can't do it and suggests how it might be accomplished. There seems little point in switching it off and there are few things you might try which you can't do.
This window also has facilities to sort a bank by name and type - very useful for the orderly musos among us - and printout options. The printout includes a space next to each patch in which you can write comments. There's also a hook here to the GEM desktop, from which you can run desk accessories (but not programs).
The MIDI button calls up the MIDI Thru/Mixer window. The Thru option lets you rechannelise incoming MIDI data to any MIDI channel. The Mixer gives you control over five Quadraverb parameters - EQ/Direct, Master Effects, Pitch/Lezley, Delay Level and Reverb Level - using sliders. These are the main parameters which are accessed by the Quadraverb's Mix button and it's useful to be able to alter them from the ST.
The presets in the Quadraverb have been set up for live use and mix a proportion of direct signal in with the effect. If you run these through the send and return sockets of a mixer, when you increase the effect level you also increase the proportion of direct signal. For studio work, you need to reduce the direct signal in the Quadraverb settings, which is easy to do from the MIDI window.
The disk includes the original Quadraverb and Quadraverb Plus patches plus a bank of original patches divided into two, identical except that one has been optimised for live use, the other for studio use. Cute.
"One of the best features of both the Quadraverb and M1 Toolkits is the user interface - you'll really love it."
Clicking the disk icon brings up a Disc Utilities window. It contains a disk formatter with a skewed format option. This staggers the numbering of the disk sectors, which can increase the speed at which the ST accesses data. Interestingly, the formatter formats a disk from the inside out so that the directory track is the last to be formatted. If you suddenly realise you're formatting a valuable disk and stop the formatting, the directory will be the last to go, so giving you the maximum chance of recovering files.
There's also a very useful Verify function which the ST really should have as standard, plus a Create Folder option, which you'll find in precious few software programs. Add Erase File and Quick Erase functions and you've got a useful set of tools.
That sums up the Toolkit, but there are a few extra goodies on the disk. There's a Pocket Toolkit, a miniature Toolkit that does run as a desk accessory but which only handles one bank of patches. This uses 60K of RAM. There are also a couple of ancillary programs - the Incredible Bulk Version 2 is a SysEx bulk dump utility. It has a few enhancements over Version 1, including an EOX delay which makes sure that packeted data (common with Roland instruments) is indeed packeted and not contiguous.
File concatenation lets you store up to eight bulk dumps in one file, which can be transmitted to set up, presumably, eight instruments in one go. There's also a buffer which can hold several files at once. These can be transmitted in one go or saved to disk again as a larger file.
The request string can include a System Channel (some instruments such as the Quadraverb and Alpha Juno 1 use them), and there's a System Channel offset for instruments (such as those by Korg and Yamaha) which bury the MIDI channel in the lower four bits of a byte (getting pretty heavy, here). You can see the contents of a buffer and turn MIDI echo on and off. The program works as a stand-alone program and a desk accessory and includes the disk utilities.
To make full use of the Bulk you have to write SysEx request strings which request instruments to send their data. There's also a listen mode which allows data transmission to be triggered from the instrument. A separate Bulk Set Organiser lets you compile a set of dump requests from other sets.
The other program is Auto Bulk, which can run as a stand-alone program or from your Auto folder. It will scan any disk, including hard disks, for up to 40 .BNK bulk dump files which it lists on screen. You select ones for transmission and off it goes to do its stuff. The beauty of Auto Bulk is that it runs, uses the memory it needs, does its stuff and then frees the memory.
You could use it to set up all your equipment before a session. It would also be useful for instruments such as the MT32 which have no battery backup. It can send long files, up to 256K, even on an ST (something The Incredible Bulk can't do). It also searches within folders for the .BNK files so you aren't restricted in the organisation of your files.
The manual is a mere 16 pages long, although there are Help files for the Bulk programs on disk. There's no index or even a contents page, but I'm inclined to overlook this as the program is so very easy to use. However, a few more words about the Bulks, perhaps some examples, would have been useful for beginners. Rather too much than too little, I say.
Another Quinsoft goody is the Korg M1 Toolkit. This is identical in look and feel to the Quadraverb Toolkit except for an M1 icon instead of a Quadraverb, and it has slightly different functions in the MIDI and Extras boxes. The MIDI box lets you set the Basic and Instrument MIDI channels and there are MIDI echo and rechannelise functions.
The Extras box has sort, print and help functions, too. It can also switch between Programs and Combination mode so you can use the Toolkit for either, but not at the same time. The program ends a Mode select message over MIDI if this is changed and a pop-up dialogue box asks for confirmation.
The disk includes an M1 Pocket Toolkit plus The Incredible Bulk and Auto Bulk.
The Quadraverb Toolkit is a superb program, although it's a shame Quinsoft didn't go the whole hog and produce a full editor. As with synths, I suspect most users tweak the presets rather than create new patches from scratch, so perhaps Quinsoft reasoned that a full editor would be wasted. But the user interface is a joy to use, and the program contains all the essential features you require to store and organise your Quadraverb patches.
The same comments apply to the M1 Toolkit, although here you need to decide if you just need to shuffle Programs and Combinations around - as the Toolkit allows - or if you really want a more sophisticated editor with the ability to edit individual Combis and perhaps tweak some voice parameters a little. This would have been useful but if that's what you want you'll have to look elsewhere, although tweaking sounds on the M1 isn't terribly difficult. However, with such a vast number of M1 sounds readily available, I suspect Quinsoft have put their money on users simply wanting storage and organisation facilities - and that's what the Toolkit gives you, pure and simple.
One of the best features of both the Quadraverb and M1 Toolkits - I say it again - is the user interface. If ease of use is one of your priorities you'll really love them. It'd be very interesting to see how Quinsoft tackle a more sophisticated editor.
Price Quadraverb and Korg M1 Toolkits, £34.95 each including VAT.
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Review by Ian Waugh