Sequential Studio 440
After the disaster that was the Linn 9000, why would anyone want to build another combined sampling drum machine and sequencer. Rick Davies has the answer.
ITS BEEN NEARLY a year and a half since Sequential released the Prophet 2000 sampling keyboard, and since that time, 12-bit linear sampling quality has become a necessity of life for many people in the music industry. Currently, most 12-bit samplers are comparably priced below £2500 - so it's an instrument's features and sound quality (rather than the spec sheet) that set it apart from the competition.
With this in mind, it's a bit surprising to see Sequential coming up with the Studio 440, a 12-bit sampling sequencer/drum machine retailing for £3395.
The Studio 440 uses the same sampling circuits as the Prophet 2000, so it already has a solid foundation in the sound department. The 440 will load Prophet 2000/2002 disks through its built-in 3 1/2-inch disk drive, so there are plenty of sounds available for the machine already, even though it's yet to be released. And eight individual assignable audio outputs make the machine more suitable for studio work than the Prophet 2000.
Sequential are careful to point out that the Studio 440 contains 512K words (that's 768K bytes, for all those in the eight-bit world), and with sample rates of 15.6kHz, 31.2kHz, and 41.7kHz, the 440 can sample between 12.6 and 33.6 seconds of continuous audio. It also boasts a new "real-time sample monitoring" feature which lets you hear what your sample will sound like at any sample rate without having to sample the sound - this helps determine the optimum sample rate for various sounds.
The 440's 32 sounds are arranged in four banks of eight, and can be played either over MIDI, from the eight front panel pressure/velocity-sensitive pads, by an external trigger, or by the internal sequencer. In the tradition of Sequential drum machines, the Studio 440's sounds have individual volume, tuning, and panning settings which may be adjusted and stored while recording drum patterns.
In addition to these features, each sound is stored with two sets of parameters which include VCA and VCF settings, loop points, and playback direction. This appears to be an extension of the "reverse" function on Sequential's Tom drum machine, but in this case, each sound has two groups of parameters which can be as similar or as different as you want them to be.
Sounds are also grouped in four custom "kits", in which any eight sounds may be arranged across the pads with individual volume, tuning and panning settings.
As a sequencer, the 440 features a 40,000-event memory independent of the sample memory. Studio 440 sequences have eight tracks, each of which can contain events both for the internal sounds and for external synths connected to either or both of the 440's two MIDI output ports (A and B).
So you can record a sequence track with drum patterns played from the front panel, then overdub some sequences from an external keyboard for playback on any of a number of MIDI synths connected to the 440's MIDI Out A. By recording drum patterns (internal sample sequences) and sequenced notes for external MIDI synths onto the same tracks, the 440 can act as the central controller in live performance or recording situations.
The main sequencer record/playback controls are arranged in the familiar tape machine layout, with fast forward and reverse controls. Most functions are selected from menus, while a 32-character, backlit LCD provides pertinent information through all operations. Sequences can be created or edited per track, bar, and MIDI channel in real or step time.
On the MIDI side of things, the Studio 440 supports Modes 1, 3, and an enhanced version of Mode 4 called MultiMode. Tempo is adjustable in 0.1 BPM increments, and can be set by tapping in a tempo, or by slaving to SMPTE.
Best of all, the Studio 440 has perhaps a more impressive list of interfacing capabilities than any sampler or sequencer currently available. In addition to the MIDI In, Thru and two MIDI Outs (for access to 32 individual channels of MIDI instruments), external clock/trigger input, SMPTE write/read jacks, and separate Terminal in/out connectors (for operation with MIDI timecode-based event list editors such as Digidesign's forthcoming Q-Sheet program), the Studio 440 supports the Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) for interfacing with hard disks and CD ROMs.
Even at this early stage, it's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the Studio 440 to make it more than just a sampling drum machine. And thanks to its MIDI and SMPTE facilities, it'll also be a powerful tool for sound-effects recording and synchronisation. Watch this space.
Price £3395 including VAT
Review by Rick Davies
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