Sequential Studio 440
Sequential's One Man Band
Paul Wiffen first encountered the Studio 440 sampling drum machine several months ago when he was called in to help Stevie Wonder suss out his! It has since become the mainstay of his own programming armoury. Here he tells why...
Paul Wiffen first encountered the Studio 440 a few months ago when he was called in to help Stevie Wonder suss out how to use his! It has since become the mainstay of his own programming armoury. Here he tells why...
The interconnectability of MIDI has made synchronising drum patterns to sequencers and to SMPTE possible. But wouldn't it be great if you could do it all from one box? This is where the Studio 440 comes in. It allows the sampling and sequencing of percussion and other sounds, plus the sequencing of external MIDI instruments and then uses SMPTE timecode to give full 'chase and lock' of the whole thing to tape. Strictly speaking, none of this is exactly new, but then the convenience of having everything in one machine is an innovation in itself.
Of course, the 440 is not entirely without precedents; two machines are brought to mind, the Linn 9000 and the E-mu SP12. The Linn 9000 was the first machine to tackle drum patterns and MIDI sequencing in the same box, and when it wasn't crashing, it did the job pretty well. User sampling was added as an option, but only four of the sounds could be samples and both memory and fidelity were limited. Linn went out of business before the SMPTE on the machine could read the code, leaving 9000 owners in the unenviable position of having a machine which could not sync to the SMPTE code it generated.
E-mu's SP12 has a much better track record with higher fidelity sampling (12-bit, 27.7kHz), more sample time (although it loses out in comparison with the Studio 440 in both these respects), plus greater reliability. It also has working SMPTE, although it never addressed the field of MIDI sequencing. The principle drawback is the long time it takes to save and load the user samples to an external disk drive (more a fault of the Commodore-manufactured drive than the SP12). It still sells today, some two years after its introduction and still gives great results (as long as you don't want to save drum sounds between every song on stage).
Sequential's Studio 440 can be applied to a wider variety of tasks than either of these machines, but this does not necessarily mean it's any better. So often machines which do lots of different things end up as 'jack-of-all-trades' rather than master of one. Let's look at the different aspects of the machine and see how they compare with the other things out there.
As we have already seen, the 440 boasts a higher sampling fidelity than any drum machine before it. This is because it contains everything an expanded Prophet 2000 sampler does (and a lot more besides!). The sound memory is 512K and the sampling resolution is 12-bit, up to 42kHz (same format as the SP12 but with two faster sample rates available). In fact, the common hardware and software between the 440 and the Prophet 2000 is such that the 440 will load Prophet 2000 samples. I was very grateful for this capability, because it got me in with Stevie Wonder. What happened was that Stevie got one of the first 440s and I was recommended to him as a programmer who "knows everything about Sequential". So I turned up, never having seen a 440 before, but bringing my Prophet 2000 disks as I had vaguely heard that the machine might be able to take 2000 samples. Now I had literally hundreds of drum sounds for the Prophet 2000 (drum sounds are the most readily sampled sounds), so imagine my joy when they just loaded straight into the 440 without any problems or preparation. Anyway, since then I've been doing regular sound development work for Stevie (and not just on Sequential gear) so I'll always be grateful to the 440 for opening that door for me.
This is one of the great features of the 440, being able to load Prophet 2000 samples directly, and whereas on the 2000 you would have to mess about assigning them to keys on the keyboard or using different MIDI channels to sequence them, you can instantly start creating rhythm patterns or musical sequences (there's nothing that says you have to just sample or load drum sounds). The whole set-up is so fast to work with! Not only do you have access to any samples made on the Prophet 2000 to work with but Sequential seem to have learned their lesson on lack of factory disks for their previous machines and, consequently, there are already no less than 40 disks worth of Sequential sounds available only a couple of months after the machine's release.
These are all high quality, studio recorded sounds, and there are both 'dry' samples and ambient sounds to suit those working on-stage and in the studio. Of course, they do tend to focus on drums, percussion and orchestra hits, but then don't forget the broad range of sounds available on Prophet 2000 disks.
There are, in fact, several major improvements to the Prophet 2000 spec in the Studio 440. The 512K of sample memory (four times that of the SP12) comes as standard and is not divided into two separate banks as it is on the 2000, so you can make one continuous sample using the full memory. This provides a 12 second sample at the fastest rate 42kHz (giving you the best bandwidth on any drum machine - or indeed on 95% of samplers currently available), or 16 seconds at 31kHz (still well above the average). In addition to this, you can hold 32 different samples onboard (as opposed to 16 on the Prophet 2000). This is particularly useful for percussion sounds which are usually fairly short, so you can fit more of them in memory.
Sampling on the 440 is made a lot easier for the novice thanks to the LCD display, which keeps you informed of what sampling rate, sampling time, and memory size you are using. Both before and during sampling, you can view both the level of the incoming signal plus the threshold at which the sampling process is triggered, by means of the now standard VU-type display in the LCD.
But it's only when you have made your sample that you really begin to understand that the Studio 440 is much more than just a sampling drum machine. The facilities available go well beyond what one would expect from a drum machine and easily equal the majority of keyboard samplers. The comprehensive filter and amplifier envelope parameters go far beyond what you are likely to need for processing percussion sounds, and except for experimental stuff, people rarely want to loop drum sounds. Yet the 440 provides for forward or bi-directional sustain or release looping, with the ability to automatically find zero-crossing points, and the latest technique for obtaining 'seamless' loops on sustained samples - crossfade looping. Those of you who are familiar with this technology will see straightaway that the 440 doesn't exactly come unprepared to deal with all types of samples from strings, brass and other orchestral sounds, through to rock instruments and the more demanding percussion instruments like cymbals and gongs. To give you some idea of the quality and flexibility of the 440, I have managed to come up with both a piano disk and a songwriter disk (drums, bass, guitar, strings, brass, acoustic and electric pianos, all on one disk) which are perhaps better than any I have managed to create on a 'keyboard' sampler.
For those of you unfamiliar with all the sampling jargon mentioned in the last paragraph, perhaps we had better look briefly at some of these facilities. 'Looping' is the way that we make a finite length recording sound indefinitely, by repeating a section of the sample over and over. This technique is available on all samplers but with varying degrees of flexibility and, therefore, usefulness. If you simply repeat a section at random then you are almost certain to have problems with glitching and unmatched volume and/or pitch, which translates into unwanted (and not very musical) tremolo or vibrato in your loop. To help avoid glitches, we can try and find 'start' and 'end' points for a loop which have the same value. This is what the ability to step through zero-crossings enables us to do. For most sounds, forward loops work pretty well, but occasionally it helps to be able to move backwards and forwards through the loop. Sequential call this bidirectional looping and the finding of zero-crossings (which you need on forward loops) even changes automatically to zero gradient when you are using this type of loop.
Sometimes we want the looped portion of a sound to stop when the pad or MIDI keyboard is released, allowing the sample to finish naturally; other times we need the looping to continue until the envelope has completely closed. These two different types of loops are called sustain and release respectively, and the Studio 440 allows you to choose which you want to use. Finally, crossfade looping, the newest technique available, actually recomputes the sample data to give a better loop, for those sounds which stubbornly refuse to be looped manually or with the Auto (zero-crossing) function. All in all, the looping capabilities on the 440 are exhaustive, which further confirms my contention that it should not be thought of as just a sampling drum machine: using both samples made on it and ones transferred across from the Prophet 2000, I have worked on several tracks where it was the only musical instrument, and on others where it was the piano, string machine and brass section rolled into one! Do not underestimate its scope for different sounds. It is limited only by what you can record with a microphone!
Of course, not all sounds you load into the 440 are best played from its own pads, but a surprising number are. Not only is each sound available almost instantly on a pad of its own (by selecting one of the four banks of eight sounds), but you can build up your own 'kits' which assign sounds exactly how you want to play them. And this is not just limited to selecting eight of the 32 sounds available and putting them together in a kit. Each pad in the kit can memorise the level, pitch and pan position of the sound assigned to it.
Anyone who ever owned a Drumtraks or a Tom will recognise Sequential's trademark here, even if the Japanese manufacturers have finally woken up recently and given you the same sort of capability three years after Sequential made such things possible (see the Yamaha RX5 and Kawai R100). But there is still nothing to touch Sequential's implementation, as you can (for example) assign the same sound to each pad (or just to some of them) and then set each one to have a different volume level (for greater control of dynamics in, say, a snare roll), different tunings (great for programming bass lines), pan position (make the same sound hop from side-to-side in a more controllable version of auto-panning) or any combination (imagine eight tom-toms rolling across the stereo picture as they move down in pitch - I do it all the time with one sample on the 440!).
And Sequential are not afraid to borrow a good idea from Linn, in the shape of the Auto-Repeat facility, which repeats the sound of whichever pad you are holding, in tempo, using the pressure you are exerting on the pad to control the volume instead of the velocity, which is the normal way of doing it (great for programming realistic hi-hat patterns).
The pads themselves are larger than your average inch-square drum machine button and made of soft rubber instead of the usual unyielding plastic. They are great for playing, giving more feel to the performance than switches (which is essentially what the standard drum machine button is!). The degree of control over velocity is very fine and this translates well to the pressure control when using the Auto-Repeat facility. And if they are not perfectly set up to respond to your individual preference for sensitivity (you delicate thing) or lack of it (hooligan!), then there is a small preset screw which allows you to adjust this (recessed to avoid being moved by accident or malice). Sequential are not usually known for making performance one of their higher priorities, but in the case of these pads they have come up with a real winner. I have never felt so comfortable when programming a drum machine before!
But however good the pads are, sooner or later you are going to want more flexible access to your sounds, especially when you wish to play the keyboard and orchestral sounds I claimed the 440 was ideal for, earlier. To start with, there are only eight pads on the 440, which may be more than enough when you are programming drum patterns, but hardly covers it when you want to start playing your piano or string sounds! Well, by routing the MIDI In to 'Sounds' (as opposed to 'Sequencer', which we will deal with shortly), you can use any MIDI Controller to trigger your sounds. More than likely, percussionists will immediately opt for something like the Roland Octopad (which works great) or their acoustic drum kit (in conjunction with the Simmons MTM or Yamaha PMC-1), but keyboard players like myself will be more inclined to use their velocity and pressure-sensitive MIDI keyboard. Of course, there is nothing new about playing drum machines from keyboards (Sequential made that possible back in 1984), but what is new about the Studio 440 is that this control is available on three different levels.
First (for compatibility with previous Sequential and Roland drum machines) the default assignment of pads to MIDI note numbers gives you (in conjunction with the original factory sounds disk) the bass drum on the bottom note of the keyboard, snare on the next two white notes, then toms, with claps, rimshot, closed and open hi-hat, then cymbals assigned to the black notes (again, starting from the bottom). This is a sort of unofficial 'standard' assignment which is somewhat outmoded now that most machines have a completely programmable MIDI note number assignment system, but it makes for retrospective compatibility (something other manufacturers could learn a lesson from). I for one was grateful, as it meant I could transfer across (ie. record) several of my favourite patterns, composed on my Drumtraks and SP12, with the minimum of fuss and without the need for all that tedious mucking about with reprogramming.
Of course, the 440 goes well beyond this basic method of assigning drums to keys, but we should mention that the innovation on the Drumtraks' version 0.5 software, enabling you to hold down any key in the bottom two octaves and then play the assigned sound over its whole tuning range in the top octaves, has been included on the 440, except that the tuning range is now 32 pitches instead of 16 and they have been correctly tuned to Western musical scales (the intervals on Drumtraks 0.5 must have been programmed by one of those hippies they get working at Sequential from time to time - great for Eastern music or microtones but lousy for more conventional stuff). It's a really fast way of programming bass lines or tom-tom fills.
The more flexible way of assigning sounds to MIDI note numbers uses 'keyboard kits' and this allows you to assign any of the kits or banks to one of the bottom two octaves (so you can have two, ie. 16 sounds, available at the same time and still keep the upper octaves for the tuning control). You can keep all the Level, Pitch and Pan settings stored as part of the kits, so this system is really flexible. However, this is still primarily of use for the percussive side of things (maybe the odd tuned sound as well, if you're looking for something really 'different'). What is needed for the keyboard and orchestral sounds is a way of assigning them over the whole keyboard and to different MIDI channels if necessary.
This is exactly what Mapped Mode does. Now before those of you who ever tried mapping a sound on the Prophet 2000 run screaming for the door, let me assure you that mapping on the 440 is the opposite of mapping on the Prophet 2000. In other words, it is quick, logical, easy to see what's going on and the MIDI channel assignment of samples, which takes a bit longer to achieve than the 440's preset Mode 4 assignment, is more flexible, allowing several sounds on the same MIDI channel (which the 2000 didn't in Mono Mode) and all original pitches and key ranges to be specified. I have set up several disks where changing MIDI channels is just like changing presets on a synth - ie. fast! The average mapping session on a Prophet 2000 takes hours and often still has problems (I often avoid it and use the preset Mode 4 option). On the 440 it takes minutes and the results are instantly usable. Used like this, the 440 can give any sampler on the market (including the Synclavier and Fairlight, except for memory capacity obviously) a good run for its money!
Once you have assigned how the sounds are going to be triggered, you will then want to designate from which audio outputs these sounds will emerge. Here, too, you have the same sort of choice as on a sampler like the Akai S900, in that you have eight separate outputs plus stereo left/right. Of course, the big disadvantage with separate outputs soon becomes apparent when your polyphonic parts are reduced to monophonic, because that's all any voice channel can handle; but, unlike on the S900, when you assign a sound to an individual output then it is automatically removed from the stereo output mix. This means that provided you don't assign all eight individual outs (so that there are no unassigned voice channels left to play the stereo sounds), you can use the stereo outs to keep the pan on something like the different pitches of toms. However, just like all the samplers on the market - from the S900 right up to the Fairlight Series III - you limit the amount and polyphony of your multi-timbrality as soon as you assign any separate outputs. In the recording studio, this means you may need to sync to tape and run several passes just to get everything happening that you hear through the Mono Mix output - that's the way it is with multi-timbral samplers! Personally, I prefer to stick with dynamic allocation as much as possible, for this very reason.
The Studio 440 has something else in common with all these samplers, something which sets it apart from other drum machines. Because its sampling memory is so massive and all of it is available for user-samples, there is no battery back-up and so when you turn it off, it forgets all the sounds (so make sure you save everything to disk before you do). Last time I tried complaining about this I was very quickly told how much it would cost to back up 512K of memory and I think I'd rather live with the lack of memory back-up than see the price of the machine go well over four grand! The thing is we are so used to this being the way things are on keyboard samplers, we don't even think of it as a drawback. And I guess if we want similar flexibility and memory size in our drum machines (and this is going to become more and more common for sure), then we will just have to get used to it! So, full marks to the 440 as a sampler but how does it make out as a drum machine?
The great thing about the 440 (as I remarked earlier) is that when you have sampled or loaded your sounds into the machine, you are instantly ready to start making patterns. If you use the onboard pads then neither mapping nor external MIDI devices (and the associated cable nightmare) are necessary, although they can be used if required. But for drum sounds the 440 is entirely self-sufficient!
For the first-time user, the Play and Record buttons are all you need as a default preset length and time signature are automatically selected (four bars of 4/4). Of course, you can select any pattern length you like up to 99 bars (and you don't even have to have whole numbers of bars, you can tag on extra beats if desired) and the time signature can be varied from 1 to 64 beats per bar each of which can be a quarter, eighth, sixteenth or thirty-second note (or any of the triplets in-between).
When you are in record mode, you can access any of the four banks (which hold the basic sounds) or four kits (which hold your stored set-ups with their tunings, level, and pan positions) by stepping through using the Kit/Bank selector switch. This is great because it means you don't need to stop recording your drum pattern to change the sounds under your fingers. The pattern length you have set up cycles round indefinitely while you are in record so you can keep adding different sounds; and in playback, you can specify any number of repeats from 0 to 99, or infinite repetition (well at least until you hit Stop). What's more, you can keep moving in and out of record mode without needing to stop the 440 from running, so you can rehearse a part before you commit yourself to recording it.
Apart from standard record and playback modes you can use an erase mode, which deletes the sound on the pad(s) you are holding down, and if you are recording your drum patterns in longer sections, there is also the welcome facility of punching in and out. I was also pleased to see for the first time on a Sequential machine the ability to programme patterns in step-time (one beat at a time) for the less musically proficient of us. This works by stepping through the bar at the Auto-Correct value and placing the sounds where you want them, complete with the required velocity. As yet (Version 1.7 software), Sequential have not provided a way of editing the Level, Pitch and Pan settings (apart from erasing and re-recording that is), but I am told that this is planned for the next software release and will work in the style of the Roland MC500 'microscope' editing.
The Auto-Correct and Swing modes on the 440 are very flexible - you can choose to auto-correct notes on and notes off, or just notes on, and the swing value can be set to the nearest click (the resulting percentages are also shown for the non-mathematically-minded of you). Auto-Correct can be set to anything between a quarter-note and a thirty-second note triplet, and when the auto-correct is set to Off, then the recording has a resolution (ie. note accuracy) of 1/96th of a bar (the same resolution as MIDI Clock rate). Another neat thing about the auto-correct is that you can Shift the correction backwards or forwards a certain number of clocks (1/96ths of a bar) to advance or lay back a part in the track (the number of clocks you have available depends on what resolution auto-correct you are using). So both the Auto-Correct and the Swing can be set to make sure that corrected recording does not sound inhuman if you are looking to avoid that (if you prefer a robotic feel, then you can use straight correction amounts and no swing).
The only problem with both these features is that they only work in record mode. This means that you cannot simply remove the correction once you have applied it, nor can you try auto-correcting or swinging a pre-recorded part. You have to re-record it, although in fairness you can mute the already recorded part and try the corrected (or uncorrected) version on a different track, if you wish to compare the two. This is possible because the eight tracks on the 440 are used for sequencing both the internal sounds (percussion or other) and external MIDI keyboards and any of them can contain internal patterns or MIDI sequence information or both. So, if you want to keep individual drum sounds separate, so that you can mute them during playback, you can allocate them to separate tracks (you can always bounce them together again when you are happy with them).
All the things you can do when creating sequences using the internal sounds (auto-correct, swing, erase, punch in/out, step record, etc) apply equally to MIDI sequencing on the 440. And what with the fact that the internal sounds don't have to be percussion sounds, and the fact that external MIDI instruments can be sequenced so easily, the barriers between drum machine programming and MIDI sequencing start to appear somewhat artificial. Of course, there are several areas where the requirements for sequencing are a bit more demanding than those for drum machine programming, and this is where I have a few reservations about the Studio 440.
Whilst for the majority of Top 40 musical styles, the uncorrected resolution of 1/96th of a bar is probably adequate (most sequencers don't give you more than this when synchronised to MIDI Clock anyway), there are several sequencers on the market (the Roland MC500, for example) which do go down to 1/384th resolution (four times that of the Studio 440) and don't lose out when controlled by MIDI Clock. I am a little disappointed that the 440 doesn't fall into this category, as I'm sure that some musicians will find the 440's resolution a bit limiting for freer styles of music (jazz and classical performance, where timing nuances are seen as critical to the performer's expression).
There is a lot of controversy over how much resolution you actually need, all tied up with how small the intervals are that we can actually hear. Now whilst I have neither the space nor the inclination to get into that topic here, I wish Sequential had opted for a higher resolution just to avoid that whole can of worms. However, I am quite sure that 99% of people will never have any complaint about resolution and of those that do, most will be 'hearing' problems because they read or were told that the resolution was limited. Put it this way - lack of resolution hasn't drawn itself to my attention as a problem yet, and as most people use auto-correct far more than I do anyway, few people will even give themselves the chance to hear it!
The other thing that people like to complain about with hardware sequencers like the Studio 440, when comparing them to the proliferation of software sequencers available these days, is the lack of the 24, 48 or however many numbers of tracks that the latter boast. Well, as far as I'm concerned, this is short-sightedness on the part of the complainers as you only have one MIDI Out socket on most computer packages, so you can't access more than 16 MIDI channels anyway. The 440 has a much better solution. Whilst it only has eight tracks, each track can hold MIDI data on more than one channel, and there are two MIDI Outs (A and B) so that 32 MIDI channels can be used. This is far better than huge numbers of tracks, most of which have to share MIDI channels, so they are of limited usefulness.
If you wish, you can bounce together tracks you have recorded on the 440 to get several different MIDI channels on one track - but you don't have to. You simply keep overdubbing on a different channel every time you want to create a new 'track', and everything is recorded onto one track.
If you like (and I expect many people will end up doing this by default), you can have everything - internal sounds and external devices on all 16 MIDI channels - sequenced on one track. However, if you want to use another 16 MIDI channels then you will have to record those on another track, as it is the track (and all the channels recorded on it) which is assigned to MIDI Out A or B.
But wanting to use more than 16 MIDI channels is not the only reason to use more than one track; you may want to keep parts separate for editing later, or so that you can mute them during playback. At the moment, the editing situation in particular is one to watch out for, as the only way to 'unbounce' different MIDI channels on the same track is by copying the sequence to another track and then erasing all but the channel you want to change (and erasing that channel on the original track also). Sequential tell me that the ability to extract a MIDI channel from a track is high on the list of priorities for a future software revision, but in the meantime you would do better to record different parts on different tracks and only bounce them together when you are happy with the result.
Nevertheless, there are several useful editing functions on the 440, including insertion and deletion of bars, velocity scaling (which allows you to change levels), 'rotating' tracks and setting of MIDI timing offsets (both of which allow you to slide tracks against each other in time), transposition, and sound replacement. Some of these, like inserting and deleting bars, can only be done globally on all the tracks in a sequence; others, like rotating, can only be done one track at a time. But with the majority you can choose one track or all of them to make things as quick as possible, whatever you are up to.
Another clever feature is the Work Loop; this allows you to pull a few bars out of the sequence, work on them (without messing up the rest of the sequence) and then re-insert them exactly where you took them from.
Once you have programmed your various sequences then you can build them together into a song, complete with Repeat, Insert, Delete or Change functions. Once you have built your song, you can then dub it back into a sequence. This allows you to make use of the flexible tempo controls on the 440. When you have a finished sequence, you can set the initial tempo and any changes using either the programmable parameters or the Tap Track. The first of these involves going through and deciding the bars where you want the tempo changes to occur, how much faster or slower you want the sequence to play, and over how many beats you want the change to take place.
This is a precise way of controlling the playback tempo of your sequence. But there is a more intuitive way of programming the tempo of your sequence - the Tap Track. By simply tapping along you can actually control the tempo of the sequence in real time and record it for future playback. Of course, this is particularly important when you are syncing your sequence to tape. The parameters involved with the Tap Track mean you can set up whether you want to tap quarter or eighth notes and you can also use Slew to set how wide or narrow a variation in timing the 440 will respond to. This is a marvellous future for humanising your sequences. You can also programme this feature from a footswitch.
The Studio 440 comes well equipped to synchronise with the rest of the world, from old standards like a click-track or 24, 48 and 96ppqn clocks, to current ones like SMPTE and MIDI and future ones like MIDI Time Code (which is a cross between the two). It can even act as an interface device between these various differing standards by, for example, reading SMPTE timecode and sending not just MIDI Clock data but also MIDI Song Pointers so that it can 'chase and lock' other MIDI sequencers/drum machines to tape as well as itself. And although 'ppqn' (pulses per quarter-note) devices can't be run from anywhere except the top (because their standard doesn't allow for anything else), they can still be synchronised to MIDI Clock via the 440.
The 440 uses separate MIDI In and Out sockets for the synchronisation (in addition to the MIDI In, Out A, Out B and switchable Out A/Thru for note and other commands) labelled Terminal/Sync. This means that you can keep your timing and sequencer data on separate MIDI busses. However, in the original version of the operating system, you could not choose to send MIDI Clock timing data out of the standard MIDI sockets, which was a problem if you wanted to sequence and synchronise on the same MIDI buss. Fortunately, this was one of the first extra features that Sequential added, and now you have the flexible approach of being able to send MIDI Clock from either Out A or Out B sockets or both. This is great if you want to control another drum machine or sequencer via MIDI Clock but don't want to confuse it with the MIDI Time Code data coming from the Terminal/Sync MIDI Out. We'll look at the MIDI Time Code side of things shortly.
The SMPTE implementation on the Studio 440 allows both reading and writing of 24, 25, 30 and 30 dropframe timecode rates, so the 440 is the only thing you need to synchronise to tape with full SMPTE-chase (no more rewinding to the start of the track). This makes it ideal for all film and video applications, as well as in the rock-n-roll studio, and I know several people who are using it this way and finding that the 440 really does the job for them. It allows you to set tempos in frames per beat as well as beats per minute (bpm); in conjunction with the timing track you can lay down 'cues' manually by tapping along to picture, or you can feed the 440 a click-track to establish the timing information before you even begin sequencing.
Although the number of machines out there with MIDI Time Code (MTC) is currently limited to one, the 440, there are many products in the design stage which the Studio 440 will be able to interface with and control. The first of these will probably be Digidesign's Q-sheet package for the Macintosh computer which you will be able to download into the 440, so that once you have created a set of triggering cues you will be able to save them with the accompanying sequences on the 440 and play them back together. Obviously the uses for MTC are pretty limited right now, but it makes a change to have a piece of equipment that will increase in usefulness rather than go out of date.
Apart from all those connections on the back panel we have already dealt with, we should not forget the most forward-looking of them all, the SCSI (pronounced 'scoo-zy') port. For those of you not yet familiar with the Small Computer Systems Interface, it is fast becoming the computer industry standard connection for all sorts of peripherals like hard disks and other mass storage devices. The Version 1.7 software already equips the Studio 440 to work with the DataFrame 20 and 40 megabyte hard disks, which allow for 25 and 51 floppy disks worth of data respectively, but Sequential hope to be able to cover other storage formats later.
All in all the Studio 440 is probably the most flexible drum machine ever, not just in terms of the sounds you have available but in the way you can totally control the time signature, lengths in bars and beats, clock offset for auto-correct and so on. And don't forget that once you have recorded your drum and other parts, you can always replace any sound, by sampling a more suitable sound yourself or by loading one from disk. It's also impossible for you (or your audience) to ever become tired of the sound of this machine, because that can be changed in 40 seconds (or considerably less using a hard disk).
As a sequencer working in the realtime format side-by-side with the drum patterns, the 440 follows in the tradition of the Linn 9000 and does the job equally well (except that it doesn't interrupt your work so often with crashes and the associated data loss). Personally, I'm waiting for the microscope-style editing to arrive before the 440 will be everything I need in a sequencer, but for those who like to work in real time with auto-correct (and heaven knows the Linn 9000 and all those computer sequencer packages out there have created enough people who think this is the only way to work), this aspect of the 440 will probably go down a storm.
The timing/synchronisation side of the 440 is excellent, and fulfils the tasks which I previously required several machines to do before: SMPTE-to-MIDI like the Roland SBX80, but with all four different types of timecode available and the bonus of saving all your SMPTE set-ups to disk with the songs; real-time or recordable control of tempo like the Bokse Humaniser or Kahler Human Clock; clicks and clocks of all the various demoninations like the Garfield boxes. Plus the Studio 440 is the first machine to offer MIDI Time Code so it is helping create higher levels of synchronisation. All things considered, the 440 is probably the only timing interface you're going to need for both your old gear and your new.
But my favourite thing about the Studio 440 is none of these; it's the fact that the 440 does all of them in one black box that you can tuck under your arm. I can load my Prophet 2000 sounds or sample new ones, instantly start creating patterns with them (no need to hook up anything else), sequence any MIDI instrument and control the timing of any external device, and then save everything on to disk (floppy or hard). That's the real advantage of the Studio 440, which makes it more than a drum machine, more than a sequencer, more than a SMPTE/MIDI/clock interface - the fact that it is all of these things in one flexible, portable package.
Available from Sequential dealers or contact Sequential (Europe), (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Wiffen
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