Shape of Things to Come
A pictorial taste of some of the hot new products unveiled at last month's British Music Fair.
Microillusions' Music X (£199), their long-awaited professional music system for the Commodore Amiga, finally appeared in its fully working form at the British Music Fair. Besides its comprehensive sequencer functions, Music X takes advantage of the Amiga's particular abilities to offer sample playback on the computer - any sound saved in IFF format can be triggered and manipulated directly from the program, which also incorporates a patch editor and librarian which can be used concurrently with the sequencer.
Main features of Music X include: 250 tracks, full colour graphic editing, event list editing, a control track, simultaneous absolute (minutes, seconds and frames) and relative (bars, beats, MIDI events) operation, real-time track muting/mixdown, SMPTE sync, MIDI timecode sync and video clock sync. Music X runs under AmigaDOS, and will therefore multitask with other Amiga software.
The Amiga has not yet really taken off as a music computer in this country - the Atari ST is still very much the computer of mass choice - despite its undoubted power, particularly in relation to bringing together music and computer animation. However, that has largely been due to the limited availability of professional Amiga music software - for a long time Dr.T's Software was the only 'serious' music software house to support the machine. Perhaps now, with the release of this major program, we will see the Amiga becoming a more popular computer among professional musicians. Just as Steinberg's Pro24 sold the Atari to the music world, maybe Microillusions' Music X will do the same for the unjustly overlooked Amiga. (Watch out for a full review soon!)
SDL Ltd, (Contact Details).
Among the few keyboards to actually make their debut at the BMF were Korg's new T-series synths. The T1, T2 and T3 are all based on the same improved M1 voice circuitry, but differ in the mechanical specifications of their keyboards. The flagship T1 (£3700) is a real monster, with a full 88-note piano weighted keyboard; the T2 (£2999) has a 76-note unweighted action; and the T3 (£2500) has a 61-note unweighted action.
Among the significant improvements over the M1's design is the addition of a 3.5" disk drive for sound and sequence storage. The internal memory has been expanded to give a 56,000 note capacity for the sequencer, and the sequencer's facilities have been improved, making it more of a serious tool than the M1's 'sketch pad'. The sequencer now supports 32 MIDI channels (two independent sets of 16) via four MIDI Outs on the T1/2/3's back panel. The waveform memory has been doubled to eight Megabytes, adding a considerable number of new sounds. 200 Programs and 100 Combinations can be created.
Another innovation is the option of adding a 512K RAM board to the T-series (though it is fitted as standard on the T1). This board enables samples to be downloaded into the T1/2/3 and used as oscillators in the voice structure, just like any other part of the waveform memory - all of the filtering and envelope processing can be used to shape the basic samples. Suitable samples can be taken from Korg's own T disks, DSM1 disks, or can be loaded via MIDI Sample Dump from your favourite sampler. The board provides four-times oversampling on playback, meaning the quality of samples when used in the T1/2/3 may be even better than when played on the original sampler.
Korg UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Now available in the UK is Dr.T's Tiger (£129), a generic visual editing program for sequences. Tiger is an acronym for The Interactive Graphic EditoR. The program can operate as an MPE module, sharing data with Dr.T's KCS sequencer, or as a stand-alone application playing and editing either KCS or standard MIDI files - so sequences from any sequencer that saves sequences as standard MIDI files can be edited. Tiger uses piano-roll notation, and up to three tracks and eight controllers can be displayed simultaneously.
Also new from Dr.T is Version 1.7 of KCS for the Atari ST. New editing and composition features have been added, and support for up to eight MPE modules. The clock resolution of the program has now been upgraded to 384ppqn.
MCMCXIX, (Contact Details).
Sansui is not a company known for its recording equipment, but that may well be set to change with the introduction of several new home recording products, including a 6-track cassette multitracker.
The WSX1 (£1250) combines a 6-track cassette deck with an 8-channel mixer, and incorporates a conventional stereo cassette deck for mastering on. A digital reverb unit is built in, and Dolby B/C is available on both decks.
Also new from Sansui is the MX12 12-channel mixer (£659.95), MR6 sync capable 6-track cassette recorder, WSG10 stereo graphic equaliser, and the SY1 sync control unit. The SY1 can be used to operate a WSX1 and MR6, or two MR6s in sync, giving 10 audio tracks to record on.
Washburn UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Shortly available from Alesis is a new version of the MIDIverb, the MIDIverb III (£399). The new unit is a multiple effects processor which actually seems to be as much a cut-down Quadraverb as a souped-up MIDIverb II. Delay, reverb, chorus and EQ effects can be produced simultaneously, and the unit features 15kHz bandwidth and real-time external MIDI control over effects parameters. The chorus section has mono and stereo chorus, and mono and stereo flange algorithms, with varying degrees of depth. A good range of reverb algorithms is provided, with different density, diffusion and frequency response characteristics.
Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).
Roland's S770 stereo sampler was demonstrated recently at the BMF, although it will probably not be available until January 1990. The S770, as it is known, is a professional product with an emphatically professional price tag - £4,999. The S770 goes a step further than the current industry standard of 16-bit audio by offering 20-bit D-to-A conversion on playback. Sampling is 16-bit (at 48, 44.1, 24 or 22.05kHz) and processing (TVA, TFV etc) is 24-bit. The S770 comes with 2Mb of RAM as standard, expandable to 16Mb, giving 90 seconds of sampling at 48kHz. A 40Mb hard disk is built in. Digital inputs and outputs are provided, and a SCSI port opens the way to interfacing with external hard disks, CD ROM, magneto-optical drives etc.
Expected at around the same time is the first Rhodes synthesizer to be made since Roland took the company over. The synth will apparently be very much a performance-oriented instrument, in keeping with the Rhodes tradition. Also new from Roland is the M120, a 1U rackmount 12:2 line mixer based on the circuitry of the M160/M240 audio mixers.
Roland UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
The Real World ASM (Automated Send Matrix) is a new effects routing system, originally developed as a custom device for Peter Gabriel's Real World studios, which adds between two and eight separate effects/foldback sends to existing SSL series G and E consoles. Unlike the existing sends, however, the switching of each channel to each additional send can be memorised and controlled by the ASM computer. Although the unit might seem to be entirely studio bound, a 16 input 8 output version was apparently supplied to 10,000 Maniacs for their extensive tour of the USA and Canada.
Real World, (Contact Details).
Among the undisputed stars of the recent BMF were three new products from Tascam: two new Portastudios and an affordable 24-track recorder. The two new Portastudios - the 16-input 4-group 4-track 644 MIDIstudio (£999) and the 20-input 8-group 8-track 688 MIDIstudio (£1999) - are notable primarily for their powerful mixer sections, which have a more advanced implementation of the scene change facilities found on Tascam's MM1 MIDI mixer. Mutes and routing on the mixer section of each can be programmed and stored as 99 scenes, which can then be recalled via MIDI Program Change messages, or by manual switching, or with an optional footswitch. A large LCD readout is provided to show and help programme the mixer settings.
Both Portastudios are compatible with the Tascam MIDIizer sync box, and can therefore be synced to SMPTE, and an MTS30 MIDI-to-tape synchroniser is built into both machines as standard. The mixer sections incorporate dual inputs on each channel, giving up to 16 inputs on the 4-track and 20 inputs on the 8-track.
The MSR24, at £8399 inc VAT, represents a significant breakthrough in price terms for a 24-track analogue tape recorder. It uses 1" tape, running at either 7.5 or 15 ips, and will accept reels up to 10.5". Dbx type 1 noise reduction (switchable) is built-in, so you're even spared the cost of buying noise reduction - usually an extra on 24-track recorders.
Whilst it's true that £8399 isn't peanuts to most people, allowing for inflation it is comparable to the kind of prices that you would have paid for a 16-track not so long ago - before the advent of 'affordable' 16-tracks of course. So, even if no other recording equipment manufacturers take up the challenge that the MSR24 presents, and produce an even cheaper rival, it seems the era of the 24-track home studio is upon us at last!
Teac UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
A new stereo test set said to have 'the widest range ever designed' is now available from Plasmec Systems. The new Dorrough Model 1200 Stereo Signal test set includes a pair of their loudness monitors, each of which indicates both peak and average levels on a single display. The dynamic range of the electronics is quoted as better than 110dB, with a measurement range of 96dB (—76 to +20dB). The meters can be operated in either Left and Right, or Sum and Difference formats, to measure level, balance, crosstalk and signal-to-noise. (No reviewer should be without one!)
Plasmec Systems Ltd, (Contact Details).
Beyer Dynamic launched four new additions to their Tour Group range of microphones at the BMF. The new models are the TGX180, TGX280, TGX480 and TGX580. The Tour Group range is designed very much with the rigours of the road in mind, and the new mics are all tailored for specific applications in high-decibel environments.
The TGX180 is a small, cost-effective high output mic with a macron diaphragm for accurate sound at high SPLs. The TGX280 has been designed as a step-up from the 180 as a vocal mic, or for use in instrument miking. The TGX480 is a large diaphragm mic for rock'n'roll vocalists, with a pronounced midrange punch. The flagship TGX580 offers extended frequency and fast transient response for studio accuracy in a live performance.
Beyer Dynamic, (Contact Details).
ART showed off their new effects processors at the BMF, extending their range with the addition of the SGE guitar/studio multi-effects unit, the Multiverb II, and the Multiverb EXT. All are based on the original Multiverb, but enhance its capabilities in different ways. In the case of the SGE (£629), this means adding still more effects and allowing a maximum of nine (!) to be used at once. Many of the extra effects are guitar-oriented (compression, distortion etc), and the range of effects now on offer combined with the same high audio quality as the Multiverb, makes the SGE a powerful processor for any studio or performance set-up.
The Multiverb II (£499) adds real-time MIDI control over effects parameters - also a feature of the SGE - to the original Multiverb's facilities. The Multiverb EXT (£649) adds extended delay and user-sampling facilities to the Multiverb II's features.
Harman UK Ltd, (Contact Details)
MIDI systems sometimes seem to create as many problems as they solve, and as they grow more complex, it is the problem of routing and controlling MIDI data that becomes most acute. Two new units which can sort out your MIDI connection nightmares are the Function Junction and Function Junction Plus. Both are powerful MIDI matrix units, the Function Junction (£395) offering eight inputs and outputs, and the Plus version (£695) 16 of each; two of the latter can be slaved together to create a 16 input, 32 output matrix system. The Function Junction is a stand-alone unit, and the Plus has a remote control for convenience.
Any combination of routing between the inputs and outputs is possible, and powerful processing features are included. MIDI data can be filtered, transposed, delayed, and even cross-switched or cross-faded between channels by velocity. 8/16 keyboard zones can also be created, each assignable to a single MIDI Out, and Controller data can be remapped on to any other Controller. Configurations of the whole system can be stored and recalled as patches, and the user interface has been designed so as to make the task of setting up the routing, potentially a very confusing one, as easy as possible. A companion editor/librarian is available for the Atari ST.
Audio Architecture, (Contact Details).
Akai will shortly be producing a keyboard version of their S1000 sampler, the S1000KB (£3499). The instrument will have exactly the same specification as the popular S1000 sampler module as far as the voice architecture goes, with the addition of a 61-note aftertouch-sensitive keyboard. The machine will have a basic 2Mb memory, upgradable with an optional 40Mb hard disk retrofit.
Also coming soon will be a new 16-bit drum machine, the XR10 (between £300 and £400). The XR10 will feature 61 internal sounds (apparently taken from the MPC60), 50 preset and 50 programmable patterns, 15 drum pads, two pairs of stereo outputs, and sound editing parameters (tuning, decay, pan etc) for all sounds.
Akai have also recently reduced the prices of three of their established products. The XE8 drum module now costs £299, the AR900 digital reverb now costs £499, and the ME30PII MIDI patchbay £149.
Akai Professional, (Contact Details).
Several new products from Studiomaster made their debut at the BMF, including the MIDI world's equivalent of the guitar tuner, the MA36 MIDI analyser.
This low-cost device is a pocket-sized function analyser which you simply connect to the end of a MIDI cable, or in-line in any MIDI system. Two rows of LEDs will then indicate what type of MIDI data is being carried - all types of MIDI data, including System Exclusive, Active Sensing and Song Select are catered for. A troubleshooter's delight.
Also new is the IMP1, a 16-channel in-line mute processor, which can be patched into the insert points or aux sends and returns of any mixing desk to provide dynamic MIDI control over the console's input channels, subgroups and effects.
Studiomaster plc, (Contact Details).
Cheetah, the UK's own low-cost hi-tech equipment manufacturer, unveiled several interesting new products at the recent British Music Fair including a 16-bit drum machine and a 16-bit stereo sampler. When it becomes available, the SX16 sampler will be the cheapest 16-bit machine on the market, with a retail price of only £799.95. Eight separate monophonic audio outputs are provided, and the SX16 can read Akai S900 sample disks via its onboard 3.5" drive, giving it immediate access to a very large sound library. The machine has 512K of RAM as standard, upgradable to 2 Megabytes - a 0.5Mb upgrade costs a further £249.95, and an extra 1.5Mb costs £599.95. Other options include a CRT interface and joystick to allow control and editing with the visual assistance of a TV.
The MD16 drum machine (£299.95) offers 48 16-bit sounds, with dynamic pads, eight separate outputs, a humanise function, tape sync, dynamic tuning and dynamic stereo panning. A further 48 sounds can be added with an optional ROM cartridge.
Also new and on show was the Master Series 7P MIDI master keyboard (£699.95), which offers a full 88-note piano-style weighted keyboard, velocity and release velocity sensitivity, and extensive MIDI control facilities.
Cheetah Marketing Ltd, (Contact Details).
Gadget freaks read no further, lest a wave of pure technolust engulf you. Atari's new Portfolio pocket PC made a sneak appearance at the BMF, provoking fevered cries of 'when can I have one!?' from all who laid hands on it. The machine is a fully PC compatible computer, with 128K of memory as standard, its remarkable feature being its size: about that of a paperback book, or a slim filofax, to use a more appropriate comparison. Power comes from three 'Walkman' size batteries, and diary, spreadsheet, and telephone directory software is supplied as standard.
A slot on the left of the machine will accept memory cards carrying additional software. A custom port on the right-hand side allows the Portfolio to communicate with other PCs, and will also accept additional memory cartridges. The keyboard is surprisingly usable, given its diminutive size.
Although most people would probably buy the Portfolio to fulfill the same role as a Psion Organiser or similar unit, Portfolio's outstanding advantage over such machines is its PC compatibility, which means that it conforms to the most important standard of the business computing world.
SDL Ltd, (Contact Details).
Zero One's line of software products has now expanded to include all of the Roland Linear Arithmetic synthesizers. The editors function as Macintosh desk accessories, and can be run simultaneously with a sequencer. In the case of Performer, they can be used even while the sequencer is running, a feature unique amongst Mac editing software. All of the editors feature the rather neat facility to step back through the last 100 edits, if you need to return to an earlier, unsaved version of a sound. An 'orchestrator' feature for editors of multitimbral synths allows up to eight different Tones to be edited simultaneously. Prices are: D50/550 editor/librarian £150, D50/550 librarian £85, D10/20/110 editor/librarian/orchestrator £150, D10/20/110 librarian/orchestrator £119, MT32 editor/librarian/orchestrator £129, MT32 librarian/orchestrator £99. (All prices ex-VAT.)
Quadrant AVC Ltd, (Contact Details).
Following on from the DH100 and DH800 digital horns, Casio have launched a more professional version of their MIDI wind controller in the form of the DH500. Like the earlier versions, the DH500 has onboard sounds, but digital reverb has been added, and the MIDI specification of the instrument improved to appeal to more professional players.
Also new and on show at the BMF was the VZ8M synthesizer module (£499), an 8-note polyphonic synth module similar to Casio's existing VZ10M. The VZ8M uses IPD synthesis, and features auto-panning and 8-part multitimbral operation.
Casio Electronics, (Contact Details).
The Icon Research APB1 is a new programmable audio patchbay which enables instant recall of any routing configuration via MIDI. The eight inputs can be routed to any or all of the 12 outputs; audio connections are via ¼" unbalanced jacks. Up to 150 patches can be stored in the APB1's non-volatile memory, and up to 64 of them chained together into a sequence. The sequence can be stepped through using the front panel controls, MIDI commands or the rear panel RS232 port. An optional video output allows for connection to a monitor, facilitating patch programming.
Icon Research Ltd, (Contact Details).
Acorn Computers, having shown their commitment to the music market by joining the MIA (Music Industries Association) - the only computer manufacturer so far to do so - exhibited at the BMF with a range of third-party developers showing products aimed at the professional musician as well as Acorn's established education market. With its multitasking RISC OS operating system, the Archimedes is perhaps the most powerful PC not to have found favour with musicians as yet, but that should start to change as the growing forces of software and hardware developers address the needs of musicians and studios.
One such company, Armadillo Systems, demonstrated their new A616 16-bit sampling package (£1380), which features 44.1kHz sampling, four-times oversampling on playback for optimum audio quality, MIDI control, full editing facilities, and full multitasking operation. The A616 comes complete with High Note software, which provides a flexible environment for the sampler to operate in. High Note can be expanded on a modular basis, and modules available in the near future will offer direct to hard disk recording and EBU timecode sync.
On the sequencing front, Pandora Technology demonstrated Inspiration (£399), a new MIDI sequencer for the Archimedes that will be available shortly. Features include dynamic track allocation, colour coded displays, RISC OS integration, tempo adjustment to four decimal places, and 1ms timing resolution regardless of tempo (equivalent to 2000 steps per 4/4 bar at 120bpm). Pandora will also be launching a new MIDI interface for the Archimedes, the PM 14, which offers four independent MIDI Outs. Inspiration can independently address these ports to give effectively 64 MIDI channels.
Electromusic Research were also on the Acorn stand, showing the latest additions to their low-cost Arpeggio Music System - Rhythm Box and Handimusic 1 - which have both been developed for special needs in education.
Acorn Computers Ltd, (Contact Details).
Pandora Technology Ltd, (Contact Details).
EMR Ltd, (Contact Details).
Armadillo Systems Ltd, (Contact Details).