Steinberg Synthworks D10/20/110/MT32
Software for the Atari ST
Steinberg's Atari editor for the Roland D10 also works for the MT32 - or is that Steinberg's D110 editor works with the D20? Vic Lennard gets generic with Synthworks.
Roland's popular MT32 and "D" series of synths have prompted the release of a series of software editors to assist their users - cue Steinberg's Synthworks.
VISUAL EDITING OF synthesiser patches using a computer has become a way of life - necessarily so with the advent of digital parameter access and multi-function buttons. Roland's D110 is a fine example of an expander that employs a terrifyingly confusing editing system - all in the interests of cost-effective design, you understand. And while the D10 and D20 lack certain of the D110's facilities, envelope editing is always going to be easier from a computer monitor using a mouse. Meanwhile, the ability to save banks of MT32 sounds to a disk - sounds which would otherwise be lost on power-down - is a necessity for the serious programmer (a cartridge is very expensive in comparison).
So we have Steinberg's Synthworks - not just for the D110, not just for the D10 and D20, but for the 'three D"s and the MT32. With all of their current crop of editors for the Atari ST, Steinberg have attempted to work around the computer's slow GEM interface by implementing their own alternative. (For those interested, this differs in the following respects; left mouse click selects an icon while a right mouse click replaces the cursor with the icon ready for relocation; top left box icon exits from the page while the top right brings down a further set of instructions; three sets of arrows are given at the side of windows for up/down to top of list, one page or one line; finally, screens dissolve into one another.)
AFTER PLUGGING IN the inevitable dongle and loading up, certain aspects of the editor require selection - the most basic of these being the type of synth which is to be edited. While there is no difference between the D10 and D20, they differ from the D110 in that the location of the patches within the synths have been altered, meaning that they are incompatible and so are lost when changing from one to the other (although Tones and Timbres are safe). The MT32 is significantly different in that it has a different set of PCM sampled waveforms which have to be loaded from disk when this unit is chosen for editing. There are two modes for which subjective choices have to be made. The first of these is mouse acceleration - how fast do you want the cursor to move relative to the mouse? There are three options: normal, fast and bloody ridiculous. The second is for the mode of editing: this offers mouse buttons to be changed round in operation (good for left-handed people), set as a virtual slider, vertically or horizontally, or for terms to be typed in. Final decisions are MIDI orientated and concern merging and re-channelling, including an auto option for multitimbral applications where sounds are assigned different MIDI channels.
THE TONE EDIT page greets you as you load up. Most of the features are self-explanatory with arrows leading from one function to the next; LFO-Pitch-Wave-Filter-Volume, all four partials for any sound are shown on the same page. The layout is quite simply excellent.
Each Partial has the requisite envelopes for pitch, filter and volume, and clicking on any of these brings up a high-resolution graph whose points can be moved around by dragging with the cursor "finger", which changes the numerical values in the window at the same time. Various options are offered including access to any of the 12 such graphs for any of the Partials for comparative purposes. A couple of helpful touches are the eight preset curves in the top right-hand corner of the window which can be used as starting points for the filter and volume graphs, and the various other functions pertaining to the envelopes, which sit along the base of the graph. The speed with which editing can be accomplished is certainly impressive.
At the bottom of the edit page are the output options. These allow one of the 13 choices of PCM/Synth/Ring modulation along with the four edit buffers to be chosen. At the top of each partial window there is an arrow for muting that partial and a box on the right for soloing it and when the waveform selection is for PCM, a click on the arrow next to "choice" brings up a list of the viable alternatives.
A Partial Copy menu option brings up a further window offering the choice of copying any Partial from any one of the four buffered sounds to any other. As each Partial is a separate entity and sound of its own, this can be very useful indeed.
EACH OF THE synths are eight-part multitimbral and all functions for the setting up of a Patch reside on the Configuration page. Timbres are shown in eight vertical columns with visual representation of output channel (D110) and a push-button switch for reverb on/off (D10/20). Grab the level slider and it moves smoothly up and down while the numerical equivalent changes at the foot of the slider. This function is more comfortable than any other piece of editing software I can remember. The whole page resembles an in-line mixing console and is extremely friendly. This is certainly starting to grow on me.
The top left-hand corner of the window has a drum kit which, upon selection, takes you to the Rhythm Setup page. Here 16 piano keys are shown vertically, each with an assigned Tone, output and pan for the relevant synth. Another volume slider in a more conventional block bar represents the same setting both visually and numerically. Scrolling downwards allows all keys to have Tones assigned to them - either Rhythm or otherwise - or as few as takes your fancy. These can then be saved to disk. It's also worth mentioning that if you attempt to scroll upwards or downwards after reaching the end of a bar, a face appears in place of the cursor and winks at you - it's not enticement to repeat the mistake.
A separate Reverb window lets you select one of the eight effects on offer along with the reverb time and level. Similar options are available for the performance aspects of the D10/20 where, like the D50, whole, dual or split modes can be assigned.
THE D10, D20 AND D110 contain two banks of 64 preset Tones (A and B), one bank of 63 rhythm Tones (R) and one bank of 64 user Tones (i). These can all be seen on the Librarian page which holds two complete banks as well as up to 1000 Tones in a custom library which can be saved to and loaded from disk. The 128 Timbres and Patches can also be recalled by clicking on the relevant icons.
Movement between the banks, library and buffers is straightforward, and while in the interests of neatness it's possible to put the Tones into alphabetical order, the links with the timbres are then lost.
One of the principal features of the Librarian is "Semantics" - the assigning of up to eight adjectives to each Tone to describe its sound - 'Brassy', 'Bass', 'FMDigital', 'Bleedin' Awful' or whatever, from a list of 255 choices. Tones can be categorised and added to the library, and selections can be made by asking for certain criteria to be satisfied. To this end, a scanning depth can be set so that if a percentage of the chosen adjectives appear within the classification of the Tone then it will be selected. For example, choosing four adjectives and 50% will mean that any Tone with two or more of the qualifying conditions will be accepted. Now while I can see the benefit in setting up such a listing, it will take a long - and I mean long - time to organise. Still, once done it will save time finding a particular type of sound during a session... Oh, and it also has a checker which will warn if two Tones with identical parameters have been saved in the library.
EVEN WITH THE visual power of this editor, programming one of these synths may not be everyone's cup of tea cue the program's various methods of creating new sounds (Crossbreedings). Crossbreeding is capable of creating either a single new voice or 32 of them based on existing voices and uses a mask system to keep certain blocks of parameters safe from computer modification.
Quadratic Mixture places the four buffer Tones onto the corners of a box and produces differing new sounds dependent on where a cross is placed in the box. Partial Fantasy selects bits from current Tones in the library and throws them together to create a new Tone, while Slight/Medium Variations changes the Tone in buffer A, and Blind Random wreaks havoc on all and sundry. Blind Random may throw up the odd useful voice, but it's the sort of trick that's worth keeping for one of those days when nothing else has gone right.
FOR IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK on the effectiveness of an edit, an on-screen keyboard is available which, via various mouse options, offers velocity sensitivity, aftertouch, modulation and pitch-bend to allow a Tone to be thoroughly tested.
Bearing in mind that the above is more than most other editors offer, it is surprising to find a 3000-note sequencer which can record and play back a series of notes, looping at the end, or can load in a pattern from Pro24 and play that continuously while edits are made - brilliant.
Alternatively, a note can be made to sound each time an edit is performed - possibly useful, but distracting and annoying after a while.
I DO HOPE that you aren't reading this before the rest of the review because if you are, you have missed out on a write-up of one of the best-written pieces of software that I have ever come across. Faster both graphically and screen redraw-wise than any of the competition and offering a choice beyond the average person's imagination. If I am going to pick fault with anything it's this: is there too much on offer? Some of the extra features make Synthworks more difficult to use than a more basic editor - which may be what some people decide is in order for them. However, if I had one of these synths I would certainly add this piece of software to my collection.
Price £99 including VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard
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