Bokse US-8 Universal Syncronizer
The Bokse US-8 Universal Syncronizer: Ian Gilby takes control.
Timing and triggering functions on electronic instruments often appear to receive considerably more attention from would-be owners than the sound generation facilities they may have on offer. The ability to interface one device to another is undoubtedly important but surely, if you are talking about musical instruments, the sonic performance ranks top of the list? After all, you may be pleased that you can hook up a voice expansion unit to your MIDI sequencer, but if the sound it creates is terrible you are unlikely to want to use it!
But the changing techniques of recording have placed even greater emphasis on whether or not a device is capable of being sequenced or having its tempo and/or voice circuitry controlled by external means. Those that can't have been forced pretty much to one side and stamped 'obsolete' through no other reason than interface incompatibility - not because they were found particularly lacking sound-wise.
Which is where a device like Bokse's US-8 Universal Syncronizer enters the picture, since it allows successful interfacing between several generations of electronic music hardware. Think of it as an electronic patchbay routing clock rate/trigger information from one device to another instead of audio signals, and you won't be far wrong.
By connecting an instrument such as a drum machine (running at the manufacturer's preset clock rate of 48 pulses per quarter note, for example) to the relevant input socket on the US-8, the timing data it sends out is converted automatically by the Syncronizer to whatever format you select from the options available as outputs. All you need do is choose whatever output suits the device you wish to have controlled by the drum machine, connect it to the US-8 and you're in business. It really is as simple as that to operate.
The Syncronizer has been purpose designed so that it offers almost all variations (past and present) of triggering standards, meaning previously incompatible devices can be given a new lease of life instead of being confined to the junk heap.
The unit can be configured either as a converter of timing data, under direct control of whatever 'master clock' instrument is connected at the input, or, alternatively, act as the 'master clock' itself simultaneously driving a system of attached instruments at a given tempo. When doing the latter, the Syncronizer is used in its Auto mode.
A unique 'Tap-Cue' facility becomes available in the Auto mode enabling devices connected to the US-8 to receive a four beat count-in before commencing to run. What happens is that the front panel 'Tap-Cue' button below the display is pressed momentarily four times using your finger - one tap on each quarter note beat. The unit averages out the time between each quarter beat then it starts to run exactly when the fifth beat would have sounded.
It was this excellent facility that quickly warmed me to the Bokse US-8 since it allows the operator to set the running tempo by relying on musical 'feel' as opposed to having to coldly punch in a beats per minute count for the tempo, which is hard to relate to. You can do that as well on the US-8 - the facility is there if you want it. Either way, the programmed tempo is continually displayed as a beats per minute readout, changing as and when the tempo changes.
Whilst on the subject of the display, a readout is given as confirmation of any action you take, whether selecting input/output clock rates, Auto mode or tempo variations.
The US-8 really is a versatile machine that has obviously had a lot of attention lavished on it during the design stage. This shows up in the sheer number of output variations which are available either from the six front panel jack sockets (12, 24, 48, 96, 384, plus Variable pulses), Sync 24 and MIDI (real-time info only) DIN sockets or from the three rear panel jacks. The latter provide different fixed voltage level pulses at their outputs and are used for clocking old-style drum machines and synthesizers. There's a rotary knob for these, so you have complete freedom to set the output rate from 12 to 96 pulses per quarter note to suit. Flexibility is the keyword of this machine remember.
On the input side, Hi and Lo jacks are supplied which accept clock rates of 12, 24, 48 and 96 pulses per quarter note. The DIN socket marked 'Sync' is suitable for Roland Sync 24 devices and Korg (48 pulses); though a special lead needs to be made up for use with old Korg products.
The inclusion of MIDI expands the interfacing possibilities enormously, allowing something like Roland's MSQ 700 Sequencer to clock pre-MIDI instruments like Sequential's Pro One monosynth. A MIDI Thru socket is provided meaning that a MIDI Output from a drum machine can be connected to the US-8's MIDI In socket and the timing data converted to clock appropriate devices connected to the jack outputs (up to nine devices running simultaneously), whilst an output from the MIDI Out or Thru sockets can be used to clock any other device that interfaces only via MIDI. That's what I call a powerful control system.
Tape synchronisation is also a very useful feature of this unit. It's achieved by taking the 96 pulses clock output and recording that onto a tape track. Replaying the output of the recorded pulse train into the Lo jack input will drive the US-8 in sync, but you will need to reset all connected sequencers etc. to the start, if the sync track coming off tape is interrupted at all.
The final outputs are both related. 'Variable' selects pulses to occur on programmed note value intervals (minim, quaver etc.) as opposed to the standard quarter notes, whilst the 'Click' output is the audio equivalent of 'Variable' and can be usefully used to drive drum synth modules, or for use as a metronome guide. This 'Variable' output is the best one to use when clocking old system drum machines like the TR808, for stepping keyboard arpeggiators and for triggering mono synthesizers such as the Mini-Moog.
It's very easy to be underwhelmed when first confronted with Bokse's Universal Syncronizer, but it is one of those devices that with familiarity continually surprises you by its total lack of limitations.
At £350 it represents tremendous value for money, is sturdily built and compact. If you're a studio owner or hi-tech user, for that money you could probably afford to buy one and keep it for those rare eventualities when you suddenly need to trigger a Korg MS20(!) from your RX11 drum machine. But I'd be very surprised if that was all you ever did with it... it's simply too useful!
Review by Ian Gilby
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