Akai MIDI FX
Simon Trask again, with some more MIDI outboard gear in the shape of Akai's new ME30P programmable patchbay and ME25S note separator.
Akai may have changed the colour of their MIDI FX range from black to silver, but it hasn't prevented the two latest additions - the ME30P Patchbay and ME25S Note Separator - from being useful and versatile machines.
A couple of specific desires seem to be common among users of MIDI systems. One is for a flexible routing system which allows keyboards, drum machines and sequencers to be interconnected in a way that minimises the need for daisy-chaining, obviates the need for physical repatching of instruments, and allows the system to be reconfigured as required. The other is for a unit which can provide a multisplit capability for playing slave instruments from any master instrument (a facility provided by some controller keyboards, such as the Oberheim Xk).
These are the areas Akai have addressed with their latest offerings in the ME series of 19" rack-mounting MIDI units, the ME30P MIDI Programmable Patchbay and ME25S MIDI Programmable Note Separator.
Akai's MIDI patchbay is a four-in, eight-out unit with 15 programmable routing configurations. All four inputs can be channelled through the unit at the same time, but you can't send more than one input to the same output. This would require the ME30P to be able to merge MIDI data, rather than merely route it.
With the above proviso, each MIDI input can be routed to any selection of the eight MIDI outputs. Where the input selection comes in useful is in allowing you to switch control from one keyboard to another or to a sequencer.
Operation of the ME30P is very straightforward, though the 360 Systems MIDI Patcher is easier to follow in that you can see at a glance from the front panel which outputs are assigned to each input. Akai have, however, thoughtfully included a facility for checking which instruments are slaved to each of the inputs. When you press the selector button for a particular input, a note A is sent on all the outputs associated with that input - useful.
The ME30P's 15 Banks (ie. routing configurations) can be stepped through by footswitch or called up by MIDI patch changes. In the latter case, patch changes are registered on MIDI input D only - though as you can't define a specific channel on which the patch changes will be received you can't, for instance, devote a specific sequencer track to calling up ME30P routing configurations, which would be an obvious ME25S application. In contrast, the 360 Systems Patcher listens for its patch changes on MIDI channel 16 of input 4.
A possible danger with this sort of unit is that routings may be changed while notes are still playing, which means slave instruments never receive MIDI commands telling them to stop playing those notes - which in turn means that, depending on the envelope characteristic of the sound(s) playing, you'll get a MIDI drone. When you change Banks on the ME30P, however, the unit sends the MIDI 'All Notes Off' command on all its outputs, which can be a useful safeguard against such a situation. It's worth noting, though, that seeing as not all MIDI instruments will respond to this command, its effectiveness can't exactly be guaranteed.
"Its attraction is that even when used with a monotimbral synth transmitting on one MIDI channel, it offers you the possibility of multisplit textures."
The attraction of the obliquely-named ME25S Note Separator is that even when used with a monotimbral synth transmitting on one MIDI channel, it offers you the possibility of multisplit textures. This doesn't mean that your monotimbral synth is suddenly elevated to the status of a multitimbral wonder. In fact, it will still only play a single sound, which you might at times find a bit inflexible.
In reality, the ME25S achieves its results by manipulating MIDI data received from your master instrument on MIDI In. Your master must be set to transmit on MIDI channel 1, as this is the only channel the ME25S will respond to. It strikes me, though, that there can be so many unforeseens when working with a MIDI setup, it's best to keep options open - in this instance by leaving the choice of MIDI receive channel to the user.
What the ME25S allows you to do is define four note ranges ('splits', as Akai term them) which can be separate or partially or totally overlapping. Each split can be as little as one note, or span up to the entire MIDI range.
You need to be able to route each split to a different instrument (or to different voices of a multitimbral instrument), so for each split you can select a MIDI channel from 1-16. Further split-specific settings are patch number (1 -128), octave shift (± three octaves) and pitch-bend on/off.
"ME30P: When you change Banks, the unit sends a MIDI 'All Notes Off' command on all its outputs — a useful safeguard against the dreaded MIDI drone."
One complete setup is called a Bank, and there are 64 of these onboard (stored when the unit is switched off). That's not too large a number when you consider you may want a new Bank (which can be selected from the front panel, a footswitch or over MIDI) just to change a patch number or a pitch-bend setting.
But if you do find yourself wanting to change one or two parameters, there's a Bank copy facility which makes things a lot easier. The manual also provides a program chart - particularly useful as there doesn't appear to be any way of storing the Banks externally.
At its most basic level, the ME25S can be used as a channeliser, ie. to convert from channel 1 to any of the other 15 channels.
And you don't have to use all four splits, of course. If you have a split instrument such as the Yamaha DX21 which only transmits on a single MIDI channel, you can use the ME25S to play two slave instruments in split fashion - additionally with appropriate patch, octave and pitch-bend settings.
Given the many performance parameters that MIDI can convey, it's all too easy to think of other parameters that the ME25S could usefully be able to filter out. Sustain, modulation and aftertouch are three of the most obvious. It's the old story of weighing flexibility against accessibility and cost.
Overall, though, it's the undoubted practical value of these new MIDI effects-coupled with their very reasonable cost and refreshing ease of use - that makes them such an attractive proposition for any growing MIDI setup, and the musician hoping to make the most of it.
Price £99 each including VAT
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