The Beating Heart
Linn's new 9000 combines drum machine and MIDI recorder-making it the heart of your set up.
Linn 9000 digital drum machine keyboard recorder
Let me start by verifying that the price of £5629.25 (inc VAT) is correct (from March) for the basic 9000 without any of the options, and all the other rumours that have floated around are wrong!
Even without the helping hand of the devaluation of the Pound Sterling against the US Dollar, Linn Drum Computers have always been at the top of the market in both price and quality. Yet even by their own standards, the new Linn 9000 is a very expensive instrument.
The important point to grasp before delving into the bowels of the 9000, is that it is far from being a mere drum computer - in the words of Roger Linn, it is 'the Ultimate Compositional Tool'.
This particular 'tool' consists of a 32 track MIDI digital recorder, capable of recording up to 32 polyphonic tracks over 16 MIDI channels, and will hold 50 songs with up to 999 bars per song. This is the basis of the justification of this machine's staggering price tag, as it performs many complicated functions from the one unit, the equivalent prices of which would usually reach this pecuniary peak alone.
Every successful company tends to have its idiosyncrasies, and in Linn's case, what has contributed no small part to his popularity has been the care which he has taken over the sampled drum voices themselves. Compare any digital drum computer with any Linn and you will find the Linn's samples reign supreme in quality and depth to the sounds. The 9000 excels in this department - the voices are all touch sensitive and now provide a bandwidth extended to 12K.
The design and layout of the 9000 is altogether unique. Initial impressions of its 'looks' tend to be that it is fairly good looking, yet it does appear over-plasticated, and not a piece of high-technology, but this does increase its user-friendliness appearance.
Taking up two thirds of its facia are three rows of square drum trigger pads above which are to be found their respective volume and panning sliders. The pads themselves are both velocity and after-touch sensitive (features hitherto only found on synthesisers, but unique in the world of the drum machine to the 9000 at present). The actual drum voices that the 9000 initially provides you with are a bass drum, snare drum, hi hat, rimshot (called sidestick), four toms, two rides and two crash cymbals, a high and low conga, cowbell, claps, tambourine, and cabasa.
The four toms are in fact different tunings of two tom samples, and therefore only two may sound at once, this also being the case for the crash and ride cymbals. To the right of each of the rows of pads are three smaller buttons, labelled Erase, Repeat and Tap Tempo. The first of these is a conventional erase button for removing mistakes or unwanted beats. The second button - Repeat, has the job of repeating a drum on every step as long as it is held simultaneously with one of the pads. So for a snare roll (for example), you only need to hold the snare pad down once, for the duration of the roll whilst the repeat button is held. This is also where the pads' after-touch sensitivity comes into effect for, as you press harder on the snare pad during this roll, the volume increases. The third button, Tap Tempo, is a feature whereby you can program or change the tempo by simply tapping this button - a feature only found on Roland's SBX-80 Sync Box until now.
On the left hand side of the pads are two controls for hi hat decay. This, possibly more than any other feature on the 9000, is what really separates its realism of drum patterns from all the other machines. The hi hat decay time is totally programmable for every beat. Hi hat decay programming can be done either during or after programming the hi hat rhythm. The normal procedure however is first, to record where you want the hi hat beats to appear, which is done by using the repeat button with the hi hat pad, and pressing harder and softer on the pad throughout the pattern, thus giving a fairly realistic accented 'feel' to the beats. Then, by switching to manual decay, the red LED above the manual button will light and the slider below it will become 'live'. Then, while the pattern is playing, shifting this slider determines the length or 'open-ness' of the hi hat.
While on the subject of the recording of drum patterns, the 9000 can be dropped in and out of record without stopping the rhythm, by hitting the record button a second time, which is a very useful function as it makes it easy to try out an idea before committing it to the rhythm.
Each drum is individually tuneable, and each pad's dynamics can be adjusted to your own taste. All these functions, together with each pad's volume and panning settings are programmable for each of the 50 sequences.
The right hand 'third' of the 9000's facia consists of a small LCD screen, beneath which is a numerical key pad for data entry, beneath which are the 'transport' functions for Rewind, Forward, Stop, Record, Play and Locate - all functions found on a tape recorder, and just as easy to use. Dividing this last column of controls with the drum pads and sliders are two columns of function buttons. These are what access all the different modes, moods and nuances which the Linn 9000 has to offer. Starting with the left column, and moving down, we have the two mode selectors - either Drums or Synths. As I mentioned earlier, the 9000 is also a polyphonic 32 track MIDI sequencer, thus when you enter the Synth mode, you access all the MIDI sequencing functions of the 9000. Beneath the Mode selection is the Record/Edit department. This consists of functions which apply to both the synth and drum sections, such as Time Signature, Auto Correction, Insert, Delete, Copy, Merge, etc.
Underneath the Record/Edit section are three switches for tempo entry, which can be programmed either by numerical data entry from the key pad, by an external click, or by manual Tap Tempo (mentioned earlier). Up at the top of the right hand column is a little button which is bound to be busy, marked Help! When you call for Help, the LED will display information which relates to your current status. Below the Help button are various other functions - Cancel Current Status, Memory Status, Sync Input Options, etc, below which are two boxes for dedicated controls for the synth and drum sections. In the synth section are controls for MIDI channel, program change, and transpose, while in the drum section are all the controls for Trigger Inputs (of the drum voices from an external source), Drum Mix, Pad Dynamics, Individual Drum Tuning and one marked Custom Drum Sounds. This last function relates to the 9000's option for up to four 'custom' sounds that you can either sample yourself (with the 9000's optional sampling card), or load in from the cassette interface.
That only leaves a couple more function switches, which are disk/cassette storage and a sequence (song) selector. The disk or cassette storage facility depends on whether you have chosen the disk drive option with the 9000. This consists of a 3.5" disk drive system à la Macintosh, which resides beneath the transport controls, opening out to the front.
There are several options that you can choose from on the Linn 9000. The two I have mentioned are a sampling card and the disk drive. Others include RAM expansion up to 256K maximum, a SMPTE code generator/reader, a card for step time editing/programming, and a trigger input card increasing the standard six inputs to a maximum of 12. The Disk Drive option will cost you an extra grand, and the other options are likely to cost around £500.00 each!
A quick glance over the back panel will reveal extensive outputs for interfacing the 9000 with the world. MIDI In/Out and Thru, two trigger outs, two footswitch outs (for start, stop etc). Cassette Line In/Out as well as a Mic level output, sync to tape In and Out, a pedal out for hi hat decay, two audio inputs which are then routed into the 9000's mixer section (for synths etc), a click output, stereo out as well as individual outputs for each drum voice and the standard six trigger inputs... Enough!!
The thinking behind the Linn 9000 is that it should be the system at the heart of any studio, doing away with the myriad of boxes connected together which is accepted as 'the norm'. In this respect the 9000 provides you with a very powerful drum computer, as versatile a sequencer as anyone should need, and full interfacing capability for using it in any environment with the minimum of fuss.
To go about programming a song, you first call up synth or drums, assign the track - say track one, assign the MIDI channel and hit record and play. You will then be given a two bar intro and you are then recording. If you are recording a two bar repeat sequence, once you have recorded your two bars you can change tracks while the 9000 is still running, and then continue the overdubbing process on track two. The MIDI channels can be allocated before, during or after recording. Further editing can either be achieved using the conventional drop in/out process, or by screen editing. As both the drum section and synth section record in much the same way, the system is very simple to 'get the hang of', and after only a couple of hours of working with the 9000, you will feel like you know it backwards.
What can you say about an instrument such as this - its performance lives up to its price tag. It is expensive, yet it is definitely good value. If I was in the market for such an instrument, I don't think I would hesitate in forking out six grand for the 9000 as it is as close to a hit-making machine as one is likely to get. A friend of mine who is lucky enough to use the 9000 on a regular basis remarked that since working with it, his musical output has increased ten fold, the standard of the material produced being nothing short of spectacular every time (such modesty- Ed). I think that's enough of a recommendation for the Linn 9000.
Review by Curtis Schwartz
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