The Shape of Things To Come
An extended review of new products including many of those unveiled at February's Frankfurt Music Fair.
February's music trade show at Frankfurt saw the unveiling of some exciting new products, most of which are destined to arrive in the UK throughout the coming six months. To help you plan your spending sprees, wherever possible we have listed the month in which each new product is expected to go on sale in the UK. This information is for your guidance and may change, due to unforeseen circumstances, resulting in either an earlier or later product release date. All prices quoted include VAT.
As you would expect, all the major synthesizer manufacturers launched new products at Frankfurt, though some were just cosmetically repackaged models. The highlights of the show for us included: the Casio FZ-1 fully-fledged professional sampling keyboard; Korg's DS-8 FM synthesizer (previewed on page 60), and their tiny SQ-8 multitrack sequencer; the Roland D-50 synthesizer, incorporating the new Linear Arithmetic Synthesis principle; and, of course, the new Yamaha DX7IIFD and DX7IID (reviewed on page 22) which replace that old stalwart, the DX7.
Akai did not release any of their Roger Linn designs but showed their rack-mount S700 version of the X7000 sampling keyboard. Ensoniq, meanwhile, launched their repackaged Mirage - the Mirage DSK-1 - along with the ESQ-M, a lower priced rack-mount version of their ESQ-1 but without the polytimbral sequencer, and a rack-mount version of their sampled piano, the SPM-1.
Sequential unveiled the enhanced Prophet 2002-Plus (£2295) rack-mount sampler with eight separate voice outputs, and the eagerly awaited rack-mount version of their powerful Prophet VS synth (£2195).
Plenty of interest was shown in the batch of new drum machines which included Kawai's R50, a scaled-down version of their R100; Korg's budget-priced DDD-5; the SD140 sampling drum machine from RSF of France; Sequential's comprehensive Studio 440 (£3495); and Yamaha's low-cost RX17 and top of the range RX5.
On the signal processor front, highlights included the MIDIVERB II; the Aphex Compellor/Exciter, which combines both processors into one unit; several digital reverbs and multi-effects from Korg and Roland; plus programmable equalisers from ART and TC Electronic of Denmark, who also showed their high quality TC2290 digital delay/sampler.
That's just a brief taster; time now to look at some of these products in more detail...
Simmons utilised the drumming skills of Bill Bruford to demonstrate the power of their new SDX computer percussion system. This is essentially a sampling drum system for use with their new, highly responsive, 'Zone Intelligence' drum pads.
The unit is capable of high resolution 16-bit samples and 16 sounds can be played back from the memory. All programming and editing is carried out via a built-in VDU screen and tracker ball, with sample storage on 3.5" disks.
Also from Simmons comes the Silicon Mallet. This has been designed to appeal to percussionists who play mallet instruments such as the vibraphone, marimba, tubular bells etc, and offers them the chance to play electronic sounds as well as the more traditional ones.
Details on both products from Simmons Electronics Ltd, (Contact Details)
Korg released two new digital reverb units to complement their present DRV-1000 model. The DRV-2000 (£499 April) offers 16-bit resolution and a 12kHz effect bandwidth with 16 basic programs including room, hall, gated reverb, stereo echoes, chorus, flange and pan. All programs may be edited and stored in the 80 memories and parameters may be controlled dynamically either by the input signal level or by various MIDI data such as velocity and pitch bend.
Big brother to this unit is the DRV-3000 (£999 April) - Korg's top of the range 16-bit processor with a 44.1 kHz sampling rate. 16 basic building block programs within the device, such as reverb, echo, flange, chorus, pan, pitch shift and equalisation, may be modified and linked together in series or parallel and stored in one of the 32 memories. A novel inclusion is the separate infared remote control unit, like that of a TV, which allows easy parameter change at a distance. Anyone for armchair mixdowns?
A new drum machine, the DDD-5 (£499 April), joins the already successful DDD-1.This smaller relation offers ROM voice compatibility with the DDD-1, plus dynamic touch-sensitive pads, and is equipped with two IC card slots for loading programs and sounds.
Details from Korg UK, (Contact Details)
Roland's new D-50 synthesizer is due in the country around May and will sell for £1445. It is the company's first all-digital synth and utilises a brand new sound creation technology called 'Linear Arithmetic Synthesis', which promises enormous sonic possibilities never before available from a keyboard of this price.
The D-50 is a 16-voice, five octave velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard which uses a new sound source generator with 32 'partials', the output of which can either be mixed or ring modulated before being fed into the seven 'structures' that form the basic sound sources. Each of the 32 partials has a waveform generator; alternatively, you can use PCM recorded sounds (samples) as building blocks, a variety of which come stored in the D-50's 4M-bit memory.
Once selected the sound source may be shaped by envelope and LFO control as well as by three built-in effects processors. To maintain sound quality, these allow full processing of the signal whilst still in the digital domain and include reverb, chorus and equalisation. A joystick, like that of the Prophet VS, provides performance control of many parameters as well as waveform balance, and all instrument settings can be stored in one of 64 onboard memories or in a special IC RAM card, which looks distinctly like a credit card!
The keyboard offers both split and dual modes as well as multi-timbral control from any external MIDI sequencer. An optional PG-1000 Programmer unit (£320), common to many of Roland's synthesizers, allows instant access to parameter editing via its bank of sliders.
Roland's new LA synthesis approach to sound creation could perhaps be likened to that of Yamaha's FM technique in terms of its power and potential. How well it is accepted we shall have to wait and see. One thing it does seem to have in its favour though is its simplicity of programming.
Amongst the host of other products Roland launched at Frankfurt was the DEP-3 multi-effects unit (£515 March). This is a trimmed down version of their DEP-5 and features digital reverb and digital equalisation with totally variable parameters and 99 programs.
The latest addition to the Boss Micro Rack series is a low-cost digital reverb, the RRV-10 (£199 available now). This offers 12-bit resolution, 10kHz bandwidth and nine reverb modes including plate, hall, room, multi-tap delay, and gated reverb. It also has a variable decay time.
Roland's VP-70 (£1075 May) is a rack-mounted Voice Processor which gives a four-voice output for any single note input by using pitch-shifting technology.
The VP-70 has a built-in pitch to MIDI converter which samples an incoming acoustic sound source at 66.97kHz and converts it into MIDI pitch data which can also be processed by the pitch-shifter circuitry to produce chords and harmonies on any MIDI sound module. 128 patches may be stored internally and these can be recalled via an optional foot controller if desired.
The GP-8 (£745 March) has been designed as a guitar multi-effects processor. It incorporates eight of the best Boss footpedal effects in one unit, with the added benefit of simple patching, memory recall of patches and MIDI control. The eight effects are: Chorus, Digital Delay, Phaser, Distortion, Equaliser, Compressor, Turbo Overdrive and Dynamic Filter. Each effects' parameters are accessed via the front panel, where individual units may be chained together in different combinations and stored in the 128 patches. You can also link an optional EV-5 expression pedal to the unit and assign it to control a different parameter on each patch, ie. filter sweep, phase speed, delay time, etc.
There were many more items from Roland which we will mention another time, however, one last product for inclusion here is the PR-100 Digital Sequencer (£530 April).
This unit follows the styling of the successful MC-500 sequencer, but offers reduced capabilities. It's a 2-track machine with 17,000 note memory, works in a track-bounce manner and features tape recorder format transport buttons, a built-in metronome, block repeat, punch in/out and data storage on 2.8" Quick Disk.
Details from Roland UK, (Contact Details)
Yamaha launched a wealth of exciting products, most of which will be in the shops when you read this article. The flagships of the range are their new DX7IID and DX7IIFD synthesizers. (See the review in this issue for more details.)
The next and possibly most interesting product was the RX5 (£999) drum machine. For its price, the RX5 offers a very comprehensive range of features which include 24 sampled internal sounds of traditional drums, latin percussion, electronic drums, bass guitars, human voice and orchestral thump. A further 12 RAM voices and 28 cartridge voices are available and all sounds may be pitched over an incredible five octave range with full dynamic control. Additional programming allows 5-stage envelope modification, pitch bending, looping, reverse and gate time adjustment of all voices. 100 patterns and 20 songs may be stored and voices can be assigned to 12 separate audio outputs. Remarkable!
Smaller brother of the RX5 is the RX17 (£329) which features 26 drum and latin sounds, 100 patterns, 10 songs, programmable dynamics via MIDI, accent control and panning.
The TX81Z (£449) is a 1U rack-mounted fully programmable FM expander offering both 8-voice polyphony and Mono Mode operation for eight totally different instruments. It's a sort of enhanced FB-01 and comes with five banks of 32 voices (128 as factory presets and 32 user-programmable), plus for the first time ever on a Yamaha instrument, non-sinewave operators which give access to a whole new world of sounds.
Further features include three built-in effects: Pan, MIDI Delay and Chord Set for assigning up to four notes to any incoming single note. 24 performance memories may be programmed with 'note play' limits, numbers of notes assigned to an instrument, MIDI channel, and the new micro-tonal data which allows you to select one of 13 different tuning scales. So now, for example, you can play gong and bell sounds using a true Balinese scale.
Yamaha's MDF1 (£329) is a MIDI Data Filer in the form of a stand alone Quick Disk unit. You can use the 2.8" disks to store MIDI data from any synthesizer, sequencer or drum machine eg. DX7/21/27/100, TX7, QX5, RX5/17/11/21 etc. Yamaha say that it's capable of storing the equivalent of 14 complete sets of DX7 patches or seven RX11 song patterns or one complete QX21 sequence. This offers a real cost saving over the RAM cartridge approach, particularly since the MDF1 is suitable for storing MIDI data from any make of instrument, not just Yamaha's.
Additional items worthy of note are the DMP7 Digital Mixer mentioned a few months ago. This will be released around May at £2999. The YMM2 (£112) MIDI Merger Box seems a handy device - it allows two MIDI inputs to be mixed into one MIDI output.
Performance-oriented readers will surely find the MFC1 (£225) MIDI Foot Controller of interest. It is used for transmitting MIDI program change numbers to synths and MIDI effects such as the SPX90, and for remotely starting/stopping MIDI drum machines and sequencers.
Yamaha power amps seem to have found favour with some top London studios like Abbey Road, and Yamaha's new PD2500 (£999) looks set to win even more converts. It is a compact professional power amplifier that delivers 250 watts stereo into 8 ohms with the ability to drive 1000 watts into 4 ohms mono. This is an extremely compact 2U rack-mount amp weighing only 12kg and utilises the latest 'switched power supply' technology to achieve an impressive audio specification.
Finally, we have the MT2X, an updated version of Yamaha's MT1X portable multitrack tape recorder. The main differences are the extra two input channels and the provision of a direct access port for attaching the new YMC2 MIDI tape sync unit. This piggybacks onto the rear panel of the machine. No release date or price is available yet.
Further details from Yamaha UK, (Contact Details)
Executive Audio launched two new sound cartridges at Frankfurt. The Hypra ROM for the (original) Yamaha DX7 offers an astounding 1024 sounds and will retail for £195. For Ensoniq ESQ-1 owners, the Ensoniq endorsed ESX-1 (£160 approx) is a RAM cartridge offering storage of 160 sounds. This comes ready loaded with a selection of original ESQ-1 sounds, but if you want even more, there's the ESX-10 ROM cartridge containing 320 sounds for around £160.
Details from Executive Audio Ltd, (Contact Details)
Studiomaster unveiled their Series 5 mixer (available April) which is an updated version of their popular 16-4-2 and 16-8-2 desks. The new mixer comes in the same formats but now includes five auxiliaries per channel, longer faders, and a flexible three band EQ on the main left/right output which can be switched to act on the auxiliary returns if required.
Also from Studiomaster comes the Stellarmix 8, a comprehensive budget 8-track mixer in a compact 12-8-2 configuration. Each input features three band EQ with sweepable mid and bass and an EQ cut button, four auxiliary sends (one switchable pre or post-fade), insert jacks, XLR balanced mic inputs, 48 volt phantom power, a useful 'solo' facility and long throw 100mm faders. As with many of this company's desks, the Stellarmix 8 is expandable in blocks of four channels to a maximum 20-8-2 format.
Details from Studiomaster, (Contact Details)
Tantek have now launched their Master Matrix (£858). The basic unit is a 12-input x 16-output MIDI controlled audio signal patchbay, expandable to 24 x 32 with the M4200 Expander unit (£429). This allows complex routing patches to be set up and stored in one of the 99 'patch plans' for manual or remote recall. All inputs and outputs can be named and displayed on a large LCD matrix screen and connections may be easily changed in realtime.
Patches may be selected via MIDI Program Change data and you can programme the Master Matrix to transmit up to 16 MIDI commands (ie. Channel numbers, Program numbers. Song Select etc) on receipt of a Program Change instruction, thereby allowing an entire MIDI equipment set-up to have both its MIDI data and audio signal destinations automatically selected in a fraction of a second.
Details from Tantek Pro Audio Division, (Contact Details)
Casio announced several additions to their budget sampler range before the Frankfurt show but surprised almost everyone by unveiling a professional quality sampling keyboard, the FZ-1 (£1899 May).
This is the first 16-bit generation sampler to appear in this price range and its maximum 36kHz sampling rate offers 14.5 seconds sample time at an approximate 18kHz bandwidth. Up to 64 multisamples are possible and an optional RAM expansion board extends the maximum sample time to 29 seconds at 36kHz.
The FZ-1 is an 8-voice, five octave velocity/pressure sensitive keyboard with eight individual audio outputs. Sample waveforms may be edited on the large built-in LCD screen which is similar to that found in Casio's portable micro TV. There are 64 onboard memories, plus eight performance banks for holding key split data, envelope, looping and crossfade parameters etc, with all data being stored longterm on disk via the integral 3.5" drive.
Details from Casio Ltd, (Contact Details)
Of all the trends that could be indentified at this year's Frankfurt Music Fair, the most notable was the increase in the number of music software companies. It was also apparent that the majority of them are now concentrating their efforts on the Atari ST, which is fast becoming the musician's computer in both Europe and America. In addition, most software companies appear to have 'professionalised' their existing products by re-writing them for the more powerful 16-bit Atari ST, IBM PC (and clones) and Apple Macintosh, leaving the outdated though universally popular Commodore 64 and Apple IIe 8-bit computers behind.
In Europe, this places us in a good position as the Atari ST and Amstrad PC (IBM compatible) are both available at very attractive prices in the UK and in Germany, where software houses such as Steinberg, C-Lab and Jellinghaus are based.
So, with the American market already supporting both Atari and IBM computers with programs from Hybrid Arts, Passport Design, Roland and Dr.T, the world software market is finally starting to look a little less fragmented.
The only remaining 'black sheep' is the Apple Macintosh, which enjoys a tremendous amount of support from US music software companies like Southworth, Digidesign, Opcode and Mark Of The Unicorn, but unfortunately lacks widespread popularity here in Europe due primarily to its high purchase price.
One final and very interesting observation made at Frankfurt was the lack of software for the Yamaha CX5 computer. No new packages were released and the MSX computer now seems to be in decline all over the world and receiving little support from the independent software houses.
Now for some highlights of the new software shown at Frankfurt.
C-Lab have released two new programs for the Atari ST which are available now. Creator (£285), is a real-time sequencer featuring Arranger and Event Editor sections. It has 64 tracks, stores 100,000 notes and includes all the usual quantize, punch in/out and autolocate facilities that we have come to expect on sophisticated software of this nature.
X-alyser (£199) is an editor program which takes a DX7 patch and generates a 3D graphic display of the sound spectrum and waveform (a la Fairlight). The program also includes a sound library for use with Yamaha DX and TX synthesizers.
Details from Sound Technology, (Contact Details)
Passport Design launched their new Master Track Pro MIDI sequencer for the Apple Macintosh. This is an upgraded version of the existing Master Track program for the Commodore 64 and comes as a group of five modules with the following features: Sequencer, a 64 track real-time and step-time sequencer with tape recorder style transport controls and full SMPTE sync via MIDI Song Pointers; Song Editor, featuring a graphic display of track data with full cut, copy and paste facilities; Step Editor, lets you alter MIDI data such as velocity, pitch and timing, then input new data and play back from any point; Sysex Librarian lets you save and load banks of voices or any other kind of MIDI data and store it along with your songs; finally, Keyboard Mapper is designed to let you control the main functions of the Master Track Pro from your MIDI keyboard and allows you to record, play, stop, pause and fast wind the sequencer without having to take your hands off the keyboard. Available now, price around £250.
Details from UK distributors: Rittor Music Europe Ltd, (Contact Details)
Opcode Systems have added further voice editor/librarian programs to their catalogue. All programs run on the Apple Macintosh and include editors for the Casio CZ1, Yamaha DX/TX range and FB-01, Oberheim Matrix 6, Kawai K-3 and the new Akai MPX820 MIDI programmable mixer.
Opcode's Score package is a new comprehensive program specially designed to meet the needs of film music composers. The Cue Sheets allows entry of time in feet/frames per second and SMPTE time, with room for 24 lines of descriptive text. It calculates beats and measures relative to cue points and displays a 'hit list', all of which may be printed out and stored to disk. The Score Paper section allows up to 12 staves of music to be printed with full timing and cue point descriptions. Other features include Tempo Search, Tempo Tap, Stop Watch and Production Summary. All products are available now.
Details from Take Note, see below for address.
Steinberg released their Soundworks Mirage Editor. This is very similar to the Akai S900 Soundworks Editor reviewed last month and both programs are available from April, price £285 inc VAT. Editors for the Prophet 2000 and Emax samplers are to follow soon.
Details from Steinberg Research, (Contact Details)
Jellinghaus, who were one of the first German music software companies writing mainly for the Commodore 64, have now produced a program to run on the Atari ST. C-Mix is an automated mixing package that features both hardware and software.
In its basic format, C-Mix gives automated control and simulates a 16 channel mixing desk, with the screen display showing moving fader levels as the music progresses. The system will work with any mixer, though this requires a small technical modification to the wiring around the mixer's faders.
The basic package comes with a 16 channel VCA interface, expandable to 64 channels, and the system allows you to quickly create subgroups and mute individual channels throughout a mix. Patch data is stored in the Atari computer and can be synchronised to SMPTE code via MIDI Song Pointers, allowing instant autolocation facilities. The system will be available in March, price around £1800 plus VAT.
Details from UK distributors: State Of The Art, (Contact Details)
Dr.T are yet another company to begin releasing software for the Atari ST. The ST-KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) features three modes of operation: Track Mode offers an automated 48-track sequencer with full real-time control of all record, edit and playback parameters; Song Mode provides sequence chaining functions with up to 16 songs in memory at one time and manipulation of such parameters as tempo, MIDI program change etc; Open Mode is where the structuring takes place, with 128 sequences to be drawn from and chained together in any manner. Other features like MIDI Song Pointers, velocity scaling, auto-correct and step-time note entry are also included. Available now, price £250 inc VAT.
Also from Dr.T comes a range of voice editors under the collective title of Caged Artist. These are written for the Atari ST, Commodore 64/128 and Apple IIe computers. DX Heaven (ST only) is predictably for the DX7 synth, with further programs existing for the four-operator Yamaha synths (FB-01, DX100/27/21), the Kawai K-3, and Oberheim Matrix 6. Most unusually, there's also an effects controller program for the Lexicon PCM70 digital effects unit. All listed programs are £120 inc VAT.
Finally, coming very soon from Dr.T is The Copyist, a scorewriting program which runs on the IBM PC or compatibles, with an Atari ST version to follow shortly. Price £250 inc VAT.
Details on all Dr. T software from UK distributors: Take Note, (Contact Details)
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!