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The Z-plane to Hyperspace

E-mu Ultra Proteus

Article from The Mix, November 1994

The pre-eminent Proteus


Wouldn't it be great if Emu packaged the best sounds from all the various Proteus modules in one unit. Well they have, and it's called the UltraProteus. Bob Dormon finds out if it really is the ultimate Proteus experience...


The American company E-mu systems have a deservedly high reputation for exquisite sample modules. This is no doubt due to the fact that they've been producing samplers (and their associated libraries) more or less since the dawn of digital music. Their pre-MIDI Drumulator beat boxes had just about everything you needed (except a decent crash cymbal), and while the early Emulator samplers had a fair number of quirks, the samples themselves had a quality to them that was and still is, beloved by many.

When the first Proteus module made its debut, I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking that it might not last. There were no built-in effects (which were standard on practically all sample modules being made at that time), and no filters. It wasn't until I actually heard the Proteus that I changed my mind, and the Proteus 2 (orchestral module) re-affirmed this change of heart. The original Proteus series was simple to use and indubitably classy. An uncluttered selection of editing features were provided, which made the 2x16 segment LCD read-out forgivable. A nice and perhaps tasteful touch on the Proteus 2 module was that the preset orchestral sounds were only mapped out for their range. You couldn't say, play a viola any higher or lower than possible on the real thing.

Now that technology has marched on a little further, E-mu have added some of their new developments to the Proteus range in the form of the Proteus FX (reviewed in the August issue) and the UltraProteus. As the name suggests, the 'FX' has effects, while the not-so-invisible Ultra, has both effects and Z-Plane filter technology (first seen in E-mu's Morpheus).

Gone is the old grey plastic finish of its predecessors with holes so small that the screws wouldn't fit when racking it up. And gone is the simplicity too. Extensive editing is most definitely a desirable feature, but why hasn't the poxy LCD display gone too? "Too many button presses makes Jack an dull musician..." or so the saying might go in this instance. Yes indeed, the UltraProteus is a powerful beast, blighted only by the constraints of a 1u rack space.

Overview



So just how powerful is it? As the advertising blurb suggests 'It's every Proteus you've ever dreamed of...' Included are sounds from the Proteus 1 (Pop & Rock), 2 (Orchestral), 3 (World/ethnic) and a Proformance grand piano to boot. Which adds up to 16Mb of 16 bit samples, 470 waveforms. 13 drum kits, 32-voice polyphony and a RAM/ROM card slot to expand this capability still further to a possible 512 presets. All this is controlled by eight shiny black buttons and a large rubberized data wheel on the front panel. It's at times like this when I think that editing software should come free with each device!

Also on the front panel is the ubiquitous power button, which is quite a heavy-duty beast nestling in a countersunk hole, making it difficult for it to be turned off accidentally. And below that is a small but perfectly formed LED MIDI activity indicator, while the other end sports the headphone socket and volume knob. Underneath the red and white UltraProteus logo is the card slot, which has a similar operation to a floppy disk drive. Once a card is inserted, you can't pull it out without pushing in the eject button. A reassuring safety feature for anyone paranoid about losing cards whilst on the move. But go gently with it, or your card will eject like John Wayne aiming for the spitoon.

RAM and ROM cards are available for the UltraProteus, and while it's claimed that there are 512 presets available, that's only true when a card is being used. Otherwise it's 256, half of which are ROM presets, the other half are user definable RAM locations. A further 128 memory locations are available for hyperpresets. These comprise combinations of presets.

Round the back lurks the gang of three: MIDI in, out and thru. There's also three stereo outputs; Main, Sub1 and Sub2, providing a number of routing possibilities (see Effects below). Thankfully, an IEC power socket provides the mains input with a voltage range of 100-250VAC at 50-60Hz, but you still get a Yankee plug on the cable. Come on lads, we're forking out 1500 knicker here, you could at least give us a bloody plug!

Controls



The front panel bears a striking resemblance to that other E-mu presets machine, the Morpheus. The top row kicks off with the Master menu. As with all the UltraProteus menu keys, pressing this button will illuminate an adjacent LED to highlight the current status.

'Master' contains all your tuning and controller options, plus a decent choice of sysex options. RAM, ROM and Card presets, hyperpresets, Midimaps and individual sounds can be transmitted. In fact fourteen types of dump can be performed, including program change maps and tuning parameters. Such flexibility should enable the keen to construct their own editors with comparative ease.

The manual is very helpful in this respect, with around thirty pages of sysex commands and configurations, plus a tutorial on Midimap editing via sysex to entice those inclined to dispense with the front panel and let their mouse nibble the bytes within. Unfortunately, you can't access the samples. You're stuck with what you've got (...it could be worse) and whatever appears on future soundcards.

It would have been a nice touch to find some implementation of the MIDI sample dump standard here, but there's strictly no dumping either in or out. You'll have to look to the Yamaha TG500 for that, going for nearly half the price!! The dedicated Copy button makes sound creation easier, as a number of parameters can be lifted from one sound and pasted into another.

Hyperpresets and Midimaps



As with all synths, the nomenclature has yet to reach some kind of universal standard. What you might call a program, others will call a preset and so on. In the case of the UltraProteus, a preset is just one sound. It might be compiled of up to two samples (primary and secondary) but it's just one of many.

However, Hyperpresets tend more to the combination style of sound creation, if you'll forgive the Korgspeak. Here, sounds (oops, I mean presets) are mapped across the keyboard in up to sixteen zones. Presets can be layered on top of each other and/or switched; responding to data such as keyboard velocity in what they describe as 'stacks'. Keyboard splits can be made so that workstation-style layouts can be accommodated, allowing for a variety of instruments across one keyboard. This is great for live work and effectively increases the amount of MIDI channels available to you. If you've got a kit laid out, plus a bass further up the keyboard, then you've saved yourself a channel with such an arrangement.

As you'd expect, you can also alter volume, panning, tuning and transposition for each zone, and of course, define the key mapping and the hi/lo velocity ranges and offsets if required. Once set, you can name and save your hyperpreset to bank 2 (the hyperpreset RAM). There's 128 memory locations to choose from, but from 108 onwards they're all blank. No doubt the Emu programmers had cracked under the strain of finding wacky names for their sounds and went home early. By no.99, they're reduced to 'Try This'. Try this is perhaps the last thing I'd suggest you do.

Putting together a hyperpreset is blissfully simple, and so too are Midimaps. A Midimap is quite similar to a timbre or patch in Rolandspeak. There are 16 Midimaps to choose from (64 would have been better) and these can contain a mixture of presets and hyperpresets.

Once inside a Midimap you can view the presets for each channel and change them, though swapping banks involves laborious knob-twiddling.

Continuing the journey into Midimaps, volume pan and effects can be tweaked for each channel. Pan overrides any preset or hyperpreset panning, though leaving it set to 'P' will retain the sounds' original panning. The 'MIDI Enables' function works independently for each channel, allowing for particular MIDI messages to be turned on or off. Rogue program changes can be filtered out, so too can volume or erroneous controller data.

Being able to specify the type of MIDI data (if any) per channel is extremely useful, especially when reworking unfamiliar or old material.

Effects & Outputs



Deeper exploration of the Midimap reveals the effects section. There are two independent effects processors, inventively named FXA and FXB. FXA offers twenty-four effects algorithms, while FXB has only eight. The distortion, chorus and delay effects included in FXB can be fed into FXA for further treatment. As FXA has all the reverb effects, any sounds treated in FXB can receive a wash of reverb to settle into the overall mix.

The parameters for the effects deserve more detail than they receive. I prefer LFO rates for chorus, flange and phasing effects to be specified in Hertz (Hz) because you can then set the LFO rates to oscillate in time with the music. Reverbs have only a decay time to alter, and early reflections have an ambience parameter.

Delay and modulation effects get the best deal with delay, feedback, LFO rate and depth controls. Here, delay times are still unspecified in the display but they are in the manual. With a measly maximum of 209mS for Delay and Cross Delay effects, only the Echo algorithm's 400mS borders on respectability.

Despite the limited editing capabilities, the effects themselves are appealing. The modulation effects can be as generous as you want, with good stereo imaging.

Many of the sounds in the Ultra Proteus come from the Morpheus Module - this diagram shows how a timbre can be transformed over a period of time, or 'morphed', into a different timbre.


Synthesis



A jazzy yellow sticker on the front panel suggests you should 'Move The Mod Wheel'. Just as well it's there, because it performs more than just sickly vibrato effects on the sounds. No, the mod wheel provides instant access (and gratification) to those ultra-hyped E-mu filters.

For example, Strings are squelched, panned and pummelled into unrecognisable timbres which will keep a grin on your chops as you plough through the hundreds of sounds, pausing only to move the mod wheel in search of yet another eyebrow-raiser. Naturally, all these movements can be recorded into a MIDI sequencer.

Anyone intimate with digital electronics will be familiar with the term z-plane. Z-transforms and z-plane diagrams are used to simplify and display complex design concepts and predict the response of digital filters. In essence, the z-plane is a way of representing the effect of filtering on a Fourier spectrum.

Fourier analysis shows waveforms in three dimensions. Amplitude, frequency and time are displayed, producing images that appear like mountainous landscapes. E-mu's z-plane filtering allows both amplitude and frequency to be manipulated over time.

You can begin with one filter type - and dependent on user-definable parameters such as key, velocity or the whole gamut of realtime MIDI and modulation sources - finish with an entirely different filter in the duration of a single note. They tag this process morphing, afer the video technique of image-manipulation.

The tools for such sound manipulation have been contained within 288 filter templates. The first one is actually the null filter for the faint hearted, as it doesn't filter at all. About 20% of the manual is devoted to the description of each one, with helpful guidelines on how to set the three essential ingredients in the z-plane domain.

Besides the z-plane engine, the UltraProteus offers considerable modulation options. Two multi-wave LFOs, three envelope generators and two eight stage function generators (able to respond to MIDI controllers), any combination of which can be simultaneously routed to modulate other parameters. The Midipatch system makes this possible and allows ten note on connections and ten Realtime connections per preset.

Verdict



There is most definitely something for everyone hidden in this box. Whether or not you fancy programming it, the UltraProteus will provide a generous palette of sounds (check out the EQ tutorial on the Re:Mix CD, it's nearly all from the UltraProteus). The filter templates are there to tempt you into trying out sound creation - the hard work's already been done - so here's a speedy opportunity to experiment and perhaps surprise yourself. While the horizons broaden for the synthesist, I felt that drums and percussion were somewhat overshadowed. I'd like to have been able to create my own kits with volume and pan preferences, but this isn't possible without constructing a hyperpreset with snippets from the drum sets provided. General MIDI is not implemented except for a couple of kits, but if you've come this far, changing presets shouldn't be a problem. In fact, it seems like E-mu have tackled practically all the problems of original sound creation. Comparisons have been made to the Korg's Wavestation based on the impact of the synthesis, not on the methods. And while competition is fierce in this area, you can rest assured that as manufacturers continue to invent devices such as the UltraProteus, then things can only get better... at a price.

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £1499

More from: E-mu Systems, (Contact Details)

Features at a glance...

16Mbytes of samples
288 Z-Plane filters
128 preset memories
128 user-programmable memories
28 effect types
32-note polyphonic
6 audio outputs


On the RE:MIX CD

Hear for yourself the wide variety of samples available from the UltraProteus, and check out the morphing effects that are possible using Z-plane synthesis.

- Emu UltraProteus demo



Previous Article in this issue

Lip-sync logic

Next article in this issue

Black magic box


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Nov 1994

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Sound Module > Emu Systems > UltraProteus

On The Re:Mix CD:

28 Emu UltraProteus demo


This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #5.

Review by Bob Dormon

Previous article in this issue:

> Lip-sync logic

Next article in this issue:

> Black magic box


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