Ian Waugh looks at the new PC-based synth editor from Poke Systems
Poke Systems break the price barrier with their range of synth editors for PC compatibles - but does this mean a compromise in features? Ian Waugh finds out
What's this, what's this? A piece of PC music software and change yet out of fifty quid? This requires closer examination.
TX81ZED is, as you can probably guess, a voice editor for Yamaha's TX-81Z expander. In addition to a PC you will also require the Roland MPU-401 MIDI interface or compatible. I ran the program with a Voyetra V-4001 with no trouble. The program doesn't require access to the master disk after loading so you can comfortably use it with a floppy drive or you can copy it to a hard disk.
The program is controlled by the function keys. The Main Screen lists five functions - Help, Edit, MIDI, File and Utility - along with the keys you must press to call them. This screen is self-explanatory. You can load and save voices to and from disk, send and get a voice to and from the synth, edit a voice or edit a Performance. Voices are automatically saved with the first eight letters of the voice name (all spaces are ignored) although the program will overwrite an existing file without warning.
The Control Panel lets you set the MIDI channel across which the PC and TX-81Z will communicate. You can also set the patch file extension (which defaults to .X81), the directory, the date and the programmer's name. When all's done you can save the panel to disk. At the bottom of the screen is a Status Line and Message Area which keep you informed about what you're editing.
The Help keys work in all screens and are very, er helpful. After a quick once-over you probably won't need the manual again.
The first thing to do is load a voice from disk or get one from the synth. Next you press
When creating a new voice, the first thing you probably want to do is set the Algorithm and Feedback rate. This is where we start to see slight discrepancies between the display and the synth. You change the Algorithm using values from 0 to 7 but in the TX-81Z they are numbered from 1 to 8. Even stranger - the display shows the Algorithm arrangement numbered correctly. The Waveforms, too, run from 0 to 7 while the synth uses values 1 to 8.
This is hardly drastic but when you come to edit the frequency of the operators, the display only uses single digits. In Fixed Mode, for example, the range of frequency values varies from 0 to 7 and this is intended to represent ranges between 250Hz and 32kHz. The display as it stands is not large enough to show three-digit values but surely one of the main reasons for using a computer to edit synth voices is to be able to see the whole voice at a glance.
A similar 'conversion' process is used with the Frequency Ratios. Likewise EG SHFT on the TX-81Z can be set to Off, 48, 24 or 12 yet the screen displays values of 0 to 3. There are several other examples in the program in which a range of numbers are used to represent other values.
As Frequency settings are one of the most awkward features to edit on the TX-81Z I really feel the screens should be redesigned to display them better.
To hear what your new voice sounds like you have to send it to the TX-81Z (it is not updated automatically) and then access the Note Page which uses a crosshair cursor to select a pitch and velocity value which is sent when you press the Space Bar. It would be useful if it could play back a short sequence of notes.
There is also a Randomise function - without which no voice editor would be complete - which alters the operators' parameters by up to 20 percent of the maximum value. The creation of interesting sounds, however, is a rather hit and miss affair. Many parameters aren't included in the randomisation and perhaps a mask function would help produce better results.
The Performance Edit Page lets you set up voices and associated parameters for multi-timbral use although you can't save Performances to disk. The voice names are shown but only for banks A to D, not for the Internal (programmable) voices. The Internal names could be accessed by the program using the TX-81Z VCED System Exclusive request.
Again, more numeric discrepancies here as the MIDI channels run from 0 to 15 (16 being Omni) rather than the 1 to 16 plus Omni range used by the TX-81Z.
The manual is well written and laser printed. It expounds the benefits of voice editors listing librarian functions as one of the advantages. Unfortunately, TX81ZED does not have any librarian functions: voices can only be handled individually, not in banks.
Poke Systems produce editors for Yamaha's other four Operator synths - the DX-11, DX-21, DX27 and DX-100. Although there are slight differences in implementation between them, it's a shame Poke did not produce one program to handle them all. That would have enabled a certain degree of compatibility between synths.
The programs all have the same core and an occasional reference to the *DX* pops up in TX81ZED. You may spot the odd typo in the Help pages, too. The program's Help facility tells you to switch the TX-81Z's MIDI Switch and Channel Info On. The only function of this nature which applies to the TX-81Z is the System Exclusive function which must be enabled.
You can turn some the help functions off (the message line at the bottom of the screen and the Algorithm display, for example) but nothing is gained so there seems little point in doing so.
Some of these are minor quibbles and could easily be altered but major niggle is the 'numeric discrepancy' which would require a degree of redesign.
Poke is currently working on a version of the editor for Yamaha's new mega C1 music computer (see review in last issue).
Voice editors are supposed to make the job of voice editing easier. While I would find it difficult to recommend TX81ZED to a complete novice - even at the price - the experienced programmer who is sick of punching the Parameter and Data Entry buttons on his TX-81Z may find it £50 well spent.
But the bottom line is this - you get what you pay for.
Format: IBM PC Compatible (entry level system)
Price: £49.95 inc VAT.
Supplier: Poke Limited, (Contact Details)
Review by Ian Waugh