Yamaha MDF2 Midi Data Filer
Yamaha's new MIDI datafiler currently enjoys the honour of being the cheapest of its kind on the market. Ian Waugh gets on with the filing.
Where will it all end? That abomination of Japanese culture, the karaoke machine (once aptly described as a cross between entertainment and humiliation), already seems to be taking over from traditional "live" music. Part of the problem (apart from the appalling taste of the British public) probably lies in the cost of live music - it's not easy to field a five-piece band on £50 a night. Which is why many musicians have resorted to sequenced backing tracks.
Although essentially not much different from backing tapes, they should be at least one equipment generation clearer. And even though the majority of punters wouldn't know a backing tape from a sequencer, they let you honestly say "No, I don't use tapes", which helps appease your conscience, if not your bass player, drummer and keyboard-playing friends.
If you're going to sequence on stage, you need the gear for the job. Few musos actually carry a computer with them - too big and too fragile - and while some swear by hardware sequencers, they have their limitations for live use - generally lack of memory and a long loading time. The solution is, of course, a MIDI data filer such as Yamaha's MDF2.
The idea is simple: you use your sequencer to create backing tracks and then transfer them to the 3.5" disk of the MDF2. This plays back the tracks exactly as they were recorded, directly from the disk. That is, they're not loaded into any sort of memory area first, so playback is instantaneous.
Although it has record and playback functions, the MDF2 doesn't profess to be a dedicated sequencer and, indeed, has very little in the way of editing facilities. It uses a single-track system which records all 16 MIDI channels and there is no overdub facility. Essentially the data has to be "ready to go" before you record it onto the MDF2.
To record, hook your sequencer to the MDF2 (MIDI Out to MIDI In), select MIDI clock on the MDF2 and press Record and Pause. As soon as your sequencer starts transmitting, the MDF2 begins recording and saving data onto disk. The MDF2 records at a default tempo of 120bpm but you can change this before recording. Playback will follow any tempo changes within the file itself.
The MDF2 uses the standard MIDI File format 0 and recognises the ESEQ format used by Yamaha on their SY77, SY99 and the QX3. It distinguishes between formats by checking the header so you're not left with the responsibility for telling it which is which.
MS.DOS formatted disks are used, so the MDF2 should also read standard MIDI files saved to disk by a PC. The Macintosh also reads and writes to MS.DOS disks (using programs such as DOS Mounter or Apple File Exchange) and ST disks are fairly MS.DOS compatible, too, although some may need to have a special header written to them (such utilities are available in the public domain). MS.DOS compatibility programs exist for the Amiga and Archimedes, too.
The MDF2 worked fine with a file recorded with MOTU's Performer and transferred using Apple File Exchange, and it read sequence ESEQ files from an SY77 disk. The ability to read standard MIDI Files directly also gives you the option of purchasing pre-recorded backing tracks on MS.DOS disks from companies such as Hands On.
The MDF2 can also record System Exclusive data, files up to 600K in size. Apart from the obvious use of storing synth and expander setups, this could be used with portable keyboards and organs. The machine would also be a useful add-on for an instrument with a sequencer, for example, but no built-in disk drive, such as the M1.
Having recorded a number of songs, you can specify an order for playback or chain them together. There are other functions too, such as renaming, deleting, copying and appending files and formatting and copying disks.
As the disks are MS.DOS compatible, you can edit the files on a computer, although this is best restricted to changing file names (useful for re-ordering files).
For a piece of gear which seems so obviously suited to pro use, you may wonder why Yamaha put it in a desk-top case rather than a rack unit. Well, in use you're likely to want the unit beside you and lodged somewhere in a rack may not be the most convenient place. Plus, it can also be used at home on top of a piano or home-keyboard and, although it would be under-using it, you could use it as a scratch pad to record your doodlings. And should you want to pair it up with your QY10, it runs off both mains and batteries.
Currently, the MDF2 is the cheapest bulk storage/sequence playback machine on the market. It works well, it's easy to use and with standard MIDI File compatibility, it should be tempting to anyone using sequences for live work - particularly if they already use a computer. Is this where the musician's fight back to karaoke begins?
Price £299 including VAT.
More from Yamaha Kemble Music (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Waugh
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