Add-on for Digital Delay Lines
Paul White and an ingenious 'black box' that gives older-generation digital delay lines a sampling capability.
As the world and his wife run round the latest generation of digital delays equipped with sampling facilities, a tiny British company comes up with a device that gives older machines the same facility.
The ability to trigger sampled sounds stored in a digital delay unit is a useful asset to just about anyone involved in the production and recording of modern music, and both Korg and Roland are now producing affordable products to fulfill this requirement (other companies will be following suit in the course of 1985). However, there are a great many digital delays already in circulation that don't sport this desirable feature, and this is where the Delta SX301 add-on unit comes into the picture.
The package includes a remote control box that plugs into the back of your DDL via a nine-way delta connector but, as internal modification to the delay line circuitry is involved, you'll have to live without your unit for some 10 to 14 days while the job is done.
As the photo of a modified Powertran delay line shows, a small PCB is mounted inside the unit, and this is in turn connected to the rest of the circuitry by way of another multipin connector. Apart from the Powertran, the system works with the Roland SDE series of products, the Boss DE200, the Yamaha D1500 and the Korg SDD3000. Models from Ibanez and Cutec have also been successfully modified, and if your model isn't listed here, just give the manufacturers a call: chances are they'll find some way of modifying it.
The SX301 contains a sound-operated trigger circuit that enables, say, a percussive sound to be loaded accurately into the delay line without your having to worry about pushing buttons in sync with the sound. Once safely stored, the sound may be coaxed into life simply by pressing the Play pushbutton on the remote control unit, or by feeding a positive-going trigger pulse into the 2.5mm jack socket on the controller.
Using the Delta unit is quite straightforward. Once you've connected everything up, select the longest delay setting on your machine and set the Feedback to zero. If the sound you want to sample is fairly short, it's advisable to set the Fine Delay control to give the shortest sample length, as this will give improved sound quality and reduce the amount of (noisy) silence that follows the sound.
The next step is to switch to Sample and press the Record button. The circuitry is now in a state of attentive waiting and will trigger as soon as the input to the DDL exceeds the preset triggering threshold. The sound is then stored ready for use, and if your machine has a Fine Delay control, you can use it to tune the pitch of the sample. At this point, you can trigger the stored sound manually using the Play button or (and I imagine this'll be the more popular course of action) use a drum machine trigger output or similar to run the system.
And that's about it, really. The sound quality of the sample is as good as that of your delay line, and the system posed no operational problems when it was in my hand.
But we haven't reached the end of the story. Realising the huge demand that currently exists among musicians for pitched sampling, Delta are about to release a new unit by the name of SX303. This is very similar to the SX301, but has the addition of a CV control input that allows the pitch of the sample to be controlled (over a two-octave range) from the keyboard of a synth with CV and gate outputs.
In the Play mode, you can set the 303 to play through to the end of the sample or to cut off when the key is released, which makes for a surprising (at this price level) degree of flexibility. And once your sample has been stored, it may be tuned over a one-octave range, so just about any sound can be converted into music of some description.
It's clear to me that these add-on units provide not only the means of ensuring your DDL doesn't become obsolete, but also just about the most cost-effective way of getting into high-quality sampling, albeit at a fairly basic manipulative level. The ability to trigger off-the-wall and 'found' percussive sounds is something an awful lot of drum machine owners would give an awful lot for, and the SX301 would seem to be an excellent way of extending the range of sounds at your disposal. In fact, it seems many pro recording studios have already had their machines updated for this very purpose.
For my money though, the SX303 is the better bet, as the possibility of playing samples chromatically from a keyboard is something well worth having. The only doubt you could be justified in harbouring would be the two-octave pitch range, but in practice this is more than adequate in most musical applications, and opting for a more expensive machine that offers a wider range won't guarantee you acceptable sound quality once you deviate too far from the original sample pitch.
RRPs are £89 for the SX301 and £129 for the SX303, inclusive of VAT and fitting: a negotiable extra call-out charge is made for on-the-spot modifications.
Further information from Future Music, (Contact Details)
Review by Paul White
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