EMU Proteus 2
Emu's Proteus 16-bit ROM sample player was one of last year's hi-tech highlights — the new Proteus 2 offers the same concept and quality, but with a whole new set of orchestral sounds. Nigel Humberstone conducts the review.
Emu Systems of California are renowned for producing quality keyboards and samplers. The release of their Proteus 1 sound module late last year saw them break the psychological £1,000 price barrier and undoubtedly gained them a wider market. More recently their Proformance piano module has enabled the home recordist and musician to experience Emu quality at an affordable level.
Now comes a new Proteus — (available in two versions, Proteus 2 and Proteus 2XR), which features the same 16-bit stereo sample playback facilities as its predecessor, but comes with an entirely different set of sounds.
Proteus 2 is identical in both appearance and operation to its earlier companion — it is a one unit rack ROM module, 16-part multitimbral, 32-voice polyphonic with six assignable audio outputs and full MIDI specifications. (For the definitive review of Proteus' operation, see Paul Ireson's article in the November '89 issue of Sound On Sound.)
One small feature that has been improved upon by the Emu team is that the amount of chorus is now adjustable, whereas before you merely had a choice of on or off. I also found that the data entry knob (constantly used in conjunction with the cursor button to review Presets, change levels and select MIDI channels) appears to be stiffer and more precise on this review model. I hope this is a standard modification, as it is now much easier to locate a Preset without 'overshooting.'
I was a little surprised to find that none of the Proteus 1 sounds had been incorporated in the new version. This means that owners of Proteus 1 can't simply 'upgrade' by selling their old unit and buying the new — to keep your old sounds you'll have to keep Proteus 1 — but an Orchestral Expander board (£449 and fitted free of charge by your dealer) is available for the original Proteus which effectively doubles the memory capacity, and which includes a selection of samples from Proteus 2. Proteus owners interested in this option should note that the selection amounts to around half of Proteus 2's sampled sounds, and there are some notable omissions which I will mention later.
Having owned a Proteus 1 for nearly a year now, I have found it to be the basis of an excellent musical sketchpad. Working with my sequencer, its 32-voice polyphony and 16-part multitimbrality have enabled me to quickly realise pieces of music, and the ability to download all master settings via System Exclusive means that Proteus is in effect an automated and programmable orchestra — and it is traditional orchestral sounds that are the new Proteus' strengths.
The samples (or Instruments as Emu call them) are used within Proteus 2 as a basis for its Presets (a Preset is what you will actually select with a Program Change message), and they represent an impressive and comprehensive array of instruments from the orchestral field. You can take the clarity, depth and brilliance of sounds for granted as you flick through the seemingly endless Presets — the basic Proteus 2 has 192 Presets (64 user and 128 ROM) and the XR version has 384 (256 user, 128 ROM), although both have the same selection of Instruments out of which to create them. It is almost like previewing your own personal orchestra, and in true orchestral tradition, the sounds of Proteus 2 should be appraised in their proper instrument groupings.
In order to cover the full range of string sounds, Proteus 2 offers a multitude of combinations and styles from solo violin, viola and cello to full-bodied 16-piece violin sections. The way that a string is attacked is of course crucial to particular string sounds, and all the main bowing styles are represented here — marcato, legato, tremolande (but sadly not spiccato) and a superb range of pizzicatos. The 3 Octave Pizz Preset incorporates the plucked bass, celli, viola and violin samples to create a perfectly 'whole' sound.
Each instrument has a particular musical range to which it is best suited, and Proteus does not overstep these boundaries in arranging its samples across the keyboard. Personally I found the solo violin a little too 'boxy' and abrasive, but it is when the instruments are used in quartet arrangements and combinations that the true tonal qualities come together. The Marcato Presets in particular, have a very distinctive and sonorous sound.
Many of the string sounds will be familiar to users and owners of the Emulator and Emax sound libraries, although in fact I found the sound quality to be clearer on many of the Proteus selections. The Arco Basses, Celli, Violas and Violins were amongst my favourite string sounds, and interestingly enough, when I analysed some of the more outstanding Presets, I invariably found that both the Primary and Secondary Instruments were from the Arco string sections. Unfortunately no Arco strings are present on the upgrade board — one of those significant omissions I mentioned earlier.
Proteus 2 encompasses the whole woodwind family, from the contra bassoon and bass clarinet through to piccolo and oboe. These instruments really inspire you to play — the oboe in particular has a very tender tone, with natural vibrato that is just right for solo parts and sustained melodies. Increased key velocity gives you a more attacking and biting sound that provides a real feel for further expression.
The flute instruments, sampled with and without natural vibrato, are astoundingly realistic and manage to capture the characteristic attack that is often missing on flute samples. Similarly the bass clarinet and bassoon, with their rich rasps and treacly tones, are available to add a new fullness to your sound.
Perhaps the least inspiring set of sounds is the brass selection. The French horns, for example, lack a certain lustre, but of course if a Proteus sound does not suit your requirements, it is very easy to link it to up to three other Presets — in this case, perhaps to create a much fuller brass section. Many of Proteus' factory Presets highlight this facility to combine samples and create new textures. For example, the Preset called Pluck d'Bois successfully merges the Pizzicombo and Woodwind samples to create a Medieval sounding ensemble.
Various tunings and combinations of trumpet are provided, along with the heavy brass division of the orchestra — the tuba and trombones. As with many of the orchestral samples, attention to playing techniques for each instrument is vital to achieving realistic results.
The timpani, with its capacity for fine nuances of tone and expression has always been difficult to recreate, but the Proteus sample is one of the most life-like that I have come across. Also in the Percussion section are a pitchless and booming orchestral bass drum, and various snares, including rim shots and rolls. The tam tam (gong) would be a welcome addition to any percussion section, a lovely sound which explodes on impact as your finger hits the key and appears to resonate endlessly, as do the tubular bells. These are crystal clear, dulcet samples that are usable across the full range of a keyboard.
Glockenspiel, xylophone, celesta, marimba and vibraphone complement the range of tuned percussion.
In addition to these main instrument groupings, there are groups of Presets containing Keyboard, Textures and Sound Effects sounds, made up from the Proteus' Harmonic and Digital Waveforms. Amongst these, Chapel Organ and Notre Dame provide some useful tones, but there is no good strident pipe organ. A small selection of Bass Presets are provided, including Amplify Bass and Jazz Bass — which have natural 'woody' tones, reminiscent of a plucked double bass. There are no piano samples (the closest is Harpsikord), so I assume that Emu have left this area to their Proformance module. Also notable by their absence were any choral or vocal samples.
I mentioned earlier that the Orchestral Expander board available for Proteus 1 owners had only a selection of sounds from the Proteus 2 — the most important omissions are the Arco strings, French horn, flute, snare drum, trumpet, trombone and tuba.
Proteus 2's Instruments, used in their near-infinite number of possible combinations, offer the user a huge range of 'tonal colourings'. An aspect of Proteus 1 that particularly impressed me is the immense power of its bass frequencies. This is again evident with Proteus 2, but if anything it is even more pronounced because of the type and range of acoustic instruments that have been sampled. Presets like the Arco Basses and Pizzicato have a great depth and body to their sound that really dominates the lower frequencies.
As you can probably tell, I've been impressed by Proteus 2. I know a lot of people consider ROM modules to be limited in their applications, but as an Emax owner with a full array of sounds similar to those in Proteus 2, I constantly found myself reaching towards the Proteus in preference to loading up a 3.5" disc in the Emax. In terms of sounds, there is nothing quite like it on the market. (Perhaps Kurzweils' 1000 series modules would be the nearest comparison, were they still available.)
Classical instruments have been developed and refined to project and perform within the context of the orchestra, and it is rewarding to find such a good representation of these instruments in Proteus 2. To those already engaged in music production for films, commercials and jingles, Proteus 2 will be indispensable — even musicians who already own vast sample libraries may find the 32-voice polyphony and multi-timbral characteristics of the Proteus irresistible. Of course, such a collection of sounds will not be to everyone's taste, but in comparison to many other current expander modules, Proteus 2 is a refreshing and exciting alternative.
Proteus 2 £1,235 inc VAT.
Proteus 2XR £1,399 inc VAT.
Orchestral Expander Board (4Mbytes) for Proteus 1 £449 inc VAT.
Emu Systems Ltd, (Contact Details).
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Review by Nigel Humberstone
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