Korg Audio Gallery AG-101 & AG-102
Multimedia Music System for PC & Macintosh
Do Korg's new Mac and PC add-ons represent a sound investment?
A music system for multimedia use rather than a multimedia system in its own right, does the Korg Audio Gallery amount to anything more than General MIDI for the computer user? Ian Masterson turns on and tunes in...
As the frontiers of multimedia technology continue to be pushed back and the computer is seen increasingly as the centre of creative activity, the major synth manufacturers have turned their attention to producing packages geared less at the dedicated musician, and more at the 'all-in-one' technophile - the consumer who wants his desktop to be the complete creative centrepiece. The role of the computer in music is no longer restricted to running dedicated sequencer or notation programs; instead, a single CPU can act as the brain behind video editing, animation, graphics, music and performance control. Yamaha recently introduced the strangely-named Hello! Music! package as its offering to the multimedia masses; one cardboard box contains a sound module, a selection of software and all the leads necessary to take care of your desktop musical wishes. The approach is not merely that of a glorified sound card; the voices, MIDI interface and editing/sequencing software all become part of a centralised music system that 'talks' to any other creative program(s) you may choose to work with.
Korg's Audio Gallery package, which is available in PC and Mac versions (AG-101 and AG-102 respectively the essential difference being the language the software is written in), is very much their answer to Yamaha's Hello! Music!. Your £399 quid buys you an external sound module - the AG10 - a bundle of interface leads to hook the module to your computer, a wad of manuals, and a disk containing Passport's Trax and MIDI Player programs alongside Korg's own voice-editing software.
The AG-10 connects to your computer via the modem or printer socket, in standard MIDI-interface fashion (Korg supply their own MIDI driver on the accompanying disk, which configures the modem port to handle MIDI data at a clock speed of 1 MHz). The design of the module is understated to say the least; I was expecting something along the lines of Korg's 05R/W unit, but the AG-10 is simply a beige metal box with a smattering of sockets and two front panel controls - the on/off switch and the volume knob. This reflects the fact that everything you do to the AG-10 must be done through software; there is absolutely no need to touch the front panel once the master volume level is set to your satisfaction. The rear panel connections are similarly sparse; apart from the MIDI and headphone sockets, you are provided with two pairs of phonos - one set handles the output of the AG-10, and the second can be used to cascade the output of another sound module or tape deck through it, should you lack an audio mixer. As ever, power is drawn from an external 9v DC transformer.
The internal workings of the AG-10 are slightly more impressive. Korg describe the unit as a 'wavetable sound module' - this refers to its employment of AI2 synthesis technology in the creation of its 128 internal sounds. These sounds are arranged according to the General MIDI protocol, and the unit boasts 32-note polyphony, 16-part multitimbrality and reverb and chorus effects. Plus, should you own any further MIDI-equipped modules or keyboards, you can use the MIDI sockets on the AG-10 as a dedicated MIDI interface for your Mac or PC, with the software driving the AG-10's sounds independently of the 16 'external' MIDI channels. Not bad for a small, beige box.
The sounds themselves are pretty respectable; if you're familiar with General MIDI, you will doubtless have a rough idea of what to expect here. Personally, while I acknowledge that the quality of AI2 makes for a more convincing set of voices in the AG-10 than quite a bit of the competition, I can't help feeling that the sounds are just a bit too prosaic to be considered inspiring. That's not to say you can't work with them: I have no doubt that they are ideally suited to anyone tentatively experimenting with General MIDI for the first time, but it would be misleading to suggest that the AG-10 offers you an instant way of becoming the next Aphex Twin.
Installing the software onto your computer's hard disk couldn't be easier. Korg have condensed the entire package into a single installation routine, dramatically reducing the amount of file-dragging that has to be performed. Instead, the computer prompts you for all the necessary software registration information (name, rank and serial number), and then proceeds to disgorge all the data into a single neat folder. From this point on, you are pretty much free to use and abuse the software as you see fit, since all the tedious MIDI-to-program configuration is taken care of for you. All you have to do is double-click and go...
Korg have obviously taken great care to make the Audio Gallery package suitable for anyone who is unfamiliar with either music or technical terminology - or both. One feature which supports this is the inclusion of Passport's MIDI Player program, which allows you to playback and customise any MIDI songfile. Audio Gallery even includes an SMF conversion utility, which adapts MIDI songfiles in Format 0 (where all the data is on one track) to Format 1 (where the data resides on multiple tracks).
Songs are loaded into MIDI Player in a manner resembling that of a jukebox; you open your songfiles, they are arranged into a 'playlist', and you choose one to playback and edit. A small window to the bottom of the computer screen carries the necessary 'transport' controls for starting, stopping and searching to various points in the song, while a larger window can be opened to reveal the 'mixer' page. Here you are presented with a colourful array of virtual mixing controls, which allow you to alter all the playback parameters of your chosen song - you can change relative volume levels of the parts, select new instruments, mute instruments, and so on.
There is little doubt as to the increasing popularity of MIDI songfiles as a means of getting into music technology, and MIDI Player provides one of the easiest ways of getting into MIDI songfiles that I have seen. However, its usefulness for the more musically-and-MIDI ambitious is limited; for those who seek to create their own works, Korg have included Passport's Trax sequencer.
Trax has been examined before in the pages of this magazine, and the constraints of space prohibit a further dissection here - suffice to say that it has proved to be an extremely popular budget PC and Mac sequencing package. Here, too, things are kept deliberately simple to encourage the novice, but the program offers substantial expansion potential as well. Sequencers are very much a matter of personal taste; you may prefer to view your music in blocks of bars and beats rather than strings of numbers, or vice-versa. Whatever, Trax's user interface is ideally suited to the first-time desktop musician, offering grid, block and notation editing pages to suit all tastes. And the standardised MIDI songfile format now means that you can change at a later date to a more sophisticated package, while still being able to load and edit your existing material.
The last program of interest in the Audio Gallery package is the editing software for the AG-10 itself. It's worth pointing out that the AG-10 has no dedicated means of storing any changes you make to its preset sounds; instead, any editing performed in this program has to be saved as a data file on your computer. You can pretty much edit every aspect of an AG-10 sound, and the 'analogue synth' style window arrangement is encouraging to use. In fact, despite the storage limitations, I feel Audio Gallery has considerable creative potential.
Of course, the real value of a product like Audio Gallery lies not in the individual components but in the package as a whole. In these terms, Korg have definitely produced a user-friendly, flexible and self-contained product ideally suited for those wishing to bring the music side of their multimedia up to scratch. While the facilities and musical potential offered may not be ideal for those with higher creative aspirations, Audio Gallery will definitely throw open all sorts of doors for the desktop enthusiast - and that can only be a good thing.
|Ease of use||Impressively simple to get running|
|Originality||How original can General MIDI get?|
|Value for money||Good for the novice|
|Price||Both £399 inc VAT|
|More from||Korg (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
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Review by Ian Masterson
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