Korg MIDI Sync Box
in, out, in, out, in, out...
RIGHT, YOU'VE got your massive digital sequencer, you've sacked the drummer and installed a programmable version, brought in a couple of horrendously expensive synthesisers and you're ready to go. You crouch over your Portastudio, jump on a footswitch and strike the first mighty chord. Nothing happens.
Or alternatively the sequencer proceeds at a snail's pace while the drum machine goes mental at Warp 9. In the past the answer has been to go out and have several hundred pounds' worth of expensive modifications done, and the advent of the very wonderful MIDI format hasn't entirely solved the problem. OK, MIDI controls a good few parameters — although some of the more exotic aspects of drum machine and sequencer chaining were removed from the format in the move to the MIDI 1.0 spec — but there are lots of elements which MIDI doesn't cover, and lots of machines still about which were born before MIDI was a twinkle in Dave Smith's eye. One of the main omissions was any consideration of the direct sync-to-tape element which is so important in multitracking electronic instruments. Most MIDI drum machines and sequencers sync-to-tape quite well, but there has been a definite need for a device which could interleave simple tape sync pulses with all those other little fiddly bits of information which MIDI seems to thrive on.
Hence the KMS-30, and upcoming devices from Roland, Dr Click and no doubt several others. The Korg's a particularly cheap and neat solution though, because it combines the answer to the MIDI tape sync question with the answers to other favourite posers of modem philosophy — like "how do I sync my Roland TR 808 to tape?", "How do I drive a Linndrum from a Bassline?", or "How do I sync my Emulator to my Drumatix?" (not very likely that last one, I admit).
The KMS-30 answers all these questions and more without being any more bulky than a paperback book. Layout is dead simple — along the back, nine sockets, which are (in order) Tape Sync Out and In (phono sockets), Sync (the Roland DIN plug system) Out 2, Out 1 and In, MIDI (the other, chap's DIN system) Out 2, Out 1 and In, and 9V DC in. On the top, a mere five slider switches — 48/24 pulse per quarter note selectors for the three Roland sync sockets, Power On/Off, Synchronization On/Off and Master Clock Select — of which more later. In addition there's a small red Tempo LED to indicate when the thing's going.
Clearly the KMS-30 is capable of allowing you to synchronise anything with a MIDI input (as long as it responds to a System Real Time code — a guitar synth wouldn't make much of one, a sequencer would love one) to anything with a DIN Sync input operating at 24 or 48 ppqn and any combination of these to a tape pulse. Pretty handy, I'd say. In addition the Sync Off/On switch allows you to instantly deactivate the box so you can use your instruments independently, and the Master Clock Select — which has Tape, Sync and MIDI positions — can make any of the systems the driving master while all the others become its obedient slaves.
Connection can be simple or complicated, depending on how many instruments you want to pull into the system. The useful handbook ends with a setup consisting of one synthesiser, two expanders, two drum machines, an eight-track recorder and two echo units, so you shouldn't find anything too difficult to work out. If you have several MIDI units they can be linked to each other as normal, since the MIDI clock signal is shared between them and only one output needs to go to the KMS; when the Master Clock switch is set to MIDI the MIDI Outs become MIDI Thru's, so the KMS is a MIDI Thru box if you want it to be (handy if you've got a Jupiter 6, Prophet 600 or similar machine without a MIDI Thru socket).
As for the Sync connections, you could use them for the Roland TR 808, Bassline, Drumatix, the MPC and other equipment at 24 ppqn, or for the Korg KPR 77, or the new DDM-110 and 220 at 48 ppqn, or any mixture of each. Non-Korg users will find they suddenly have the ability to extend the tempo range of their sequencers by two or four times, since you can change the input and output pulses to 48 instead of 24. Unfortunately this doesn't always work "live", which is a pity because it's a handy effect. To be on the safe side you have to stop and restart the master clock.
Whatever you're playing into the KMS, the Tape outputs provide a steady pulse which can be recorded on any machine from a Portastudio to a 24-track. A fairly high level is best, but the KMS isn't too fussy as long as you avoid a distorted or irregular signal. The KMS puts out a useful leader tone which you can set to around 0VU before starting the master clock machine. On playback, just send the tape signal (which sounds like two alternating high-pitched notes) back to the KMS Tape In socket, connect up the synths or sequencers you want to drive, set the Master Clock Select to Tape and start the tape. It's as simple as that, and while I wouldn't go as far to say it's foolproof it's certainly straightforward.
The KMS has nice big rubber feet so you don't scratch your shiny new studio. On small whinge though — since you don't have the option of powering the thing off batteries, why make the 9V power supply external? I've always found such units to be fiddly and unreliable, and it's not as if the extra bulk would make the KMS unwieldy especially since it isn't in any kind of standard size. The power supply itself is amusingly titled KAC 306, so perhaps Alexei Sayle had a hand in it.
Summing up M'Lud, the defendant is well-constructed, versatile (possibly more so than the manufacturers thought), easy to use and a potential life-saver in many situations. First the EX-800 Expander and now this?! Things are really looking up in the Korg camp.
KORG KMS-30 midi sync: £155
Contact: Rose-Morris, (Contact Details).
Review by Mark Jenkins
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