MIDI-controlled Sampling Delay
Korg’s latest digital delay looks like any other - but it offers comprehensive MIDI-controlled sound-sampling facilities. Tim Goodyer checks it out.
The sampling story goes on as Korg join the ranks of manufacturers adding sampling options to a DDL. Theirs also has extensive MIDI facilities and a reasonable price-tag - could it be a winner?
In the recent history of the digital delay, two machines stand out as being land marks. First, there was the Boss DE200, the first DDL to offer users some means of triggering a sample held in memory from an external source. Second, there was the Yamaha D1500, the first DDL to be fitted with a MIDI interface that allowed remote selection of its programs from a connected MIDI instrument.
The subject of this review, Korg's nouveau SDD2000, is more expensive than either of those ground-breakers, but the reason for this is that it includes both the above features (and more) in an attempt to provide a comprehensive digital delay line that's also a monophonic sampler that's also got MIDI control that's also... and so on.
To look at it, though, you'd never guess the Korg had a single innovation to its name. It's housed in the now somewhat less than unusual n-n-nineteen-inch, 1U-high rack-mounting format, with all connections on the rear panel and all controls, overall tuning excepted, on the front panel.
Moving from left to right (it always seems the most logical way of doing things - don't ask me why), we find an input section consisting of a Level control and accompanying LED headroom ladder, an Output control governing the untreated signal level present in each of the Mix outputs, a Bypass switch to route the untreated input signal directly to the outputs, a Rec Cancel LED that lights in conjunction with the corresponding rear panel jack to indicate the holding of the signal at the moment of operation and simultaneous switching to Bypass mode, and a Rec Sync section that accommodates all the controls relevant to the sequencing, sampling and trigger facilities. After that, we come to a handy MIDI Enable switch for alerting the SDD2000 to incoming MIDI information, a Programmer section containing all the 'conventional' DDL control parameters, (ie. Frequency, Intensity, Effect (effected signal level), Feedback and Time (normal or x4)), a Write switch, a Program/Parameter selection switch beside the central LED display for program number, parameter values and so on, an Incremental Control and, finally, a mains switch.
Fortunately for the proof-reader, the rear panel isn't quite so densely populated. It hosts sockets for MIDI Thru and MIDI In, the aforementioned Tune control pot, Trigger, Program advance, Record Cancel, and Bypass jacks, a Direct output, mixed and unmixed outputs, and a switchable (-35/-10dB) input.
The Korg will hold 64 user-programmable settings, which I reckon to be a goodly total, all in all. These are arranged in eight banks of eight, with the number of the program in use being shown on the left-hand side of the panel display. It isn't possible to store sampling or sequencing sounds with the power off, but it is possible to store the settings up to the point of making a sample.
The factory presets are all standard DDL patches, and are divided into groups of long and short delays, doubling, chorus, flanging and vibrato effects. And just in case you have difficulty distinguishing between these, there's a list of them included as part of the user manual.
In its DDL guise the SDD2000 works quite conventionally, with the possible exception of incremental parameter setting.
To adjust the delay settings, you press the Program/Parameter button followed by the switch associated with your chosen parameter in the Programmer section. This causes the existing value to appear on the right-hand side of the display and brings the parameter under the control of the incrementor. The resultant setting can be committed to memory by pressing the Write switch, the desired program number, and then the Write switch again. A bit laborious, but you soon get used to it - owners of digital parameter access synths will know just what I mean.
Delay times are adjusted in a similar manner, this time using the Time switch in the Programmer section. This offers you a delay of up to 1092mS in length with a frequency response of 30Hz-18kHz or, with the 'Time x4' facility in operation, 4368mS with a 30Hz-4.5kHz frequency response. Sounds like another case of swings and roundabouts to me. Incrementation is in 1mS steps, except in x1 mode from 1-10mS, where 0.1mS steps come into use.
Alternatively, you can set the delay time by a 'tap' method, using trigger pulses derived from a drum machine or over the MIDI bus. Should you go for this option, the interval between the following two operations of the Rec switch (or footswitch) determines the delay time, so long as the elapsed time doesn't exceed the maximum dictated by the Time setting. If it does, the maximum delay time is implemented automatically.
Using trigger pulses from a drum machine entails following an almost identical procedure, with the pulses taking over the job of manual button-pushing. Working with the MIDI delay setting is also similar, but don't forget to throw the MIDI Enable switch into the On position. There won't be much in the way of communication otherwise. In fact, MIDI mode also gives you the option of syncing to every second, fourth, eighth or sixteenth beat. This is done (as are many things) by adjusting the incrementor just prior to going into Record.
As far as I'm concerned, the curious thing about MIDI is not that it's become so widespread so quickly, or that it's been talked-about so much, or that there's no replacement for it anywhere on the horizon. What's stranger is the way it creeps up on you, with a physical presence comprising no more than a set of DIN sockets and the odd switch dotted around here and there. Yet as we all know, it's a lot more powerful than that presence would suggest.
Take this Korg as an example. From the outside, MIDI looks to be an almost incidental facet of the machine. Yet in reality, its inclusion facilitates a very high degree of control over the delay in Sampling mode. And that's in addition to permitting programs to be changed remotely using the program selectors on a MIDI-equipped synthesiser.
Pressing the MIDI switch momentarily enables the MIDI functions and causes the LED in the switch to light. Simple enough. Holding the switch down and rotating the incrementor (doubtless still warm from investigation of the Trig Overdubs) by one position to the right displays the MIDI channel currently in use. And strike me down if further operation of the incrementor whilst the MIDI switch is held doesn't result in the MIDI channel being changed accordingly.
So far, so good. A competent machine that does its job with the minimum of operational demands being placed on the user (or indeed, the reviewer). Now it's time for things to get a little more complicated.
Once you've selected which sample length/recording bandwidth compromise to settle for, the trigger is automatic, and recording begins as soon as the signal level reaches a fixed threshold of +3dB - this is displayed on the LED headroom indicator. Once begun, recording will continue until the maximum sampling period is over, unless you stop the process manually using the Rec switch or its boot-operated alternative.
With recording completed, the SDD2000 enters an automatic Record Calibration sequence to ensure playback of the sample is in accordance with our Western conception of music. This calibration can be repeated at any time should the tuning drift, but that wasn't a situation I encountered in use.
When you enter Play mode, the LED display greets you with your chosen time setting followed by the word PLAY. If you've managed to stay awake this far you'll probably realise that if you're in Time x4 mode, the display's communication reads 4PLAY. Who said the Japanese don't have a sense of humour?
In Sequencing mode, playback begins immediately and the sample repeats ad nauseum until the mode is exited (or excited?) by a second poke of the Seq switch. Sampling mode, by way of complete contrast, reproduces the sample once on each demand from the rear panel Trig jack, ceasing playback on key release; unconditional release is available (if required) simply by the inhibition of MIDI note-off data. The only control afforded at this stage is editing the sample length down from the end of the sample, something that's accomplished by holding the Time switch and rotating the incremental control.
'Not so complicated', I hear you say. Maybe not, but I haven't told you about sample note setting and the supported note range yet. Actually, they're not that complicated either, but you've got to read the instructions first.
Without getting into unnecessary detail here, accessing the Sampling and MIDI options simultaneously permits the SDD2000 to be used as a MIDI-controlled monophonic sampler. At full frequency response, a sample can be played back over a range of one octave, while a reduced-response sample will respond over nearly three octaves - 36 semitones, in fact.
The notes in question are termed 'the supported note range' and are determined by holding down both the MIDI and Seq switches and setting the lowest note of the range as indicated in the panel display; the upper one follows automatically. The key that reproduces the sampled sound at the same pitch as it was recorded is also user-determined, and can be anywhere within the supported note range. What this means is that you're free to choose to put your unaltered sample at the top or bottom of the supported note range, or anywhere else in between. The sound is then available at different pitches above, below or around the original with corresponding limitations on how far from that original pitch you can legally stray. Tuning is available courtesy of the pot on the rear panel, so no problems accommodating all those weirdo ethnic scales you've always wanted to play from your MIDI keyboard.
As a digital delay the SDD2000 works well, and sounds good using the normal Time setting. In the x4 mode it's the old story of trading the upper frequencies for an extended delay. Sixty-four memories should keep most of you occupied and provide plenty of scope for both live and studio work; hats off to Korg for realising that four or eight memories just don't cover most DDL applications.
The factory presets are quite usable in their own right - just for a change - and provide a more than adequate starting-point for the development of your own programs.
Personally, I'm not over-enamoured of the incremental method of program selection/parameter adjustment. Manual program selection in particular can be a bit of a chore on the SDD2000, even though the control responds positively to the speed at which it's turned - it runs through the programs a lot more quickly if you treat it more like a roulette wheel than the lock on a safe!
Not surprisingly, the same time-versus-bandwidth dilemma applies on the sampling side, but a long attenuated sample isn't necessarily useless - it simply demands that the sound doesn't rely too heavily on its upper frequencies and can be treated with some care during mixing/equalisation.
The facility to curtail a sample is helpful, but it's a shame you can't cut the start of the sound as well as the end. Still, I guess with the trigger preset at +3dB, you're not going to have to edit out periods of silence on any of your samples. The ability to reverse a sample is also conspicuously - and regrettably - absent, but more positively, the MIDI implementation is such that the SDD2000 will respond to velocity information if requested to do so.
Would I buy one? Probably. I wouldn't recommend it specifically as a sampling unit because of the deficiencies just mentioned, but I doubt Korg intend it to be used as such anyway. Yet it's a clean-sounding, fairly friendly delay with a useful mono sampling facility, more useful still if you have a MIDI keyboard or sequencer to use as the controlling instrument.
RRP of the SDD2000 is £799 including VAT.
Further information from Korg UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Tim Goodyer
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