Simon Trask takes a look at the Mirage's rack-mounting counterpart, and finds it even better value than the keyboard version.
To begin with, the expander version loses nothing in terms of facilities over its keyboard counterpart: only the sync input for triggering the onboard sequencer is absent. The original Mirage, as you'll probably recall, set new standards in making quality sound-sampling 'affordable', with an RRP of £1695 that has since become £1295. And now that Akai have proved musicians don't necessarily want a keyboard to go with their sampling gear, the way is clear for Ensoniq to launch a modular MIDI sampler to complement their keyboard instrument.
So here it is: the Ensoniq Mirage MultiSampler. It doesn't have any of the Akai's useful rotary controls and sliders, so all its parameters have to be accessed via the familiar numeric keypad. Fortunately, the manual is helpful here.
A more crucial difference between the Akai and the Mirage is that the latter is a multi-sampler. You can have up to eight samples on each half of the controlling keyboard, which is great for minimising those 'Mickey Mouse' effects. As always, though, the more samples you use, the less memory/bandwidth there is for each sample. The Mirage's 64K of memory for each keyboard half could usefully do with an upgrade to ease this problem.
The expander is eight-voice polyphonic, and its two oscillators per voice allow detuning and mixing effects which greatly enrich its sonic vocabulary. Mixing allows you to move from one sound to another using such sources as keyboard velocity or the mod wheel. Ensoniq's rock guitar sample, for instance, allows you to introduce feedback by moving the mod wheel - great for those screaming guitar solo imitations.
Like many other samplers, the Mirage module has a built-in disk drive for saving and loading of sounds. Each 3.5-inch disk can store three sets of Upper and Lower samples, which is quite a decent amount - more so if you're using multisampling. Loading Upper and Lower samples for each keyboard half takes a lengthy (though not irritating) eight seconds.
The Mirage offers a fine degree of control over samples once they've been recorded, but that control isn't always easily accessible. There are plenty of options for looping segments and shuffling sample data around, but dealing with two-digit hexadecimal displays is nobody's idea of fun.
You can sidestep this problem by using a visual editing software package, several of which are now available for a variety of different home computers. In fact, some factory sounds have been worked on using Ensoniq's Macintosh software to create smooth looping. There's a particularly impressive piano sample which loops smoothly through fade-out; volume and filter envelopes can be imposed on a sample, and release time can be tracked to the keyboard so that it's longer in the lower registers and shorter in the higher ones, as happens naturally on acoustic instruments.
Also included on the expander is a 333-event sequencer. It's a fairly basic device which can loop during recording, and allows you to overdub and to record multitimbrally. There's straightforward start/stop MIDI syncing, and your sequences can be saved to disk.
In keeping with its new-found MIDI-dependent status, the Mirage expander has a healthy complement of MIDI facilities courtesy of the latest software updates (the operating system is now version 3.1). The original Mirage couldn't even respond to attack velocity over MIDI, but now, in addition to attack velocity, pitchbend and mod wheel data, the module can respond to channel/polyphonic aftertouch and patch-changes (enabling automatic loading of any samples off disk), and assign MIDI controllers such as breath control and volume pedal to affect LFO, Mix and aftertouch modulation depth.
The Multisampler expander comes complete (as the keyboard version does now) with Ensoniq's Advanced Sampling Guide, a MASOS (Mirage Advanced Sampler's Operating System) disk, two sound library disks and one disk-formatting program so you don't have to buy pre-formatted disks any more.
Optional extras are a 50kHz sampling cartridge and a 1024-event sequencer expander - given the price of the expander, the additional cost of these doesn't look bad.
Despite an eight-bit resolution, the Mirage MultiSampler can sample and store sounds with great accuracy. Its multisampling and editing facilities make it a serious proposition for anyone interested not just in the rudiments of sampling, but also in sample manipulation and control. And with the support of software writers, the module should provide the base for a powerful and flexible sampling system, at an extremely modest price.
Price RRP £995; sound library disks £15 each; 50kHz sampling cartridge £112; sequencer expander cartridge £62; all including VAT
Review by Simon Trask
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