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NAMM Report

In case the current wave of BMF-madness has overtaken you completely, MT dropped in on the annual Chicago show to see how the Americans do it. Report: Dan Goldstein, Rick Davies, Paul White and Bob O'Donnell.


The Summer NAMM show may have lost the lead in major launches to America's Winter exhibition in LA, but there were still plenty of introductions at Chicago this year to keep our four reporters occupied.

Their show stands used to contain huge models of the Omnichord, a 'fun' instrument for the home and the school. Now Suzuki have got serious with an excellent MIDI guitar...


MAKING NOISES



"HEY MISTER, WHERE did all the big stuff go?" That was the question I found myself asking of exhibitors halfway through this year's summer NAMM show. Each MT writer had assumed responsibility to report on a certain category of new musical technology, and I'd been assigned the traditional "big guns" of synthesisers, drum machines, hardware sequencers and samplers. Yet after a day-and-a-half searching the aisles of Chicago's McCormick Place convention centre, I hadn't run across too much of any note in any of those groupings.

Let's begin with synthesisers. The Winter NAMM show at Anaheim, six months earlier, signalled the revival of the synthesiser, with several notable new machines (Yamaha DX7II, Roland D50, Korg DS8, and so forth) being unveiled. At Chicago, the revival stopped dead in its tracks.

The Kawai K5, with its additive synthesis and high degree of programming flexibility, wasn't exactly news - though a certain MT reviewer with an Irish surname was obviously surprised to find one of his own programs installed in all the keyboards displayed on the Kawai stand.

Elsewhere, a new Canadian synthesiser called the Lyre presented, at least in specification terms, slightly more of what a "true" additive synth should offer (for a specific description of what this means, turn to Chris Meyer's 'Deeper Wave' piece, elsewhere this issue). The Lyre offers significantly more programming flexibility than the Kawai, and is neatly packaged in a black, sexy-looking rackable unit. But it's due to cost $5000 in the States.

The Keytek CTS2000, with its innovative (and great-sounding) cross-table synthesis technology, was on display again - this time under the auspices of Gibson/Phi-Tech. The first shipment's arrival from Italy to the US is imminent - as is a comprehensive review in this magazine - but there's still no news on a UK distributor.

To the surprise of no-one, Yamaha are starting to do for the DX7II what they did for the earlier model - use it to spawn numerous other instruments for different applications. The first of these is the DX7S (£1239), a six-operator machine that essentially revives the specification of the old DX7 - though it has the advantage of retaining a number of DX7II refinements, such as increased sound quality, random pitch shift and a multiple LFO system.

The other variation on the DX7II theme on show at NAMM was a rack-mounting module, the TX802 (£1329). This is essentially a DX7II in a box: 128 preset FM voices, a RAM cartridge port, all the DX7M's programming features, and so forth. But there's a twist. The TX802 is multi-timbral, enabling you to assign voices to different MIDI channels in the now time-honoured tradition. And unlike (too) many multi-timbral instruments, the 802 offers eight individual audio outputs, making it a fine partner for a MIDI sequencer (such as Yamaha's impressive new QX3) in demanding multitrack recording situations.

Casio's HZ600 looks like just another home keyboard - until you discover it features a programmable synth section based on a new principle: Spectrum Distortion synthesis.


Pride of place in the E-mu room was given to the Emulator III - not just a 16-bit sampling keyboard with a sequencer, but soon to be the centre of a complete sound-production workstation.


The percussion-sampling war hots up, as E-mu announce the SP1200 - essentially an SP12 with a built-in disk drive, some handy programming refinements, and no increase in price.


But if Yamaha are sticking to FM like chewing-gum sticks to a bed-post, Casio seems to be moving away from its established method, Phase Distortion synthesis. The company's newest synth, the HZ600 (price to be announced), features a new technique known as SD (for Spectrum Distortion) synthesis - though there was little technical information available at the show to enlighten us on what this system is or how it works.

With its list of front panel presets and fairly uncommunicative LCD, the HZ600 seems to be aimed as much at the home player as the pro keyboardist. Then again, the HZ sounds competent enough, and does offer an Alpha dial-type continuous rotary control for parameter value adjustment - so there's plenty of potential, particularly if Casio intend using SD synthesis on some more sophisticated instruments in the near future.

Next-door to Casio, Kurzweil were unveiling four new synthesiser expanders, under the umbrella title of the K1000 series (prices to be announced). The four modules are the PX (for "Professional Expander"), the SX ("String Expander"), the HX ("Horn Expander") and the GX ("Guitar Expander").

Each module offers 128 preset sounds (similar in quality to those featured on the Kurzweil 250) that all belong to a specific "family", along with space for 64 user programs. The PX, for instance, offers such sounds as grand piano, vibes, choir, and Hammond organ, plus 11 digital waveforms.

The idea behind the series is to provide relatively affordable, multi-timbral expanders for keyboardists who require the power of the Kurzweil 250, but not the variety of sounds that instrument offers.

And that just about wraps it up for new synthesisers on show at Chicago - though a last mention must go to Roland, who were showing a D50-in-a-rack unit known as the D550 (£1250). This is a fine example of the sort of unobtrusive, seemingly unglamorous machine that got few people talking at the show, yet will probably sell in large quantities.

All the programming features of the D50 are there, though the simple mechanics of hi-tech engineering (there's a limit to just how many controls you can fit onto the front of a two-space rack unit, and a joystick is an obvious casualty) mean that accessing parameters on the D550 isn't quite as simple as it is on the D50. Result? The option of buying the PG1000 programmer becomes more attractive than ever.

The 12-bit sampling arena saw the unveiling of a number of new modules. Roland were showing the S220, a down-to-earth module that costs only £975, yet offers 16-voice polyphony and four-channel multi-timbral control - though the bad news is that the 2.8" Quick Disks of the S10 sampling keyboard have been retained.

Roland also showed the S550, the long-awaited rack version of their upmarket S50 sampling keyboard. The S550 will retail at a hefty-sounding £2300, but bear in mind that for your money, you get a machine that expands significantly on the S50's capabilities. There's a bigger memory (1.5Mbyte of it), eight-channel multi-timbral control, eight individual audio outputs (again, good news for multitrack users), new editing features such as crossfade looping and "previous sampling", and a CPU output bus for connection to a CD ROM unit.

The S550 also offers connection to a CRT monitor for waveform editing and compatibility with Roland's DT100 digitiser tablet. And both the module and its keyboard equivalent are compatible with the SYS503, a new disk-based software package that turns either sampler into a neat sketchpad sequencer, with note information displayed in graphic form on the monitor if you have one.

Korg were also showing a new rackmounting sampler, the DSM1 (£2500). This is essentially a DSS1 in a box, but like Roland, Korg have used the benefit of user feedback and increased R&D time to add a number of refinements to their rackable version. Those refinements include an expanded 1 Mbyte memory, a streamlined and more sophisticated synthesiser section that allows even more detailed programming than before, and (you guessed it) separate audio outputs - 16 of them this time.

Korg USA have also developed their own updates for the DSS1. These include a 2Mbyte memory, and a SCSI port for connection to a hard disk. Aside from any other considerations; it's good to see a Japanese manufacturer giving its blessing to a US importer's innovations - and equally gratifying to see those innovations being made available quickly and cheaply to existing users (British musicians shouldn't have to wait much beyond September).

Oberheim are also going ahead with updates for their DPX1 sample replay unit. The big news at NAMM was that the DPX is now compatible with Akai S900 files - in addition to the Emulator II, Ensoniq Mirage and Prophet 2000 already supported. Oberheim were also showing their own hard disk unit, the HDX1 - a neat way of sidestepping the myriad of floppy disk formats the DPX1 uses to retain compatibility with storage systems used by different manufacturers, and, more than ever, an irresistible aid to playing samples during live performance.

Hard disks are now also an option for the E-mu Systems Emax. The new Emax HD (£2949) and Emax HD Rack (£2799) both offer an internal 20Mbyte hard drive capable of storing no fewer than 36 banks of sounds, and of loading a sound into the instrument in an astonishing three seconds. (Existing Emax owners can obtain a HD retrofit - price to be announced.)

But the biggest news in the E-mu room was in the 16-bit arena, the sector of modern music technology that aroused the most controversy at Chicago this year. The passion for 16-bit sampling seems to have reached fever pitch, and with it, the quest for that elusive property known as "CD quality". Now, that phrase has always struck this writer as mildly redundant, since some CDs sound great and others sound terrible; the same, of course, goes for CD players. If 16-bit sampling resolution doesn't guarantee high sound quality in hi-fi, there's no reason why it should guarantee it in musical instruments.

So, regardless of any arguments that may go on between rival manufacturers as to whether their machines are "true 16-bit", it's obvious that too many other factors (A-to-D and D-to-A converters, filtering and antialiasing circuitry, and so on) have too big an influence over the final sound quality for those arguments to really resolve anything.

In the end, you should just let your ears decide (a) if 16-bit sampling is worth the investment in your application, and (b) if you can tell the difference between the various 16-bit samplers available.

For the record, I was no more impressed by the grand piano sample demonstrated on the new Emulator III (price to be announced) than I was by the Casio FZ1's efforts at this year's Frankfurt show (see MT March '87). For my money, a system that employs computer interpolation of waveforms and takes into account the changes of timbre that occur at different velocities of keystrike (such as Roland's SAS) will win out over conventional sampling every time.

That said, E-mu's lively and (as ever) witty demo did get across the concept of the EIII (16 voices, true stereo sampling, 8Mbyte RAM, built-in 40Mbyte hard disk, plus a memory expansion option) as the centre of a "Digital Sound Production System." The latest keyboard to carry the now near immortal name Emulator has a whole slew of connections (MIDI, SCSI, CPU, SMPTE, and any other acronym you can think of) for future expansion of the system. And perhaps most significant of all, Mac software specialists Digidesign will be collaborating with E-mu to provide custom-written packages offering waveform editing, digital signal processing, digital synthesis, and more.

But the EIII has a rival, and it comes - perhaps not surprisingly - from another part of Northern California. As usual, Sequential stayed away from the summer NAMM show itself, choosing to exhibit instead at a nearby hotel suite. The star of their show was the Prophet 3000 (£3500 approximately), a stereo 16-bit sampler with a maximum sample rate of 48kHz, another plethora of connections (SCSI and SMPTE included), and a neat line in automatic pitch-detection and mapping during the sampling process.

Unlike the new Emulator, the new Prophet (strange how the old names seem to be the best) comes in a 2U-high rack unit, with a remote control module whose six "soft" control switches and large LCD remind one of the PPG HDU remote.

It remains to be seen whether E-mu's "all-in-one" approach or Sequential's "another-goodie-for-the-rack" angle will win out in the marketplace. Both systems had their admirers in Chicago.

On the beatbox front, E-mu again impressed with their new SP1200 (£2199), the replacement for the SP12 sampling percussion system. The SP1200 adds a built-in 3.5" disk drive (no more messing around with the Commodore 1541), some new programming options and MIDI song pointers, without sacrificing compatibility with SP12 sounds, and without any increase in price.

First machine to result from the collaboration between Akai and Roger Linn is the ADR15, a sampling percussion system in the Linn 9000 mould. A MIDI sequencer, the ASQ10, is to follow.


Also unveiling a 12-bit sampling percussion system were Akai, whose new ADR15 (£2999) is the first fruit of their collaboration with Roger Linn of LinnDrum fame. The ADR15 is a 12-bit sampler with a maximum 40kHz sampling rate, up to 26 seconds of sampling at that rate, and 32 voices of which 16 can sound simultaneously.

The Akai's sequencer section has a 60,000-note capacity (velocity permitting), no fewer than seven sync modes (SMPTE and MTC included), four independent MIDI Outs and two MIDI Ins, and offers step-time recording as well as the traditional Linn method of realtime input.

The ADR15 is a big machine, with large velocity- and pressure-sensitive buttons that make it slightly reminiscent of the Linn 9000. But the Akai is an altogether more sophisticated beast, and one that shouldn't be too difficult to control; a huge 320-character LCD provides a series of "Help" paragraph messages that explain the function of the feature currently being used. The screen also comes in useful for graphically displaying relative voice levels as part of the ADR's built-in 32-channel stereo drum mixer. Price in the UK should be under £3500.

For just a sixth of that, however, you could have a new 16-bit drum machine. Yes, you did read that right. There is a 16-bit drum machine available for just £449. It's made by Alesis, and it's called the HR16. And if there was one machine that got more tongues wagging at Chicago than any other, this was it.

The HR16 offers no fewer than 48 16-bit drum sounds that are assignable to 16 velocity-sensitive programming pads. The sounds offer a variety of acoustic and electronic kit samples, but more impressive than the breadth of the selection is the attention to detail with which the sounds are presented.

For example, you aren't limited to just an open and closed hi-hat; there's also a half-closed hi-hat and a hi-hat closing, so if your programming is up to scratch, authentic patterns are no problem. And the ride cymbals comprise two overlapping samples for a more natural sound, while a 20kHz bandwidth and a 47kHz sampling rate gives them outstanding clarity.

The one gripe that I have with the HR16 is its lack of separate audio outputs. I know there are two stereo pairs of stereo outs, and I know that level, panning and pitch are all programmable for each voice and for each pattern. But if you can't treat sounds individually in a multitrack recording environment, the machine is of limited use - less use than, for instance, Roland's new TR626, which doesn't sound as nice, offers only 30 drum sounds, and costs significantly more. If the addition of say, eight audio outs would cost £100, or even £250, then that addition should be made to a second, more expensive Alesis machine. Now.

Matching (both electronically and aesthetically) the HR16 is Alesis' first MIDI sequencer, the MMT8 (£299). This is an eight-track machine that can record on several MIDI channels simultaneously, and can also store MIDI System Exclusive information.

Its most attractive aspect, though, is its ease of use. It's designed to operate like a tape recorder with play, record and fast wind controls, and the provision of dedicated buttons for auxiliary editing features (and the corresponding lack of multi-function controls) should make the MMT8 one of the most intuitive hardware sequencers to use.
Dan Goldstein

A SOFTER TOUCH



LIKE THE OTHER categories at this year's NAMM show, music software did not offer a lot of surprises. A large contingent of companies showed updates to existing packages, newly ported versions of current programs or extensions to similar lines. But, for the most part, there were no major innovations.

The biggest software-related news that came out of Chicago was the announcement that Atari are investing more effort (read: money) in the musical applications of their computers. They're making their ST machines available directly to music dealers in the States (in the UK, Syndromic Music are now ST distributors), and they took the trouble to take stand space of their own at NAMM, to promote both their own machines (the STs and their new budget PC-compatible) and the software companies who are developing music packages for them.

The fact that a major hardware company is willing to show strong support for this market segment is definitely good news for the music software industry in general - and it should prove particularly encouraging for developers of ST software.

In fact, there was a lot of ST software on display in Chicago. The Mac is still doing well and support for the IBM grows with every show, but the ST seems to be getting the most attention and interest at this point. (The venerable Commodore 64 was conspicuous only by its nearly complete absence at this show.)

Even Mac holdouts Digidesign introduced a version of their impressive SoftSynth additive synthesis program for the ST (£295). The program looks and runs almost identically to the original Mac version, and carries the same list price.

Steinberg Research also displayed a number of impressive programs for the ST. Their Synthworks DX/TX (£150) - compatible with the DX7II family - has excellent graphic displays as well as a very slick 3D harmonic analysis feature, similar to the FFT displays in sample editing programs. While not essential to the programming process, the harmonic analysis is educational and it looks cool. The program can only run on the 1040ST because of memory requirements, but as an added bonus, it comes loaded with over 2000 sounds. Synthworks ESQ (£150), which works on a normal 520ST, combines friendly graphic displays with a number of interesting patch creation functions for Ensoniq's ESQ1. (Meanwhile, Steinberg UK report that both Synthworks FB01 and Synthworks TX81Z are also both available for £99 each.)

Soundworks S900 (£285) and Soundworks Mirage (£150) are sophisticated visual editing programs which in addition to the normal wave-editing functions, include a built-in software synthesiser with a voice architecture similar to that of a four-oscillator Minimoog. By producing "samples" for the connected instrument, this portion of the program allows you to play complex analogue sounds from your sampler.

Hybrid Arts, who shared stand space with Atari, showed updated versions of their sequencing programs. SMPTETrack and SyncTrack STs next release will include grid-style graphic displays of MIDI note and controller data, and will allow you to enter and edit information in this format. The update will be free to all registered owners.

EZ Score Plus (£84.95), an inexpensive notation program, was also on display. The first in a new series of programs, EZ Score Plus can convert files from any of Hybrid's sequencing programs into traditional notation, as well as providing the ability to enter notes from a connected MIDI keyboard, the computer keyboard or the mouse. Music input into the program can be played back over MIDI or with the STs internal sound system.

New from Compu-Mates (available now from their new European distributor, 'Z') is the DSS1 Synthdroid (£130), a wavetable editor for Korg's sampling synth which also includes a helpful screen for editing waves created with the instrument's harmonic synthesis utility. In a similar vein is the K5 Spectrum Synthdroid (£130) for Kawai's new additive synth reviewed elsewhere this issue. The program can convert samples into the K5's additive synthesis format, thus providing a basic form of resynthesis.

Final Trak ST and Final Score are sequencing and notation programs respectively (prices to be announced), which can work together or on their own. Up to 128 tracks are available on Final Trak, and the program also includes SysEx dump utilities for all of Compu-Mates' Synthdroid patch files.

The good doctor at Dr Ts had a number of new programs for the ST, including the first editor/librarian program for Roland's D50. Other new voice-editing programs on display were for the Kawai K3, Korg's DP2000 and 3000 - their FM synths for the domestic market - and M6 Tricks for the Matrix 6.

Taking off from the company's Algorithmic Composer and Intelligent Music's M and Jam Factory, the PVG, or Programmable Variations Generator, is a music-creation program (for lack of a better phrase) which generates variations from previously recorded MIDI data according to a number of user-defined parameters. Certain parameters within a variation - such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics and expression - can be set within a specific range, and others can change randomly. The PVG will be incorporated within Dr Ts KCS program, and will also be available as a cheap update for existing users.

Dr. Ts also displayed a basic version of Fingers - a more "professional" version is slated for autumn release - which is a similar type of program. Fingers generates up to four simultaneous lines of music which can be saved as a sequence and edited by the KCS program. The user defines values for pitch, rhythm, dynamics and note length for each line, and the computer generates the music.

Other companies who displayed ST software included Beam Team, who announced that the D50 would be supported in their XSyn series of editor/librarian modules. And Animated Music, a new company who displayed a colourful sequencing program called Animated Studio which features basic notation capabilities; no news on a UK distributor, though.

The big news on the IBM front was the new PC Music Feature plug-in card from Big Blue itself, which combines a MIDI interface and an eight-voice FM synth (basically an FB01) for under $500 in the States.

A number of manufacturers demonstrated systems which are compatible with the new card, and Passport actually had a voice editor for it. Appropriately titled the Passport MIDI Voice Editor, the program works with multiple cards as well as external FB01s. The company also announced the September release of MIDISoft Studio, an inexpensive 32-track sequencer designed for use with the new card that includes real time, step time and overdubbing capabilities. Score, Passport's desktop music publishing program for the IBM, will also work with the Music Feature.

New from Bacchus is an editor/librarian program for the DX7II and Yamaha's new TX802. Making use of a mouse and pulldown menus, the program has the feel and look of a Mac or ST editor. The original DX/TX instruments are supported as well, and the package can also be used with IBM's interface.

The biggest news for Mac owners comes, once again, from Digidesign. Their sophisticated Q-Sheet program (available in the UK from Argents at £495) was impressively demonstrated, and offers SMPTE-based automation for all MIDI devices. While specifically intended for film and video work, the program can be used to control any large MIDI system. Taking advantage of the new MIDI Time Code standard, Q-Sheet allows you to create a list of cues which are performed by the computer at the appropriate SMPTE time. Cues can consist of single note-ons, entire sequences, continuous controller changes, fader adjustments - for MIDI-controlled mixers - and other MIDI information.

Across the aisle at Opcode was version 1.5 of Cue (price to be announced), with MIDI features, as well as new librarians - which all include Patch Factory, a random patch generation utility - for the ESQ1, Lexicon PCM70, Prophet VS and DX7II. The company also displayed editor/librarians for the FB01, Matrix 6, K3 and Akai's MPX820 programmable mixer.

Mark of the Unicorn announced version 2.0 of Performer, their high-level sequencing program, which is due to retail at just under the £400 mark. The update includes a number of new editing commands, more sophisticated control over tempo changes, independent looping for each track, multiple metre changes, regional editing, real-time SMPTE display, SMPTE lockup, and some attractive new graphics.

In a somewhat different vein, Sonus displayed a basic MIDI package entitled Personal Musician, which includes a MIDI interface, MIDI cables, and a basic four-track sequencer and MIDI player with a number of pre-programmed songs. The package will be available (for under £100) for the Commodore 64/128, Apple IIe, II+, IIGS, Atari 520/1040ST and IBM compatibles, and like all Sonus programs, will be handled in this country by the newly set up Sonus UK.
Bob O'Donnell

CONTROLLING THE PROCESS



SIMPLY PUT, MIDI has come of age. Not only have manufacturers recognised its significance, but a good number of companies are looking into useful ways of generating and manipulating MIDI data by way of new controllers, processors and software updates for existing instruments.

Until recently, if one were to look for innovations in synthesisers and MIDI, the obvious place to look first was in the keyboard section of your local music shop. But this year's Chicago show demonstrated that music technology is now reaching a more varied group of musicians than ever.

The Akai EWI (£699) and EVI (£699) wind controllers are, as many may be aware of already, the result of the company's recent dealing with Nyle Steiner, who was on hand for demonstrations. The EWI and EVI are designed to play in the manner of a clarinet and trumpet, respectively. Both models need the EWV 2000 Sound Module (£599), an analogue synthesiser along the lines of previous Akai designs, but completely reprogrammed by Steiner. And both sport MIDI sockets, so that players have access to the whole range of MIDI synths and samplers. Several EWI and EVI stations were set up on the Akai stand so showgoers could have a go at playing these instruments for themselves - though the temptation to try them out was quenched by what appeared to be no replacement mouthpieces on each instrument...

The Yamaha WX7 Wind MIDI Controller (price to be announced) also looked tempting, though the only model actually on the floor was on display inside a glass case, away from the possible danger of human hands. Never mind that. The WX7 and its potential were superbly shown off by demonstrator Sal Gallina, who made it perfectly clear that regardless of the type of controller, a musician is what makes music - technology merely expands the possibilities. Gallina succeeded in making the WX7 sound like a huge string ensemble and a screaming lead guitar - with lots of other impressions in between. Unlike the EWI, though, the WX7 features no built-in synthesiser voices, relying instead on MIDI-connected units to make noise.

What NAMM show would be complete without a few more tries at bringing guitarists into MIDI? This time there were more than ever. Roland's GM70 (£755) continued to draw the attention of those who had not yet seen it, and joined by the GP8 MIDI guitar effects rack, it looks like a tidy package.

MIDI comes to Country & Western, as DOD/IVL unveil the Steelrider, a steel-guitar-to-MIDI converter which - as we reveal elsewhere - may also be used with the Chapman Stick.


DOD had their Pitchrider series on display, including the 4000 (£645.95) and 5000 (price to be announced) models for wind instruments, the 7000 MkII (£699) for guitar, and the new Steelrider for steel guitar (well, it should go down well in its home country).

Stick Enterprises have introduced a variation on the Pitchrider with IVL's Stick-to-MIDI Interface, which goes for $900 in the US, including pickup, preamp box and installation. The Stick people also announced the MIDIface, a MIDI port for the Commodore 64 which includes special performance software for the Yamaha TX7 synth module. In Emmett Chapman's newsletter, he offers the MIDIface as a performance aid for MIDI Stick players by providing transposition, note sustain and an optional video display. It's hard to say whether this is up everyone's street, but Chapman's intention seems to be to make a more performance-oriented MIDI controller out of the Stick. Other software options will become available for MIDI echoes and the like.

Beetle have made significant changes to their guitar-to-MIDI conversion system. The new system, the Quantar, still uses ultrasonic technology to scan each string, but is not being offered as a retrofit for Stratocasters like the original package, nor is it intended as a guitar-to-MIDI converter. Instead, the Quantar works with a set of .016-gauge strings for an even response, and features a whammy bar-type controller assignable to the usual assortment of MIDI continuous controllers. The Quantar can transmit on two sets of six MIDI channels, which can be switched between with a momentary footswitch, making it easy to lock in a chord, then solo over it with other synthesiser voices if desired.

A newcomer to the guitar synth market is Australia's Passac with their Sentient Six conversion system. This model raised several eyebrows in the MT ensemble with a "delay neutralisation" system, which appears to work - though we shall have to wait until its release to figure out precisely how it works. Besides this clever psychoacoustic effect, the Sentient also detects pick direction as well as the distance of the pick from the bridge. Passac's demonstrator David Becker (ex-Chick Corea, now a solo artist on MCA) showed off these parameters with a Prophet VS, using pick position and direction parameters to control the pan position and the two axes of the mix envelope.

From the guitarist's point of view, this system is attractive because the individual string sensors are integrated into a Kahler 2520 tremolo bridge system (the MPX1 pickup assembly comes standard with the Sentient Six), so whammy bars are welcome. At the same time, the guitar communicates all its individual string information to the rack-mount controller via a stereo lead.

Perhaps the most unexpected move in the MIDI guitar market came from Casio, who introduced an all-in-one MIDI guitar, the MG500 (£549). This is an ordinary electric guitar which sports a MIDI output in addition to the usual audio output. All conversion electronics are contained within the guitar itself, and controls have been kept to a bare minimum to avoid confusion - though at the cost of flexibility. The MG's base MIDI channel is adjusted by DIP switches on the back of the guitar, and a poly/mono switch sets the MG up for operation with whatever synth happens to be on hand.

Casio also showed their DG10 and DG20 digital guitars (prices to be announced), introduced only weeks earlier at the Chicago Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The DGs are futuristic-looking devices which play like guitars, but feature rubber fretboards under which switches detect your fingering. The strings are there mainly to detect when a string is picked, and make no usable sound on their own. The DG10 (the cheaper of the two) features built-in synth sounds and a drum box, but no MIDI, while the DG20 does feature MIDI.

But Casio were not alone at NAMM. Suzuki introduced two Unisynth electronic guitars, both to retail at an astonishing $299 in the States. The XG1 features built-in preset synth voices and drum box but no MIDI, while the XG1M features MIDI but keeps its price down by not incorporating the synth and drum sounds. The XGs provide one set of strings for picking and a fretboard consisting of rubber switches formed to simulate the look and feel of strings. An unusual idea, but more unusual is the fact that the XG doesn't feel too strange to play. In fact, it works pretty well.

Moving away from stringed things, we find Grey Matter Response, who introduced a new E! board for the DX7II (price to be announced) which makes the synth capable of playing eight different voices simultaneously. The new E! also provides "-ism", a new performance-oriented rhythmic pattern generating facility. Grey Matter also announced an E! board for the Kawai K3.

Forte Music, best known for their MIDI modifications to acoustic pianos, introduced the Mentor MIDI Network Controller, a two-in, four-out MIDI processing system incorporating eight individual MIDI processors in a 1U-high chassis, with a remote control unit complete with LCD readout and four sliders for simultaneous access to several parameters.

But of all the MIDI manufacturers at NAMM, the greatest surprise came from Peavey, who have jumped head-first into the market with a huge assortment of MIDI-based devices.

On the audio side of things, Peavey's PKM 8128 programmable keyboard mixer offers eight-into-two mixing, MIDI control and generous portions of front panel controls, including eight "soft switches", a rotary encoder, and a large LCD readout. Peavey also offer the unit as an eight-channel expander for a maximum of 32 inputs.

The company has also joined the low-cost 16-bit digital reverb race with the Univerb ($299 in America) and Addverb ($389), both housed in 1U rack-mounting chassis. The Univerb is a 30-preset device offering 20-30sec reverb decay times and a 20Hz-20kHz response. The Addverb is a step up, with a 15kHz bandwidth, 50 reverb presets and 50 delay effect presets covering such things as echo, flange and chorus. Ten program selection switches allow random access to all presets, each of which can be mapped to one of 128 MIDI program numbers. This last feature is characteristic of all Peavey MIDI-based devices.

The RMC4512 programmable footswitch (£249) is probably the most impressive MIDI foot controller I've seen. The 4512 does far more than send multiple program changes on different MIDI channels - it also contains a 7.5K memory which allows storage of System Exclusive information (for synth programs, MIDI setup, and so on), and has 512 memory locations for storing such MIDI data.

And as it happens, the 4512 makes a fine complement to Peavey's MFP2128 (£249) effects pedal routing system. The MFP controls the routing of any five stomp boxes (mono or stereo) and stores the effects configurations in 128 programs which may be selected over MIDI.

Meanwhile, Peavey's AMR (Audio Media Research) division has produced the SyncController, which not only generates MIDI timing information from SMPTE timecode (which the unit reads and writes), but also synchronises two tape recorders and offers control over punch-in/out for machines with rehearse functions. Normally this range of control requires at least two pieces of equipment - and certainly a good deal more money.

To accompany the SyncController, AMR have added sync and control facilities to their MCR4 four-track cassette machine, and come up with the new MCR4/S.
Rick Davies

GETTING IT TAPED



THERE'S NO DOUBT that home recording is at last making a big impression on the American market - so much so that, with local musicians possessing fatter wallets than most of their British counterparts, the scene is in some ways becoming more sophisticated than it is across the water.

Star of the show was arguably Alesis' new HR16 drum machine, which offers 48 16-bit drum sounds in a neat package for under £450. Next to it is the easy-to-use MMT8 sequencer (under £300).


Yet although there was no shortage of new and worthwhile machinery, no single innovation from the recording arena was destined to be a real show-stopper - even if the new Alesis drum box and sequencer already mentioned got a lot of attention.

But Alesis also showed three new signal processors that were remarkable for their sound quality and price: the Micro Enhancer, the Micro Limiter and the Micro Gate. These are all stereo units aimed at the home recording market, and packaged similarly to the Microverb so you can fit all three into one unit of rack space. The limiter and gate are fairly self-explanatory, but the enhancer is a little more unusual. It sounds a bit like an exciter but works on the principle of dynamic equalisation, rather than harmonic generation, to add brightness and clarity either to a mix or to individual instruments. All three Micro units retail at just £129, including power supply.

One of the first companies to introduce downsized rack-mount effects processors, Roland's Boss division, made yet another addition to their Micro Rack, in the form of the RPD10 Digital Panning delay (£175), which has up to 2000ms of delay.

In the pedal market, Boss introduced the inevitable digital reverb pedal, the RV2 (£175), offering six reverb modes and variable decay time. They are also offering a new noise gate pedal, the NS2 (£80).

Digitech also entered the reverb pedal market with the Pedalverb, a digital processor capable of generating two rooms effects, gated and reversed reverb. The decay time is variable, and damping may be switched in and out.

In the rack-mounting department, the company unveiled the DSP128 multi-effects processor, which enables the user to call up 128 modifiable presets which may be used up to three at one time to create reverb, equalisation and complex delay effects.

Of course, Yamaha haven't just sat back and watched other manufacturers develop their signal-processing ranges. Their new REX50 (£365) digital effects unit offers reverb, delay, chorus and distortion. Some of the 30 possible patches feature combinations of effects, while the digital distortion system makes the REX50 the world's first digital fuzzbox - and it's got MIDI, too.

Moving upmarket a little, we find the new REV5 (£1349) digital reverb, which is similar in appearance to the older REV7 but features a 20kHz bandwidth and includes reverb, delay and pitch-shifting effects - rather like a more sophisticated SPX90. MIDI program selection and MIDI dump capabilities are included.

Physically, the biggest recording innovation Yamaha unveiled was their new MSS1 MIDI synchroniser (£789). As well as syncing a MIDI clock to any of the four SMPTE formats and generating SMPTE timecode on its own, the MSS1 has a massive 7168 memory locations capable of storing tempo data, and a MIDI Event Mode which allows selected MIDI messages to be transmitted at precisely timed points in a sequence.

Still on the timecode front, Fostex had a new 4010 SMPTE generator/reader (£949), which features a serial data port that enables it to be linked to a computer. Two built-in event controllers allow sets of contacts to be closed at user-defined times for the activation of external equipment, and the high-speed reader will even track at search speeds on video machines with timecode address tracks.

But you can do all the processing and synchronising you like: the end result still has to go onto good old-fashioned magnetic tape, at least for the time being. Fostex were exhibiting their brand new 460 cassette multitracker (£1725 approximately), a high-quality, synchroniser-ready four-track cassette machine with a built-in eight-channel mixer styled along the same lines as the smaller 260.

A little less ambitious, but still sophisticated, is the new X30 (£350 approximately), an entry-level cassette multitracker which is radically different in styling from any other Fostex products. It is more sophisticated than the X15, but is still inexpensive enough for the first-time buyer.

Tascam also came in with their lowest cost entry-level multitracker ever: the Porta 05 (price to be announced). This too has brand-new packaging, and is similar in features to the company's Porta One.

The only other new multitrack cassette system came from Yamaha, whose MT2X (£675) integrates a six-channel mixer with a dual-speed four-track cassette section. Other features are switchable dbx noise reduction, auxiliary sends on all six input channels, and foot-controlled punch-in/out using the optional FS1 footswitch.

The sound all this equipment helps recreate is inevitably monitored on loudspeakers, but curiously, there wasn't much activity on the monitor front at NAMM.

The bass speaker system to beat them all? Bose's new Acoustic Cannon turned a lot of heads - and moved a lot of air - at the NAMM show. Just think what two could do...


However, Bose has what is unquestionably the most macho-looking bass speaker enclosure available: the Acoustic Wave Cannon (£439.95). This is built in a plastic tube almost four metres long, and powered by a single 12" driver. The columns of air, both in front of and behind the driver, match the driver to the air in the room, allowing very small cone excursions to generate significant air movement. The result is a subbass sound that can be felt as well as heard. Several Cannons can be bolted together to form an array for large installations, but they're also light enough to be used in portable systems.

JBL announced a new performance series of live sound speakers for both instrument and PA use. Of greater interest to the recording world, though. Is the new Control 5 (price to be announced) - a mid-sized, two-way monitor suitable for installations, consumer sound systems and home monitoring. No details have yet been finalised, but we'll keep you informed as soon as more facts come to light.
Paul White



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A Deeper Wave


Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - Aug 1987

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> We Can't Go On...

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