Orla DSE24 Expander
Another MIDI expander with divided loyalties; John Renwick investigates the in-lounge and on-stage applications of Orla's answer to Roland's successful MT32.
QUESTION: IS THE DSE24 an accessory for the studio or the living room? Answer: Orla seem to be uncertain themselves.
As the gap between "serious instrument" technology and "home keyboard" technology closes, this question is bound to be levelled at more pieces of equipment and become harder to answer. Nothing underlines this better than Roland's release of the professional D50 keyboard and D550 rack-mounting expander, and the simultaneous release of the modishly-styled MT32 module. The MT32 uses the same LA synthesis technology as the D50 and D550, but was originally intended for use as a contemporary keyboard expander. Yet this hasn't stopped many "serious" musicians adding the MT32 to their equipment list.
Orla's thinking seems to be more muddled than Roland's. Elka-Orla have long been known for manufacturing organs, though the Elka side of the operation have produced a number of professional instruments - the old Elka Rhapsody string synths, the Synthex and even some FM synths. Now the two sides have officially been separated with Orla devoted to organs - so presumably the DSE24 is aimed at organists. Why then is the DSE24 in a standard 19" rack-mounting unit?
Another confusing factor is that the DSE24 is clearly meant to be regarded as a preset instrument. It has 297 memories organised in three banks of 99 - two preset, one programmable - and can be saved to tape a bank at a time. For many musicians, there would be no need to do anything other than choose a suitable sound from this vast selection; yet the DSE24's sounds are fully variable - in the most inconvenient way imaginable.
The DSE24 is a 24-voice, four-operator, eight-algorithm FM unit which has most of the facilities of, say, the Yamaha DX100. While the sparse manual dispenses with much of the endemic Yamaha jargon, the editing parameters are pretty familiar. Each of the four operators has the following parameters: level, frequency, detune, envelope scaling (by which the envelope level is changed with the key played), attack, decay, sustain level, sustain rate, release 1 and 2 (with or without sustain pedal), level scaling (volume with key played), and touch response. The feedback level of Oscillator 1 can also be programmed. There are also global parameters for octave, sub-generator level, vibrato (depth, frequency, delay, and aftertouch), and algorithm. The option parameter allows you to select whether a sound is monophonic, features portamento or has the stereo ensemble effect switched on (though not more than one option at once, annoyingly enough).
All this adds up to an impressive and powerful range of sounds. Like the Yamaha synths, the DSE24 is particularly good for percussive sounds like bass, xylophone, marimba, guitar, harpsichord and so on. String sounds aren't as lush as those of an analogue synth, but with a little creative programming and additional treatment the results are gratifyingly clean and full.
The sound banks are accessed using the Store key on the front panel and individual sounds selected using the ten numeric keys. To edit a sound, press the Edit key, then the Select key to toggle from Parameter to Value mode. Values are entered digit by digit using the number keys - a slider or dial would have been a boon here. Editing sounds, then, is an even more long-winded process on the DSE24 than it is on a DX7 - I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
The final way in which the DSE24 falls 'twixt studio and living room is in its MIDI implementation. The unit has MIDI In, Out and Thru, and responds multitimbrally to all 16 MIDI channels at once, using up to its maximum of 24 voices. A voice is assigned to a MIDI channel simply by pressing Select to step through the channels, and punching in a voice number from the current bank.
This produces some tremendous effects when used in conjunction with a sequencer - up to 24 voices playing up to 16 sounds simultaneously, remember - it's no use at all if you're playing from a single master keyboard (transmitting on just the one MIDI channel), as there are absolutely no facilities to assign the voices to different areas of the keyboard, or to program any kind of performance setups.
So, the DSE24 is produced by a home organ company but looks like a studio instrument. It's completely programmable, yet awkward to edit. It has a massive 24 voices, yet it's only truly multitimbral if played from a sequencer. Finally, it's not cheap, so the temptation is to go for a Roland MT32 or Yamaha TX81Z. By all means listen to the DSE24 but be sure you know the pros and cons before buying Italian.
Price £749 including VAT
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Review by Chris Jenkins writing as John Renwick
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