A long-awaited replacement for Roland's discontinued M-64C RAM cartridge joins the Dangerous CD Company's Danger 1 sampling CD on the spot in this month's Patchwork.
256-R RAM Card
Ask Roland UK for which deleted product most often gets asked and for you'll learn that it's not the TR808 or 909, or even the Jupiter 8. It's actually the M-64C cartridge. It's years since Roland gear made use of the M-64C, but there are so many revered synths and rhythm units with early or incomplete MIDI Dump specifications that use them, that the demand for these RAM cartridges has never abated. And the last of the M-64Cs disappeared from Roland's shelves over three years ago.
Until now, owners of JX10s (whose synths are unable to bulk dump from internal memory) of MKS20s and MKS80s (who are hardly spoilt for choice of editors or librarians) of TR707s and TR727s, and many other items bearing the Roland logo, have had to learn to do without.
The Design Laboratories are a spin-off from The Synthesiser Service Centre, whose address and staff they share. Having a little time on their hands between Prophet 5 and PPG repairs, they decided to produce a range of small items which make life that little bit more pleasant. This range now includes RAMs for Yamaha and Roland gear, MIDI retrofits, and CV/Gates.
The RAM cartridges are clearly hand assembled, and the cases are made from the stuff used for printed circuit boards, so they lack the gloss of a large manufacturer. But what you lose in chic you gain in spec. Where the M64-C offered a single bank of memory suitable for, say, one JX10 or two Super Jupiter patch/voice dumps, the 256-R carries four times that amount of storage (hence the name) arranged as four M-64C cartridges in a single case. Selecting between memory banks is simple-two DIL switches offer four possible bank settings. A further DIL acts as a write/protect switch.
I tested the 256-R in a Super JX10 and, following formatting (which must be requested three times), it worked without error. Having formatted the first two banks for the JX, I tried the cartridge in an MKS80 Super Jupiter module. Formatting the third bank on the MKS enabled me to save two standard memory dumps per RAM bank. Removing the cartridge from the Jupiter and returning it to the JX, I tried to load banks 1 and 2. No problem whatsoever.
Each memory bank is entirely independent of the other three, so the real value of the cartridge becomes clear - not only can you save four banks of one synth's sounds on a single cartridge, but one cartridge will enable you to back-up four different Roland synths' internal memories on a device not much bigger than a custard cream. Useful or what?
The Roland M-64C typically sold for around £70, and now change hands for about £25-£30. The 256-R retails for £79.95 - it's not only cheaper than four secondhand Roland RAMs, but a good deal more convenient as well. And, since the battery life of the originals is limited (the battery can be replaced, but at the cost of losing your patches) a newer cartridge is a good idea. So there you have it: it's jerry-built, but with a great specification and at a bargain price. Only time will tell if a 256-R is going to be reliable, but let's face it, there isn't much to go wrong.
Danger 1 Sampling CD
Unlike most bandwagon jumping, the boom in sample CDs has brought some of the best - instead of just second best - material into the open. Ed Stratton's Datafile series actually got the ball rolling - Stratton being the brains behind Jack 'n' Chill and Man Machine. Pascal Gabriel soon followed up with his selection of dance samples fresh from his production work with S'Express and Bomb the Bass. Soon to come are sample discs from the likes of Beats International's Norman Cook and the Art of Noise's JJ Jeczalik. It's hardly the usual pattern of bandwagon jumping. And the Dangerous CD Company's Danger 1 is a further case in point: it's certainly not the first on the starting blocks but certainly not one of the also rans.
Danger 1, then, is a sample CD in the tradition of the Datafile series containing 70 tracks of drum and percussion loops and fills. And as each track contains five loops, that's some 280 breaks' worth of samples. On top of these are tracks dedicated to the drum sounds of the TR808, TR909, Alesis HR16 and Korg M1. Then there are those featuring more eclectic selections of bass drums, snares, hi-hats, percussion, fx and stabs. On top of these are two tracks of dance kits, bass tones, and strings. Be in no doubt, Danger 1 is another contender for the cash and sample memory of the dance music fraternity.
So, what do we get? Well, we got some old favourites like 'Funky Drummer' as well as some good stuff that's fresh to these ears. If you've got other sample CDs, you're likely to recognise some of this. But certainly not all. The standard of recording is variable - some of this is due to the quality of the source material but I suspect some of it has been accrued during the compilation of Danger 1. Let's just say that if you're in the market for a good crunchy loop, Danger 1 will oblige.
One area that marks Danger 1 out as a serious piece of work is the inclusion of datastreams allowing you to transfer complete sets of samples into an S1000 (and its direct relatives) as digital data. It's not the first time that this facility has appeared on a sample CD, but I believe it's the first time it's actually worked. And it certainly makes light of the worst aspects of using sampling CDs.
In the beginning it was easy - samplists everywhere were eager to bag the sorts of sample which were filling dancefloors and making dollars; sample sources were a closely-guarded resource. What could have been more popular than a CD full of these one-shot gems? But as the selection has grown, it's become harder to make a judgement on which discs are the discs. Danger 1 wouldn't be the single sample CD I'd take onto a desert island, but then I suspect a good few samplists would - partly because of the loops and partly because it gives you full access to the most important beatboxes in dance music. Then there are those datastreams...
More from The Dangerous CD Company, (Contact Details).
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