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Ensoniq TS10 Performance Composition Synthesizer


Martin Russ checks out the TS10, the latest performance workstation from Ensoniq. Apparently, the keyboard is 'slightly rippled, but with a smooth underside'.


Ensoniq have demonstrated two major strengths over the years — performance orientation and constant updates. They remain one of the few manufacturers to fit polyphonic aftertouch as standard on most of their instruments, and stacking, instant patch variation and other user-interface features make their products powerful allies in a busy live set or studio session. The Mirage sampler software and hardware were both enhanced considerably over the lifetime of the machine, whilst the VFX synthesizer has changed several times, and is arguably the direct ancestor of the TS10.

Ensoniq describe the TS10 as a 'Performance/Composition Synthesizer', which gives a good idea as to the areas in which you might use this type of workstation instrument. For performance, the TS10 has some outstanding advantages — the large, bright vacuum-fluorescent display is easy to see, and the organisation of the sounds makes rapid changes simple and quick. For use as a composing tool, the integrated on-board sequencer and dynamic effects enable a range of music-creating activities, from simple 'note it down' capturing of song ideas through to full-scale musical works. The on-board demo song illustrates some of the possibilities.

The display has six softkeys arranged around it, and two groups of buttons underneath it. These are the key to navigating around the instrument. Ensoniq call the basic sound generating part of the instrument a Voice. A set of up to six Voices plus one effects setting is called a Program (or a Sound) — and which of the voices will play is determined by two extra performance controls next to the Pitch and Modulation Wheels, called Patch Select buttons. A Preset is a combination of up to three sounds and an effects setup, and is designed to act as a performance memory. Each of the three sounds in a preset has a set of Track Parameters which are used to provide control over mixing, pan, external MIDI channel, Bank, Program and so on, plus splits, transpose, detune and more.

The TS10 does not have a separate mode for acting as a Master Keyboard — it is a fundamental part of the Presets. The same idea applies to the sequencing functions — the Track parameters are exactly what they say they are. Ensoniq have managed to blend performance, sequencing and master control functions into one unified concept — if you're more familiar with the idea of having separate controls for performance memories, sequencer tracks and multitimbral input, then the TS10 should be a refreshing surprise. It's a refined instrument — definitely the result of lots of feedback from users of previous Ensoniq instruments.

The TS10 has 120 user programmable (RAM) Presets, and 180 fixed (ROM) factory presets, making 300 in all. These are organised into Banks of six — one display's worth! The six softkey buttons are used to select the Presets or stack them by double-clicking. Ten Bank buttons allow you to choose a Bank. A set of ten Banks are called a BankSet, and there are two user (RAM) BankSets, and three fixed (ROM) BankSets. You can, of course, copy the ROM presets into RAM to edit them, if you wish. Two other BankSets are used to hold up to 20 Sampled Sounds, which can be loaded from disk (RAM capacity permitting — the TS10 ships with 2MB of memory, but this can be expanded to 8MB using two 4MB mac-compatible SIMMS). A single button steps you through the available BankSets, which means that any of the 300 presets can be reached with only a few button presses.

SYNTHESIS



Ensoniq provide a 'classic' Oscillator with LFO, two independent Filters, three Envelopes, Modulation processor and comprehensive routing possibilities — almost a modular synthesizer! The waveforms are also rather more than the square, sawtooth and sine of old — single cycle, multi-cycle/multi-sampled 'samples', sweepable wavetables and looped wavelists provide a wide timbre source. With six of these per Sound and three sounds per Preset, the scope for fine detail or brash power-play is enormous. Control in depth is the watchword here — learning this instrument thoroughly will take you lots longer than its immediate ease of use might suggest.

The user-loadable Sampled Sounds can be used in Presets and sequences just like any of the other sounds, and they have much the same synthesis architecture, but the basic wavesamples are stored in dynamic RAM. Since you will lose the samples if the instrument is powered down, Ensoniq let you choose 'surrogate' sounds which will replace the RAM samples — so when the power blips off and back on on stage, you can carry on playing with the surrogate sounds and reload from disk when you have a spare moment or two. This is another example of the TS10 being designed by people who know what the users need.

OUTSIDE



The TS10 has the currently fashionable black anodised aluminium extrusion look on top, with sheet steel on the underside. The resulting casing is rugged and strong, although the keyboard protrudes rather more than I am entirely comfortable with. The keyboard itself has the same 'slightly rippled keystops with matt accidentals' appearance as the Peavey DPM3. The rear panel sockets are clearly marked so that they can be used from either the front or rear of the instrument, and all the panel markings are in white or a pastel colour — all my years of complaining seem to be working. The all-black buttons might be easier to use if there were a few colours/shades of grey rather than the uniform black, but then your fingers really do get to know positions remarkably quickly. The volume and data sliders seemed a little rough, and the data buttons did not seem to fall under my fingers automatically, but these are very minor gripes. Reviewers are generally much happier when an instrument's design has at least some faults worth criticising!

The TS10's performance controls are lower and further forward than I am used to, but this is purely down to personal preference — the texture on the wheels was just right to get enough grip without being too abrasive during virtuoso soloing. The Patch Select buttons are an Ensoniq innovation that ought to be adopted by other manufacturers. Two small push-buttons enable you to change the sound on the fly by muting combinations of the six available voices: four instant variations at your fingertips. A performance control that isn't immediately obvious is polyphonic aftertouch, which lets you change only the notes you press harder, instead of the more usual channel aftertouch, where any pressure affects all the notes. Effective uses of polyphonic aftertouch include using vibrato on the melody note whilst leaving the associated block chord steady. Alternatively, you can open up the filter for just some of the notes in a chord in real time — nice for changing the 'feel' of a pad without having to change its inversion, or even for playing a new chord entirely.

INSIDE



The TS10 uses conventional 'thru-hole' component mounting for the majority of its printed circuit boards, with just one surface mounted flat-pack package on the main digital board. A Motorola 68000 provides the main processing power, with two Ensoniq custom chips and a host of associated ROM and RAM. The main board is Revision A, which says a lot about Ensoniq getting it right first time! A separate analogue output board has its own power supply regulation, and uses a single Philips TDA1541 DAC with 4053 multiplexers to produce the four separate outputs. The rear-panel mounted 'jack' board holds all the input/output connectors, and features separate analogue and digital ribbon cables, as well as ferrite interference suppression beads near to the sockets.

Underneath the aluminium extrusion that forms the top of the instrument is a large circuit board which holds the display and switches, and a power supply board which seems to have a linear power supply for the logic power and analogue voltages. The printed circuit boards are mounted with firm fixings along one side, but flexible mountings along the other — this should improve the reliability of the unit, since if you mount the PCB rigidly and then bend the case, the PCB takes all the strain. With this system, the case can move without affecting the circuit boards unduly. The case was easy to open, access to the major components was clear, and the interconnecting ribbon cables were neatly organised. A thoroughly professional appearance, and it ought to be simple to service, judging by the stickers offering information and reminders to 'Authorised Ensoniq Service Personnel'.


SEQUENCING



I have always preferred external computer sequencers to workstation 'built-in' versions, but Ensoniq have made the sequencer such a seamless part of the whole instrument that I may be weakening. The sequencer is arranged with 12 sequence tracks and an effects setup, rather like a preset, combined with a further 12 song tracks.

The sequence tracks play the sequences linked together in order, with repetitions, whilst the song tracks play alongside as linear tracks for the whole song. As you can see this is rather more than just a 24-track sequencer; it actually reflects the common practice of having a sequenced backing with a few complete takes recorded on top.

The three Tracks which make up a Preset can be copied directly to three Tracks within the sequencer, and because the Track Parameters are the same, you do not need to worry about having to set up the sequencer to match the Presets you used. Although this sounds like an obvious way of doing it, it is not the case with all workstations!

Given the limitations of the display, the sequencer has the majority of the features you would expect in a mid-range computer-based sequencer — although any editing where graphical presentation would be the norm is obviously slightly awkward. Nevertheless, the sequencer is not a quick afterthought, and is a capable and well-designed piece of software. Some of the musician-friendly features are unusual on computer sequencers — for example, you can audition an edit in context before you make it permanent, whereas many computers force you to make the edit, then you have to set things up again to listen to it, and then you have to try to undo it.

MIDI



The manual does not mention General MIDI (GM) at all, which, in an instrument clearly intended for live performance or stand-alone sequencer use, is probably reasonable. I would expect a different approach to GM for a rackmount version of the TS10. The MIDI Bank Controller is supported, but you cannot map incoming Program Change messages: so Bank 0, Program 0, always selects User Preset number 0. Details of the MIDI implementation are available free of charge from Ensoniq — the manual merely includes the MIDI Implementation Chart and details of the Registered Parameters.

The TS10 is 12-part Multitimbral using the 12 sequence tracks, so you use the Track Parameters to set up the channels. Two Mono Modes provide rapid 'same sound on each channel' operation without having to set up 12 Tracks identically, or 'different sound on each channel' which gives 12 separate monophonic instruments. The TS10 is designed to respond to global controllers from Mono mode sources like guitar controllers, but I was unable to verify this during the review period. The TS10 can also be used to store SysEx dumps via the disk drive — but not as part of a sequence.



"Early workstations were quite happy to provide minimal effects capability. The TS10 is exactly the opposite — the effects section shares many of the features of Ensoniq's DP/4 rack-mount effects processor."


SOUNDS



The TS10 has one of the most comprehensive synthesis sections of any S&S instrument that I have seen, and when this is combined with the TransWaves, HyperWaves and dynamic effects, the results are excellent. The digital oscillator can use any of the 254 waves to produce the basic timbre - but the waves can be single cycle, multicycle samples, TransWaves: wavetables which can be swept with a modulator, or even 'vector-style' HyperWaves, where you can link up to 16 waves in an ordered list. The Hyperwaves are much more than just a simple list of samples — you can set the time, pitch, detune, playback direction, loop-points within the steps, do cross-fades between samples, change volume and more! You can also assign up to 61 waves to a 'drum' map, although this can be used for more than just percussion!

The end result of all this flexibility is a huge range of sounds. The TS10 can produce:

The standard S&S sampled attack combined with synthesized sustain sound
Classic analogue 'emulations'
'Is it sampled or synthesized?' teasers
Complex evolving 'vector-style' sounds
Dynamic & expressive blends of sounds for live performance
Pure sample playback
Samples played back through the synthesis section
Drum kits and percussion

Unlike previous VFX instruments, the TS10 has a consistent 16-bit set of waves occupying 6MB of ROM, which means that the quality is high, but compatibility with VFX sounds has been lost. Given the scope for programming, I expect future Ensoniq and third party TS10 sounds to be impressive — the factory sounds were very good examples of what is possible.

Don't forget the user sample playback section. This allows you to supplement the powerful synthesized instruments with multi-sampled, layered sounds from a large library of EPS-compatible samples. You can have up to eight layers and 127 multi-samples in one sampled sound, and this is followed by the same sort of '2 filters/3 envelopes/1 LFO/modulation matrix' architecture as the synthesis section.

The factory sounds include a nicely multi-sampled Grand Piano, which sounds as if it would normally be more at home in a pure sample-playback instrument than a synthesizer. I was not too keen on the decay time when you held the sustain pedal down, but I quickly edited it to suit my own preferences — this is a real synthesizer, remember! Many of the factory Presets have vector-list drum/rhythm splits for the left hand, with pads and melody instruments for your right hand. Whilst these are good for demonstrations, they lose their appeal very quickly when you try and sync anything to them — they do not output a corresponding MIDI Clock, nor can they be synced to an incoming clock. Perhaps a future software update will correct this; meanwhile you can still use them when you are asked "so what does this do then?".

EFFECTS



Early workstations were quite happy to provide minimal effects capability. The TS10 is exactly the opposite — the effects section shares many of the features of Ensoniq's DP/4 rack-mount effects processor (it uses the Ensoniq Signal Processor Chip too!). The effects section is an integral part of the sound producing architecture, although of course you are only allowed one effects setup at once (the primary Sound in a Preset sets the Effects settings that are used). The equivalent of polyphony for effects units is likely to remain unfulfilled for some time to come.

The effects processor has 24-bit precision, although the output DAC is only 16-bit. There are 74 different effects algorithms, ranging from the traditional flavours of reverb, through to some more unusual treatments like the Guitar Amplifier simulations or the Psychoacoustic Enhancer. Combinations of two or more effects are available in series or parallel arrangements, and there are two FX busses, a dry output and auxiliary output routings available to incoming sound sources. The outputs from the effects section are the two main and two auxiliary stereo output jack sockets.

Each effect algorithm has a variation control, which lets you quickly choose from a number of preset settings of Effect and Modulation parameters — this gives rapid access to about 500 different named effects settings! If you want, you can select the User Variation setting, and set the parameters yourself. For many users, using the preset variations will provide a good starting point to make minor edits. The effects parameters can also be linked to performance-oriented modulation sources like after-touch, velocity or key number, but not to the synthesis Envelopes or LFO — although there are dedicated LFOs and Envelopes available for some effects. The range of control over each effect is wide and sophisticated (pages and pages-worth in some cases), and having asynchronous envelopes and LFOs in the synthesis and effects section does provide an animated moving sound.

You need to keep a clear vision of what the parameters are, especially with regard to the busses and routing, because the display cannot show the graphical information that many workstations can. But by selecting an appropriate algorithm and then listening to the variations, almost all of your effects needs will be met without any need for serious programming. Complex effects and multitimbrality can sometimes produce audible clicks when you change from one effect to another, so the TS10 has the option to mute the audio when you change the effect algorithm, sound or preset. One feature of Ensoniq keyboards has been the ability to hold a pad, then change sound and play against the sustained pad sound with a new sound — now you can choose the muting to suit your needs.

MANUAL



With such a wealth of features, the manual has an uphill struggle. A few more diagrams would have made it easier to learn and understand what was going on — especially since the text-only display can be rather cryptic. Conversely, 300 page A4 manuals with detailed descriptions of all the functions of a complex instrument are never going to be easy reading. As a reviewer, I must also appeal for more details on the specification in future — it is not much fun having to search the manuals to try and glean information about RAM size, polyphony, and other fine detail.

CONCLUSION



You can't help liking a keyboard that goes out of its way to make things easy for the player. The TS10 has a feel of having been designed by performing musicians, and it has some incredibly expressive sound-making possibilities as a synthesizer. American keyboards do seem to have a bias towards the live performance aspects of music, instead of the more introverted European trend which produces programmers rather than performers. The new ASR/EPS compatible sample playback is the icing on the cake for an already powerful instrument. This is Sample & Synthesis (S&S) on the grand scale.

The TS10 may be easy to use, but it also has considerable depth — not much scope for long 'if only it did...' wish-lists here! Ensoniq obviously have a clear vision of how such an instrument should work, and it certainly worked for me. A fascinating combination — a player's instrument with potential for serious programming too. Definitely the neatest S&S based instrument I have seen in a long time, and those Hyper-waves have lots of possibilities. I didn't want this one to go back...

Further Information

Ensoniq TS10 £1999 inc VAT.

Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).

ENSONIQ TS10 £1999

PROS
Lots of performance features.
The ability to assign 'surrogate' sounds to replace user samples (if RAM loses data because of power failure) shows attention to detail for live performance.
Wide and powerful range of sound creating facilities.
Sequencer is very well integrated into the workstation.

CONS
The display is beginning to look antiquated in comparison to current LCD graphics.
Not MIDI File compatible.
Not GM compatible.

SUMMARY
Rather more than just another incremental advance from Ensoniq. The HyperWaves offer lots of scope for Vector Synthesis a la Korg Wavestation, but can't be synced to MIDI Clock yet... The user samples show a definite convergence between the Ensoniq samplers and synthesizers — what will we see next year?


ADD-ONS

Apart from the usual footswitches and pedals, Ensoniq also make some additional hardware options:

User RAM Expansion. Replacing the 1 Meg SIMMs with 4Meg SIMMs provides 8MB of storage. £POA — SIMM prices change all the time

SQX-70 Sequence Expander. Extra RAM for the Sequencer, taking the capacity to over 97,000 events. £199

SP4 SCSI Port. Small Computer Systems Interface, which provides access to external hard disks and CD-ROM drives — including a Bank Load facility to load complete setups easily. £249


ENSONIQ TS10 SPECIFICATION

61-note C-C keyboard
Channel & polyphonic aftertouch
Attack velocity

Patch select buttons
Pitch & modulation wheels
Assignable data slider

120 RAM Memories
180 ROM Memories

6MB Waveform ROM
2MB Waveform RAM (8M expansion option)

32 dynamically assigned voices
12 part multitimbral
3 sounds per Preset
6 waves per key
127 multi-samples with 8 layers
63 waves per Drum sound

Dual independent filters
Three envelopes with 35 presets
LFO
Modulation matrix & processor

16-bit DAC
30kHz user sample playback rate
Dynamic stereo panning per voice

24-bit effects custom chip
74 effects algorithms with preset variations
3 stereo FX busses
1 stereo dry buss
2 main stereo outputs
2 auxiliary stereo outputs

24-track sequencer:
99 steps with 99 repetitions
60 songs or sequences
30,000 events capacity
96 ppqn resolution
Step, real-time & multi-channel recording modes
Post quantisation
Automated mix-down

HD (1.6MB) Disk Drive
MIDI data recorder for SysEx


POLYPHONY

The TS10 is 32-note polyphonic, which is fast becoming the standard these days. Stacking sounds reduces the polyphony just as you would expect, but using HyperWaves halves the polyphony, which may catch you out if you try to use too many sounds with HyperWaves. The sampled sounds behave just like other voices, although whenever you use sampled sounds the polyphony drops by 1 note to 31 simultaneous notes.


AND ALSO...

YAMAHA's SY85 has a similar mix of performance-oriented features, but has more emphasis on sample playback rather than the synthesis strength of the TS10. Yamaha's SY85 sample disk library is evolving quickly, whereas Ensoniq's EPS library is already huge.

PEAVEY's DPM3 and DPM4 offer the advantage of battery-backed RAM for user samples, but are not quite as strong in the live performance facilities that they offer.

KORG's Wavestation synthesizer lacks the disk drive and user sample storage, as well as the sequencer and performance features of the TS10. The 01/W/FD does not have the same depth of synthesis power, nor does it provide user sample RAM.

ROLAND'S JV80 and JD800/1000 do not have the user sample RAM of the TS10, although they both have a good performance pedigree. The JW50 concentrates on live performance with samples, and so does not have the same synthesis power as the TS10.

The GEM S2 and S3 have the user sample RAM, sequencer and performance features to match the TS10, but do not have the same depth of synthesis power and sample library support.

KURZWEIL's K2000 is powerful and complex, but has the gloss and detail of a studio tool rather than a gigging workhorse.

(Other keyboards worth making comparisons with include the following:
Yamaha SY77/99, Ensoniq ASR10, Korg M1, Technics AX7...)


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Modus Operandi

Next article in this issue

Creative Gating


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Jul 1993

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Ensoniq > TS10


Gear Tags:

Digital Synth
Polysynth

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Modus Operandi

Next article in this issue:

> Creative Gating


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