SDS DX7 Voice Editor
Software for Sinclair Spectrum
Gerry Queen gets ridiculously over-enthusiastic about a Sound Design Studio program that does for the Spectrum what Yamaha's own DX7 Voice Editor does for the CX5M.
E&MM's own DX7ED might be the ideal DX editing program if you've got a BBC Micro, but what about Spectrum owners who want the same sort of facilities? This SDS package might be the answer.
I know I'm going over well-trodden ground, but when Yamaha introduced the DX7 in 1983, they produced a world-beater that had incredible voicing capabilities but a tiny liquid crystal display on which owners had to attempt to see all its various parameters. Not to put too fine a point on it, trying to look at the parameter settings for any voice, let alone actually altering any of them, involves more tiresome button-pushing on the DX7 than just about any other synth you care to name.
Luckily, the DX's designers also saw fit to include a decent implementation of MIDI, which allowed all of the parameters to be displayed and edited using a computer with suitable hardware/software. For many, the ultimate DX-oriented computer set-up has to be Yamaha's own CX5M computer and appropriate editing software, but seeing as an awful lot of musicians took out second mortgages to buy their DX7s in the first place, it's by no means a universal cure to the DX's accessibility ills. Now a more cost-effective alternative is available in the form of the Sinclair Spectrum, the suitable MIDI interface, and Sound Design Studio's DX7 Editor software.
All you need to get going is a DX7, a 48K Sinclair Spectrum (now very cheap secondhand, incidentally), a suitable MIDI interface, a cassette recorder, and a couple of MIDI cables. The MIDI interface can be any of the following: E&MM, EMR, JMS, XRI Micon, or Siel. I tested the program with E&MM's own MicroMIDI board and had no problems at all.
Once you've connected everything together (make sure you get the MIDI Ins and Outs the right way round) and switched on, you simply type in the usual LOAD " ", start the tape recorder, check that you've got the title, and then go away and make a cup of coffee (the program takes a while to load).
The first option you're given is to designate which MIDI interface you're using. Simply press the appropriate key and the program will run, giving a Menu of options that includes invoking of the Editor, saving or loading a single voice (or bank of 32 voices) to or from the DX7/tape. Before progressing any further, you must first set up the DX7 by selecting the Internal Memory Protect off and setting 'Systems Info Available' using Button 8 on the DX.
You can now use the Dump side of the program to save those precious voices you have in the synth's internal memory. This is a simple operation that involves setting the computer to receive mode and then transmitting the voices from the DX7 using 'MIDI Transmit'. The actual transfer takes about a second, and the computer tells you when 32 voices have been received. In fact, said voices are placed in a Voice Buffer from which they can be saved to tape using another function of the program. This Voice Buffer can contain either a single voice or a bank of 32, so beware - you'll erase an entire bank if you subsequently transfer a single voice from the DX. The Tape Dump works well, and building up a library on a single cassette couldn't really be more straightforward.
To invoke the Editor, you've got to load the Voice Buffer with a single sound using the Single Voice Transfer function.
Your television screen then undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis, as a tastefully-coloured display of all main parameter values (in both numeric and bar graph form) comes suddenly into view. The display is remarkably close in design to that of the CX5M's Editor, including as it does a graphic representation of the algorithm in use and detailed information on just about everything else, as we'll see.
"Once you've altered the value for one parameter, the cursor moves on to the next one automatically, so key-pushing is reduced to a minimum."
The display is split into eight sections. The first contains Voice Name, Algorithm, Feedback, Key Transpose, and Key Sync, the second contains the LFO details, while sections 3-8 contain individual operator details, EG Rates and Levels, Output Level, Detune, and Frequency data.
A flashing cursor is used to show which part of the screen is being edited at any one time, and this can be moved (using the cursor keys, naturally enough) to any of the eight sections, while the Enter key is used to move the cursor within a section and update information. And once you've altered the value for one parameter, the cursor moves to the next automatically, so QWERTY key-pushing is reduced to a minimum.
As the last value within a section is changed, the cursor moves back to the start of the section and your editing is transmitted to the DX7. This means you can now hear the results. Now, while this may not be quite as good as that on the CX5M, which transmits as each value is changed, the SDS system's way of working is by no means annoying.
And as a bonus, pressing the 'E' key after setting EG rates and levels for a particular Operator gives you a graph of current values - useful if you want to know what each Operator is doing.
Finally, once you've finished the first screenful of parameters, you can call up two further screens to edit the remaining functions, viz Pitch EG, Level Scaling, Sensitivities, and so on.
It's clear to me that the amount of thought SDS have put into the development of this software - and particularly its wonderful, if plagiaristic, set of screen displays - has paid dividends.
For the reasons I mentioned at the start, DX7 owners have good reason to seek the assistance of computers when it comes to getting the best from their synth, and this package will certainly help them do that. A comprehensive set of instructions is included in what's already a very reasonable asking price: I certainly can't think of a competing package that's more affordable than a Spectrum, a MicroMIDI board and the SDS software.
For many, then, the key that opens the door to trouble-free DX programming.
DX7 & DX9 Voice Creator/Editor programs are available at £24.99 each from Sound Design Studio, (Contact Details).
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Review by Gerry Queen
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