Sound Quest MIDI Quest
Universal Editor/Librarian Software
The MIDI Quest universal editor/librarian software from Canada offers all the drivers you need included in its modest price, and runs on all four major computer platforms. Derek Johnson looks a gift horse in the mouth.
Once you've got more than three or four synths, drum machines, modules or MIDI-equipped processors, it makes sense to start using computer-based software for patch editing. Imagine: hundreds of patches and system setups on a single, 3.5" floppy disk that costs around 50p. Providing you've got the computer, it beats costly RAM cards any day. However, buying a dedicated editor for each MIDI device can cost you money in another way — it can get very expensive to buy a separate package for each device in your setup. Enter the universal SysEx-based editor and/or librarian program. There are several on the market, for all the major music computers, but one of the cheapest is MIDI Quest, a new entry from Canadian company Sound Quest.
MIDI Quest offers, through software interaction with virtual knobs and sliders, the ability to edit synths from your computer, and of course store and recall hundreds of patches via floppy disk. Which computer? You'll be pleased to hear that MIDI Quest is relevant to MIDI musicians operating from all platforms: there are more or less identical versions of the program for the Atari ST (reviewed here), Apple Macintosh, PC XT and clones, Windows, and the Commodore Amiga. If you need a central editor and librarian for all your synths, then you have no excuse not to check this program out.
The trouble with some 'big name' generic editors is that they require you to purchase additional software 'drivers' to enable the basic universal program to work with your particular synths — unless you're patient and clever enough to write your own. MIDI Quest, however, provides you with a warehouse full of drivers with the basic software. While you may only aspire to own a mere fraction of the instruments and devices covered by MIDI Quest, and it could be argued that providing drivers for every conceivable product is a waste of (disk) space and effort, the price of MIDI Quest is such that you're not actually paying for this apparent redundancy. At £175 this is definitely good value.
Upon opening the rather colourful packaging, you are presented with a small binder containing 64 pages of manual and a pair of disks. Read the first few pages of the manual before going any further: MIDI Quest needs to be 'installed', whether you're using a hard drive or not. The program is quite complicated, and since it comes supplied with so many drivers, as well as on-line help facilities, it is compressed to allow it to fit on just two disks.
The actual installation is easy, although a second disk drive is very useful. Back up the master disks (no dongles or copy protection to worry about here), and run the installation program. Follow the prompts and make sure you have a formatted disk ready in drive B, or ready to swap with the main disk. You may need to run the installation program more than once if you're installing a lot of drivers, especially if your ST comes with only 1MB of memory.
A quick glance at the manual gives big clues as to the program's capabilities. After the tutorial part, it is divided into sections: Bank Editor; Patch Editor; Database; Library; Sound Checker; Driver List; Common Elements; Files Menu; Tools Menu; Options Menu; Utilities Menu; Special Menu; Windows Menu; Window Transfer & List Control. There follows a list of common errors and three appendices, listing quick commands, PC support and PC/XT/C1 key equivalents.
One thing that will be immediately obvious on booting the program is the lack of a menu bar: it is there, however, and is activated by moving your mouse pointer to the top of the screen. The menus are Files, Drivers, Tools, Options, Utilities, Special, and Windows. When you first boot up the program after installation, you will see a driver list. This will, hopefully, list all the preset and multi banks for your chosen devices. From here, you can load a bank of patches from your synth and reorganise them with the librarian, load individual sounds and edit them, or edit sounds from with the bank. You can also arrange multi-timbral setups within MIDI Quest and send the result back to the synth.
The specifics of what's on offer depend very much on the instrument or device being edited, but when editing sounds, for example, the program provides you with clear, graphic representations of envelopes as well as parameter names with values to be altered. There are lots of virtual knobs and sliders where relevant. Patch editing also includes randomise functions, and various cut and paste options for parameter groups.
The facilities are very comprehensive, so much so that quite often there is more available than can be shown in a single screen, so a certain amount of scrolling is necessary; the redrawing after scrolling is one of the few irritating things about the software, on the Atari version, in any case. But just as you've found a source of irritation, you find the online Help pages — click on 'Help' in the top right hand corner of any window — and Quick Tips that are specific to each MIDI device being edited. The Quick Tips often remind you what you need to do to the device in order to allow it to communicate with MIDI Quest. All in all, very friendly.
The librarian is equally comprehensive, and allows for the elimination of duplicate patches and the search for similar sounds — you can define a percentage of similarity, and search for similar sounds on the basis of their parameters only, without reference to a name.
While editing, it's often useful to be able to hear the results of your work without moving across to play your keyboard — the program lets you do this by clicking the right mouse button (Atari users) to play a note whose pitch is determined by the position of the mouse on the screen. You can also define chords and short sequences of notes.
The major audition feature, however, must be the ability to load up to 10 MIDI Song Files (memory allowing), play them back, and carry on editing while the sequence is playing. This facility is limited to 16 tracks (one for each MIDI channel), but should be adequate for the majority of users. Sounds, effects or whatever else can thus be tailored to the sequence before returning to your main sequencer to finish the track. There is even a little bargraph activity meter below the track numbers.
All in all, MIDI Quest makes a valiant stab at a multi-tasking editing and data management environment, with as many windows and drivers open at once as your memory and screen will allow. Certainly, in my experience, flipping between drivers, database, sequencer and various menus didn't crash the program; in fact, barely a hiccup was evident. Apart from a tendency for screen redraws to be a distractingly slow, all the features on offer worked very well, and I can't think of much that's missing. Your £175 buys you a universal patch and bank editor, patch librarian, data base and MIDI File playback utility, not to mention the MIDI monitor, a comprehensive MIDI analyser, which is quite comprehensive enough to track down many different sorts of problem.
Hard disk users are going to be a lot happier with the program, however; it works very hard, and has to access your working disk quite often (especially for Help files and Quick Tips), which is a drag.
One aspect that won't be speeded up by using a hard disk is the screen redrawing. On the main edit page, all the parameters wouldn't fit in a single screen, so getting to some parameters meant scrolling a bit. Every time the screen is scrolled it redraws, and it redraws slowly.
In spite of the hard time I've given certain aspects of MIDI Quest, I liked it. If tries very hard and, though it's slow at times, it succeeds. One — indeed the — major point in its favour is that the basic program come supplied with so many drivers for so many synths, drum machines and effects processors, whereas similarly or higher-priced software often charges you extra for more drivers. I think its fair to say that if a machine has been equipped with MIDI since its inception, then it's got a driver in MIDI Quest. If a driver isn't available, then you can create your own; I haven't touched on this subject, but it seems as logical as the rest of the program. More detailed information on this topic is available on Sound Quest's BBS, but in any case, Sound Quest themselves are adding to the list of drivers all the time.
Apart from the constant disk accessing (if you're running from floppies) and the slow screen redraw, the program does its job efficiently, automating most of the contact with your synths or MIDI-equipped devices and offering a lot of power for the price.
Sound Quest MIDI Quest £175 inc VAT.
Soho Soundhouse, (Contact Details).
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Review by Derek Johnson
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