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Technically Speaking

Is Vic there? Good, he can answer a few questions

Technical Questions Answered by Vic Lennard

Q: Dear MT,

My current set-up is a Korg M1 and an IBM XT computer which runs Voyetra SP1 sequencing software. Is there an editing package for the M1 that will run on my PC? If so, how much?

I also want to get hold of a sampler; is there a decent package that will run on any PC? If there is, will it run together with my sequencing software? As I'm a student, I don't want to spend too much money, so I'd appreciate any information you can give me.

By the way, why is there so little software music-wise on the PC, considering it has the advantage of a hard drive over an Atari ST?

Michael Keeley

A There is a dedicated Korg M1 editor for the PC in the shape of the MIDIQuest M1 editor which retails for £69; details from Turnkey on (Contact Details). If you have any other MIDI equipment that you want to edit using the PC, it might be worth looking at a generic editor. The MIDIQuest Universal Editor can edit over 130 different MIDI products including synths, drum machines and effects units. Retail for this is £175.

The most obvious choice of sampler for your PC is the SoundBlaster Version II card, which retails for just under £140. This is an 8-bit mono sampler with a sampling rate of up to 15kHz, but it can replay samples at 44.1kHz. It includes an 11 voice FM synthesiser with either six melodic and five percussive voices, or nine melodic voices. Also included is a MIDI interface and a four watt power amp. SoundBlaster Pro - effectively a stereo version of Soundblaster - gives you four channels of digital audio, which can be configured to provide two stereo pairs, and has a socket for the Panasonic Multimedia CD-ROM drive. Price is a little under £235. More information from West Point Creative on (Contact Details).

Incidentally, if you were to update your sequencer to Sequencer Plus Classic, this has built-in support for the SoundBlaster cards. Consequently, you would be able to access sounds while using a sequencer.

Who says that there is little music software support for the PC? There are a wealth of sequencing programs which will run under DOS or Windows including Cadenza, Sequencer Plus, Cakewalk, Prism, Cubase and a shareware package called Winjammer. There are also various synth editors (in addition to the MIDIQuest series mentioned above), some excellent music DTP packages including Encore and Finale, and auto-accompaniment programs such as Band In A Box and Jammer.

Your comment about the hard drive giving the PC the advantage over the ST doesn't really hold up as any ST owner can use an external hard drive if they wish and few programs actually require a hard drive out of necessity. In fact, ST owners could justifiably argue that the lack of a built-in MIDI interface on the PC is far more of a disadvantage. But it has to be said that as far as music software is concerned, the PC has come on in leaps and bounds over the past nine months or so. The principal reason for this, of course, is the low price of PC compatibles. Software writers are now prepared to support it in a way that they were not two or three years ago.

Q: Dear MT,

After talking to my local electricity board it would appear that I have a problem that must surely affect thousands of other home studio owners everywhere. I have connected approximately 20 pieces of equipment via extensions to one socket in the wall, the idea being that all I have to do is switch on at the wall to power up the studio.

According to some, but not others, this is a gross overload and so unsafe. Can this be true? Do I really have to modify the circuitry to use the equipment safely?

Simon Hawkins, Andover

A There are two points to cover here, namely the current draw on the mains socket, and the safety of the connections.

It is highly unlikely that the total current being drawn by your equipment is anywhere near the standard 13 amps which the fuse in the plug connected to your mains socket is capable of passing. Working out the total current draw of your system is quite simple; there's a plate on the rear of most electrical equipment which usually has the model number, the serial number and the power required for that unit, in Watts. Add up the power figures for each item in your system and divide this by 240. This will give you the total current drawn. While you may find that a 16-track tape recorder (for example) requires 2 or 3 amps - synths, samplers, expanders and the like usually draw about a tenth of an amp or less. Consequently, your entire system will probably have a current draw of less than about 5 amps. This, clearly does not represent an overload of any kind - even from a single mains socket.

It is important, however, that after finding the current draw for each piece of equipment, you use suitably rated fuses in the individual plugs through which they are connected to the mains. This will mean getting hold of a supply of 1, 2 and 3 amps fuses and substituting them for the 13 amp variety which come as standard with UK mains plugs. Using these will ensure that if a fault occurs in a piece of equipment drawing, say, a quarter of an amp, only the fuse in its plug will blow. Any mains blocks you are using should have 13 amp fuses fitted so you don't need to worry about the total current draw for all of the equipment connected to this block.

Turning on some pieces of equipment may cause an initial surge which results in more current being drawn than under normal running conditions. If you leave all of your equipment on and then turn on at the wall socket, the instantaneous current draw for all of your equipment could exceed 13 amps and blow fuses. Other damage is also possible when current surges happen. You would be best advised to turn equipment off at the end of a session and then turn on individually when you next need to power up.

As for the connection safety, make sure that you used plugs which have plastic shrouds on the live and neutral pins, and that you also use good quality mains blocks. Try to avoid 2 and 3-way adaptors if possible - these are often pulled half-way out of a socket by the combined weight of the plugs and cables. Apart from the danger this may cause, it is all to easy to suffer a temporary break in the mains supply and lose precious, unsaved data.

Got a problem? Vic has an answer. Write to: Technically Speaking, Music Technology, (Contact Details).

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Creative Sounds Improviser Software

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On The Beat (Slight Return)

Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Sep 1992


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