The Shape of Things to Come
This month's round-up includes new products launched at the APRS and NAMM shows.
The REX50 from Yamaha is a sort of re-packaged SPX90 and features 30 preset programs including reverb, echo, compression, gating, pan, chorus, flanging and various mixed effects which combine distortion with the above list. A further 60 memory spaces are available for storing your own edited programs - it's a 16-bit, 12kHz bandwidth machine, and it's fitted with MIDI In. Price £325.
Briefly mentioned last month was the REV-5. We can now tell you that this unit is a development of the REV-7 and offers a full bandwidth 20Hz-20kHz audio spec. In addition to the reverbs and other effects found on the original REV-7, the new REV-5 features panning and pitch change, has a programmable built-in gate, four selectable densities of reverb, 3.9 seconds (max) of delay and includes three separate 'first reflections' positioned left, centre and right, each with up to 1 second of pre-delay. Price £1350.
The MSS-1 is Yamaha's new MIDI System Synchroniser. This is a SMPTE/EBU to MIDI interface and timecode reader/generator which features MIDI Song Pointers. A maximum of 10 songs can be stored on a RAM cartridge. Price £1199.
Yamaha also released a range of four microphones for vocal and instrument recording applications.
Unveiled at Chicago's NAMM show last month was E-mu Systems' successor to the industry standard Emulator II, the new Emulator III. Unlike the EII, this model is available in both a keyboard and rack-mount version and features high quality 16-bit stereo sampling, 16 voices, 8 Meg of RAM (giving up to 135 seconds of continuous sampling time) and comes with a 40 Megabyte hard disk on board.
The Emulator III features a powerful sequencer, a system expansion port for linking to a voice expander module which will then provide 32 voices, and there will be a software package for the Apple Mac from Digidesign for editing. An additional 'sample-to-hard disk' option will also become available. The EIII will be available near the end of the year. Price around £8,000.
Further new products include the SP-1200 Sampling Drum Machine and Emax Hard Disk updates.
Details on all products from E-mu Systems, (Contact Details).
The UK software company Cheetah have departed from their usual territory and arrived on the music scene with a strong range of products that are going to cause a real stir in the market place. If the quality of these products follow in the footsteps of their MK5 Master Keyboard that we reviewed in February, then the prices are indeed truly unbelievable. All the products will be on show at the BMF.
The company are launching six major products: A new range of three master MIDI keyboards will include the MK5II, an upgraded version of the original MK5 which will sell for under £200. The MK5 V is a velocity sensitive version of the same keyboard for £280, and the top of the range MK7 VA features a seven octave weighted keyboard with velocity, aftertouch, 3 split points, 4 MIDI Outs and various wheel controllers. Price under £400.
Cheetah's MS6 MIDI Synthesizer Module is a rackmounted six voice polyphonic expander. It features two DCOs per voice, is multitimbral, stores 64 patches and has a built-in arpeggiator. Price around £250.
For the drum machine fanatics comes the MD8 MIDI Digital Drum Machine. This features what Cheetah call an 'unlimited drum sound capability'. Eight sound locations can be filled and the unit comes with a basic set of ten drum sounds - other 'kits' will be available later, costing just a few pounds.
The MD8 offers both realtime and step-time programming, separate voice outputs, 16 songs with 64 patterns, an LCD display for editing or you can use a computer (via MIDI). Price under £150.
Finally, if you have just recovered from that lot, let's just mention the DP5 Electronic Drum Kit. The DP5 consists of a kit of five drum pads and a steel frame. It interfaces with Cheetah's MD8 drum machine and can be used to trigger the sounds in the MD8 with full dynamic control. Price around £160.
Details from Cheetah Marketing Ltd, (Contact Details).
The company that brought us all some staggering technology in 1986 and early '87 forge ahead again with some new but familiar products at very unfamiliar prices.
The HR-16 Drum Machine from Alesis is a 16-bit, 47kHz sampling rate unit that offers 48 clear, full bandwidth (20kHz) onboard percussion sounds. Features include: Assignment of any sound to any MIDI note; assign any sound to any one of 16 velocity sensitive pads; programmable volume, pan and pitch per sound; tape sync; 4 audio outputs and a most comprehensive MIDI spec.
The HR-16 has been developed around a new custom VLSI microchip and it is this technology which enables Alesis to offer such a high quality drum machine at only £449.
Also from Alesis comes a partner for their drum machine, the MMT-8 Multitrack MIDI Recorder. This is an 8-track MIDI event sequencer which has been designed to operate just like a tape recorder. It features fast forward, play, and record type buttons, plus track record or mute switches. It can store 100 songs with 100 parts, merge and unmerge MIDI data, step edit, loop sequences and sync to tape. As each track accepts all 16 MIDI channels simultaneously, this gives you a 128-track recording capability! Price £299.
Finally, Alesis also launched three new effects similar in size to their Microverb. These are the Micro Gate, Micro Limiter and Micro Enhancer. Each unit is stereo and features a remarkable 20kHz effect bandwidth. Price £129 each.
Details from Sound Technology Plc, (Contact Details).
A new improved version of the popular Isopatch patch bay from Isotrack was introduced at the APRS. The new version still features 44 jack sockets per 1U unit, but now comes with a unique slide-in label system. Other changes include a steel fascia panel instead of aluminium and the jack sockets are now attached via a fixing bracket instead of adhesive.
Along with these improvements, the range of units has been expanded to six and includes both balanced, unbalanced, phono and direct solder types. Heavy-duty patch leads are also available and these come with a five year guarantee. The Isopatch range starts at £65 + VAT for the basic model.
Details from Isotrack, (Contact Details).
As part of their Soundworks Editor software packages, Steinberg Research have just released an editor for the Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesizer. This software runs on the increasingly popular Atari ST range of computers.
Details from Steinberg Research, (Contact Details).
Yet another stereo sampler hits the market, in the form of the new Sequential Prophet 3000. It features an entire 16-bit audio path and offers a choice of three sampling rates: 48kHz, 44.1 kHz and 32kHz. The 3000 comes as a two-part package, the brains are rack-mounted and include a 3.5" disk drive plus 2 megabytes of memory, and the actual programming is done via a remote control unit with its larger than normal LCD display. The basic Prophet 3000 comes with eight independent voice outputs which can be expanded up to 16 voices with an additional rack box. Further features include three envelopes per voice, two LFOs per voice, low pass filters and dynamic panning. The 3000 should be available later in the year, priced between £3000 and £4000.
Details from Sequential (Europe), (Contact Details).
In line with almost every manufacturer in the sampler market, Korg have dutifully released a rack-mounted version of their DSS-1 called the DSM-1 (Digital Sampling Module). The new unit boasts a number of improvements and extra facilities which include a one megabyte storage capacity, extensive synthesizer functions and four channel multitimbral capabilities. It now also features 16-voice polyphony, 16 individual outputs and 64 splits across the 128 key range.
There are four different sampling rates to choose from, up to 48kHz, and a comprehensive 46 parameter synthesizer section for sound shaping. Korg DSS-1 sound disks are compatible with the new DSM-1 which features the same 3.5" disk drive storage medium. Price between £2000 and £3000.
Also released by Korg is the DRM-1 Digital Rhythm Module. This unit features all you would expect to find on a drum machine, along with a trigger- to-MIDI convertor. The drum machine part offers 22 built-in 12-bit sampled sounds and it will accept the ROM sound cards from the DDD-1 and DDD-5 drum machines.
The audio output section offers both stereo out and eight individual outputs. There are seven trigger inputs which allow you to plug drum pads into the DRM-1 to control the internal sounds. These trigger inputs offer full velocity control of volume and other performance parameters such as panning.
The DRM-1 has an onboard 5,000 note real-time sequencer for recording up to 16 patterns and this may be edited via punch-in/out functions. Finally, all performance data and sound parameters can be saved to a RAM card for future use and a separate hand-held remote control unit as on the DRV3000 reverb, is also available. Price N/A.
Details from Korg UK, (Contact Details).
At NAMM, E-mu Systems announced the introduction of the Emax HD sampling keyboard with hard disk storage. The HD version is identical to the original Emax ir every way other than the inclusion of a 20 megabyte hare disk which gives rapid sample loading and can hold 36 banks of sounds. An Emax HD rack version will also be introduced and it will be possible for existing Emax owners to have the hard disk option fitted to their present machines.
Along with the launch of the 16-bit Emulator III (see pages 6-7), E-mu showed the SP1200 sampling drum machine - the next generation SP12. It features 12-bit sampling resolution, a maximum of 10 seconds sample time, programmable dynamics, SMPTE timecode synchronisation, 3.5" disk drive and is supplied with 120 samples to get you started. Price between £2500 and £3000.
Details from E-mu Systems UK, (Contact Details).
After some three years research, Celestion have launched a new range of hi-fi quality PA speakers called the SR Series. At the heart of the system is the SR1 unit which features two 8-inch 'wide frequency response' (50Hz to 20kHz) drivers housed in a compact cabinet. The SR1's alone can handle an amazing 500 watts of power. Celestion are aiming these units at small venue 'users' who need easily transported PA which combines both clarity of sound and power. Typical users would be electronic bands with synths and drum machines.
To supplement the range is the SR2, a sub-woofer cabinet for use with the SR1 unit in larger venues. It features an 18-inch driver capable of handling 1000 watts and has a 45Hz to 150Hz frequency response. As would be expected of any two cabinet system, a control unit in the form of the SRC1 plays an important part in obtaining the quality of sound which these units can produce.
At their recent press launch of the SR Series at London's Ronnie Scott's Club, Celestion demonstrated their capacity by playing a selection of compact discs through the speakers at high volume and then brought a live band on stage to give them a real 'thrashing'. The SR speakers sounded incredible and really do mark an important forward step in the development of live PA sound. Prices (each): SR1 £460, SR2 £685, SRC1 £220. All plus VAT.
Details from Celestion International Ltd, (Contact Details).
Further products from Yamaha due for release at the British Music Fair will include the TX802 FM Tone Module. This is essentially a more powerful version of the TX81Z but is more closely related to the new DX7 II. As a six operator FM unit it offers some additional facilities not found on the DX, the most important of these being the ability to assign different note ranges to eight voices on individual MIDI channels, each with its own audio output in addition to the main stereo output. This option turns the TX802 into a very powerful multitimbral expander module. Further features include 128 preset sounds plus 64 user sounds and 64 cartridge sounds, to give you a total of 256 different sounds at your disposal at any one time. Price N/A.
On the sequencer front, the new QX3 fits nicely in the gap between the QX1 and the QX5. This unit offers a 48,000 note capacity 16-track sequencer with built-in 3.5" disk drive storage and a QWERTY style keyboard as on the QX1. It allows both real and step-time composition, you can record on all 16 tracks simultaneously, and MIDI data flow has been helped by the inclusion of two MIDI Out sockets. Synchronisation, one of the most important aspects of any sequencer, comes in three forms - internal, via MIDI, or from tape via the sync-to-tape facility. Price N/A.
Last of all comes the new DX7 S. This is a so-called 'budget' version of the recently introduced DX7II and features many of that instrument's capabilities. Price N/A.
Details on all products from Yamaha, (Contact Details).
After months of guesswork as to what it might be, the first of the new Akai/Linn products designed by Roger Linn were unveiled at the NAMM show in Chicago.
The ADR15 combines a sampler, drum machine and sequencer all in one unit. The sampler offers a 40kHz sampling rate and enhanced 12-bit resolution. Up to 26 seconds of sample time are available. There are 32 drum sounds of which any 16 are available at any one time and these may be played manually via the velocity sensitive pads. There is an onboard 32 channel drum mixer and 32 channel effects send mixer. Tape recorder styled transport functions, 11 individual audio outputs, stereo mix and eight independent polyphonic mix outputs, combine to give this machine one of the most comprehensive audio output sections ever seen.
The ADR15's sequencer section features 99 sequences, each with 99 tracks and seven sync modes are available including SMPTE and the new MIDI Time Code format (pioneered on Sequential's Studio 440). General features include four MIDI Outs, two MIDI Ins, 3.5" disk storage and a range of four 'soft keys' which vary their function when used in different modes. Price around £3000.
Also to be introduced very soon is the ADR 10 which is exactly the same as the ADR15 but without the sampling drum section.
Launched at the APRS London show were two automated patchbays from Akai. The DP3200 is an 'audio only' patching system which comes in three parts: the DP3200 matrix which is a rackmounted control box, the PG1000 patchbay programmer and the MZ1000 colour monitor.
The DP3200 offers 32 channels of balanced input and output audio signal control, whereas its DP2000 (audio/video) counterpart offers 16 channels of audio and a further 16 channels of video signal control.
The PG1000 unit can be used to programme either patchbay and allows 64 different banks - 640 patterns - to be stored. As the PG1000 is equipped with SMPTE timecode and MIDI, the patch changes can be synchronised to audio and video machines very easily.
Editing of patches is done via a QWERTY style keyboard on the PG1000 programmer, with the status of each in/out connection shown on the colour monitor. Prices: DP3200 £1303, DP2000 £1129, PG 1000 £1042 and MZ1000 £520. All ex VAT.
Making their debut at the BMF will be the new Akai wind instruments, the EWI-1000 (Electronic Wind Instrument) which is played like a saxophone, clarinet or flute, and the EVI-1000 (Electronic Valve Instrument) which is for trumpet or horn players. Both instruments can perform over a seven octave range and are used with the EWV-2000sound module. This is an analogue voice circuit unit with 64 memories and sound editing functions. Price N/A.
Details from Akai UK, (Contact Details).
The BMF will see the first UK airing for a lot of Roland new products unveiled recently at NAMM. Most notable is the rack-mounted version of the D-50. This LA Synthesis module will be called the D-550 and its fast introduction has surprised us all, as we thought it wouldn't be released until next year's Frankfurt Show. Other new products are mostly rack-mount versions of existing units.
The S-550 is an upgraded, rack-mounted S-50 sampler with expanded memory, eight outputs and now includes 'Time Variant Filters' borrowed from the LA technology of the successful D-50. Other features such as a direct CRT monitor output, mouse control and a DT-100 Digitiser Tablet interface are all included.
Talking of the S-50 sampler, a new software package supplied on 3.5" disk is now available. Maestro 'S', as it is called, is a powerful program which utilises the existing hardware of the S-50 and turns it into a fully fledged sequencer not unlike the MC-500. It seems that the sequencer potential of the S-50 has been lying dormant inside the machine awaiting this software release.
Maestro 'S' can store 200 patterns of 2,500 steps with each pattern having a maximum of 16 measures. Patterns can be combined to produce a song with a maximum of 400 measures and 36 songs can be stored on disk. Extensive editing facilities using a 'microscope' edit function similar to that of the MC-500, allow complex song structures to be built-up and observed on any CRT monitor connected directly to the S-50. The new software now makes it possible to use the S-50 as both the sound source and sequencer, so when one considers the availability of eight individual outputs, the Maestro 'S' software turns the S-50 into a very powerful composition system.
The S-220 is not just an upgraded version of the S-10 sampler which already exists in its rack-mounted MKS-100 form, but is in fact a replacement for the short-lived MKS-100. Major differences include 16-voice polyphony (previously eight on the S-10) and multitimbral MIDI control with four audio outputs. And, if you are already an S-10 user, you'll be glad to know that it is disk compatible with the S-10 and MKS-100 sound samples.
For existing MC-500 sequencer owners come three new software disks. The Performance Package allows MC-500 performance data to be loaded from disk in any order and with any length time interval between songs. This software is aimed at MC-500 live users. Bulk Librarian is designed to store sound data files from MIDI synthesizers. Last of all comes the Rhythm Bank which provides a collection of preprogrammed rhythm patterns and tracks to help you create rhythm parts on the MC-500.
Brief mentions go to the TR626 drum machine. This is similar to the TR505 but with eight individual voice outputs and 30 onboard sounds. The RPD-10 is a new addition to the popular Micro-Rack effects range and offers digital delay facilities of up to two seconds and auto-panning.
Prices to be confirmed. Details from Roland UK, (Contact Details).
STOP PRESS! Craig Anderton of Electronic Musician magazine in the States sends us his observations of the June NAMM show in Chicago.
16-bit sampling: Sure, not all 16-bit systems are equally good, but the days of 8-bit linear sampling are definitely over. 12-bit seems to be the minimum required these days to be considered hi-fi, but 16-bit systems are definitely taking over.
MIDI for stringed instrument players: Two Casio MIDI guitars, the Passac and Beetle controllers, Roland's GM-70, Suzuki's 'serious toy' Unisynth, and Zeta Systems' violin and guitar controllers all indicate that the technology has finally arrived.
Atari and IBM-compatible computers: There seemed to be fewer Macs, and more STs and IBM-compatibles at the show. Several rack-mount, roadworthy IBM systems were shown with bundled software; but it seems that the Atari ST is fast becoming the computer of choice for low-cost applications.
Cue lists and SMPTE control: Digidesign's 'Q-Sheet' led the way, but software from Opcode and Passport was also available for the audio/video-minded. Yamaha introduced the MSS-1 SMPTE-to-MIDI controller; the Peavey SyncController is basically an improved and updated SMPL system; the Emulator II version 3.0 software update fixes some earlier SMPTE problems; and lots of sequencers can either read SMPTE or are about to.
Low-cost, consumer-oriented software: In addition to their usual pro level stuff (including lots of ST products). Dr. T's had a neat little $50 algorithmic-type composition/sequencing program that they expect to sell in time for Christmas. Sonus is also planning a MIDI studio package for consumers called Personal Musician.
Next Big Things: Hard disk recording, parallel MIDI processing using multiple ports, MIDI-controlled studio automation, additive synthesis, and American companies.
The following items were conspicuous by their absence at the show. This doesn't mean that they're cold in the world at large.
Keyboard samplers: One year ago, everybody had a new keyboard sampler. Aside from the Emulator III, though, I didn't see any major keyboard sampler introductions. Possibly that's because rack-mount sampling devices seem to be coming on real strong.
Commodore computers: Sad to say, the Amiga - an incredibly capable and versatile computer - had all the visibility of an endangered species, save for the excellent Amiga version of 'Music Mouse' and a few other programs. And the C-64 was barely visible at all, having been replaced by the Atari ST or IBM clones for the budget-conscious.
Digital reverbs: Now that there are 2.4 digital reverbs for every man, woman, and child on Earth, I guess that (with a few exceptions) no one felt the need to come up with any more.
Third-party samples and patches: Although Valhala, Key Clique, and others were represented, I really got the impression that piracy has pretty much killed the market for new patches.
Or maybe it's just that after you have 30,000 DX7 voices loose in the world, you don't need any more. Or maybe people got their fingers burned enough by bad patches that they're also not buying the good ones. In any event, the number of folks selling new sounds was way down, and the stands were smaller than they had been in the past. Good luck to the survivors.
The following manufacturers deserve a mention under the following headings.
Biggest Surprise: The Suzuki guitar controller. It looks and feels like a toy, but it's great and it works. All this and MIDI too for under $300 list price (batteries included).
Best Kept Hi-Tech Secret: Peavey Electronics and AMR. If you think Peavey hasn't changed since they made those weird little accident-prone amps in the late '60s, you haven't seen their DECA amps, MIDI gear, synchronisers, and VLSI-rich stomp boxes!
Best Public Service: A four-way tie between Forat Electronics, who finished the Linn 9000 and turned it into the instrument it was meant to be; Korg, whose Poly 6 MIDI retrofit can't possibly be profitable but they did it anyway; E-mu, who (through a software update) added a bunch of features to the Emulator II even though it makes better economic sense to kill off the E-II and force everybody to buy E-IIIs; and Kurzweil, whose extremely useful Midiscope data analysis program has been placed in the public domain and can be downloaded via the PAN network for free.
Most Unhappy Showgoers: Anybody who bought a budget drum machine just before the show and then went to the Alesis stand.
Most Entitled To Say 'I Told You So': Emile Tobenfeld (Dr. T), who told me a couple of years ago that algorithmic composition was going to be very hot. He was right.
Most Perseverence In The Face Of Overwhelming Odds: Roland, who kept plugging away at guitar synthesis until they got it right.
LCD Of The Show: The one found in the Akai/Linn ADR15 drum machine/sequencer/sampler, which provides on-screen help messages whenever you get confused, and shows things like moving faders for level and little panpots that turn for stereo placement. Sometimes the details do count!
Finally, Where Do You Have the Big Speakers Hidden?, goes to Celestion, whose portable speaker system is an over-achiever in every possible sense of the word.
At every show, I ask everybody I meet what they think are the most significant products at the show. While this is by no means a scientific survey, the following companies (in alphabetical order) were often mentioned to me as a "must see".
1. Akai: EWI-1000 Electronic Wind Instrument and EVI-1000 Electronic Valve Instrument wind MIDI controllers.
2. Alesis: HR-16 16-bit drum machine with velocity buttons.
3. Digidesign: Q-sheet video production software.
4. E-mu: Emax with hard disk for extra storage. Emulator III pro-level 16-bit sampling keyboard.
5. Mark Of The Unicorn: Performer 2.0 Macintosh sequencing software.
6. Passac: High-speed guitar-to-MIDI convertor box.
7. Peavey: PKM 8128 programmable, MIDI-controlled, rack mount eight-channel mixer.
8. Roland: GP-8 MIDI-controllable guitar signal processing system, D-550 synthesizer (rack-mount version of the D-50).
9. Suzuki: Unisynth ($300) MIDI 'guitar' controller.
10. Yamaha: Multitimbral TX802 expander module (rack-mount, slightly different version of the DX7IID).
That's all folks!
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