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Monday, September 30, 2013

Hammond XM1 & XMC1

Organ Module & Drawbar Controller


Reviews : Keyboard

Offering classic Hammond sounds in a rackmount format, the XM1 module, together with the optional XMc1 drawbar controller, seems the ideal space-saving solution for those unwilling to rely on sample CDs for their organ sounds. Hammond XB2 owner NICK MAGNUS considers the pros and cons of a transplant...


The music industry is well known for its fleeting fashions -- certain sounds are all the rage one minute, then, before you know it, nobody would be found dead (or at best maimed) with that sample infesting their creations. Just think of FM (rather unjustly vilified)... you couldn't so much as get a session on a Nolan Sisters album in the mid to late '80s without a DX7, and now people are virtually paying you to take them off their hands.

Despite this fickle fact, there are sounds (or, more specifically, instruments) that remain timeless. The Hammond tonewheel organ is one such beast, having suffered only minor, transitory run-ins with the Fashion Police, and demand for its versatile tones has, if anything, increased of late -- witness the deluge of Hammond samples on CD-ROMs, sample libraries, and S+S synth expansion boards. This is all super, smashing and lovely, and many of these samples are indeed excellent under the right conditions. But, being pre-sampled drawbar registrations, they preclude the immediate fine tonal adjustments offered by a fistful of drawbars (darn it, I promised myself I wouldn't use that phrase!)

In these times of MIDI master keyboards and home studios in a matchbox, another physical keyboard is likely to be the last thing you need. Several manufacturers have addressed this problem in the past by releasing MIDI organ tone modules (see the 'Organ Donors' box), among them Peavey, Voce, Fuji and Oberheim. But for those in the know, a question has been hanging in the air since the release of Hammond's XB2 single manual organ: can we have that one in a box, please? So intense was this need that Wix Wickens (of the Paul McCartney band) reputedly took a chainsaw to his XB2, removing the drawbar end so it could sit on top of his master keyboard while the remaining sound-generating gubbins was kept on the floor out of the way. Well, Hammond have finally decided to save you the bother of donning a lumberjack shirt and brushing up your DIY skills; they've put what is effectively an XB5 in a two-thirds of rack-width module (the XM1), with a remote drawbar controller (the XMc1) available as an optional unit. In the same way that lager is only notionally optional with curry, most interested parties are unlikely to want one unit without the other.



If you can imagine a Morris 1000 Traveller re-designed for the turn of the millennium, complete with fake walnut, environmentally friendly dashboard, that's pretty much the appearance of the XM1 and XMc1. Naff? On the contrary. Camp chic meets hi-tech in one of the most eye-catching module designs I've yet seen. It urges you to plug in and play even though the pasta is nearly done and The X-Files is on in five minutes.

Everything you need to make a noise is accessible from the module itself via a group of small cursor, menu and value buttons. There's a lot of stuff to edit here, more than on the Hammond XB2, and setting up a custom sound from scratch can take quite a while. The only real-time controls are two rotary pots for volume and reverb amount, and this is where the XMc1 comes in -- more of which later. There is a yellow backlit display to guide you in your travels, and a power switch -- that's it for the front. The rear has connections for the usual things: a 10V DC input from the external power supply, stereo outs, MIDI In, Out, and Thru, and a footswitch input which can be assigned several functions -- the Leslie speed, for example. Like the XB2, the XM1 also has a multi-pin connector for output to a real Leslie cabinet.

Part of the 'organic' quality of a real Hammond is the immediate access to the drawbars, as well as the controls for percussion, vibrato and Leslie speed. The XMc1 provides all this, plus overdrive level and secondary volume control to boot. Also present are three preset buttons (as on the Korg CX3), and another button with three associated LED indicators to select whether you're changing the drawbar settings for the upper manual, lower manual or pedals. Features such as percussion level are only accessible from the menu system on the main module, but at least the principal performance controls are all here. Curiously, you can't change patches from the remote -- you have to do that from the module or via MIDI Program Change messages! A shame, as I'd have thought that there was room for two more buttons and a knob for percussion level on the XMc1. In a non-pre-programmed performance situation you would still have to keep the module close to hand.



Having been an XB2 owner since they first appeared, I was keen to do a critical comparison between it and the XM1. Was the XM1 going to tempt me to trade up and regain some valuable space? Well, it was a swings and roundabouts verdict! The first test was to compare the basic sounds of the two without the benefit of any effects -- just naked and cruel... The results were interesting: when you listen closely, there's a distinct difference in tone. The XM1 wins this round, having a subtly rounder, firmer sound than the XB2, with improved definition in the lower registers; the XB2 sounds reedier, as if there's a small amount of leakage from the upper drawbars even when they are fully off. Sticklers (you mean someone's more anally retentive than me?) might point out that the real thing is less than perfect and some leakage should be expected, but subjectively I prefer the sound of the XM1.

"Camp chic meets hi-tech in one of the most eye-catching module designs I've yet seen."

My next point of comparision was the percussion -- and it's here that the two units vary quite markedly. The XM1 has far more flexible editing options for the percussion, such as keyboard scaling and single/multiple triggering, but despite this, it's one area of the XM1 that disappoints. The amplitude envelope is very steep in the initial decay phase (regardless of the decay time), giving it a pronounced 'clicky' quality (different to key click, which is a separate sound in itself), so that little of the pitched body of the percussion is perceivable unless its level is set high, whereupon the click becomes painfully intrusive. An additional parameter to soften the attack would not have gone amiss. The XB2 fares much better in this department, having a smooth, marimba-like envelope much more akin to the real thing.

The percussion implementation was guilty of one more faux pas -- it's not instantly obvious, but when the Leslie effect is switched in, something is not quite right. After I'd pushed in all the drawbars, the problem became clear: the percussion is not routed through the Leslie. Oops.... There must have been a good reason for this design slip-up, but I doubt that it holds water. Possibly Hammond felt that it would help the sound cut better -- but if any of you have ever encountered an actual Hammond organ with the percussion output separately to avoid the Leslie cabinet, I would be intrigued to hear about it.



This leads us neatly, if not gracefully, to the Leslie simulation itself. The weakest aspect of the original XB2 was its own Leslie effect. Barely a token gesture, it could only appeal to emetic fans who relished a good bout of mal de mer in the comfort of their own studio. Hammond have certainly made an effort to improve this feature, which now has a full range of editing parameters. There are 10 locations in which to store your cabinet simulations, and these are occupied by some variations previously set up at the factory. Rise and fall times of the bass and treble speakers can be set individually, as can bass/horn balance, min/max speeds, microphone angle and even microphone distance. The factory settings tend to accelerate and decelerate rather lazily, but a quick tweak sorts things out. Overall, a vast and welcome improvement on the XB2's version. However, some users may prefer to output to an external device, such as one of the Dynacord units or the excellent Roland SDX330. Or even a real Leslie if you have one knocking around. This also overcomes the percussion's non-internal Leslie effect problem.



Like the XB2, the XM1 includes an integral reverb, which is in fact a chip licensed by Hammond from Alesis. There are four choices of algorithm: Room, Live, Hall and Church. In common with the XB, this didn't make nearly enough gain available from the reverb (nor is any editing possible), which makes drifty ambient effects unavailable without recourse to an outboard reverb unit, and you'd probably want to use that in a controlled environment such as the studio.

The final patient in the doctor's surgery is the overdrive effect. Higher marks have to go to the XB2 here; its overdrive is much the warmer and growlier. The XM1's overdrive, I feel, is rather too much like radio static added to the signal -- not so much a case of effecting a sound, more adding an effect on top of a sound. If you play only fifths and octaves, the crackly artefacts are not too offensive, but add a third, and... Hello Houston, are you receiving me?



The XM1 (or rather the XMc1) boasts one significant improvement over the XB2 -- it sends all drawbar movements as a stream of MIDI controller information (Continuous Controller number 80) from its MIDI Out port, enabling you to record the drawbar changes you make during a performance. This was something offered by Roland's VK1000, but was, sadly, omitted from the XB2. Leslie fast/slow is also supported (CC92) and the three preset buttons on the XMc1 send the appropriate Program Change and CC80 commands to be recorded in your sequencer too. Quite why the percussion and vibrato controls are excluded from this luxury is not clear, but at least the most important needs are addressed. These features can presumably be accessed via NRPNs (there was no manual to confirm this), but it's a pity that those sound changes can't also be recorded on the fly from the remote controller. The other big improvement is a similar spec to the XB5 -- that is, the upper manual, lower manual and pedal board are all represented, and capable of receiving on separate MIDI channels.



The XM1/XMc1 combination offers significant improvements over the XB2 in some areas (size, basic tone, 3-part multitimbrality, Leslie, recordable drawbars), but takes a backward step in others (percussion, overdrive). To answer the original question -- is it worth trading up from the XB to the XM? -- I would say that it's all down to how fussy you are about the negative points raised here, and whether space is really at a premium for you. If you're intending to use external Leslie and overdrive effects, you might find those on offer in the XM1 to be redundant. I would personally find the change in the nature of the percussion to be a problem, but if I were buying from scratch, never having owned an XB2, I'd generally be more than happy, despite my hyper-critical comments, to have the XM1 as part of my musical arsenal. The only remaining bugbear is the price for the XM1 and XMc1 bundle (£1098), which is not cheap by any means. But when you consider that the 1994 XB3 dual-manual machine (whose facilities the XM1 emulates) cost £8,630, it doesn't look quite so bad.



Tonewheel organ impersonations are nothing new, as a glance back over the years reveals. The Crumar Organiser in 1974 and the Roland VK09 in 1981 were just two such keyboards to take a stab at the task, only to be usurped by the Korg CX3 and BX3 models in 1980 -- deservedly a great success in their day, these last produced a sound that was closer to a Hammond than any other ersatz offering had managed. Indeed, to this day, CX3s can be seen lurking in the shadows at the back of the Top Of The Pops stage (where all us wretched ivory-tinklers belong). Latterly, Roland's VK1000 from 1990 got very close, sporting a highly respectable internal rotary speaker simulation, but was pipped to the post for authentic basic sounds by Suzuki/Hammond's XB2 single-manual and XB3 and XB5 double-manual organs. 

Published in SOS May 1997

Sound On Sound December 2011: Cloud JRS34 & JRS34P mics, TC Helicon VoiceLive Rack and Fostex AR4i

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Alesis QSR

64-voice Synth Module



Reviews : Keyboard

With S+S instruments giving way to the new wave of physical modelling synths, does Alesis' new 'QS-in-a-box' still have what it takes to turn heads? PAUL WARD tunes in, turns on and finds out...

When analogue synthesis was overtaken by the wonders of the digital age, folks could hardly give away their old analogue gear. These days we could be heading for a very similar situation with the sample-based synths of recent years and the new kids on the block, physical modelling synths. But many companies obviously still feel that S+S has something to offer -- cue Alesis and their new QSR 64-voice expandable synth module.

To all intents and purposes, the sound engine of the QSR is identical to the QS8 keyboard synth, and I'd strongly suggest that you take a look back at Martin Russ' review of the QS8 in November 1996's SOS for a more thorough view of its sound architecture.



The QSR is small and light, roughly the size of the good old Quadraverb, and is finished in a tidy, if conservative, fashion. The rear panel holds items of special interest in the form of a 48kHz sample clock input and an optical interface to provide full integration into an existing ADAT-equipped studio -- impressive! Also included is the QS8's serial port connector. This allows you to plug the QSR directly into a IBM- or MacOS-compatible PC, removing the need for a separate MIDI interface; the baud rate and computer type are selected from one of the QSR's global parameter pages. Power arrives from an external 'line-lump' 9V AC power supply -- no sir, I don't like it... Two pairs of stereo audio outputs are provided, and these are especially welcome given the QSR's 64-voice polyphony.

"In full multitimbral flight, the QSR is a joy to the ears."

In contrast to its rear panel, the QSR's front panel is quite spartan. Over to the left are the headphone output and volume control, and the large backlit LCD. Next along is the 'alpha'-type value wheel, used for scrolling through Programs and Mixes, and for entering parameter values. There's a group of eight squidgy rubber buttons for navigation around the QSR's internals, and for stepping between MIDI channels and Program/Mix banks. To the left of the power switch are two Type-1 PCMCIA RAM/ROM card expansion slots.

The QSR has a number of operating modes. When it's in Mix or Program play mode, the value wheel scrolls through Programs or Mixes. In its unexpanded form, the QSR has access to four banks, totalling 512 Programs and 400 Mixes. A program plays on a single MIDI channel; a Mix consists of up to 16 Programs, each of which may respond on any MIDI channel, for multitimbral use or Program stacking. General MIDI compatibility mode is available from the global parameter pages. The Program and Mix play modes are accessed by dedicated buttons, making the selection of program material relatively quick and easy.



Conversely, navigation around the QSR's editing modes can be painful at times. A simple effect such as Overdrive, for example, has its parameters split across four pages, and flipping between them all soon becomes a chore.

A QSR Program consists of between one and four Sounds arranged as Layers. Each Sound is assigned a sample from the 649 available in the 16Mb internal ROM (or from an optional PCMCIA card) before being passed through the filter, the amp and the effects processing on its way to the outside world. The range of amp and filter processing is fairly restricted, so samples have to be darned good in the first place. Happily, this is very much the case, with an abundance of high-quality material to keep even the most discerning programmer happy. All the usual meat-'n'-two-veg sounds are well represented, with a good smattering of more off-the-wall samples, including a range of wave and drum loops to get your groove-buds going. You can make up drum Programs with up to 40 different drum and percussion samples from the QSR's sample armoury: in fact, drum sounds are particularly well represented here, and also contain many of the best from the Roland CR/TR machines we know and love.

"From a company probably best known for their range of effects processors, an impressive array of effects is to be expected. The QSR does not disappoint."

Lost from the QS8 are the four parameter slider controls, but the QSR implements four 'global' controllers, which are specified by the user. This provides a simple way to make use of the modulation options defined in the preset Programs with whatever physical controllers you have at your disposal. Modulation destinations include many of the effects processors, as well as those directed at control of pitch, filter and amp.



From a company probably best known for their range of effects processors, an impressive array of effects is to be expected. The QSR does not disappoint, with a diversity and quality of sound treatment that wouldn't be out of place on a machine in a much higher price bracket. If anything lets the side down slightly it has to be the overdrive, which I found fizzy and unconvincing. On guitar and drum loops it was possible to add some grit and dirt, but I found myself filtering the top out of the overall sound to warm things up.

In full multitimbral flight, the QSR is a joy to the ears. Most of the Program material is solid, useable stuff, certainly well up to the standard of most other S+S synths of recent years -- given the unit's QS pedigree, this should come as no surprise. The GM sound-set is equally impressive, with one or two minor exceptions, such as 'Applause'. The lack of a resonant filter is felt in one or two areas, most notably the basses, although Alesis have partly made up for this by including a selection of resonant samples.



It's hard to get over-excited about an S+S synth these days, even one with the 64-voice polyphony of the QSR, but this machine deserves a second look from anyone wanting a reliable source of instant sounds. The quality of the results is hard to fault, and the PCMCIA card slots give the QSR access to a healthy library of extra sounds, as well as the ability to download custom samples to a PCMCIA RAM card from a computer using the bundled Sound Bridge software. If you're a player first and a programmer second, then the QSR could have been made for you -- it's a solid workhorse of a synth.

Published in SOS June 1997

Waves H-EQ - AES 2011

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Roland D50

LA Synthesizer (Retro)



Reviews : Keyboard

Roland's D50 became the sound of the late '80s. Does it still have a place in the late '90s? PAUL WARD takes a trip around LA...

My first couple of chords on a D50 back in 1987 convinced me that I was witnessing something special. Those lush strings, the mind-blowing (and, subsequently, mind-numbing through overuse) 'Digital Native Dance', and the swirls and swooshes of countless choir, string, and blown-bottle pads came as a revelation to ears jaded by years of analogue bleeps and FM clangs.



Roland proudly labelled their new technology 'Linear Arithmetic' synthesis -- or LA for short. Despite the swish name, the internal architecture of the D50 is not particularly exciting by today's standards, and does little to convey the reason for the machine's lasting appeal. LA synthesis was essentially the first of the Sample+Synthesis (S+S) instruments, which have dominated music technology for the last 10 years -- only now being overtaken by the new wave of physical modelling synthesizers. At a time when we were all fed up of not being able to program our FM synthesisers, it came as something of a pleasant surprise to find that Roland had essentially stuck to the analogue terminology with which most synthesists were familiar. OK, the VCA and VCF of old had become the TVA and TVF in the D50, but they worked in pretty much the same way.

A D50 'Patch' is the standard unit of currency, consisting of a pair of 'Tones', designated Upper and Lower. Within each Tone are a pair of 'Partials', each of which can be thought of as a single-oscillator synth. A number of 'Structures' specify whether each partial is to produce a standard synth waveform (sawtooth or square, with adjustable pulse width), or make use of one of the 100 PCM samples. With memory costs at a premium at the time of the D50's release, Roland had to work hard to make the most of the available space. Whereas the short attack samples, such as trumpet spits and flute chiffs, are generally good, some of the looped sounds are questionable. Of the 100 samples, 47 are attack portions, 29 are static looped waveforms, and 24 are actually loops that scan across several of the D50's shorter ROM samples to create some strange rhythmic effects -- 'Digital Native Dance' being a prime example.


"Many players turn off the D50's internal reverbs altogether."

But what the D50 lacked in refined sample material it certainly made up for in the synthesis department. PCM partials have a relatively easy life of it, being subjected to LFO and envelope pitch modulation before being routed through the Time Variant Amplifier (TVA). Synthesizer waveforms enjoy the added pleasure of being mangled by the Time Variant Filter (TVF). This resonant filter is one aspect of the D50 that holds much of the machine's lasting appeal, I'm sure. It doesn't have the slurpy resonance of an analogue synth, admittedly, but it has plenty of warmth and character to keep you coming back for more. Three assignable LFOs are available, and pitch, filter and amp each have their own dedicated multi-stage envelope generators, making a very flexible set of sound-producing tools. The range of modulation options is quite sophisticated, with the ability to use positive or negative phases of the LFOs, and to adjust the key-follow curve based on a bias level and keyboard-split point. Several of the Structures include a ring modulator, which is capable of some excellent effects when patched between a pair of PCM samples.



Tone parameters include the three LFO waveforms' delays and speeds, pitch-envelope and chorus settings, and there's also a very useful high/low EQ section with variable frequency and gain. The high EQ even has adjustable Q (frequency bandwidth). The chorus is typically Roland and typically good, with eight different types of chorus including flangers, tremolo and Roland's hugely desirable 'Dimension' chorus effect.

Two Tones do a Patch make, and here it is that reverb or delay is added, key modes are set, and split points are defined. Usefully, each Patch can be set to transmit on a different MIDI channel and to send a program number between 1 and 100, which makes it a good master keyboard for live situations. Another aspect worthy of note is the 'Chase' play option. Chase can essentially be thought of as similar to the MIDI delay processors found in many software sequencers, but the D50 switches between the Upper and Lower Tones between repeats. This is a very inspiring feature, which has helped my creativity along on more than one occasion. If only Roland had added an arpeggiator into the bargain! The D50 can be used as a bi-timbral instrument if you specify a second channel to which the Upper Tone can be assigned.

The D50's keyboard is quite smooth and pleasant to play, making it a good master keyboard, provided that a weighted action is not a priority. Much less successful is the bender/modulation lever, which is far from ideal. For pitch-bending, I am more than happy with Roland's device, but as a modulation source it has too short a travel to be much more than an on/off switch! The onboard joystick can be used in editing and also pressed into service as a performance device for fading between the Upper and Lower Tones and also between the Partials of either of the Tones. This is a neat feature, but don't expect to go recording the results into your sequencer, because the joystick doesn't transmit any MIDI data. External storage is possible via MIDI System Exclusive, although a card slot is available.

"It doesn't have the slurpy resonance of an analogue synth, admittedly, but it has plenty of warmth and character to keep you coming back for more."

The times, they have been a-changing, and the D50 has much less impact on ears well used to the complexity of sound offered by later instruments. Those lush strings now have some dubious loop points and there's a whole lot of nasty aliasing noise going on in the higher octaves; the rhythmic loops that sounded so inspiring are now annoyingly dated, and there's no way of changing them. But there are still sounds of which only the D50 seems capable. The ethereal 'Glass Voices' is still the mainstay of much new age and electronic music, and the gritty Hammond organ emulations are among the best of their kind.



If the D50 has an Achilles heel it is that although many of its sounds are extremely lush and sexy when heard in isolation, they tend to turn into an unpleasant mush when placed in a mix. A lot of the blame for this must be placed at the door of the effects section, which is often overused (especially in the factory presets) to make up for the short loops and gritty samples. With a few judicious edits, things can get a whole lot better -- I've known many players who turn off the D50's internal reverbs altogether. Although the results may be thinner and less impressive on their own, the same sound in a mix is much more comfortable. Don't expect any realistic instrument emulations, and forget the piano patches (unless you're looking for a piano that sounds as if it was made for the Early Learning Centre!). But marvel at the powerful strings, the breathy, tinkly pads and the cheesy organs -- and if you ever get hold of the 'Star Trek Voices' patch then you'll be one step closer to becoming a film-soundtrack writer, perhaps...

Korg's M1 was arguably the synth most responsible for deposing the D50. Capable of a similar style of sounds, aided and abetted by a considerably more powerful effects processor, and -- most importantly -- multitimbral, the M1 stole the D50's glory and went on to become a milestone itself. Many LA synthesis spin-offs were to see the light of day following the D50's release, the best known of which is likely to be the multitimbral D110. Roland were also later to release the D70, which was based on the same LA synthesis technology pioneered by the D50. But whereas the D50 was fairly easy to get to grips with, the D70 proved to be more difficult to master, and somehow never had the sound texture of the earlier machine.

So is a D50 worth tracking down? Well, as always, that is essentially down to the individual. If you're after the aggressive bite of FM sounds, then the D50 is not going to satisfy. Similarly, if you want the squelch and immediacy of an analogue synth, then the D50 will probably disappoint. But I would defy anyone not to be impressed by the power and depth of many of the D50's pad-type sounds -- they swirl and swoosh in a most appealing manner, which few synths since have been able to emulate. It can't be denied that there is a definite late-'80s edge to the D50's sound, but that has much to do with the fact that the D50 was the late '80s sound!



The rackmounting D550 is a good option, given that the D50 itself doesn't lend itself particularly well to on-the-fly editing. The D550 has a slightly better MIDI specification, making life easier for librarian software to get Patches and reverb settings. Several operating-system upgrades were made available by third-party companies. The Musitronics M-EX is probably the best known, and gives the D50 multitimbrality among a host of other useful features. Early versions of the M-EX were reportedly troubled by some unpleasant bugs, so try to check things out thoroughly before buying a machine with any such options added. Aim to find a machine that still has the factory ROM card and at least one RAM card too, if possible, as this effectively doubles the number of Patches available. And watch out for broken D550 joysticks -- they stick out from the front panel and are particularly prone to damage.

Raidal Workhorse WR3 - AES 2011

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Korg Kaossilator 2 & Mini KP2 - NAMM 2012

Yamaha AN1X

Analogue Physical Modelling Control Synth


Reviews : Keyboard

At £899, the AN1x is one of the most affordable physical modelling synths on the market -- and it's no less than 10-note polyphonic, with a host of features designed to bring out the control freak in you. MARTIN RUSS follows up our exclusive preview with this in-depth studio test.

When I did the preview of the AN1x a few months ago (see SOS April '97), the prototype unit was in transit between NAMM and Frankfurt, and so time was short. Even though I'm used to the rigours of limited time being available for a preview, things were complicated because only a Japanese manual was going to be available. I'm still a beginner in Japanese (Nihongo o amari hanashimasen), and, as it happened, the manual arrived after the deadline anyway, so the preview necessarily concentrated on what the AN1x was like from the outside, since trying to figure out how something works beyond the sounds and the front-panel controls can be quite tricky. However, I've now spent several weeks with my blue wedge-shaped friend, and it's about time to prise my fingers from it and reveal all.

Writing about the AN1x is not straightforward -- if you thought it was just another digital modelling synthesizer capitalising on the current analogue retro revival, you'd miss out on the true appeal of the instrument. Ordinarily, in a review of a synthesizer, I would expect to write mainly about the sounds and the synthesis technique used, and cover the user interface, MIDI and control functions as part of the panel-control description. The AN1x does not fit into this cosy format. It is quite some time since I last used something where the synthesis method was arguably secondary to user interaction and the control functions -- my WX11 wind controller springs to mind.



The AN1x throws away several conventions about how a synthesizer is organised, and does things in a new and very different way. The distinction between a patch and a performance usually found on modern synths is gone: the AN1x's basic unit of sound storage is a complete snapshot of the total sound -- or rather, two sounds, plus all arpeggio, sequencer and other associated settings.

At first glance, the AN1x appears to have virtually the standard monosynth architecture. Two oscillators and a noise source are mixed together and pass through a timbre-shaping filter, emerging from a volume-controlling amplifier. Now I could be pedantic and take issue with Yamaha for calling the Oscillator, Filter and Amplifier by the 'Voltage Controlled'-based acronyms VCO, VCF, and VCA, when the whole concept of voltage control inside a digital emulation is ludicrous. But I can't see any reason to complain about the use of the word VCF for something which, although only a mathematical model of an analogue Voltage Controlled Filter, sounds, feels and behaves just like a real VCF.

But unlike a monosynth, there's rather more to the AN1x than this cursory overview suggests. Firstly, for all but the simplest of operating modes, the AN1x produces stereo sounds. Secondly, the richness of the detailed synthesis implementation is rather unexpected. Having learnt my trade on analogue monosynths such as Minimoogs and ARP Odysseys, the first polyphonic synthesizers came as quite a shock to me, because cost-reduction had forced manufacturers to pare away all but the most essential elements. So single-VCO or (more often, digital-DCO, single-EG-equipped polysynths appeared, often with a simple chorus effect tacked onto the output to try and restore the gorgeous detuned 'rolling' sound of the monosynth. There were exceptions, of course: the Yamaha CS80 cut no corners, and the AN1x follows in its footsteps.

The AN1x is rather more than a simple monosynth. It's more like ten rather well-equipped monosynths. There are two VCOs, with detuning and LFO-driven PWM for smooth, rounded pads and basses, and these can can be sync'ed together, so that the slave is forced to operate at multiples of the master's frequency, even when the slave's frequency is altered with an envelope, the LFO, or a knob controller. You can also use one VCO to frequency-modulate the other, and, by combining Sync and FM, it's possible to produce some unexpectedly non-analogue sounds. If you've ever used FM on an analogue synthesizer, you've probably been frustrated by how slight imperfections in the VCOs can restrict the usable range of decent sounds to a span of a few notes, or perhaps even just one -- and even then the effects of drift or temperature are heightened alarmingly. Being digital, the AN1x's VCOs suffer none of these problems, so the sync'ing and FM functions make the very first part of the sound-creation process considerably more productive than you might have imagined.

The main LFO has a remarkable selection of waveforms -- not only the usual sine, triangle, sawtooth, square and sample & hold, but additional ones with DC bias, phase inversion, and an extra sample & hold waveform -- that's 21 waveforms in total. The second LFO offers a triangle waveform only, and is intended for PWM control and additional vibrato. By using the so-called 'Free EG' facility (see later for full details), you can record your own synchronous or asynchronous modulation waveforms to control most parameters.


"After years of not understanding why some people raved about arpeggiators, I have now undergone a revelation — and it came in a wedge-shaped blue plastic case.”

The VCF acts as the focus for the sonic raw material. As well as the VCO outputs (plus some intriguing 'internal' extra waveforms when you use sync), there's a noise generator and a ring modulator. Ring Modulators got stuck in a rut producing Dalek voices many years ago, but, as the CS80 showed, a bit of ring mod can work wonders. The outputs of the VCOs actually have their own 'low-pass' filters, which allow you to pre-set how wide the filter can open, and thus its brightness, and let you balance them against other bits of the mix. The final input to the filter is an unusual one: the output of the VCA. Feedback is normally the province of modular synthesizers, and certainly not polysynths. As a nod to the monosynths of old, the VCF is preceded by a high-pass filter -- which allows you to remove the low frequencies which can so easily muddy the sound when you mix together lots of low-pass filtered synth sounds.

Filters are personal things. Ladders, state-variable loops, 2-pole, 4-pole and 6-pole variants all go together to produce the characteristic thin and buzzy or dark and moody feels of the analogue filters of old. Yamaha have provided 2-, 3- and 4-pole low-pass filters, plus band-pass, high-pass and band-reject ones. The VCF sounds that most people remember are the strident and synthetic 2-pole 12dB/octave type, and the 4-pole, resonant 24dB/octave type. The AN1x sounds very similar to the real thing in both cases -- by which I mean that if I do an A/B comparison with my analogue 24dB ladder filter, I can detect some differences but I'm not sure exactly what they are. Without the benefits of that comparison, the AN1x's filters sound like analogue filters. In fact, as I said in my preview, you very quickly forget that this is a digital instrument. I treated the AN1x as if it were the impossibly perfect analogue synth that I dreamed of all those years ago -- and it did almost nothing to shatter that illusion.

These days, no synthesizer would be complete without the obligatory effects section on the output, and the AN1x is no exception. There are three separate sections: Variation, which offers 14 types of Chorus, Flange and other specialised effects; Delay, which gives five Echo and Delay effects, including a delay which is synchronised to the arpeggio or sequencer tempo setting; and Reverb, which provides eight different types of reverb. There is an extra section, which provides 3-band EQ control of the tone of the instrument, but this is not affected by the effects bypass, which might be a trap for the unwary!



I won't bore you with a detailed description of the AN1x's front panel, but its organisation is interesting. The pitch-bend and modulation wheels are in the traditional 'left-hand side of the keyboard' position; above them is the ribbon controller; above that are the scene switches, and then the volume control. The ribbon controller is a revelation, with a crisp feel that puts it into a different league to the old ribbons found on Multimoogs (it also offers both sideways and pressure sensitivity). The positioning encourages you to use the ribbon with your left hand when you're not bending or modulating.

The eight assignable knobs can be used to control seven pages of synthesizer parameters, plus an eighth page which is preset to provide some very useful quick edits by Yamaha, but which you can edit to suit your own preferences. The seven pages of programming parameters are much easier to use than you might think, and I soon found myself hopping from page to page without getting lost. But you do need to refer to the front-panel graphics to keep your bearings. The knobs have a built-in switch that you press to confirm where the AN1x thinks the knob is, and you then turn the knob to position the shaded segment to the flashing segment on the display.

The custom LCD is small, but backlit, with a pale green light, and gives plenty of feedback about what's happening inside. Different modes tend to re-use the same bits of the LCD, which isn't as awkward as it sounds -- just a bit stingy in these days of huge LCDs. Then again, for the price...

The Program Change keypad needs little explanation, so I'll move swiftly on to the 'matrix' to the right of the keypad: a rotary switch is used to select the row, and ten up-down rocking switches select (and control) the columns. Each cell in the matrix contains a parameter, whose value you can change with the rocking switch. This simple arrangement controls parameters pertaining only to 'overall' functions -- arpeggiator and sequencer settings (see later), effects, and so on. The actual sound-tweaking is accomplished via those eight knobs on the far left, which encourage you to make edits. I didn't find the matrix quite so welcoming, and it took me some time to get used to the allocation of the parameters to the rows, which isn't completely logical in some places. However, in its defence, the matrix does actually provide you with a map of each parameter, so there's no need to go searching through lots of scrolling menus to find something. You may not even need to do much with the matrix, since the AN1x's comprehensive patch storage means that lots of extra information is stored away with the sound. This minimises the need to change things when swapping from one patch to another.



The AN1x's 61-note keyboard, with velocity and pressure (aftertouch) sensitivity is part of a whole array of real-time performance controllers. Its arpeggiator boasts 30 different patterns, including some which play chords, and others which randomly select notes from those you are holding down. The 16-step sequencer uses the same eight knobs that are used to program the sounds, and allows real-time changes to be made to the sequence that is playing.

Having a short repetitive sequence playing cries out for some sort of slow modulation: filter sweeps, timbre changes, and so on. The AN1x allows you to morph between two sounds as you're playing, and has 'Free EGs' (Envelope Generators), into which you can record your own parameter changes -- rather like a dedicated controller recorder. The sequencer provides 128 preset patterns and 128 user memories -- and the pattern is stored as part of the patch, so that when you select a patch the sequence is automatically loaded and ready to go. MIDI clock sync, looped patterns and syncopated/swing rhythms all make the sequencer a powerful ideas generator. Best of all, the arpeggiator and patterns can be routed to the MIDI output, on the same channel as the main output from the keyboard, or on separate channels. Yamaha warn that using the same output channel for all of these outputs can cause problems, and I can confirm that it is possible to produce 'stuck' notes on external MIDI equipment (even on Yamaha stuff) -- so you've been warned! Just about the only thing you can't do with the arpeggiator and sequencer is run them at the same time.

But there's rather more to the AN1x's control feature set than this. Some aspects of the machine's operation are what you might expect: different modes give you variations on Unison, Dual and Split voices, based on the idea of having two different sounds stored as part of a single patch. These two sounds determine how the morphing works, and are called Scenes, so you can have two variations on the same sound by tweaking those eight parameter knobs, or even editing one of the Scenes, leaving the other unchanged, and then mix them, morph between them by using the modulation wheel, and save the edited sound as one patch.

The arpeggiator begins to stretch things a little. You can have the whole keyboard driving the arpeggiator, and either one or both Scene sounds playing the arpeggio. If the keyboard is split, you can have notes to the left of the split played by one Scene sound, whilst the other side of the split plays normally. There are quite a few combinations of splits, Scene assignments and keyboard modes, but the upshot is that most combinations of sounds, arpeggios and normal playing are available. As with the sequencer, all these settings are stored away as part of the patch.

The step sequencer offers the same sort of flexibility. Although it's only a 16-note affair, you can use keyboard splits to either shift the selected pattern in pitch, choose another pattern, or do both (the left-hand side of the keyboard selects the pattern, the right-hand side shifts the pitch), making it very versatile and powerful. Combined with different loop types (forwards, backwards, alternate, and so on) and Scene sound settings, the sequencer's additional 'feel' controls might be seen as overkill. These control 'swing' by shifting the timing of some beats, or changing the velocity ratio between the highest and lowest velocities (similar to using an audio expander or compressor), or altering the gate time. Wow.

Each sequence step can be entered using the appropriate knob -- there are two 'pages' (1-8 and 9-16) for the 16 steps. You can set note number (there's a neat 'extra' here: pressing the knob down to get fine control helps set the note quickly); velocity; gate time percentage (1-200%, so you can force legato playing); and even a MIDI Control Change value to be sent with each step. You can also make the sequencer or the arpeggiator automatically hold given notes, so that you don't have to keep your hands on the keyboard -- play along with an arpeggio or sequence with both hands pecking away at the keys.

The Free EG is really an extension of the idea of Control Changes in the step sequencer. Imagine having four separate tracks of control information assigned to specific parameters inside the synthesizer, and which can either be sync'ed to the arpeggio or sequencer clock, or run asynchronously for a given time and then looped, and you have the Free EG controller (see diagram, right). Tracks can be recorded separately or all at once, and it's surprisingly straightforward to use. Free EG settings and information are, again, stored with the patch, and are very useful for providing evolving or constantly changing timbres.



In the sound department, the AN1x's basic architecture produces a series of variations on synth brass sounds, with woody basses and clichéd resonant decaying filter sounds. The sync function facilitates searing lead lines that encourage soloing, and also produces some remarkably bright bass sounds. The FM and ring modulator give you the bell-like timbres and electric pianos that extend the synth's repertoire slightly beyond the traditional analogue synth range, whilst FM and sync, coupled with feedback around the filter, create sounds which are well beyond what I associate with analogue, and more like S&S or even physical modelling. There's rather more to this instrument than slushy pads and resonant sweeps.

And there's more -- more than I can include in this review. Don't forget that having two Scenes means that you can not only layer two different sounds, but also move smoothly from one sound to the other. Yamaha told me that they had fixed some problems I reported with the morphing in the prototype, used for my SOS preview; and virtually all of the zipper noise has gone, so the algorithms used to control the change from one sound to the other are now very effective. Wearing my 'picky' hat, I did find one factory sound which had some vestiges of unwanted noise (BR:004 Major Brass), but this was the exception, not the rule. On the subject of factory sounds, I always advocate listening to them with an analytical ear, and then replacing them with your own sounds. Not bothering to get into programming an instrument like this is almost a crime.

Since those eight little knobs are just waiting to be tweaked, making real-time changes to sounds as you play them is a doddle. I must confess that I've become rather addicted to raising the level of the echoed signal on sync'ed lead-line sounds at appropriate moments, and changing the VCF cutoff frequency is such a powerful timbre manipulator that you wonder why it was ever locked away behind displays and parameters. Yamaha have obviously spent some time thinking about how best to maximise the implementation of the eight assignable knobs -- so knobs 1 and 2 normally control attack and decay, 5 controls filter cutoff, 6 controls resonance, and 7 and 8 allow control over the effects section. Knobs 3 and 4 are assigned to suit each voice, but they tend to be VCO-orientated. If you're not sure what a particular knob will control, press it twice (almost like double-clicking as you would with a mouse) and the assigned parameter then appears on the top line of the display. Simple, neat, and in these computer-literate times, almost intuitive!



Yamaha's manuals have been very similar for many years, so this one came as a complete surprise to me. It looks more like a magazine than a manual, and it has colour adverts for the MU90R, EMX640 and A3000 as part of the cover. Inside, the 122 pages start with an overview, then run through the instrument in more detail, describing how to approach learning how to work with it. Then there's a detailed description of each function, followed by examples of how to program a few sounds. The whole thing is chock-full of little notes, hints and tips on how to do useful extra things. Overall, it's one of the nicest manuals I've seen in some time, with a clarity that belies the complexity of what is being described.



The AN1x is the first synthesizer in a long time that grabbed me, shook me, and screamed "Play me!" rather than whispering "Hey, I'm a technically sophisticated synth programmer's dream". It's definitely a player's instrument, and, although there's plenty there for a programmer to work with, I suspect that the distraction of interacting with it is going to make anything other than quick edits rather hard to accomplish for many people. After years of not understanding why some people raved about arpeggiators, I have now undergone a revelation -- and it came in a wedge-shaped blue plastic case.

At the price, the AN1x has to be a dead cert for a runaway success. I only hope Yamaha are ready for hordes of performance-frustrated keyboard players descending on their dealers and demanding one.



When you try out the AN1x in your favourite music shop, here are my recommended first stops in your exploration.
• 001:Co:Relaxx. Try the ribbon controller.
• 011:Sq:Alan. Try assignable knobs 7 and 8, the ribbon, and the morph wheel.
• 017:SQ:Doves. Again, try the assignable knobs 7 and 8, the ribbon, and the morph wheel.
• 021:Co:Vinnie. Pattern pitch shift below the split. Solo above the split.
• 049:St:Analog. Rich and slushy.
• 058:Sc:Dust. Press both Scene buttons to enable morphing. Press the Arpeggio/Seq button. Hold down some notes, and tweak assignable knobs 5 to 8.
• 065:Ld:Hard Sync. Play and use assignable knob 7. Repeat ad infinitum.
• 085:Pd:Polyswell. Assignable knobs 7 and 8 again.
• 106:Fx:FreeEGRhthm. Just play.




It used to be that Yamaha released the pro/flagship version of an instrument first, and then pared away some of the more esoteric features for the mass-market release. The DX1 followed by the DX7, or the VL1 and the follow-up VL70m are typical examples. The AN1x is evidence of a new strategy -- the price, casing, small LCD and lack of memory card or floppy disk drive suggest that this is not intended as a pro/flagship instrument. When I quizzed them, Yamaha didn't give much away about the future, but from the available evidence of recent releases (VL70m, AN1x, MU90R,) I imagine you can guess what might be likely.

Apparently, the original planned name for AN1x was the CS3x, but the re-naming makes possible a whole new series of 'AN' analogue modelling synths, whilst the CS series can continue with S&S.




• 61-note keyboard with velocity and aftertouch.
• 10-note polyphony (maximum).
• 2-part multitimbrality (maximum).
• 128 Factory and 128 User presets.
• Arpeggiator with 30 patterns and 10 timing sub-divisions.
• 16-step sequencer with 128 presets and 128 user patterns.
• Free EG controller recorder.

• Effects: Variation (Chorus, Flanger, Symphonic, Phaser, Auto Pan, Rotary Speaker, Pitch Change, Aural Exciter, Compressor, Wah, Distortion, Overdrive, Amp Simulator); Reverb (Hall, Room, Stage and Plate settings); Delay (five types); EQ.

• Scene 1 and Scene 2 knobs.
• 8 assignable control knobs.
• Pitch-bend wheel.
• Modulation wheel.
• X-Z ribbon controller.
• Backlit LCD display.
• Stereo audio output; 3 footpedal inputs; MIDI In, Out, Thru; DC In.
• External PSU.




For those brave souls out there who like to know everything there is to know about an instrument, there's a hidden 'test' mode in the AN1x, intended for factory and servicing use only. You enter it by powering up the synth whilst holding down the '0', '-' and '+' buttons on the keypad. The '+' button then advances through the tests, and the '-' button goes back. The 'Store' button enters a test routine and acts as the 'Yes' button, whilst the 'Portamento' button exits a test and doubles as the 'No' button. You can do all manner of nasty things with this mode, so don't!




Since this review has constantly referred back to analogue synthesizers, this seems like a good point to refresh some of the terms that were in common usage fifteen years ago.

• EQ Equalisation.
• FM Frequency Modulation: a synthesis technique.
• LFO Low Frequency Oscillator: vibrato, tremolo, and so on.
• PWM Pulse Width Modulation: waveshape changing.
• VCA Voltage Controlled Amplifier: volume control.
• VCF Voltage Controlled Filter: timbre control.
• VCO Voltage Controlled Oscillator: sound source.

And how about a term that has been in popular usage for only about five years:
• S&S Sample & Synthesis: sample replay.


Because it looks like a CS1x, there are bound to be people who will think that the AN1x is an expanded or cut-down CS1x. In fact, the two are very different in many ways. The outer casing is just about the only common bit. Here's a quick guide to the differences:
CS1x AN1x
S&S Analogue Modelling
Sample-based Analogue emulation
480 patches 128 patches
32 note poly 10 note poly
Ribbon controller
Arpeggios & Sequences at MIDI Out
Drum sounds
2 assignable knobs 8 assignable knobs

Published in SOS August 1997

Tascam iU2 - NAMM 2012

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quickshot MIDI

Composer Keyboard



Reviews : Keyboard

For anyone who has a PC soundcard but no easy way to enter musical notes, this add-on keyboard bundle could be just the answer, explains MARTIN WALKER.

There has been a gap in the market for a low-cost music keyboard that provides an easy way to enter note data into a PC multimedia computer. After all, nearly all modern machines come complete with a soundcard, but, even if you have music-making abilities, it's not much fun using a typewriter-style keyboard for musical purposes. Over the last few months, several musical add-on keyboards have appeared in quick succession: first the Evolution Music Creator Pro (see January's SOS for a review), then the MIDI Composer reviewed here, then the MIDI Master Pro distributed by Time & Space -- so manufacturers have obviously spotted this gap, and are attempting to fill it!

The 'Pro' tag is common to all three, and refers to the fact that, unlike some miniature 'pianos' that are just enhanced toys, all three of these products have full-size keys, and feature velocity sensitivity for far more expressive playing. To succeed, such low-cost keyboards need to tread the fine line between features and cost -- too many features and the cost starts to approach that of low-end synths, too cheap and they lose the features that attract potential users. Interestingly, all three packages mentioned have the identical price of £120 including VAT, leaving us free to compare features alone. Let's see how this one stacks up...

The MIDI Composer package is manufactured by Quickshot, a name that will be familiar to anyone who has ever bought a joystick for games use. It's distributed in the UK by BCK, whose range of keyboard accessories has helped out many musicians over the years. In essence, it is a four-octave (49 keys, C to C) keyboard that is designed to plug into the MIDI port of a soundcard. Although, obviously, it's not mechanically comparable with the sort of keyboards found on £1000+ synths, it still features a fully sprung action with velocity response, separate pitch and modulation wheels, and a selection of extra controls which allow all of the basic parameters such as volume and program changes to be sent directly to your MIDI gear. This makes it nicely self-contained, and saves having to launch extra software utilities or editors just to change these settings.

The keyboard comes in the grey/buff colour that most computers seem to adopt, and for this reason the MIDI Composer would undoubtedly look smart in a multimedia setup. Both of its competitors come in black, as does most other MIDI gear, so this basic choice may influence your decision if you care about colour co-ordination! On the left of the keyboard is an angled control panel, with a neatly grouped set of additional controls. At the top is a three-digit LED display, and beneath this four buttons: a Power switch, MIDI/Select (described below), and two buttons that allow the four-octave range of the keyboard to be moved up or down, an octave at a time, so that the keyboard can generate the full 10-octave range of MIDI notes from 0 to 127. To the right of the LED display is a multi-function slider, used to set parameter values, and at the bottom of the panel is a centre-sprung pitch-bend wheel and an unsprung modulation wheel.



The keyboard connects directly to the standard 15-way D-type connector found on most soundcards (see the 'Getting The Juice' box), so I connected it to a SoundBlaster AWE32, flexed my fingers, and started playing. The keyboard action is certainly useable, but I initially found it rather unpredictable in response, with some notes emerging far louder than others. Although this was no doubt partly due to my uneven keyboard technique, I was greatly encouraged to find that the velocity response of the keyboard is user-adjustable. Pressing the 'MIDI/Select' button puts you in a new mode (with the display now showing SEL), where pressing one of the notes on the music keyboard selects one of many functions to allocate to the 'Data Entry' slider. Each of these functions is printed on the keyboard casing just above the relevant note. So, for instance, to adjust the velocity curve, you press Data Entry, followed by 'F# below middle C' (where it says Velocity), and finally Data Entry again to confirm your choice and return to normal keyboard mode.


"Real musicians do it with full-size keys!"

Once I had done this, and tweaked the keyboard response to suit my playing style, it felt far better, and I was encouraged to try further tweaks. Among the other parameters on offer are aftertouch (not available from the keyboard itself), volume, chorus and reverb depth, pan, controllers, and program changes. You select program numbers by using the top octave of keys, which acts as a numeric keypad. The keyboard's MIDI-channel output can be set in a similar way, using the bottom octave of keys to select the channel. In practice, this is all far easier to use that it is to write about, and I was soon happily playing away, changing sounds, and adjusting reverb, chorus and pan settings direct from MIDI Composer. Both the pitch-bend wheel and modulation wheel also worked well, feeling quite natural to use.



Something that always enters into the equation with bundles is the value of the extras. MIDI Composer comes with the 15-way D-type lead between keyboard and soundcard, a MIDI cable, a sustain pedal, and the promise of lots of bundled software, which includes Cakewalk Home Studio. The sustain pedal, though pretty basic, is functional, and a very useful extra for pianists, but I was initially a little disappointed with the software. The box shows screenshots of eight additional software packages, including Power Chords Pro and Musicator version 2.1, but on closer inspection these all turn out to be demo versions, which might mislead a few people. The only full package included is Cakewalk Home Studio -- easy enough to use, but what you get is only version 3.01, copyright 1994. Although it works perfectly well under Windows 95, its age is rather apparent when you notice that the accompanying Virtual Piano program (which is a computer-key piano player, and really what MIDI Composer is designed to supersede) has an option for PC speaker support. I haven't seen anything like this for years! The User's Guide even has warnings about not using Windows 3.0 drivers.

Having got that minor moan out of the way, I found Cakewalk Home Studio 3.01 actually not only useable, but quite comprehensive. Although the Arrange window is rather more graphically basic than some, editing options include piano roll, event list, controllers, staff (notation), and lyrics (text entry). There are no audio-recording facilities, but you can trigger WAV files at any point in a song, and, with a little thought, this can work very well. A user's guide is also supplied, and this is helpful, informative and concise. There is a range of demo tracks in the standard Cakewalk WRK format supplied with the program, but there are also an additional 347 standard MIDI files on the Demo CD, and these are great fun to wade through if you like pot-boilers such as 'The Yellow Rose Of Texas' and 'Air On The G String'. Once I got going, Home Studio proved far more accomplished than I'd initially expected, and pretty well in line feature-wise with the competitors' offerings (Evolution Audio and Steinberg MusicStation).

Of course, this software is effectively being supplied free of charge. If you want something more up to date or advanced, you may already have had another software sequencer package supplied with your soundcard bundle. As it stands, the only full package in this bundle is Cakewalk Home Studio version 3.01, and it's rather cheeky to claim that this is worth £99, as that's the full retail price of the newest version 5.0, currently being distributed by Et Cetera. However, Et Cetera did tell me that anyone wanting to upgrade from 3.01 to this latest version would only be charged £35. This could be well worth doing, as version 5.0 includes a 32-bit native Windows 95 edition, and both the Windows 3.1 and 95 versions allow up to four tracks of audio to be mixed with up to 256 MIDI tracks -- in contrast with the 3.01 version, which allows only a single WAV file to be inserted.



MIDI Composer is first and foremost an entry-level keyboard, and at £120 it would be good value for anyone who already has a soundcard, but needs a way to start actually producing music. The action of the keyboard is perfectly adequate, and should suit most people -- especially once you've tweaked the velocity response to your satisfaction -- but I would advise you to try it out to see if you're happy with it. The other controls work well: although some people might prefer to have additional buttons in order to avoid using the musical keys for control functions, in practice you get used to this very quickly. Including a basic sustain pedal is a nice touch -- even £1500 synths are unlikely to come with these. If you want to get started on a 'real' keyboard, then have a good look at this one, especially if you already have a sequencer. As I'm sure it must say in the back window of somebody's car -- Real musicians do it with full-size keys!



The keyboard can be powered in three ways -- the two obvious ones are by batteries (for those with large bank balances) or using an external power supply (the back-panel socket needs a source of between 7.5V and 9V DC). A power supply is not supplied with the package -- but before you reach for your pens to write those letters of outrage, let me mention that the third option is to power the keyboard direct from your soundcard. All you do is connect the supplied cable between the back-panel 15-pin D-type connector, and the similar connector that appears on many soundcards (normally used to attach joysticks or MIDI-socket adapter leads). The keyboard then takes its power direct from the PC, and I'm sure this is the way that 99% of people will use it.

A second 15-way D-type connector appears on the back panel of the keyboard, and you can use this to plug in the cable previously disconnected from your soundcard to make way for the MIDI Composer. The standard MIDI In and Out sockets provided by the soundcard lead will then reappear. In addition, a standard 5-pin DIN MIDI output socket is provided on the back panel of the MIDI Composer for directly attaching further MIDI devices.

Published in SOS August 1997