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Archive for the ‘MIDI’ Category

Yamaha CS1x

Posted by brunorc on December 3, 2010

In 1990s, Yamaha was busy introducing models from their SY series, successfully merging patented (at this time) FM technology with sample-based AWM synthesis. Later they turned to feature-loaded workstations, like QS300 or W5 and W7, workhorses armed with sequencers; their control surface consisted of display surrounded with function buttons, data wheel… and even more buttons. Users mastered the art of menu-jumping, tweaking parameters one after another. Meanwhile, somewhere in the deep Swedish basement, the completely new shape of synthesizer was being drawn. And after Clavia entered the market with Nord Lead, thus starting the “analog revolution” and bringing knobs back to the public attention, Yamaha knew they would have to jump the bandwagon.

Yamaha CS1x - full frontal

The Blue Meanie

Actually, they hit the sweet spot.

There was a huge problem with QS300 and the W series – they were quite expensive. So Yamaha folks looked at the crowd storming the Clavia stands, took their MU50 sound module and reshaped it into the CS1x synthesizer. They played on people’s sentiment to the well known CS series (with CS80 being the most famous) – old, heavyweight analog synthesizers – but “x” marked the new generation: light, affordable and always in tune. Later, the experience gathered while brewing CS1x was used for creating the AN1x – the one and only Yamaha’s attempt to create a virtual analog. But apart from the chassis (and its color) and similar name, they bear no resemblance to each other.

Having the guts of MU50, CS1x was as far as possible from being a virtual analog. But it proved to be one of its major strengths, to be able to provide multitimbrality of 16 channels. Also, the XG standard emerged just in time to provide the means for the true realtime control over the sound without the need to use bulky SysEx messages. So when it landed in 1996, it was probably the most sought after budget synth.

Display with function and numeric keys

Display with function and numeric keys

It comes with XG-compatible synthesis engine, based on AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) – it means it just plays back samples. With the polyphony of 32 notes it was an ideal companion for a sequencer; it even featured special connector (named “TO HOST”) and a cable that one would plug to the serial port of the PC or Mac, without any need for a MIDI interface. Samples were good enough for the standard of 1996, not convincing though. With some meticulous MIDI programming however, one would be able to get close to the sound of electric guitar, using three different patches, filters, envelopes, FX processors and a ton of MIDI continuous controllers controlling all this mess (not to mention some painstakingly crafted SysEx here and there). I’m afraid that nobody bothered though, maybe with the exception for Yamaha songwriters.

Controllers

The knobs are back! Notice the Scene buttons above the modulation wheel.

But that was only one face of CS1x – the other one was trying to mimic the red monster from Stockholm. After pressing the Performance button, channels 1-4 were used for building the special, “better” sound. User was able to split & layer up to four so-called material voices (raw samples), as well as use low-pass filters, three envelopes (dedicated to control the filter, pitch and amplitude), LFO and FX processors. Routing wasn’t very flexible, but still some nice results could have been obtained. Moreover, user was able to control the sound in the realtime, using four hardwired (Attack & Release of the amplitude envelope, as well as Cutoff and Resonance of the filter) and two freely assignable knobs – one (Assign 2) could have controller different parameter for each layer, while the other (Assign 1) was common for all layers. Finally, two different settings of those knobs could have been memorized under the Scene settings and recalled instantly, as well as being morphed with the use of modulation wheel. And last but not least, CS1x also had the arpeggiator with some Up, Down, UpDown and Random patterns, plus some more esoteric ones, which would also adjust the velocity and/or filter settings of the sound.

There was also another interesting thing about CS1x: it became popular – as well as the XG standard – and took the advantage of the Internet boom. There were countless web pages (and FTP servers…), from where one could download songs or patches. Right now many of those links are dead, but CS1x definitely took its share of the Internet and used it well.

Panel with edit matrix

One knob to rull them all - edit matrix instead of multiple screen pages.

How does it sound? In XG mode, definitely better than any soundcard of that time. Piano is not-so-real, but not so bad – I mean, the unprepared listener could easily guess, that it was a piano. Electric pianos are rather good (most of them was probably sampled from pinnacles of SY series), organs acceptable; most of the time sounds of acoustic instruments resemble the original ones. XG defines more than one bank of GM-compatible sounds – called variants – so they come in different flavors (like Bright, Dark or Resonant). Yamaha used this to provide 480 basic sounds, with variations mostly focused on fat basses, shimmering pads and soaring leads. This can be useful for some general electronic music stuff, but don’t think it will sound like a real analog synth. If you are looking for this, get AN1x – bear in mind though, that sometimes it goes too far in modeling the vintage gear (you won’t be able to sync your LFOs or delay to the MIDI clock, same for CS1x).

I own this synth from 1998 and at this moment I’m probably a bit biased. I used to work with it a lot, but even when I got other sound modules, I was still using CS1x for scaffolding the songs. Even today I find myself reaching for CS1x and there is always some useful sound I can get out of it. Here you can listen to some samples:

The patch for “Alaska” was created from scratch to resemble the sound used by Eddie Jobson on the first UK album. The rest are slightly modified presets, which demonstrate the already mentioned features: low-pass filter, morphing, arpeggiator and FXs.

Nowadays I wouldn’t recommend buying CS1x, unless you can get it for an outrageously low price – it was always a bit of cheap stuff, but now you can probably get it below 150$. However, if you are looking for something inexpensive, better search for the next of a kin, Yamaha CS2x, which doubles the polyphony and storage memory, has more samples (and of better quality) and drumkits, features hi-pass filter (in addition to the low-pass), more FXs and arpeggiators patterns, has two knobs more – and finally can output arpeggiator patterns through MIDI.

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emagic Unitor8 Mk I

Posted by brunorc on November 7, 2010

Yeah, fantastic gear. Bulletproof and reliable. MIDI interface with 8 IN/OUT ports armed with flexible routing matrix (with filters, so you can toss out some transdendental bits of MIDI, like MTC, SysEx or Tune Request) it’s just awesome and makes working with multiple MIDI devices easy.

However, I cannot convince it to forward MIDI Clock signal from one MIDI input to another (and no, I don’t filter it out), which means I cannot use MIDI sync without launching the PC. I thought that maybe the firmware is old, and I started searching on the Internet. Of course, granted emagic got absorbed by Apple, one cannot expect that they would be interested in supporting anything older than four years. Luckily I found it, but it cost cost me a bit, so for the coming generations:

emagic Unitor8 (or Unitor 8, if you prefer) Mk I (serial) firmware update – version 1.3.1

It was definitely worth upgrading for me (had version 1.2.3):

unitor8 firmware revision 1.1.4:
beta version
eeprom cannot be updated! you must replace the eprom with a version
1.20 first.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.0 contains the following improvements:
first public release.
eeprom can be updated, but problems when updating via rs-232. you need
unitor8 control 1.0.6 and a special plug. see text file “unitor8 1.20
rs-232 update e”.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.2 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
with amt, midi data can be transmitted inbetween. this feature is used
by logic audio 4.0 and higher.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.3 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
amt realtime nesting (see above) can have up to 4 levels.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.4 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
new command for settings computer unitor8 communication to 230 kbps.

bugfixes:
eeprom update via rs-232 now works without the special plug.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.5 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
all 6 frame formats can be striped

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.6 contains the following improvements:

new features:
can mix video in with burn-in window (video thru)

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.7 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
all units (which have at least this version) now communicate with each
other with 230 kbps instead of 115 kbps.

bugfixes:
sysex data is now transmitted to / received from pc (rs-232) with
hardward handshaking (rts/cts).

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.8 contains the following improvements:
(not publicly released)

new features:
new modes for click input: switch to next/previous patch (in patch mode
only).

bugfixes:
clock master was not enabled if a device sends only the continue status
byte instead of the start byte.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.2.9 contains the following improvements:

bugfixes:
eox (f7) was not transmitted reliably to the rs-232 port.

unitor8 firmware revision 1.3.0 contains the following improvements:

new features:
supports amt level 3 (former amt levels did not help at events at
different, but very close time stamps).

unitor8 firmware revision 1.3.1 contains the following improvements:

new features:
video thru burn in is now possible with ltc read and write.
sysex command for switching back to patch mode with the last selected
patch.

bugfixes:
1024 byte parts of long sysex messages received by rs-232 port were
transmitted twice in very seldom situations.

Unfortunately, MIDI Clock sent from Novation KS5 still doesn’t get forwarded.

Update: In order to avoid clashes, Unitor accepts the clock signal from the first port, which sends the MTC Song Start command (and resets after receiving MTC Song Stop). KS5 doesn’t send MTC commands, but any decent hardware sequencer does (e.g. Yamaha SY77 or E-mu MP7), and Unitor nicely propagates MIDI Clock received from them.

After all, I recommend it wholeheartedly (I can survive sending MIDI Clock from the PC), however this model can soon end its career. Nowadays you cannot use Unitor8 serial with Mac OS X through a USB – RS232 interface. Also, Apple won’t be releasing any drivers for new Microsoft OSes for those device. To clarify a bit: the Mk I model is “serial only”, while Mk II model has then very modern USB port. And if you are not into syncing to some professional VCR or ADAT tape, you can get AMT8 – it’s just Unitor8 Mk II without the whole syncing stuff. No firmware updates though, but I hope they put the equivalent of 1.3.1 in this.

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Yamaha TG100

Posted by brunorc on November 7, 2010

Small and cheap multitimbral sound module, bought second-hand as well. Again, sound layering – but nothing more. No filters, no synthesis – NOTHING! So its size was comparable with its capabilities, while its price tag accurately described its sound quality – good, but not even above the average (to be honest, I don’t even remember the price). But it opened the doors to the next dimension of musical creation. Teamed with JX-1 it laid the foundations of my “recording studio” and gave me the first possibility of writing the music… and getting paid for it!

I didn’t keep it for long and sold it (again, no idea about the price) few days after getting my next synthesizer, which conveniently was multitimbral.

I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody – except that you get it for free and you still have some free MIDI output and audio input on your mixer. It’s full of bread’n’butter sounds and it’s small, but you can get Roland JV-1010, which is small as well, but has an awful lot of possibilities, compared to TG100. It was actually so boring crap, that I didn’t even bother to find a photo on the web.

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