Review - Future Music, May 1998
WINNER OF THE FUTURE MUSIC PLATINUM AWARD (RATING
The PRO-2000 has been available for almost a year now, so it might seem rather an odd time to review it. The reason lies in the version two software update which now ships as standard with all new machines. In its original incarnation the PRO-2000 was a two-channel converter with a hefty six auxiliary channels, but now thanks to the magic of software, the auxiliaries can also be configured as standard pitch and gate converters. The upshot of this is that the PRO-2000 can now run up to five synths at once, a rather remarkable upgrade.
The PRO-2000 is a solidly built, rather anonymous black
box about two-thirds rack-width (optional rack ears are available). Its 2x16 backlit
LCD, 5 LEDs and four buttons access an extremely intuitive user interface, with
one of the fastest learning curves of any piece of equipment. A quick flick through
the parameters for a single channel reveals a choice of V/Oct or Hz/V, 5 and 15V
pull-up and normal S-Trig (for Moog) and 5 and 15V Gate (for everybody else).
Unique to the PRO-2000 is its provision of Trig Pulse, a sort of secondary gate
signal used on some older synths such as the Arp 2600 and Odyssey. If you can't
get the right combination from that little lot then you're obviously trying to
interface it with your toaster or something.
LFO modulation from one of the unit's two LFOs as well
as portamento rate can be set to give the desired amount of vibrato and slide,
and auxiliary channels can be fed from almost any of the 127 MIDI controllers.
When using the auxiliaries as additional channels some of these facilities are
not available, Hz/V and portamento being the main casualties. Even so, keeping
any Yamaha and Korg synths on the fully featured first and second channels isn't
a problem unless you've got more than two of them. Not content with five channels
of conversion, the PRO-2000 has other tricks up its sleeve, namely a MIDI channel
filter, DIN Sync output and arpeggio clock output. The channel filter extracts
a single channel of MIDI data from the MIDI In port and sends it to the MIDI Out,
allowing older MIDI synths that could only receive in Omni mode to work in a modern
set-up. The DIN Sync and arpeggio clock out provide timing information for old
drum machines and synth arpeggiators.
So is there anything wrong with it? Well, it would be
nice to have full-size not mini-jack connectors on the back but apart from that,
absolutely nothing. The simple fact is that this box can control six different
synths and a drum machine simultaneously. To get so much power at this price is
a breakthrough, particularly as Kenton's trademark quality and attention to detail
are blatantly evident in the PRO-2000. Playing your old synth via the PRO-2000
is as near to playing it from its own keyboard as you can get, maybe better, so
what more could you want?
In a perfect world there would be no incompatibilities.
PCs and Macs would run each other's software, samplers would read each other's
disks and we'd all write songs in Esperanto. However, we don't and aren't likely
to in the near future so MIDI-to-CV converters offer a neat solution in an imperfect
world. But there's another way round the problem, one that requires no understanding
of such mysteries as gate polarities, note priorities and voltage scales. A number
of specialist companies are more than willing to make things a lot easier, by
just welding a couple of MIDI sockets on to the back of your synth. If you're
a fearless death-or-glory madman they'll even sell you a diagram and all the bits
to do it yourself (needless to say, you'll need at least a passing acquaintance
with electronics if you intend to fit the kit yourself). Once completed, the obvious
advantage of one of these MIDI retrofits is there is almost no setting up required
and the synth behaves almost like any other MIDI instrument. The disadvantage
is that it costs a lot more per instrument than a single-channel converter would,
at least £200 typically.
To find out more you should speak to Kenton Electronics (0181-337-0333). It would seem the MIDI-to-CV converter route is the best as it offers more flexibility. If you decide to sell a retrofitted synth, then you also sell your MIDI-to-CV capability, but with a converter you just plug it into the next synth and carry on.
So do we really need MIDI-to-CV converters? With
the growing market in analogue modelling synths like the Roland JP-8000 and Korg
Z1, do we really need the original relics? The new synths have a lot going for
them, particularly a MIDI spec to die for, but they aren't the same. They're close
enough to start affecting the value of the older gear (hooray!) , but not quite
right. Plus, there's an unmatchable richness to the originals that you appreciate
if you use analogue synths. If you don't then you owe it to yourself to find out
what the fuss is about. Just don't forget to budget for the MIDI-to-CV converters.