Review - Future Music, May 1998

WINNER OF THE FUTURE MUSIC PLATINUM AWARD (RATING 90%)

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.
Finally an optional interface allows for polyphonic connection to early Roland polysynths such as the
Juno 60 and some Jupiter 8s, or for a 'MIDI-to-Wasp' converter. (The EDP Wasp refuses to recognise any form of communication other than a custom-designed Wasp interface). The settings for the whole machine can be stored in one of the seven memory locations, which in turn can be dumped to MIDI.

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?

CONCLUSION

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.

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