SOUNDS OK DREAMWAVES KORG WAVESTATION SOUND CARDS
Considering that the Wavestation first emerged in 1990, it's aged remarkably gracefully and, relative to some of its contemporaries, still remains quite desirable. Me? I'm a Wavestation SR owner, and I like the sounds enough to wish that I wasn't -- the more inviting user interface of an A/D or keyboard version would be preferable. The oft-touted analogy about editing an SR is that it's like wallpapering the hall through the letter box, which would be rather amusing if it wasn't so true (I've tried both, by way of comparison, and can report that the results of my wallpapering were marginally more consistent than the SR editing). So with this in mind I was more than a little interested to check out the fruits of someone else's labour (Paul Osborn, the sound designer), as demonstrated by these two sound cards.
Let's do this systematically and look at Volume 1 first. Dreamwaves by name, Dreamwaves by nature, this card is full of fantastic pseudo-analogue pads, sweeps and atmospherics. Quite rightly, the first performance is 'Sensory Whorl', a wave-sequence of cascading electric keys, panning and modulating, with a dark sawtooth pad underneath. The sound demonstrates a slightly shrill characteristic, in common with some of the other performances on the cards. I guess as a bid to make the cards' sound on a par with the brightness of contemporary synths it's understandable. Anyway, it's easier to adjust a sound that's a tad bright than one that's too drab and dark -- normally a tweak of the HF damp parameter in the reverb patch did the trick.
Other atmospherics of real note are 'Dream Time', 'Pluto', and one deliciously entitled 'Venus in Motion'. There's plenty in the way of polyphonic analogue emulation, an area in which the SR's factory presets are lacking a little. 'Lazy Faze', 'Soft Synth', 'Pulsar' and 'The Year 1975' may not be glamorous, but they're expressive and eminently useful. Overall, Dreamwaves Volume 1 is very impressive, with imaginitive use of the mod wheel and attack velocity for variation.
The second card isn't quite so arresting. There are plenty of guitar performances to investigate, but for my money they aren't sufficiently different to the Wavestation presets. There are some notable flashes of brilliance, however: some of the wave-sequence patches are outstanding, and 'Tribal Instinct', 'Gabriel's Drone' and 'Implosion' will have people asking "where the hell did that come from?", while 'Western Sunrise' teleports you to swaying cornfields and rolling in the hay with the Boston Pops.
Neither card is heavily reliant on chorusing effects to obtain head-turning treatments that are difficult to translate in multi mode, although stereo panning is much favoured for their left/right dynamics. As 'inspiration catalysts' these two cards do the job. Volume 1 is almost consistently excellent, while my personal preferences tended to steer away a little from Volume 2's guitars and ethnic clanging. Nevertheless, both are well conceived and classy. Christopher Holder
£55 per card or £95 for both. Add £2 per order for postage and packing.
Sounds OK, 10 Frimley Grove Gardens, Frimley, Camberley, Surrey GU16 5JX.
ATACAMA PRO 10 SPEAKER STANDS
For some years, Sambell Engineering (who manufacture the Atacama range) have provided a 'bespoke' service, making one-off stands to order for recording studios. However, since no-one seemed to market an off-the-peg model tall enough for small studios, they have now put together a new product which addresses this need directly. The Pro 10 stands have a large top plate (width 170mm and depth 195mm) and a large base plate (305mm by 305mm), which makes them stable and safe with heavier nearfield monitor speakers.
Ideally, a speaker stand should provide a rigid mounting which will lift the tweeters up to ear height. When you're sitting in your chair at the mixing position, small nearfield speakers would thus be about one metre above the ground -- which is exactly the height of these new Atacama models. As supplied, they ring like gongs, being largely welded together to give a rigid assembly, but they have a bolt-on baseplate (bolts and an allen key are supplied), and the idea is that you partially fill them with dry sand (using the supplied polythene bags). I bought some kiln-dried sand from a local builders' merchants -- a 40kg sack cost me £3.60, and this was sufficient to fill both stands to well over half-height.
Once you have your stands filled, spiked and in position, you can sit back and hear the improvements to your monitor sound. You'll probably be surprised at just how much the sound of your monitors changes. The bass end tightens up, losing that boomy, uncontrolled bottom end, which is replaced with a tighter, faster, more weighty sound, whilst the mid-range and treble should gain more clarity and precision. You should be able to hear further into the mix, with previously submerged subtle details becoming more apparent, while the stereo image is sharper. The overall effect has been described as like 'turning a screwdriver to tighten up the sound'. I couldn't have put it better myself! To sum up, these stands are a worthwhile improvement to any studio setup, which should get the most out of existing speakers and won't break the bank. Martin Walker
£100 per pair including VAT, plus £7 for UK mainland carriage.
Sambell Engineering Ltd, Winston Avenue, Croft, Leicester LE9 3GQ.
Following my feature on MIDI controllers in the June '97 issue of SOS, distributors BCK sent me a sample of their VP3 volume pedal. This is designed so that the potentiometer inside operates over its full 270 degrees of travel (which you need to give a MIDI control swing from 0 to 127). The attached cable is wired to a stereo quarter-inch jack plug. This arrangement should work with most MIDI devices featuring a socket marked 'Expression' or 'Control', and the pedal is specifically designed also to work as a normal volume pedal with Roland products.
The pedal features a standard rack-and-pinion assembly, which is well greased to avoid creaks and squeaks, and the action is smooth over its full range of travel. It has enough mechanical resistance to 'stay' in any intermediate position, which can be useful if you use it to control MIDI volume levels, and need to take your foot off to do something else. The casing is a fairly lightweight plastic moulding, but it has a metal baseplate that adds some weight, and this, in conjunction with the rubber feet, stops it slipping about in use.
Other models in the range include the VP1, which is a stereo volume pedal with two mono jack inputs and two mono jack outputs. This is suitable for in-line use between stereo keyboards and mixers. The VP2 is similar, but only wired for mono use with a single mono jack input and output, and is more suitable for use with mono keyboards or guitars. Some guitar amps have built-in effects, including wah, and the VP2 could be just the job if you have a rear-panel socket for this purpose. For Technics keyboards there's a VP4 version available, similar in concept to the VP3 but wired in reverse.
Although the action is not quite as 'silky smooth' as the Korg EXP2 I tried out previously, the VP3 works perfectly well and, at £17.99, is about a third of the price. BCK say that you should be able to buy their pedals from your local music shop, but in case of difficulty you can ring them direct to find your nearest stockist. Martin Walker
VP1 Stereo Volume Pedal £22.99; VP2 Mono Volume Pedal and VP3 MIDI Controller Pedal £17.99 each; VP4 Technics Controller Pedal £19.99.
Prices include VAT.
BCK Products, Stationbridge House, Blake Hall Road, near Ongar, Essex CM5 9LN.