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Doepfer MAQ16/3

MIDI Analogue Sequencer By Chris Carter
Published February 1998

Doepfer MAQ16/3

The original MAQ 16/3 analogue‑style step sequencer, developed with the help of Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider, was released almost five years ago, but Doepfer clearly believe in shelf‑life and have continued to update this unique instrument. Chris Carter steps ahead.

Those of you with long memories may be experiencing feelings of deja vu. This is because the original Doepfer MAQ 16/3 was first reviewed in Sound On Sound way back in July 1993, by Derek Johnson. So why, you might ask, is a five‑year‑old sequencer getting a full review again, instead of a retrospective? Well, the MAQ 16/3 has gone through a number of system and hardware updates (see 'More For Your Money' box for a list), a colour change and a substantial price reduction. About the only thing that hasn't changed is the name. Also, now that Doepfer have a new UK distributor, the time is right for a relaunch.

Assuming that most readers won't remember the original review or haven't come across an analogue‑style sequencer before (see the box on these pages elsewhere in this article for mor informtion), I'll briefly recount the main features of the MAQ. It's a 3‑voice (3‑row), 16‑step‑per‑row, multitimbral, hybrid MIDI/analogue sequencer, which uses rotary pots to set and change the output signal (MIDI and analogue) at each step in a sequence. The MAQ can store 30 performance patches, or 'Presets', as Doepfer call them, and settings can also be saved and loaded via MIDI SysEx dumps. It can be synchronised to an external MIDI clock signal (it also transmits MIDI clock from 50‑254 bpm) and many of its editing and control functions can be controlled by external MIDI commands.

Not A Plastic MAQ

Physically, the new MAQ 16/3 looks pretty much the same as the original — a metal, 4U‑high rackmounting case, about four inches deep, featuring three rows of 16 knobs (with an LED indicator above each), eight small Menu buttons, a continuous data wheel, and a large, 3‑digit LED display to show bpm and editing values. In place of the original black paint job, this new improved MAQ sports a pleasing silver grey facia to match the rest of the current Doepfer range. Another obvious change is around at the back of the unit, where you now find, in addition to the original MIDI In, MIDI Out and power socket, three CV and three Gate mini‑jack outputs for connecting to Doepfer analogue synth modules or, indeed, any 1V‑per‑octave, voltage‑controllable analogue VCO, VCF or envelope generator. Each pair of CV/Gate outputs is permanently tied to the corresponding row of knobs on the front — so row 1 controls CV/Gate output 1, for example.

Power is supplied by a standard 9V wall‑wart PSU and unfortunately the MAQ doesn't possess any form of power on/off switch, so turning it on or off means unplugging the PSU. This is a bit annoying, not to mention inconvenient. However, the Teutonic build quality is quite substantial (and heavy) and up to the usual Doepfer high standard.

Cycling To Work

The eight front‑panel Menu buttons handle editing and playback modes, with an LED above each to indicate which button is active. The buttons are as follows, with the first four being in the upper row and the following four in the lower row:

  • Event
  • Channel
  • First/Last Step
  • Prescale
  • Mode
  • Single Step
  • Preset
  • Start/Stop

It's here that the implementation of the editing features on the MAQ betrays its age and seems a little archaic by 1998 standards. The basic 3‑digit LED indicator can be a little confusing at times, using some odd and cryptic displays to show various MIDI modes but, as with most instruments, once you've been using it for a while things start to make sense — just keep the manual handy to start with. To access the rows for editing, you push the Menu buttons repeatedly, and this activates the rows in a cyclic manner (1, 2, 3/1, 2, 3, 1/2, 3, and so on) A row that's ready for editing is indicated by all the LEDs on that row glimmering (a sort of dim flickering effect). Once a row is selected, the data knob is used to change parameters, and although editing can get a little laborious at times, it works well enough — just be prepared for a lot of button pushing and knob twiddling.

Sequential Circuits

The MAQ can transmit various types of MIDI information on any row and on any MIDI channel, but for most purposes it would probably be set to generate MIDI notes on all three rows, possibly on different MIDI channels and possibly feeding different sound sources. Alternatively, the MAQ could be configured to transmit notes on row 1, pitch‑bend on row 2, and volume on row 3, for example. Note that although each row can be configured to transmit additional MIDI information, such as program changes and controller information, the three analogue CV/gate outputs always produce a 1V/octave signal related to the position of the knobs, using the same 1‑5 octave range as the MIDI output. This can produce some unexpected results if the rows have been set for non‑note MIDI information (such as aftertouch or program change) as the positions of the knobs will probably bear little relation to anything musical — although this might work out OK if you're working on a freeform acid jungle track...

The MAQ is a pretty fast machine to work with: you get immediate and usually satisfying results from all your button‑pushing and knob‑twiddling, and you can save and load presets without a glitch or hiccup...

The Button Menus

1: EVENT

This is the most comprehensive of the menus and is used to assign the type of MIDI and non‑MIDI Event transmitted on each row. The default Event type is regular vanilla‑flavoured MIDI note on/off, and using this event type each row knob can directly dial up MIDI notes, from note number 36 to to note number 84. Getting the knobs to precisely tune individual notes over a 5‑octave range can be a bit hit and miss, even though the knobs produce a quantised output for both MIDI and CV, and, to allow for more accurate tuning, the octave range for each row can be set to cover between 1 and 5 octaves, as mentioned earlier.

Various MIDI note Event options are available, such as Absolute (A), where each knob has absolute control over the transmitted note, or Relative (R), where incoming MIDI notes or note information from one row can transpose another row's note values. Something worth mentioning here is the difference between Normal (the default) and Pause note events. If a row event is shown in the LED display with a 'P' (as in the example 'PA2', which would designate Pause, Absolute, 2‑octave range), turning any knob fully clockwise inserts a mute (or mutes) in the sequence for both MIDI and CV/Gate outputs. Another notable Event parameter is Step Duration, which adjusts for how long individual notes play before the MAQ steps onto the next note. Used carefully, this feature can be put to good use, to make sequences run with a slight swing.

Other MIDI Event types which can be transmitted include MIDI Controllers 0‑31, pitch‑bend, velocity, aftertouch, and Program Change.

2: CHANNEL

This menu is dedicated to assigning a MIDI channel to each row — unless dynamic MIDI‑channel switching has been activated, in which case you can set a different MIDI channel for each step in a sequence, to a maximum of 16 per row. (To use this latter feature fully, you would need to be working with either a 16‑part multitimbral MIDI module or 16 separate MIDI sound sources.) Although a similar effect could also be achieved by assigning different program changes to each step, the MIDI module under control would need to be able to cope with changing programs pretty damn quick to keep up with even a slowish sequence.

3: FIRST/LAST STEP

The default number of pattern steps for any row is the maximum 16, but a sequence loop can begin and/or end at any step number. You could, for instance, have row 1 running a 4‑note sequence, row 2 a 16‑note sequence and row 3 a 12‑note sequence.

4: PRESCALE/TIME

Here you can adjust the relative time difference between rows, by changing a time‑divider value (1‑32). The default MIDI clock value is 6, but if a value of 3 were selected the row would run at twice normal speed. If set at 12, it would run at half normal speed. Using different values for each row gives you scope for some pretty complex patterns. This menu also allows access to row gate on/off and row step‑time on/off parameters.

5: MODE

The Mode menu determines the direction/order in which a row plays a sequence or loop. There are 13 possible configurations:

  • Forward — clock control
  • Backward — clock control
  • Pendulum 1 — clock control
  • Random — clock control
  • Pendulum 2 — clock control
  • One Shot, no retrigger — clock control
  • One Shot, with retrigger — clock control
  • One Event, Forward — note control
  • Backward — note control
  • Pendulum 1 — note control
  • Random — note control
  • Pendulum 2 — note control
  • (Pendulum mode swings back and forth.)

All modes under clock control are sync'ed to internal or external MIDI clock, while note‑control modes are triggered by incoming MIDI note commands (from a keyboard or sequencer). If One Shot mode 2 (with Retrigger) is selected, it plays a sequence row once then triggers the next row. If all three rows use this mode it's possible to construct cascading 48‑note sequences.

6: SINGLE STEP

This selects and repeats (at the set bpm rate) a single step, and is mostly used while editing individual notes. When the Single Step button is first pressed, the same note on all three rows is selected, and in this mode you can play back all three row sequences in sync and by hand, turning the data dial forwards or backwards and at different speeds. Pressing the button again cycles this mode through the rows one at a time.

7: PRESET

This is where the 30 available presets are stored and retrieved, and where the MIDI SysEx function is initiated. When the MAQ is switched on it automatically loads preset 1 into memory for immediate playback, and preset 0 always corresponds to the actual current status of the 48 front‑panel knob positions.

8: START/STOP

This isn't really a menu button at all, as it simply functions as a Start/Stop control while the LED display shows the bpm rate. Pressing the button once starts the sequence, pressing it again stops the sequence, and pressing it a third time will restart the sequence from where it stopped. To reset a sequence to start from the beginning, you must first exit the Start/Stop menu (by pressing any other button) and then press the Start/Stop button again — a slightly inelegant method. However, if the MAQ is synchronised to an external MIDI clock (activated by turning the data knob past 254bpm) things improve, as the sequencer follows remote MIDI start, stop, continue and reset commands like a lemming.

Knobs And Mice

If you get tired of all that knob twisting, you can assign the MAQ an incoming remote MIDI channel, and control all manner of internal functions via an external MIDI keyboard or sequencer. This is implemented using what Doepfer quaintly call an 'alienated' MIDI specification, a very non‑standard combination of MIDI note numbers 36‑83, controllers 0‑30 and program changes 1‑127. Some of the controllable functions are: tempo, internal/external sync, mute/unmute individual steps, mute/unmute rows, adjust row velocity, set row first/last step, row playback modes, row MIDI channel, set row program changes, adjust row gate time and note time. About the only thing you can't do is control the knobs themselves.

I came across a couple of problems if I programmed a controller signal into a sequencer track and sent it as a continuous data stream rather than as short messages — the MAQ started to complain a little, slowing down or behaving erratically. This also happened if I tried sending it too many program change messages too fast. However, if the sequencer is playing, it copes well when receiving single SysEx dumps: it simply changes over to the new sequencer pattern and continues running without a glitch.

Fast, Furious & Funky

Considering the wealth of features available inside the MAQ 16/3, this is a comparatively brief summary of its editing and performance capabilities — I could quite easily fill as much space again if I were to cover everything. So what's it like to play with? Well, once you've got your head around the foibles of the operating system and basic display, the words fun, fast and furious spring to mind — even more so if your setup includes both MIDI and analogue gear. Once you start using the MAQ, you'll probably be quite surprised at how quickly you can get decent results — as long as you don't try to be too clever with real‑time editing, that is, as this can leave you with hung notes, unpredictable time signatures, zero volume and your brain out of sync, if you're not careful.

The MAQ is a pretty fast machine to work with: you get immediate and usually satisfying results from all your button‑pushing and knob‑twiddling, and you can save and load presets without a glitch or hiccup — and, more importantly for live and/or improvisational work, without stopping sequencer playback. It can sync, or be sync'ed, to MIDI, it has almost full remote control over MIDI, and it offers enough editable parameters to please even the most insatiable MIDI control junkie. Ironically, this last point is the source of my only real criticism (well, more of a moan really): most of the time I longed for a fourth row of knobs. The problem with MIDI technology, as opposed to analogue, is the wealth of control options available: volume, velocity, pitch‑bend, aftertouch, program change — the list goes on and on. With the MAQ 16/3, if you want to transmit any of these MIDI controllers you have to sacrifice a sequence row that could be generating MIDI notes, unless you want all your sequences to have fixed velocity, volume, and so on. However, there are solutions to most problems: using the MAQ 16/3 with another MIDI software or hardware sequencer is an obvious option, and is probably the most practical setup for the majority of users.

Some may think the MAQ 16/3 a little pricey when considering the smallish 30‑preset memory and 1400‑note capacity, but this is a pretty unique instrument, and I can't think of many (if any) hybrid MIDI/analogue sequencers, past or present that match the capabilities of the MAQ 16/3. A fine machine that I will be very sorry to see leave our studio.

Analogue Sequencers: The Basics

If you're fairly new to music technology, you may think you've got all this MIDI sequencer malarkey figured out. It's basically down to dedicated, reliable, no‑frills hardware types or flaky, bells and whistles, computer‑based software types. Either way you hit the Record button, play some licks, and bingo! — all those notes are stored as MIDI information for instant playback. But introduce the word analogue into the world of sequencing and things aren't so clear‑cut.

Basically, analogue sequencers usually consist of hardware units covered with knobs arranged in rows (usually of eight or 16). Each knob is capable of producing a different voltage, and therefore, when connected to a voltage‑controlled synth, a different pitch. When the sequencer is running, it moves through the knobs one at a time shunting out the voltages set on each one, and thereby produces a series of notes from the connected synth.

Obviously, this means, to borrow some MIDI sequencing terminology, that 'note entry' is by tuning a knob rather than hitting a key, and that analogue sequencing is always in step‑time, with a maximum number of sequence steps determined by how many knobs there are on the front panel — most commonly eight or 16, which is positively meagre by today's software sequencer standards. Also, you're always in what could be described as Record Mode — adjust a knob and it stays adjusted until you move it again! It's fair to say that about the most you can construct with a analogue sequencer is a basic, repeating eight or 16‑note pattern, though you may achieve more steps (and therefore more notes in your pattern) if there are more rows of knobs on the front panel. Apart from altering a few more parameters, such as sequence playback tempo, the number of steps in your sequence (usually adjustable from 1 to 16), and the gate time (ie. the length of each note in the sequence), that's pretty much all you can do with an analogue sequencer. However, although sequencing the analogue way may not be as versatile as via MIDI, many people find it a more interactive way of working, as you can just reach out and change notes in your sequence by turning knobs at any time. In theory, of course, any MIDI sequencer is also capable of producing analogue‑style patterns, but then you lose the hands‑on, interactive approach of the real thing. It's also worth remembering that most analogue sequencers (the Doepfer MAQ 16/3 included) are a sight more reliable and crashproof than a software MIDI sequencer. Analogue sequencers are also often preferred by dance music producers, as they are pretty well suited to the production of dancefloor anthems — the necessary repetitive four‑on‑the‑floor rhythms and bass lines are a doddle to program.

Of course, Doepfer's MAQ somewhat betters most analogue sequencers by integrating analogue‑style sequencing and MIDI, giving the user the best of both approaches. All the usual features are implemented as on an analogue sequencer, including plenty of flashing lights as the MAQ steps through its sequences. However the clever part is that the rows can run independently of each other but still in sync, in any direction and can transmit both CV and MIDI information.

So, now I've whetted your appetite for analogue sequencers, what if you'd like to buy one? Sadly, the availability situation isn't so great. Apart from the MAQ reviewed here, there is Analogue Systems' TH48 (see SOS April '95), an entirely analogue, 3‑channel 16‑step sequencer, which can be purchased new for £699 (contact AS themselves on 01726 67836 for details), but apart from this, finding an original analogue sequencer by any manufacturer is about as likely as finding Elvis at Tesco. A quick search on the Internet turned up a couple of home pages where people were building their own hardware analogue sequencers — for example, an outfit called Carp appear to be building a 16‑step version modelled on the classic ARP analogue sequencer, the Carp 101 (check out their page at www.vcf1.demon.co.uk), and a group of people identified only as Moo on the Cow Synth site (www.ecr.mu.oz.au/~ndf/synth/arch...) are putting together a hardware 10‑step sequencer, the MooSEQ, but whether either of these will ever become generally available to the public is unclear.

Finally, those interested in reading more about analogue sequencers should check out Steve Howell's extensive series on analogue synths that ran in SOS from the May '94 issue. Part three of the series (in the July '94 issue) may prove particularly helpful, as Steve explained the concept and workings of analogue sequencers there in much more detail than is possible here. Chris Carter & Matt Bell

Germlish

The MAQ's manual could do with a bit of a rewrite to tidy up the German to English translation, which is a little laboured, and it would certainly benefit from a few practical examples and diagrams to help beginners. Some sections are particularly confusing, such as the pages concerning remote MIDI control, which is a shame, as the poor instructions could put some users off investigating this machine's deeper and less obvious, but useful, features.

More For Your Money

These are the improvements offered by the current version of the MAQ 16/3 over the original one, reviewed in July 1993.

  • 3 CV/Gate outputs.
  • Extensive MIDI remote control options.
  • 30 memory presets.
  • Presets can be saved, loaded and edited 'on the fly'.
  • Dynamic MIDI switching per row.
  • More sequence playback modes.
  • Sequences can be chained or cascaded.

Drum DI Dum DI Dum

In a classic case of accidental lateral thinking, one use that occurred to me just as I was putting the finishing touches to this review (and will no doubt push me over my word count — again!) is hooking up the MAQ to a MIDI drum module or a sampler loaded with percussion and/or effects sounds. Although you are, in reality, using the sequencer in exactly the same way as if you were controlling a synth module, the difference is that each note transmitted will trigger a totally different sound. As I mentioned previously, you could use dynamic MIDI switching or the program change‑per‑step feature but this way is a lot easier to use, doesn't involve setting up multitimbral modules, and somehow just sounds tighter and groovier. You get faster results to boot.

I achieved the best results if all three rows were set on the same MIDI channel as the drum module and the row octave ranges were set to one or two octaves — otherwise it can be difficult selecting individual drum sounds with each knob. Unfortunately, you can only trigger three sounds simultaneously, but the fun part comes with the real‑time editing features, as you can have individual rows playing patterns forward, in reverse, randomly or swinging back and forth (pendulum mode). You can also change the prescale, first/last steps, step duration (time between notes) and Event types on each row for even more variations and swing. You can save and load patterns to memory without taking a breath or stopping the sequencer, and if you're feeling really adventurous you could control patterns with remote MIDI commands. To get the most from this technique (or regular MAQ sequencing) it's probably a good idea to record your patterns and arrangements into a second MIDI sequencer sync'ed to the MAQ.

Pros

  • Versatile and relatively easy to use.
  • Hands‑on, analogue‑style method.
  • MIDI and three CV/Gate outputs.
  • Can transmit most types of MIDI controller information.
  • Rows can be chained together for longer sequences.
  • Good build quality.
  • Reasonable value for money.

Cons

  • LED display can be cryptic at first.
  • Current preset must be savedbefore turning off.
  • Basic display.
  • No power switch.

Summary

Don't be put off by the bland exterior: this is a well equipped and capable machine which, with a little practice, can produce some storming patterns and sequences. The three CV/Gate outputs make it all the more useful to anyone with an analogue and MIDI setup. Go on, learn the dying art of analogue‑style sequencer programming. Highly recommended.

information

£549 including VAT.

http://www.doepfer.de

Published February 1998