The streamlined '90s exterior of Emu's Audity 2000 claims to hide a virtual modular hybrid, harking back to the company's own lost '70s analogue megasynth.
Emu's Audity was a late‑'70s one‑off: an over‑specified microprocessor‑controlled monster analogue synth years ahead of its time. Based on 16 separate synth cards that were voiced and controlled by a software front end, the Audity offered glimpses of what was to come in the future. Had it gone into production, the Audity would have retailed for something like US$70,000. But it was not to be: a pre‑Audity prototype was commissioned by, and built for, ex‑Tangerine Dreamer Peter Baumann, and one Audity was constructed (now owned by David Kean of the Mellotron Archives, www.mellotron.com).
Emu subsequently moved into sampling, with the first Emulator, and the rest, as they say, is history.The intervening years have seen Emu develop a fine line of samplers under the Emulator and Emax names, with an enviable in‑house sound library, which was repackaged during the late '80s in various upmarket rackmount sound modules. Of these, the Proteus family was a hit, and survived in one form or another until quite recently. Even post‑Proteus Emu synths have a similar basic architecture and user interface.
Newer modules have seen Emu move sideways; rather than repackaging more of the Emulator sound library (along with admittedly clever synth sections), the company have tested the water with trend‑setting — or perhaps trend‑following — modules aimed at contemporary musicians. Carnaval and Planet Phatt (reviewed in SOS July '97 and June '97 respectively) are both the result of this course of action, while the earlier Morpheus was an attempt to create something different, with morphing Z‑Plane filters (reviewed SOS December 1993; Morpheus FX, May 1994). Emu's latest synth, however, takes a chunk of Emu pre‑history and drags it into the late '90s, and perhaps beyond.
Introducing The Audity 2000
Emu's advertising literature identifies the Audity 2000 as a 'Digital Rhythmic Modular Synthesizer'. The term 'Rhythmic' refers to its multiple arpeggiators and the way in which incoming MIDI clock can be used to sync LFOs and envelope generators (it doesn't have the rhythmic Beats mode found on recent modules such as Carnaval and Planet Phatt). 'Modular' in this case refers to a comprehensive modulation matrix, where virtual patch cords are used to interconnect various modulation sources and destinations, extending the instrument's synthesis capabilities even further. You might have expected Emu to jump on the analogue‑modelling bandwagon with the Audity 2000, especially in view of this 'modular' patching metaphor, but they've stuck with the tried and tested S&S (Sample & Synthesis) sound‑generation method, with all the benefits that brings for polyphony and multitimbrality.
While sharing the 32‑voice polyphonic, 16‑part multitimbral architecture of previous Emu modules, the Audity 2000 differs in a number of significant ways. For a start, the 16Mb of basic sampled waveform ROM is aggressively synth‑orientated — there isn't much chance of emulating a General MIDI module here! And if that's not enough, an internal slot allows another 16Mb of waveforms to be added with an optional card. The Audity 2000's filtering has been given a lot of thought, and is derived from the Z‑Plane models developed for the Morpheus. Another nice touch is the inclusion of two effects processors (albeit simple ones). Not every previous Emu module is so equipped.
The Audity's most significant features, though, have to be its virtual 'patch cord'‑based modulation matrix, and its arpeggiator. Wait... did I say "arpeggiator"? I actually meant 16 arpeggiators! Yes, the Audity has one arpeggiator for each of its 16 parts, with full user editability and MIDI sync!
The new synth also has a different look from previous Emu modules; it's not soberly grey as were the original Proteus family, and it's not as self‑consciously jazzy as the Carnaval Latin module. Its blue front panel is completely different from what has come before from Emu: the stylish cutout by the display is flanked by a total of nine buttons, plus five small knobs and one big one. The 2‑line x 24‑character display is all that's similar to previous Emu modules. Four of the smaller knobs (one is a volume control) provide real‑time control over assignable parameters, and a Shift button cycles through two sets of parameters and four arpeggiator parameters.
Of the nine buttons, one is the Shift button mentioned above, two are arrow keys which move between parameters in a window, one offers a Save/Copy option, and another is an Enter button. The remaining four work as follows:
- Edit: press this to go into edit mode.
- Clock: allows you to select the Audity's clock source for the arpeggiator and anything else that's clockable on the Audity, such as the LFOs. Tempo has a range of 1‑300bpm, which I think you'll agree is quite sufficient!
- Master: offers a menu of global settings, such as the Master effects, Master arpeggiator, Transpose value for the whole machine, sundry MIDI operation parameters, and so on.
- Arp(eggiator): this button takes you to a menu where you can select whether arpeggios are sent over MIDI, edit user arpeggiator Patterns, and define master arpeggiator settings.
The rear panel hosts three pairs of audio outs, two sets of which can be used as effects send/return loops for Audity voices, or as auxiliary ins if you need extra mixer inputs. One major surprise is the Audity 2000's digital output, which offers a choice of S/PDIF or AES/EBU, for ease of interfacing to, say, a digital desk. The power supply is internal, and automatically senses what sort of mains supply it's plugged into.
The Audity's 16Mb waveform ROM is divided into 287 raw waveforms. All the traditional synth sounds are here — sine, sawtooth, square wave — together with sampled synth basses, hits, percussion, a couple of drum kits and some plain weird noise. There are several instances where waveforms get a little repetitive, but on the whole it's an excellent collection.
Audity patches — or Presets, as Emu call them — are made up of four elements, dubbed Instruments (earlier Emu modules had two elements per voice). Each Instrument is assigned a waveform, which is followed by a fairly traditional representation of an analogue‑style signal path; in fact, each Instrument is virtually a full synth in its own right, and can be split or layered within a Preset. Presets can also be 'linked' to one or two other Presets. This is the closest you get to a 'performance' mode with an Emu module, and allows Presets to be easily split or layered with each other; the result functions as if it were one Preset. Obviously, the more Instruments you use per Preset, and the more Presets you link, the less overall polyphony you'll have available.
The factory selection of Presets is quite varied, offering leads, simple waveforms, complex, harmonically rich sounds, tempo‑based, LFO‑driven Presets, keyboard emulations, hits, organs, edgy, cutting sounds, basses, noises, pads, vocals, bells, effects percussion, and scratches. There are seven banks of Presets, totalling 896 altogether; banks 2‑6 contain ROM factory sounds, while banks 0 and 1 are are available for users to store their own Presets.
OK, so each Preset is made up of four Instruments; what is each Instrument made up of? In the order they arrive while you're scrolling through the display, here are each Instrument's parameters:
- Key and velocity ranges, for splitting or layering, with crossfading.
- Real‑time crossfade, which is controlled by a patch cord in the modulation matrix.
- Transpose, +/‑36 semitones.
- Tuning: +/‑36 semitones coarse, and fine‑tuning in 1/64th semitone steps.
- Amplifier Volume (‑96dB to +10dB) and pan position.
- Volume Envelope: choose from the factory envelope that goes with a given waveform, a standard, time‑based, six‑stage envelope (each with its own rate and level value) or a tempo‑based option which lets you set up envelopes that respond exactly in tempo with incoming MIDI clock.
- Chorus: this is in addition to the onboard effects, and is a simple device, with just two parameters (amount and width). Using this effect requires two voices of polyphony.
- Sound‑Start offset: this parameter lets you start a sound from elsewhere in a waveform than its beginning, while the Sound Delay parameter defines the time between when you hit a note and when the current Instrument actually plays; there are tempo‑based options for this feature.
- Non‑Transpose: fixes the pitch of a given Instrument. You can't specify what pitch this will be, so this feature is perhaps best reserved for noise elements of Presets — transient attacks and so on.
- Solo Mode: turns a given Instrument into a monophonic voice; various triggering options (low, high, last note, etc) are available, so that you can emulate classic monosynths of the past.
- Assign Group: allows you to manage your 32 notes of polyphony and avoid note stealing.
- Glide: a portamento effect, with editable rate and three curve options.
- Filter: a Z‑Plane modelling filter, as found on the Morpheus. This is one of the most flexible and powerful that money can buy. It can be low‑pass, high‑pass, band‑pass, notch, parametric, and much more (50 types in all), and can change dynamically over time. Look out for the vowel formant options in particular.
- Filter Envelope: has the same features as the volume envelope, except that negative level amounts are available for each stage. Applies an envelope to the filter frequency, for filter sweeps.
- Auxiliary Envelope: an extra envelope with the same facilities as the filter envelope, which can be freely patched where you need it.
- LFO 1 and LFO 2: identical, and sync'able to MIDI clock or the master tempo (great for gated effects, for example). Waveforms include triangle, sawtooth, sine, square and various pulses, and there's a bonus 'variation' parameter, a random effect that sounds something like chorus in use.
- Patch Cord assign: this is where you work with the modulation matrix — more in a moment.
- Pitch‑Bend range: up to 12 semitones.
- Mix Output assign: you can choose from the main or one of two sub outs, and use hard panning to assign Instruments to one output only.
Each Preset also has a number of parameters that affect all four Instruments at once. The two effects processors, for example, aren't Instrument‑specific, although you do have a choice of using Master effect settings or programming effects specifically for the Preset. The arpeggiator is also set globally for the whole Preset. Other parameters give you a choice of alternate tunings (the small selection includes gamelan and 19‑tone, plus one user‑definable tuning) and provide control over links to other Presets.
So far, I haven't really mentioned drum sounds: well, there are a handful of drum‑kit waveforms, but the user has no control over which sounds go where in a kit, or over parameters on a per‑drum basis. The drum kits themselves, however, are a good selection, with both electronic and acoustic examples.
This is a sophisticated, flexible and good sounding synth that will suit die‑hard programmersdown to the ground.
Central to getting the most out of the Audity 2000 is the concept of Patch Cords; a modulation routing system where various sources are patched to various destinations — there are 64 of each. Sources, which can include MIDI controllers as well as internal parameters, are connected to destinations by virtual Patch Cords, and there are 24 Cords for each Instrument in a Preset. The Patch Cord‑related parameters provide an easy way to modulate parameters with unusual control sources, just as if you had a modular synth; some of the control sources can themselves be modulated, so pretty complex results can be produced.
Hands‑on modulation is provided by the four control knobs on the front panel, which can be shifted to provide eight modulation sources, as mentioned earlier. Each knob responds to and transmits a MIDI continuous controller, and, of course, pitch‑bend, mod wheel and other data transmitted from your master keyboard can be used as modulation sources. Modulation destinations are numerous, some obvious (pitch, glide, filter frequency and resonance) and some less so — interesting results can be obtained, for example, by modulating the various stages of the EGs while a sound is playing. Esoteric sources and destinations really need experimentation, and are not explained well in the manual. I would direct you immediately to the Patch Cord tutorials, which offer some very enlightening examples, and encourage the necessary experimentation. Interestingly, the Patch Cords themselves can each be a modulation destination!
As with a true modular synth, you simply keep patching sources and destinations together until you get an interesting result. The difference with the Audity 2000 is that you can save the patch in a user memory! As intuitive as Emu's user interface is, the Audity 2000 would really benefit from a graphic editor, especially for dealing with Patch Cords; I really want to see what I'm patching where, rather than visualising it. Emu could have taken a leaf out of Clavia's book here; their Nord Modular was designed to be patched via its PC‑based graphic front end. I await the necessary Audity 2000 templates for generic synth‑editing software with interest.
... did I say "arpeggiator"? I actually meant 16 arpeggiators! Yes, the Audity has one arpeggiator for each of its 16 parts, with full user editability and MIDI sync!
Patch Cords might make for intriguing synthesis possibilities, but it's the arpeggiator (or arpeggiators, rather) that will make the most immediate impact on potential Audity 2000 owners. Indeed, Emu actually place the chapter on the arpeggiator early in the manual, before talking about voice editing and so on, which shows you how important they think it is. As mentioned earlier, each Preset can have its own arpeggiator (so you could have 16 Presets all chugging along with their own arpeggiation), or it can use the Master arpeggiator. Indeed, the Master arpeggiator can be used by all currently selected Presets, if you like.
Standard arpeggiations are available — up, down, up/down, forward assign, backward assign (these both play back notes in the order in which they were pressed), forward/backward, random — or you can choose a Pattern, which stretches the concept of the arpeggiator rather a lot. There are three banks of 100 Patterns on board, and Bank 0 is for user Patterns. These can be up to 16 steps long, and you're free to define note value offsets (+/‑48 semitones), velocity value, and note length. A Repeat parameter repeats each step up to 32 times.
Setting up the arpeggiators is relatively simple. First, select a mode — one of the standard arpeggiations or a Pattern — and a note value (anything between a double whole note and a 32nd note, with triplets and dotted values available). You can then alter the 'pattern speed', which doesn't effect tempo but multiplies or divides the selected Pattern's note values, so that the Pattern just seems to play back faster or slower. Values can be between a quarter and four times the incoming tempo. You then choose a velocity value for the apreggiated notes, and a gate time, which sets how long the notes will be.
The Extension Count and Extension Interval parameters define a regular transposition of the current arpeggio. For example, if you set the Extension Interval to two semitones (the maximum is 16), and the Extension Count to one (the maximum is 15), your chosen arpeggio will play once with the keys you've held down, and again transposed up two semitones, before repeating. The onset of an arpeggiation can also be delayed, and you can even define the length of time an arpeggiation will play for. A Recycle parameter works with delay and duration, resetting the pattern to the beginning when the duration value has been reached. Usefully, there's also a Latch facility: just touch a few notes or a chord and they'll keep arpeggiating until you play another chord if Latch is activated. Lastly, a key range keeps the arpeggiations within a user‑defined section of the keyboard, so you can have mad arpeggiations under one hand, while soloing with the other. The factory Patterns include options aimed at drum & bass merchants, hip‑hoppers, ravers, and all sorts, many of them very good. There is, however, no list in the manual!
Using the Audity 2000 is rather like having a hybrid of a perfectly normal S&S instrument and the modulation matrix from a modular synth. With Korg's classic MS20 patchable monosynth, you could create perfectly serviceable sounds by tweaking the knobs alone, but life got really interesting when you used patch leads to break into the signal path and add weird modulations. The Audity 2000 has a similar feel.
Emu synths have always been easy to use, and the Audity 2000 is no exception. Many may find such a small display to be a hindrance, especially in the late '90s, but Emu's operating system is so streamlined and straightforward that it's not really a problem; I'd still like graphical editing software for the Patch Cords, though.
The arpeggiator is nothing short of brilliant; where else would you get 16 of the blighters side by side? Some of the preset Patterns are excellent, and none are less than valid for the style of music being emulated. Also worthy are the real‑time control knobs, although I'm not sure how accessible they'll be once the Audity is placed in the average keyboard player's rack.
On the subject of sound quality, the Audity 2000 is a winner; the raw waveforms are of a high quality, and reasonably varied, though there are too many one‑shot percussion choices — 81. They are very effective, but many sound too similar; the same goes for the 52 looped percussion samples and sundry one‑shot scratches. I also found too much similarity across the factory Presets, although a more upfront, big‑sounding collection of sounds, both abstract and musical, you'll be hard‑pressed to find. I think the emphasis has been on the abstract, rather than the immediately musically useful, but as examples for your own work, the factory Presets are excellent.
This is a sophisticated, flexible and good sounding synth that will suit die‑hard programmers down to the ground. Should they get their cheque book out? Well, the £1300 price tag may cause them to falter slightly. It has to be said that a couple of full workstation synths are within shouting distance of that price, and that you'd get £200 change from the asking price of the Audity 2000 when buying an Akai S3000XL sampler.
However, there are things about Emu synth modules which go some way towards justifying their higher price tags. The company provide good build quality, excellent raw sonic material, and truly interesting sound‑creation facilities with an easy‑to‑comprehend front end. And, to their credit, they don't turn over their range every six months or release cheaper versions of existing products with annoying regularity. On the value‑added side of the equation, the Audity provides a superb synth engine with a range of well‑implemented traditional facilities, plus an excellent modulation system to keep the dedicated programmer happy for ages. And that's what it's all about: sonic potential. This is why classic gear has gone through an inflationary renaissance over the last decade. Other balancing features include the well‑specified arpeggiator — how much would 16 of those cost, if you could actually find them independently of other synths? And perhaps another manufacturer might have left off the digital output, offering it instead as a £300 upgrade. Finally, let's not forget that potential $70,000 price tag of nearly 20 years ago for the original Audity! Things have come a long way; Emu have pushed the envelope of S&S with the Audity 2000, and it's a worthy successor to their original grand concept.
While it's nice to see effects on the Audity, don't get too excited: they're basic and serviceable rather than comprehensive. That said, they're easy to use and sound good, and Emu have provided a number of useful routing options. The Audity basically has two effects processors:
- FXA: this group consists of 44 reverb and delay effects — various rooms, halls, and so on — with control over decay and HF damping, and an FXB‑to‑FXA routing parameter.
- FXB: this group offers 32 choruses, flanges, ensembles, some delays and distortion effects, with control over feedback, LFO Rate and Delay.
As with the arpeggiator, there are Preset‑specific and Master effects. The Master effects would be ideal for use multitimbrally, and it's also possible to use the effects from a Preset as Master effects.
- 32‑voice polyphonic.
- 16‑part multitimbral.
- 256 user, 640 factory Presets.
- 50 Z‑plane filter types.
- 16 arpeggiators.
- 100 user, 200 factory arpeggiator patterns.
- 6 audio outs.
- 4 inputs.
- Stereo digital out (S/PDIF or AES/EBU‑compatible).
- 44.1kHz sample playback rate, with 18‑bit outputs.
- Dual effects processors.
- Auto‑sensing PSU 90V to 240V, 50Hz‑60Hz.
- 16 arpeggiators.
- Real‑time control knobs.
- Sophisticated modulation matrix, with great Patch Cord system.
- Digital output as standard.
- Sonically versatile.
- The small display is a bit cramped with so much going on, and the synth would really benefit from graphic editing software for the Patch Cord modulation routing.
The Audity 2000 is more than just another S&S synth module, with great sonic potential which is complemented by a flexible and powerful modulation matrix. It's a programmer's delight — if you have the cash to spare.
£1299 including VAT.