The Proteus series of sound modules have gained a reputation for being all things to all musicians – but they've never had on‑board effects. The newest addition to the family takes care of that. Nigel Humberstone checks it out.
Since the release of the ground‑breaking Proteus 1 way back at the end of 1989, Emu have extensively added to the Proteus range and the potential purchaser is now faced with a daunting selection of associated products. You can take your pick from the Proteus 1 (Rock & Pop), Proteus 1 Plus Orchestral, Proteus 2 and 2XR (Orchestral), Proteus 3 and 3XR (World), Procussion Percussion module, Proformance 1 and 1 Plus, MPS and MPS Plus Keyboard, Vintage Keys (with optional Expansion and Plus versions) and the most recent Morpheus Z‑Plane Synth module.
With such a continuing evolvement of the Proteus range it is almost inevitable that Emu would be tempted to combine the various elements of each type and produce a 'do‑all' machine. Does the new Proteus FX fall within that category?
Taking its new design from the Vintage Keys and Morpheus modules, the Proteus FX is housed in a rugged metal casing that surprisingly weighs only a couple of pounds more than the earlier more 'plastic' and fragile‑feeling Protei. The headphones socket has been brought around to the front, next to the volume control, whilst the various cursor and select buttons (including an extra directional cursor) have been grouped together to the right of the LCD and conveniently within finger‑striking distance of the enlarged and responsive data entry control. Also useful, but difficult for the veteran Proteus user (i.e. myself!) to get used to, is the 'Home/enter' button. The 'enter' feature is self‑explanatory, but the button's dual function enables the return of the cursor to the 'home' position (top left of the LCD) and so negates endless cursor pushing.
Like its predecessors, the Proteus FX benefits from 16‑bit digital samples taken from the Emulator III sample library. The new unit has a double 8Mb sound set consisting of sample data (sound ROM), plus additional instrument data in the program ROM. The 8Mb of samples (4Mb was the standard Proteus allocation unless you had an XR model) the resulting array of 512 presets (256 of which are user‑programmable) have been arranged in four banks (0‑3). Banks 0 and 1 contain user RAM presets, whilst the remaining two banks contain ROM presets.
The Proteus FX also adopts a far better 'grouping' of presets, which aids easier selection of, say, a bass sound. In addition, you are also presented with a useful 3‑letter prefix — for example, gtr (guitar), eth (ethnic) and kbd (keyboard), which gives an idea of the type of sound to expect. This, along, with the inclusion of more vocal sounds (although still not very realistic) means that at least Emu have been taking note of user suggestions and earlier criticisms. Harping back to old quibbles, an annoying feature of earlier Protei was that once you had scrolled through anything up to 383 presets (as on an XR version) you were obliged to go backwards in order to access earlier presets. Now, as if by magic, scrolling is continuous and you start again at the first Bank. One interesting new feature, which took me a couple of hours to notice, is that the LCD display has been reversed so that the characters are now black against the backlit background.
The redesign of the unit's casing has necessitated the need for an external 9v AC power supply, which in my opinion is a step backwards. The fact that Emu are supplying units (at least this test unit) with a frustrating 2‑pinned euro‑adaptor does not help the situation.
Despite these compromises (reduced outputs and external PSU) it is nonetheless encouraging to report that the Proteus FX does not skimp when it comes to maintaining the multitude of great features that have made the Proteus such an incredible music workhorses whether you're composing, sequencing or playing live. Everything I have come to expect is still there: 32‑voice polyphony, 16 MIDI channel multitimbral operation, high‑spec MIDI implementation, including realtime modulation, extensive sound/waveform editing and user‑definable alternate tuning.
Since Emu have crammed so much into the new Proteus FX, I undertook some comparative tests with my Proteus 1 to see if they had cut corners in any way. But to my ears there is no discernible difference between the sounds, and in some cases the FX presets often sound brighter, which I suspect is due to some further tweaking of parameters by the Emu sound design team.
Proteus FX draws from sounds found in Proteus 1 and 2 (the forthcoming UltraProteus also utilises the Proteus 3 sound set), although there is the occasional 'pseudo' Vintage Key sounds, such as 'Melotron', which combines a medium envelope pad with a long string sample and 'MoogSol2'; a combination of two heavily detuned synthesizer bass samples, which utilise the 'solo mode' (acessed in the Edit Menu) to recreate a legato playing technique often associated with monophonic synths. However, the sound similarities end there, and the Proteus range and Vintage Keys should be viewed as distinctly separate modules.
Essentially the effects section of the Proteus FX is its selling point, and consequently the manual devotes 16 informative pages to the subject, outlining the architecture, routing, useful diagrams and descriptions which help you visualise the kind of effect you're calling up. There are two categories of effects: type 'A', comprising Reverb (various rooms, hall, chamber and plate), Delays, Echoes, Chorusing, Phaser and Flanging effects; and type 'B', for special effects such as Ring Modulation and Fuzz, as well as facilities for further stereo flanging, chorusing and phasing.
What is refreshing to note is that Emu have not gratuitously added default effects to all the presets in order to make them sound 'good'. Input to the effects is selectable in both the Edit and Master modes, and the effect is only applied if you program it to be applied. The two effect processors serve the entire machine on a global basis and each has a 'wet/dry mix', whereby you are able to determine the relative mix of the processed and unprocessed signals. The effects bus architecture also allows for the output of effect B to be routed back into processor B for interesting effects combinations.
Having experienced less than satisfactory on‑board effects with previous sound modules (like the Yamaha TG33), it was pleasantly surprising to hear the FX's digital treatments in action. In use, they are generally transparent, with a fair degree of control (although justifiably limited in the circumstances).
A particularly nice effect is one of the unit's 'special' reverbs, 'Rain'. This is similar to a repeating delay, but with complex spatial and filtering effects. The filtering is such that at low velocities a gentle reverb is achieved, whilst stronger hits initiate a more audible set of repeated delays. The 'Shimmer' effect which diffuses sounds across the stereo panorama, is similar. Unfortunately the only controllable parameter is the decay time (a variable repeat would have been welcome), but when used with the grand piano preset these effects can be stunning and even had me tinkering away in a style reminiscent of Erik Satie.
Other effects are more controllable, notably the choruses with adjustable LFOs, delay and feedback, and stereo delays with variable left and right delays, taps and feedback. In addition to the unit's extensive MIDI specification, there is the facility to transmit all the current effects parameters for all 16 MIDI channels. This means you can have instant recall for both your master and effect settings.
For those interested, the Proteus FX houses sound sets #0 and #2; this means that if you wish to transfer presets via MIDI between different models, the FX is compatible with the Proteus 1 (#0) and Proteus 2 (#2).
So who is going to be enticed by this new addition to the Proteus family? For those musicians already owning Proteus modules (especially Proteus 1 and 2) the allure of internal effects, marred by the absence of multiple outputs, will not represent much temptation, even though there are nice little upgrade touches with the new operating controls and design. I suspect that with the introduction of the Proteus FX, Emu might gradually phase out the earlier Proteus 1 modules and therefore first‑time purchasers wishing to get that Proteus sound will inevitably be interested and further impressed by the extra addition of internal effects. Within that context, the Proteus FX is a sophisticated and powerful self‑contained writing tool, which for any cost‑conscious musician has to be a viable choice.
- Proteus 1 Rock/Pop: reviewed SOS November 1989.
- Proteus 2 Orchestral: reviewed SOS November 1990.
- Proteus 3 World: reviewed SOS August 1992.
- Warm Room
- Small Rooms 1 & 2
- Halls 1,2 & 3
- Chambers 1 & 2
- Plates 1 & 2
- Early Refections
- Rain & Shimmer
- Stereo Chorus
- Stereo Flange
- Cross Delay
- Stereo Chorus
- Stereo Flange
- Cross Delay
- Fuzz Lite
- Ring Modulator
- Excellent first purchase for that 'Proteus'sound with added flexibility.
- Crammed full with 8Mb of 16‑bit digital samples.
- Useful on‑board digital effects.
- Solid construction.
- Only one stereo output.
- User unfriendly external (foreign) PSU.
- Absolutely terrible demo!
If you already own one or more Proteus modules, then the FX is probably not an essential purchase. However, as a first Proteus, it's highly recommended.