Windows users looking for comprehensive and professional editor/librarian support for their MIDI instruments may not need to look any further. Paul Nagle perks up his patches with Unisyn.
Released back in 1989, Dr T's system eXclusive ORchestrator (X‑Or) provided revolutionary control over an entire MIDI system, replacing a stack of dedicated synth editors and librarians. It was intended to grow with you, since new instruments could easily be added in the form of new 'profiles', and it was available for the Macintosh, PC, Amiga and Atari ST. In 1993, Dr T's sold the program to Mark Of The Unicorn and, although the Mac version quickly reappeared under the new name Unisyn, the PC version went into oblivion. Now that Unisyn for Windows has finally arrived, this patient X‑Or owner is anxious to see if it was worth the wait.
Unisyn is a single program that allows you to edit a wide range of MIDI devices from a consistent‑looking set of screens. Synths are accessed by a series of profiles, with the more complex instruments being separated into individual modules — there are six for the Korg Wavestation, for example. These profiles are sourced from a number of different authors (there's no provision for creating your own) and are free to registered users (see 'Unisyn Supported Instruments' box). Usefully, MOTU have provided several generic 'SysEx dump' profiles which allow you to obtain data from synths which are not currently supported — obviously you can't do much other than send and receive, but the facility is welcome nonetheless.
This is a procedure that will vary according to the size of your rig. It took me about 20 minutes to set up communication with nine instruments in my system, including telling Unisyn which MIDI port, channel and MIDI patchbay program each of them expect. Sadly there was no support for my Boss SE50 multi‑effects, or my Korg S3 drum machine, and I guess it's still a little early for my sexy new Korg Prophecy.
The excellent manual talks you through configuration in a friendly and reassuring manner. Unisyn works well with a MIDI patchbay, making all the routings beautifully transparent, but even if you only use a simple manual switcher, Unisyn can remember this and prompt you when necessary. A quick check of connections can be made by selecting each instrument in turn and grabbing a patch or two. Then you're ready to start tweaking sounds and building libraries.
Once you're set up, a single click with the mouse connects you to each device. The Modules window maintains a complete status check and you can play each instrument either with the mouse, an on‑screen keyboard, or your usual controller. Double clicking opens the edit menu, but I was disappointed to see the old X‑Or limitation preventing opening of two edit windows at the same time. The edit screens are clear and logically laid out and I felt instantly at ease with their operation. Because some profiles are quite large, a small jump menu is provided to quickly take you to the most important areas of the edit screen.
As well as allowing you to edit existing patches using a familiar array of sliders and graphical envelopes, Unisyn contains a superb selection of randomise and blend options with the ability to mask those parameters most likely to cause chaos. Your new sounds can then be auditioned with a few mouse clicks.
Having created that killer new patch, you'll probably want to store it away, either within a Bank or a Library. Banks correspond to the patch locations in your synth and Libraries are any collection of patches which you catalogue using keywords and descriptive text. Unisyn has the best cataloguing method I've seen, but if you find there aren't enough keywords already provided, you can define your own. It then becomes an easy matter to retrieve all those D110 bass sounds that are resonant and have a fast attack, for example. Unisyn understands synths with strange architectures (such as the Korg Wavestation) and keeps track of 'parent/child' patches. So if you save a Wavestation performance, the program is intelligent enough to know that you also need the correct patches and wavesequences to make it sound correct when retrieved later. Shame the Wavestation itself isn't so smart! Online help is provided (though it's not context‑sensitive), as is individual help for each profile.
If you need a complete snapshot of your system, you can tell Unisyn to go and request dumps from each instrument in turn, or from specified subsets of them. It may be that some synths have your favourite banks living in them all the time, but others change on a regular basis. MOTU have provided the flexibility to store such 'performances' and to easily recreate them later. You can even export this to the Windows clipboard to be pasted at the start of a song, and if other people use your studio, Unisyn can keep track of the instruments they use without affecting your own. A nice touch.
X‑Or stalwarts will be glad to know that an import feature has been provided for its libraries. Although this works OK, I found that it didn't handle my own keywords too well, making my patch catalogue look a little strange afterwards. Unisyn will also read X‑Or banks, read and save Standard MIDI Files, and can save 'straight' SysEx files, a range of options which should accommodate most needs, although it won't import SysEx files, which some people will find inconvenient. I certainly did. It lags behind Sound Quest's MIDI Quest by omitting the option to export patch names to a Cakewalk .INI file.
Incidentally, the program seems to be optimised for VGA monitor resolution, leaving plenty of wasted space down the right hand side — perhaps something for MOTU to address in the future.
As a long‑time X‑Or user, I've been waiting for this program for ages. I'm pleased to report that it's been worth the wait. For me, the multiple MIDI card support and improved profiles are just what I need — other X‑Or owners with perhaps a single interface and a set of familiar profiles may still be tempted by the trade‑in offer (see below). A couple of things I missed were X‑Or's Bank‑Library menu command, and the ability to define paths for all my profiles in advance, but neither of these caused any real grief. As with most software newly ported to Windows, X‑Or crashed a couple of times — once almost certainly because I was receiving a large SysEx dump from one synth whilst soloing madly on another, which was still connected to another interface.
So what's the bottom line? If you have a large or growing collection of synths that you want to program, Unisyn is an invaluable tool. A few points could still be improved, but even as it stands, Unisyn is the best example of its kind I've seen. Finally, it's given me the chance to fulfil a simple ambition and end a review by saying "and I bought it myself"!
- 360 Systems MIDI Patcher
- Akai MB76
- Alesis D4, HR16, MIDIVerb III Quadraverb, Quadraverb+, Quadraverb GT, SR16, Quadrasynth S4, Quadrasynth S5, Quadrasynth+ Piano
- ART Multiverb, Multiverb II
- Boss DS330
- Casio CZ101, CZ1000, CZ3000, CZ5000, CZ230s, CZ1, VZ1, VZ10M, VZ8M
- Digitech DSP128, DSP128 Plus, DHP‑55, PMC10, Studio 5000
- DMC MX8
- Emu Morpheus, Proteus,1 Orchestral, 2, 3, 1XR, 1XR Orchestral, 2XR, 3XR, FX, Protologic, MPS, MPS Plus Orchestral, Procussion, UltraProteus, Vintage Keys, Vintage Keys Plus
- Ensoniq DP/4, DP/4+, ESQ1, ESQM, KS32, KT76, KT88, SD1, SQ1, SQ2, SQR, SQ80, VFX, VFX‑SD
- JL Cooper MSB+
- KAT DrumKAT 3.5
- Kawai K1, K1M, K1 II, K3, K4, K4r, K5, K5M
- KMX MIDI Central 8x8 Patcher
- Korg DSS1, DVP1, DW6000, DW8000, EX8000, i2, i3, i4S, 707, DS8, P3, Symphony, M1, M1R, M1R/EX, M3R, Poly6, Poly800, EX800, T1, T2, T3, Z3, Wavestation, Wavestation EX, Wavestation A/D, Wavestation SR, 01/W, 01/WFD, 01/W Pro, 01/W ProX, 01R/W, 03R/W, 05R/W, X2, X3, X3R, X5, X5D, X5DR
- Kurzweil K2000, K2000R
- Lexicon LXP1, LXP5, LXP15, PCM70, Reflex
- Mackie OTTO 1604
- MOTU MIDI Mixer 7s
- Oberheim Matrix 6, Matrix 12 (librarian only), Matrix 1000, Xpander (librarian only)
- Peavey DPM3, DPM V3
- Rane MAP 33, MPE 14, MPE 28, MPE 47
- Roland A880, Alpha Juno 1 & 2, MKS50, CM32P, CM32L, CM64, D10, D20, D110, D50, D550, D70, DEP5, GM70, GP8, GR50, JD800, JD990, Juno 106, JV35, JV80, JV880, JV90, JV1000, JV1080, JX8P, MKS20, MKS70, MKS80, MT32, Pad 80, R8, R8M, SC33, SC50, SC55, SC55 MkII, SC155, SC88, U110, U20, U220
- Sequential Drumtraks, MAX, Prophet V, Prophet 600, SixTrack
- Sony DPS D7 (librarian only), DPS R7 (librarian only)
- Tech 21 SansAmp PSA1
- Waldorf Microwave
- Yamaha DMP7, DX21, DX27, DX100, DX7, TX7, DX7S, DX7 II, DX7 II FD, TX802, FB01, KX88, KX76, ProMix01, RX11, SPX90, SPX90 II, SY55, TG55, SY77, TG77, TG33, SY85, TG100, TG500, TF1, TX816, TX216, TX81Z, V50
- Version Reviewed:1.2 for Windows.
- System Requirements: Any PC running Windows 3.1 or later.
- Also available for the Apple Mac at £279.
- An editor/librarian for the discerning synth explorer.
- Good range of import/export options.
- Excellent library organisation.
- Good looks and pedigree.
- Not quite crash‑proof yet.
- Won't import SysEx files.
Quite simply the best generic editor/librarian I have yet seen for the PC or any other computer. Heartily recommended.