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Quasimidi Cyber 6

Master Keyboard By Paul Ward
Published May 1996

With its advanced arpeggiator and innovative real‑time control, the Cyber 6 is the master keyboard that reconciles computer sequencing with live extemporisation. Could it be that Quasimidi have found the keyboardist's Holy Grail? Paul Ward hangs up his air guitar...

I suspect that I'm not alone in never having bought a dedicated, 'master' keyboard. Somehow, whenever it comes to the crunch, a keyboard that can produce sounds of its own always wins out for me. At least some of the blame for this must lie with manufacturers, most of whom have been content to offer us little more than sound‑less synths with a couple of keyboard splits thrown in for good measure. With the Cyber 6, however, Quasimidi have taken the bull by the horns, and come up with a much more innovative approach. If I tell you they've given it the sub‑title 'The Real‑time Enhancer', it will give you some clue to the Cyber 6's overall philosophy.

Judging By Appearances

The Cyber 6 is a five‑octave non‑weighted keyboard, decked out in a fetching red livery. The design is a near twin of the Quasimidi Raven, and with the exception of the 'please‑superglue‑me‑in‑before‑I‑fall‑out‑and‑get‑lost' screen overlay, is reassuringly robust. Perhaps the only oversight in terms of ergonomics are the protruding control knobs — flush‑mounting would have made them less vulnerable to decapitation!

In keeping with its aspirations for real‑time control, the Cyber 6 has provision for two foot switches and a continuous control pedal. Further onboard controllers are supplied on the front panel in the form of a sprung pitch wheel, two non‑sprung modulation wheels and the aforementioned trio of control knobs. Footswitch 2 has a screen dedicated to it, allowing the control to conform to the settings in the master keyboard programs, or be designated to functions such as sequencer start/stop, or Motivator hold (of which more shortly).

The usual MIDI In, Out and Thru are present and correct, with the happy appearance of a second MIDI out. Yes, folks, the Cyber 6 is capable of addressing both of the MIDI outs independently, for 32‑channel operation! Lovely.

Low‑Key Operator

As a master keyboard, the Cyber 6 is capable of simultaneously controlling up to eight sound sources in eight independent keyboard zones. Each zone is given a low and high key, with no restriction as to how the zones are made to overlap. You could, for instance, have each of the eight zones covering the whole of the keyboard, or define eight smaller groups of keys sitting side by side. Each of the zones may be set to mono or poly play mode, and a 'zone status' parameter defines whether the zone will transmit all MIDI data including note data, controller data and program changes only, or control data only. The latter status is especially helpful in making use of the 'Motivators', which I'll come to shortly. Bank, program number and volume are also programmable for each zone.

Zones can be transposed up or down by up to three octaves. By using the same MIDI channel on two or more zones, and selecting different transpositions for each of them, some thick octave‑split basses or single‑finger techno chords can easily be created. While we're on the subject, selecting transposition values or key ranges are made simple on the Cyber 6, by holding down the enter button and pressing a key on the keyboard.

This is a machine that makes you put your computer‑based sequencer to one side and take a fresh look at the way you make your music.

All of the Cyber 6's available real‑time control sources may be switched on or off for each zone. The operation of each controller may also be 'inverted'. This could allow, say, easy cross‑fading between two sounds by use of the mod wheel. In this example, you could set the wheel to increase the volume of one zone's sound source, while the same controller, but in inverted operation, works on the volume of the second zone's sound source. In this way, moving the wheel will simultaneously fade one sound in and the the other out. MIDI controller numbers are freely assignable to each of the physical controllers for each program.

The Cyber 6 allows you to calibrate its response to the continuous control sources, allowing minimum and maximum values to be specified. In the case of key velocity, you can also choose from eight preset velocity curves to better suit your playing style.

Once you are happy with your master keyboard program, you can name it with up to eight characters — arguably a tad on the short side these days — and store it for recall at a later date. Whilst scrolling through the 128 memory locations in the search for somewhere to save your latest killer program, the display shows the name of the program currently held in each patch, before you choose to overwrite it.

In general, this adds up to a very flexible set of master keyboard facilities that could certainly make live playing a much less traumatic experience. But the Cyber 6 has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.

A Question Of Motivation

When I mentioned the 'Motivator' in my review of Quasimidi's Raven synth recently, I said that this was the device that my arpeggiating life had been waiting for. The Cyber 6 offers two Motivators — I think I'm in love! The name might not mean much, but you try thinking of a word to describe what is effectively a super‑arpeggiator [sounds like one of our competition tie‑breakers — Ed]. Sure, the Motivators are capable of all the basic functions one might expect from an arpeggiator, but they also go much further.

Each Motivator offers three basic modes of operation: Arpeggiator, Gater and Chord. In Arpeggiator mode, the Motivator is as sophisticated as they come, with options for speed, timing resolution, gate time, octave range, note sorting, note repetition, hold mode, single‑shot playback, automatic pattern length correction... the list goes on! To go into detail would take up most of this review, but suffice it to say that I've never seen a more comprehensively specified example. Most worthy of individual note is the ability to edit the actual rhythm and velocity pattern of the generated arpeggios — I don't remember seeing this on any other arpeggiator I've ever come across. Additionally, each step of the arpeggio can access any one of eight MIDI channels, giving the player the ability to generate some truly inspiring multi‑timbral arpeggiations from the simplest of chord patterns — brilliant!

The Motivator's 'Gater' mode is inspired by the trick of using MIDI volume commands to simulate the action of a noise gate in side‑key mode, to generate the now familiar 'Shamen‑esque' triggered gating effect. The rhythm of the gated pattern is edited in much the same way as the arpeggiator, by making use of the first 32 white keys, to indicate whether a step should play or be silent, and the input key velocity denoting the value of the generated controller data. Any controller can be assigned to the Gater, not merely volume, so creating rhythmic filter steps or pitch bends is just as easy.

Rather than change controller data to produce rhythmic effects, Chord mode actually re‑triggers the chord you hold down. Since each step of the rhythm has the option to make use of any of the Motivator's eight MIDI channels (or 'instruments', as Quasimidi term them), it's even possible to generate wave sequences. With the tempo slowed right down and some judicious editing of attack and release times on my trusty Kurzweil K2000, I suddenly discovered a new instrument in my studio, capable of those complex, evolving sounds that I haven't heard since giving up in exasperation at the Korg Wavestation's malevolently‑engineered operating system. The Cyber 6 really can breathe new life into your existing synths — how many master keyboards can make that claim?

Once created, a Motivator setup may be stored in one of the 64 memory locations, to be put to use in any of the programs you create. A Motivator has its own instrument, bank/program number and volume level, and these are selected when you call up a program that makes use of that particular Motivator setup.

The 8‑track sequencer in the Cyber 6 is a no‑nonsense affair that has you achieving results almost in spite of yourself.

Real‑time control of the Motivators is possible by specifying a control source for both the gate time and dynamics of the Motivator‑generated notes. The action of the controller may be inverted for one of the Motivators. The Motivators may even be set to trigger from any of the internal sequencer tracks, allowing, for instance, a hi‑hat pattern to step the arpeggiator.

And what happens when you stumble upon an unrepeatably inspired pattern of notes when playing with the Motivators? How can you ferret this wondrous moment away, to be used in a song later? Just hit the Motivator 'Snapshot' button, and the fruits of your labours will be copied into the Cyber 6's sequencer, for a number of bars of your choice. Quasimidi have obviously been listening to musicians!

Introducing The Sequencer

The 8‑track sequencer in the Cyber 6 is a no‑nonsense affair that has you achieving results almost in spite of yourself. Operation is extremely easy, if a little fiddly on occasions, due to the small screen and amount of button‑pushing involved. Quasimidi have chosen a pattern‑based sequencer, which is certainly well suited to the dance market in which their machines are arguably best known. A maximum of 99 patterns are held at any one time, each of which is assigned its own time signature, speed and quantise grid value. Within a pattern, each of the eight tracks is given an associated MIDI channel, bank number, program number and volume. Each track may also be transposed up or down three octaves and given a length in bars (shorter tracks are looped to fit the length of the longest track in the pattern). Since, on playback, it is possible to transpose patterns in real‑time by use of the keyboard, each track can also be told whether to take any notice of such transpositions — drum and percussion tracks would be protected in this way.

Normal real‑time recording is supported, with options for overwriting previously recorded data or overdubbing, and an ingenious method of re‑recording velocity data by use of the second mod wheel. Controller data may be overdubbed on its own, once the note data has been entered. Takes may be quantised, and the last take undone to help prevent accidentally over‑recording a track. Quasimidi have also implemented a TR909‑style recording method, by making use of the keyboard to enter beats into a drum grid. The system works in a similar way to entering rhythms for the Motivators, and is a highly usable way to enter drum grooves.

The age‑old problem of recording rolls is taken care of too, since it is possible to set all of the Cyber 6's keyboard to play the same note — this should certainly make building drum maps easier, without having to duplicate the same sound over several keys, to allow rolls to be recorded. Not content with this, the Cyber 6 also offers one further recording mode, where notes and timing are entered from the keyboard on separate passes. This array of recording options should satisfy just about anyone, and used in combination, they provide a very creative environment in which to work.

Data may be copied between tracks within a pattern, or to tracks in any other pattern. Patterns may also be copied, and there are options to pass only those parameter settings (program, volume, controller assignments, etc) most likely to create a blank pattern for the same song. Track‑bouncing is possible, allowing complex structures, such as drum patterns, to be recorded across several tracks on the same MIDI channel — allowing various quantise settings to be used within the same rhythm.

Once you have a goodly collection of patterns in the Cyber 6's memory, the time comes to begin making use of them in 'Chains', to turn them into a song structure. The Cyber 6 will hold a maximum of 99 chains. At each step in a chain, you can specify the pattern to be played, a master keyboard program to be selected when the step becomes active (or 'none' to leave things as they are), a number of bars for which the chosen pattern will play (a zero in here causes the pattern to play until a new step or chain is selected — useful for extending songs when playing live), a transposition value, and whether or not the pattern will respond to real‑time transposition from the keyboard. Steps may be deleted or inserted, and chains can be deleted along with their associated patterns, if required. It is the Cyber 6's ability to combine pattern chaining, the selection of master keyboard programs, and the associated real‑time control of the results that makes me itch to take this machine onto a stage! Want to extend that middle eight? Fine. Want to mute the chords while voicing a few improvised stabs over the closing section? No problem. The Cyber 6 is capable of all this and more, to turn a live performance into an opportunity to respond to your audience's reaction — which is something sequencer users have found great difficulty in achieving up to now.

All the current data can be dumped as a MIDI SysEx file, for sending into a second machine, or archiving to a SysEx librarian. Quasimidi have made the SysEx implementation a very flexible part of the Cyber6's armoury, allowing for various combinations of data to be transmitted, for maximum flexibility. For instance, a chain and all of its associated patterns may be transmitted as a single dump.


It's hard to fault this machine. A disk drive (or option to fit one) would be nice, and I would like the number of sequencer tracks to be increased to take more advantage of the 32 MIDI channels available. I might suggest that the data wheel or 'soft' knobs of the Raven be brought to the Cyber 6's front panel. I might even carp about the small display size and the number of button presses to get some jobs done. But I have to say that these are relatively minor points in a machine that delivers a lot of control and musically creative power in a neat, self‑contained package.

This is a machine that makes you put your computer‑based sequencer to one side and take a fresh look at the way you make your music. It's also a machine that allows you the luxury of taking creative musical decisions during a live performance. Real‑time Enhancer? You bet it is! Quasimidi's only problem now will be how to enthuse musicians jaded by years of exposure to less creative, less user‑friendly master keyboards and sequencers. This is not the kind of device that lends itself to a quick tinker in the local hi‑tech music store — you have to take time to understand what the Cyber 6 can do for you. A lot of musicians out there could benefit from the Cyber 6 — and I count myself amongst them.

Master Of One

Perhaps the simplest use anyone might wish to make of a master keyboard would be to play the keyboard on a single channel and have the relevant synth module respond accordingly. Also, one might wish to alter the program number currently assigned to the module, the volume that the voice is currently playing at, and to switch to a new MIDI channel to address a different synth.

Quasimidi obviously understand this basic usage, and have supplied a mode in which all of the above (and even the Bank number) are available for editing on a single screen. This is such an elegantly simple way to work, it made me question why we accept more convoluted methods with such equanimity!

This Month's Quasimidi Manual Quote:

'We have designed this for you to use as an enormous tool'.
Who says hi‑tech music can't be fun?

Slight Whinge Corner: The User Interface

Having made use of other Quasimidi equipment, such as the Raven and Technox, I found myself sorely missing their data entry dial. It took some time to convince myself that the page dial doesn't moonlight as a data entry dial, and in the process I often found myself mistakenly skipping across several pages of parameters, when I had meant to edit a value. I also became nostalgic for the Raven's four 'soft' knobs under the display, which allowed editing of on‑screen values without having to first position the cursor. The cursor left/right and value plus/minus buttons seem something of a backwards step, in the light of Quasimidi's previous user interfaces.

Also In The Box...

The Cyber 6 comes with a good smattering of demo programs and sequences to allow you to get a feel for its capabilities. The demos are divided into those specifically designed to work in conjunction with Quasimidi's Quasar and Technox synth modules, and others that follow the General MIDI specification. These form a good starting point for exploring the Cyber 6 and, if the GM examples are anything to go by, the combination of a Quasimidi synth and the Cyber 6 are a force to be reckoned with. All of the factory settings may be recalled at any time, by paying a visit to the initialisation screen.


  • Very flexible master keyboard facilities.
  • Excellent real‑time control options.
  • Those Motivators really are the business!
  • Powerful sequencer with loads of recording options.


  • Editing can become tedious with the cursor and +/‑ keys.
  • Lack of a built‑in disk drive means data must be stored via SysEx transmissions.
  • I had the truly awful preliminary manual (the real version is out now, fortunately)!


Quasimidi's 'Real‑time Enhancer' delivers just that — a way to bring flexibility and creative interaction to pre‑recorded, sequenced material. This is a device that repays a little effort with a truly inspiring set of tools — making your live performances a cut above the rest. With a decent manual, the Cyber 6 will go far!