Following the success of their Quasar synth last year, Quasimidi have launched the new Technox, aimed firmly at the production of electronic dance music. Paul Ward dons his backwards baseball cap and checks it out...
Quasimidi's Technox is the second offering from this relatively new German manufacturer. Their first synth, the Quasar, was reviewed by yours truly in the August 1994 issue of Sound On Sound and I stated there that I was well impressed. The Technox is rather like a Quasar without the GM tag and a few of the more esoteric features, but the new synth shouldn't really be seen as a cut‑down version of the Quasar — rather, it's a similar synth, aimed at the dance end of the synth‑buyers' market.
The Technox sports a daring silver front panel (matches my old '70s hi‑fi kit perfectly) and is very sparing in its controls. Without the legending and bold squiggly line across the front, things would seem very sparse indeed! To the right of the power switch is the back‑lit 2x16 LCD that allows the Technox to communicate with you in a meaningful way. Further to the right, there are the parameter and value knobs for you to reply to the Technox. Having used an Akai S1100 for a few years, I was quite comfortable with this method of data input, although I know that some people seem to prefer cursor buttons. Two buttons are designated as 'Enter/OK' and 'Exit' for editing purposes. A further two buttons provide switching across ROM/RAM banks, and also double up to scroll across the 16 'Parts' when the Technox is in multitimbral mode. The front panel is completed by a volume control and headphone output, which I find is always a welcome sight on any synth.
To the rear are the main left/right standard jack outputs, the obligatory MIDI In/Out/Thru connectors and — joy — a proper Euro mains connector. There's also a footswitch connector, whose action is defined by software switching, and can be routed to any MIDI controller number.
From the words 'Techno Rave Electronic' emblazoned on the front of the synth, to the baseball cap references in the user manual, Quasimidi make no bones about the fact that they are aiming this machine squarely at the dance market. The onboard ROMs feature sounds collated from the very core of dance production, such as the MiniMoog, the Roland TB303 Bassline and the ubiquitous Roland TR606/808/909 drum machines.
The Technox uses the same method of sound creation pioneered by the Quasar. This method goes under the acronym of MASS, which is short for 'Multi Algorithm Sound Synthesis'. This essentially means that the Technox uses more than one type of synthesis to produce its sounds — namely PCM, FM and additive synthesis. The differences between these methods are of little concern to the Technox user, however, since the complexities of the synthesis engine are mostly hidden from view.
The Technox has two basic modes of operation. In 'Sequencer' mode it becomes a full 16‑part multitimbral expander. Each of the 16 parts corresponds to one of the basic building blocks that Quasimidi refer to as 'Single‑sounds'. The only exception is channel 10, where the drum kits are designated (see the separate 'Drumming Along' panel for more on the drums).
The attributes of each multitimbral part can be adjusted with regard to level, panning, tuning and effects sends. The panning options are very flexible here, with provision made for panning by key number or velocity (in either direction), as well as fixed or random pan positioning. Each part can also be selectively disabled, which simplifies use of the Technox in a larger MIDI setup. Two monophonic modes are provided, with highest or last note priority (very welcome for lead and bass usage). Velocity and hold pedal response can be defined individually for each part. With judicious use of all of these parameters, the Technox can weave some very rich aural tapestries, with parts spinning around the stereo field and mono lines punching through a mix in a very satisfying manner.
The bass content is nothing short of inspiring, and the classic Roland TR drums are mouth‑wateringly realistic.
In the second, so‑called 'Performance' mode, up to four Single‑sounds and the two effects processors may be layered to produce some rich and powerful textures, curiously reminiscent of a Roland D50 — though much more varied in range. Each Single‑sound within the Performance can be edited in the same way as in the 'Sequencer' mode, with its own modulation options, panning, tuning and effects sends.
The Technox has 14 memories where multitimbral setups can be named and saved, and these setups can be dumped as SysEx messages to an external data filer, and also replayed by a sequencer to set the Technox up prior to playback of material. Many of the sound parameters can be edited in real‑time over MIDI, which makes the Technox a very expressive synth in the right circumstances.
The organisation of the Single‑sounds within the Technox's memory is nothing short of exemplary. Sounds are firstly divided into groups, such as Basses, SynthFX or SynthPads. Groups can be selected by a mere click of the left‑hand knob on the front panel. Within these groups, the sounds are presented in alphabetical order, and can be selected by the right‑hand knob. This makes finding a particular sound nothing short of a doddle. It's a welcome change to that list of favourite patches that always seems to have fallen down the back of the cupboards immediately before a heavy recording session.
Editing of the Single‑sounds themselves is relatively limited, but this must be seen in context with the philosophy behind the Technox. Quasimidi have recognised that most musicians rarely create a sound from scratch, preferring instead to find a preset that is close to what they want and tweak it accordingly. The Technox takes this concept a stage further — the user just provides an offset to the internally preset parameters. For example, if you feel that a particular Single‑sound has too much resonance, you enter a negative offset value for the resonance parameter. Similarly, if you want more release time for a sound, you enter a positive offset value for the release parameter. Whilst I accept that this is a reasonable way of working, I have the same reservations about this as I had with the Quasar. It's uncomfortable being presented with a resonance value of zero in the edit pages of a given preset when you know from the way the patch sounds that it has resonance programmed into it. It's rather like having a car with a pair of 'go faster'/'go slower' pedals, but no speedometer! I would rather be presented with absolute values that I could interpret and re‑program at will — but I'm sure others will disagree with me. The main advantage of the offset system is in being able to try several presets with the offsets you have programmed. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced...
Tweakable parameters include the basic envelope settings of attack, decay and release, and filter cut‑off and resonance. Vibrato speed, depth and delay can also be adjusted. Perhaps more important are the modulation options, where a sound's response to the 'Modulation Matrix' can be defined. The Modulation Matrix is where each part's response to incoming MIDI control sources is determined. Four control sources are recognised at any one time. These are the mod wheel, aftertouch, pitch‑bender and a free controller that can be set by the user, such as a breath controller or foot pedal. The control destinations are the LFO, volume, pitch, filter cut‑off, FX2 send and arpeggiator gate time. As well as global settings for, say, the amount of modulation imparted by the mod wheel to the filter cut‑off, each multitimbral part can again be given an offset value to increase or negate the effect. Brilliant! This is one area where Quasimidi seem to have made a stride on the competition, with a modulation routing system that puts a vast degree of control into the player's hands. OK, the concept of a modulation matrix is nothing new (I have one on my old Sequential Pro One), but it has rarely been implemented in such a flexible, yet simple manner.
The arpeggiator can be set to function on any one of the 16 available parts. It is to Quasimidi's credit that they have opted to carry this feature over from the Quasar — it's superb! Resolution, gate time, direction, speed and latching can all be pre‑defined, and the arpeggiator will even synchronise to incoming MIDI clocks (though there's still no MTC sync, which is a pity). Best of all, the arpeggiator will send its generated data to the MIDI output, which means you can arpeggiate external instruments, or record it to your sequencer for 16‑part arpeggios on playback!
The effects are clean and competent. Generally speaking, FX1 has the reverb/delay treatments, whilst FX2 takes care of modulation effects, though there is some overlap between the two, specifically in the area of delay effects. Room, chamber, plate and hall settings are all available in FX1, along with a healthy selection of gated and early reflection patterns for good measure. FX2 has a vast range of typical chorus, phasing, flanging and delay effects to suit even the most demanding ear. Quasimidi certainly seem to have got the phasing effect down to a fine art — it's one of the sweetest I've heard on any digital synth. My other favourite effect is the overdrive, which can provide some gritty warmth to lead, bass and drum sounds. FX2 can provide a variable amount of input into FX1 to allow the processors to work in series or parallel.
So, what does it sound like? Well, much like the Quasar, the Technox is at its best in full flight. Some individual sounds are a little weak in isolation, but it just all seems to come together when more than a couple of parts are playing. The bass content is nothing short of inspiring — especially from a digital synth — and the classic Roland TR drums are mouth‑wateringly realistic. I did find myself missing the mode from the Quasar where a Performance can be played along with 12 Single‑sounds, especially since the Performances themselves are so impressive. The drums and basses are the true stars, although I was pleasantly surprised by many of the other sounds — especially the acoustic guitar. However, fans of full‑sounding piano sounds may find the piano patches here a tad thin. Again, you have to bear in mind that the designers have specifically gone for the thin, clunky piano sound present in so much dance music (hi Whigfield). Nevertheless, I must say that, although the extreme bottom and top ends of the piano range are handled competently, the upper middle sounded to me more like a harp than a piano.
From the words 'Techno Rave Electronic' emblazoned on the front of the synth, to the baseball cap references in the user manual, Quasimidi make no bones about the fact that they are aiming this machine squarely at the dance market.
I did notice a couple of disturbing features as I played around. When a single note is re‑triggered, the Technox cuts the previous one off to provide the voice for the next. This seems a little odd when you are playing single notes on a 21‑note polyphonic synth. I also noticed that some single sounds snap back to their full filter setting when a note is released. When I was using a mod wheel to close down the filter cut‑off, this gave the impression of a re‑trigger. I'm sure that this only takes a quick software fix to cure, and I am assured that the software on my review model is an early version, but these glitches could certainly cause some problems in the meantime.
Simplicity is the key here. Quasimidi have produced a machine that is about as simple to use as you're likely to come across, yet the results that can be achieved with a little prodding are not short of both impact and quality.
The Technox is a good contender in the multitimbral expander market, and should certainly be considered seriously by anyone regularly involved with dance music. Don't be put off by this statement if dance isn't your 'thang', though, because the Technox is more than capable of providing a wealth of excellent textures for just about anything from new age to synth‑rock.
Just don't ask me to wear a baseball cap, OK?
Quasimidi make great play of the 'classic' drum sounds available in the Technox. I am happy to report that they all sound excellent, with the Roland TR series drums the particular stars of the show. The TR909 kick and snare have enough depth and punch to get a dance floor moving in no time at all, and the TR808 sounds are delicate and sweet. I was especially pleased to see that the good old Roland CR78 has been included. The hi‑hats and tambourine from that device are amongst my own list of 'classic' sounds and are well presented here. The only slight casualty has to be the TR808 kick — although it's well recorded (a difficult thing in itself), it's short and lacking in that 'boinnng' that defines its essential character.
The drum sounds can be edited to a limited extent. Level, pitch, pan position and FX1/2 effects sends are presented for alteration, although it's not possible to change the actual drum sound that is assigned to a note. The kits themselves are sensibly assembled to give a good range of sounds, although I did find it frustrating to be unable to compile my own kits. However, in the Technox's intended market, this is unlikely to cause too much of a problem. The manual cheerfully suggests that drum sounds to be edited are selected with the 'Part/Bank' buttons. By a process of optimistic button prodding, I found that sounds could be selected by holding the 'Edit' button and playing a MIDI keyboard at the same time. This should be included in the manual as soon as possible! There are 16 drum kits in ROM, and eight which are held in RAM to be defined (and named, if wished) by the user. This is not to suggest that you can set up your own configurations of drum sounds — as I've already said, you can't do this — but you can define your own preferred settings (pitch, decay, and so on) for the drums in the fixed kits, and store those.
We received the Technox here at the Sound On Sound offices prior to sending it on to Paul Ward for review, and naturally, we did what any self‑respecting musicians would do when given the opportunity for a go on a brand‑new instrument — we had a quick tinker, just to make sure that everything was in order for Paul Ward, you understand.
Whilst in the middle of this fiddling about [surely 'extensive diagnostic testing'? — Ed] we came across the synth's internal demo. This astonishing piece of programming showcases the Technox's abilities to the full, blasting your ears with a piece of wild Techno that contains all the squiggles, eeks and erps you'd expect from a fully analogue synth, not a digital one like the Technox. Hardbitten, cynical journalists that we are, we were nevertheless all of us truly impressed. So remember, when you get a chance to play with a Technox, don't forget to check out the demo! Our compliments to whoever it was at Quasimidi who programmed it (and have you thought of releasing it commercially?). Matt Bell.
- ROM 9 Clocky: beautifully delicate bell/voice.
- ROM 27 MiniMoog: very full bass patch.
- ROM 34 Oxygen: rich phased strings.
- A96 Acid Bass: squidgy bass with real punch.
- B54 AcousGtr: one of the best guitar patches I've heard.
- B102 CMI‑Vox1: superb breathy voices, just like ye olde Fairlight.
- D22 AnKick3T: dance floor‑shaking kick drum.
- Simple to operate.
- Loads of instant play'n'go sounds.
- Very gutsy sound quality — especially the drums and bass.
- That arpeggiator!
- Sound parameters can be edited in real‑time over MIDI.
- Individual sounds can be thin — though they do sound great in the context of a full mix.
- Relatively limited editing capabilities.
- 21‑note polyphony looks a little cramped these days.
- The manual seems to have suffered somewhat in translation from German!
A fine‑sounding expander with a penchant for good bass and drum sounds. Worthy of consideration by anyone seeking a cost‑effective solution to multitimbral sequencing — especially if you are looking for 'those' dance sounds.