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Manufacturer Resources Online

Roland UK's cartoon‑style gear village.Roland UK's cartoon‑style gear village.

Hi‑tech gear companies have set up shop on the web and offer all manner of downloadable goodies, plus FAQs, tips and techniques, to support their users. Derek Johnson & Debbie Poyser take their pick.

Music equipment manufacturers worldwide have spent a lot of time and money gearing themselves up for the Internet age. As well as the promotional aspects of having a decent web site, there are other advantages for the web‑savvy company. Ongoing development of software‑based instruments necessarily entails making available new versions of existing software. The Internet is pretty much the perfect way for companies to inexpensively do so with the minimum of hassle — once the initial investment in a site and archive system have been made.

We're also now seeing an increasing trend for direct sales of some products from web sites. In some cases, these Internet sales are of stuff that won't even be available through conventional retail channels. Computer recording/synthesis specialists Creamware, for example, recently announced that they would be selling low‑priced software plug‑ins, that would not otherwise be viable, from their web site alone ( For those without Internet access these trends can be worrying. How long, they might well be asking themselves, before the Internet is the only way to obtain software updates and so on? Even for the net‑equipped the new methods can be a double‑edged sword: downloading anything costs money in telephone time. If the download is sizeable the cost of a nominally free update can actually be several pounds, especially if you have to do it during peak time.

All this said, there is nothing like the web for convenience. Want the latest software version for your synth or sampler? No problem: visit the web site, find the download area, and the deed can be done immediately. Just bought something second‑hand and unsure whether its OS is fully up to date? It can be the work of moments to find out, and download the latest OS if necessary.

Buying used gear without a manual is often no longer the problem it used to be, now that a lot of manufacturers maintain libraries of PDF (Portable Document Format) manuals on their web sites. The bottom may have begun to fall out of the cottage industry of supplying photocopied manuals for older gear. One noted synth manufacturer charges between £11 and £58 for a single photocopied manual via mail‑order, which makes a couple of hours of download time look like chicken‑feed! Even something as basic as wanting a brochure for a bit of kit you're considering becomes easier with the 'net: downloadable product info and online brochures are the stuff of which manufacturer web sites are made.

With all this in mind, this month we're taking a look at a few of the web sites maintained by the larger manufacturers, examining what's of use, and what can be downloaded. We've concentrated mainly on the larger companies because they tend to have bigger product lines and more history, and will usually offer more in the way of downloads.

Home, Home On The Web

Korg UK's newly arrived Internet presence.Korg UK's newly arrived Internet presence.

Roland UK's site ( has become a valuable resource for owners of current Roland gear. It uses a neat 'village' metaphor on its opening page, allowing visitors to move their mouse over a club building, a church, a school, a radio station, an arena, and a building representing the local studio, to bring up lists of the type of equipment that would be appropriate to each. The studio, for example, offers recording and pro‑audio gear, mixers, effects and speakers, while amplifiers, guitars, keyboards, sound reinforcement and drums pop up if you linger around the arena. On offer when one goes deeper into the site are product info, news, support, and a download area. You can request brochures or even an entire catalogue if you don't want to download information, and magazine reviews and demos of many instruments are also featured (audio demos need the Shockwave streaming plug‑in).

In the Download pages you'll find numerous OS updates for gear including the VS‑series digital multitrackers, the SP808 sampler, the JP8000 modelling synth, the MC505 Groovebox, and the S‑series samplers. Older equipment isn't featured to a huge extent, but this shortcoming is corrected in the collections of sounds offered by the site. Original factory sets for such instruments as the U20 and U220 (early sample‑playback synths), the MKS80, 70 and 20 vintage modules, GR50 and GP8 guitar synths, and D‑series synths will be of interest to anyone who has bought second‑hand and would like to restore factory presets. There seems to be only one free program to download, the SCEdit V2.11 Sound Canvas GM synth editor — but that does at least have wide relevance given the number of Sound Canvas variants out there.

The Support area lives up to its name pretty well, carrying patch and waveform lists for many instruments in downloadable PDF format — again useful for second‑hand buyers — as well as a number of instrument‑specific programming guides and the usually very good 'Turbo Start' guides to help you get to grips with your gear. There's also a set of general guides covering hard‑disk recording and digital mixing.

If the Roland UK site has a failing it is that it doesn't really capitalise on the company's history of fantastic and very hip equipment going back many years. There's no 'history' section to clue in newbies about the Roland heritage, and no classic synths area. Yet Roland as a company are quite capable of doing this kind of thing — we have an excellent print booklet they did a few years ago to coincide with their 25th anniversary. It consists of a history of Roland gear from 1973 onwards, with colour pictures and text that emphasises the ground‑breaking nature of some of the company's products, and would make a wonderful part of the site itself.

Yamaha are a giant company in hi‑tech music terms, though they obviously make far more than music‑ and recording‑related gear. The Yamaha UK web site ( has links to other Yamaha sites worldwide, and in fact when you choose certain sections you'll be taken automatically to the US or Japanese sites for browsing. It's clean in appearance, featuring news, product info, and a list of 'Useful Stuff'. And indeed the stuff is useful, including a full manual library, though you have to fill in a form with a few personal details to gain access to this. The library is searchable and covers older gear as far back as the famed DX‑series FM synths.

Download gold can be struck at the XG section of the site, which features tons of free utilities, including XGEdit for various XG synths, the XG‑Gold editor for QS300 and MU10, amongst other supported instruments, an Acorn Archimedes XG editor, Emagic Logic sequencer environment pages for 'MU'‑series modules, and Cakewalk 'Studioware' panels for some Yamaha instruments.

The Yamaha site also hosts the great 'Classic Corner', which caters for older equipment. Here there are loads of utilities, free voices for many instruments, and PD software, including editors and librarians. One PC utility we found of particular interest converts WAV files to SY85‑format samples, for use with that synth's sample RAM, saving SY85 owners the trouble of beaming samples to the synth via MIDI SDS. In the section entitled 'Older Than MIDI Itself' are circuit diagrams for the CS80 '70s analogue monster‑synth, modifications for its tiny brother, the CS5, and press releases for various old synths. When we visited, this area hadn't been added to since the end of 1998, but the Yamaha site is getting an overhaul at present, so it may have been changed.

Korg UK are a welcome addition to the Internet manufacturer community, having just got their site ( up and running. All the usual news and information content is offered by this very readable and attractive site, and there's an FAQ section and a download area too. At the moment, downloads are restricted to latest OS versions for Korg instruments and factory pre‑loads for restoring their preset patches, but there are one or two new sound sets scattered about too. We'd expect this site to develop in the future, and hope Korg will also give some space to their fabulous vintage synths, such as the MS20, PS‑series and Mono/Poly.

Across The Pond

The support page on Akai's web site.The support page on Akai's web site.

US hi‑tech manufacturers Alesis ( have a sizeable web presence, underlining the range of items they now produce. Software updates, manuals, news and magazine reviews for Alesis recorders, synths, effects, and so on, are all there, as are a few FAQs and the so‑called Technotes, which go deeper into a subject than does an FAQ. (More Alesis FAQs are available at UK distributor Sound Technology's site, Latest versions of a few useful free utilities can also be found at, including Soundbridge, which converts sounds into Quadrasynth format so they can be transferred to a QS‑series synth, and the Track Manager track‑sheet and tape label software for ADAT recorders. There's a good Links area, too, sending visitors to sites for publishers who produce guides to Alesis gear, user pages, and sites where they can find shareware. In common, it seems, with several manufacturer sites, the Alesis one doesn't really highlight older gear — no FAQs, for example, for users of Alesis's first synth, the Quadrasynth, or the older ADATs. However, a visit to the Manuals page reveals PDF downloads for pretty much everything Alesis have made, back to the Midiverb II. Last, but not least, there's even a selection of useful general articles produced by respected hi‑tech writer (and occasional SOS contributor) Craig Anderton.

The first thing you see when visiting the web site of Alesis' fellow American company Peavey ( is a giant banner promising 'Free Stuff'! Sounds interesting, but don't get too excited: the stuff on offer is Peavey screensavers, desktop wallpaper and electronic postcards. As barmy as this all might sound, the postcard service is actually quite good fun. You personalise the card of your choice (they're available for different occasions and, predictably, guitar‑themed) and Peavey email it to your chosen recipient. For adolescents — in actual years or just temperament — there's also the silly Guitar Sketcher feature, which allows you to create a photo‑fit custom guitar from a library of different bits and email it to a similarly deranged friend.

On a more practical note, the Peavey site has all the news and info you'd expect, and they're currently in the process of turning their manuals into PDFs for download. Useful site content includes some decent tech notes, one of which is a digital audio glossary, and initialisation instructions for Peavey gear that might need a reset.

Out Of Site

Well, the bottom of the page approaches again and we've only scratched the surface of the manufacturer web sites out there. Apologies to all those we didn't have room to mention. Maybe next time...

In Brief...

  • Akai ( OS software right back to the S1000 sampler, manuals, magazine reviews, and a sound download page that carries a changing selection of free sounds. Also, links to Akai‑related sites, comprehensive FAQs, very good tips and techniques, timestretch formulas, and so on.
  • Digidesign ( Software updates, Pro Tools tips and techniques, excellent FAQs, Techflix QuickTime movies to take the visitor through awkward hardware installations, an area for buying and selling used Digi gear, user conferences, and a QuickStart guide for the Digi 001 system.
  • Emagic ( FAQs, tips and tricks, updates for current Emagic software, including all Logic variants, drivers for Emagic hardware, and software tutorials, including one on creating profiles for the Sound Diver universal editor/librarian. An especially nice thing to download from this site is the 'Ultimate Step Sequencer' for Logic's Environment page.
  • Emu‑Ensoniq ( Manuals to download, OS updates, FAQs, tutorials and tech tips.
  • Kurzweil ( OS updates, PDF manuals, free samples and programs, demo sequences, GM compatibility files for mapping Kurzweil workstations to General MIDI, plus loads of user sounds on this very together site.
  • MOTU ( Updates and demos for MOTU software including the Digital Performer and Freestyle sequencers, the Audio Desk recording program that comes with MOTU audio hardware, synth profiles for the UniSyn universal editor, and very comprehensive tech notes.
  • Steinberg ( free plug‑ins for the Cubase VST MIDI + Audio sequencer (the VB1 virtual analogue synth and the Karlette virtual tape delay), a free editor for the LM4 drum‑machine VST instrument, updates for various Steinberg programs, including VST itself, Rebirth 338, ReCycle, Xpose, and TimeBandit, and a searchable Knowledgebase FAQ area.
  • Tascam ( PDF manuals from April '98 onwards.
  • Waldorf (www.waldorf‑ Manuals, OS updates, patches and tools for Waldorf synths.