SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.12 No.11. September 1997
Review by Chris Carter
ENSONIQ ASR-X SAMPLING WORKSTATION (see also: ENSONIQ ASR-X PRO review)
Ensoniq have made a brave move with this hybrid sampler, because in deciding to enter the Akai dominated sampling workstation market they could come unstuck, or come up trumps. Although products such as the Korg Trinity and Roland DJ70 MkII also share a few features and concepts, it's the Akai MPC2000 (see SOS, April 97) that is, price for price, its most direct competitor. However, although the MPC2000 may be higher specified in the sampling department it doesn't offer the ASR-X's built-in ROM sounds, effects as standard or resampling. If you are looking for a sampling drum machine check out the MPC, if you are looking for a sampling workstation read on...
The Ensoniq ASR-X is a pro specification 16-bit stereo sampler/resampler, with built in MR synthesiser, multi-effects, 18 dB resonant filters, 32-voice polyphony, a multi-timbral 16 track MIDI sequencer, 14 real-time performance pads, 2 Mb of RAM and a floppy disk drive. The unit can be expanded with a further 26 Mb of ROM voices and 32 Mb of RAM and also available are an expander board offering an additional 8 assignable audio outputs and a SCSI option.
The expansive front panel is divided into two sections and contains a small, back lit, 2 X 20 digit LCD and about 40 or so controls. In the upper section is a volume control and two continuously variable knobs labelled Parameter/Sound Type and Value/Sound Name. The Parameter knob is for scrolling through sound banks (using the 'Soundfinder' feature, see box) and scrolling through parameter pages. The Value control is used to scroll through sound names (within sound banks) and for changing parameter values. Unfortunately there are no +/- incremental buttons for fine tuning values or any way of making large parameter leaps and jumps, which ultimately means a lot of knob twiddling is the order of the day.
Some of the 21, small oval push buttons, have useful built-in LED's and many of them perform multiple functions. A neat trick some of them perform is the ability to call up a parameter page by double clicking, as you would on a mouse and by repeatedly clicking, some of the buttons can scroll through parameter pages without having to use the parameter knob. Both these methods take a little getting used to but do allow for some useful and speedy programming shortcuts. The lower half of the front panel contains the sampling section, transpose and Patch Select buttons (see box) and 14 velocity sensitive pads.
On the rear are jack sockets for left and right audio inputs and outputs, a stereo headphone socket, a dual foot switch socket, MIDI in/out/thru connectors, an input level control, a mic/line input selector switch plus a couple of blank panels waiting for the various upgrade options.
Although described by Ensoniq as a portable unit the ASR-X is a substantial beast, in both build quality and size. The pressed steel casing is about 17" X 13" X 4" and apart from a couple of slightly flimsy protruding controls on the back, looks and feels as if it were built for life on the road.
THE SOUND OF WAVES
In operation the ASR-X follows most sampler, synth and sequencer conventions and apart from a few quirks and idiosyncrasies, that all manufactures seem to insist on adopting in one form or another, is fairly straightforward to use. One of these quirks is the lack of a battery backed, system, patch or performance memory, which means a stash of floppies should always be close by to save any editing onto.
Raw samples and ROM voices in the ASR-X are called waves, while programmes or performances containing them are, a bit confusingly, called either Kit Sounds or Standard Sounds. Standard Sounds are made up of a maximum of 16 layers of individual, mono or stereo, waves spread chromatically across the pads. A standard Sound can be used for anything melodic, synth, bass, guitar or samples, through to highly complex evolving pads or sound effects. Though you have to bear in mind that pre-set ROM Sounds using a lot of layers steal notes from the total 32-note polyphony. On the other hand Kit Sounds utilise a structure where each note from B1 to D7 can play an entirely different mono or stereo wave. You could have a mixture of 64 percussion sounds, sample loops, Standard Sounds or even other Kit Sounds programmed into individual pads, or MIDI notes. There are half a dozen or so drum Kits in ROM and while they are pretty high quality they aren't particularly outstanding and a bit too rock and roll for my liking. For a dance oriented 'groove' instrument such as this a little more effort should have been put into including some more colourful Kits than this.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Central to the operation of the ASR-X is the concept of Tracks. These are actually sequencer tracks, with Track 1 tied to MIDI channel 1, Track 2 to MIDI channel 2 and so on and there are always 16 active Tracks, even if you haven't recorded anything, no more and no less.
To listen to, or record a Sound or Kit, a track is first chosen using the dedicated Track Select buttons below the LCD, you then scroll through the ROM voices using the Sound Type and Sound Name knobs and the Soundfinder feature (see box). In this mode the display always shows the Track number and the Kit/Sound playing and the sequencer bar and beat numbers. And while the pads will only play and record the currently selected Kit/Sound you can play and record Kits/Sounds on other, non visible Tracks over MIDI. Using the Track Select and Sound Finder functions it's possible to jump from track to track changing Sounds and Kits very quickly, until you are happy with the set up, easy peasy so far.
Once you have chosen a Sound you can tweak and adjust it using the Track Edit button. These edit pages contain about 40 or so editing parameters such as volume, pan, FX routing, octave shift, VCF, ADSR, LFO and portamento. These parameters either override or offset the original programmed Kit/Sound settings depending on how the Track Parameter function is set, many of the parameters can also be controlled by an external MIDI source and subsequently recorded into a sequencer track.
While this sequencer may not be as versatile as a software version it certainly isn't a slouch. All the usual suspects are here, plus a few surprises you wouldn't normally expect in a hardware unit. Up to 128 sequences can be loaded (memory permitting) and sequences can be saved as standard MIDI files, to DOS format floppy, for loading into most PC, MAC and ST sequencer packages. The sequencer has a resolution of 384 ppqn and the metronome has various record and playback modes, including volume, pan and FX bus options. Recording modes are; REPLACE, this erases any previously recorded material. ADD (the default mode), which combines new material with previous material. STEP, for non-realtime recording. TRACK MIX, which allows you to record realtime Track Volume and Track Pan changes. FINAL MIX, is for recording Sequence Volume and Sequence Tempo changes. The Regions feature lets you define a section of a currently selected sequence for various uses, this could be as an auto punch in/out region, or as a section you want to copy, erase or playback. Everyday tools include programmable Tempo and Time Signature, plus Undo, Copy Track, Paste Append, Paste Replace, Paste Merge, Erase Track, Erase Notes, Erase Data, Erase MIDI Controllers, Scoop (for removing individual notes) and Quantise. The Quantise function is very comprehensive and has enough features to cover most situations, with parameters for Strength, Swing, Random, Shift, Note Range, Min/Max Deviation, Quantise Note Off, Move Note Off and Quantise. You can apply a quantise amount from 1/1-whole notes to 1/64 T-64 th note triplets and Ensoniq include their own Delta Quantisation, a method of analysing the space between notes for a less strict and more rhythmic approach. You can also choose from a list quantising templates, including Strict, Tight, Random, Swing and Humanise, or save and load your own custom templates.
WELCOME TO THE HOUSE OF WHACKS
To be honest, I was surprised how quickly I came to rely on the performance pads for entering notes into the sequencer and in fact the pads become pretty essential once you do any serious work on the ASR-X because although they sound and look a bit clunky they are in fact quite responsive and allow you to work out ideas, rhythm patterns, bass lines and basic melodies very quickly. However, because the pads only cover a physical range of 13 notes, C to C (with a transposable range of 5 octaves, using the transpose buttons) things can get awkward if you plan on entering a lot of chords or playing delicate, fast or full length keyboard runs, in which case a MIDI keyboard is best kept connected and nearby. Also, while the pads have probably been designed primarily for entering rhythms patterns, I'm not sure they would stand up to being whacked with drum sticks, well not too hard anyway.
The behaviour of each pad can be edited to suit your personal playing style, or the style of the music involved, this means you can build up a collection of favourite custom kits for different projects, songs or even different users. However in order to edit the pads, a Kit must be converted from ROM to RAM . The Kit can be an existing one or you can convert the SILENCE Kit (which contains nothing) as the basis for a completely new custom kit of your own. Even if you begin editing a Kit without copying it to RAM the LCD asks: 'Make a RAM Kit from (for example): ROM10:004 Rock Kit ?' , pressing the yes/enter button is usually the way forward and a copy is placed into RAM. You can now alter velocity, pan, tuning and FX buss assignment for each pad, or MIDI note and by tapping a pad (using the Transpose buttons to cover the full 5 octaves if necessary) the display changes to show which sound is selected for each pad. You can scroll though the 128 ROM Sounds (or more if you have an MR-EXP board fitted) or any RAM samples, changing and adapting the Kit to suit your needs. The edited Kit now appears under a new category in the Sound Finder list, called USER-SND and can be renamed or used within other Kits and Standard Sounds. The ROM banks contain 6, slightly lack lustre, drum kits and 1 GM kit and the manual includes Ensoniq and GM drum maps to help when adapting ROM kits or making your own from scratch. This methodology is pretty fast and straightforward and once you have it sussed works a treat, although I think Ensoniq could have included a few more kits in ROM.
SCRATCHING THE PAD
The sampling section (derived from the higher specified Ensoniq ASR-10 & ASR-88 samplers) is tucked away in the bottom left hand corner of the front panel and only consists of 3 buttons, Set-up, Send To Pad, Start/Stop and a dedicated velocity sensitive pad called the Scratch Pad™. To prepare for sampling you press the Set-up button and by repeatedly pressing it the display scrolls through all the sampling options (alternatively you can scroll using the parameter knob). On these pages you can configure the recording time, set a pre-trigger level, sampling trigger (manual, MIDI or audio), input source , mono or stereo sampling and view the input level meter. Input Source options are: Input Dry, Input+Insert, Input+Main Out and Main Out only. The first three options are for sampling external sounds, either dry, through the effects buss or mixing the input source and main stereo output signal together, the last two options are where the ASR-X enters resampling territory by sampling its own output (see below). When sampling from an external source, levels are set using two LEDs on the front panel and/or using the Input Meter page. Once the parameters are set and assuming there is an audio source connected to the rear jack sockets (although if you are resampling this isn't strictly necessary) it's just a matter of hitting the sampling Start/Stop button and it's chocks away... You can stop sampling at any time by pressing the Start/Stop button or, if you have pre set a sampling time, just wait until sampling has finished. The sample is now temporarily available on the Scratch Pad button (until you sample something else) and the display reads: Send To Pads ? What you do now depends on the type of sound you have sampled. If your sample is a loop or a percussion sound then it's just a matter of tapping one or more of the pads of the currently selected RAM Kit and your wave is copied to that pad and becomes part of the Kit. Alternatively you can select a new RAM Kit (or an empty Kit) at any time and press the Send To Pad button, which brings up the 'Send To Pads ?' dialogue again. However if your sample needs to be spread chromatically across all the pads (or MIDI notes), you press the Track Sound button, dial up the CUSTOM category on the display and select your sample, which is now appears as a Standard Sound. All new samples are automatically named SMPL_001, SMPL_002 and so on, and placed in the CUSTOM category, as Standard Sounds, but they can be renamed at any time.
Ensoniq have wisely made the resampling feature the default sampling mode, which makes it very quick and easy to use, as you don't need to do much (if any) fiddling around to set it up. Anything can be resampled, sequencer and MIDI controlled, Kits, Sounds and samples, live pad playing, external audio (plus effects), the master stereo output (plus effects), external audio AND the master stereo output together (plus effects, of course!). I know it's a cliché but the only limit to what you resample is your imagination and the amount of installed memory.
Also, if you find yourself exceeding the 32-note polyphony or you need more effects you can resample as you go along, freeing up complex rhythm tracks, or dense pad sounds. If you have enough memory and I think 16 Mb would be the absolute minimum, it's quite possible to resample a whole song, complete with effects and in stereo. You can then place the sample in a Kit and treat it as you would any other sample or loop, processing and manipulating it. You could then resample it again, adding to it and mutating it until the original is quite unrecognisable. A major bonus here is that because everything is carried out in the digital domain there are no levels to worry about and there is no noticeable degradation to the resampled audio, unless your using distortion effects that is. This is sampling at its most fun.
Sample editing is fairly rudimentary but as a result quite straightforward. There are 8 sample pages:
1: Play Mode (which determines the sample direction), with forward, backward, loop forward, loop backward and loop forward+backward.
2: Start/Loop (which are course adjustments for Start, Loop and End).
3: Sample Start, fine adjust.
4: Loop Start, fine adjust.
5: Loop End, fine adjust.
6: Start To End Index.
7: Index Mod Source.
8: Index Mod Amount.
You also get a few Sample Process options: Truncate Length, Normalise Gain, Scale Loudness, Invert Sample Data, Copy Sample To Pads and Reduce Sample Bits. This last one is great for grungy sounds and works in 1-bit steps, all the way down to 1-bit resolution if needed. But sorry, no fancy waveforms and editing graphics here,everything is performed numerically or by ear, and no sign of cross fade looping or time stretch. As you would expect, sample trimming and looping can be a slow and frustrating process with no visual feedback to speak of. But once you are happy with the basic raw sample there are plenty of sound shaping tools to play with, and remember each kit can contain up to 64 individual mono or stereo samples. These, so called, Pad Parameters include: volume, pan, tuning, FX routing, a 3-pole, 18 dB resonant filter, a VCF+envelope generator, a VCA+envelope generator, a pitch envelope generator, an LFO/modulation section, portamento and MIDI modulation. The filters and modulation options are particularly good and there's enough here to shape a sample out of all recognition.
INSERT YOUR EFFECT HERE
The effects banks in the ASR-X utilise the 24-bit ESP2 chip, the same used in Ensoniq MR synths. Two effects are available per sequence, insert effect and global reverb and any or all of the 16 Tracks can be routed to these effects busses. If the X-8 output expander is fitted then an additional 4 busses are available, these feed four pairs of stereo outputs and can be used to send Sounds and Kits to outside effects units or mixer channels. The insert effect buss can choose from one of the 40 listed effect algorithms but the global reverb buss can only select from 8 specific reverb effects (see box). This may not offer the overkill approach of some samplers and workstations with multiple effects upon effects but the ASR-X does offer a considerable number of editable parameters per effect, with most having at least 20 to 30 editable values. To get around the problem of excessive page scrolling and knob twiddling with this many parameters Ensoniq have included some very useful pre-sets for each effect. For instance, the plain sounding Formant Morph effect has 8 pre-sets ranging from: 'Vel Vocoder' (a very convincing voice box sound), to 'Synced Saws' (which sounds like someone with a cold saying 'bye bye bye...'). Alternatively the pre-sets can be used as the starting point for a new effect of your own and can be manually overridden. Looking at the list you would assume that the maximum number of effects available (as an insert) would be a three way type such as the EQ-CHORUS-DDL, however the effects list doesn't give the full story. For example the DIST-DDL-TREM effect has 31 editable parameters and 10 pre-set algorithms and contains a high pass filter, voltage-controlled harmonic distortion, a VCF, 3 band EQ, a delay and an LFO and great it sounds too. As you would expect with 24-bit processing all the effects are noise free and professional sounding, with some very musical distortions and filters and lush, wide choruses. The formant filters are exceptionally good and can turn a bland loop or pad into an altogether different animal. The global reverbs are very natural (and American) sounding with none of that metallic ring you often get with Japanese effects and could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with most mid-priced stand alone effects units. In addition, each Insert Effect provides a set of parameters to allow you to manipulate effects in real time over MIDI. To achieve this a sequencer Track can be assigned as an Insert Effect Control Track and an Effect Modulation Destination and a Modulation Source can be programmed. Any effects changes are then recorded along with MIDI note information into the chosen sequencer track. This is a useful feature for introducing even more expression into an already expressive instrument, particularly when used with the resampling feature.
THE ULTIMATE GROOVE MACHINE ?
For an instrument that Ensoniq are advertising as an 'Ultimate Groove Machine' where are those essential looping tools such as a loop BPM calculator or features such as the 'Beats Mode' and 'Beat Change' which are found on the dinky Akai S20 and the gargantuan Yamaha A3000 samplers and calculate, then stretch or squeeze sample loops to a set BPM value? There is a rather feeble Tap Tempo button but it is too unpredictable to be of any real use. Hopefully, these omissions can be remedied in future software revisions. There were definitely times when I longed for a decent sized display and a few more dedicated function buttons. For live use, the small lettering and black buttons on black background colour scheme is well dodgy, you'll definitely need a torch or gooseneck lamp at the ready unless you want some embarrassing hiccups. I like sampling on the ASR-X its easy, its fast and it sounds good but quite why the input level control has been placed on the rear panel is a total mystery. Dumb is a word that springs to mind, I mean, this is a sampler for goodness sake, who ever heard of putting the one control that stands between it and the outside world in such an impractical position. And somehow I don't think the input level control or the mic/line switch (also on the rear) are going to last five minutes on the road, they're just waiting to be snapped off by some dozey roadie.
But these are just my own petty moans and I'm not trying to put anyone off because the ASR-X is a monster of a machine, in the nicest possible sense, and would make a good choice for live work, being sturdy and compact and a lot easier to transport around than a separate sampler, synth, sequencer and effects unit. You could even dispense with your Octapad and keyboard if you don't mind using your fingers to tap out rhythms and you don't anticipate playing opposite ends of a 5 octave keyboard at the same time. Being both easy to use and decent sounding makes it a great compositional tool and its wealth of features and size also make it ideal for a home or project studio and although the individual sections may not have the bells and whistles of dedicated units they are integrated in such a way that the ASR-X can be used without recourse to any other equipment, except an amp, to produce some very polished and professional sounding arrangements.
If you bought a separate sampler, synth, sequencer and effects unit, not to mention the pads, the cost would definitely be more than an ASR-X. But here's where things get a little wobbly because separates would probably be slightly higher specified, particularly in respect to the ROM voices, which are few and a little uninspiring by current standards. The superb 'Urban Dance Project' Wave Expansion board should really be included in the price, least of all because the ASR-X is supposed to be a dance 'Groove Machine' (Ensoniq's by-line, not mine). Also considering that the installed RAM is shared by the system, synth, sequencer AND sampler why only 2 Mb ? When I raised this with Key Audio (the distributor) even they admitted that this left little memory for any serious resampling.
So what's the verdict? Well, I have to own up to having a bloody good time reviewing the ASR-X and apart from a few, pretty small, reservations can definitely recommend it. If you're prepared to do a bit of haggling with your music store dealer for his best price and you can budget for the MR-EXP-3 Wave Expansion board and additional memory, buy one and enjoy.
ADDITIONAL TEXT / INFO BOXES
ENSONIQ ASR-X SAMPLING WORKSTATION
Stereo sampling with 44.1 kHz sampling rate.
MR Synthesiser, with 128 pre-set ROM voices.
16 track MIDI sequencer.
24-bit Effects, Insert and Global.
16 part multi-timbral.
14 Velocity sensitive pads.
18 dB Resonant filters.
20-bit A to D convertors.
128 ROM Sounds.
2 X 20 digit LCD.
2 Mb on board RAM
DOS Compatible Disk Drive
Saves AIFF and Loads AIFF and WAV audio files.
Saves/Loads Standard MIDI Files.
Ensoniq-X Audio Sample CD Vol 1, included.
FDX-100 Demo disk, included.
Price £1199 including VAT.
Key Audio Systems, Robjohns Road, Chelmsford,
Essex, CM1 3AG
T: 01245 344001
F: 01245 344002
ROM expandable to 26 Mb using MR-EXP Wave Expansion Board. £299 incl. VAT
X-8 Audio Output Expander. £199 incl. VAT
SP-5 SCSI Interface. £199 incl. VAT
RAM expandable to 34 Mb using one 72-pin SIMM socket.
Tons of features.
Fast and easy to use
AIFF, WAV, MIDI file and DOS compatibility.
Can save large samples across multiple floppy disks.
Volatile system RAM.
Buttons and LED's hard to read from some angles.
Not enough dedicated sequencer buttons.
Base unit needs more RAM and ROM voices.
ROM sounds and kits a little uninspiring
No play while load.
Slow disk drive.
Can't read Akai disks.
A fully featured sampling workstation with a great sound, a versatile sequencer, pro effects, responsive pads and a straightforward operation. The internal ROM pre-sets are a little uninspiring and the 2 Mb RAM is measly. But what sets the ASR-X apart from the competition is the Resampling feature, which, with enough RAM makes it a joy to use.
MR-EXP-3 URBAN DANCE PROJECT, WAVE EXPANSION BOARD
Although there are other MR-EXP Wave Expansion Boards available, and more in the pipeline, the 24 Mb MR-EXP-3 Urban Dance Project was supplied with the review model and it's a stonker! It contains over 500 sounds and 400 waves, including some splendid Drum Kits (including 40 or so GM Kits), Sample Loops, Grooves, Layered Pads, Hits, Basses, Synths and Sound Effects. As you can imagine with this many sounds I couldn't begin to list them but let me just say that this is an outstanding collection of superb and essential dance sounds. A recommended purchase for any ASR-X owner.
Sound Finder is a database of all the sounds in the ASR-X It lets you view and search for sounds in various ways using the Sound Type and Sound Name control knobs. Basic categories are by instrument type or family, location in memory, by ROM or RAM number, alphabetically or by sounds located in the Wave Expansion Board. There are 40 or so subcategories such as DRUM-KITS, LAYERS, SYN-PADS, GUITARS, BRASS and so on and it's also possible to rename, re-categorise and set your own criteria for inclusion in a list. The Sound Finder really comes into its own when one of the MR-EX boards are fitted and makes it very easy to find a particular type of sound relatively fast.
LOW FLYING OSCILLATORS
This may sound a bit weird but I have always been a fan of LFOs, they're an often neglected element in the arsenal of parts used to influence electronically produced sound. From soft vibrato to hard edged trills, from a sweeping pan to a super fast arpeggio, somewhere along the line is an LFO. And I like the LFOs in the ASR-X a lot. The Kit Sounds, Standard Sounds and Effects each use very comprehensive and complex LFOs, with various waveforms available, some quite unusual, for a wide range of modulation possibilities (see diagram). All the LFOs have stepped or quantised waveforms specifically for synchronising to the internal sequencer or external MIDI clock signals. Also, the LFO Rate and Rate Modulation can be modulated by other LFOs, S&H, Env1 to 3, velocity, pitch, mod wheel and various MIDI controllers. The stepped LFO waveforms can produce nice arpeggio effects while the LFO Sync quantising is adjustable from 1/1-whole note to 1/32 T-32 nd note triplets, useful for syncopated modulations. I've only scratched the surface of the many parameters available for editing the LFOs but I hope it gives you a taste of what is possible.
PATCH IT UP
Next to the performance pads are a couple of innocuous buttons labelled Patch Selects. Existing Ensoniq users will already know all about these buttons as they have been appearing on Ensoniq products since the first EPS sampler from way back and thoughtfully the ASR-X can also read Patch Selects layers from the existing range of MR Wave Expansion boards. If you don't know what they do here is a brief outline.
Pressing different combinations of these buttons (e.g. left down, right down, both down) can introduce up to four variations to many of the ROM Sound pre-sets that have been programmed, with two or more layers. At the default state the buttons are momentary and only affect the Sound while held down but they can also be programmed to latch on until pressed again.
For example, the ASR-X pre-set: ROM09:017 Squared Off, is a ROM sample of a couple of synth square waves with a touch of de-tuning, by pressing the left Patch Selects button a pleasant overtone is introduced, by pressing the right button a velocity sensitive resonant VCF is superimposed but pressing both buttons turns the sound into all the above with the VCF being modulated by a sample and hold LFO signal. Some of the ROM Sounds use quite extreme variations, with some introducing completely different sounds altogether, while others use the buttons to select which FX buss a sound is sent to. When used with Kit Sounds the buttons usually reverse a wave or introduce a filter effect. A nice additional feature is that in Track mode the Patch Selects layers become editable, MIDI controllable and recordable via the sequencer. It's surprising how expressive a couple of oval buttons can be.
OOPS I FORGOT !
As I briefly mentioned elsewhere the ASR-X doesn't have a battery backed system RAM , instead the user must save any edited work, no matter how small or trivial, to floppy disk before turning the ASR-X off. On the positive side however, the ASR-X uses a standard, DOS format, high density disk drive and quite happily uses DOS disks formatted on PC's or Mac's. What this means in real terms is that any new samples, Sounds, Kits, Effects, Sequences or changes to the system set-up are placed into temporary RAM categories, CUSTOM: for samples, USER-SND for Kits and Sounds and SEQUENCE for sequences. From the DISK/SAVE pages you have the option of using SYSTEMSETUP, which saves MIDI channels, sampling settings, metronome level and various system settings, an ALL-SESSION, which saves everything in RAM, including Kits, Sounds, sample set-up, sequences and system), or an ALL-SOUNDS, which saves all RAM samples, including those copied from ROM as part of a Kit. You can also save individual sequences as MIDI files and samples as AIFF files, both of which can be loaded into and read by many PC or Mac programs. A useful feature is that the ASR-X will also load standard PC type WAV audio files, although it does convert them to AIFF when loading and saving.
When saving a session, the ASR-X is very helpful and performs a little check up routine before informing you exactly how many floppy disks you will need to save you work onto and if there are any particularly long samples it will divide them up across as many disks as necessary and then reconstruct the samples when you reload them. The fact that system and performance data isn't retained at power down isn't the end of the world but it does slow things down a bit, particularly using the oh so slow floppy disk drive. You can save your preferred system set-up (including Sampling Set-up info) to floppy as an auto boot disk, but unfortunately the ASR-X won't auto load Sounds, Kits and samples. A solution for the forgetful RAM problem would be for Ensoniq to give the ASR-X a non-volatile system RAM but in the meantime investing in the SCSI upgrade and something like a Zip drive would be the best bet, and speed up saving and loading a hundred fold, particularly if you have more than the base memory installed.
SCOOP AND TOP
The only let down here are the sequencer controls, or lack of them. The transport controls, Record,Stop and Play also double as Rew and F.Fwd AND Locate, Scoop and Top (return to zero). To record you press Record and Play, which is OK, but to rewind involves pressing Record and Stop. This isn't so good, particularly if the lights are low (on stage?) and because the buttons are small and black on black I found myself accidentally dropping into record more than once or twice. Also the fact that the Play button is also used for return to zero, by double clicking and fast forward can be confusing. A dual foot switch can be connected and configured to trigger Record, Start/Stop and other sequencer functions but it's not an ideal solution. I don't really understand why these controls have been so poorly implemented, slapped wrist's to the Ensoniq R&D dept. But on the whole the sequencer is a very easy use. Creating a New Track from scratch is very easy, just two button presses, and recording and playing back couldn't be simpler. You can scroll through various Kits and Sounds while playing back sequences, to try out different ideas, but unfortunately you can't do this in Record mode. Also editing sequences is a bit tricky because of the small display. However if you have access to a computer you could load your work into a that for extra tweaking and then load the work back into the ASR-X. With space for 128 sequences available you can keep working on songs and ideas ad infinitum, just don't forget to keep saving your work!
Copyright © 1997 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.