SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.13 No.11. September 1998
Review by Chris Carter
YAMAHA A3000 VERSION 2.0 PRO SAMPLER AND UPGRADE KIT
(see also: YAMAHA A3000 original review)
Yamaha have released the new improved A3000 Version 2.0 (and upgrade kit for existing uses) exactly a year since the original was launched and it's no surprise that current users have been waiting with breathless anticipation for this to arrive for quite while, judging by the comments on the net news groups.
The original A3000 had an impressive 'off the shelf' specification list: 16 bit stereo sampling, AWM2 Tone Generator, 64 voice polyphony, 16 part multi timbral, 64 digital filters, 3 multi-effects blocks, 4 individual audio outputs (expandable to 8), capacity for 128 Mb of RAM, external SCSI 2 interface (and space for an internal hard drive), real-time assignable control knobs and a sequencer.
To briefly recap my original review (SOS July 1997), the A3000 is a monster of a sampler capable of some awesome sonic acrobatics, due to the impressive line-up of of features above. The audio quality can't really be faulted, with more than enough editing and modifying options to please anyone. What it offered compared to the competition, was value for money and features galore, where it fell over was in detailed sample editing and looping, due to its small, low resolution display and quirky operating system.
Version 2.0 is purely a software upgrade and doesn't change the hardware or any of the above features. However, it adds some interesting new sample and program editing options, some new filter types, tweaks some of the disk and general housekeeping functions, and addresses some of the shortcomings in the operating system (check box for a list of features).
DAY TO DAY
To begin with the useful and often used 'Easy Edit' feature has been given a face lift and now displays more parameters per page and is grouped onto eight pages for easier accessibility. A new PROGRAM LFO has been included which allows modulation of all samples within a program and can be synced to an external MIDI clock, also you can now set pan, filter frequency and filter Q to vary at random with each new MIDI note received. MIDI note numbers can now be used as standard controller sources to vary parameters according to the keyboard pitch. The number of controllable parameters for varying the LFO, envelope generator, filter, sample level and so on has been greatly increased. In fact almost anything in the A3000 can now be controlled or adjusted by a staggering number of internal or external MIDI sources and controllers.
In Version 1 you could only direct the effects to the main stereo output, with Version 2.0 there are no routing restrictions you can send the effects banks through any output, including the digital outputs. The effects banks also include two new configurations called: 1/2>3 and 1>2<3.
A useful inclusion (although not implemented as much as it could be) is the new Reset Value function. This allows you to instantly reset a parameter to 0 by pushing the relevant knob, pushing it a second time returns the previous setting and you can now choose between using Knob 1 to turn pages or select samples.
An overdue addition, and something that really should have been included in Version 1, is an input level meter on both the 'recording-standby' and 'recording-in-progress' pages. A new MAP function will now automatically map a series of recorded samples across a keyboard or place them into a bank and the recording monitor on/off setting is now stored in non-volatile memory. The STEREO-TO-MONO option allows you to mix down both channels or just one channel to a single mono sample. MOVE lets you move samples from one program to another or from a bank to a program and the FREEZE option allows you to transfer the program's Easy Edit settings directly into a sample. COPY allows the copying or merging of parameters from one sample to another or one program to another. A new ARRANGE command will automatically remap samples within a program or bank to consecutive keys on your MIDI keyboard.
DIVIDE AND RULE
The new DIVIDE LOOP is an interesting, if slightly unpredictable feature. It splices an existing loop into bite sized samples and automatically maps them across the keyboard as a new sample bank. The number of new individual samples produced is adjustable from just two samples to a maximum of 32 and the length of each new sample is variable from 10 % to 800%. At a default value of 100 % each consecutive sample slice exactly follows the previous without any gaps in coverage of the original sample loop. At higher values (above 100%) each divided sample overlaps any consecutive samples, values smaller than 100% will leave gaps in coverage of the original full length sample. In practice it works a bit like Steinberg ReCycle, but it's not quite as controllable because the division points are always equally spaced and not individually adjustable and unless your original looping points are spot on you may find that each new divided sample to be off the beat.
However the LOOP REMIX function, with only two programmable parameters, is a whole lot more usable, and fun. Although Yamaha say it works best on accurately looped rhythm based patterns of only 1 or 2 bars don't feel you are restricted to bass n' drums as anything can benefit from this feature, I found it great for producing experimental voice cutups.
LOOP REMIX uses 'intelligent but random' remixing parameters, TYPE and VARI, to create a new sample loop made from rearranged chunks of the original loop and seamlessly spliced back together again. Depending on the parameter settings a remixed loop will contain slices of the original sample that are reversed, duplicated or just rearranged, and each time you press the remix button you get a different remixed loop (which is placed in a temporary memory buffer). Depending on the type of material you are remixing this process can take a little while but most of the time the new loops emerge sounding pretty good. As soon as you find a remixed loop you are happy with press the CREATE button and your new funky looping sample is placed into RAM.
DIVIDE LOOP and REMIX LOOP are brilliant sampling tools for breathing new life into overused, old and tired loops, an additional bonus is that if you have enough memory they perform their magic on stereo sample loops as well.
SLOW SLOW QUICK QUICK SLOW
One of the most often heard gripes from A3000 users is the painfully slow hard drive and floppy disk access. Version 2.0 promises faster loading but to be honest loading and saving to floppy disk appears to have changed little since Version 1. I had words with Yamaha last year about supplying review models without a hard drive (or a SCSI 1 adapter for an external drive) but my words seem to have fallen on deaf ears as this A3000 also came sans hard drive or SCSI 1 adapter, so I'm afraid I can't tell you what sort of improvements have been implemented with SCSI transfer speeds. This version now supports hard disks up to 8 Gb, with a maximum partition size of 1 Gb.
A welcome improvement is a safer disk saving routine that always confirms the destination when saving to disk, just in case you are about to accidentally overwrite or erase an important file. Also, you can now save the RAM contents (samples, banks, programs etc.) across more than one floppy disk. I found this worked fine as far as saving goes but I couldn't always load multiple floppy saves back in again.
Exporting AIFF type samples onto PC formatted disks is now fully supported and version 2.0 will at last recognise Roland and EMU sample disks and CD's. Better Akai compatibility means Akai program velocity ranges and samples not grouped within programs are now correctly recognised and native Akai S20 sample disks can also be read. The A3000 still insists that imported WAV or AIFF files adhere to the 8.3 DOS naming standard, so if you have a lot of Mac AIFF samples to load this could become a chore.
FILTERED OR PLAIN
Yamaha have thoughtfully included an additional 10 dynamic, assignable filter types (see box), which now brings the total number of digital filters to 16, of which 64 can be used at any one time, pretty impressive. Seven of the new filters are all dual types, with two filters running in parallel, a DISTANCE parameter sets the tracking offset between them. All the filters are perfectly usable, but they do tend to sound a trifle cold for my liking and I still find them a little too easy to overload.
OI YOU !
I haven't covered every improvement or addition Version 2.0 offers, just the major ones. In fact there are so many system changes Yamaha have produced a second instruction manual, thankfully not as gigantic as the one supplied with version 1, but it still runs to 50 or so pages. For existing Version 1 users this upgrade is going to be pretty essential as it will undoubtedly make using the instrument a lot easier and quicker and for those producing dance music the new loop creation tools were made for YOU !
Personally I would like to have seen a few new effect algorithms and oscillator waveforms included and sampling can still be a slow process if Auto-Normalize is active, also you still can't edit a loop while pressing the loop monitor button. Waveform editing hasn't been improved at all and trimming and looping can still be a little 'suck it and see'. But the inclusion of of the input level meter on the recording 'standby' and 'in progress' pages is gratifying (and well overdue) and improves the sampling process no end. There are extensive system tweaks that definitely make the instrument easier to use than Version 1 but I still can't bring myself to call the A3000 exactly user friendly, though this is mainly down to the inadequate display, well inadequate for a sampler with so many programmable parameters anyway.
Until recently the A3000 was beginning to look a little overpriced (only 2 Mb of RAM and no digital in/out ! ), but anyone who keeps a keen eye on dealer ads would have noticed that sampler prices (including the A3000) have been falling lately and there's no doubt that this is to clear the shelves before the thunderous new Akai's arrive to take over the world. Also with the A3000 V2.0 about to hit the stores dealers will be looking to clear old stock and with this in mind a canny buyer could snap up an original A3000 for a knockdown price (as low as £949, if you look at the right ads). The new A3000 V2.0 has retained the same £1299 price as the original, so you might be better off buying a discounted A3000 and getting the dealer to throw in a V2.0 upgrade kit for an extra £99 and save yourself a few hundred quid in the process. Either way go for the V2.0 it offers so much more than the original.
ADDITIONAL TEXT / INFO BOXES
YAMAHA A3000 VERSION 2.0 UPDATE
Yamaha A3000 V2 Professional Sampler £1299 incl. VAT
Yamaha A3000 V2 Upgrade Kit £99 incl. VAT
Yamaha-Kemble - Tel: 01908 369 269
No new effects.
No new oscillator waveforms.
No improvement in waveform display.
Wave and loop editing still a bit hit and miss
Floppy disk access still slow.
Not as user friendly as it could be.
New loop creation tools give the A3000 a whole new lease of life.
Easier and quicker to use than the original.
Reads Roland and EMU sample disks and CD's
Improved Akai compatibility.
Saves across multiple floppy disks.
Export AIFF files.
Improved SCSI transfer speeds (unconfirmed).
A worthwhile upgrade that irons out a quite a few shortcomings in the original and throws in some juicy new features to boot. The new loop creation tools alone will be worth the cost to anyone producing dance music. If you are currently using Version 1 then this is a 'must have' purchase, if you were already considering an A3000 just make sure you get the A3000 V2.0.
YAMAHA A3000 VERSION 2.0 UPDATE
• New Features:
EASY EDIT: includes more parameters per page.
KEY LIMITS: can be set to original key.
ASSIGNABLE BUTTON: can now be used to toggle MIDI>Smp on/off.
MIDI-CONTROLLED PROGRAM LFO: can also sync to MIDI clock.
ADDITIONAL EFFECT ROUTING'S: each effect can be routed to any output.
ADDITIONAL MODULATION MATRIX DESTINATIONS AND SOURCES.
NEW CREATE OSCILLATORS FUNCTION.
SEQUENCER: more options included.
SYSTEM: numerous system wide changes and additions.
• 10 Additional Dynamic Assignable Filters:
LPF + PEAK
HPF + PEAK
LPF + HPF
• Additional sample loop options:
LOOP REMIX: automatically rearranges loops into new variations.
LOOP DIVIDE: automatically slices and maps loops across a keyboard.
• New Sample Management Features:
ARRANGE PROGRAM OR SAMPLE BANK: maps all samples in a program to successive keys.
MOVE PROGRAM OR SAMPLE BANK: automatically builds a bank from a program or vice versa.
COPY SAMPLE PARAMETERS: copy from sample to sample.
FREEZE SAMPLE BANK: writes bank offsets directly to samples.
• New Disk Features:
SAFER DISK SAVING ROUTINES: always conforms destination.
QUICK FORMAT OPTION
IMPORT/EXPORT: improved Akai and Roland compatibility.
MULTIPLE FLOPPY SAVE: you can now save data across multiple floppy disks.
LARGER SCSI DISKS: you can now use hard drives up to 8 Gb.
SCSI DISKS PARTITION OFFSET: allows an offset of the first partition.
IMPROVED SCSI AND FLOPPY SPEED: faster loading.
IMPROVED SMDI TRANSMISSION.
Copyright © 1998 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.