8 June 2008

Wizoo Powered DX
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A quick bit of synth history for those who think DX means "Direct X" or something. In 1983 Yahama released a keyboard called the DX 7 which was one of the first true digital synths using a new form of sound synthesis called Frequency Modulation. Originally priced about £1500, you can pick them up now for around £300, there are plenty around, as the best part of 200,000 were made. Producing sounds unlike those produced by the analogue machines of the day the DX 7 was the standard synth until about 1987 or so. During those 3 or 4 years, anyone who was anyone had one. Roland's LA synthesis took over the standard around 1987, then came the sample & synthesis Korg M1, and then back to everything analogue which mostly killed off interest in the DX machines and FM synthesis in general.

The DX 7 was best at producing bass, electronic piano and metallic type sounds, though it could produce a vast range of sounds. Have a scan around the Internet and I bet you can find 1000 patches to download in no time...but, the DX 7 had a big drawback. It was very difficult to program, the reason why most new synths today come laden with knobs and dials is that people found it very difficult to alter 90 pages of parameters through a 2 character high LCD with a just a few membrane buttons - let alone get their heads around a complicated sound architechture.

What Wizoo have done then is to try and capture the sounds and spirit of the DX 7 for your modern day sampler, without having to worry about trying to program the beast. To this end we have 57 programs, broken down into the following categories - 4-Voice, E-Piano, Bass, Pad, Percussive, Poly, Lead, Organ, Metal, Choir, Wired and Brass.

The producers have wisely concentrated most of the programs on the main strengths of the DX 7 - bass, e-piano and metal/percussive. Program sizes are up to 28.1 Mb, though only two are over 20 Mb, which I'd consider the minimum amount of sampler memory you'll need to get the most out of the collection.

For those of you who are old enough to remember the tunes of the middle 80's this collection will sound rather like a trip down memory lane. There are lots of sounds that seem very familiar here...

The first thing that I noticed was how clean the sounds are, devoid of any background noise, which was a problem with the original machine, not a great issue but the producers have gone the extra step of cleaning up the samples to a very high standard, but without losing any of the characteristic sounds of the DX 7 version of FM synthesis, a good sign of a quality production.

Bass - 9 Programs - Anyone who has heard a range of 1980's tracks has heard these bass sounds, including the "Old Faithful". Very usable, not as fat, or deep, or squelchy as many, but in many ways the initial definition of a "synth bass" sound. Excellent.

E-Piano - 8 Programs - Again an excellent representation of the classic DX electric piano sound, a couple of very nice soft variations to go with the brighter sharper versions. Classic.

Percussive/Metal - 14 Programs - Some great clean pianoish electronic bell sounds, some metallicish "guitar" programs that sounds pretty good together with some nice harp like sounds as well. A couple of anonymous percussion patches round out an otherwise fine collection of sounds.

Poly - 6 Programs - The DX 7 here begins to creak at the seams a little, whilst they are not bad programs, indeed as good as any DX 7 patches you'll hear I am sure, but sound a bit thin and simple in structure compared to what we are used to today. Very usable, but won't knock your socks off.

The Rest - The producers takes us through the depths of their programming skills through a few alternate styles of sounds and we can see why the DX 7 isn't in as much demand today as it was 15 years ago. Again I would state for the record that this is not the fault of the programmers - it's just that no one is going to get good brass sounds, thick pads or searing leads out of these synths. They've had a jolly good go, and I bet if you have a DX 7 you'll wonder how you couldn't make it sound this good (Brian Eno excepted).

The TX-816 patches (7 of them), certainly add an element of depth and thickness to the sounds as you would expect.

Summary & Overall...

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