THE DIGITAL KEY TO SUCCESS
One of the main reasons for upgrading to a Spectrum 128 is its greatly enhanced sound - from absolutely dire to about average. The new Basic commands do make it relatively simple to construct simple three-part tunes in your programs.
Nevetheless, to really appreciate your new sound possibilities and actually make music there is no escaping the fact that you need some sort of music keyboard.
The Echo Musical Synthesiser is a three-ocatve keyboard which comes with driving software and plugs into the expansion port of the 128.
At £59.95 it's certainly cheap and does represent a way of getting into Spectrum music without committing yourself too deeply in terms of loot.
The weakest part of the package I'd say. What it does it does well but maybe it doesn't do enough.
Once you have connected up the various bits and pieces you load the software. A screen appears showing a list of eight pre-set sounds or voices, chosen by pressing their corresponding number. None of the pre-sets sound much like their description - organ, piano, synth, strings. They all fall into the general description of bleep except that some get loud quickly and some don't. Marginally more impressive was a sound labelled Hawaiian which did at least twang in the true style.
The pre-sets can, however, be changed. A separate screen allows you to adjust each sound's basic envelope parameters using the cursor keys to select and then increment each section. This is simple to use and with care will let you get some reasonably useful noises out of the machine.
No real complaints in what you're given then. My problem is this: what the software provides is reasonable selection/manipulation powers but that is barely to make use of all the clever things your Spectrum 128 is capable of.
For a kick-off there ought to have been a simple sequencer included where you play in a note sequence on the keyboard and can have it looped round and round as backing. There ought to have been some sort of little composer program to let you key in notes using the keyboard. Additions like these would have enhanced the system greatly. How about it HCCS?
THe heart of the system, the element on which it all depends. It's pretty good. Although three octaves is rather restrictive in terms of playing much existing music you are limited anyway, by the Spectrum 128's sound chip, only three notes simultaneously. Consequently the three-octave limitation may be largely irrelevant.
The keyboard has plenty of good points. The keys are full-size - better for novice fingers - and have a smooth even action. A little hard perhaps but that may be a matter of taste. Certainly the keyboard gives a string impression of quality and durability. Construction is in metal and plastic and the key switching mechanism is absolutely silent - not 'touch sensitive' as the ads say but I'd trust it to keep going for a long time.
A smallish box with a slot for a ribbon cable from the keyboard that connects to the Spectrum. It uses a standard style of edge connector.
It caused no problems - no 'wobble' - and a metal surround to the actual 'teeth' seemed a worthwhile extra giving added protection.
This is an excellent value-for-money addition let down somewhat by the limited scope of its software - a fairly trivial fault to correct.
The system is recommended none the less to those with a 128 who are interested in music but can't afford the step up to a MIDI interface and real synth.
The eight pre sets resident in the system. Hawaiian had an authentic twang.
Building your own pre-set. Menu lets you set the attack, sustain, decay and release parameters of a sound.