Hands-On Review:Heavy synth muscle for tabletop hip-hop and dance applications.


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Now you don't have to be a keyboard man to work out with a high-powered synth module. The XL-7 and MP-7 Command Stations incorporate the cerebral power of E-MU's famous Proteus 2000 in units that offer complete control through intuitively-designed tabletop interfaces.

 

E-MU XL-7 & MP-7

Freedom of form

I'm not ashamed to say I started out with a stack of old LPs, a couple of mismatched turntables, and a rigged stereo amp. It was a crude arrangement, but I could keep 'em moving on the dance floor. Then I picked up an ancient three-second analog tape-loop delay. That began my descent into gear junkiedom. Twenty years later as a performance/rave DJ I tend to get into pretty involved productions, which is why I'm so excited about the XL-7 and the MP-7.

 

Until now, I had to use a keyboard and forgo my preference for a real-time tabletop setup to access to the full power of a modern synth/sequencer. No more.

 

BIG brain
I was already a fan of E-MU's SP-1200 drum machine, so I expected to be pleased with the XL-7 and MP-7. I wasn't pleased. I was completely blown away. From the instant I plugged them in, both units dazzled me with the fabulous sounds I could crank out with virtually no effort. But what I was really after was all that gargantuan synth potential. 128-note polyphony and 32-part multitimbrality gave me practically limitless freedom for layering. (For the less technically inclined, that means 128 notes and 32 instrument parts can be played simultaneously, roughly equivalent to having a 32-piece orchestra with each instrument capable of playing chords of up to four notes, for example.) The synth brain also features lightning-fast MIDI response, 32 synchronizable simultaneous arpeggiators, 24-bit D/A converters for fantastic sound quality, dual onboard 24-bit effects processors, and more incredible stuff than I could take in during one session. These things are not only smart, they're DEEP!

 

Sequential sweetness
Starting with all that raw processing power, both the XL-7 and the MP-7 add grooving multi-track sequencers with a phatt arsenal of controllers, including 16 real-time assignable knobs, a touch strip, and a one-octave keypad that's velocity and aftertouch sensitive. I was able to get some dope grooves going and get control over a zillion parameters without cracking the manual.

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The MP-7 has a fresh sound set specifically designed for Hip-Hop, Rap, and R& B. The XL-7's sound set is geared toward Electronica and Hi-Energy Dance music. Given my background, the XL-7's sounds sucked me right in. And the sheer POWER at my fingertips was overwhelming.

Jumping beyond the table-top sequencers and drum machines available before, these units let me create a fully-orchestrated performance piece with 16 overlapping drum, bass, and, keyboard groove tracks. I could sculpt and integrate the tracks in MIDI then alter them infinitely during the performance with 16 knobs that could be assigned to control any sound or effect parameter.

 

I could add different instrumental parts to the sequence with envelopes and filter sweeps in real time for a hands-on, dense matrix of sound. Transposing sequences to other instruments, keys, and time signatures was a snap. (I couldn't stop myself from firing up both of these units at the same time. The experience left me lusting after both of them.) It was a breeze to store my parameter setups. Naming the setting automatically saves the preset numbers, pan settings, and preset volumes for each of the 32 MIDI channels. Then you can assign a bank number and recall the entire setup with a single MIDI Bank Select command. It's this intuitive interface with such powerful and simple-to-use features that emerges as the real strength behind both these units. Deep-editing features gave me complete command over envelopes, layers, tunings, and all of the effects in that massive studio-quality effects processor.

 

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Expansive options and high-end I/O
Three additional ROM slots open both the XL-7 and t he MP-7 to a world of samples with the entire family of Proteus 2000 expansion ROMs such as the Planet Earth collection of world percussion and beats. You can also create your own custom flash ROMs with any of E-MU's ULTRA samplers and plug them into either of these units to create your own one-of-a-kind groove monster with up to 128MB of onboard ROM. There are six assignable audio outputs, S/PDIF, a host computer connection, two MIDI thru/outs, and a MIDI in. That's a plenty powerful I/O for just about any use I can think of.

 

Cool cabs with fly looks
They're both very sharp-looking boxes, well worthy of centerpiece status. They include some nifty features, such as a connector for a 12-volt goose-neck lamp, a rack mounting kit, and nylon carrying bags.

 

A transformation waiting to happen
It was like opening a flood gate of possibilities the second I plugged these units in. So many functions that used to take different pieces of gear and complex programming steps came effortlessly and almost instantly with the XL-7 and MP-7. I've never felt this kind of power from a table-top synth/sequencer/groove machine (E-MU's tag "Command Station" seems the best way to sum it up). I've already ordered an XL-7 for myself, and I won't surrender the one they loaned me until it gets here.

 

Features & Specs: (Both units)

 

 

 

  • 128-note polyphony
  • Super-quick MIDI response
  • 32 syncable simultaneous arpeggiators
  • 24-bit D/A converters
  • Dual 24-bit onboard effects processors
  • 16-track sequencer
  • 16 real-time knobs
  • Touch strip
  • One octave keypad, velocity and aftertouch sensitive
  • Ability to record in pattern, grid, or linear modes
  • Three additional ROM slots
  • Six assignable audio outputs
  • S/PDIF
  • Host computer connection
  • MIDI in and two MIDI outs
  • Sharp looks
  • 12V connector for gooseneck lamp
  • Rack mounting kit