SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
An edited version of this text also appears in
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.13 No.4. February 1998
Review by Chris Carter
DOEPFER MAQ 16/3 MIDI ANALOGUE SEQUENCER
Those of you with long memories may be experiencing feelings of Deja Vu, this is because the original Doepfer MAQ 16/3 was first reviewed in Sound On Sound way back in the summer of 1993 by Derek Johnson. So why, you might ask, is a 5 year old sequencer getting a full review again instead of a retrospective? Well, the MAQ 16/3 has gone through a number of system and hardware updates, a colour change and a substantial price reduction, about the only thing that hasn't changed is the name. Also, now that Doepfer have a new (and hopefully improved) UK distributor the time is right for a relaunch.
Assuming most readers won't remember the original review or haven't come across an analogue style sequencer before I'll briefly recount the main features of the MAQ. This is a three voice (three row), 16 step per row , multitimbral, hybrid MIDI/analogue sequencer using rotary pots to change the output signal (MIDI & analogue) at each step in a sequence. The MAQ can store 30 performance patches or 'Presets' as Doepfer call them and settings can also be saved and loaded via MIDI SysEx dumps. The MAQ can be synchronised to an external MIDI clock signal (it also transmits MIDI clock from 50-254 BPM) and many of the editing and control functions can be controlled by external MIDI commands.
NOT A PLASTIC MAQ
aPhysically the MAQ 16/3 is pretty much the same as the original, a metal 4U high rack mounting case, about 4 inches deep, with 3 rows of 16 knobs (with an LED indicator above each), eight small Menu-buttons, a continuous data wheel and a large 3 digit LED display to show BPM and editing values. Instead of the original black paint job, this new improved MAQ now sports a pleasant silver/grey fascia to match the rest of the current Doepfer range. Another obvious change is around the back of the unit where you now find, in addition to the original MIDI IN and MIDI OUT and power socket, three CV and three GATE mini-jack outputs for connecting to Doepfer synth modules, or indeed any 1V per octave voltage controllable analogue VCO, VCF or envelope generator. Each pair of CV/GATE outputs is permanently tied to the corresponding row of knobs on the front i.e.: row 1 controls CV/GATE output 1.
Power is supplied by a standard 9v wall wart PSU and unfortunately, the MAQ doesn't possess any form of power ON/OFF switch, so to turn it on or off means unplugging the PSU, don't ask me why but it's a pretty annoying, not to mention inconvenient. However the Teutonic build quality is quite substantial (and heavy) and up to the usual Doepfer high standard.
CYCLING TO WORK
The eight Menu-buttons handle editing and playback modes with an LED above each to indicate which button is active. The buttons are (upper row): EVENT, CHANNEL, FIRST/LAST STEP, PRESCALE and (lower row): MODE, SINGLE STEP, PRESET, START/STOP. It's here where the implementation of the editing features on the MAQ betray its age and seem a little archaic by 1998 standards. The basic 3-digit LED indicator can be a little confusing at times, using some odd and cryptic displays to show various MIDI modes but as with most instruments once you have been using it for a while things start to make sense, just keep the instruction manual handy for a while. To access the Rows for editing the Menu-buttons are pushed repeatedly, which activates the Rows in a cyclic manner (1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2... etc.), and an edit-ready row is indicated by all the LEDs on that row glimmering (a sort of dim flickering effect). Once a row is selected the data knob is used to change parameters and although editing can get a little laborious at times (such as when selecting an EVENT function for each row) it works well enough, just be prepared for a lot of button pushing and knob twiddling.
When a row on the MAQ is set to transmit MIDI notes on a specified MIDI channel the MIDI output sends a simultaneous combination of MIDI note on/off , note number information and a fixed velocity value of 100, this is the default state and apart from the fixed velocity is standard practice on any MIDI sequencer. However, the MAQ can transmit various types of MIDI information on any row and on any MIDI channel but for most purposes the MAQ would probably be set to generate MIDI notes on all three Rows, possibly on different MIDI channels and possibly feeding different sound modules. Alternatively the MAQ could be configured to transmit notes on row 1, pitch bend on row 2, and volume on row 3. Also, although each row can be configured to produce additional MIDI information such as program changes and controller information the three analogue CV/gate outputs always produce a 1v/octave signal relative to the position of the knobs, using the same 1-5 octave range as the MIDI output. This can produce some unexpected results if the rows have been set for non-note MIDI information (such as after touch or program change) as the positions of the knobs will probably bear little relation to anything musical, although this might work out OK if you're working on a freeform acid jungle track.
THE BUTTON MENUS
This is the most comprehensive of the menus and is used to assign the type of MIDI and non-MIDI event transmitted on each row (for full list see box). The default event type is regular vanilla flavoured MIDI note on/off and using this event type each row knob can directly dial up MIDI notes, from note number 36 to 84. Getting the knobs to precisely tune individual notes over a five octave range can be a bit hit and miss even though the knobs produce a quantised output for both MIDI and CV and to allow for more accurate tuning the octave range for each row can be set to cover between 1 and 5 octaves. Also there are various MIDI note event options such as ABSOLUTE (A), where each knob has absolute control over the transmitted note, or RELATIVE (R) where incoming MIDI notes or note information from one row can transpose another row note values. A feature worth mentioning here is the difference between NORMAL (the default) and PAUSE note events. If a row event is displayed with a P, such as PA2 (pause, absolute, 2 octave range) then turning any knob fully clockwise inserts a mute (or mutes) in the sequence for both MIDI and CV/GATE outputs. Another notable event type is STEP DURATION for adjusting the time individual notes play for before stepping onto the next note. Used carefully this feature can be put to good use by making sequences run with a slight swing instead the usual plod plod plod.
This menu is dedicated to assigning a MIDI channel to each row. That is unless dynamic MIDI-channel switching has been activated, in which case you can set a different MIDI channel for each step in a sequence, to a maximum of 16 per row. To use this feature fully you would need to have either a 16 part multitimbral MIDI module or 16 separate MIDI modules. And although a similar effect can also be achieved by assigning different program changes to each step the MIDI module under control needs to be able to cope with changing programs pretty damn quick to keep up with even a slowish sequence.
3: FIRST/LAST STEP
The default number of pattern steps for any row is the maximum 16 but a sequence loop can begin and/or end at any step number. You could for instance have row 1 running a 4 note sequence, row 2 a 16 note sequence and row 3 a 12 note sequence.
Here you can adjust the relative time difference between rows by changing a time-divider value (1-32). The default MIDI clock value is 6 but if a value of 3 were selected then the row would run at twice normal speed and if set at 12 would run at half normal speed. Using different values for each row gives the user scope for some pretty complex patterns. This menu also allows access to row gate on/off and row step time on/off parameters.
MODE determines how a row plays a sequence or loop, there are 13 possible configurations:
• Forward-Clock control
• Backward-Clock control
• Pendulum 1-Clock control
• Random-Clock control
• Pendulum 2-Clock control
• One Shot/no retrigger - Clock control
• One Shot/With retrigger - Clock control
• One Event
• Forward-Note control
• Backward-Note control
• Pendulum 1-Note control
• Random-Note control
• Pendulum 2-Note control (Pendulum mode swings back and forth.)
All modes under Clock-control are synced to internal or external MIDI clock, while Note-control modes are triggered by incoming MIDI note commands (i.e.: a keyboard or sequencer).
If One Shot mode 2 is selected it plays a sequence row once then triggers the next row, if all three rows use this mode it is possible to construct cascading 48 note sequences.
6: SINGLE STEP
This selects and repeats (at the set BPM) a single step and is mostly used while editing individual notes. When the Single Step button is first pressed the same note on all three rows is selected and in this mode you can playback all three row sequences in sync and by hand, turning the data dial forwards or backwards and at different speeds. However pressing the button again cycles this mode through the rows one at a time.
This is where the 30 available pre-sets are stored and retrieved and the MIDI SysEx function is initiated. When the MAQ is switched on it automatically loads pre-set 1 into memory for immediate playback and pre-set 0 always corresponds to the actual current status of the 48 front panel knob positions .
This isn't really a menu button at all, it just functions as a Start/Stop control while the LED display shows the BPM. Pressing the button once starts the sequencer, pressing it again stops it, pressing it a third time will start the sequence from where it stopped. To reset a sequence to start from the beginning you must first exit the Start/Stop menu (by pressing any other button) and then press the Start/Stop button again, a slightly inelegant method. However, if the MAQ is synchronised to an external MIDI clock (activated by turning the data knob past 254 BPM) things improve as the sequencer follows remote MIDI start, stop, continue and reset commands like a lemming.
KNOBS AND MICE
If you get tired of all that knob twisting you can assign the MAQ an incoming remote MIDI channel and control all manner of internal functions via an external MIDI keyboard or sequencer. This is implemented using what Doepfer quaintly call an 'alienated' MIDI specification, a very non-standard combination of MIDI note numbers 36-83, controllers 0-30 and program changes 1-127. Some of the controllable functions are: tempo, internal / external sync, mute/unmute individual steps, mute/unmute rows, adjust row velocity, set row first/last step, row playback modes, row MIDI channel, set row program changes, adjust row gate time and note time. About the only thing you can't do is control the knobs themselves. I came across a couple of problems if I programmed a controller signal into a sequencer track and sent it as a continuous data stream rather than as short messages, in which case the MAQ started to complain a little by slowing down or behaving erratically. This also happened if I tried sending it too many program change messages too fast. However, if the sequencer is playing it copes well when receiving single SysEx dumps, it just changes over to the new sequencer pattern and continues running without a glitch.
The instruction manual could do with a bit of rewrite to tidy up the German to English translation, which is a little laboured and it would certainly benefit a few practical examples and diagrams to help beginners. Some sections are particularly confusing, such as the pages concerning remote MIDI control, which is a shame as the poor instructions could put some users off investigating the less obvious, deeper but useful features.
FAST, FURIOUS AND FUNKY
Considering the wealth of features available this is a comparatively brief summary of the editing and performance capabilities of the MAQ and I could quite easily fill as much space again if I were to cover everything. So what's it like to play with? Well, once you've got your head around the foibles of the operating system and basic display, the words fun, fast and furious spring to mind. Even more so if your set-up includes both MIDI and analogue gear. Once you start using the MAQ you'll probably be quite surprised at how quickly you can get decent results. That is if you don't try to be too clever with the real-time editing, which if you're not careful can leave you with hung notes, unpredictable time signatures, zero volume and your brain out of sync. This is a pretty fast machine to work with, you get immediate and usually satisfying results from all you button pushing and knob twiddling and you can save and load pre-sets without a glitch or hiccup and more importantly for live and/or improvisational work, without stopping sequencer playback. It can sync, or be synced to MIDI, it has almost full remote control over MIDI and there are enough editable parameters to please even the most insatiable MIDI control junkie and ironically this is the source of my only real criticism. Well, more of a moan really because most of the time I longed for a fourth row of knobs. The problem with MIDI, as opposed to analogue, is the wealth of control options available: volume, velocity, pitch bend, after touch, program change the list goes on and on. The problem with the MAQ 16/3 is that if you want to transmit any of these MIDI controllers you have to sacrifice a sequence row that could be generating MIDI notes, unless you want all your sequences to have fixed velocity, volume etc.
However, there are solutions to most problems and using the MAQ 16/3 with another MIDI software or hardware sequencer is an obvious option and is probably the most practical set-up for the majority of users. Some may think it a little pricey when you consider the smallish, 30 pre-set memory and 1400 note capacity but this is a pretty unique instrument and I can't think of many (if any) hybrid MIDI analogue sequencers past or present that match the capabilities of the MAQ 16/3. A fine machine that I will be very sorry to see leave our studio.
ADDITIONAL TEXT / INFO BOXES
DOEPFER MAQ 16/3 MIDI ANALOGUE SEQUENCER (Version 3)
PRICE: £549 including VAT
Dimensions: 480W x 177H x 110D
Weight: 3 Kg
EMIS, The Old School House, Cossham Street, Mangotsfield, Bristol. BS17 3EN
T-0117 956 1855
F-0117 956 1855
A very 'hands-on' instrument and unlike any current hardware MIDI sequencer. Don't be put off by the bland exterior because this sequencer is a very well equipped and capable machine which, with a little practice, can produce some pretty stormin' patterns and sequences. The fact that it also includes three CV/GATE outputs makes it all the more useful to anyone with an analogue and MIDI set-up. Go on, learn the dying art of analogue style sequencer programming, highly recommended.
Versatile and relatively easy to use.
Hands on, real-time, analogue style programming and editing.
Includes MIDI and three CV/GATE outputs.
Can transmit most types of MIDI controller information.
Rows can be chained together for longer sequences.
Good build quality.
Reasonable value for money.
LED display can be cryptic and confusing at first.
Current pre-set must be saved before turning off (unlike the original).
Editing system hampered by the basic display.
Beginning to show it's age.
No power switch. If it's plugged in it's on !
IMPROVEMENTS FROM ORIGINAL VERSION:
Three CV/GATE outputs
Extensive MIDI remote control options.
30 memory pre-sets.
Presets can be saved, loaded and edited 'on the fly'.
Dynamic MIDI switching per row.
Increased sequence playback modes.
Sequences can be chained or cascaded.
The following Event Types are available:
Display / Type of event
--- No function, row switched off
nA1... NOTE ON/OFF absolute
nA5 1...5 octaves
nr1... NOTE ON/OFF relative
nr5 1...5 octaves
C0...31 Controller 0...31
PIt Pitch Bend neg/pos
PIP Pitch Bend positive only
PI- Pitch Bend negative only
At Aftertouch (monophonic)
Prg Program Change
Cn1 MIDI-Channel (row 1 only)
Ad1 Addition to row 1
A.P.1 Poly-AT/Poly pressure for row 1
A.P.2 Poly-AT/Poly pressure for row 2
t.4.. Step-duration 1-4
t.8.. Step-duration 1-8
t.1.6. Step-duration 1-16
t.3.3. Step-duration 1-32
PA1... Note ON/OFF absolute
PA5 1...5 octaves with pause
Pr1... Note ON/OFF relative
Pr5 1...5 octaves with pause
DRUM DI DUM DI DUM
In a classic case of accidental lateral thinking, one use that occurred to me just as I was putting the finishing touches to this review and will no doubt push me over my word count (not again!), was hooking the MAQ up to a MIDI drum module or a sampler loaded with percussion and/or effects sounds. Although you are, in reality, using the sequencer in exactly the same way as if you were controlling a synth module, the difference is that each note transmitted will trigger a totally different sound. As I mentioned previously you could use dynamic MIDI switching or the program change per step feature but this way is a lot easier to use, doesn't involve setting up multitimbral modules and somehow just sounds tighter, groovier and you get faster results to boot.
I achieved the best results if all three rows where on the same MIDI channel as the drum module and the row octave ranges were set to 1 or 2 octaves, otherwise it can be difficult selecting individual drum sounds with each knob. Unfortunately you can only trigger three sounds simultaneously but the fun part comes with the real-time editing features, as you can have individual rows playing patterns forward, in reverse, randomly or swinging back and forth (pendulum mode). You can also change the prescale, first/last steps, step duration (time between notes) and event types on each row for even more variations and swing. You can save and load patterns to memory without taking a breath, or stopping the sequencer and if you are feeling really adventurous you could control patterns with remote MIDI commands. To get the most from this technique (or regular MAQ sequencing) it's probably a good idea to record your patterns and arrangements onto a second MIDI sequencer synced to the MAQ.
BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING version 1
OK, so you are fairly new to music technology but think you have finally figured out all this MIDI sequencer malarkey, which basically boils down to either dedicated, reliable, no frills hardware types or, flaky, bells and whistles computer based software types. You hit the record button play some notes and bingo! all those notes are stored as MIDI information for instant playback.
So how were electronic tunes put together before MIDI came along? Well it all began in the 1960's with the introduction of the first analogue sequencers by companies such as Buchla, MOOG, ARP with most following the same basic arrangement, rows of knobs and flashing lights. In fact analogue sequencer design has changed very little over the years which, in its most basic configuration, has a variable clock or LFO, that sequentially and repeatedly triggers (or steps through) a row of 16 knobs. The knobs are connected to an output socket which produces a control voltage signal (CV) for driving an oscillator called a VCO. By adjusting each knob it is possible to tune the VCO at each step in a sequence to make a basic 16 note tune. A second socket called the Gate output generates a short pulse voltage at each step in the sequence, this is used to trigger an envelope generator (ADSR) which in turn opens and closes a voltage controlled amplifier (VCA), so each step is like pressing a key on a MIDI keyboard. By feeding the VCO into a filter (VCF) and a VCA you have the basic building blocks of sound.
Analogue sequencers have most of the controls you would find on a MID hardware sequencer, such as a Tempo control and Start, Stop, Continue. However, they have a few you probably wont find, such as Step number, (how many notes play or repeat), Gate time (the on or sustain time of a note), Repeat/Play Once, Clock CV input and Series/Parallel (how the rows playback if there is more than one). Most analogue sequencers have two rows and some as many as four and these extra rows allow control of other modules such as additional VCOs, VCAs and VCFs.
While not being tremendously versatile (unless using three or four) they are none the less very reliable, crash proof and in these times of dance floor anthems work particularly well with 'four on the floor' rhythms, bass lines and anything repetitive. Original analogue sequencers, by any manufacture are extremely rare nowadays and coming across one is about as likely as finding Lord Lucan in Tesco's, so check out the MAQ 16/3 review it's about as close as your going to get.
BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING version 2
If you're new to music technology you may think you've got all this MIDI sequencer malarkey figured out. It's basically down to dedicated, reliable, no frills hardware types or, flaky, bells and whistles, computer based, software types. Either way you hit the record button play some licks and bingo! all those notes are stored as MIDI information for instant playback. But introduce the word analogue into this equation and things aren't so clear cut. For a start there are a lot of people who've no idea what the difference is between an analogue and a MIDI sequencer.
In the world of analogue sequencing everything is in step-time, usually with a maximum of 16 steps (or notes) per pattern, positively meagre by today's standards. Also, you're always in what could be described as 'record mode', adjust a knob and it stays adjusted, until you move it again. And just what do those knobs do? Well, if the sequencer is attached to an analogue synth (which is usual) then the knobs adjust the pitch of the synth at each step in the sequence, note entry is by tuning a knob rather than hitting a key. About the most you can do is construct a basic repeating 16 note pattern, longer if there are more rows. Apart from a few options such as tempo, length of sequence (from 1-16), gate time (note length), repeat or play once and running rows in parallel or series that's about it for analogue sequencers.
Where the MAQ turns all this on its head is in it's integration of both analogue and MIDI giving the user the best of both systems. All the usual analogue features are implemented as on an analogue sequencer: tempo, start/stop, CV/Gate outputs, real-time knob control and plenty of flashing lights. However the clever part is that the rows can run independently of each other but still in sync, in any direction and can transmit both CV and MIDI information. Each row can generate and repeat notes from any step number at any length, at different speeds and synced to MIDI if necessary. Also, the user can save up to 30 pattern configurations (containing CV and MIDI info) into memory. Admittedly, sequencing the analogue way may not be as versatile as MIDI, you are still restricted to the 16 step limit of days gone by (more if the rows are run in series) but it isn't any worse, or better than MIDI it's just different and in theory at least, any MIDI sequencer is capable of producing analogue style patterns but you loose the hands-on, interactive approach of the real thing. It's also worth remembering that most analogue sequencers (this one included) are a sight more reliable and crash proof than a software MIDI sequencer. In these times of dance floor anthems they measure up particularly well with 'four on the floor' rhythms, bass lines and almost anything repetitive in 3/4 or 4/4 time. However, finding an original analogue sequencer, by any manufacturer, is about as likely as finding Elvis at Tesco's, so check out the MAQ 16/3 review it's about as close as your going to get to the real thing.
Copyright © 1998 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.