Following last month’s Oberheim Matrix 1000 editor / librarian round up, i am doing a Xmas review featuring the Yamaha’s TX81Z, a 4 operator FM synth that has the honor of being the first FM synth to feature 7 waves with different harmonic overtones to be used as FM operators.
One of the great things about this synth is that you can buy one used on Ebay CHEAP.. really CHEAP.. i purchased mine for around $33 plus shipping. Before you say that FM synths suck and their sound is outdated.. you should listen to the bass sounds i can pull out of the TX81Z by connecting it to an Electrix Filter Factory Filter Box..
Some idiot asked me why i was “dabbling with old hardware” why didn’t I just “buy a MOTIF”
A “MOTIF”.. what a joke.. I’ve heard the latest and greatest Korg and Roland gear and i am not impressed.. ever wonder why a used 35 year old Minimoog costs more than the latest digital Korg or Roland top of the line synths?
The answer is simple:
1-they don’t make Minimoogs anymore.
2-digital technology has yet to make anything that sounds like a real Minimoog
3-Do you really think any of the new cheesy, plastic, made-in-China digital synths are going to last 35 years?
I don’t think so. I’ve had two year old computer power supplies go bad after their cheap chinese capacitors literally burst open… just think what will happen to all those cheap plastic digital synths made with 1 cent electronic components
Anyway, to continue my story, for a grand total of under $200, i got myself a used TX81Z, a used Filter Factory unit and over a thousand free patches i can modify to my hearts content. The question is: what software editor / librarian to use?
Here is a round up of the usable PC (sorry, i don’t have a mac) editor / librarians i was able to find for the TX81Z:
1 – Sound Quest MIDI QUEST XL 10 Universal Editor and Librarian
After trying MIDI QUEST with my Oberheim Matrix 1k, i was so disgusted with the software, that i uninstalled it from my computer, but i decided to reinstall it again and give it a shot with the Yamaha TX81Z.
I grabbed the latest instrument definition from soundquest after failing to log into their cheesy ftp site a couple of times (who the hell is still using FTP? it takes eons to grab a few files using the program itself.. hasn’t SoundQuest ever heard of http?)
I opened the instrument and it communicated with the TX81Z.. I tried grabbing a voice bank from the synth and it automatically initiated a dump. Soon i was looking at a 32 voice bank from the unit and was able to open the voice editor and edit away..
Everything seemed fine, until i realized i had no idea what bank i downloaded and no idea how to grab any of the other banks.
After some investigating i realized the software only allows you to grab the 32 user voice bank.. i have no idea how to grab any of the ROM banks as there is no place to to specify what bank from the TX81Z to download. I tried switching the unit to a different voice on a different bank and tried to grab the bank again.. this time, the unit displayed a MIDI Buffer Full error.. and i would get nothing.
I rebooted the synth and grabbed another bank of 32 voices after clicking many times on the Get button in the TX81Z set window.. the strange thing is that although they voices in the bank had the same names as the voices in the first bank i grabbed, they sounded completely different when i was auditioning them side to side.. WTF? Welcome to MIDIQuest. Here is a quick run down of MIDIQuest’s pros and cons.
A-Nice looking interface
B-Technically supported by manufacturer
C-Has the ability to build and comment a voice library with different fields.
D-Can morph and generate new voices from existing patches
E-Able to edit all of TX81Z’s parameters and functions.
A-Extremely expensive ($300)
B-There is no graphical representation of the envelopes in the editor window.. so if you want to edit them you have to guess the shape of the envelope by editing the pretty numbers. Even the free editor librarian JSynthLib has a graphical view of the envelopes, and you can even edit them graphically.
C-User unfriendly, poorly designed, confusing interface. You HAVE to read manual to do simple things, such as how to create a library (page 42). MIDIQuest is so convoluted with so many features that seem to have been glued to the original software piece by piece, that this program is nearly unusable without having to read the 82 page manual.
D-Erratic program Behaviour. Software sometimes works sometimes doesn’t, Sometimes it takes a lot of clicking for the grab data from a synth. Crashes are common. For example, i opened a new empty library (after having to read the manual on how to do it) and tried populating it by clicking and dragging a patch, and i was greeting by a program crash.
Midiquest has a lot of features, but it takes a lot of work and time to get the program working properly. After spending some time with the program I still couldn’t figure out how to import sysex bank dumps into the library or how to download the ROM banks from the synth into Midiquest. In my opinion this program is not worth the $300 tag.
TX81Z Programmer is a $20 program you can demo free for 30 days.
You can download a fully functional demo here..
The nicest thing about TX81Z Programmer is that it has a 1000+ patch (voice) TX81Z library for download freely from the website page.
I installed the program and i opened the library and voila.. i was auditioning and commenting patches inmediately. Make sure you save the library every once in a while to save your comments and changes.
Double clicking a patch in the library opens the editor Window where you can edit the patch in realtime. Another great feature is that if you switch patches in the synth itself, the change will be transmitted to the TX81Z Programmer and you can see the new patch in the editor right away.
A-Free 1000+ Voice library (from the old Yamaha user forums) available to be used with the program.
B-Simple, no need to read 80 page manuals to figure out how to use it.
C-The whole program is Library Centric. I was editing and creating my own patches in less than 10 minutes… just find a patch you like in the library… put some comments on it, then open it in the editor, edit it, rename it and save it back to the library.. the program will insert your new patch automatically at the end of the library list so it will be easy to find. The library can also be re-sorted so you can find patches easily.
C-Another great feature of TX81Z Programmer is the ability to export selected voices or the entire library to patch banks in SysEx format, so i was able to export the entire library to about 40 sysex banks.. so if you want to import the entire library to another editor / librarian (such as JSynthLib) you can.
D-TX81Z Programmer allows you to easily build libraries out of libraries, so if you want to build a new library out of your favorite voices (patches) from the huge 1000 voice library, all you need to do is to select the patches you like in library 1 and hit the copy button and put them on Library 2, which you can just name and save where ever you want. This is a great way to sort and separate sounds if you have a big patch library by creating sub-libraries or patch banks you can quickly dump into the synth.
E-Able to edit all of TX81Z’s parameters and functions.
D-Supports different versions of TX81Z’s firmware.
F-Can download the user voice bank plus all four ROM voice banks from the synth.
A-The Editor Window layout is not the best.. it is kind of clunky and it doesn’t fit entirely on a single 1024×768 screen.
B-The operator envelopes cannot be edited graphically.
Overall, I like TX81Z Programmer.. i am sure a lot of work and effort went into it, i you really want to do a lot of programming in your TX81Z, or just build a nice library of sounds, it is well worth the $20.
JSynthLib is a Free, Open Source, Universal Synthesizer Patch Editor / Librarian written in the Java Language, that supports the Oberheim Matrix 1000. It can be dowloaded here. The last beta version was updated in 2005, so this program is pretty much abandonedware.
Since i was using JSynthLib with my Oberheim Matrix 1000, i didn’t need to reintall the version i am using (beta 0.20), so, i started JSynthLib by clicking on the jar file, clicked on Window, Preferences, Synth Driver, Add Device and installed the driver for the TX81Z. Simple, no need to read any manuals.
After having the program configured and running i decided that instead of trying to grab banks from the synth, why not try to import the sysex banks i exported from the 1000+ library previously using TX81Z Programmer.
I was able to easily import all the banks into the library, but unfortunately they imported as individual bank entities instead of being divided in their voice components, so in order to populate the library i had to open the bank itself and copy each one of the 32 voices at the time and paste it back to the library.
I did this process for two banks. You can download the two bank TX81Z Jsynth library here, so you can test JSynthLib yourself with some sounds.
Yamaha_TX81Z_Library.patchlib.zip (3.6 KiB, 121 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.
A-Open Source, Free, easy to use. Can be modified and expanded if you wish to code in Java.
B-Voice editor has a nice, logical layout and allows to graphically edit the operator envelopes.
C-Users can comment patches
A-Abandonedware: Software is not being developed or supported anymore.
B-No library of TX81Z sounds for download.
C-Can edit only voices and voice banks, Performances, tuning tables, system configuration, etc, cannot be edited with JSynthLib.
D-Cumbersome when it comes to moving patches between imported sysex banks and the library. It will take several hours of cutting and pasting voices from an imported bank to fill a library.
4-NoiZe for Windows Version 3.21
Noize is a $99 old Windows Universal Editor Librarian that apparently hasn’t been updated in years, although the software still appears to be supported, so i decided to download the latest 30 day demo version to try it out.
You can grab the demo here
After installing and running the program you are forced to enter a user name and leave the serial and registration information blank to use the demo. The first time the program starts it forces you to configure your MIDI setup and then install the Editor modules of supported synth drivers, then you have to install the library module of any supported synth you want. This is kind of silly.. you should be able to install the editor and the librarian for whatever synth you want to use in one shot.
After installing the editor and librarian drivers, you will be prompted to open a project file, and once that is created you will see the TX81Z various driver pages. Clicking on each opens an individual windows for each parameter.
I started using the program right away to see if i could figure it out.. I clicked on one of the patches on the Voice bank window and i saw an MIDI buffer error on the synth followed by some ungodly noise that forced me to restart the TX81Z. After restarted the synth a MIDI Data error was still showing on the TX81Z’s LCD. I clicked again one of the voices in the Voice bank window and played some notes.. the synth sounded like it was circuit bent! LOL..
I clicked on a different patch and i got some great digital error sounds out of the synth.. then the sound went away and i was able to play the patch normally. None of the patches in the downloaded Voice bank were named, but apparently they were all different.
To grab a bank from the unit, you right click on Voice bank and click on fetch. The software initiates a bank download but the first time i tried it, it timed out.. while the synth LCD read “Midi Buffer Full”.
I was about to give up on the program, but after restarting it, the software was able to communicate normally with the synth.
A-Nice Windowed interface, The software can open and see all TX81Z parameters on windows that fit in the screen.
B-Graphical editing of envelopes
A-Some of the controls on the editor window are just too small for fast editing.
B-Can only build libraries of just banks, not patches (voices)
C-No way to import / export sysex bank dumps from other programs (TX81Z Programmer and JSynthLib)
D-Can only fetch the user voice bank from the synth.
Considering the price, usability and features of all software packages, i think the best TX81Z software editor / librarian is “TX81Z Programmer” followed by JSynthlib, which is not really useful if you plan on editing tuning tables and performances on the synth.
Due to their relative high price to feature /ease of use ratio , i cannot recommend Midiquest or Noize.