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Yamaha SU-200

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Intuitive sampling interface, awesome effects, impressive remixing functions and realtime controllers.

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      31.10.2000 22:49
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      The SU200 is one of those bits of kit you feel compelled to tell people about . If someone you know disappears into their bedroom amid a long chain of breakbeats , strange bleeps and swooshy noises then you'll know what they're up to after this .. For starters - an introduction ; The SU200 is the little brother of the SU700 - quite a meaty bit of sampling and loopmaking kit . It's a stage up from Yamaha's older sampler in this bracket - the SU100 ( still about and going cheap these days ! ) . I'll be honest from the start - I've never used anything sampler related before - aside from playing about with ACID on the PC so essentially these are my first thoughts on this bit of kit and sampling in general . The SU200 is a decently designed bit of kit , it's fairly small and compact and very light so you can make space for it anywhere in your setup . I've got it rigged up between 2 decks and my mixer with the idea of being able to cut up loops and play about with tunes on the fly . If anyone is thinking of doing the same it involves a fair few cables - and one thing to note is that the SU200 only takes line level inputs . If you're lucky enough to have decks with outputs like this - or you're sampling from something else then you're sorted . Otherwise it's going to involve send/returns to your mixer - more on this later . What struck me about the SU200 is that it's been designed pretty much for the DJ who wants to be a bit more creative with their mixing . Basically what you have is a sampler built around loops and Yamaha's big selling point here is their loop track function which will sync all samples together to the same bpm . Sounds like a godsend right ? In addition to this you get 3 banks of 8 pads of samples that you can loop , reverse and apply filters to . Samples can also be resampled internally so you can apply effects and combine several samples together i
      nto one . There's also a ribbon controller that you can use to scratch samples in realtime or use to control the values of any of the effects . There's also 2 knobs that you can turn to do the same and both can be used to control various aspects of each effect ( like delay time & resonance ) . There's 6 effects available that allow you to create some pretty mad sounds - the one that really deserves a mention is Loop Remix . Applying this effect breaks up the loop that you're playing and re-arranges the parts to form a new loop on the fly . You can control the amount of reverse playback ( fragments of the original loop that are played back in reverse ) and create some pretty simple breakbeat . While it doesn't allow you to create something that sounds totally new you can create some pretty simple breaks easily . Turning up the number of fragments allows you to get some halfway decent stuttering effects and because you can kick the effect in when you want against the original loop you can create even more variations on the fly . My only gripe with this seemingly holy grail is that it must require a shedload of processing time on the SU200's part . Sometimes you'll crank the knobs too far and it'll break up the loop only to not be able to re-assemble it in time . What you get then is a sort of half broken loop with big periods of silence in between ( it sounds like your loop in a spasm )- although with a bit of practice you learn how far you can push it . The other effects deserve a mention too - I was hoping the filter would be as close as possible to the PCM filter on re-birth . I've got to say it's not bad - if you're not sure what I'm on about then basically it's akin to sitting inside a metal tube listening to your sample . Resonance on the SU200 tends to just muffle the sound or make it more 'bright' sounding while the 2nd effect knob ( or the ribbon controller ) allows you to change t
      he cut-off frequency . Using this effect you can produce a credible build up or fade in a new loop - or just go for it and produce some wicked whoosh sounds . The other effects I didn't think were as good - it seems like they're just there to fill up the space . There's delay which is quite good as it works based on the BPM of the loop so it's easy to create ping-pong like bouncing delays without it all going horribly out of time . You get to control the level and the delay time using the old parameter knobs . You also get slice - which like the name implies produces an effect like turning the volume on and off quickly . You can use it to place emphasis on a different part of a sample or cut it in and out with the original sample to produce some decent effects . There's also distortion/lo-fi which makes makes your loop sound dirty and distorted . Techmod is the last filter which sounds like you've stuck your sample through a really hard chorus effect - it sounds pretty artificial . By playing with the effect knobs you can get wibbly wave noises or a distorted saturated version of your original sound . I hope that makes some sense at least ! Filter , delay , lo-fi and tech mod effects can also be used on audio input with the parameter knobs allowing you to change the degree of the effects in real time . Okay so you've got your filters , what about the other features ? Well there's the scratch function which is worth a mention for a laugh . By hitting this button the ribbon controller allows you to scratch the current sample back and forth over whatever is playing . It's pure novelty as the response time isn't very good and no matter what you do ( with whichever sample ) you still get the same result which sounds like a sudden gust of wind . The layout of the SU200 is good , everything is where you'd expect it . The sample pads are along the bottom of the box and are just the
      right size . Above this is the buttons for the 3 banks of samples and at the top - the LCD display and the effects knobs . The main window is backlit - although still quite dark and lets you view the information for the 'current' sample . You get to see wether it's playing in reverse , the quality of the recording and what mode it's playing in . Samples can be recorded in stereo/mono and also in one of 4 quality grades ( high , standard , long and extra long ) . I was amazed to find out from the specs that the SU200 has a mere 896K of sample memory on board and it was one thing that really put me off buying it . I've got to say that this doesn't matter too much really - you're still likely to have enough recording space with 42 seconds of hi grade (44.1khz) mono recording . Due to limits on samples you'll probably find yourself recording at standard rate (22Khz) anyway which gives you 82 seconds of sampling time . The only thing that I will gripe about is that either due to the memory available on board or the processing power of the SU200 there is a few limits on what you can and can't do . I think Yamaha have probably hacked everything around the lack of memory on board and this is a shame because doing anything that involves changing memory contents takes a few seconds at least . While this may not sound like a major gripe but if you want to record loops on the fly you're going to have to be pretty good as you'll find yourself waiting for a good few seconds to write the sample to memory , then longer to update the start/end points , test the sample with your loop , tweak the start and end , save the changes .. etc . As well as this there are limits like not being able to apply any effects to hi grade samples . In fact flicking through the manual is worrying as it seems every couple of pages there is a footnote explaining that you can't do something . For example , you can only apply one filter at
      a time ( although you can work around this by resampling - see later) . According to the specs you can play a maximum of 6 standard grade (22.2Khz) samples at once , or 2 hi-grade (44.1Khz) samples . Combining samples together that have been recorded at different quality grades can produce noise . The workaround for this is pretty simple - record everything at standard quality which I think is what Yamaha have intended although they've supplied you with the option of recording hi and lo grade samples too . The sound quality is reasonable although it takes a fair amount of playing about with the recording settings to get something that sounds really clear . I've got to praise Yamaha on the recording phase - as someone who'd never used a sampler before it was a doddle . You just set your input to either mic or line input and set up your trigger level using the effect knobs - record and then adjust start and end points . Recording is either automatic or manual ( in auto you get to define your trigger volume where as manual you have to hit start/stop to define where recording starts/ends ) . As soon as the sample has been recorded you can listen to it and use the start point and end point buttons to define respective points . What's good is that you can record a slightly larger sample , play it back once and hit start-point and end-point to define points roughly . If you're working on the fly this can be a godsend as you get a fairly accurate looped sample that you can then fine tune by altering either the start or end point minutely or in constant amounts using the effects knobs . Once you've done this the sample is saved to memory which takes a few seconds during which you can't do anything else . Once you've defined start and end points you can extract the unused bits at either end easily with the press of a button ( and another pause while memory contents are updated ) . You can define wether your sample
      is a 2 bar or 1 bar sample and this affects how it's combined with other samples when you're using the loop-track play function ( samples that are 1 bar long are just repeated twice per 2 bar sample ) . The loop-track function is probably going to be the most used function on the SU200 - so how does it measure up ? Well it works pretty well when things fit together properly although you're going to need to spend a bit of time tweaking start/end points in order to get samples to fit together properly . Once entering the function all pads are synched together so in theory they should play in time and you can use the buttons along the bottom of the SU200 to bring samples in and out . The buttons light up bright pink when a sample is playing and because you're playing a bar over and over you can kick in the end of a sample or a certain beat . In general loop play works pretty well - you do get to hear some distortion in the sound as all the elements get brought together although you can minimise it by recording the samples at the same quality and keeping the playback tempo close to the original . If you change it too much ( say +-25% ) you'll start to experience your loop intersperced with a nasty clicking type sound . The tempo of the loop can be changed on the fly by using the +/- buttons to change the displayed BPM or by using the tap button where you just tap out the tempo . This sounded like a godsend for the DJ - and you also get the option of synching to an external MIDI source - great if you have one of those expensive beat counters . In practice trying to mix the output from the SU200 isn't too hard - you can quickly get your loop to roughly the same speed as the record you're playing by just tapping out the tempo and then fine tuning it . It's possible to mix using the +/- tempo buttons if you can get a feel for where the BPM lies - as you have to toggle between whole numbers . Thankfully changes to the temp
      o are instantly responsive so with a bit of practice you can quite credibly mix using this function . The SU200 also allows you to use SmartMedia cards to backup your samples to . Unfortunatley you can't use these cards to extend your main memory storage - they're just for backup so you have to swap samples in and out of main memory . Although this sounds fine again you come back to the bottleneck of the onboard memory speed . Other features that deserve a mention are the time stretch function which allows you to stretch out a sample using another as reference so they should both have the same BPM setting . You can also play a scale using a sample - but this doesn't allow you to do anything else while you're doing it . The resampling function allows you to set up your loop as if you were playing but instead of playing the output it's recorded into a new sample at the rate you request . Using this you can stick together several samples into one pad leaving more memory space free and apply effects over the top of each sample by repeating the process . At £300 the SU-200 isn't particularly cheap as far as a fun gadget goes . But then it's not just a fun gadget - from the way it's been designed you can say it'd do well for DJ's to use on the fly or as a notepad for ideas and loops . I do have a few gripes though for things that it seems have really been overlooked and would make all the difference . For example - you can't change the volume of a single sample in real time . Why not ? You can adjust the volume of a pad ( which a sample is stored in ) by using the main JOB menu but this requires you to exit out of everything you're doing . This means you have to sometimes use filter effects to beef up the high end of a drum line when you want to emphasise a beat that you're mixing in . Another major gripe is that the power adapter isn't included in the package - why no
      t ? How many things do you buy now that don't come with an adapter so you can use them straight away . True the SU200 takes 6 AA batteries but if you're paying out 300 quid it's only fair to throw in a £10 adapter for nothing . Another thing that would really add to the potential of the SU200 would be being able to switch between sample banks on the fly . You've got 3 banks (A,B,C) containing 8 samples each . If you're using loop mode and want to switch to another bank of samples ( for example to change the drum loop to another rather than varying it ) you'll suffer a second pause while the loop stops and the bank changes . It'd also be decent to be able to stop a sample in a bank at the end of a loop and switch to another ( as a workaround - so you can finish one drum loop and kick in another in perfect sync ) . Again you can't do it so unless you're incredibly deft with kicking one loop out and another in at the end of the bar you have to try and mix one into another . Another thing that puzzles me is why the output volume is so low . Having rigged up the SU200's output to the line input of my mixer it's hardly audible . This means that in addition to jiggling around to get the SU200 to take a line output from the mixer that I'd need a pre-amp to be able to get the output to a decent level to mix it in . Even the headphone output is very quiet by comparison to any audio device . I think if you're going to go and stick this in your setup you need to get a decent mixer that supports send/returns and provides line outputs . As it is I have to stick a splitter in the headphone output of the mixer - but that's not a gripe at the SU200 . I'll give credit to Yamaha on the manual , it's well written and easy to read with lots of examples and diagrams . They've bundled a sample CD with it too with everything ranging from techy sounding drum n'bass to rock although I'm s
      ure if you're thinking of buying one of these babies you'll already have some ideas of what you want to sample . If you don't - believe me you will afterwards ! This'll get you thinking 'hmm I wonder what that loop would sound like if I did ...' and you can while away a good few hours just with a couple of CDs and this bit of kit on your lap on its own . Stick it together with a live setup and you're going to have a right good laugh . If you're looking for that extra bit of creativity or just a couple of extra buttons to press then you've found it . In terms of value for money I don't think you can really fault the SU200 - expecially with the smartmedia slot although I'd have loved the option for a floppy drive at a bit extra cost . Compact , light and good looking and on the whole a well designed tool . Try one of these out in the shop and I bet you'll be sold . Well reccomended if you're willing to put up with a few headaches of working around the limits of this bit of kit . Updated : MIDI Functionality - Recently got to try out the Yamaha Su-200 as part of a MIDI rig ( 2 decks + Redsound Voyager + Rebirth on PC ) . Was quite impressed with how easy it all was to setup - from a MIDI start the sampler kicked into life straight away and setup is easy , just selecting synchronization to external from one of the menus . My only gripe is that if you're synching the sampler to any sort of live tempo you might be disappointed with the amount of distortion . The loops are all in time but the kit is let down by the awful crackling noise that gets produced at the same time . I'm guessing it must be the processor on board slugging its guts out and it's more noticable at certain tempos than others - keep it close to the original loop and you'll be okay . It just left me wishing I'd spent that extra bit of cash and bought something that I could get away with using live s
      eriously . This and that fact that you can't apply effects to high grade samples ( which mostly defeats the point of using them ) are the real limiting factors for the SU-200 . If you're sure you're only ever going to use this in your bedroom then go for it ! If you've got bigger aspirations then play around with one and make sure it'll fit your setup ( as with any bit of kit ) .

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