KETRON SD2 ORCHESTRA WIZARD.
Today's synths pack a formidable sonic punch, light years
ahead of products produced only five or so years ago. Everything
seems to be getting smaller, leaner and more efficient.
Many years ago, there was a joke that the Japanese
always make it smaller and cheaper than the competition. Nowadays
it's the Italians that would appear to be leading the way
in 'bang for the buck' technology. Hang
on a minute, The Italians? Yes,
it's those sons of fun at Ketron who've done it again. Long standing
readers of MM will know that I've had a look at various Ketron
workstations over the last few years, with their truly idiosyncratic
approach that provides instruments of true character.
The SD1 flagship offered features galore, the Vega and
offered middle eastern sounds and alternate tunings, and the range
is full of candidates for sound sources that truly don't sound
like anyone else. Now I've always thought that what yer average
established keyboard player would want would be a nice 1U
rack brim full of Ketron sounds. I got my wish, but perversely
ever) Ketron have decided that the average 19" rack is just too
passĒ for them, so the SD2 is in a size of it's own - literally.
For this 32 voice little monster is about the same size
as your filofax (should you have one) and less than 2 lbs (0.6kg)
Less is more.
SD2's a veritable model of a modern MIDI module in the austere
casing. At the front you have the power switch, power/MIDI
activity blue LED, volume slider and a minijack socket for
headphones. Around the back are MIDI In/thru, phono L/R outs, 12v
adaptor connection, and er...that's it. The rounded sides and dinky
rubber feet mean that it'll perch just about anywhere on top
of a keyboard, amp, stand, desktop, or even in your pocket - it's
that unobtrusive. Power is from the dreaded wall wart with a clip
on mains 'prong' to the power supply itself. I'm guessing that
Ketron have alternative 'prongs' for various electrical connections
More is more.
lurking inside this Tardis of a module is more than enough
sonic power to please the most jaded of synth palettes. A nice
Stereo Grand Piano, 384 GM voices (that all have subtle or not
so subtle differences from the usual GM fare), 128 Special Orchestral
Presets (hence the moniker 'Orchestral Wizard'), over 1000
percussion sounds, and Digital Drawbars. On the Drum side, things
are very different indeed for a module of this size: 32 new
Drum Sets, and 150 Live Drum Loops (downloadable from Ketron's
own website), which I encountered most recently on their SD5
performance keyboard. These latter cover Acoustic, Latin, Jazz,
Pop and Dance Loops. Effects
are provided by a multi effect DSP, offering Reverb (Aux channel
1), and Chorus, Delay, Distortion, and Rotor Slow/Fast (all
on Aux channel 2). Lurking in the depths are also Bass boost,
and an Arabic tuning scale.
for the sounds, there are three main banks of GM (ish) sounds. Bank
A is the pure GM bank, with variations on Banks B and C. The Preset
Bank is their 'greatest hits' selection, while there are two
banks of drum sounds. The first bank has a good representative range
of kits, although the kit numbering is all over the place across
the 32 available. Drum bank 2 are the live loops,
by downloadable MIDIfiles from Ketron themselves. These again
are the excellent fare from the SD5's ranks.
this time, you're presumably champing at the bit, so what does
it sound like? The quick answer is: very good indeed and very
powerful. I've pointed out before that Ketron's sounds have a
-well, Italian flavour to them. The pianos are rich, the
strings have that most romantic of vibratos, the sax and trumpet
sounds include some delightfully cheesy (but stylistically
accurate) vibratos and decorations, and the accordions
are the usual Ketron wealth of options. The synths and pads
are full and strong, the guitars and basses excellent for
GM range, and they've put in some classics from the SD1: Django
(a true sampled Maccaferri jazz guitar) and the 'Gospel' girl
vocal group -just two of my favourites. There are a few dodgy
sounds aboard too (aren't their always in GM modules?). The Mandolin
is obviously derived from a single sample as the rate of tremolo
changes with each note, getting faster the higher you go.
Pizzicato strings are very odd indeed: fine in the upper octaves,
but with a sloppy ensemble in the lower octaves that sounds
like a string section after several days in the pub! That said,
if you play the sound very short, it sounds fine; just don't
keep the note sustained unless you like pizzicato anarchy!
far so good; but here's the bad news. All of this sonic power needs
some serious controller messages to access. In other words, you're
not going to be able to press a single button on your master
keyboard and get everything easily. In order to get the most
out of the SD2 (and there is a lot on offer, after all), you'll
need a control surface or keyboard with assignable sliders.
this is no problem in the studio, it might need a bit of thought
for live work. Perversely as ever, I found that the SD2 refused
to play drum tracks on some (but not all) MIDIfiles that I
fed it. Bank select on the SD2 uses CC0, but not CC32, which is a
much simpler method than you may find elsewhere (in my experience
Technics seem to be the most eccentric in their Bank
routines). When playing MIDIfiles from the net I had to delete
the CC32 info and juggle a few values before I heard the drums.
On other files, things played back perfectly, so I suppose we're
par for the course overall!
are a doddle. These take the form of downloadable MIDIfiles
from the Ketron site, and rev 1.1 is now online. This offers
remapping of 'inexistent' (I think they mean non-existent) banks
to the GM bank A, and an improved GM reset function. Although
the website claims you need Windows Media Player for this,
in fact it'll work with any MIDIfile player that sends Sysex.
I managed to upgrade the SD2 from my ever dependable Atari with
no problem! This all adds up to a good thing, as future revisions
are simplicity itself to load into the SD2.
is a quite extraordinary little module, packing a sonic punch
out of all proportion to it's size. Most of the sounds are excellent,
a few are distinctly dodgy, while others are distinctive
and quirky, while a good number are just terrific. For
a studio it will make a useful, convenient, and above all sonically
distinctive addition, while for a live setup the best results
will be obtained with a master keyboard and/or control surface
that can access all the parameters in real time. Best of all
is the price: at just ś275 you've got access to all the greatest
hits that Ketron put in their higher level (and obviously
more expensive) workstations, and a GM module that is at
least the equal, and in many respects superior to those of the opposition.
Above all, it's different. Individuality rules!
sounds, which are as eccentric as ever with Ketron!
can only get at the goodies inside with some serious MIDI controller
messages, and the ability to understand fluent hexadecimal
language (according to the spec sheet).
MIDIfiles might not play back correctly on drum channel 10 without