Doesn’t the CS6x have two PLG slots, not just one? Once you have your PLG150-AN card, expand your horizons a bit further with either the -DX or the -VL card. Both give you additional powerful synthesis methods beyond the Moog-style substractive synthesis of the AN. Neither are sample-based (the -XG and -PF cards are), and both add their own DSP effects engines as well as synthesis engines.

The -DX card gives you full-on FM synthesis. Now, I know that FM has gotten a bad name in the past decade thanks mainly to the Yamaha OPL chips that cheap PC sound cards were made from ever since the original AdLib. Two operators per voice is the bare minimum of FM, and of course is going to sound like a toy — it is a toy! But the DX card, like the DX-7 of yore, has a full six operators. That may not sound like much of an improvement, but due to the way FM works, each additional FM operator doubles the number of available algorithms, and increases the tonal possibilities by an order of magnitude. That means that even a four-operator FM synth like the DX-9, 21, 100, etc. of yore, quadruples the number of algorithims and vastly increases the number of tonal possibilities over an OPL chip, and the DX-7 quadruples the algorithms of the DX-9, etc.! Eight times the algorithms of the OPL! Four orders of magnitude more tonal flexibility!

Moving on to the -VL card: sure, it#146;s monophonic, but “VL” does stand for “Virtual Lead”! Sure, it does awesomely realistic brass and wind instruments (including harmonicas), and pretty darn good plucked and bowed strings, but don’t ignore the incredible synth effects it can do. Nothing else I know of can even approximate the sheer expressive power of even the preset sounds such as ’Jurassic” — (“use PB [PitchBend], MW [ModWheel], and CC#13 to produce the cries of various dinosaurs”), Space Horse (“SpcHorse” — “While applying MW, add AT [AfterTouch] to create a neighing sound”), “Waterphn” (“Mysterious percussion instrument. Attack is softened with MW. Squeakiness (embrochure) on CC#13. Violent SCRAPE sound with AT.”), “Mad Tube” (“An extremely aggressive sound that lies between synth lead and distortion guitar”), “SpaceZoo” (“Try moving PB, MW, and AT in various ways.”), “Moby” (“A strange sound in which gradual application of AT increases the fundamental. The key lies in how you use AT.”), “SyncLed” (“Sync type lead tone. Use with Exp[ression] or BC [Breath Control] — with no pressure sound has stacatto muted tone. Increase for full tone. FC [Foot Controller] (CC#4) at full produces wide-open tone. Lowering darkens timbre. Try striking at hard velocity with no BC, pitchbend up, and slowly.”), etc. (Parenthetical comments are from a VL voice list document I downloaded.)

The VL is one PLG you can try before you buy without even having to go to a computer store! Some of you may already have a decent PC hardware/software emulation of it without even knowing it! Check to see if your PC sound card is a “DS-XG” based on a Yamaha YMF724, 744, 754, etc. chipset (cards based on these chipsets are assembled by many third-party manufacturers including XWAVE, AOpen, and numerous others, and are available for as low as under ten bucks! And some motherboards even have them as their on-board sound!). If so, make sure you’re running Windows 9# or Me (not NT or 2000 — yet), and, if 9# or Me, that the .VxD version of the sound card driver (not the WDM [Windows 2000-compatible] version) is installed. In the Windows Control Panels, you should see a “Yamaha DS-XG” control panel. Open it and go to the “Synthesizer” tab and see if you have a checkbox for “Sondius-XG™.” If so, enable it if it isn’t already.

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a DS-XG card, all is not lost if your PC is a genuine Intel CPU of Pentium II or later vintage (including Celeron). Just go to Yamaha’s XG site” to the “Soft Synthesizer” section and download the 90-day demo version of “S-YXG100plus.” This includes a software emulation of an MU50 plus a PLG150-VL aka VL-70m! Unfortunately, the VL module won’t be installed if you have an AMD [even an Athlon] or other non-Intel or pre-Pentium II CPU. In that case, spend $15 or so and get a DS-XG card (the non-demo non-timeout version of S-YXG100plus costs more than that!).

Once you have either a DS-XG or S-YXG100plus with VL/Sondius-XG module installed and enabled, hook up any MIDI keyboard that has a PB and MW wheel and at least Channel AT. A foot controller and a breath controller would be nice, but knobs, ribbons, or other CCs assignable to CC#s 2, 3, and 4, would do as a substitute for these. Disable the MIDI keyboard’s own sounds (Local Off, or just turn off its speakers), and set output to MIDI Channel 1, fire up a sequencer that lets you change Bank and Patch settings easily, and try out some of these patches, as described above:

(The following all use Bank MSB 33, LSB 0 [Composite Bank #4224], and all Program Selects are 1-based, not 0-based [range 1 – 128, not 0 – 127]): Mad Tube (1), SpaceZoo (3), Waterphn (64), DinoPerc (65 — “Use with different combinations of MW and PB to produce complex noise percussion.” ), Jurassic (67), Devil (68 — “ A sound effect using extreme oscillation. Try moving PB, MW, and CC#13 in various ways.” ), SpcHorse (69), Talk Box (85 — “Voicy lead, somehow like a guitar-Talkbox” ), SyncLed (86), Moby (104), etc. — 127 cool sounds in this bank alone (mostly synth and plucked string sounds, including a phenomenal Carlos [Santana] guitar solo sound [#80])!

And that’s not even getting into Bank MSB 33, LSB 1 (Composite Bank #4225), which has 128 more sounds designed for use with wind controllers but can be played by keyboards with knobs and AT as well. These are mostly brass, wind, and bowed string simulations, plus some wild fantasy effects not possible in reality such as what a clarinet might sound like if it had a flute mouthpiece (#128).

For those of you for whom neither a DS-XG nor S-YXG100plus are feasible options, you can still hear the demo files in .VQF format from Yamaha’s Synth site, by first downloading the SoundVQ player from Yamaha’s XG site (free and available for both Mac and Windows). You can also check out most of the other .PLG cards that way.

If there’s interest, I’ll post the entire voice list of the VL card. Do keep in mind that the VL is a synthesizer and as such you can make your own sounds (or buy some), and I’m not just talking about putting new parameters on existing sounds! (This feature doesn’t appear to be available on the current DS-XG drivers [darn it!], but the S-YXG100plus apparently can do it, and of course the actual PLG-VL card can.) Graphical voice editors are available for free for both Mac and Windows (the Mac ones are more powerful at present, allowing creation of whole new physical modelling algorithms from scratch, not just attaching different drivers [mouthpieces, reeds, bows, etc.] to different resonators [instrument bodies], etc.).

The VL units all have a VL-XG mode (Bank MSB 97 if you want standard GM or XG voices to be substituted if VL is not available on the playback device, or 81 if you want the part to remain silent in that case [as happens with the above default-VL banks], with LSBs from 112 through 119, where the voices are organized as variations on the standard GM voices. For instance, the GM Tenor Sax is Program Select #67. The VL “TenrSax!” sound, normally #11 in the VL Wind Controller Bank described previously, is PS #67 but with Bank LSB #112 and Bank MSB either #81 or #97 in VL-XG mode. Most of the VL-equipped XG files you find on the Internet use this mode for compatibility. But you only get 136 (in Bank MSB #81 — 123 in Bank MSB #97), not the full 255, VL preset voices in this mode (the rest simply have no GM equivalent at all that’s even remotely in the neighborhood!).

You can use this mode to experiment with the more realistic sounds, as it’s easier to find what you’re looking for without having a voice list. Basic rule of thumb: start with a GM voice from the list below, then set Bank MSB to 81 and LSB to 112. Then try increasing LSB in increments up to 119 (only the Tenor Sax goes all the way up to 119, or even past 118 — Alto Sax is the only other one that goes to 117) to hear the variations. Remember, these are VL sounds, not wavetable samples, so don’t just play notes! That sounds bland. Move various controllers, too!

GM voices with VL-XG variations:

  • Organ group: Accordian (22) and Harmonica (23)
  • Guitar group: 25 – 27
  • Bass group: 33 – 40 (all but 33 have variants at both Bank LSB 112 and 113)
  • Strings group: Violin (41 — 5 variants!), Viola (42), Cello (43), and Contrabass (44)
  • Brass group: Trumpet (57), Trombone (58), Tuba (59), Muted Trumpet (60), and French Horn (61)
  • Reed group: Saxes (Soprano [65], Alto [66], Tenor [67], and Bari [68]), Oboe (69), English Horn (70), Bassoon (71), and Clarinet (72)
  • Pipe group: Piccolo (73), Flute (74), Recorder (75), Pan Pipe (76), Bottle Blow (77), Shakuhachi (78), Whistle (79 — Bowed Saw on the VL), and Ocarina (80)
  • Synth Lead group: 81 — 86, and 88
  • Ethnic group: Sitar (105), and 110 – 111
  • Percussive group: Steel Drums (115)

(The following do not sound if Bank MSB is 97, and none have variants past Bank LSB #112 [only one each]):
  • Synth Effects group: 97 – 102 (#99 is “Mu” a patch that existed on the original VL-1 but cannot be done on more recent VL machines, yet is still kept on the lists for compatibility — it will not sound on a PLG, DS-XG, or S-YXG100plus, and I did not include it in the counts of sounds previously)
  • Sound Effects: 121 – 128

[This message has been edited by COMALite J (edited 09-19-2000).]