The Alesis QS8

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There is a QS8 review in the November/96 issue of the Sound on Sound Magazine.

Specifications | Review | Press Release | Flash RAM Card Warning ! | About the CD ROM | New Serial Port Driver and SoundBridge Versions. | Cakewalk Instrument Definitions | Windows Editor Librarian | Serial Port Driver | SoundBridge | QS8 Schematics (PDF) | MIDI files

Alesis QS8 (view image)

  • Type : Sample playback synthesizer, master controller keyboard
  • Keys: 88 velocity and aftertouch sensitive, weighted, hammer-action
  • Polyphony : 64 voices
  • MIDI Channels : 16
  • ROM : 16MB, expandable to 32MB using 2 PCMCIA ROM and RAM cards.
  • Sounds : 512 preset 128 user programs, 400 preset and 100 user mixes, expandable using PCMCIA cards.
  • Samples : 48kHz Linear samples
  • General MIDI : GM compatible.
  • Effects : On board effects, based on the Alesis Q2 FX processor
  • Drums : Drum kits, rhythm loops
  • Input / Output : 4 Audio Out, Phones, MIDI IN, OUT, THRU, Serial interface for Mac/PC, ADAT optical digital output, 48kHz input, 2 PCMCIA card slots
  • Controls : Pitch wheel, Mod. wheel, 4 assignable control sliders, 3 Pedal inputs
  • Sequencer No on-board sequencer, can play standard MIDI files from PCMCIA expansion cards
  • Other features : Using PCMCIA Flash RAM cards, custom samples and programs can be added. Free CD-ROM with Sysex and Sample Transfer utility, sequencer, editor and MIDI player software, extra sounds.
  • List Price : $1,999

Review by Matt Moore

Hello all.

I just got back from spending an hour or two with what must be the only Alesis QS8 in the Phoenix metro area. The only shop that's received any only received one - they're pretty scarce, apparently. After all the discussion about the QS8, I thought that some might appreciate a review from an impartial party (no disrespect, Dave). I returned a Kurzweil PC88 a few weeks ago because I heard the great press about the QS8 only a week after the purchase (and didn't want to get behind the curve so quickly). So when I make comparisons between the two, that's where I'm coming from. I was hoping that the QS8 would live up to the hype, and for the most part I think it does.

The Action:

My first impressions of the action weren't as favorable as I was expecting them to be, after all I'd heard. Compared to the PC88 the action didn't feel quite as sturdy, even though both are made by Fatar. I could, however, tell that they tried to emulate a hammer action with this one - you can feel the point where a real piano hammer would become disconnected from the keys. It felt pretty realistic to me, but perhaps not quite as good as the Roland A-90.

After some vigorous playing, though, I began liking the action better than either the PC88 or the A-90. It's more responsive - doesn't have the same dead feeling at the bottom of the key travel. It was easier to play fast runs and trills cleanly than it was with the Kurzweil. One unresolved gripe - the keys are fairly noisy. No squeaks, just fairly loud thumps when the keys hit the keybed. It didn't prove distracting, though. Another caveat - the default velocity curve was too sensitive. Moderate pressure vs. hard pressure didn't result in much volume difference. I had to find my way to global settings and turn the sensitivity down, but it still didn't seem quite right. Of course, the fff to ppp ratio is problematic in all these instruments, so I'll just have to get a real piano for the Rachmaninoff, I suppose.

Construction:

It seems well put together, generally, with faux (or maybe real, I couldn't tell) black wood ends and all metal construction in between. Weight is about 50 pounds, which is impressive considering that the power supply is internal. The PC88 is 55 pounds and comes with a truly huge wall wart. A few gripes - the LCD is *tiny*. It doesn't seem like it would cost much more to throw in a few more columns. But with a price like this, I won't complain too loudly. The front panel buttons are of the soft variety, which I'm not crazy about - I'm never sure if I've pushed hard enough. The PC88 has nice ones that actually click when you press 'em. There are *very* few buttons, by the way, enough that navigating through the OS was far from obvious. I think I'll be spending some warm nights curled up with the manual. The button layout is exactly the same as on the QS7, in case you have access to one of those.

Sounds:

Wow. I made it through most of the sounds, save the General Midi bank. There are five banks - General Midi, User (which I'm assuming is the only writeable bank), and three preset banks, each with 128 sounds (640 total for the mathematically disinclined). As you would expect, with this many patches, there are quite a few which seemed like filler. Very few were downright bad, however. I was very impressed with the pianos. I could tell that quite a bit of ROM space and sampling effort went into these. Most of the piano presets are great, with a few exceptions - 'Piano 64' felt ponderous somehow, and 'DarkClscl' was swamped with too much reverb. The stereo pianos really sparkle, from the low end to the high. My main gripe with the PC88 piano was that four notes just above middle C (all using the same sample, I'm guessing) had just a slightly more tines-like sound than the rest. The intonation on all the QS8 pianos was very even.

For an instrument with a weighted keyboard, I was surprised by how many 'synthy' textures I found (both analog-style and digital) - and by how good they were. The most common acoustic instruments were all there, though finding 'straight' versions of each was a bit of a challenge. Strings were very nice as a whole, as were basses and guitars. Brasses and woodwinds didn't blow me away, but were competent. Organs are *really* neat, and include a great B3. The four sliders work as drawbars on most of the organ patches. Drums sounded okay by themselves, but sounded great in the demo sequences, which I guess is where it matters most. All I heard of the effects sounded impeccable, but I didn't spend any time playing with them (couldn't find 'em, actually). The General Midi sounds I heard were very respectable. Another nicety - the sounds are arranged such that when you change banks, the patch in the same position in the new bank is closely related to the one you started with. This makes it easy to find similar sounds. One major gripe - patch changes are accompanied by an interruption in the audio. It only last a split second, and when the sound returns sustained notes are still playing the correct sound, but it's very noticeable. I'm surprised this slipped through.

Miscellaneous:

All the outputs are on the left side, for those who care. The serial port is mini-din style, like a Mac serial port or a PS/2 style mouse. There is a switch to choose between Mac or PC mode for the port. The digital out was there, as was a BNC connector labeled 48kHz, though I'm not really sure what it's for. Perhaps Dave will enlighten us. Looks almost like a 48kHz clock, but I don't know why that would be useful. Of course, I've heard some techno stuff that it might come in handy. :) The built-in demo sequence was really cool, though it emphasized the synthetic textures much more than the acoustic. I guess with Keith Emerson writing it, that was to be expected. (Some of the samples are from his rig, as I understand.) The included Alesis footswitch was of the always-crawling-out-from-under-my-foot cheapo plastic variety, which I hate, but piano style footswitches are cheap enough.

I didn't really look at the controller features or the programmability very much, mainly because I wanted to play, not screw with the menus. The four sliders had a nice feel, as did the pitch and mod wheels. I didn't play with any of the included software.

Price:

$1995 list, but my local store was selling it for $1595. Killer.

My overall opinion:

I would've been impressed for $2000, but for $1600 I'm pretty much shocked. I'll be getting one.

Disclaimer:

I don't work for Alesis. You may very well disagree with me or think I'm absolutely full of it after playing the QS8 for yourself. This post may contain all manner of factual errors. (Dave, if you're reading, please point out any you find.)

Matt
----
mnmoore@usa.net

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The press release :


Alesis Corporation announced the introduction of the new QS8 64 Voice 88 Key Expandable Master Synthesizer. The QS8 will begin shipping early this year. "The QS8 is an incredibly powerful instrument which is designed to be the flagship of the Alesis keyboard line," said Jim Mack, Alesis Director of Marketing. "Its incredibly responsive keyboard combined with its huge library of sounds and extensive interfacing capabilities make it the choice of any serious musician desiring a powerful synthesizer with the sound and feel of a fine acoustic piano." The QS8 features a full-size 88-key, weighted, hammer-action keyboard with aftertouch and release velocity, resulting in a very authentic piano-like feel. Drawing on the powerful QS Composite Synthesis used by Alesis' TEC Award-winning QuadraSynth and their QS6 64 Voice Expandable Synthesizer, the QS8 incorporates 16 megabytes of new and enhanced onboard sound ROM. It features a brand new phase-accurate stereo grand piano voice, as well as a full complement of all-new organs, strings, drums/percussion, brass, woodwinds, and rhythmic/sonic loops. It also features several banks of both new and classic synth textures, including waveforms from Keith Emerson's famous analog modular synthesizer. The QS8 offers 640 Programs and 500 multitimbral Mixes, which may be expanded to offer 1660 Programs and 1300 Mixes (32MB of ROM) using its two PCMCIA sound card slots and Alesis QuadraCards. All of the QS8's internal and external ROM and RAM voices are immediately accessible without installing expansion boards or waiting for disk drives. QS8's extensive master controller features include four fully-assignable real-time control sliders as well as pitch and modulation wheels. A sustain pedal jack and two assignable pedal inputs are included on the rear panel. The QS8 also incorporates the powerful QS Modulation Matrix, allowing users to assign virtually any controller source to any modulation parameter. The onboard effects processor utilizes four totally discrete effects busses for powerful multieffects that include reverb, delay, rotary speaker simulation, distortion, chorus and much more. Using Alesis' new Sound Bridge 2.0 software and any Mac or PC, the QS8 can write AIFF and WAV samples as well as Standard MIDI Files and Program data to PCMCIA Flash or SRAM cards. Standard MIDI File sequences can then be played back by the QS8 without the use of any external sequencing device. For direct digital connection to ADAT recorders and compatible products, the QS8 includes an ADAT Optical Digital Output. Also included is a serial data port that provides direct connection to a Macintosh or PC without a MIDI interface. Four independent 1/4" audio outputs are also provided. The QS8 includes a CD-ROM in Mac and Windows format that includes Steinberg's Cubase Lite(TM) Alesis' new Sound Bridge_ 2.0 and Freeloader software, General MIDI sequences, additional sample and program data and other third party software. The QS8's strong all-metal chassis includes black solid oak endpieces for support, and is designed for use both in studios and on the road. Dimensions of the QS8 are 51" wide x 16" deep x 4" high, making it easy to transport in a compact car. Also, the QS8 will feature a built-in demo sequence that is an original composition of keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame).


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Flash RAM Card Warning !

To all QS7 and QS8 owners:

There have been reports of some QS7 and QS8 owners having difficulty using SoundBridge with the approved AMD flash cards. Thanks to Jeff Pynonnen and Les Winters, we have been able to isolate the problem. It seems that AMD, the company who manufactures the flash cards that we approve for use with our synths is actually making two types of cards with the same part #. Both are exactly alike, except one has a ceramic case, and one has a metal case. It has been discovered that the metal case cards do not function correctly with the QS7 and QS8...however, they do work correctly on the QS6 and S9. The discrepancy is due to the double card slot interacting peculiarly with the metal case - the result is that the QS7 and QS8 think they're SRAM cards, and will not allow them to be burned...suffice it to say that neither we nor the engineers at AMD can explain why at this time - they're exactly the same otherwise. AMD is still manufacturing the ceramic case cards, and will gladly send that model to anyone who specifies (same price)...remember, the part # for the two cards is the exact same (AmC008DFLKA for the 8 meg...just change the 8 to a 4 for the 4 meg, etc). Remember, the ceramic ones work in all the synths, and the metal ones only work in the synths with one card slot. Please feel free to email me with any questions...

dB
Alesis Keyboards


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New SoundBridge and Serial Port Driver Versions

Alesis Serial Port Driver for Windows 2.00 (FINAL) 10/96

  • supports the Alesis QS6, QS7, QS8
  • supports direct high speed connections to the QS7, QS8
  • Works with Windows 3.1 and Windows 95
  • includes complete documentation of all parameters, installation instructions for both 3.1 and 95.
  • Download it now !

Do you need a serial cable ?

You can order one directly from Alesis, call : 800-525-3747. (Price : $14.99)

If you want to make your own cable, here is the pinout for Mac and PC

Sound Bridge for Macintosh 2.00 (FINAL) 10/96
  • supports MIDI directly, Midi Manager(TM), OMS(TM) 2.x.
  • Loads and Downloads individual sample files, Sample Cell(TM) Instruments, Sysex Program Banks, and Standard MIDI Files.
  • vastly improved user interface since v1.00
  • supports Drag and Drop in System 7.5, also supported in System 7.1 with the Drag Manager extension.
  • complete with electronic online manual
  • Download it now !
Sound Bridge for Windows 1.20 (FINAL) 10/96
This is the current release version of Sound Bridge for Windows. It is compiled for Windows 3.1 and it works just fine in Windows 95 as well.

NEW FEATURES:

  • improved timing efficiency for better processing and speed during download of data. These improvements also facilitate much faster download times when using the Alesis Windows Serial Midi Driver with the QS7 or QS8 at higher baud rates.
  • a sysex bank (bulk dump) can now be loaded into a project and downloaded to the card along with sample data. This program bank will appear in the synth as an additional card bank of programs. This feature will work with the Quadrasynth Plus, S4 Plus, QS6, QS7, and QS8.
  • standard midi files can be loaded into a project and downloaded to the card along with optional sample data and a program bank. The feature to playback the sequences is currently only available on the QS7 and QS8, and also the QS6 with version 2.0 upgrade !.
  • complete with online Windows Help File
  • Download it now !

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About the QS7 and QS8 CD-ROM ...

Soundbridge will be included on the forthcoming CD ROM for the QS7 & 8 which should be available shortly. Only QS7 & 8 users are entitled to a copy of the disk free of charge. The disk will not be available for purchase due to liscensing issues.

Users who did not receive a claim form with their QS7/8 for the CD ROM should call with their serial number ready. The CD will be ordered upon verification of registration.

If you have any questions or comments, call :

Alesis Technical Support
800-5ALESIS
800-525-3747