EX and the 'Big Sample' Picture


Please accept that these are my personal views and that others may (and often do) disagree with me. Take this as a start point, especially if you are a new owner of an EX and are just getting to grips with it. Please also bear in mind that this very excellent synth was launched in 1999 so it's basic design was probably finalised in 1997/1998. Storage technologies such as SCSI, IDE, USB, Compact Flash etc have come a long, long way since then so I urge the reader to take the EX capabilities in this department in the context of the time. We would all like the EX SCSI to be faster, we would all like USB and CF slots but it is not to be so we praise the good (and there is a lot of it in this unique synth) while tolerating and working around the not so good.

OK, so you just took delivery of the 'Blue Beast' and you're hungering for that 12Mb sampled Grand you have lurking around on your PC. Problem - your EX has the stock 1Mb of sample RAM and a 1.44Mb diskette to fill it with - what do you do?

Step 1 - expand the main sample RAM of the EX to 65Mb. You could, of course, use any pair (must be pairs) of 4Mb, 8Mb, 16Mb or 32Mb to provide 9Mb, 17Mb, 33Mb or 65Mb of available sample RAM but the required RAM is relatively low cost as it is the same sort which used to be fitted to late '486 and early Pentium PC's a few years ago. Don't buy exotic SIMM's or 'special RAM for EX', the 72-pin 70ns 'Fast Page' or 60nS 'EDO' stuff is fine, just don't mix and match and avoid anything which says 'ECC' or 'Error Correcting' on it (usually the older server-grade RAM). If you can lift it from a known, working PC so much the better!

Step 2 - OK, you have 65Mb of sample RAM - how to get your sample in there? You can't load from floppy as the EX won't deal with a split sample even if you could make one. Your only options are either SMDI (short for SCSI-MIDI, pronounced 'smiddy') or via a SCSI device such as a JAZ drive. The older MIDI sample dump/load is not an option even if the EX supported it as MIDI was designed in the days of small samples and limited RAM so at the data rate of MIDI it would take over an hour to load your 12Mb sample. For either route you will need the ASIB1 SCSI adapter so you obtain and fit the SCSI adapter.

Step 3 - now you have your adapter you have to decide what device to attach to it. By far the easiest option is a SCSI CD-ROM drive as it has plenty of capacity in EX terms and CD burners are commonplace so you can burn your sample to a CD, pop it into the drive attached to the EX and load your sample. Easy! Problem is, SCSI CD's are not common in these days of IDE, SATA and USB so unless you want to buy a new SCSI unit (expensive) you have to hunt for one on an auction site or computer breakers. Warning! Don't burn multi-session and/or multiple levels of directories - the EX will not like it.

The EX will also support external ZIP drives, JAZ drives, Hard disks and MO (Magneto Optical) drives (and internally with user modifications). In fact, provided the device looks like a SCSI-attached hard drive and does NOT need special drivers to support it (as it might in a Windows environment) the chances are it will work on the EX. As an example, the Microtech PCD-47B SCSI Compact Flash/SmartMedia/PCMCIA drive will allow you to use CF cards as the EX recognises them as MO drives and can read/write/format them. Note the last point - the EX uses a proprietary disk format so the device must be formatted on the EX. This is only really an issue if you wish to share the device with a PC with an internal SCI card but that is outside the scope of this document.

The other most common devices in use are ZIP and JAZ drives. Each has pro's and cons, both are known to work. JAZ is likely to cause less compatibility issues with current versions of Windows (not to ignore MAC but I have no direct experience of them currently) as it natively looks more like a hard disk than a ZIP drive (because it is) and both are currently fairly readily available second hand. JAZ is no longer being developed so there are no new models, ZIP is being developed but as it reaches higher capacities it may eventually become incompatible with the EX. Whatever you attach bear in mind that the EX was designed in the days when a 2Gb drive was a large drive so don't expect to use all of that 300GB SCSI monster on it easily.

Step 4 - you have acquired a 1Gb JAZ drive and attached it to your EX. You can format a disk, save a voice file onto it and everything seems OK. What now? Your monster sample is still on your PC! How do you get it into your EX JAZ drive. There are two options here: firstly, buy another JAZ drive and attach it to your PC. It's still a low-cost option buying used, especially if you get a non-SCSI unit for the PC. If you can only get a SCSI unit it is still relatively low cost as a modest SCSI card (e.g. AHA-2930 from Adaptec) will be quite sufficient for the task. It is best to avoid cards which need special (non-native) Windows drivers if possible such as Advansys, Future Domain. Copy your sample to the JAZ drive, remove, insert it into the EX JAZ drive and load away. Hey Presto! N.B. Avoid complex multi-level folder structures. Great for organising but the EX won't handle it. Secondly, link the JAZ drive to the PC. The JAZ drive has a second connector to do this, you will still need a SCSI card in the PC and a cable to the JAZ drive. With correct device and termination settings (beyond our scope here) the JAZ will be shared between the EX and the PC. Format with the EX, write the sample onto the drive with the PC and read it with the EX. Just don't let them try to write together or you will likely have to reformat the JAZ disk and start over.

Of course, with connected SCSI cards in both the EX and the PC it is possible to cut out the intermediate JAZ drive altogether. The issue here is that the EX will not be able to see the hard drives on the PC so can't load the samples directly (there is a mod to allow a smaller (< 2GB) shared hard disk in the EX to work but this is an advanced technique and involves direct editing of critical parts of the hard disk sectors). In this instance the only way to move your sample is via SMDI (remember 'smiddy'?). The EX can talk SMDI but the PC can't on it's own so needs software to do this. Both the Yamaha TWE (Tiny Wave Editor) and Sound Forge can talk SMDI, the former has the advantage of being a free download. The sample is loaded on the PC into the editor, then transmitted via SMDI to the EX which it will be able to recognise. Once there, it can be worked into a Wave thence a Voice as normal.

Step 5 - you have your beautiful voice and it sounds angelic but when you turn off your EX and turn it on again nothing happens. This is because the sample in RAM is lost when the power is removed so you need to reload the appropriate file from the JAZ drive depending on whether you saved as ALL, SYNTH or VOICE. This may be inconvenient, especially when gigging. If so then you need FLASH memory. The pro is that the sample will be retained through a power-off cycle and will be available immediately, the cons are that the maximum size (therefore maximum sample set) is 16Mb , further FLASH is getting progressively harder to find (see www.memorysales.net for current price and availability). Additionally, if you have a set of voices using a wide set of samples your voices will need to be edited to use the flash version of the samples and this can be quite a time-consuming job. Don't worry, the very fine ex.factory utility by Derek Cook (free download from EX5Tech) has the capability to ease this task.

So, what to do for the easiest 'load-and-play' situation? Here's a summary which may help (the ASIB1 SCSI is a pre-requisite for all, even FLASH as you still have to load the samples somehow).

Easiest - SCSI CD-ROM
Pros - cheap (used), robust, reasonably fast if you can get a 8x drive or greater (may not be as easy as it sounds).
Cons - requires CD burner in PC, burn/switch drives/load cycle to use samples, voices etc. Availability of SCSI CD drives.

Fastest - FLASH memory.
Pros - samples instantly available (SCSI loading from any device is many, many times slower).
Cons - cost, availability. Still needs something to load samples from. 16Mb max size limits largest sample.

Most compatible - JAZ
Pros - cheap (used, plenty on ebaY), 1Gb best value for money currently. Works right off in Windows XP as well.
Cons - some drives can be loud when spinning (up), can be off-putting in quiet environments. Mine seems fine, YMMV. They do usually auto-spin down after a couple of minutes. No longer made.

Quietist - ZIP
Pros - cheap (used).
Cons - SCSI version harder to find, can be difficult to settle in Windows so that the EX can read it. SCSI CD-ROM almost as quiet. YMMV.

Most posing points - MO (Magneto Optical)
Pros - as compatible as JAZ (up to 270Mb cartridges), mechanically highly robust, greatest archive life.
Cons - increasingly difficult to find, media can be difficult to manage depending on make of drive.

Most deceptive - external Hard Drive
Pros - compatible with EX.
Cons - still need to share with PC to get samples etc. onto it. EX only understands a single partition maximum 2Gb. PC will not be able to understand it if EX formats it and vice versa. Frankly, better off getting a JAZ drive. There are some DIY notes on EX5Tech about implementing this.

Most promising newcomer - SCSI Compact Flash drives (e.g. Microtech PCD-47B, PCD-25)
Pros - high compatibility (if you get the right version drive appears to EX like MO), mechanically robust, can be fitted internally in place of floppy, quite fast (see note below), can't always write large files on the EX but you can write large files on cheap PC to CF adapter and read them in the EX.
Cons - Only drives known to work fully have been out of support for some years and there is no modern equivalent as yet. Can be awkward to settle down. Documentation can be misleading.

Most robust - SCSI Compact Flash drives (e.g. Microtech PCD-47B)
Pros and cons - see above.

Note: the ASIB1 SCSI Interface is no speed demon. You can make (and drink) a cup of tea while a large voice set or sample loads. Consequently, high speed devices over about the speed of an 8x CD-ROM don't have a lot of effect on load times. If you need sample load speed and can fit what you want into 16Mb, get FLASH memory.

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