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E-mu Morpheus, UltraProteus

Created by nick. Last edited by nick, 11 years and 260 days ago. Viewed 14,433 times. #5
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This is an article culled from archive material, circa 1997.


First there was the Morpheus, a 1U rackmount sample-based synthesiser with sweepable parametric 14-pole filter "cubes" and a rather nice modulation architecture. Then there was the UltraProteus, a sample-player with 16 megabytes of Proteus samples, the Proformance stereo piano, sweepable parametric 14-pole filter cubes and a rather nice modulation architecture. Hmm. The UltraProteus is basically a "Morpheus Plus" with twice the sample ROM and some more filter sets, although it is missing one or two of the Morpheus samples. In particular, the UltraProteus seems to be rather short of inharmonic or spectral samples compared to other PCM-based machines, although I'm not familiar enough with the Morpheus's sample set to know whether it is much better.

I spent some time with a Morpheus, reckoned it sounded like a cross between a Wavestation and a Micro-Wave, and decided that it didn't cover enough new ground for me to justify buying one. The UltraProteus was another matter entirely, due mainly to the huge sample set (a lot of which was never designed to be treated in this way). Otherwise, the units appear to be functionally identical; Galaxy regards them as the same instrument.

Some key features: two-level architecture (not counting multisets), with hyperpresets supporting multiple zones/layers as well as shared, free-running function generators (q.v.), and presets being the basic patches. Each MIDI channel in a multiset can select freely from presets or hyperpresets. Each preset plays two layered or zoned voices, which have distinct sample selection and distinct filter. The filters (including flangers, formants, combs, and many more) are parametric across up to three variables ("directions"), although only one is sweepable in realtime; the other two are sampled at note-on. The function generators are complex, loopable envelopes with various segment shapes (including zipper and chaos functions), conditional jumps between segments, and a complex staircase mechanism for the loops. The modulation architecture distinguishes between note-on destinations and continuous destinations; continuous controllers can therefore be routed to take effect only at note-on. Voices sustain as patches and multisets are changed.

More unusual features: the instrument distinguishes between key transpose and raw sample transpose, providing three octaves of the latter; portamento is also well catered-for. (E-mu have a good reputation for accurate sample transposition, due to their experience with designing samplers.) Arbitrary segments of the entire sample ROM can be looped. Samples can be reversed. A change of hyperpreset retriggers the free-run function generator over all sustained voices. Oh, and the instrument has the wonderful Proteus audio routing: three stereo output pairs with two stereo returns.

The specs are very impressive, although there are one or two weaknesses. The filter cubes are totally preset (although there are 288 of them in the UltraProteus), and can only be swept in one direction in realtime. The two onboard effects processors are unadventurous (the delays are far too short for a start) and offer no realtime control, although a lot of timbral work can be done at the voice level, making this less of a drawback than might be expected. Front panel programming is acceptable, except for the function generator settings, where it is painful. The behaviour of the edit buffers makes manual intervention necessary when using a remote editor, and requires voodoo when programming free-run function generators simultaneously with presets.

I would also note that programming the machine is best done by exploring all the corners of any filter cube being used, since there are interesting resonances generated by the interaction of the sample harmonics and the filter settings. The best way to do this is to have a separate fader box, like the Lexicon MRC, and to start from a default patch which maps three controller values to the three filter directions. This makes programming much faster and more intuitive than trying key track and morph values on the front panel or from a computer editor.

I include the criticisms of this machine for completeness. In truth, I am very impressed with it, especially given its small physical size. My feeling is that the days of the sample-based synthesiser are numbered, in which case the Morpheus/UltraProteus is about the best you can buy (with the Wavestation the only real competitor); I thoroughly recommend the Morpheus/UltraProteus to any serious synthesist.

Ah, but which model? The Morpheus is slightly more "synthy" in intent, but the UltraProteus has twice the sample ROM, and the inclusion of large parts of the Proteus 3/World sample set make it more distinctive. However, it is rather lacking in basic "pad" material, leaving it at a slight loss when it comes to vocoder-like filtering effects. Since E-mu have now confirmed that there will not be an 8MB sample ROM expansion for the Morpheus as was originally planned, the UltraProteus is (for my purposes at least) the current winner.

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