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MU-10 At a Glance
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Housed in a little grey box (smaller than a video) that belies the sonic power within, the MU-10 module (latterly also termed 'Waveforce') is an external MIDI module that is inexpensive yet powerful (16 part multitimbral, 32 note poly) and user-friendly. It appeals to the beginner and more advanced user alike, and is good for a range of musical styles though it can excel at house/techno/garage if used with the XG Gold shareware editing program (see below). They are no longer produced - if you see one, buy it (though don’t mistake either the MU-5 or MU-15 for the MU-10).
The MU-10 can act as a high quality synthesizer, a MIDI soundcard (one MIDI in, one MIDI out), and an effects unit. Connects to a PC via a ‘To Host’ lead (supplied), but can be played without any PC connection using a suitable MIDI keyboard. There are two 1/4" jack analog inputs (each with a gain slider) which can route external inputs through the effects busses for digital processing - great for guitar and vocals. Nine volt DC operation - use batteries or, better, a mains adaptor. The MU-10 is arguably the best of three closely related models because of its portability, ease of use as effects unit, and slightly lower noise floor than the other two (perhaps because it is an external unit). Priced at about UK pounds 200 when first released.
The guts of the MU-10 are exactly the same as in the Yamaha SW-60 and MU-10 synths (see reviews) unlike the MU-10 these latter two are configured as a PC ISA card and a ‘daughterboard’ respectively. The three were the babies of the MU range and still offer incredible value. Based around the SWP00 AWM2 wavetable chip, they were sold from 1995 initially as upgrade cards for gamers, but became popular with musicians when it was discovered that their wavetable synths were capable of producing high quality sounds. The subsequent development of computer-based editing software improved user access to the sonic power of the sound chip, which was later employed in the CS1x and other popular (and more expensive) Yamaha synths.
Basic synth characteristics: sample-based synthesis (Yamaha AWM) with 4Mb of voice ROM, offering 32 note polyphony (last note priority), 16 parts multitimbrality, a truly great 24db/oct. four pole resonant set of filters, and 18-bit D/A conversion.
The MU-10 is fully General MIDI compatible, but Yamaha XG offers more sounds (480 voices and 11 drum kits), more signal processing power, and greater
control than the standard GM mode. Interestingly, the unit is also Roland GS compatible in TG300B mode that is said to offer yet more voices (untested).
The module bristles with effects, offering three independent quality 24 bit parallel digital DSP effects processors. The three channels provide reverb (11 types); chorus (12 types); and variation (42 types). Variation operates in either Insert (on one channel) or System mode (across all channels) mode. All effects are editable and may be controlled in real-time with up to 16 parameters per effect, and there are a few cross modulation options. Signals applied to the external input may be routed through the effects blocks too, offering another reason to buy a MU-10.
A computer-based programme is essential to get the best out of this fully real-time editable synth, because it has no physical controller knobs. Gary Gregson's XG Edit (shareware) was developed for Yamaha and is a fine editor for using the card in standard XG mode. But third-party software developers have been busy opening up the full potential of the powerful synth chip, and Achim Stulgies' excellent XG Gold (shareware) gets the max out of the synth chip, enabling QS300 performance mode, formerly accessible only using sysex commands. Controlled by XG Gold, the MU-10 can emulate the four element
voicing and parameter controls of the Yamaha QS300 synthesizer workstation, which cost UK pounds 1200 when it was launched in 1996 (though three- and four-element sounds will each consume two MIDI channels). XG Gold is also marginally preferable for handling and editing standard XG sounds - if you've got a MU-10 and haven't yet got XG Gold, you've treat in store!
Dave Aoun's Fexman (freeware) is a freeware program enabling users to operate the MU-10 primarily as an effects unit (but is said not to work with the
DB-50). Other software to check out: XG Control, SW Edit, XG Wizard, and XG Tool (Amiga). Or control your synth in real-time with Yamaha equipment such as the CS1X and AN1X, or a dedicated external controller such as the Phat Boy.
One downside is that the MU-10 is quite/relatively noisy, producing a high-pitched hiss that some users have attributed to the quality of the output stages (though is quieter than the SW-60 and DB-50). Zeroing the mic and line inputs with the internal mixer using either the bundled Effect Gear II software or XG Edit will marginally reduce the noise floor, and turning off the onboard karaoke chip (!) is said to help too.
Tip: use some decent speakers if you can - if you only have typical small PC monitors, consider hitching your sound card up to your hi-fi (IF you know what you are doing…..)
Links for the Yamaha MU-10
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