If you have found this blog searching for the Oberheim Matrix-6/1000 synthesizer, you may already know that I still haven’t given up on breathing new life into hardware and software of this wonderful machine, and that I have made a controller template for the iPad. A controller, mind you, not a true editor – but a tool to control each parameter in a sound preset via a dedicated touch control, and pretty much without alternative.
No longer – there is a true Matrix editor app in the Store now, Patch Touch by Coffeeshopped, LLC. How does it compare? Is it worth the
15 30 Dollars or Euros? Chadwick, the guy behind Coffeeshopped, was so kind as to send me a download code for his app, and to comment on an early draft of my observations, so you’ll find my remarks updated with his comments here.
True editing, but no patch management yet
15 30 Euros is quite some money. Not that much, really, considered that the market for an iPad editor of a 30-year old machine is rather limited, and that a couple of hundred sales still won’t pay the programmer’s time. Yet for a music app, it is not cheap; TBMS, the base for my controller, costs a third.
But there is good reason to spend the extra money: Patch Touch is a true editor. With TBMS, you can write parameters to the synth, but there is no way to find out how pulse width is set, or how the modulations are programmed. With Patch Touch, you click on „Fetch Patch“, and the controls show the actual settings. Which really makes all the difference in tweaking sounds on stage.
Unfortunately, there is no way to export or import sounds from the editor – yet. Chadwick has announced that there will be a local library of files and a possibility to import sounds. He is also working on a sysex patch manager app. (Update: Here it is!) But at the time being, there are no functions for patch and bank management, and I miss them. You still have to click on that „Fetch patch“ button when it would be easy to automate that process, and if you forget to save a patch to the synth, it’s lost. Good for tweaking, not so good for sound management yet.
Ready for tweaking
Tweaking sound is eased by a very neat feature of Matrix Touch: It does not overtax the synth. The Matrixes‘ ancient 8-bit-brain does not have enough power to recalculate a sound fast enough, meaning that it freezes when you send too many continuous changes by turning a controller, and takes a moment to catch up.
There is a firmware patch for this problem that, basically, limits the number of parameter changes, but you’ll need to burn an EPROM chip for that. Coffeeshopped’s Patch Touch fixes the problem by only sending the parameter value as soon as you release the control. Not suitable for real-time filter sweeps, but a real treat in shaping a sound. And you should do that sweep by programming the mod matrix and using Midi CC anyway.
You may (or may not) like this: All on one page
My TBMS pad is made up of two panels – one for all the generators, one for modulation. Using what I felt to be reasonably-sized controllers, I found that there was no way I could fit them all on one page. Patch Touch manages that feat, and found an ingenious way to keep controls precise: When you touch a control, the whole screen becomes one big slider for that one parameter, and it is easy to control it precisely. It aims well for that sweet spot between precision and overview.
Still, as the Matrix-1000 is a very complex beast, the screen feels slightly hostile to me. Even though I know the synth’s architecture fairly well by now, it took me some time to remember what all the controls are for. And compared to my TBMS dials and sliders, it looks a bit boring – but that is a matter of taste. I got used to Patch Touch pretty fast, and in the end, it’s all about workflow.
Treating all Matrixes alike?
Let me mention one thing that Chadwick, the programmer is well aware of, but that may turn you off this version of the app. I checked with a Midi monitor was how the editor handles the Matrixes‘ firmware bugs, namely that you can’t control ENV1 Sustain and ENV2 VCA MOD without crashing the synth, and that Matrix-6 machines do not respond to the Matrix Modulation parameter commands. The solution for both problems is the same: send a whole patch instead of a single parameter.
Touch does not handle those bugs yet, so if you are not among the lucky few owning a Matrix-1000 with firmware V1.13 or above – the number is displayed on switching the machine on – the app may crash your synth when you tweak ENV1 Sustain or ENV2 VCA MOD. (Update, Aug. 2015: Chadwick fixed that.) And matrix modulation control won’t work with a Matrix-6/R.
As I’ve mentioned before, Chadwick is going to fix this in the next release, which is going to have a device selector. Maybe we’ll even get an option to keep the current behaviour for machines with patched firmware, M1000 V1.13 and above, that do not need the bug fix. And with gligli’s V1.16, you might even enable the additional „Unison Detune“ parameter controlled by Midi CC 94, and send parameter updates while tweaking – this firmware can handle it.
Odds and ends
I noticed a couple of other things I’d love to see improved. The random sound function does not produce very sensible results, a random mashing up of existing sounds would be more useful. I contend that this is fairly subjective, Chadwick’s point being that only true randomness helps you discover uncovered ground.
I’d like graphical control for the enigmatic tracking generator rather than a series of dials. An init sound would be nice. Maybe a feature to reset controls by double-clicking them. And how about a page to control the Matrix‘ global parameters?
What I do love about Matrix Touch is that a lot of consideration have gone into the layout of the editor, showing in details like a copy function for the envelopes. For any owner of this old machine, it is a no-brainer. And for me as a Matrix owner, it is wonderful to see that someone still cares for them.
- True editor
- Everything on one page, good workflow
- Good control of individual parameters
- Stutter-free tweaking of sounds
- V1.0 lacks patch management (announced for later version)
- Lacking Global parameter control
- Random hardly useful
- Reclaiming the Matrix: new life for an old beast via iPad control (Samstag, 29. März 2014; Schlagworte: Editor, iPad, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Oberheim, TB Midi Stuff)
- Matrix Modulation control included: iPad editor for the Oberheim Matrix-6/1000 (Mittwoch, 30. April 2014; Schlagworte: Controller, Editor, iPad, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, modulation matrix, Oberheim, TB Midi Stuff)
- Shameless Teaser: Ctrlr editor/librarian/controller panel for Matrix-6/1000 (Donnerstag, 28. Juli 2016; Schlagworte: Ctrlr, Editor, Matrix-1000, Matrix-6, Oberheim)