Ensoniq ASR-X review

The Ensoniq ASR-X is an under-rated sampler / sequencer. I picked one up for relatively cheap to see if it could be a nice addition to my hardware arsenal to take on drum sampling duties as well as a synth module, and effects processor.

Overview:

The standard ASR-X sampler is a 32 voice sampler and 16 track sequencer. It has a velocity sensitive “keyboard” to enter notes and beats. It has dual effect processors built in. One for reverb and one for multi-effects (including reverb). The standard model has a floppy drive for saving/ loading samples, sequences and settings.

Sampling is pretty simple when working with drum samples, but multisampled instruments are difficult to deal with. Single drum samples are great, and the unit sounds great when you drive the inputs as you sample. The hits slam. Sampling a single cycle oscillator or a synth tone an looping it resulted in something more plain sounding. Even though there is a good amount of control/ modulations, the synths just sounded a little 2 dimensional. I was able to synthesize pads, basses and leads by looping waveforms, but they only sounded decent once I added effects.

The sequencer is not a strong suit on this unit, an I knew that going in. I wanted to use this as a sound module with Ableton doing sequencing. I was able to setup a decent template session, but quickly ran into a main point of contention: midi control. The ASR-X can recieve SYSEX and midi CC, but it is limited. Basically you can send a handful of midi CC messages to “offset” the pre-programmed parameter values for a patch. For instance filter cutoff can be altered +/- 64, meaning if the patch’s cutoff was set to 0, you can change it to do realtime filter sweeps, but only up to 64. Same goes for if the patch’s cutoff is set to 127, you can only offset it by 64, taking it down to 63. There is control for amp and filter envelopes, but only attack, decay and release. And once you get to the filter envelope settings, they are not standard midi CC, but rather RPN midi. Oi! Needless to say that I never wrangled external control completely (I did make a CTRLR panel to control what I could) and that was the straw that broke the camels back.

The effects on it are nice. It has a pretty nice reverb with a long decay time an it has a “plate” setting that I like a lot. After having tried to integrate this into my setup and failing, I momentarily thought I could use it as a dedicated hardware effect box, but that seemed unnecessary since many effects in the box are better. That said, if you are a hardware person, the effects are the same as the DP4 as far as I understand.

In practice I was never fully satisfied with the way this machine worked. I sold it, and resigned to using Ableton Drum Racks along with some custom effect racks to get a nice punch and grit like the ASR-X gave me.

The Good:

  • Loads and saves samples in Aif format
  • Loads s-1000 and ASR-10 formats
  • Dual processor can also process live sounds from input
  • Punchy sound
  • Good amount of control over each “sound” with 3 envelopes, dual digital filters an LFO and a noise source modulator.

The Bad:

  • Floppy is standard, SCSI extension is more expensive than unit alone
  • Working with Multisounds is difficult because each “sound” has to have its parameters set separately.
  • Not able to get to the “Transwaves” from the unit itself.
  • Remotely controlling it with midi CC, RPN, NRPN and SYSEX is vey difficult. Only some parameters are easily accessible.
  • Sequencer.
  • Only 2 knobs to edit everything, and a small 2 row LCD screen
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