AN UNUSUAL and costly device for the Spectrum is the MIDI interface manufactured by Siel (UK) Ltd. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and it is a standard format for the exchange of information between digital musical instruments, those typically being keyboard instruments such as synthesisers. The information it handles is the pitch of the note, duration of the note and dynamic information such as the speed at which the key has been pressed.
It was decided to test the Siel interface on the Siel DK600 synthesiser and the Siel Expander - although it will drive any MIDI compatible instrument - using two Siel software cassettes, the Live Sequencer and Expander Editor, both for the Spectrum.
The instructions for connecting instruments to the interface were a little confusing, and Siel would do well to give more explanation here, although its instruction manual gives the full protocol of the MIDI standard, invaluable if you want to write your own programs for it.
With the DK600 connected to the Spectrum via the MIDI interface, the Live Sequencer allows the computer to record a single polyphonic track in real time as you play it on the keyboard. It can then play it back. There is a function for varying the tempo of playback and for producing refrains by looping. When you have perfected your tune you can save it onto cassette for later use.
The second piece of software, the Expander Editor, is for the Siel Expander. The Expander is just another DK600 synthesiser but has no keyboard or controls. To set it up you can either load it from the DK600 or from the Spectrum using the Expander Editor. That gives a high resolution graphics display of the controls, and via menu and graphics options all the controls can be set from the Spectrum.
You can judge when you have set up the sound by using the pre-programmed note and chord sequences and adjusting until they are correct. It also has a HELP facility for explaining what effect the controls have on the sound. A very nice piece of software indeed.
The whole system is very impressive and of high quality and, as you may by now be thinking, it is not cheap.
The MIDI interface retails at £99.00 including the Live Sequencer. If brought separately, the latter is £22.00. The DK600 six voice polyphonic synthesiser is £999.00 and a six voice Expander is £649.00. Siel is bringing out the MK9000 keyboard instrument which will retail at £449.00. The Expander Editor costs £53.50. Siel is planning more software for the Spectrum and if you are interested in music you should look at the Siel range. In terms of technical ability and ease of use it is good and inexpensive compared to other equipment on the market.
Siel is at Horley, Surrey.
SINCLAIR User is always on the look-out for new ideas and we have now found a Christmas present for the micro user who has everything. Tape Tabs are sets of ten cassette inlay cards with high quality pictures on the front.
You can choose from pictures of cowboys, motorcycles, astronauts, women's bottoms, hamburgers, modern art, Dungeons and Dragons, science fiction or even arcade games. There are also DIY Packs with self-adhesive fronts so you can add your own pictures.
Tape tabs are priced at 85 pence per pack. For details of availability contact Tape Tabs Ltd, London.
AN ERROR in the October issue of Sinclair User gave the impression that the Emperor keyboard from Saga Systems could not easily be used with Interface 1 and microdrives. The article should have read "add-ons such as Interface 1 connect without difficulty."
Saga has also informed us of its new range of carrying cases and dust covers for the keyboard and computers. The carrying case is made of waterproof vinyl with two compartments made of a shatter-proof ABS with a thick high density black foam lining. It has black leather straps and carrying handle which is riveted into position. It costs £26.95.
The dustcover fits the Emperor keyboard and is made of nylon. It can be obtained for £4.49.
Finally, Saga is about to release a peripheral kit which includes the keyboard, Soundboost, Flexicable, Paddle board, carrying case and dustcover. More information about the Saga System peripherals for the Spectrum can be obtained from Saga Systems Ltd, Surrey.
THE LATEST item for the QL is a serial to Centronics converter from Tyepro Ltd.
It is housed in a grey plastic box and on one side there is a built-in lead to the printer. You must furnish your own lead to connect to the QL, but the ample instructions advise you on how that should be done.
The unit will drive standard Centronics interface printers from the QL RS232 printer interface, and so scores over normal Centronics interfaces in that no extra software is needed to control the interface. You are, in fact, using the RS232 interface inside the QL, together with its software. It has a switchable baud rate, via a dial switch inside the unit, from 150 to 19200 baud, so is adaptable to most printers. It is supplied set for 9600 baud, the setting for the QL Super Basic.
Though the converter is powered from the QL it does have a facility for running from a battery, should you want to use it on other computers, such as the Spectrum with Interface 1. The instructions also have a fault-finding guide.
All in all, for £49.95 a reasonable investment. It is obtainable from Tyepro Ltd.
THE LATEST add-on keyboard to hit the crowded Spectrum market is the Cheetah 68FX1 from London MicroTech Ltd, marketed by Fox Electronics Ltd. Aimed at the upper end of the market it has 65 keys, using proper switches, including 13 single key functions and a 145mm long space bar. Those are arranged as a main keyboard with a separate numeric pad and are printed in two colours, black and red.
On the left is a true Shift Lock key - one press puts the lock on and the second takes it off - and two blank keys. While, in theory, you could wire those for your own needs, in practice it would be extremely difficult as the leads to the switches have been cut so short as to make them inaccessible.
To the right the single key functions are Edit, Delete, Break (Caps Shift and Space), Graphics (which toggles on and off), Run (R followed by Enter), four shifted cursor keys and an extra Caps Shift. The only obvious omission is an 'E' mode key, particularly as there are not two shift keys conveniently adjacent.
Fitting it entails removing the Spectrum from the original case and then mounting it on pillars on the base of the keyboard. Two ribbon cables from the new keyboards then fit into the top of the PCB and the whole assembly is screwed together. That is like most other full-sized keyboards and should not be a problem.
If Interface 1 is to be fitted then the pillars are changed around and the interface sits underneath the base of the keyboard. The instructions for that are not very clear so trial and error will be needed. As the base is of metal great care should also be taken.
Overall, the keyboard has a good feel to it, it is solidly built and while the keys are heavy they will probably loosen with use. The shifted cursor keys are useful for program writing or word processing and the lack of' 'E' mode key could be overcome with familiarity.
The price of £59.95 inc. puts it near the top of the scale but even so it is still good value. It is available by mail order from Fox Electronics Ltd, Norfolk.
CLASSIFIED Product Services has recently increased its range of leads for the Spectrum and QL. In addition to the Spectrum flexible connectors - see Sinclair User, August - it can now supply extra long microdrive leads and RS232 cables.
The microdrive lead, which is 42cm long as opposed to the standard 8cm, is £8.50 and the RS232 leads are £10.95 for the Spectrum and £10.00 for the QL, both cheaper than Sinclairs'.
Other leads are available to extend the aerial or joystick leads. For further details contact Classified Product Services Ltd, Cumbria.
AN ATTRACTIVE alternative to the common TV set is provided by the Microvitec Cub monitors for the Spectrum and QL.
The Spectrum 452 Cub, cased in metallic black, is supplied with an interface lead which plugs into the back. The connection to the Spectrum is made using a PCB which slots onto the bus at the back of the computer.
Picture quality is excellent and the definition of graphic and textual displays beats that of a television set. The reason for that is that the dot density on a TV screen is much thinner than that of the monitor. For business purposes the 452 will show charts with remarkable clarity and will be of great help in spotting the mistakes in word processed text as the quality of the picture will reduce eye fatigue.
For the QL the interface arrangement is much simpler because of the RGB port at the back of the machine. The lead is supplied as well as Sinclair Research.
The Cub 653 for the QL is smarter than the Spectrum version and is built into a black plastic moulded casing. Its definition enhances the QL display in both television and monitor modes.
Both monitors have a 22in screen. The Spectrum version can only be switched off at the mains whereas the QL Cub contains an illuminated switch at the front of the base.
The QL monitor costs £275.00 and the Spectrum Cub costs £225.00. Both versions can be obtained from Microvitec PLC, Bradford.
TIMELY arrivals for the ZX-81 and Spectrum are the Nike-81 and Nike-SP from Cambridge Microelectronics Ltd. They are small boxes with rechargeable batteries which, in the event of a power cut, maintain the power to the computer so you do not lose your program.
On top is a switch to turn the computer on and off and two LEDs, a green one to show the computer is on and a red one for when the mains fail.
The box also contains a mains filter which stops any mains-borne interference from blowing the program. To test that a printer, TV, lamp, disc drive and the computer were connected through one switch which was turned off and on again without losing the program, a very severe test for any filter.
In use the box keeps itself charged and, in the event of a power cut, it can support the computer, interfaces and RAM packs for a minimum of 30 minutes. If you use your computer seriously then this is a vital addition.
Both the Nike-81 and Nike-SP are priced at £19.95 inc. and are available from Cambridge Microelectronics Ltd, Cambridge.
YET ANOTHER joystick interface from a new hardware company made its appearance at the last Microfair. The Interstate 31 from Bud Computers Ltd is a standard Kempston interface - i.e. it will work with all Kempston compatible games - but has two additions.
On some games you must repeatedly hit the fire button as only one bullet/rocket/ bomb is fired for each key press. With this interface a small switch is moved to the 'Auto' position and now by keeping the fire button pressed you maintain firing, a great saving on both finger and keyboard. Secondly, a re-set button has been included, allowing you to break out of a machine code game without pulling the plug.
As is all too common these days, the interface does not have a through connector for other add-ons. It sits flat and there should be no problems with the joystick lead fouling the computer if you have a full-sized keyboard.
Bud Computers Ltd is at Ashington, Northumberland. The interface is priced at £11.95. It is guaranteed for 18 months or 30,000 Galactic miles, although no one has yet claimed under the latter.
WHEN LOADING programs from tape a VU, or signal strength, meter is an invaluable aid. The Loadmaster Volume Indicator from Probemaster is a meter which plugs into the EAR lead between the cassette deck and computer and displays the volume which the computer is receiving.
Priced at £11.49 it provides a useful addition if your cassette deck does not already have a meter. From Probemaster Ltd, Hertfordshire.
THE NEW 14in, 1302-2 High Resolution Monitor from Opus Supplies is one of the few monitors which has been specially configured to work with the QL. It gives a clear 85 character display.
It is housed in a large cream case with the on/off switch and brightness controls to the right of the screen. All the other controls - height, vertical and horizontal hold, are well concealed in the back of the set. To get to them the instructions suggest that you poke a screwdriver through the ventilation slots in the back. Not something that should be recommended. Fortunately, the set should not need any initial adjustment.
The monitor is priced at £299.95, including VAT and delivery, from Opus Supplies Ltd, London.