Bobby Nathan's

Keyboard Magazine "In The Studio"

Article # 5


by Bobby Nathan

To begin with........

The SBX-80 uses SMPTE time code as its basis to pull off the magic it performs. SMPTE which stands for The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, is based on a clock, i.e. hours, minutes, seconds, frames ( a division of seconds ) and bits ( a division of frames. Seconds are usually divided into 30 frames ( audio ), 24 frames ( film ) and 25 frames ( video and european standard ). Frames are usually divided into bits. Bits on the SBX-80 equal 80 to one frame. Being that a frame is usually one 30th of a second, a bit is a microscopic measurement of a second. Because of this type measurement, SMPTE time code is very accurate. It's used in editing film and video because of it's accuracy in finding exact cue points.

It's purpose ...........

The SBX-80 is a powerful link in syncing drum machines and/or synthesizers to tape. To make the most of the SBX-80 you must have a Midi-clock based drum machine and/or sequencer. Whether you are using a four track porta-studio , 1/4" or 1/2" 8 track, 1" or 2" 16 track and/or 24 track recorder the SBX-80 is capable of performing a multitude of syncing tasks. The first of which enables you to expand the number of tracks of your tape recorder. This is accomplished by syncing your midi-clock controlled drum machines and sequencer controlled synthesizers with tape. If you give up one track on a four track recorder to print SMPTE you are left with three tracks open. If your drums and synthesizers are not on tape but synced up with the tape you don't have to do as much bouncing of tracks. And this means you have more control over the balance of all the parts when it comes time to mix. Its also easier to change drum fills and synthesizer parts. On many of the semi-pro multi-track recorders the drums especially do not record well. This is because drums ( even the sounds in your drum machine ) have a very wide dynamic range. The smaller track formats of semi-pro recorders can not handle the ultra-fast transients of drums and percussion instruments. Also if you have stored the data of drum machines and/ or sequencers properly, later you can transfer your home demos up to a 24 track recorder and make use of all the time it took to program the foundation of your song into your drum machine and/or sequencer.

The features ......

The SBX-80 is a fully professional SMPTE generator/reader available at a semi-professional price. It generates 30 frame SMPTE time code, which can then be printed onto a separate track on a tape recorder. The SBX-80 also generates clock pulses from a 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16th note click tracks to 24, 48 and 96 pulses per quarter note. The SBX-80 can also generate midi-clock as well as the standard Roland sync ( via 5 pin din plug ). The SBX-80 has a built in recorder that can read SMPTE and a 1/4 note click and stores it as a song. This is accomplished by reading SMPTE and a 1/4 note click from tape simultaneously. It's display shows SMPTE in hours, minutes, seconds, frames and bits. It also shows measures, beats per measure and tempo. It is actually a SMPTE to beat per measure converter. You can fast forward within a song in the SBX-80 to a specific bar # and change displays and see what the SMPTE time is at that bar and vice/versa. The SBX-80 generates midi clock with "midi note pointer". The midi note pointer tells your midi-clock controlled drum machine and/or sequencer what bar in the tune to play from. Drum machines like Roland's TR-909, TR-707 and TR-727 support this feature. Roland's MSQ-700 and 100 sequencers and MPS and M.U.S.E. software packages all recognize midi note pointers. If you are using another manufacturer's drum machine and/or sequencer check to see that it recognizes midi note pointer, or you will not be able to make good use of all the features that the SBX-80 has to offer.

A simple step by step .........

Let's actually take a typical SBX-80 session step by step to better understand it's use. The first step is to generate SMPTE. This is done first before any tracks can be recorded. Select the SMPTE position on the combined Cassette load/save - SMPTE switch. Plug a cable from the SMPTE out jack located on the back of the SBX-80 into your mixer or better yet directly into an edge track on your multi-track recorder. Using an edge track is most preferable. Keep in mind that adjacent tracks with high transient peaks to SMPTE tracks is a taboo. Semi-pro machines have poor crosstalk rejection ( the ability to stop audible bleed thru from adjacent tracks ). If your drum tracks are not on tape, your SMPTE track is to be guarded carefully for it is your only link to keep your drum machine and/or sequencer synced up with tape. A good level to record SMPTE at on a semi-pro machine is at -3db. On a pro deck -10db is the standard. If you have a deck with noise reduction such as dbx or Dolby it is best to turn it off. If you can't turn it off the level at which you record it at will be more critical. Also be sure not to add any equalization to the SMPTE time code if your are patched thru a console. After you have set you levels, start your recorder in record and press the start button on the SBX-80 after the tape has rolled about a second or two. It usually takes a second or two for a recorder to stabilize its speed. Print the SMPTE tone for a least 40 seconds longer than the length of the song. This will allow for the needed extra space at the beginning and end of the song. I will explain this in a moment.

The next step is to check your tempo. You will not be able to change tempo later so make a decision and stick with it. This can be accomplished by tapping the start button in the time you feel for 2, 3 or 4 taps ( depending on which position the start/tap button is set for ). You can also just hit the start button and turn the tempo knob to desired tempo feel. And if you know exactly what tempo you want it can be typed in from the SBX-80's numeric keyboard. It is a good idea to hook your drum machine and/or sequencer up to the SBX-80's various clock outputs so that you can hear the patterns you have already programmed to be sure that your tempo selection is correct.

Next, use the click out of your drum machine. It should be a 1/4 note click. If your drum machine doesn't output a 1/4 note click, program, on an empty pattern, the cowbell or sidestick to play on every 1/4 note. Whatever you decide to use as your 1/4 note reference should then be plugged into the "clock in" of the SBX- 80.

Next, you must decide at this point whether you would like a two bar count-in before the track begins. I would suggest using the two bar count-in because even though your drum machines and sequencers don't need it, live musicians do! Next, plug the output of the track of your recorder that has the SMPTE on it into the "SMPTE in" jack on the rear of the SBX-80. The 1/4 click output of your drum machine should connected to the SBX-80's external clock input. Make sure the level of your 1/4 note click is good by playing the drum machine while adjusting the external clock input level knob on the front panel of the SBX-80.

Next, press the "record", "count-in" (if you want the two bar count-in ), and "external SMPTE" buttons on the SBX-80. This means you will be using the SMPTE that was recorded on tape, not the SBX-80's own internal SMPTE generator. Now start the tape and let the SBX-80 record the entire song from tape into its memory. Watch the tape to see where the SMPTE track actually begins and wait 20 seconds after it shows up on your recorder's VU meter before hitting the start button on your drum machine to start the 1/4 note click. This allows a 20 second lead in which can be used later to offset the SBX-80 with tape. After you have recorded the 1/4 click into the SBX-80 for the entire length of the song, rewind the tape to the beginning of the song.

You now have data stored in the SBX-80 called a "song" that will enable your drum machines and/or sequencers to sync up to tape. It is a good idea to store the SBX-80's song data on your multi- track so that the data will be with the tune you are working with at all times. You can store the SBX-80's song data on the same track as the SMPTE after the end of the song. Just leave a second or two of space after the SMPTE ends. It is also a good practice to make verified data dumps of your drum machine and sequencer patterns. Since they are not stored on tape, correct data back ups are essential!

Next, connect the midi-clock outputs of the SBX-80 into the midi- clock inputs of your drum machine and/or sequencer. You can now record overdubs on your multi-track tape and your drum machine and sequencers will follow. Just press "play" on the SBX-80. Make sure the output of the SMPTE track from your multi-track is still connected to the "SMPTE in" jack of the SBX-80 and the "external SMPTE" switch is illuminated ( indicating that the SBX-80 is still reading external SMPTE ). You can now fast forward and/or rewind the tape and play it from anywhere in the song. The SBX-80 will count four beats and then tell your drum machine and sequencer's midi note pointer at what bar in the song to start playing from. From here on in its pretty painless. It's sort of a "set it and forget it" procedure. You can even record new patterns on your drum machines and sequencer while they are driven by the SBX-80. Just enable their individual record buttons.

If you don't have a midi-clock controlled drum machine and/or sequencer, which is capable of reading midi note pointers, you will always have to start the tape at the the top of the tune for your drum and synthesizers parts to sync up properly.

The above example is by no means the only way of accomplishing the above task. At Unique Recording we've found it works for us. There are other numerous ways and applications to use the SBX-80 but because of space I won't be able to explain them here. Hopefully, we'll get to them in future issues of Roland's User Group magazine.

Until then keep on syncing !!!!

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