E-mu Audity 2000 Review

This review was originally written in 1999. This unit has been discontinued.

Well, what follows is a review of the capabilities and potentials of Emu's Audity 2000. Most have characterized this unit as a dance box, although it really is not just a next-generation Orbit, specifically lacking in many "dance" sounds, percussion sets, and Orbit's Beats mode of sequences. Actually, the Audity is what Emu claims it is: a rhythmic generator. The unit boast 16 independent arpeggiators; you can synch LFOs and envelopes to the Audity's clock or to an external sequencer. Concerning its sounds, the Audity boasts typical Emu quality samples. The patches are predominantly of the buzzy, edgey variety, and there's lots of them: over 800, with 256 user slots. Actually it sounds closest to a Microwave II more than anything else. Right now the unit has 32-note polyphony, but a free software upgrade that's going to be released at the end of December 1999 will raise the polyphony to 64.

Starting from the outside and working in, what we have is the classic Emu one-unit rack design, but with the addition of more buttons and knobs, all in a metallic blue shell. There's dedicated buttons for the unit's clock, the arpeggiator, as well as edit, save, and so on. Over on the left is a volume knob, and then four knobs that can be switched between three different layers for some real-time fun. Although the unit comes with the knobs programmed to the controllers indicated on the front of the module, you can change what they affect. You can also choose if the knobs generate the controller over MIDI, as well as if you want to use the knobs to edit parameters while in edit mode. There's an LED next to each knob so that when you hit the patches preprogrammed value, the LED goes out, which is useful. The knobs have a nice feel and travel to them, and look and feel like the knobs on the Access Virus. The only drawback is that they are a bit sensitive when used for editing and easily jump by values of five. Around the back are six outputs, the usual three midi sockets, and a three-prong insert for the internal power supply.

Since Emu's marketing can't shut up about the 16 arpeggiators, the first thing I did was set up 16 basic patches using internal patterns and fired them up one by one from my Roland XP50. Well, they were all in sync, although it was really dense with that many going at once. I then hit the clock button and swerved the data wheel from 0 to 300 bpm and everything still stayed in sync. You get the typical up/down and its offspring varieties, as well as 200 patterns, and room for 100 or your own. I have yet to get through all the patterns, but they range from ones specifically set up for bass, drums, and acidy synth lines. You can define how many times a pattern will fire, how long it will be, as well as an interval setting so if you have the pattern set up to repeat five times you could have it move up two steps, four, or whatever.

As far as patch building goes, there's been a bit of evolution from the Emu Proteus series way of doing things. Instead of two layers per patch, you now get four. Each layer can have its own LFO, filter and amplifier envelopes, as well as an additional user-assignable envelope. You can choose to use Emu's factory settings for the envelopes, tweak your own, or assign the envelopes to the internal or MIDI clock, and there things get pretty interesting, with cool tempo-based effects. So you can have up to 8 LFOs and 12 envelopes in one patch synched at different rates. You also get a choice of 50 filter models based on Emu's Z-plane blend from the Morpheus. A lot of these filters are geared toward dancey stuff, with copyright-workaround names like Boland Bass. There's about 255 samples onboard that cover a pretty wide range of synth sounds. Just don't go looking for guitar, pianos or horns; as I mentioned earlier, the emphasis is on arp, buzzy sounds. For those of you with a Microwave II and that make use of the random patch generator function will know what I'm talking about. There's 16 MBs of samples onboard, with room for another 16 MB chip, which given Emu's track record may never materialize.

Another cool aspect of the Audity is what Emu calls PatchCords. You use these PatchCords to connect modulation sources to destinations. Each cord has its own amount control, and these amounts can be controlled by any modulation source. Each layer of a patch can have 24 of these patchcords, which can get pretty intense. It's definitely the modular analog synth paradigm. You can connect sources in many ways to destinations, and you can modulate other modulators.

Regarding percussion, there's two electronic kits, one acoustic, and one Emulator kit, all of which are serviceable, but I wouldn't buy it for the drums. You also get basic effects, but there's basically two processors that the whole unit has to go through. Also, in multitimbral mode, you have no control over the send levels, although you can control what outputs a channel goes through. Speaking of multitimbral, my complaint with Emu has always been that you can't save multitimbral settings. As well, you don't get some of the basic functions like saving a transpose setting and effects routing; you have to do this within the individual patches. This is a minor inconvenience, since you can send all these settings over MIDI, and Emu units continue to be the only gear I've ever owned that have no trouble accepting MIDI change and controller data without hesitation or without doing funky things with volume and pan messages.

The main drawback to this box has been the price: a list price of $1,795. If you already have some analog synths or a virtual analog, I think it would make a good addition, although you can get a Microwave II for the same or less. As far as sound goes between the two, I think the MW sometimes has a slight edge regarding a smoother bottom end, but the Audity has a greater range of sounds and filters, and who would have ever thought that someone would have a more complex modulation matrix than a Waldorf! Of course you can't wave scan with the Audity, but you can still do cool things.

My main motivation for buying this unit was that I wanted something small that was capable of out-of-the-ordinary sounds. I like to travel light to gigs, and with this unit I'm able to use my XP50 and the Audity and an effects unit in a two-rack space case. Easy setup and breakdown. I think the unit sounds good, although the preprogrammed pad patches are somewhat weak. But the ROM leads, basses, buzzes, and edgey sounds are all pretty good.