Kenton Pro4
vs.
Encore Expressionist





Overview

I recently found myself in a position where, as part of a trade deal, I could end up with a Encore Expressionist and replace my Kenton Pro4. Given that my "modular closet" is a breeding ground for CVs and Gates, it took me all of 3 seconds to say "yes" to the deal. :)

Having had a Pro4, and now having an Expressionist, I thought I would post a bullet-point highlight list of the two machines.

For reference, Kenton can be found on the net at:

http://www.kentonuk.com/kenton/converters.shtml

And, Encore is at:

http://www.encoreelectronics.com/cont_expres.html

This list is a "highlight" list, and as such, a list of the good points of both machines. I'll make commentary inline as need be to clarify a point. This is by no means meant to be an in-depth review of either machine, and my comments can be a bit terse.



The Kenton Pro4
(as of OS rev 4300/050)

  • Individual LEDs per Channel
    This is a nice feature where besides adding to the "blinking light" attraction, it does come in handy for troubleshooting a rig.

  • S-Trig and GATE Outputs Available Simultaneously
    For most folks, this will be a non-issue, but it is a nice-to-have when used with an advanced rig to fire an envelope generator from one synth while gating another.

  • 8 Dedicated CV AUX Outputs
    With the Pro4 being a 4 channel convertor, the additional 8 dedicated CV outs are a nice to have. In contrast, the Expressionist is an 8 channel unit, and while any of the outputs can be used in most any CV way you can think of, you do have to give up a channel of full conversion to use it for a CV out.

  • Generates Gates *or* Triggers
    This could be a nice to have if you have gear that truly needs a short trigger. I hear that the Expressionist could grow true trigger support via a software upgrade if need-be.

  • 4 LFOs
    The Expressionist has only three LFOs. But, the LFO support in the Expressionist is much more flexible.

  • LFOs Offer Pulse Waveforms
    Pulse widths of 10, 20, 30 and 40% are available. Interesting for various sync effects.

  • MIDI Diagnostics Mode
    While I prefer *not* to look at a LCD screen for something like this, the Pro4 can act as a decent troubleshooting tool.

  • AC Power
    It's a real line cord to the wall... No wall warts on the Pro4.

  • Wasp/KADI Support
    This may be important to some.

  • Dedicated Sequencer Clock Out
    While both machines can produce sync'd GATE signals from MIDI clocks, the Pro4 offers a dedicated output for the task. Handy for driving analog sequencers.

  • Note Priority
    The Pro4 allows you to set note triggering priority to Low, High or Last.

  • User Interface
    The Pro4 data knob is nicer than the Expressionist buttons, and the numeric values wrap from Max to Min.



  • The Encore Expressionist
    (as of OS rev 1.11)

  • 8 Full Blown MIDI->CV channels
    Ahhh.... Freedom!

  • Built-in Hz/V
    If you need it, it's standard on the Expressionist, and an additional cost on the Pro4.

  • Splits
    EXCELLENT FEATURE! This is probably one of the coolest things about the Expressionist. On each conversion channel you can set a LOW/HIGH note number for the channel to respond to.

  • Smooooooth Glide
    The maximum glide time on the Expressionist is about 30 seconds per octave. And it's incredibly smooth. AWESOME.

  • Offset and Tracking are Digital
    The Pro4 offers trimpot adjustment for scale and tracking. On the Expressionist, this is a lot easier to deal with from an onscreen menu, plus the values are saved on a per patch basis. This allows you to define separate patches for non-standard tunings.

  • Named Patches
    Full alpha naming of patches.

  • Flexible LFOs
    The LFO implementation is incredible. You can mix and match across the channels, and you can have the LFO channels "listen" to a specific MIDI channel for things like modulation depth and retriggering.

  • Polyphonic Mode
    You can define two different poly setups, with any of the 8 channels being assigned to one of the setups. On the Pro4, you can only choose from one of 4 predefined mappings.

  • More Flexible Channel Setup
    For example, you can decide to have a channel NOT track MIDI NOTE messages and just follow a controller. You can also setup negative tracking (ideal for opening a filter inversely to pitch).

  • Modulation Matrix
    4 matrix slots are available per channel. Each slot can track one of the first 121 MIDI controllers. This allows for things like having an LFO drive a channel as well as having Aftertouch push the channel CV as well. You can also do things like route all three LFOs to a channel and have the amount of each LFO controlled by a different MIDI controller.



  • Overall

    In day to day usage, the Expressionist is a far better value as a multi-channel MIDI->CV convertor. It's not so much about the $$$/channel price point, but more of the flexibility of the machine. The modulation matrix allows for wonderful wild modulations that are normally available only on today's digital synths. The flexible polyphonic mode is also quite nice in that you are never in a spot where you may have to re-patch your synths in order to change a polyphonic assignment.

    The Expressionist is simply a more musical machine. Side by side, the Pro4 tends to feel utilitarian in nature. When it comes down to actually using the machine for creating music, the Expressionist has the feature set to make it happen.

    One HUGE cool thing is that the Expressionist is upgradable via a SysEx data dump. This allows for easily upgrading a machine that's in the field with new features. Maybe... parameter wrapping??? :)


    As was said before in the Keyboard review from October 1997:


    Encore Expressionist - The best MIDI->CV convertor on the planet.


    For a great Single Channel MIDI->CV convertor, see the JKJ CV-5



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    Copyright 1998, Mark Pulver - mpulver@midiwall.com
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