Generalmusic (GEM) S2
GEM S2 Turbo
Italian company Generalmusic (also called GEM) was known for producing home organs and semi-professional accompaniment keyboards. But they also made a few attempts at producing professional music workstations. The first of them was the S-Series, introduced in 1992. GEM called it the "Music Processor" because of its many advanced functions, including a powerful sequencer, the ability to read and edit samples, excellent real-time controllers, and many others.
In 1993, GEM upgraded the S-Series with the so-called "Turbo kit" which allowed for many new functions and doubled the polyphony. The Turbo kit was also sold separately as an upgrade for the original models. GEM also released a rack version, called the S2R, with the Turbo upgrade already installed.
There were two original models, with only one difference between them: S2 and S3. The S2 has a 61-note keyboard and the S3 has a 76-note keyboard. Both keyboard models have excellent semi-weighted keys with touch/release velocity, polyphonic aftertouch and metal contacts. On the front panel, there are also seven programmable sliders, seven programmable buttons and Pitch and Modulation wheels. All functions are logically and clearly displayed on a large graphical LCD with light blue neon back-lighting. Thanks to the excellent hardware and also thanks to two MIDI I/O's, the S2/S3 is an ideal master keyboard for the home studio.
The S-Series can do excellent analog synthesizer emulations, impressive textures, punchy basses, synth strings & brass, and also a very nice emulation of tone-wheel organs. The acoustic sounds are rather obsolete in comparison to newer instruments, but some of them are still very nice (i.e. Pan Flute).
The synthesizer engine is 16-note polyphonic (32 on Turbo models). The sound structure is similar to older Korg models: Two oscillators per voice (the Turbo models can also use one oscillator per voice, but with some limitations) which can use one (or two on Turbo models) of the 209 waveforms included in ROM or any of the multisamples loaded into RAM. There are two excellent 12 dB/Oct. resonant filters per voice which can be independently set as: Lowpass, Highpass, Bandpass, Parameter Cut, or Parameter Boost. If the setting on both filters is exactly the same, they work as one 24dB/Oct. filter! This allows the S2/S3 to make very nice analog-like sweeps. Next, there are three 10-segment envelopes (Amp, Filter, Pitch) with the ability to create a continuous loop on any portion of the envelope. There is one LFO with Sine, Triangle, Saw, Square, Random and S&H shapes, and a Panorama function with its own additional envelope for stereo imaging.
The sample edit function will read and edit samples in WAV, Akai and AIFF formats loaded in from DOS-formatted floppy disks using a program called "Sample Translator". The original S2/S3 instruments need to load this program from a floppy disk into their (volatile) RAM. The Turbo models have it pre-installed. The S-Series instruments have all the basic editing functions of a sampler, including sample truncate, normalize, loop, etc., and can build a multisample from up to 16 single samples. Once the sample is created, it can be used in the same manner as any of the sounds from the ROM. There are 2MB of RAM (volatile) dedicated for samples.
The S-Series instruments are always in Performance mode. The Performance can be made from up to 16 Sounds or Patches (yes, you can control all 16 MIDI tracks from the keyboard!) and the effects section settings. In the ROM of the instrument, there are 100 patches for Performances (Turbo models only) and they are automatically loaded when the instrument is powered-up. The Turbo versions shipped preloaded with 100 excellent performances including a lot of textures, pads and leads.
The effects section consists of two blocks. The first of them includes different Reverb and Hall effects and a few Reverb/Delay combination effects. The second block includes very good Choruses, Flangers, Rotary Speaker simulations and some Pitch/Delay combinations.
The on-board Sequencer has all you need for serious music production. Up to 250,000 notes capacity, Quantization, Macro edit, Undo/Redo, Clipboard, Copy & Paste functions, and more. It can record all realtime controller movements including the polyphonic aftertouch and it can control two additional sound sources independently thanks to two independent MIDI interfaces. There is another 2MB of RAM dedicated for sequencer data. It can store 10 songs with 10 sequences per song. Again, all functions of the sequencer are clearly displayed on the excellent LCD. Although the instrument is not General MIDI (GM) compatible, the sequencer can load/save and convert standard MIDI files.
Data storage on the original non-Turbo models is done only via 3.5" HD floppy disk with special 1.6 MB formatting. Everything included in RAM (Samples, Sequencer Data, Sound and Effect Libraries, Performance Data) erase after the instrument is switched-off. The Turbo models have four slots for non-volatile SDRAM chips with a total capacity of 512 kB or 2 MB. They behave like a small hard disk and once you have installed these chips (called RAM-Disk) and stored your settings, the instrument will reload them when you turn it on. Unfortunately, there is no data output like a SCSI or serial interface.
Overall, the S-Series is very reliable and of a solid build. The keyboard feel and real-time control are excellent, as well as the display and control panel layout. They also have great connectivity: Two MIDI interfaces, two main and four auxiliary outputs, headphones output, two programmable foot-switch inputs and one programmable pedal input. This all make it ideal for use as a master keyboard in the home studio, but the sounds are also very interesting. GEM also released a huge library of sample, sound and song disks for this series.
The succeeding generation of GEM's workstations, named Equinox (1998), got huge improvements: 64 voice polyphony, arpeggiators, RAM expansion up to 32 MB, etc. But it lost the excellent semi-weighted keyboard, the polyphonic aftertouch, and that nice display was replaced by dull, half-sized LCD. The Equinox was discontinued around 2004. GEM continued making home and semi-professional keyboards and one high-end accompaniment workstation called Genesys (which used many features from the S-Series workstations) until the Generalmusic brand disappeared from the market in 2008.
The S2 has been used by Brian Eno.
Demos & Media
Websites of Interest
Original images from Czechkeys Blog and the S2R pic found on Ebay.
Review by Michal Najvrt (najvrtson)
Reviewed December 2010