Review: Lab4Music Sipario

Maybe you don't need a computer onstage after all.
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The Italian-made Sipario is a powerful MIDI router that lets you save and recall dozens of parameter sets as well as multitimbral setups without the need for computer.

The Italian-made Sipario is a powerful MIDI router that lets you save and recall dozens of parameter sets as well as multitimbral setups without the need for computer.

Back in the late ’80s, the Southern rock band .38 Special hired me to configure their racks of synth and sampler modules so that the keyboardist could control them all from a single master keyboard. They wanted the ability to press one button that would instantly set up all the keyboard splits, layers, routings, and program changes for each song in their set. The job took me several days.

Had I used the Lab4Music Sipario, I probably could have finished in an hour or two. Small enough to sit on a tabletop or a keyboard’s front panel, this rugged steel wedge has two sets of MIDI I/O, USB type A and B ports, and a 1/4" footswitch jack. One USB port connects to a power source, the other to a keyboard or module with MIDI over USB.

The interface includes a color touch-screen, a Function button, a clickable rotary encoder, and an Exit button. The encoder and Exit button work like traditional iPod controls, allowing you to navigate forward and back through various screens. Turning the encoder moves the onscreen cursor and changes values. You can also choose menu items using the touch screen, but you still need the encoder to select items and change their value.

Of the five main screens, the most important is Scenes, where you set up and recall parameter sets. Store and recall as many as 40 Scenes, each containing up to 30 Performances—configurations of MIDI parameters that may include program and bank changes, splits and layers, CC values, envelope settings, effects levels, and so on. Each Performance appears onscreen as an icon, which you choose from a selection of 33 instrument images.

A Performance contains up to eight Maps. A Map is a multitimbral setup that allows you to control eight destinations with a single source or set up eight-way splits and layers. I’m impressed by the variety of parameters the Sipario stores in a single Map. In addition to input and output routings, channels, and other essentials, you can specify MIDI volume, reverb depth, chorus depth, pan position, mono or poly mode, filter cutoff, custom velocity curves, and much more. You can merge MIDI signals, remap one CC to another, and even specify a maximum 10-second delay for control changes. The Sipario can’t record System Exclusive messages, but you can manually enter up to 50 SysEx strings and store any of them in a Map.

For live use, you can program the Function button to step forward and back through the 30 Performances or to start and stop external sequencer playback. You can also scroll though Performances with a footswitch or simply touch their icons onscreen, and they respond to program changes 1 through 30. In addition, you can cut, copy, and paste data between Performances.

While I’ve been reviewing the Sipario, each new firmware update has expanded its capabilities, and I can’t think of any bases Lab4Music hasn’t covered in the latest version. The user interface of any device that relies on two buttons and a rotary encoder is challenging, but the touch screen helps immensely. Still, workflow could be improved if, say, pressing and holding a menu item had the same result as pressing the encoder. And an additional USB type A connector would be handy, because USB doesn’t daisy-chain.

Anyone whose rig comprises more than one MIDI instrument and who doesn’t want a computer onstage could benefit from owning a Sipario. Its versatility is astounding, and everything works as advertised.

Stores dozens of multitimbral setups. Handles dozens of parameter types. Extremely versatile. Connects to a PC via USB in USB Device mode.

Only one USB type A connector. Must enter SysEx strings manually.


Writer, synthesist, and Electronic Musician editor-at-large Geary Yelton lives in Asheville, North Carolina.