Laptop Studio — Music software reviews, news and info for computer music

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10 September 2005

Mindprint TRIO review — Remix

Filed under: Hardware at 5:23 pm (no comments)
trio-usb

The Mindprint TRIO is reviewed by Remix magazine. “The T.R.I.O. Total Recording Solution is designed to be the nerve center of your studio, as well as to eliminate multiple pieces of outboard gear, wall warts and a slew of messy cables. Essentially, it replaces a mixer’s input and monitoring section and adds EQ and dynamics.” The device under review is the original TRIO; Mindprint have since announced the TRIO USB, which goes one step further by using a convenient USB 2 interface instead of an audio interface.

The included manual is apparently a must-read (unlike many manuals): “This unit also comes with an excellent manual, available in both hard copy and PDF forms. I’ve heard of many people taking pride in not reading manuals, but in my opinion, there are two different types of engineers: those who know what they are doing and those who hope they know what they are doing.”

The review gives a very detailed description of the device. They like the Talkback feature, which lets you talk to players through their headphones, but found that it was a bit noisy. Other than that, they found the feature set to be excellent, and the effects to be very good. They were impressed with the built-in EQ, and also liked the compressor: “Once again, I was pleased with the tone. Further experimenting with all types of equalizer amounts, I found that even at extreme settings, the unit performed extremely well.”

Their conclusing is overwhelmingly positive: “The philosophy behind the T.R.I.O. was to incorporate all of the essential features required in a typical home-recording setup into one unit. For slightly more than $500 retail and housing a studio-quality channel strip, zero-latency monitoring, multiple speaker outputs and a Talkback section, this single box is a wonderful thing. I have to agree that MindPrint has really covered all of the bases with the T.R.I.O., and I would definitely recommend this piece for any home-studio owner.”

6 September 2005

Edirol PCR-M1 keyboard review — Electronic Musician

Filed under: Hardware at 7:48 pm (no comments)
pcr-m1

Electronic Musician review the Edirol PCR-M1 USB/MIDI keyboard controller and are impressed by its compactness: “The beauty of this unit is its compact size: at just less than 18 inches wide, 9 inches high, and 1.12 inches deep, it is slightly wider than a notebook computer and incorporates 25 standard-width keys. Though they are shorter in height and have a shallower action compared with full-size keys, they feel surprisingly sturdy, as do all the front-panel controls.” (That’s 45cm wide, 22cm high and 3cm deep, for all you Metricians out there.)

The main concern with compact keyboards is the quality and responsiveness of the keys. The PCR-M1 scored well here: “the PCR-M1’s keys felt quite good — light but not flimsy. The timing response was excellent, even when I played with both hands as fast as I could.” The reviewer didn’t like the “detented” knobs on the unit though — these make it difficult to alter parameters smoothly over a wide range. It’s down to personal taste, really.

The conclusion is very good, other than some small gripes about the included editing software: “The PCR-M1 is solid and user-friendly. It works as it should, and using it was fun and hassle free. Edirol should, however, consider adding some PCR Editor basics to the printed material. I’d also like to see different graphical user interfaces in the editing software for the various models. Other than the minor annoyance with the detented knobs, I was very pleased with the PCR-M1.” Overll, this keyboard rates 4 out of 5.

Pro Tools M-Powered review — Computer Music

Filed under: Hardware andMusic software at 5:50 pm (2 comments)
pro-tools-m-powered

Computer Music magazine reviews Pro Tools M-Powered, the new hardware/software combo DAW from Digidesign. Pro Tools is already legendary in the digital audio workstation world, and this version comes with an M-Audio interface instead of their proprietary audio interface. The version of Pro Tools included is a cut-down version of the full product. In fact, it’s almost identical to Pro Tools LE, the standard “lite” version of Pro Tools.) Still, the limitations aren’t too severe — the review points out that this version handles 32 audio tracks instead of 96, and does not include the TDM system for eliminating latency when processing sounds in real time.

The automation system in this version of Pro Tools is full-strength: “everything from volume to plug-in parameters can be programmed dynamically, either by recording fader/pot movements or drawing in a contour.”

They also point out tat the MIDI sequencing features are undiminished — you can even still use 256 tracks if you really want to– but that the MIDI capabilities aren’t as good as a dedicated MIDI sequencer. Still, this version of Pro Tools is ReWire-friendly, so you can use another sequencer without too much trouble.

In the end, they rate it as 8 out of ten and give it a special nod for its excellent performance. In a nutshell, they call Pro Tools M-Powered “superb audio multitracking software.”

5 September 2005

Roland CD-2

Filed under: Hardware at 3:39 pm (no comments)
cd-2

The Roland CD-2 is a CD recorder on steroids. It can record from the inbuilt microphone or line inputs directly to CD or CompactFlash card. When recording, you can apply effects and even carry out basic editing operations on your audio. When playing back, you can adjust speed and pitch independently. It would be a good musical sketch book for those times when inspiration strikes, there’s a record label A&R person next to you on the bus, and you’ve foolishly left your laptop studio at home. You can pull out your harmonica and your CD-2 and produce your demo masterpiece on the spot.

The website gives more details on this useful new gadget. They say that whether your goal is to record audio and make CDs to present a performance or composition for evaluation, to advance your playing skills with the help of high-tech learning tools, to preserve and archive important audio, or to capture unforgettable moments like concerts or public events, the CD-2 will do the job quickly and simply — and with professional-quality results.

Easy Recording
Recording is a breeze on the CD-2. A high-quality stereo microphone is built in for top-grade, on-the-spot recording; additional mics can be plugged in as well. The CD-2 records directly onto CDs. So start playing, and as soon as you’re done you’ll have a finished, professional CD! For extra long recording times (complete concerts, church services, etc.), the CD-2 offers recording to popular card (CompactFlash) media, and supports up to 2 GB capacity for approximately six hours of recording time at 16 Bit/44.1 kHz linear mode.

Edit Your Recordings!
When recording to CompactFlash, your audio can be edited using functions such as Audio Level Adjustment, Song Erase, and Trim for cutting out silence between songs. Once you have everything the way you want, you can burn your performance directly to CD.

Music-Training Support
Students will appreciate the CD-2’s usefulness as an educational/practice tool, thanks to its built-in stereo speakers, speed/pitch control, tuner, and metronome. You can easily record lessons or musical passages, and play them back at a slower tempo while retaining the original pitch. Or change the pitch of the audio and play along indifferent key signatures. The CD-2 provides some great learning advantages for all levels of students.

Convenient Connections
The CD-2 makes it easy to get audio in and out. For ultra convenience, a stereo microphone is built-in, so all you have to do is point and shoot. Or, if desired, you can plug in external mics with the two XLR inputs, complete with phantom power. A pair of RCA inputs and outputs is provided for convenient connection to electronic piano, CD player or stereos; using the 1/4-inch inputs you can plug guitars, mics, and other instruments directly into the CD-2. And if you like, you can use the built-in guitar effects or reverb to greatly enhance your guitar or vocal sounds.

Onboard Effects
Enhance your recordings with the CD-2’s lineup of professional audio effects, such as reverb, EQ, and compression. Make your recordings sound more ambient and lush, or punchy and crisp. Special tools are also provided for guitar and vocals, and the onboard Mastering effects help you put the final polish on your audio before you burn it CD. You won’t believe how good your recordings can sound, and how friendly the CD-2’s tools are to use.

4 September 2005

Edirol PCR-M1 keyboard controller

Filed under: Hardware at 11:06 pm (no comments)
pcr-m1-oblique

The PCR-M1 MIDI keyboard controller from Edirol looks like a nice complement to the laptop studio musician. The thing I really like is its compactness. I prefer 25-key keyboards for this reason, and this one is very thin and light too. The assignable rotary encoder would be useful too — especially if you don’t already have another MIDI control surface.

The website has all the details, as follows: The PCR-M1 is the most compact, powerful USB MIDI Keyboard Controller available. This incredibly slim device is based on the highly-popular PCR-1, but lacks the audio I/O of the PCR-1 and adds a number of new MIDI features to make it more analogous to the larger PCR-series MIDI controllers. Like the PCR-30, 50 & 80, the PCR-M1 includes a 1×1 MIDI interface, sustain pedal connection, and expression pedal connection. Unlike any other PCR-series controller, the PCR-M1 offers a rotary encoder that can be assigned to a number controls including scrolling control maps, adjusting velocity, changing MIDI channels, & more. The PCR-M1 also includes three different options for drawing power: 1) USB-Powered, 2) AC Adapter (optional), and 3) Powered by 4 AAA batteries.

Also like its larger brothers, the PCR-M1 offers V-Link support for control of video devices directly from your keyboard. The PCR-M1 is incredibly versatile in terms of control. It offers 27 different parameter controls available from 16 different physical controls and functions with the powerful PCR-Editor available for PC & Mac.

The PCR-M1 uses Edirol & Roland’s S.L.I.M. technology to offer a very nice playable action with a very short throw & very little side-to-side play in the keys. It may be small, but this feature-packed device is no toy!

The PCR-M1 measures a mere 1-3/16″ (3cm) thick & weighs just 2 lbs 11 oz (1.22kg). It comes with a protective neoprene sleeve to protect it in travel.

3 September 2005

Digidesign Mbox 2

Filed under: Hardware at 10:33 am (71 comments)
mbox-2

Digidesign have announced the Mbox 2, the new version of their original Mbox bundle. This looks pretty good — it’s a Pro Tools system you can actually afford. The hardware handles the connections (including analog, digital, and MIDI), and the included software handles the editing.

Apart from the very nice-looking interface box, MBox 2 comes with Pro Tools LE, the “light” version of Digidesign’s flagship music production software. It also comes with a great bundle of other software called the Pro Tools Ignition Pack — in total, Mbox 2 includes more than 50 plug-ins and instruments.

Here’s the rundown of features in this package, from the website.

Mbox 2 Hardware Features

  • Superior sound quality
  • Four simultaneous inputs with analog and digital I/O
  • Two analog inputs (XLR and 1/4″ jacks) and two analog outputs (1/4″ jacks)
  • 2 channels of S/PDIF digital I/O (RCA)
  • 48V phantom power for condenser mics
  • 24-bit/48 kHz audio
  • MIDI in/out
  • Zero-latency monitoring
  • 100% USB powered

Mbox 2 Software Features

  • Award-winning Pro Tools LE software (Windows XP and Mac OS X)
  • 32 simultaneous audio tracks (128 virtual audio tracks)
  • Integrated MIDI sequencer with 256 simultaneous MIDI tracks
  • 37 DigiRackâ„¢ and 7 Bomb Factory plug-ins
  • Includes the Pro Tools Ignition Pack software and tools
  • Support for streaming ReWire applications
  • Beat Detective LE groove analysis and correction tool

Pro Tools Ignition Pack

  • Propellerhead Software Reason Adapted 3
  • Ableton Live Lite 4 Digidesign Edition
  • FXpansion BFD Lite
  • IK Multimedia SampleTank 2 SE
  • IK Multimedia AmpliTube LE
  • IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ
  • Celemony Melodyne uno essential
  • Pro Tools Method One instructional DVD
  • Bunker 8 REX File CD
  • 1-year membership to Broadjam.com
  • Limited-time free trade magazine subscription

29 August 2005

TRIO USB Studio in a Box

Filed under: Hardware at 5:02 pm (4 comments)
trio-usb

The TRIO USB, a do-everything audio box, will be released next month by MindPrint. The original TRIO was announced some months ago, but because of its super S/PDIF interface, most users would already need extra hardware (e.g. a sound card) to use it. This new version uses a plain old USB interface instead, so it really is more of an all-in-one device.

The MindPrint website says: TRIO USB expands the scope of the innovative TRIO recording and monitoring solution introduced at Winter NAMM. It offers the same channel strip with true analog EQ and Compressor, essential mixing, AUX & DAW inputs and comprehensive monitoring features as found on the original TRIO, but adds USB audio instead of the S/PDIF interface.

TRIO’s channel strip section provides a high quality instrument- and Class A microphone-input with phantom power and 10 kOhms impedance for optimal sounding results. The analog EQ’s “vintage” design makes it easy to record great sounding vocals and instruments. The Compressor’s unique Adaptive Response mode is taken directly from MindPrint’s high-end DTC Dual Tube Channel Strip and delivers superior results, requiring just one knob!

TRIO USB includes all essential mixing features required in a typical recording setup: Mic./Instrument, Stereo Line, Stereo AUX and DAW return channels may all be used simultaneously. The built-in channel strip delivers professional sound instantly and may be recorded simultaneously with the stereo LINE channel’s signal. The dual headphone amp has separate volume controls, and the latency-free monitoring mixer’s dedicated controls ensure direct access.

TRIO USB also sports a full-featured monitoring controller with talkback, MONO, DIM and MUTE functions, outputs for 3 pairs of speakers – and a dedicated, big master volume knob. This simplifies the recording process and makes music production much more intuitive.

The built-in audio interface is compatible with USB 2.0 and supports Mac OS X and Windows XP. Due to the extremely low playback latency, it is even possible to play virtual instruments or amp modeling software “live” via TRIO.

Key Features
– 1 Mic/Instrument input (Class A, Phantom Power)
– 3 stereo line inputs (Line with 2 band EQ, Aux, DAW)
– Channel strip with low cut filter, 2 band EQ and compressor
– Analog insert
– 10-segment LED meters
– Zero Latency monitor mixer
– 3 switchable speaker outputs
– 2 separate headphone amps
– Talkback Function, MONO / DIM
– Dedicated Monitor Volume knob
– USB 2.0 compatible audio interface
– ASIO drivers for Mac OS X and Windows XP
– 24bit/96kHz max. digital resolution
– Dedicated hardware knobs: 18 rotary, 15 switches
– Power supply via included mains adaptor

27 August 2005

Ta Horng iSmart folding keyboard review — Sound on Sound

Filed under: Hardware at 3:58 pm (no comments)
ismart

Sound on Sound reviews the Ta Horng iSmart roll-up keyboard. Essentially, they say it works about as well as you would expect — what you see is what you get. “As a MIDI data-entry device, the iSmart works fine, triggering notes reliably when the keyboard is on a hard surface.” However, of course the keys offer no feedback, and it’s hard to play accurately when all keys — including the black keys — are on the same level.

Overall, they think this is “an odd product”. I tend to agree. “Some consider a rubber keyboard about as useful as a rubber violin, no matter how portable. Others think the iSmart could be useful for data entry where budget and space restrictions are at their tightest. Hopefully you should know which camp you belong to by now, and will use your wallet accordingly!”

I could see the iSmart being useful for travelling — you could have your laptop and iSmart in your laptop bag, and make music wherever you go without having to use a fiddly mouse to enter notes, or carry a bulky MIDI keyboard.

Gemini iKey audio-to-USB converter

Filed under: Hardware at 12:33 pm (no comments)
ikey

The iKey is a press releease from Gemini with “artist’s impressions” of a new device and some excited hyperbole about what the device can do. Despite their liberal use of words like “revolutionary”, “incredible”, and “take the DJ industry by storm”, the iKey seems to be nothing more than a box that converts analog audio input (via stereo RCA jacks) to digital output (via a USB port). Useful? Perhaps. Incredible? No. And more importantly, it doesn’t seem to exist yet — information from the press releease is on various websites (such as Remix magazine) but not on Gemini’s own website.

They say that the iKey converts input to either WAV or MP3 and sends it to the USB output, which has to have a USB memory key (sold separately) plugged in to save the audio file: “To use the iKEY, simply connect a cable from your headphone jack or any other output source to the RCA inputs, connect to a USB flash drive or mass storage device, select the desired digital audio format, and hit record – it’s that simple! The iKEY lets you choose whether the audio will be converted into MP3 format (with a choice of a 128, 160 and 256kbps bit rate) or the lossless WAV format. Never before has a portable device allowed you to do this without extra hardware and software.” Well, if a USB flash drive isn’t extra hardware then I don’t know what is.

You can see how this device could be useful, but it’s hard to get too excited when we can’t even see a proper photo of it yet.

25 August 2005

Lexicon Omega Studio review — Mix

Filed under: Hardware at 12:35 pm (2 comments)
omega

Mix reviews the Omega Studio Recording System from Lexicon. The Omega actually came out last year, but the Mix review only appeared recently. Besides, I like this product because it looks like R2-D2. Actually, the R2-D2-alike box is just part of the system. The Omega studio recording system consists of three pieces: the Omega USB audio interface, Steinberg’s Cubase LE DAW software, and Lexicon’s Pantheon VST reverb plugin.

A brief description paraphrased from the review: The Omega — an 8-input, 4-bus, 2-output USB I/O mixer — represents the core of the system. A closer look at the uncluttered front panel reveals a surprising amount of features and functionality. Flip the Omega around and cute turns to brute: The rear panel is a no-nonsense array of connectivity. “As a frequent headphone mixer, I immediately heard a major improvement over my soundcard in Omega’s headphone amp, which sports a very open sound and plenty of power. Subsequently, the unit shined in a variety of recording and mixing applications.”

Cubase LE is a decent, if stripped-down, version of Steinberg’s music production system. There are limits on the number of tracks, plugins, etc. that you can use, but the interface is still the same as the high-end versions. As for the reverb plugin, “While the choicest algorithms remain reserved for the company’s higher-end systems, there’s still no question that Pantheon is a killer reverb with the creamy goodness for which Lexicon is famous.”

Overall, they rate this system very highly as a cost-effective way to get sound into your computer. “For overall ease of use, Omega and its mixer-based architecture (as opposed to a patchbay structure) is an absolute pleasure. Between its assignable buses and well-thought-out interface, it just goes where you point it for highly intuitive portable or desktop recording/mixing. … When you take into account the fact that VST reverb plug-ins of Pantheon’s quality can easily sell for $200 or more, the addition of the extremely flexible and handy I/O box — not to mention Cubase LE — makes the Lexicon Omega an outstanding value.”