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27 October 2005

Digidesign Mbox 2 review — Future Music

Filed under: Hardware at 6:57 am (6 comments)

Future Music magazine reviews the Mbox 2 USB audio interface from Digidesign. They like this piece of equipment, though it’s the funky-looking handle that grabs the attention first up. They note that the handle can be removed for those who prefer their boxes sleek and streamlined, though I quite like it just as it is. They say that “overall the box is neat and solid,” though they worry that the all-plastic construction might not be robust enough for portable use.

Actually connecting the unit was hassle-free: “the Mbox 2 installation is simple and quick, and I had the unit up and running straight away.” The included Pro Tools LE software seemed up to the task: it ran at pretty much maximum spec (32 tracks of 24-bit 44.1kHz audio with minimum latency and plug-ins) without glitches. They found Pro Tools LE to be “well-equipped and stable.”

The Mbox 2 scores very highly on sound quality. The preamp and A-D converters was good, though “they lacked low-frequency presence, and transients were a little softer than I’d want.” The same went for the monitor output, thought they said this was “not in any way severe”. The inputs were very good — “the recorded results were true and very usable.”

Even though this is a USB 1.1 interface rather than the much faster USB 2, they still find that it delivers “excellent performance.” The Mbox 2 provides “a solid set of basic tools for recording, editing and mixing audio” — “I could want for little more in an entry-level interface at this price point.” The Mbox 2 scores 8 and 9 out of 10 on all the review criteria — “a well-stocked package that’ll get you on the road to Pro Tools city in no time.”

24 October 2005

Minimonsta review — Computer Music

Filed under: Music software at 8:43 pm Comments Off on Minimonsta review — Computer Music

GForce‘s Minimonsta, another clone of the much-loved Minimoog portable synth, has been reviewed by Computer Music magazine. They give it special awards for both Performance and Innovation and generally think it’s a pretty great piece of software. If you’ve ever used a real Minimoog, you’ll be right at home, since the Minimonsta is laid out pretty much the same as the original. The reviewers approve of the layout of the Minimonsta window and think some of the details are very nice. They single out the “flying faders”, which you can use to smoothly adjust knobs and faders with a simple mouse gesture: “Little touches like this make the software great fun to use.”

The Minimonsta comes with a number of presets and patches — “Most of the presets are very impressive.” There’s also a new Melohman feature; this allows you to group up to 12 patches together into one “meta-patch”. There’s a separate octave on the keyboard that you can use to trigger the twelve meta-patches. This enables you to easily switch between patches on the fly and even morph between them in various ways.

Overall, the emulation of the Minimoog is rated very highly. “The similarities are startling — and yes, the new version is always in tune.” The extra features are also very worthy additions. “Minimonsta is another triumph for the GForce team. Its sound is extraordinarily close to that of the original, and it provides programming and performance options that expand the creative possibilities of the Minimoog many times over.” They rate this software a big 9 out of 10 and call it “a highly attractive synth.”

13 October 2005


Filed under: Music software at 7:32 pm (1 comment)

Cakewalk are now shipping SONAR 5, the latest and greatest version of their music production suite. Cakewalk say that version 5 adds an arsenal of responsive instruments, more effects, and powerful editing tools including Roland V-Vocal VariPhrase technology. These features are complemented by a double precision floating point engine that delivers dramatic increases in dynamic range. SONAR’s pristine 64-bit audio engine, seamless and accessible even on 32-bit computers, sets new standards for digital mixing. In addition, SONAR 5 introduces ground-breaking advances in RAM and native processing power on systems running Windows XP x64 Edition. Even in SONAR’s 64-bit environment, their BitBridge technology enables 32-bit VST effects and instruments.

SONAR 5 comes with several new instruments and effects: the SYN II subtractive synth, Pentagon I vintage analog synth, Roland GrooveSynth, SFZ SoundFont sampler, RXP REX Player groove box, and the Perfect Space Convolution Reverb. Some of the new features are only available in the flagship SONAR Producer Edition 5 product. There’s also a SONAR Studio Edition 5 that includes most of the functionality but leaves out some of the extras, and there will no doubt be a SONAR Home Studio 5 before too long.

Other new features include integrated inline audio and MIDI editing, arranging, and mixing all in one view; improved envelope automation drawing; object-oriented clip-based effects and editing including per-clip effects bin; and clip-based effect automation.

Tascam HD-P2 portable recorder

Filed under: Hardware at 12:05 am (4 comments)

Tascam’s HD-P2 portable recorder is a new high-resolution stereo recorder. It’s all digital — it records direct to CompactFlash cards, and also has a FireWire port for getting that performance into your laptop as fast as possible. It records in 24 bits at 192kHz to WAV files, and can also take a timecode input to allow you to synchronise your recordings with external video, for example.

Recording to CompactFlash is the way of the future (or the present) — the Edirol R-1 Portable Recorder was a very nice all-in-one recorder, and now the HD-P2 has a few more high-end features. If only somebody could come up with a more interesting name for their recorder they would surely have a hit.

There are a couple of nice unexpected features: “The professional design of the HD-P2 extends to convenient details that pro users will appreciate. The Retake button allows the user to delete the last recording and set up to re-record with a single button press. As audio is recorded, the file headers are continually re-saved to protect your recording against accidental data loss. Files can be named from the front panel interface or using a PS/2 keyboard, which can also be used to control transport and setup features.”

Input options on the HD-P2 include two XLR mic inputs with phantom power built-in limiter. It also has unbalanced RCA ins and outs as well as S/PDIF digital I/O. There’s also a built-in speaker for monitoring and a built-in microphone, though they suggest this is for “interviews and educational use,” so they probably expect you to plug in a good quality microphone for recording music. In fact, Tascam also say you can use the features on the HD-P2 “to sync dailies or to conform dialog during post” — so they’re clearly going for the pro market with this device.

12 October 2005

Guitar Rig 2

Filed under: Hardware andMusic software at 12:53 am (1 comment)

Native Instruments have unveiled Guitar Rig 2, the latest version of their package for guitar and bass production. It’s a hardware/software combination that includes a foot controller with two inputs and six switches, and an audio software package that simulates several different amps, speakers and microphones and includes 40 effects. There’s also a fascinating module called the Loop Machine for creating and playing back loops on the fly: “Layer different leads, riffs and rhythms on top of one another and gradually build up entire guitar sections. Tools such as the Crossover and Split offer unique potential while the Modifiers’ ability to modulate any of the parameters in real-time far exceed the realms of conventional set-ups.” I saw a fantastic bass player called Eberhard Weber do something like this last year at a Jan Garbarek gig. I don’t know what he was using but the effect was amazing.

According to the Native Instruments website: The tones delivered by Guitar Rig 2’s Dynamic Tube Response technology are second to none. The huge selection of equipment is astounding: Choose from 8 amps, 15 guitar and 6 bass cabinets, 4 rotary speakers, 9 microphones with adjustable positioning and over 40 effects. Drag and drop any number of components into the virtual rack and arrange them into the desired order. A wide range of distortion, modulation, delay, reverb, pitch and volume effects allow the sound to be tuned, twisted and tweaked until the most tantalizing tones are obtained.

The Rig Kontrol 2 foot-controller has six foot switches and a multi-functional pedal with an extra switch. Integrated into the controller is a high-quality audio interface with inputs optimized for guitar and bass pick-ups. Rig Kontrol 2’s advanced design, rugged construction and tough aluminium casing ensure it holds its own on the most demanding of stages. Plug in two guitars simultaneously; use the dedicated inputs and MIDI interface to patch in additional pedals and controllers.

10 October 2005

Stylus RMX 1.5 released

Filed under: Music software at 11:31 pm Comments Off on Stylus RMX 1.5 released

Spectrasonics Stylus RMX has been updated — Stylus RMX 1.5 is now available. It’s the same price as previous versions, or free to registered users of the previous version. Major new features include a completely redesigned and expanded patch library, support for many more hardware controllers, and a Chaos Designer “Buzz” feature. The “Buzz” allows many interesting effects including “unusual tonal buzzing noises” to add that little bit of glitchy fun to your next laptop gig.

The website lists the new features — here is a summary of the highlights.

The 1.5 update offers a completely new factory patch library, including 500 new Multi Grooves and 250 new Kits created by the acclaimed Spectrasonics sound design team, which take advantage of all the new features and effects that have been added since the original release of Stylus RMX. The complete patch library is now also organized by mood and genre. The expanded Groove Elements sound directory adds new “Tonal Elements” and “4×4 Kicks” suites geared for European dance club styles. The Core Library update also includes new Example Groove Menus in various genres — such as Drum ‘n’ Bass, Electronica, Urban, Percussion, Film Action/Suspense/Chase, etc.

The unique new Chaos Designer “Buzz” feature allows real-time stutter edits, “bouncing-ball” and unusual tonal buzzing noises to be instantly applied to any groove, sound menu and Edit Group. The user can control the time between the repeats to get different pitches of buzzing, as well as controlling the acceleration speed and direction of the repeat FX. Chaos can be applied to the probability of how often the buzz effect is heard, as well as chaotically varying the range of acceleration and the range of time and pitch change. Buzz is a wild effect that’s perfect for creative electronic music remixing in real-time.

With the performance improvements in v1.5, Stylus RMX now has doubled the number of active Edit Groups to 16. This brings the total number of RMX parameters to over 20,000 in a single instance!

A selection of custom MIDI Learn templates for some of the most popular hardware controllers on the market including the Korg microKontrol, Kontrol 49, Behringer BCR/BCF-2000, M-Audio Trigger Finger, O2, Ozonic and others. Full documentation and detailed tutorials are also provided for users to create and share their own hardware controller RMX templates for any MIDI device.

Other new features include:

  • Comprehensive Integrated Documentation
  • Over 4.5 Hours of New Video Tutorials Included
  • Windows RTAS Support
  • Conversion Support for more Groove Control Libraries
  • Batch Conversion of REX Files and Libraries
  • Browse Core Library by Genre & Category
  • New MIDI Learn Features
  • Expanded LFO Sync Capabilities
  • Enhanced Browser Display Mode
  • Show Author
  • New Edit Group Functions in Groove Menu Mode
  • New Confirmation Dialogs

Purity software workstation

Filed under: Music software at 2:30 pm Comments Off on Purity software workstation

Purity, from Korean outfit Luxonix (“for Youth, Ambition, and Love of Music”), is an all-in-one music workstation in software. It runs as a standalone synth, or as a VST or AU plug-in. It’s a 16-part multi-instrument with 24 built-in effects, and an integrated mixer and sequencer. There’s also a patch editor and preset browser, Luxonix are the makers of the Ravity software ROMpler, so if you liked that then Purity looks to be worth considering.

Their website talks a lot about the technology behind Purity, but the actual specs are more interesting reading. Here is a summary: “Purity provides rich sound sources to create professional music of any kind and any purpose. Purity is based on well-sampled PCM wave data include a lot of sound of hardware workstations, sound modules, drum machines, vintage analog synths and even modern digital synths. Moreover, Purity comes with over 1000 ready-to-use sound presets that are most popular in each era of the electronic music. The integrated sequencer and the sequenced patches inspire your musical potential.”

E-Mu 1616M audio interface review — Computer Music

Filed under: Hardware at 12:42 am Comments Off on E-Mu 1616M audio interface review — Computer Music

Computer Music reviewed the E-Mu 1616M audio interface and thought it was fantastic. The sound quality is not just good — it’s “astounding”. Before you even plug it in though, you can see how flexible it is: the laptop card connects to the breakout box with an Ethernet cable, making it easy to use cheap Ethernet cables to place the box wherever you like. The inputs on the box are extensive too, with two phantom power inputs amongst many others — there’s even a RIAA turntable input so you can finally get all your old 78s into Ableton Live.

“So, how does it all sound? Truly sublime!” The mic preamps are virtually noiseless, and the whole thing, they say, sounds fantastic. And to go with all this great sound, they note that the included software is top-notch: Sonar, Cubase, Ableton Live, WaveLab and AmpliTube. These are “lite” versions, but still well worth having if you don’t own the full versions. There’s also E-Mu’s own DSP Patch-mix package for mixing and monitoring without an external mixer.

Their verdict is a resounding endorsement: ten out of ten, and a special “Performance” award too. “This is one of the best mobile audio interfaces we’ve ever seen. It sounds incredibly good and offers so many connections and features that it’d be worthy of a place in most studios, never mind out on the road.” The final word is simple and direct: “Buy one. Now.”

7 October 2005

MusicXPC M3 music laptop

Filed under: Hardware at 3:05 pm (1 comment)

The most important part of your laptop studio is, of course, your laptop. MusicXPC (“The world’s finest music production computers”) have released their latest laptop model, the Professional M3. Apart from the obvious things like a decent hard drive, it has a multitude of tweaks that make it good for music production. Not only is it engineered to be very quiet in operation, but the OS has been customised to ensure maximum processing power is devoted to music making.

“MusicXPC Professional is made for demanding media production professionals. It’s not a machine you would purchase for organizing photos or playing back MP3s, this is a machine for professional audio recording, mixing, mastering and media creation. The entire operating system has been configured for recording and playing back digital media using the popular professional software used by today’s media professional. Windows XP services that are not needed are turned OFF and the ones needed are turned ON.”

The website has a lot of information about this laptop. Their summary gives a good indication of its capabilities:

The M3 is a notebook tweaked for music production that features an Intel Pentium M 1.73GHz CPU, an 80GB 5,400 rpm hard drive, 512MB of DDR333 RAM (expandable to 2GB), a 15.4″ WXGA wide angle screen that gives you visibility even at off-axis points of view. The M3 comes with a recovery utility that stores the system factory settings outside of the Windows OS world in a host-protected area of the hard drive. This allows you to restore the M3 to the factory even if the hard drive has been accidentally re-formatted. The M3 has Gigabit LAN to improve workflow and play projects stored on other computers via Ethernet; built in 8X DVD+/-RW burner for archiving and more and more and more.

5 October 2005

E-MU Xboard keyboard controller review — Keyboard

Filed under: Hardware at 10:35 am Comments Off on E-MU Xboard keyboard controller review — Keyboard

Keyboard magazine reviews the E-Mu Xboard 25- and 49-key USB/MIDI controllers. They praise the “impressive keyboard action”, which they say is “surprisingly solid and satisfying, especially given the lightness of the controllers.” They also say its editing software is easy to use. Unfortunately, they think the buttons aren’t so good — in fact the word they use it “cheesy”.

They had no problems with the other controls, such as the mod and pitch bend wheels, and liked the all-around usability of the keyboard and included software. They also mention the Latch mode, which enables easy triggering of parts (such as loops), especially in a live setting.

Their final conclusion is very positive: “With the sounds from the Proteus and the sequencing abilities of Live, E-mu offers quite a tasty all-in-one package with their Xboards. If you’re a beginner looking to dive into the world of MIDI, a pro shopping for a versatile featherweight controller, or a mad scientist looking to create the wildest Frankensynth ever to walk the earth, E-mu’s latest definitely deserve to be checked out.”