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

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3 September 2006

Steinberg Cubase SX4

Filed under: Music software at 8:05 pm (4 comments)

Steinberg have not even announced Cubase SX4 yet, but screenshots have appeared on the Web already. The screenshots are available on the Music Thing site and show the new version looking not too different from the old, but a little reminiscent of Ableton Live. (Isn’t everything?)Judging by the screenshots there will be a few new plugins. They look great, but it’s too early to tell how well they will work…


More news on Cubase SX4 when it comes to hand, hopefully.

23 April 2006

Sony Acid Pro 6

Filed under: Music software at 8:46 pm (1 comment)

Sony have just released Acid Pro 6, the latest update to their loop-based music creation suite. They call version 6 “The most significant upgrade in ACID history, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? The most important new features are multitrack recording and full MIDI functionality, meaning Acid could now conceivably be used as your main (or even only) application for creating new music. In particular, the ability to edit MIDI data using the traditional piano roll interface makes Acid a lot more attractive to the laptop studio musician. Acid 6 also supports control surfaces like the lovely Tranzport — they really are moving more to the serious end of the music-making spectrum.

Another big new inclusion is a special version of the Kompakt sample player from Native Instruments. As usual, “special” means “reduced”, but it still includes 2 Gigabytes of instruments and online access to more from Sony’s website.

The press release summarises the other new features:

  • Multitrack audio and MIDI recording — Simultaneously record multiple tracks of audio and MIDI into the ACID timeline through a variety of methods, including step recording, punch in/out, continuous looping and more.
  • Multiple media files per track — Layout multiple media files per track, including one-shots, Beatmapped events, loops and disk-based files with new automatic crossfade capabilities.
  • Inline MIDI editing — MIDI data can be manipulated directly on the ACID timeline, using either a piano roll or a drum grid interface. Edit all note position, velocity, pitch bend, and controller information using an easy, visual approach in the main multitrack interface.
  • MIDI filtering and processing — Process MIDI data directly on the timeline, including quantization, swing, editing of velocity values, event duration changes, and more.
  • VSTi parameter automation — Using automation envelopes, ACID Pro 6 software provides increased mixing flexibility for VST instrument parameters.
  • Drum Map editing — The Drum Map Editor provides an intuitive way to create custom Drum Map templates, to make working in the Drum Grid even easier.
  • Project sections — Create project sections that let users more efficiently rearrange time-based segments of audio and MIDI events located across multiple tracks.
  • Dynamic playback optimization — On multiprocessor or multicore computers, processing is distributed evenly across all CPUs to increase playback performance.
  • External control surface support — Hands-on mixing using external hardware. Version 6 natively supports the Mackie Control Universal and the Frontier Design Tranzport, and allows custom mapping of up to five user-defined control surfaces.
  • Record input monitoring — Monitor audio signals with real-time track effect DSP during recording sessions

They list a number of other new features too, including punch-in recording, envelope automation recording lots of other new MIDI goodies, ATRAC support and even Gracenote MusicID to save a bit of typing for all you CD remixers out there.

There was a special price for upgrading older versions of Acid to Acid 6. This offer expired on 31 May; Sony sent me an email about it on 2 April. 🙁

21 January 2006

GarageBand 3

Filed under: Music software at 7:38 pm (2 comments)

GarageBand 3, the latest version of Apple’s simple yet sophisticated music workstation for the masses,, is out now. It’s still looks to be an excellent product, though the new features in version 3 won’t set the laptop studio world on fire. The focus is on podcasting, and there are many features to make sure the web will be completely overrun by podcasts from enthusiastic Mac users before the year is out.

There are lots of features to optimise voice-based podcasts, such as a voice enhancer and quite a neat feature that allows you to record interviews over the Internet and include them, annotated with captions and pictures, into your podcast. You can also add images to any podcast. If you subscribe to Apple’s iWeb service, you can upload your podcast to the iTunes Music Store and make your fortune as the next big shock jock, agony aunt wry social commentator.

Apart from all the Podcasting goodness, GarageBand 3 includes a video track; you can now use GarageBand to score your own film or even music video. The fun part is the new sound effects library: “You can even use GarageBand to add cinematic “foley” sound effects such as footsteps and creaking doors.” That opens the (creaky) door to much creative fun, but as far as actually making music goes, GarageBand 3 doesn’t add much to the previous version.

15 January 2006

Toast 7 review — CNet

Filed under: Music software at 6:51 am (1 comment)

Toast Titamium 7 has been reviewed by CNet. Toast has been one of the best, if not the best, disc-burning package for the Mac, and they say that this version just makes a good product even better. The ease of use is still very good, despite a raft of new features.

Toast 7 includes a whole lot of new features relating to video. The reviewers draw attention to the DivX video support, especially as this was missing from Apple’s iMovie. Toast 7 also has better handling of files that span multiple discs (such as large backups). Very useful when backup up an entire hard disk onto DVD.

There are also a number of separate applications that extend the functionality of Toast. “For slide shows that won’t bore your guests, try Motion Pictures HD, whose features go far beyond those of iMovie or iPhoto. For example, you can create screen layouts with up to four photos, and each photo can have its own pan-and-zoom effects — the result is quite beautiful.”

On the downside, the documentation is said to be lacking, though recent downloadable updates have improved the documentation available.

The conclusion is that this is an excellent package, scoring 8 out of 10. “If your needs go beyond the basics, Toast 7 Titanium is the package for you. That’s easy to say, since Toast has no serious competition. Luckily, it’s still an excellent, full-featured product.”

10 January 2006

Electroplankton for Nintendo DS

Filed under: Music software at 7:28 pm (4 comments)

Electroplankton, the uncategorizable game/sequencer/oddity for the Nintendo DS, is out now in the US. I wrote about it in a previous article about music on handheld game consoles, but now it’s been released outside Japan there’s a bit more English-language information about. Though some of it does sound as if it’s been translated from the Japanese: “It’s tough to slap a label on Electroplankton. It’s not a game, but you play it on a game device. There’s no set purpose to it, but the end result can sweep you up in its charm. Most of all, its innovation sings out loud and true. ”

The press release has a pretty good summary: Whether you’re musically inclined or musically impaired, Nintendo’s new Electroplankton will make you a mixing maestro. The musical experience, launching today exclusively for Nintendo DS, lets users score music by using the touch screen or speaking into the microphone. Sounds can be sampled, manipulated, changed and rearranged to help even novices create engrossing beats and harmonies.

Electroplankton exemplifies Nintendo’s commitment to expand the frontier of innovation in the video game universe. Electroplankton, for instance, could not be possible on any other system. Only the special features of Nintendo DS make it possible for users to compose music ranging from techno beats to ethereal rhythms. And because Nintendo DS is portable, users can make music whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.

Getting started with Electroplankton could not be easier. Users simply choose one of 10 music-making modes and dive right in. One mode lets users manipulate the leaves of a plant using the touch screen. As colorful plankton launch into the air, they bounce off the leaves in melodic combinations. Another mode acts as a sampler. Users record up to four different sounds with the microphone and then layer them over drum loops to create a personalized beat.

The game was designed by renowned Japanese electronic artist Toshio Iwai. His artistry adds both beauty and whimsy to Electroplankton and makes it as much a delight for the eyes as it is for the ears.

Bias Peak Pro 5 XT review — MacWorld

Filed under: Music software at 4:56 am (2 comments)

Peak Pro 5 XT is a software bundle including the Peak Pro 5 audio editor and a suite of mastering effects and noise-reduction and audio-restoration application. MacWorld give it a very good review, praising both the Peak Pro application itself as well as the extras.

They say that Peak Pro 5 is still unmatched for detailed editing of individual files. New features like the Region Split functions and Snap To options give more control when slicing and dicing sounds, and they really like the new high-resolution, tape-style scrubbing. This is great for playing with and making silly noises, just like you used to do with your brother’s tape deck when you were 8. (It’s also useful for finding edit points.)

Another feature that raises this above the competition is that it’s the only Mac waveform editor that supports both VST and Audio Unit plug-ins. To go with this, Peak Pro 5 XT includes a whole lot of plugins, notably SoundSoap 2 and SoundSoap Pro, for audio restoration, EQ, compression, noise reduction and so on. The reviewer likes the thoughtful touches on these, especially the compare buttons which make it easy to compare different setting of the plugins to find the best one. The tools even look beautiful as well as sound good.

Pek Pro 5’s CD mastering and authoring function also rate highly. the playlist editor lets you set up crossfades between tracks, and the “excellent” sample rate conversion makes sue that your tracks still sound great when burned to CD (assuming they sounded great in the first place, of course). And for working with a lot of audio, Peak Pro 5’s batch-processing feature rates as “a terrific tool for managing lots of audio files.”

The final score is a very good 4.5 mice (out of five). They call this package “an irreplaceable timesaver” and conclude that “when it comes to day-to-day work with stereo files, you’ll have a hard time finding a better tool than Peak Pro XT 5.”

6 January 2006

Reaktor 5.1

Filed under: Music software at 1:31 pm (1 comment)

Native Instruments’ Reaktor has been updated to version 5.1. The usual slew of bug fixes abound, along with several new synths and updates to some old ones. “The total number of synthesizers, samplers and effects included has risen to a staggering total of 63!”I hope you’re sitting down. The new synths are:

  • Equinoxe Deluxe, a ’70s-style string synth
  • FM4, an FM synth with lots of presets
  • 2Osc, a two-oscillator subtractive synth
  • Gaugear, a “ground-breaking yet intuitive,” “innovative and radically minimalist” monophonic synthesizer

Reaktor 5.1 also includes Snapper, “a song and snapshot sequencer for intricate arrangements that can be recalled with a simple mouse click.” There’s also a drum sequencer called SQx.

Back to the sound functions, there’s a package of Live Sampling Core Cells that can be used for for real-time transformation of live signals and samples. “Four new demo instruments, based on these Core Cells, illustrate the radical potential within them and are perfectly suited for loop creation and tempo synchronized live effects.” Finally, there are optimised versions of the Massive, Oki Computer, FlatBlaster and Splitter ensembles. I like how the new Oki Computer includes improved anti-aliasing — even though it’s meant to be a tool for generating lo-fi sounds.

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.

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.