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

Same Day Music

26 September 2005

Synful Orchestra review — Computer Music

Filed under: Music software at 11:59 pm Comments Off on Synful Orchestra review — Computer Music

Computer Music magazine reviews the Synful Orchestra plugin. They give it full credit for its new approach to orchestral synthesis, and say the sounds you can get from it are very good — “You can come up with realistic results in Orchestra within mninutes of firing it up.” The user interface is simple and the various parameters are preset appropriately, so “it really is very easy to use.”

They recommend Synful Orchestra to anyone who needs a simple and quick way of creating convincing orchestral music, but they do have some reservations. Editing program names seems a bit retro — only 13 characters of the name is shown, and you can’t always tell which 13 will appear! This can make deleting programs a hit-or-miss procedure. Unfortunately, they found the manual not very helpful on sorting this out.

Because of these idiosyncrasies, they rate Synful Orchestra as 7 out of 10. They do give it a special award for Innovation however, and say that the program is easy to get started with, and most importantly, it “sounds great.”

E-Mu 1616M laptop audio interface

Filed under: Hardware at 5:50 pm Comments Off on E-Mu 1616M laptop audio interface

E-Mu’s 1616M laptop audio interface system has received some attention recently. And with good reason, if E-Mu are to be believed — they call it “the most powerful and portable laptop audio system ever created,” with the same DSP effects, zero-latency monitoring and mastering-grade 24-bit/192kHz A/D and D/A converters as E-Mu’s high-end systems. The system consists of a PC card and a breakout box, and it also comes with E-Mu’s rather good production tools software bundle.

E-Mu’s full list of features looks like this.

  • Mastering grade 24-bit/192kHz converters – the same A/D converters used in Digidesign’s flagship ProTools HD 192 I/O Interface delivering an amazing 120dB signal-to-noise ratio
  • The ultimate portable system — for recording, editing, mixing and virtual instruments – use the E-MU 02 CardBus Card alone for its hardware-accelerated effects and premium stereo headphone/line output or together with the MicroDock M for complete analog and digital I/O flexibility
  • Hardware-accelerated effects – over 600 standalone and E-MU Power FX VST plug-in effects with no CPU overhead
  • PatchMix DSP zero-latency hardware mixing and monitoring — with super-flexible patchbay — no external mixer needed
  • Ultra-portable MicroDock M offers 16 inputs/16 outputs plus MIDI I/O — everything from balanced analog and turntable inputs to ADAT and S/PDIF (switchable to AES/EBU)
  • Two E-MU XTC studio-grade, ultra-low noise preamps (-127dBu EIN) with analog soft limiter — Mic/Line and true Hi-Z inputs via Neutrik connectors, 48V phantom power and 60dB of gain
  • Compatibility with most popular audio/sequencer applications — ultra-low latency 24-bit/192kHz ASIO 2.0 and Stereo WDM drivers
  • E-MU Production Tools Software Bundle – includes Cakewalk SONAR LE, Steinberg Cubase LE and Wavelab Lite, Ableton Live Lite 4 for E-MU, IK Multimedia AmpliTube LE and T-RackS EQ, Minnetonka diskWelder BRONZE, SFX Machine LT, plus E-MU’s Proteus X LE Desktop Sound Module — everything you need to create, record, edit, master and burn is in the box

E-MU’s Laptop Digital Audio Systems feature the powerful E-DSP chipset, which features a hardware-accelerated effects processor with over 28 effects plug-ins (over 600 presets). This effects architecture is fully expandable, allowing you to add more effect plug-ins to your system as needed. E-DSP also provides zero-latency, hardware-based mixing and monitoring via the included PatchMix DSP mixer, delivering unmatched flexibility in routing audio between all of your physical and virtual (ASIO/WDM) inputs and outputs- no external mixer needed.

How to set up stereo speakers

Filed under: Making music at 11:19 am Comments Off on How to set up stereo speakers

Listening to music is a very important part of making music, so it’s essential that your listening equipment is set up properly. Arve Bersvendsen has written an excellent tutorial on setting up your stereo system, including a downloadable Audio test CD. You can play back the test tones on your sound system to make sure that the placement of your loudspeakers within the room isn’t messing with your sound.

He also talks about positioning subwoofers and even those little bookshelf speakers, and weighs in on the controversial topic of speaker cables. Follow his advice to set up your room so your music sounds its best, without having to hire an interior designer or spend $1000 on a pair of cables.

Finally, he gives an excellent piece of folk wisdom that we should all remember, since our ears are such an important part of our music-making activity:

Do not let objects smaller than your elbow near your ear.

25 September 2005

Steinberg Virtual Bassist review — Computer Music

Filed under: Music software at 11:50 pm Comments Off on Steinberg Virtual Bassist review — Computer Music

Steinberg’s Virtual Bassist VST instrument gets a review in Computer Music magazine, who give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. First impressions count for a lot, and they call the Virtual Bassist user interface well-designed and clearly laid out; “The controls all hang together well, and allow you to sculpt an impressively broad range of tones.”

They mention a few of the little features of Virtual Bassist that allow even a simple one-finger keyboard player to generate a rich, live-sounding bass line. Note mode allows easy playing of chords, and the latch function has the program continue playing even when you stop. This enables Virtual Bassist to just keep playing, and you need only “nudge” it every so often to inject a bit of variation.

You can select various tones and types of bass, and styles ranging from ’60s soul to nu-metal and most points in between. There are also several virtual effects pedals, with the Wah in particular scoring high marks.

Numerically, Virtual Bassist scores a very good 9 out of 10. They sum up by saying, “this is an accomplished piece of software capable of creating credible and high quality basslines and sounds that would be at home in both bedroom and professional productions.” Or even professional bedroom productions, I suppose. In the end they say that this is the best so far of Steinberg’s virtual instruments — “Virtual Bassist is a whole lot of software goodness that’s well worth the asking price.”

Steinberg Cubase SE3

Filed under: Music software at 10:03 am Comments Off on Steinberg Cubase SE3

Steinberg will soon release Cubase SE3, the new version of its entry-level music production and sequencing software. This upgrade brings in some of the features from the professional Cubase SX3 package, such as delay compensation. Steinberg’s view is that “Cubase SE3 is ideal for anyone working on a tight budget but who can’t do without professional technologies in their home recording, project or pre-production environment.”

More details are on the website and in Steinberg’s press release: Cubase SE3 provides ample creative space for professional musicians and producers looking to expand their music-making environment. With its 48 audio and unlimited MIDI tracks and the included range of VST instruments, virtual effects and MIDI effects, Cubase SE3 offers a huge palette of creative potential. Its professional-standard 32-bit audio engine offers pristine 24-bit/96kHz recording and playback, including full delay compensation.

Existing Cubase SE owners will find a range of new features and capabilities. These include a new user interface and audio engine, drag and drop for MIDI files into the Project Window, superior Hitpoint detection, a redesigned Track Inspector and much more. Cubase SE3 also introduces new capabilities that support an even faster, more efficient workflow, including new key commands and editing functions.

Not only is Cubase SE3 fully upgradeable to Steinberg’s Cubase SX3 and Cubase SL3 applications, but all projects created in Cubase SE3 can be easily opened in either of those two professional music applications, regardless of computer platform. Cubase SE3 also hosts VST instruments and effects, allowing Cubase SE3 owners to add to the virtual recording studio through the addition of professional virtual instruments and effects, including Steinberg’s successful VSTi range.


  • 48 Audio tracks and unlimited MIDI tracks
  • Professional 24/96 recording
  • Up to 16 VST instrument slots
  • 5 insert effects and 8 send effects per channel
  • VST System Link and ReWire 2-compatible
  • VST audio and MIDI plug-ins included
  • Video thumbnail track for building your own video soundtracks
  • Technology and user interface based on award-winning music production software Cubase SX3/SL3

New in Cubase SE3

  • New VST 2.3 audio engine
  • Fully automatic delay compensation for plug-ins
  • Enhanced user interface (same “look and feel” as Cubase SX3)
  • Platform-specific performance optimizations
  • Improved Hitpoint detection for tempo adjustments of audio loops
  • Drag & Drop of MIDI tracks directly into the Project Window
  • Extended Track Inspector with improved track parameter access
  • Many editing and workflow enhancements

24 September 2005

SampleRobot automatic sampler

Filed under: Music software at 10:53 am Comments Off on SampleRobot automatic sampler

SampleRobot is an “automatic sampler” from German sound design people Skylife. It’s a quick way of getting all the sounds from your big clunky old synth modules into your shiny laptop studio — it actually plays your hardware snyth and records the results for playback through its software sampler. Skylife call it “the missing link between sound source and software sampler.”

More information from the website: SampleRobot is the new audio software for musicians and sound designers. For the first time SampleRobot offers fully automatic sampling of real instruments in definable detail. With SampleRobot you can recreate your favorite instruments and sounds via software samplers. You can archive your samples and combine your sounds to completely new virtual instruments. A futuristic graphical user interface gives you fast, efficient, and logical access to all sampling parameters.

SampleRobot is the missing link between sound source and software sampler. It was never easier to record audio and create multi samples in one go. The program is designed to work practically completely on its own while the user keeps full control of all parameters manually. And, SampleRobot’s sampling engine is non destructive.

Skylife clearly believe in the power of software over hardware: “If you like you can forget about your entire hardware equipment and realize your compositions with the same sounds on a 100% software base. … You may even doubt the existence of your hardware equipment.” Shades of The Matrix!

Traktor DJ Studio 3

Filed under: Music software at 9:22 am (1 comment)

Traktor DJ Studio 3 will be the next version of Native Instruments’ software DJ mixing system when it arrives in November. This version features no fewer than four virtual decks — just try that with Technics 1200s. It also has several tempo-synced effects and an emulated 4-channel mixer to put it all together. If Ableton Live feels too much like a computer program to you, try Traktor for live performance to get that old-skool vibe going.

There’s also integrated access to an online dance music store. It’s like having an infinite record crate — no matter what tunes people request, in a few minutes you can buy, download, drop them into your set and watch the crowd go insane. The website describes this feature in full, along with all the other additions to Traktor DJ Studio 3. Here are the highlights.

Turntables of Tomorrow
Traktor DJ Studio 3 has four fully-featured playback decks: Drop in additional loops and samples, or mix four tracks at once. The integrated 4-channel club mixer is highly flexible, allowing effects to be inserted on each channel individually. External turntables, CD-players and hardware effects can be patched seamlessly into the setup – the possibilities are endless.

New mixer and advanced effects
The prestigious Xone:92 club mixer has been perfectly emulated with the support of Allen & Heath. Its excellent 4-band EQ gives incredible depth to your mix. The cross-fader assignable filters offer unique and innovative frequency-based mixing possibilities, bringing a completely new feel to your sets. Five professional tempo-synched effects and four high-end EQ’s all give your sound a distinctive flavor.

Integrated Beatport Access
Traktor DJ Studio 3 also boasts direct integrated access to the Beatport Online Music Store, allowing you to browse their extensive catalogue, pre-listen and buy hot new tracks and download them directly into your library – and all this is possible from within the Traktor DJ Studio 3 browser.

Perfect Setup
The user interface works on a completely flexible and dynamic principle. Toggle individual control groups on and off, arrange secondary functions and displays for an optimum use of space. The new Messages Window automatically displays short explanations for the active function. Whatever the situation, Traktor DJ Studio 3 always lets you know exactly what is happening, so you can concentrate on the mix.

23 September 2005

Numark PT01 portable DJ turntable

Filed under: Hardware at 10:54 pm Comments Off on Numark PT01 portable DJ turntable

Numark’s PT01 is a DJ turntable with the usual features including pitch control. It also has some unusual features — it’s battery powered, and small enough to fit in a record crate. And it only weighs 2kg, or 4 pounds 8 ounces as some would have it. It also has a little built-in amp and speaker for that “all-in-one” vibe. Even if you’re not planning to take your scratching skillz on the road, you still need a turntable. A lot of great music is only available on vinyl, and you’ve got to get it onto your laptop somehow.

Possibly the most amusing thing about the PT01 is that, apart from 33 and 45, it also plays 78 RPM records. First, not too many DJs spin 78s at their all-night underground raves; second, many 78s are bigger than 12 inches — too big to fit on this turntable, in fact. Still, aside from this it looks very nice. I do have a turntable somewhere, but maybe it’s time for a new one.

Numark say: This full-featured portable turntable features battery and AC power, built-in speaker, and multiple RPM speeds with pitch control. An efficient belt-drive motor operates at 33, 45, and 78 RPM and there is ±10% pitch control, as well as tone and volume controls. A built-in phono preamp and speaker allow convenient monitoring. There are also RCA line level outputs as well as 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone outputs. The PT01 plays all standard record sizes up to 12 inches. A built-in cartridge with removable stylus is included, along with a slipmat and 45 RPM adapter. Key features:

  1. Portable — Fits in 12″ record case; Integrated carrying handle
  2. Multiple speeds — 33, 45, and 78 RPM; ±10% pitch control
  3. Versatile monitoring — Phono preamp and speaker built in; RCA line level outputs; 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone outputs
  4. Flexible powering — Takes 4 “D”-type batteries (not included); AC power supply included
  5. Supports multiple record formats — Plays all standard record sizes up to 12 inches; 45 RPM adapter included;
  6. Dimensions and Weight 12″ H X 12″ W X 3.875” D, 4.5 lbs

FuzzPlus 2 free fuzzbox plugin

Filed under: Music software at 7:25 pm Comments Off on FuzzPlus 2 free fuzzbox plugin

FuzzPlus 2 is a fuzzbox plugin from Audio Damage, makers of the mighty dubonic DubStation plugin. FuzzPlus is a fuzzbox plugin with the same fun cartoon interface and very simple controls. The basis of this plugin is a transform model of “a famous vintage fuzz pedal,” though they don’t say which one. And importantly, it’s not just cheap — it’s free.

Their website talks about the four easy controls:

Fuzz knob: This controls, as you might imagine, exactly how much fuzz is applied to the signal.

Tone knob: This controls the brightness of the distorted signal.

Output knob: This is the output volume of the device, when it is active.

Bypass button: This works just like the switch on a stomp box. When the blue light is lit, you’re money. When it’s not, the input is passed directly to the output. This can be automated for a slightly different vibe than automating the effect bypass of your host.

Ableton Live 5 review — Harmony Central

Filed under: Music software at 5:35 pm Comments Off on Ableton Live 5 review — Harmony Central

Harmony Central has a very, very long and episodic review of Ableton Live 5. It’s quite thorough — they even look at a very useful feature that doesn’t get enough attention — the tutorials. “Turns out they’re actually pretty useful and quite well done. The “Tour” loads an example file, then takes you through all the main operations: clips, scenes, mixing, and the like. If you’re new to Live, this would be extremely helpful. The Tour tutorial has 27 pages and includes a fair amount of material, but not so much as to be overwhelming.”

The whole thing is in the form of a forum thread. The reviewer posted every so often on a specific aspect of Live — the Track Freeze function, for example, and the Locators: “Launching with Locators lets you set locate points at any time in the Arrange view, and freely go to any locate point whenever you like — with the usual quantization option where the switch to the next locator occurs on the next measure boundary, next beat, etc. But you can also trigger these from keyboard or QWERTY keys (or by double-clicking on a locator), which is a blast: instant rearrangement.”

The best thing about this review is the interactivity — there are posts replying to the reviewer and disagreeing with some of the points made. If you have the time to read it all, you’ll get a very good view of the issues surrounding Live 5 and Ableton Live in general.

At the end of a very extended interactive review, the ask whether it’s worth upgrading from Live 4. The answer is a definite yes. “All the improvements add up to a smoother workflow and enhanced user experience. That’s important to me — far more important than, say, adding video support (which I presume most Live users don’t find all that vital anyway). If you know your way around Live 4 and you’re totally happy with it, I suppose you can always wait until Live 6 comes along. But if you’re a Live aficionado, it’s hard to imagine not being able to appreciate the plethora of talents that Live 5 brings to the table.”