Sunday, June 21, 2009

I *Actually* Bought Something

I've been having a conversation with Sayer in email, lately. I found his site while looking for shots of stuios (gear porn, anyone?), and he had a fascinating story to go with his pictures, so I emailed him to thank him for posting it.  It's definitely entertaining, I recommend it.

Anyway, we got to talking, and he mentioned that he'd found a deal at Noa Musik (gone now) where you could buy NI's "Synths" package for the price of a single synth. This includes Massive, FM8, Absynth, and Pro-53.  ...Obviously, this was way too valuable to pass up, so I bought one.

Honestly, I bought this for Massive. Since the reviews I wrote (back a few posts), I've done many, many hours of research on probably a hundred different synths, and Massive keeps coming up in the top three. A few days before, I had decided that Massive and Surge overlapped too much to bother with both, so I was going to get Surge, since I liked the interface a little better, and it seemed to nail the classic synth sounds a little better.

...But getting FM8 for free was a deal-breaker.  FM8 just has some really amazingly-clear bell sounds, nice synth stabs, and smooth pads.  ...Plus some great effects.

Having Absynth added also made me re-evaluate it.  I maintain that it sounds a little thin and plasticy.  But it is incredibly flexible, and there's an insane depth to it.  ...Part of the reason I'd avoided it: either you jump in head-first, or you pass on it.  Now I have an excuse to jump.  :)  I'm happy to have this, despite my reservations.

Pro-53?  Meh.  It can't compete with Predator, period.  I haven't even bothered installing it, truth be told.  Maybe someday when I'm bored, I'll cycle through the presets, port them to Predator, and get rid of it.  :)  Something tells me I won't be able to resell it, which is a shame, 'cause I really don't need it.  Maybe I'll give it away to someone.  [shrug]

Anyway, this is my first purchase in a really long time, and it was an excellent one. I regret not buying Surge yet... now I might not have to, and that makes me a little sad, 'cause it was a great match for my style and I'd love to support Vember: they're a great little company. And I'm frustrated that I can't upgrade Atmosphere to Omnisphere yet, either... but I think of the three options, this was the best choice.

...I'm also a little sad that this delays the purchase of Maschine.  ...But that's a story for another post.  :)

Keyboard Quality

My son was at a game last night, so I had a couple of hours to kill.  I ended up popping into the Albuquerque Guitar Center for some of that time, just to see what they had in stock.

It was all the "mass market" stuff, mostly workstation synths.  I was hoping they would have a Radias, but no dice.

What I have to post about, though, is just how awful the keyboard quality was.  Lately, I've been getting more and more disappointed in my KeyStation Pro 88's feel... it just isn't nearly as satisfying as my old Yamaha EX5.

Only the Motif keyboards were acceptable to me, and even the synth-action model was pretty crappy.  Of course, the Motif I liked was $3500, which is a bit more than I'm willing to pay for a nice keyboard and AWM synthesis.

Worst offender of the bunch were the Rolands, particularly the Juno, which reminded me of Will Smith in MIB: "I feel like I'm gunna break this damn thing!"  (For the record, it sounded okay.)

Okay, actually, the Korg MicroX was pretty barftastic, too, but you kinda expect that from a mini-keyboard.  ...It was a big step down from the MicroKorg, though.

There was one weighted keyboard (I forget which, I think it was a Korg M-series, maybe it was the Fantom) that had a particularly loud, deep "THOK!" everytime you hit a key.  Annoying.  (Even thought it was a reasonable feel, you could never use one in a studio.)

So I went over to the digital pianos.  ...They were better.  But still not good!  I didn't see how anyone accustomed to a half-decent piano could stand playing any of these. Light, plasticy, and a little too fast. ...Fortunately for me, I'm not used to a nice piano, so to my touch, they were a step up from the KeyStation.  Still, that's $600 I don't have, and I sure as hell don't need the piano sounds they come with.  : )

Very very disappointing.  I can't imagine why keyboard quality is so hard to get right, especially with such nice keyboards just ten years ago from all the major players. Perhaps they are trying to make a feel that's (barely) playable, but feels cheap, so the user will think "at least they didn't waste any more money on the keys, I wouldn't want to pay for that!" Is this market research speaking?  Are most buyers ignoring the feel of the keys on synths these days?

I maintain that a person is far better off buying a vintage synth, if only to use it as a controller for software synths, than buying any of the shitty, over-priced marketing ploys the major synth-makers are shipping these days.  For example, you can buy a clean DX7 for $300 and Omnisphere for another $475, and still have $1200 to spend on a kick-ass computer to host it, and you've spent less than you would have on a mid-line Motif, and you've got just about as good a set of sound (better in some cases, but with a little less diversity, maybe).  ...And now you've got a classy computer, too.  ; )

/me doesn't get it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great Price-Per-Controller Shootout

Last night I had the totally crazy idea to ask the question: what's the cheapest way to get some synthy knob action going on? Put another way, how do synths rank on a price-per-knob basis?

Perhaps this has been done before, and if so, it's certainly been done better, 'cause I only spent a few hours last night digging up pictures of the synths, manually counting the controllers, and using my on-going list of E-Bay prices (from early June 2009), which are totally subject to change. ...But here are the results (take them with a huge grain of salt):

  • AN200: 18/0+ controllers @ $250 = $13.51/controller
  • APC40: 27/0+ controllers @ $400 = $14.55/controller
  • Andromeda: 73/3+ controllers @ $2300 = $30.07/controller
  • DX200: 18/0+ controllers @ $250 = $13.51/controller
  • DarkStar XP2: 15/3 controllers @ $180 = $10.00/controller
  • EMX-1: 22/0+ controllers @ $350 = $15.56/controller
  • Electribe ES: 10/0 controllers @ $190 = $19.00/controller
  • Indigo: 31/2+ controllers @ $750 = $22.39/controller
  • Ion: 31/3+ controllers @ $500 = $14.49/controller
  • JD-800: 60/2+ controllers @ $550 = $8.80/controller
  • JP-8080: 28/14 controllers @ $500 = $11.00/controller
  • KS-5: 33/2+ controllers @ $450 = $12.68/controller
  • KS-Rack: 33/0 controllers @ $400 = $12.00/controller
  • Karma: 15/2+ controllers @ $500 = $28.57/controller
  • KeyStation Pro 88: 33/2+ controllers @ $260 = $7.32/controller
  • MS2000R: 34/0 controllers @ $340 = $10.00/controller
  • Microwave XT: 46/2 controllers @ $600 = $12.00/controller
  • Mono/Poly: 41/2+ controllers @ $820 = $18.85/controller
  • Nova II XL: 21/2+ controllers @ $850 = $36.17/controller
  • Ohm 64: 29/0+ controllers @ $600 = $20.34/controller
  • PolyEvolver: 67/2+ controllers @ $1600 = $23.02/controller
  • Q-Phoenix: 58/2+ controllers @ $2300 = $38.02/controller
  • Q-Rack: 30/0 controllers @ $800 = $26.00/controller
  • RM1x: 13/0+ controllers @ $200 = $14.81/controller
  • Radias: 40/0 controllers @ $900 = $22.00/controller
  • ReMote Zero: 24/0 controllers @ $230 = $9.00/controller
  • SH-32: 26/0+ controllers @ $225 = $8.49/controller
  • SuperNova (rack): 20/0 controllers @ $560 = $28.00/controller
  • SuperNova II (rack): 28/0 controllers @ $675 = $24.00/controller
  • Supernova (kb): 43/2+ controllers @ $1000 = $21.98/controller
  • Virus A: 32/0 controllers @ $425 = $13.00/controller
  • X-Station: 40/0+ controllers @ $350 = $8.64/controller
  • XL-7: 18/1+ controllers @ $350 = $17.95/controller
  • Z1: 24/4+ controllers @ $480 = $16.84/controller

  • The "+" indicates that the box has either a keyboard or pads... kinda-sorta counting this as an extra "controller". I counted it for half a knob. ...Guess I'm biased towards my weighted controller's keyboard! :D
  • I counted wheels and ribbons as controllers. X-Y pads and joysticks counted for two (since, really, that's what they are).
  • I was really subjective about which boards to include. ...I generally went for the cheapest version that had some non-trivial number of controllers (for example, skipping the Micro-Q, but not going with the "full" Q). There were some exceptions in the cases that I really liked the keyboard version. ; )
  • Prices are also somewhat subjective. I really tried to put a value in that represented what I would be willing to pay, given the E-Bay market: I skip the cheapest (don't trust them), and wouldn't bid on the most expensive. ...When there were only a few data-points, though, I took a rough average.
  • This may have simply been an exercise to justify the purchase of a JD-800, which I've wanted since it was first released when I was a young lad, and they ran those "what does this button do?" adverts that showed a submarine launching a SAM.
...If you have better information on controllers, please comment. If you have better information on prices, please comment. If you have ideas for other synths that should be weighed, measured, and likely found wanting, please comment. True to my geekery, I wrote a program to calculate this, so I can fix things quickly and update this post. :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Google Squared

Neat little tool for research.  What you do is type attributes at the top, then the names of things you want to look at on the left.  It's like a spreadsheet.

...But it automatically populates the data!

...You can fill in the cell that are missing, yourself, but for the most part, it's automatic and very cool.  Here's an example of some synths I'm looking at:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Predator Waveforms

Predator's got a bunch of waveforms available for OSC sources.  Some of them have reasonable labels, but others are misleading... and other names are just useless.  ...I mean, I understand the need to keep things brief to save space, but it's not very helpful for the sound programmer.

So I spent some quality time with one of my favourite synths, and checked out all of the raw sources, dry, sometimes using a steep filter to check cutoff points and the like, as well as checking out the spectrum using an analyzer... I wish I had an oscilloscope, but don't.  Anyway, I doubt any of you care much, but thought I might as well write down my thoughts about the available waveforms in Predator.  So, here they are.  It's a bit raw, sorry (and not always in order)... there was a whole lot to type.  I've bolded the waveforms I think are actually worth using.

The disclaimers: 1) These are personal thoughts, your mileage (and opinion) may vary. 2) Yes, I know "any sound can be used to good purpose".  Such comments will be summarily dismissed. 3) I tend to favor the bright sounds over the LP'ed sounds, simply because they work better with a fast filter, which I tend to use.  Of course the LP'ed versions are nice for when you want to use, say, a comb filter or something.  See disclaimer (2).
  • triangle is actually quite nice.
  • rez1 and rez3 (both fine) are same: a saw w/ extra high organ tones.
  • rez2 is LP'ed, a bit organish.
  • halfsine is like a soft saw; great... akin to a triangle on other synths.
  • saw is actually kind of thin, compared to saw2.
  • square is very soft, almost bell-like. Nice.
  • sinesaw is a saw w/ more power in the fundamental. Quite usable.
  • sinesqr is a more typical square (since Predator's square is kind of soft)
  • sinerez is almost harpsichordy, a hollow ΓΌ sound.
  • sawsqr is quite analog.  Use it.
  • sawrez is what I expected from rez... lots of highs.  A little annoying, but cuts.
  • sqrrez is the same, but "fuller"  ... I like it, use for leads.
  • wnoise is slightly pink: missing lows.
  • pnoise isn't very pink. It's LP'ed white, at 5Khz.
  • harmc1 is a sine!
  • harmc2 is great... a low, siney organ, c/ replace sine patches nicely.  Pure.
  • harmc3 and 4 are similar, adding new harmonics, of course.
  • saw2 is beefier than saw. Preferred.
  • saw3 is kinda hollow... w/ go well w/ a square.
  • saw4 is LP'ed at 4KHz.
  • saw5 is slightly LP'ed. Kinda digital.
  • sqr2 is slightyl LP'ed.
  • sqr3 is LP'ed and rez'd a bit... very digital, C-64 style.
  • sqr4 is extremely LowPassed, like 200Hz?
  • sqr5 has some extra harmonics, so... a little beefier.  Usable.
  • triang2 is LP'ed.
  • triang3 is a frakkin' glockenspiel sample.  :)
  • glass is very thin.  Don't like it.
  • hollow is what I expected glass to sound like.  Does emphasize some hollow harmonics, though. Buzzy in Bass.
  • octave is church organ material, but see organ3
  • overton is... well... buzzy harmonics w/ no Fundamental. I don't like it, but guess it c/b good in chord hits.
  • rez4 is a nasal buzz.
  • rez5 is a full set of harmonics. c/b combined w/ other organ sounds for more tone.
  • digix is a nice LP'ed digital bell sound.
  • organ1 is pipeorgany. LP'ed version of octave with more beef. The two combine well, minus the phasing that occurs.'
  • organ2 is more... mid. Like a cheesy icerink organ.
  • organ3 is bright.
  • chorga is a LP'ed version of 3.  Not really great, though.  :\
  • whistle is a very high 4th.  Not recommended, sounds like a phone tone.
  • vocal* aren't great, either. Dull PPG sounds. 'o' is recognizable, but not good.
  • vox01 is nasal, but potentially usable.  An ESQ sound.
  • vox02 is a better "ahh", some digital PPG plink to it.  Pluckable.
  • vox03 even more nasal.  Brighter.
  • vox04 thicker, bass-heavy.  Usable.
  • vox05 missing bass, but a nice, thin "aah", prolly good for pads.
  • vox06 PPG Bell like.
  • vox07 Very thin, high, harpsichordy sound. Not great.
  • vox08 Like 01, w/ more in the mids
  • vox09 Nice, velvety nylon sound.
  • spec01 LP'ed pianoish sound.
  • spec02 dull digital harpsichord sound (mix with vox07 up an 8ve to prove it)
  • spec03 is PPG territory, vaguely organish, but more complex.
  • [from here on out, assume every name starts with "spec".  I'll add the prefix to the good ones, to make them stand out more, though.]
  • 04 Is a digital nylon sound, slightly nasal.  See 26.
  • 05 HP'ed, higher 04.  Skip.
  • 06 Seriously LP'ed 04.  Maybe for digital basses, but not recommended otherwise.
  • 07 a dull 8ve up square.  Skip.
  • 08 LP pluck; skip.
  • 09 Bright digital sound.  Usable, but 10 is better.
  • spec10 Better! Bigger bass w/o being just LP'ed.  Use this.
  • spec11 Upright bass sound. A thick sine. Quite usable. Note it creates a strong click when triggered.
  • spec12 Another harpsichord sound, usable.  Also see 22 if you need bass.
  • 13 HP harpsi... a very old, very small harpsi.  :)
  • spec14 digital bass pluck.  Okay, usable.
  • 15 whistle, but lower.
  • 16 Bass harpsi, kind of an "eee" sound.
  • 17 A clockwork plcuk/bell sound, thin, small.  Skip.
  • 18 Loud, bass, hollow sound.  Kinda phone-like, too.
  • spec19 Very nice bell/grandfather clock tone. not as bright as 31, but more natural.
  • 20 Inharmonic bell tone.  Skip.
  • 21 4th.  Skip.
  • 22 Bass version of 12.
  • spec23 EP/Bell sound.
  • 24 LP'ed bellish.  Skip.
  • 25 Thin brass.
  • spec26 Nylonish. Like an 8ve down 04 w/ more highs.
  • 27 Sinai-like, but buzzy and insect-like.
  • spec28 Fuzzy, saw-like bass. Recommended, esp. for big saw sounds. :)
  • 29 Nasal pluck.
  • 30 FM bell, nasal and skippable.
  • spec31 a nice bell tone, brighter than 19 (but more digital because of it)
  • 32 HP'ed skipper.
  • 33 LP'ed bell/sqr.  Skip.
  • 34 LP hollow buzzy crap.
  • spec35 Lo-fi C-64 saw.  Usable in some cases...
  • 36 Seriously LP'ed 35.
  • spec37 Really high saw, also a lo-fi feel. Usable.
  • 38 Slight LP 37.
  • 39 Even higher tones on 37.
  • 40 Very LP 37.
  • 41 Very LP bass saw.
  • 42 Even more LP, even more bass.
  • 43 Even more!  Sheesh.
  • 44 LP square.
  • [I got bored here and skipped the notes on ones I didn't like]
  • spec52 Really bright digital plucked sound
  • spec55 Another harpsichord sound.
  • spec64 Digibell-ish.
  • spec65 PPGish
...Well, I hope someone gets some use out of that!  ; )


I'm looking for a venue where I can release my music... quickly.  Like, on a scale of a few days/weeks, rather than a few months.  I'd like to have more of a flow.

For the moment, I am trying out SoundCloud.  I've also tried using Twitter, actually... there's a new site that handles sound, so I can post tracks as I work on them... and I've gotten to like the silly little TonePad iPhone app, so I can post uploaded codes there, too.  :)

Anyway, if interested, please check 'em out.