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Electronic Musician - January 2018

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RECORD • PRODUCE • PERFORM
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THE MUSICIAN’S GUIDE
TO AUDIO INTERFACES
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CARY GRACE
DIY ALL THE WAY
WXUYWX_
A MUSIC PLAYER PUBLICATION
Reviews
TOONTRACK
Superior
Drummer 3
KEITH McMILLEN
INSTRUMENTS
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SYNTHOGY
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MASTER
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Programming
Minimoogstyle Synths
10
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COMMUNITY
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66
FIVE
QUESTIONS
Videogame
composer
Sarah
Schachner
JAN UA R Y
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56
SYNTHOGY
Ivory II Studio Grands
From 2-channel products for singer/songwriters to multimic recording
setups for bands, find out which interface is right for you based on
features and price.
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Singer-songwriter, synth builder, and DIY all the way
26
58
SLATE DIGITAL
Virtual Tube Collection
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NEW GEAR
The Best of
AES 2017
KEITH MCMILLEN
INSTRUMENTS
BopPad
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60
54
16
14
ELECTRONIC
GUITAR
Stepping up to
Eurorack
]
52
TOONTRACK
Superior Drummer 3
DAVE SMITH
The legendary synth
designer who brought us
the Prophet-5 talks about
his early career, his role in
the development of MIDI,
and what it takes to run a
successful company.
34
SUZANNE CIANI
In this 1979
classic interview,
Ciani talks about
her career as a
successful session
musician in radio,
film, and television.
44
Kraftwerk’s ARP
Odyssey Tricks
38
The Art of Synth Soloing:
Derek Sherinian
46
Propellerhead
Thor Controller
Tips
40
48
5 Ways to Make Your
Rhodes Play Better
Wavetable Design
in Xfer Serum
42
What’s that Jack For?
50
Moog Minimoog
Model D review
Electronic Musician (ISSN 0884-4720) is published monthly by NewBay Media, LLC, 28 East 28th Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10016. Periodicals Postage Paid at New
York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canada Post: Publications Mail Agreement #40612608. Canada Returns to be sent to Bleuchip International, P.O. Box 25542, London,
ON N6C 6B2. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Electronic Musician, P.O. Box 232, Lowell, MA 01853.
Electronic Musician is a trademark of NewBay Media. All material published in Electronic Musician is copyrighted (©) 2018 by NewBay Media. All rights
reserved. Reproduction of material appearing in Electronic Musician is prohibited without written permission. Publisher assumes no responsibility for return of
unsolicited manuscripts, photos, or artwork. All product information is subject to change; publisher assumes no responsibility for such changes. All listed model
numbers and product names are manufacturers’ registered trademarks.
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Synchron Strings I marks a new milestone in the history of the Vienna
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• 1st violins (14), 2nd violins (10), violas (8), cellos (8), basses (6)
• Sections recorded in-place at Synchron Stage Vienna
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• Up to 8 velocity layers and 80 variations per key
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JAN UA R Y
201 8
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It’s no exaggeration to say that, if it
wasn’t for Contemporary Keyboard magazine, I wouldn’t be sitting in the Editor’s chair at EM. In the spring of 1978,
I came across a magazine with Gary
Wright on the cover, wearing a keyboard
around his neck, with a tag line promising a look at “Wright’s Equipment.” Curious, I forked over the $1 cover price,
took it home, and read it cover to cover
dozens of times before hunting down
the next issue: I was hooked.
In the pre-Internet era, Keyboard
(as it was renamed) was the source
for information about acoustic and
electric keys in every genre. During
its 40+ years as a print magazine, Keyboard published hundreds of how-to
articles, helping millions of players
grow as musicians.
This month, we’ve assembled a
collection of recent articles from Keyboard that we think EM readers will
find useful, such as how-to articles
covering popular products and a
pair of insightful interviews. For example, in the excerpt from Suzanne
Ciani’s June 1979 interview, we learn
what it was like being a music professional in the late ’70s and the level
of dedication it took to be successful
(50 sessions a week!). She also shares
her experiences as a woman in that
environment, and the challenges of
playing this mysterious object called
a Buchla.
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By Gino Robair
A
lthough accordions and mandolins
might first come to mind when you
think of Italian instruments, keep in mind
that the country has been a source of influential products for generations—from historic keyboards by Farfisa, Crumar, Fatar,
and Elka, to popular hardware and software from
MarkBass and IK Multimedia, not to mention boutique synths by Frap Tools,
GRP, and Soundmachines.
So, it makes perfect sense
that Italy should also have
its own world-class instrument and pro-audio event.
Staged in the outskirts
of
Turin
at the historic
Valeria Vito, owner
of PCNA Electronics Lavanderia a Vapore (Ital(pcna.it), holds the
tiny circuitboard for ian for “steam laundry”),
Soundmit billed itself as an
her cool, low-cost
DIY theremin kit.
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But it is just as instructive to see
what has changed since then and what
has stayed the same. Ciani describes the
challenges of being a session musician
before the tools we now take for granted
were available—MIDI, sampling, DAWs,
and the Web. Yet, Ciani’s creative concerns are just as relevant today. Her
thoughts about the importance of “the
interface between you and the sound” is
something instrument designers are still
grappling with. And her musical comments, such as fitting electronic sounds
into a busy mix, are no less valid for
modern musicians and producers.
I hope you enjoy the Keyboard articles we’ve included this month, in
addition to the rest of the issue.
International Sound Summit and delivered
on that promise. The three-day event not
only provided an opportunity for attendees
to get hands-on time with new products
from around the world, but it also included a
program of pro-level workshops. Run by topnotch music professionals such as Enrico
Cosimi, Gianni Vallino and Gianni Proietti (aka
Gattobus), the workshops included “Modular
Synthesis with VCV Rack” (the burgeoning, open-source virtual Eurorack synth),
“Mastering for Different Media: CD, Vinyl, Digital Download, Streaming,” and “Synthesizing
808.” Unlike other events that I’ve attended,
the Soundmit workshops were very well-curated and timed so that they wouldn’t overlap,
allowing visitors to catch everything.
Dozens of manufacturers were represented in the tradeshow portion, ranging from
major brands (Roland, Arturia, Yamaha, etc.)
to boutique companies that have never shown
their wares outside of Europe. For example,
Finegear (finegear.net) showed prototypes
of its low-cost, modular DIY mixer called
Mixerblocks, which allows you to create a
personalized configuration for less than $100
a channel. And if the theremin is your thing,
Nori Ubukata has altered the traditional circuit
Hands-on
Eurorack demos
GINO ROBAIR
EDITOR IN CHIEF
grobair@nbmedia.com
The Fingersonic
EXP-1
in his handcrafted Theresyn (theresyn.com)
products to achieve greater expressivity. His
instruments have CV and trigger outs for use
with external synths, and one model even has
a set of resonant strings on the back that are
activated by a bone-conduction transducer.
Other Soundmit highlights include the
Arthur series of high-end portable mixers
by Schertler (schertler.com); Keen Association’s Buchla-inspired Polyphonic
Touch’N’Run Voltage Array controller and
Graphic Waveform Generator module (sssrlabs.com); the Audio-DJ (audio-dj.com) SP3
stereo mixer with three tube-based channels and 3-band EQ; the outstanding Frap
Tools (fraptools.com) Sapel “tamed random
source” module and high-quality UNO cases; and the killer Fingersonic (fingersonic.
com) EXP-1, an open-source, portable workstation disguised as a toy keyboard.
Visit Soundmit.com to learn more.
ADVENTURES IN DIY
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Fig. 1. For an extra-portable setup, I
use a battery-powered USB hub and
the Midi Tool Box app to play Pocket
Miku from a CME Xkey.
Fig. 2. Gakken’s Web MIDI app
lets you download new phrases
to Pocket Miku. Here I’ve set the
Shift-I preset to sing “Electronic
Musician” in Japanese.
BY DAVID BATTINO
Q: What do you get when you combine a singing synthesizer with a dancing hologram?
A: Hatsune Miku, the helium-voiced virtual idol who sells out shows from Tokyo
to Los Angeles.
Miku is the manga-eyed face of Yamaha’s Vocaloid technology, which enabled ambitious producers to build complete vocal performances by manipulating syllables on
a computer screen.
For years, Yamaha toyed with turning the tech into a real-time instrument. (Check
out the fantastic prototypes at vocaloid.com/vocaloidkeyboard.) The company is reportedly about to release a Vocaloid keytar. But in 2014, the Japanese science-kit company Gakken launched a cheerful gadget called Pocket Miku that pairs a Yamaha Vocaloid chip
with a ribbon keyboard. You can now buy the Pocket Miku (aka Gakken NSX-39) for as little as $21.
The synth is instantly accessible: Power it up with three AAA cells (or USB) and tap out melodies with
the included stylus. Choose different vowels by pressing the A-I-U-E-O buttons, or select preset Japanese
phrases by pressing Vibrato or Shift and one of the vowels. Slide the stylus to the top of the ribbon, and
suddenly pitch isn’t quantized anymore. You can swoop up or down for crazy effects (see Figure 1).
Interestingly, every key transmits an F; moving left or right applies just the right amount of
pitch-bend to play the next semitone. If you have a softsynth that allows you to set the bend range
to 16 semitones (I used Reaktor), you can use Miku as a unique USB MIDI controller. (Alternatively, set the softsynth’s range to 8 semitones to play quarter-tones.)
The fun really starts when you fire up Gakken’s Web MIDI apps to customize Miku. Like the
manual, they’re entirely Japanese, so I highly recommend reading Paul Drongowski’s hands-on
Miku blog at sandsoftwaresound.net. (You can also download an English manual from Adafruit.
com, the original US distributor.)
Connect Miku to your computer via USB, then launch the Google Chrome browser and go to http://
otonanokagaku.net/nsx39/app.html. One app lets you download 15 new phrases to Miku. The catch is
that they have to be in hiragana, one of the Japanese phonetic alphabets. I typed English phrases into
JapaneseTransliteration.com and copied the hiragana output to make the phrase in Figure 2. Click E to
edit the phrase, then press Return to transmit it to Miku. (Chrome’s built-in translation helps sort this out.)
Another Gakken app updates the Miku firmware with several helpful features. After updating,
pressing “I” and the down arrow will turn off the reverb and speaker EQ for cleaner recording, and
pressing one of the arrows while a note is playing will add harmonies.
The harmony trick foreshadows one of the NSX-39’s coolest features: The chip that powers it
is also an XG-compatible synth. (XG is Yamaha’s extension to General MIDI, adding effects such
as the harmonizer and extensive MIDI modulation.) I used Midi Tool Box (mtb.artteknika.com)
to send the f0 43 10 4c 02 01 40 4e 00 f7 SysEx command to Miku, changing the harmonizer to an
autowah I could then control with CC 94, Variation Depth. Sugoi!
JA NUA RY
201 8
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IK Multimedia T-Racks 5
BY MIKE LEVINE
The new releases at this year’s AES Convention ranged from inexpensive
plug-ins to pricey microphones and processors. Among the trends in
evidence was a focus on products for immersive audio, especially the
Ambisonics 360-degree multi-channel format used by Facebook 360 Videos
and Google Spatial Audio. And, the new software offerings were smarter than
ever, with artificial intelligence finding its way into more and more of them.
Finally, based on the number of hardware units I saw that support the Dante
protocol, it appears that format is being more widely adopted.
Here is a select list of notable news from
the show, alphabetized within each category
by company name.
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At the bustling Avid booth, Pro Tools 12.8.2
($599 or by subscription) was the big news.
Its version number might sound like a maintenance release, but it offers quite a few additions, including note-scrolling in the MIDI
editor, a MIDI input display, and batch renaming and scroll-to-track features that will
help users running large sessions. Pro Tools
HD users also get support for first-, secondand third-order Ambisonics.
The Empirical Labs Arousor 2.0 ($349) is
the update to the company’s plug-in version
of its Distressor hardware compressor. It now
supports AAX-DSP and adds a preset sharing function, improvements to the GUI, new
presets from well-known engineers, and bet-
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JAN UA R Y
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ter control-surface support. At the time of this
writing, version 2.0 is Mac only, but Windows
support is coming.
Eventide Elevate ($199) is a mastering
limiter, developed in conjunction with Newfangled Audio. I has an adaptive limiter stage
that uses artificial intelligence to analyze 26
frequencies key to human hearing, and automatically adjusts transients, gain and other
parameters to preserve a natural sound. A
spectral clipper at the end of the signal chain
gives you the option to overdrive the output.
T-Racks 5 (standard $149, Deluxe $299,
Max $499) is the latest version of IK Multimedia’s flagship mixing and mastering software suite. In addition to a new GUI, it adds
four new processors: Master Match, a matching EQ; Dyna-Mu, based on the Manley Variable MU compressor; E-Qual, a 10-band parametric EQ; and ONE, a self-contained mastering processor featuring an EQ, a limiter, an
exciter, an enhancer and more.
Sound Radix, makers of Drum Leveler and
SurferEQ, debuted a new dynamics processor plug-in called Powair ($TBA). Designed
for transparency, it offers both a leveler and
a compressor. The latter features an Adaptive
mode, which allows you to apply the same relative amount of compression throughout the
audio you’re processing, even if it has a drastic change of level between sections. You also
have the option to set release times based on
song tempo.
The Waves B360 Ambisonics Encoder
plug-in ($299) converts mono, stereo and even
surround mixes into 3D Ambisonics B-Format
audio. The company also updated the Nx Virtual Mix Room ($99) plug-in with a new Ambisonics component that “binaularizes” your
audio (through your headphones only) allowing you to monitor Ambisonics mixes. Waves
is also offering the 360° Ambisonics Tools
($399) bundle, which includes the aforementioned software titles plus the Waves Nx Head
Tracker hardware.
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Pultec introduced the EQP-500X EQ ($1,295),
which combines the best features of its EQP500A and EQP-500S EQs. Also on display was
the MEQ-500 Jack Douglas Edition ($1,295),
a 500-series version of the Pultec MEQ-5
midrange equalizer, with a couple of extra
frequency-band options included.
Useful
Arts BF-1
Audio-Technica
AT5047
Emperical
Labs Arousor
Sound Radix Powair
Dangerous Music CONVERT-AD+
Also new in 500-series is Rupert Neve Designs’
535 Diode Bridge Compressor ($995). The 535’s
sound and its compression characteristics are nonlinear and weighted toward the sub-400Hz range,
so it adds noticeable girth to the source material. The
attack is adjustable to under one millisecond.
At the Useful Arts booth was the intriguing
new BF-1 ($745), an active DI and tube preamp
for instruments, which offers a Class A signal path
and dual outputs.
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Black Lion Audio’s Auteur Quad ($799) is a
4-channel mic preamp and DI based on the company’s Auteur MKII preamp. It offers a combination
of vintage and modern tone, with a fast front-end
to capture detail and a transformer for a little bit of
saturation at 250Hz and below.
Dangerous Music premiered CONVERT-AD+
($2,599), a high-quality analog-to-digital converter. It has two stereo inputs that are selectable from
the front panel, optional transformers you can
switch into the circuit, a shelving EQ/Compressor
and a Meter Zooming feature that allows you to
change the view on the bar graph meters to show
only the top 10 dB of activity.
Focusrite showed two new Red-series interfaces. The Red16 Line ($2,999.99) is a 64x64 audio
interface that can be expanded via Dante. It offers
16 channels of analog I/O on DSub connectors, as
well as two digitally controlled preamps. The Red-
Net X2P ($899.99) is a new 2-channel Dante interface with a pair of mic pre’s, two XLR line outs
and headphone output.
Genelec added two new monitors, the 8331
($2,500 each) and the 8341 ($3,500 each), which
are similar in design to its previously released 8351.
The three monitors now make up a new series called
The Ones. All are compact, coaxial, three-way pointsource monitors with smart-calibration features.
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Audio-Technica displayed its latest 50-Series
mic, the AT5047 ($3,499), a premium large-diaphragm studio condenser with the widest dynamic range of any A-T mic to date. It uses the same
capsule as the AT5040 but in a dual-diaphragm
design that creates a surface area that is double
the size of a standard circular diaphragm.
One of the most impressive new mics at the
show was the Earthworks SV33 ($2,399), a
large-diaphragm cardioid condenser. Its 14mm
diaphragm is the biggest one Earthworks has ever
used. The SV33 is designed primarily for vocals
and has a reduced proximity effect, which adds
beefiness without being boomy. It also has excellent off-axis pickup and a high-resolution frequency response of 30Hz to 33kHz.
Lewitt debuted an ultra-quiet large diaphragm
condenser called the LCT 540 SubZero ($699),
which has an electrical self-noise spec of -1dB and
a dynamic range of 132dB. The cardioid mic has
the same capsule as the previous LCT 540 but is
otherwise completely redesigned.
The Sony C-100 ($TBA) was one of the most
intriguing products at the show. It’s a selectablepattern (omni, uni-directional, bi-directional)
mic with a twin-capsule, side-address design and
a high-resolution frequency response of 20Hz
to 50kHz. While the upper part of that is well
beyond the range of human hearing, having all
that frequency headroom allows for a very opensounding top end. Sony also introduced two pencil condenser versions, the uni-directional ECM100U and the omnidirectional ECM-100N.
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BAE Audio debuted a new two-channel DI called
the PDIS ($200), with high-impedance 1/4" inputs
and low-impedance XLR outputs, as well as two
1/4" thru's per channel and ground lift switches.
Radial Engineering’s new Sat-2 ($99) is a product that, once again, shows the company’s talent for
producing high-quality, problem-solving hardware.
The unit is a passive 2-channel attenuator that you
place between your interface’s outputs and your
monitor inputs, giving you a speaker-level controller,
a mono-sum switch, a mute button and a dim control.
Anyone who’s ever had their mic stand tip over
will appreciate the Tascam TM-AM3 ($89.99),
which has something you rarely see these days: a
portable boomstand with a counterweight. It also
features a speaker-stand-style tripod bass that
doesn’t eat up as much floor space as your typical
tripod stand. Q
JA NUA RY
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BY MICHAEL ROSS
Fig. 1
L ast month, I demonstrated how guitarists can achieve a new level of signal
processing from the easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive Softube Modular, a
software emulation of a modular synth. But what if you want to get those sounds
onstage without using a computer?
To run your guitar through a hardware modular-synth, you’ll have to address some issues: The
modules don’t have bypass footswitches; they require a case with its own power system (which is
not suitable for use on a pedalboard); and the jacks
used in the most popular format—Eurorack—are
3.5mm (e.g., minijacks) instead of the standard
1/4" version used by guitarists. Of course, the 5U,
Moog-format modules have 1/4" jacks, but their
cases are even larger and the overall systems more
expensive than Eurorack.
Up until 2015, Eurorack manufacturer Pittsburgh Modular made the Patch Box Enclosure,
a stompbox-style case that not only held several
synth modules, but included a guitar preamp and
true-bypass switching (see Figure 1). It provided a
convenient, pedalboard-friendly way to add synth
modules to your stage setup, and it is worth hunting one down on the used market.
A simpler way to add this kind of synth processing to your rig is by using Roland’s AIRA
Eurorack-style modules with a Boss ES-5 Effects
Switching System. The AIRA modules—Bitrazer
(bit crusher), Demora (delay), Scooper (looping
with Scatter effects), and Torcido (distortion)—
work as standalone processors that can be powered by a wall wart, allowing you to use them on
the desktop or pedalboard outside of a Eurorack
case. But what about a footswitch?
That’s where the Boss ES-5 comes in. Patching
an AIRA module into one of the effects loops on the
ES-5 provides a footswitch for dropping the module in and out of the signal path, and the unit can
save and recall 200 patch routings. To connect the
Fig. 2
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modules to the ES-5, you will need cables with a
mono 1/4" plug on one side and a mono 3.5mm plug
on the other (available from your favorite vendor,
and easy to make if you know how to solder).
I put together a rig that combined the Scooper
and Bitrazer modules with a main.ace.fx Awdrey
Gore fuzz and an Earthquaker Space Spiral delay,
all plugged into send/return loops on the ES-5
(see Figure 2). The Scooper records loops of up to
10 seconds, gives you control over pitch, and sends
it all through a filter and various Scatter effects to
slice and warp the sound. The Bitrazer is a bit- and
sample-rate crusher with controls for filter type,
frequency cutoff, and resonance. And, of course,
both accept control voltages.
The next step was to find a CV source. In addition to MIDI I/O and a USB port, the Source
Audio Reflex Universal Expression Controller has
three 1/4" analog expression/CV outputs (see Figure 3). Patched with 1/4"-to-3.5mm patch cables, I
used the Reflex to modulate the filter frequency of
the Bitrazer and the Scooper, as well as control the
Scooper’s Scatter effects. Although I didn’t have a
pedal switch to start and stop loop recording, the
ES-5 let me run the Scooper in parallel with my
direct signal, so I could play along with the stuttering, fragmented loops, which was inspiring.
The Reflex Expression Controller also offers five
LFO waveforms, which I used for rhythmic filter
sweeping, controlling the speed from the pedal.
Sure, there are effects pedals that do similar
things, but the abundance of CV inputs on a synth
module gives you greater flexibility and a sound
that sets them apart. Q
The
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Arturia MatrixBrute Analog Monophonic Synthesizer
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ELPFX1 | $359.00
Softube Console 1 MKII
Hardware and Software Mixer
SOCNSOLE1MK2 | $499.00
POPGBIASHEAD | $1,299.00
Auray Stylus Music/Microphone Stands
AUIA300/440/500 | Set - $597.00
Tips & Techniques
Pittsburgh Lifeforms SV-1 Blackbox Desktop
Analog Modular Synthesizer - Eurorack
PIPMS1008 | $699.00
Warm Audio WA-87 Multi-Pattern
Condenser Microphone
WA87 | $599.00
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Check for Mono Even though it’s 2017
In the old days, one often checked mixes for mono compatibility due to technological constraints of the times. You should still do this today, since your
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What is a manual de-esser? The answer is, you. Go through the track and manually gain down each sibilance, either by clip or pre-fader automation. Pretty
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BY MIKE LEVINE
With so many brands, price levels, and specs to
contemplate, shopping for an audio interface can be
a dizzying experience. This month, we look at more
than two dozen of the top models, representing a wide
range of sizes, features, and connectivity options.
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These days, most interfaces connect to your
computer using Thunderbolt, USB, or both.
Thunderbolt (and the more recent Thunderbolt 2) transfers data faster than USB and
therefore gives you lower latency when recording. The latency for Thunderbolt interfaces is typically small enough that you can
record directly into your DAW without any
perceptible delay.
USB interfaces (2.0 and 3.0) can’t make
that claim, and their latency varies a lot
based on the quality of the drivers written
for them. Most USB units counter the latency problem by offering direct hardware monitoring (e.g., “zero-latency monitoring”),
which lets you listen to your input before it
goes through your computer’s processing,
thus avoiding any delay. The only downside
to direct monitoring is that, because you’re
hearing the input signal before it hits the
computer, you can’t hear any effects from
your DAW on it, such as reverb on a vocal, or
an amp simulator on a DI guitar track. Many
interfaces have built-in DSP that makes it
possible to add effects such as reverb, delay,
and compression to your directly monitored
signal, and most let you print those effects to
the track, if needed.
Although USB 3.0 offers higher bandwidth than USB 2.0, it does not offer appreciably lower latency. Moreover, USB 2.0 has
ample bandwidth to handle the data being
sent back and forth in most recording situations. Thunderbolt 2 is faster than Thunderbolt 1, but both offer excellent performance.
We’ve organized the interfaces into three
categories based on the number of microphone preamps they include—two, four or
eight. Within each category, we arranged the
products by MAP price, from low to high. The
heading below the model includes the total
I/O count, connectivity format, and price.
Some manufacturers count their headphone outputs as part of their I/O specs (e.g.,
one stereo headphone port counted as two
analog outputs) while others do not, making direct comparisons confusing. In order
to compare apples to apples, we’ve separated
the headphone output from the rest of the
I/O in the header for each item. For example, 8x8x1 means eight inputs, eight outputs,
and one headphone jack. We did not include
mixers that have interfaces onboard.
Another thing to remember about interface I/O specs is that the number of potential
inputs and outputs available from an ADAT
optical port drops by 50 percent when you
record at sampling rates above 48 kHz, and
halves again above 96 kHz. Also, when you
see an interface’s total I/O count, bear in
mind that, unlike the analog inputs that you
can plug a mic, line or instrument source
directly into, digital I/O requires another
device of some sort (such as a mic preamp
unit with digital outs) if you want to connect
additional sources into your session. Nearly
every interface covered here supports 192
kHz recording and playback, so we’ll only
mention that spec it if a unit’s maximum
sampling rate falls below it.
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The majority of interfaces here support both
Mac and Windows OS: Those that don’t are
noted. And although the USB interfaces here
are compatible with Apple iOS devices, few
offer direct connection to an iPad or iPhone.
Most require an Apple Camera Connection
Kit adapter, which converts USB to Apple’s
Lightning format.
When we put “iOS” below the model
name, the unit connects directly to iOS. If
you see “iOS*,” a Camera Connection Kit is
required.
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Whether you’re a singer-songwriter or a solo
electronica producer, if you mainly record by
yourself, you’ll probably do fine with an interface with only two mic inputs.
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The UR22mkII is an intriguing unit that offers both quality and a
low price. It has two front-panel mic/line
combo inputs with Yamaha Class A D-Pre
preamps. You can connect a guitar and other
high-impedance sources to Input 2 using
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the Hi-Z switch. A Mix knob controls the Direct
Monitoring feature, and you also get one Input
gain control per channel, an Output knob and a
front-panel headphone jack. The rear panel includes MIDI In and Out, a pair of 1/4" line outputs and a global switch for phantom power. The
UR-22mkII is bus-powered, but you’ll need a USB
mobile battery or power adapter—along with an
Apple Camera Connection Kit adapter—to use it
with an iPad. Podcasters will appreciate that the
UR22mkII supports loopback-recording. This allows you to mix live input with output from your
recording software, which is combined and then
recorded back into another track. Cubase AI is
bundled with the interface.
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If you want Focusrite audio quality without spending a bundle, you’ll appreciate this front-facing
desktop interface, which is now in its second
generation. Its two mic/line combo inputs can be
switched to instrument level, and you also get pad
switches for each channel. The input gain controls
feature Focusrite’s Halo indicators, which surround
the knob and glow green for signal present and red
for clipping. The unit implements direct monitoring using a knob that controls the ratio of input to
playback signal that you hear. You can switch monitoring between stereo or mono. The outputs are a
pair of 1/4" jacks and four unbalanced RCA jacks.
The software bundle includes Focusrite and Softube plug-ins, Pro Tools First Creative Pack, Ableton
Live Lite and two virtual instruments—Novation
Bass Station and XLN Addictive Keys.
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The bus-powered Studio 2|6 USB is PreSonus’s most
compact interface to date and features the company’s
XMAX preamps, which they use on their larger models. The 2|6 has two mic/line/instrument combo inputs on the front panel and four analog outputs on the
back. Pushing the Mon button sends a 50/50 blend
of the direct input signal and the main output to the
headphone output for low-latency monitoring. The
Cue Mix A/B feature lets you switch the 1/4" headphone output between two different mixes by pressing a front-panel button. DJs can use this feature to
preview the next song, and recordists to switch between the main and monitor mixes. You get globally
switchable 48V phantom power, MIDI In and Out
ports, front-panel LED metering and a large software
bundle that includes Studio One Artist and plug-ins
from Brainworx and Arturia, among others.
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If you’re looking for
an ultra-portable interface that can be used virtually anywhere, iRig Pro
Duo should be high on your list. Small enough to fit
in your hand, it supports Mac and Windows, as well
as iOS and Android mobile devices. (In fact, it’s the
only interface covered here that supports audio on
Android.) The iRig Pro Duo can run on two AA batteries when used with iOS devices, with bus power
on laptops and Android devices, or from the optional AC adaptor. The unit includes two mic/line/
instrument combo jacks, two gain controls, LED indicators, a 3.5mm headphone out, a pair of balanced
1/4" outputs, a direct monitoring switch, and MIDI
I/O through the included breakout cable. You also
get cables for connecting the unit’s mini-DIN jack
to Lightning (iOS), Micro-USB-OTG (Android) and
USB (Mac/Win). The top sampling rate supported is
48 kHz. Three Mac/Win plug-ins are included—Amplitube Metal, T-RackS Classic, and SampleTank 3 SE.
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Part of Roland’s new Rubix line, it has features not
found in other interfaces at this price—a built-in
compressor/limiter for keeping levels under control when recording, a shielded metal chassis, and
a rear-panel ground-lift switch to mitigate hum. Its
inputs are front-panel, mic/line combo jacks, one
of which is switchable to high-impedance mode for
instruments. The rear panel has four 1/4" balanced
analog outputs, allowing you to send out a separate
headphone mix in recording situations, and you can
also configure the unit for direct monitoring. Other
features include MIDI I/O and a loopback-recording feature. The Rubix24 runs on USB bus power or
an AC adaptor (not included), and it’s bundled with
Ableton Live Lite software.
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A bus-powered, compact USB 3.0 desktop unit, the
UAC-2 gives you extended functionality when you
control it from your computer using Zoom’s free
MixEfx software. Access low-cut filters and phase
switches for each channel, more detailed metering
than on the hardware, reverb for monitoring, loopback recording, and more. From the front panel you
can adjust input gain, select high-impedance input for
the two mic/line jacks, engage phantom power, and
control the output level. The rear panel has MIDI I/O
and two balanced 1/4" TRS outputs. The three-way
Direct Monitoring switch provides Off, Mono and
Stereo. Switching to Class Compliant mode lets you
connect to an iOS device (using a CCK adapter).
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The ID14, like
other Audient interfaces, has the same mic preamps
the company uses on its analog consoles. The buspowered ID14, which you control from its top panel,
sports two mic/line combo jacks on its back panel, as
well as a pair of 1/4" outputs. A 1/4" DI input for highimpedance sources is on the front panel, as is the 1/4"
headphone jack. On the top, you’ll find a large scroll
wheel, three function switches, an 8-step LED meter,
input gain knobs and per-channel phantom power
switches. You can access additional functionality
through Audient’s ID software, which lets you to set
up cue mixes, switch between mixes, and configure
the programmable ID button as a mono switch, talkback control, or dim switch among other options. The
ADAT port can be used to expand your input count by
connecting ADAT-compatible mic preamps and other
interfaces. Purchasing the ID14 entitles you to Steinberg Cubase LE and Cubasis LE2 (iPad), and Eventide UltraChannel and UltraReverb plug-ins. The unit
supports sampling rates up to 96 kHz.
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Tascam designed this 2-channel, half-rack unit to
deliver high-quality audio, equipping it with premium preamps and converters, a pair of XLR mic
inputs, two 1/4" line inputs, a front-panel 1/4" headphone jack, and XLR outputs. There is no highimpedance input onboard. You get separate gain
controls for each channel, a headphone level knob,
a button to activate the built-in DSP mixer, and a
switch that lets you control the main output volume
from the headphone-level knob. You control the
mixer from your computer screen, where you can
access effects (Reverb, Compressor, De-Esser, Ex-
citer, EQ, and Limiter/Low Cut). The UH-7000 also
has digital I/O that support AES/EBU or S/PDIF.
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The Duet brings you Apogee sound quality in an ultracompact desktop unit powered by a DC adapter. It features a multi-function OLED display, a large volume
knob and two programmable Touchpads that you
assign using the accompanying Maestro 2 software
to control features such as direct monitoring. The
headphone jack is on the front. One unique aspect of
the Duet is that most of its I/O is on a breakout cable,
which has two mic/line/instrument combo jacks and
two 1/4" balanced line outputs. You can connect MIDI
keyboards and other devices through Duet’s MIDIover-USB jack on the main unit and directly connect
an iPad (cable not included), without the need for an
Apple Camera Connection Kit. Duet has long been
Mac only, but according to Apogee, it should have
Windows support by the time you read this.
track through various preamp and amplifier emulation plug-ins (the UA 610-B Tube Preamp is included; others require separate purchase). The mic-line
inputs are on the back—along with two monitor outs
and two line-level outs—and the instrument input
and 1/4" headphone output are on the front. The interface offers extensive metering for a unit this size,
as well as function and selection buttons, and a large
gain control. You can expand your I/O using the
ADAT Lightpipe I/O. There is no MIDI I/O.
The unit also houses DSP for running Universal Audio’s acclaimed UAD Powered Plug-ins,
which consist mainly of analog hardware emulations. The Realtime Analog Classics plug-in bundle is included: Other plug-ins are available separately or in a variety of bundles. The Solo, Duo and
Quad designations on the different models refer
to how many DSP processors are in the unit, and
therefore how many UAD plug-ins you can run simultaneously. Should you wish to expand the I/O
further, you can cascade up to four Apollo Twins.
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Similar in many ways to the UR22mkII (described
earlier), the six-in, four-out UR44 is impressive
from a price-performance standpoint. Equipped
with Yamaha D-Pre preamps, it offers four frontpanel combo jacks, as well as two mic/line and
two mic/instrument inputs. Phantom power is
switchable for channel pairs 1-2 and 3-4. On the
front are gain controls for each channel, two headphone jacks and a master output control. Around
back is an additional pair of 1/4" line inputs, four
1/4" line outputs, the main 1/4" outputs, and MIDI
I/O. The UR44 has built-in DSP that provides lowlatency monitoring with effects. Steinberg offers a
generous software bundle, including Cubase AI
and the Steinberg Basic FX Suite VST 3 plug-ins.
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An interface with four mic inputs gives you the
option of recording several musicians at once, not
to mention basic drum tracks.
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The latest in the UltraLite series, MOTU’s half-racksized USB interface offers considerably more input
options than its two front-panel mic/line/instrument combo jacks: Six additional analog 1/4" linelevel inputs on the back accept external mic preamps, keyboards, and so forth. Further increasing
the unit’s versatility are eight 1/4" analog outputs,
two main outputs, ADAT Lightpipe I/O and coaxial
S/PDIF ports. The front panel has a 1/4" headphone
jack, gain controls for the mic preamps and a large
LCD that offers detailed metering. The UltraLitemk4’s built-in DSP allows for flexible and powerful
low-latency headphone mixing and provides effects
for monitoring that you can also use on input. MOTU
offers free apps that let you control the interface remotely from a laptop or a mobile device.
that toggles the output between two different mixes.
Ableton Live Lite software is included.
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This affordable desktop unit eschews the usual combo-jack design. Instead, you get both an XLR and
balanced 1/4" input for each channel, as well as a pair
of headphone jacks, all on the front panel. Phantom
power is globally switchable, and line inputs 1 and
2 can accommodate high-impedance instruments.
Each channel has a gain control and separate signalpresent and peak lights. The rear panel offers four
balanced 1/4" line outs and MIDI I/O. The US-4x4
supports sampling rates up to 96 kHz.
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The Clarett 4Pre offers Thunderbolt performance
and Focusrite sound at an affordable price. In addition to four mic/line/instrument combo inputs on
the front, it includes four independent 1/4" line inputs on the back. Focusrite’s free Control software
provides additional functionality, such as switching
inputs between line and instrument level, loopback
recording, and more. The mic preamps offer a feature called Focusrite Air, which, when switched on,
models the company’s transformer-based ISA preamps. Output-wise, you get four 1/4" analog outputs
and a pair of 1/4" headphone jacks. The 4Pre’s input
count is expandable using ADAT Lightpipe and S/
PDIF ports. MIDI I/O is also onboard. A generous
software bundle is included: Ableton Live Lite; Focusrite Red 2 and Red 3 Plug-in Suite (modeled EQ
and compressor); Softube TSAR-1R Reverb, Tube
Delay, Saturation Knob and Drawmer S73; XLN
Addictive Keys, and more.
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of which is switchable to Hi-Z.) Otherwise, it has The Quantum 2 comes with two front-panel mic/inThe latest version of this popular Thunderbolt 2
desktop interface features two mic/line combo inputs and a Hi-Z instrument input that feed the company’s Unison-enabled preamps, which allow you to
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the same feature set as the smaller model, including
a shielded metal chassis, ground-lift switch, built-in
compressor/limiter, MIDI I/O, loopback recording,
bus or AC powering, and a headphone-source switch
strument combo inputs and two rear-panel mic/line
combo inputs, all feeding PreSonus XMAX preamps.
Four balanced 1/4" line outputs are on the back, and
the 1/4" headphone jack is on the front. Digital I/O
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includes two sets of ADAT Lightpipe I/O, providing
16 additional inputs and outputs, plus two more digital channels via coaxial S/PDIF connectors. You can
expand the system by connecting up to three more
units. The Quantum 2 includes UC Surface software
for controlling the interface and signal routing, the
Studio One Artist DAW, and plug-ins from a variety
of developers including SPL, Maag Audio, Lexicon,
Arturia, Brainworx, and Eventide.
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Antelope’s Discrete series is the company’s most affordable interfaces to date. The Discrete 4 provides
two mic/instrument combo inputs on the front
and two mic/line inputs on the back. If you record
multiple musicians simultaneously, you’ll appreciate that there are four separate headphone outputs,
each with its own amp. The Discrete 4 also has both
ADAT and S/PDIF digital I/O. You also get access
to more than 40 of Antelope’s FPGA FX plug-ins,
including models of vintage mic preamps, processors, and guitar amps among them, which can be
used on input or when mixing. The Discrete 4 is
available in a number of packages based on how
many channels of FPGA FX are included. The basic one provides two channels, but you can spend
more for more channels. The unit is also available
bundled with Antelope’s new Verge and Edge modeling mics, which work in conjunction with the
FPGA effects.
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The Quartet costs more than many of the other fourinput interfaces covered here, but what you’re paying for is high-quality components, such as Apogee’s
renowned mic preamps and converters. This model
comes from the same product line as the Duet (described earlier), but is larger and has a completely
different form factor, featuring an angled top panel
with two sizable OLED meters and a large, multifunction control knob. The Quartet gives you four
mic/line/instrument combo jacks on the back, along
with six 1/4" line outputs and a side-panel headphone out. Two ADAT Lightpipe inputs allow you to
connect other digital units up to a total of eight. A
MIDI-over-USB port lets you connect external controllers. You get native iOS support through a Lightning connector and an iOS version of the company’s
Maestro control software is available.
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on two sets of ADAT Lightpipe and coaxial S/PDIF
ports. The Apollo 8 is available in Duo and Quad versions and includes the Real-Time Analog Classics Plus
bundle of eight UAD Powered Plug-ins.
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If flexibility is important to you, the 1248 has a lot
to offer. In addition to four XLR mic inputs, it provides eight 1/4" TRS inputs, two 1/4" Hi-Z inputs,
and two banks of ADAT Lightpipe and S/PDIF ports
for a total 32 in and 34 out. On the front panel, you’ll
find a nice-sized LCD, two headphone outputs, and
individual gain controls, pad switches, and phantom
power switches for each of the mic inputs. Built-in
DSP allows for mixing and routing and provides effects such as compression, EQ, and reverb. The unit
also offers MOTU’s AVB Ethernet networking, making the expansion options even greater.
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This handy, high-quality desktop interface is wellsuited for both studio and mobile work and offers
a lot of versatility for the money. The four rearpanel mic inputs accept line-level signals, plus
four instrument/line inputs on front. There are
two pairs of balanced 1/4" monitor outputs, 8 line
outs via DSub connector, two reamp outputs, and
a pair of headphone jacks. You also get two sets of
ADAT ports and S/PDIF I/O. A built-in talkback
mic, large touch-screen display and chunky volume control complete the scene. And, of course,
it includes the company’s FPGA technology and
near-zero latency specs.
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The Apollo 8’s analog I/O includes four mic/line combo jacks, as well as two 1/4" line inputs on the back and
two 1/4" instrument inputs on the front. The preamps
support Universal Audio’s Unison technology, letting
you track live through Unison-enabled plug-ins (the
UA 610-B is included). You also get eight 1/4" line
outputs, two 1/4" monitor outputs, and a pair of 1/4"
headphone jacks on the front. Digital I/O is available
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These models provide eight onboard mic inputs and
various expansion options—perfect for tracking a
group of musicians simultaneously or for recording
drums with a more complex multiple-mic setup.
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You get a lot of flexibility and bang for the buck
from this rackmountable USB 3.0 unit. It can function as an audio interface, an eight-channel mic pre,
and as a mixer that you control from your computer
or iOS device. Its front panel features eight combo
inputs—six mic/line and two mic/instrument. To
the right are Gain knobs for the inputs and volume
controls for the line out and two headphone jacks.
Two additional line inputs are located on the back
and can be switched between -10 dBV and +4 dBu.
Its I/O count is increased thanks to ADAT and S/
PDIF I/O. The unit has built-in DSP for mixing and
effects, which include compression, EQ, and reverb.
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Depending on your studio setup, having mic inputs on the rear of a rack unit can be inconvenient,
as you have to go to the back of the rack to make
connections. The USB 3.0 UAC-8 avoids that by
situating all eight mic/line combo connectors on
the front. Channels 1 and 2 accept instrumentlevel inputs. Each input has its own gain control,
and an LED that indicates signal present and clipping. A large recessed knob controls the output
level. Phantom power is not individually switchable per channel; you turn it on in two blocks:
channels 1-4 or 4-8. The rear panel sports 10 1/4"
outputs—eight line and two main. ADAT and S/
PDIF I/O provide digital connectivity. Zoom’s free
UAC-8 MixEfx application adds functionality and
lets you add reverb or delay to the input or output.
You also get Cubase LE8. Zoom makes a Mac-only,
Thunderbolt version of this interface called the
Tac-8 ($649), as well.
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This USB 3.0 interface combines plentiful connectivity options with built-in DSP. You get two
mic/instrument combo inputs on the front and
six mic/line inputs on the back. The line inputs
bypass the XMAX mic preamps and go directly
to the converters. You can save and recall preamp
settings using the included UC Surface control
software, which also gives you access to routing,
monitor mixing and built-in effects.
In addition to eight 1/4" line outs, you get a
separate pair for the main output. Digital I/O
comprises both S/PDIF and 16 channels of ADAT.
Useful front-panel features include LED meters
for each input and the main L/R output, and a
handy center control area where you can select
any input for gain control and phantom power.
The Studio 192 has buttons for console monitor
functions including talkback (through a built-in
omni mic), Dim, and Mono. Bundled software
includes Studio One Artist and the Studio Magic
Plug-In Suite.
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This unit offers the largest array of I/O of any of
Steinberg’s interfaces. It combines eight analog
channels featuring Yamaha D-Pre preamps and
16 channels of ADAT Lightpipe. Two mic/line/
instrument combo inputs are on the front, along
with gain controls and pad switches for all eight
analog inputs, a pair of headphone jacks and a
large output knob. The rest of the analog and digital I/O is on the back. Thanks to the built-in DSP
you get dynamics and EQ for each analog input
channel, as well as zero-latency hardware monitoring controlled by Steinberg’s dspMixFx mixer
software. Also included are two native VST plugins—Rev-X reverb and the Sweet Spot Morphing
Channel Strip—plus Cubase AI.
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The flagship of the Clarett line, the 2-rackunit
8PreX contains eight mic preamps featuring
Focusrite Air transformer-modeling circuitry,
and ten analog outputs. Except for two 1/4" instrument inputs and a pair of headphone outs,
most of the I/O is on the back. Why? Because
the front provides buttons and knobs to control
the preamp inputs—a gain control for each input,
physical switches for phantom power, a highpass filter and a phase reversal, all with indicator
LEDs. Six-step LED meters for each of the in-
puts—which can be switched to show the ADAT
and S/PDIF channels—give you useful front-panel
metering. You get even more control with Focusrite’s free Control software, and there’s an iOS
app for controlling the unit from a mobile device.
The software bundle includes Ableton Live Lite,
plug-ins from Focusrite and Softube, samples from
Loopmasters, and XLN Addictive Keys.
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Before the advent of the Discrete 8, you couldn’t
find an eight-input Antelope interface at anywhere near this low of a price. Like the Discrete
4 (described earlier), this unit provides mic-preamp modeling on input along with access to all
of Antelope’s FPGA FX effects. You also get eight
transistor-discrete preamps—two on the front and
six on the back. You can access more inputs and
outputs through two sets of ADAT optical I/O and
one of S/PDIF.
Antelope put the analog outputs on a DB25
connector, so budget for an additional cable. The
Discrete 8 has three word-clock outputs, allowing you to set it as the master for other digital
devices in your studio (thanks to the company’s
Acoustically Focused Clocking jitter-management technology). Another feature is a pair of
reamp outputs for sending DI guitar tracks to an
amp for miking.
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The 8M provides a lot of flexibility by offering
both Thunderbolt, USB 2.0 connections and iOS
compatibility along with AVB Ethernet networking. The rackmount unit features eight rear-panel
mic/line/instrument combo jacks and eight 1/4"
analog outputs. MOTU designed the mic preamps
for transparency, and the V-Limit feature provides
9 dB of headroom, helping avoid digital clipping.
Two sets of ADAT I/O brings the total channel
count to 24-in and 24-out. You also get MIDI in
and out jacks.
On the front, you get a headphone jack and,
most notably, individual phantom power and pad
switches for each of the eight analog input channels. A large LCD, which takes up almost half of
the front panel, provides you with detailed metering. Thanks to built-in DSP, you get a 48-input
DSP mixer, as well as EQ, compression, gating,
and reverb.
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Apogee’s Element series gives you access to Apogee
mic preamps, conversion and clocking at a lower
price-per-channel than ever before. As the largest of
the three Element-series interfaces, the Element 88
has a front panel with four mic/instrument combo
jacks, four mic/line XLR jacks and two headphone
jacks (without volume controls), and that’s pretty
much it. Virtually all the control is done through software, using either Apogee Control for Mac or Apogee
Control Mobile for iOS. It’s also compatible with the
remote hardware controller Apogee Control (not included). On the back of the interface, you’ll find two
XLR main outs, two 1/4" Alt outs, and ADAT and S/
PDIF digital I/O. Like other Apogee interfaces, it offers additional functionality when used with Logic
Pro, but is compatible with all Mac DAWs.
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The hub of Slate’s Virtual Recording Studio, the VRS8
is an 8-in/8-out interface that features the same “blank
slate” (no pun intended) mic preamps as used in the
company’s Virtual Microphone System. This allows
you to take advantage of Slate’s software emulations of
classic mics and preamps on input. According to Slate,
any mic gets good results with its modeling, although
the system is optimized for Slate ML-Series Ultra Linear modeling mics. Most of the I/O on this rackmount
unit is situated on the rear panel and includes eight
mic/line combo jacks, eight 1/4" line outputs, proprietary Mix Link jacks for cascading multiple VRS8s, and
MIDI I/O. On the front are two 1/4" line/instrument
inputs and a pair of headphone outputs.
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This Thunderbolt 2 interface gives you all the features of the Apollo 8 (described earlier), but with
eight rear-panel Unison preamps instead of four.
It also comes standard with a Quad UAD processor, giving you the DSP bandwidth to have a large
number of UAD plug-ins open. Add in six 1/4" line
outputs, two monitor outs and two sets of ADAT
I/O. Like with the Apollo 8, your purchase includes
the Real Time Analog Classics Plus plug-in bundle,
which features emulations of the UA 1176LN, Pultec
EQP-1A, Teletronix LA-2A and Fairchild 670. Q
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’m not really a keyboard player,” says recording artist and instrument maker Cary Grace. “I’m more of a synth player. What
interests me is using a monosynth as a lead instrument and
creating interesting sounds with modular. I’m more into sound
creation and expression than being a virtuoso musician.”
Grace’s most recent release—a limited-edition,
lathe-cut 12" record—features a reading of Pink
Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother-era tune “Fat Old Sun,”
inspired not by the relatively simple album version, but by the band’s epic live performances. On
it, Grace's group spins the David Gilmour composition out to more than 15 minutes, allowing plenty
of space for sonic shade and light, and instrumental
spotlights featuring organ, guitar and violin.
Cary Grace has followed a winding and unlikely
path to arrive at her current situation. Born and raised
in South Carolina, and currently living in the United
Kingdom, she began her musical career in the Nashville singer-songwriter scene. Today, she not only
makes progressive rock albums, but also she owns
and operates Wiard, a modular synthesizer company.
As a child in South Carolina, Grace would dig
through her father’s vinyl records. “Later in his life,
he mostly listened to classical music and had a huge
collection of classical CDs,” she says. “So, all the old
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rock records didn’t really get listened to very much.”
She recalls time spent with those records as her first
musical contact with artists such as the Doors, Paul
Simon, Miles Davis, Traffic, and Pink Floyd.
But it was the music of Simon—as well as a slightly
later discovery, Bob Dylan—that sparked Grace’s interest in songwriting. “I was always really into words,
writing and poetry,” she recalls. “I loved language. And
listening to those two people, in particular, and realizing what you could do in the context of a song with
language was what initially drew me to songwriting.”
Grace recalls saying to herself around age 15, “Well, I
could do that. I could write songs.” She taught herself
some chords on guitar and got to work.
Grace documented her early songwriting efforts
using a decidedly low-tech method. “The first overdubs I did were with two cassette boomboxes,” she
explains. “I’d play something back on one and add
another track, so to speak, by recording on the other
one. Of course, it sounded terrible, but that was my
first multitracking.” When she was about eight years
old, her family moved to Nashville, where her father
had a job in audio tech for the Nashville Network
country music cable channel. She soon got a 4-track
cassette deck of her own. “I learned some stuff from
my dad, like how to make my own cables, and how
to solder,” she says. “He was always a good person to
have around when I’d ask, ‘Hey. How do I do this?’”
Grace moved to the UK in 2005 and, not long
after, put together a band. But she admits that “it
didn’t do particularly well, and kind of dispersed.”
Soon after, she met Andy Budge, who has played
on nearly everything Grace has released since she’s
been in the UK. “Andy’s just a remarkable bass player; he plays guitar as well. We have a lot of musical
tastes in common, and enough differences to make
it a good kind of collaborative effort.”
Grace’s first release with Budge was the 2009
double-album Perpetual Motion. The album also
features multi-instrumentalist John Garden, who
today tours with Alison Moyet. Other frequent collaborators are drummer David Payne and guitarist
Steffie Sharpstrings, who has guested on a number
of Grace’s album projects and selected live dates.
Grace recalls the Perpetual Motion sessions as “an
eye-opening experience,” one that whetted her appetite for further long-form progressive rock excursions.
To date she has released seven albums and three sin-
GRANT RICHTER
HARRY COLLISON
gles via Bandcamp; several have also been released on
physical media, many featuring hand-printed sleeves
with design and artwork by the artist, herself.
The exposure to the world of modular synthesis came rather late in Grace’s career. “The first
time I ever got to really play with the things was
when I came over to England,” she says. And she
was quickly hooked. “Through music connections, and because of having a self-taught technical background, I’ve ended up building them.”
It was while hosting a radio program called “Airtight Garage” that she met Grant Richter, founder of
the Wiard Synthesizer Company. “After playing his
band’s music on my show, I got in touch with him,”
Grace says. She learned that Richter was facing the
potential shutdown of his company because health
problems prevented him from building modules.
“He was looking for somebody who would be a
worthy person to take it on and, at the time, I was
kind of looking for something else to do,” says Grace.
In 2012, she bought the rights to manufacture Wiard
gear, calling her company Wessex Analogue. Today
Grace does all of the work herself in a small yet wellappointed electronics workshop of her own.
Grace describes Wiard products as “boutique,
made-to-order units.” “Somebody will get in touch
with me and let me know what modules they want,
and put down a deposit,” she says. “And then—or at
BY BILL KOPP
the point where I clear whatever I’m working on—
I’ll start building. Every single solder connection is
made by hand, by me.” Many of the customers for
her modules are “people who do film scores and
things like that; people who are looking for sounds
that you can’t just make with a soft-synth plug-in.”
Along with her livelihood as a builder of modular
gear, Grace is something of a collector of newer and
vintage synths. Her studio setup—some of which is
pressed into service for live shows—includes several modulars, a ’70s-era Minimoog, an ARP 2600
(serial #13), an ARP Odyssey, and a EMS VCS 3. Recently, Grace has been focusing more on live performance, playing festivals in and around the UK. “I’ve
had hardly any time in the studio this year,” she admits. “But now I’m going to sit down and work on
the next album; I’m excited about that.”
Through her years as a musician and synth builder, Grace has been on the receiving end of a lot of
advice, “some of which is ridiculous,” she explains.
“You hear a lot of this stuff like, ‘Oh, you have to figure out what genre you are and stick to it, or you just
confuse people.’ Fuck that!” The variety of her music,
as showcased on her albums, backs up her response.
However, Grace has taken some advice to heart.
“There are a couple of things that I always go back
to,” she says. “One is: ‘If in doubt, take it out.’” The
other has served as a creative guide. “If you ever get
to where you just don’t know where to go with something, listen to The Beatles. That usually works.”
Asked if she has advice of her own to offer,
Grace pauses a moment. “I wasted a lot of time being insecure in myself, thinking I had to do things
the way somebody else said was the right way to
do it, because I didn’t know how to do it and they
did. You should always be open to learning, but I
think it’s very, very important to not let yourself be
influenced by people who are saying, ‘This is the
wrong way to do it,’ It’s music, it’s art, you know?
It’s totally subjective.”
Grace points out the way in which perceptions of
music differ. “You can love three of the same songs
that somebody else loves, and if you ever get into a
conversation about why they like a song, chances
are it’s going to be for completely different reasons
than why you like it. And that’s wonderful. It’s just
about our humanity and our uniqueness, and that’s
the most important, special, vital thing that we have.”
Between writing, recording, touring, and building synth modules, Cary Grace is used to tackling
multiple concurrent projects. “I’m either scattered
all over the place, or just hyper-focused on something,” she says. “So, on any given day, I might set
out to do something but wind up doing something
completely different because I get distracted. But
more than anything, life, and creation inspire me.” Q
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BY STEPHEN FORTNER
When it comes to how keyboard players make music, Dave Smith just may be
the most influential person alive. His early experiments building sequencers
led to his first company, Sequential Circuits, releasing the first programmable
polyphonic slab synth, the Prophet-5. His work on wavetable and vector
synthesis in the Prophet-VS was reborn in the enduring Korg Wavestation.
His Seer Systems Reality is widely acknowledged as the first commercially
available soft synth. And though he tells the story more modestly, it’s perfectly
acceptable shorthand to say that he invented MIDI.
At the North Beach, San Francisco offices of
today’s Dave Smith Instruments—which makes
some of the most desired analog and hybrid
synths on the market—we settled in for a long
conversation with Dave about where he’s been,
where he sees the synth industry going, and what
it’s like to finally feel like a rock star. In fact, we
covered so much ground that we could fit only
part of it here—so be sure to read the “extended
remix” at keyboardmag.com/september2016.
~ˆ›GžˆšG –œ™G—–•›G–GŒ•›™ G•›–GŒ•Ž•ŒŒ™T
•ŽG‰Œ–™ŒG –œGžŒ™ŒGˆGš •›G‹ŒšŽ•Œ™f
When I got out of high school it was a time
where if you didn’t go to college you went to Vietnam. It was kind of a default to go into engineering.
I always had kind of a technical interest. I started at
Santa Clara, then I went to UC Santa Barbara for a
year, and the last two years were at [UC] Berkeley.
I had a day job as an engineer for about six years
until I quit. I started Sequential Circuits after the
first three years. I realized I didn’t want to work in
“regular” engineering the rest of my life, and that’s
when I got interested in synthesizers—when I
bought my first Minimoog in, I think, 1972.
€–œ™G͌™š›G—™–‹œŠ›GžˆšGˆGšŒ˜œŒ•ŠŒ™SGŠ–™™ŒŠ›f
Yeah. It was an analog sequencer—16 steps by
three rows, a bunch of knobs, kind of the style
everybody’s building again these days. I wanted
a sequencer to go with the Minimoog and the
Moog ones were too expensive. So I just built
it for my own use. Then I realized, maybe other
people might want to have one, too. Sequential
sold a grand total of four! That was 1974-ish.
~ˆ›GžˆšG›ŒG—ˆ›G™–”G›Œ™ŒG›–G›ŒGw™–—T
Œ›T\f
It wasn’t as direct a path as you might think.
The main idea was programmability. I found out
JA NUA RY
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together.” I thought it sounded a little corny, but I
liked the idea of musical instrument instead of just
synthesizer. For some reason “Musical Instrument
Digital Interface” popped in my head and I said,
“How about MIDI?” Everybody said, “Okay.”
The OB-6 is a collaborative effort between Dave Smith and another legendary synth
designer, Tom Oberheim.
that there was going to be a set of integrated circuits
from Solid State Music that did synthesizer functions. I’d been working on microprocessors in Silicon Valley for a few years and this was still early in
the game, but I knew how they worked. So it was
obvious to me that if you put a bunch of these synthesizer chips on a board with a microprocessor, you
could build a fully programmable polyphonic synth.
For a while I said, “I don’t want to build a keyboard.
Moog and ARP are going to do it.” Then in 1977, two
things happened. One, I finally quit my day job. Two,
I thought maybe nobody is going to build this thing
after all, so I’m going to do it. I started in probably
spring of ’77 working on what turned out to be the
Prophet-5 and had it available to demonstrate at
NAMM the following January. I basically did everything—the metal, the wood, the circuit board, the
schematics, all the software, just the whole thing.
{–‹ˆ SG”œšŠˆ•šG›Œ•‹G›–GšŒŒG –œSG{–”Gv‰Œ™ŒT
”SGh“ˆ•GwŒˆ™“”ˆ•SGy–ŽŒ™Gs••SGˆ•‹G›ŒG”Œ”–™ G
–Gi–‰Gt––ŽGˆšG–•ŒG‰ŽGˆ—— Gˆ”“ UGiˆŠ’G•G
›ŒG‹ˆ SG›–œŽSGžˆ›GžˆšG›ŒGŠ–”—Œ››–•G“’Œf
We were lucky that the Prophet-5 had over a
year with no competition because it took everybody
by surprise. Oberheim was the fastest to respond
with the OB-X, in 1979. Basically, after a year and a
half . . . everybody was either an Oberheim guy or
a Prophet guy. It wasn’t until the early ’80s when
the Jupiter-8 and Memorymoog came out that the
market got more crowded with polysynths. What’s
really cool now is, fast-forward to 2016 and people
have the same choice! They can buy a Prophet-6 or
an OB-6. It was surprising being at NAMM and seeing how many people just immediately gravitated
towards one or the other. It’s like it’s 1979!
€–œGžŒ™ŒG›ŒG—™•Š—ˆ“G‹ŒŒ“–—Œ™G–GtpkpUGiŒT
–™ŒG ›ˆ›SG ‰™ˆ•‹šG ˆ‹G —™–—™Œ›ˆ™ G •›Œ™ˆŠŒšG
‰œ›G ›Œ™G ŽŒˆ™G Š–œ“‹•˅›G ›ˆ“’G ›–G –›Œ™G ‰™ˆ•‹šUG
~ˆ›GžˆšG›ŒG›——•ŽG—–•›f
The synthesizer market was tiny in the late ’70s.
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No one was selling 50,000 of these things. It wasn’t
until the Yamaha DX7 came out that a company
shipped 100,000-plus synths. But the Prophet-5 was
the first synth with the microprocessor so when everybody started copying it, they used microprocessors. As soon as you have one in an instrument, you
realize it’s pretty easy for them to talk to each other
digitally. It was around 1981 that we all started realizing the interface needed to be common. It wasn’t like
any one person had a bright idea. I remember talking to Tom Oberheim and he had talked to [Roland
founder] Kakehashi about it. That was when I gave
a talk at the AES convention in New York presenting the USI—Universal Synthesizer Interface. I get
tagged as “the person who started MIDI” because I
just initiated all of that. I followed up three months
later at NAMM. I’m pretty sure it was Roland, Korg,
Yamaha, and Kawai who all said “Let’s do it.” That
was the start of what became MIDI.
{ŒG–™Ž•ˆ“G—™–”šŒG–Gˆ•ˆ“–ŽGš •›ŒššGžˆšG›–G
Š™Œˆ›ŒGˆ• Gš–œ•‹G‰ GŽŒ››•ŽGœ•‹Œ™G›šG––‹SGš–G
›–Gš—Œˆ’UGz›ˆ™›•ŽG•G›ŒG˅_WšSG›Œ™ŒGžˆšG›ŒG‹ŒˆG
›ˆ›G ‹Ž›ˆ“G žˆšG ‰Œ››Œ™UG ~Œ™ŒG ‹Ž›ˆ“G zŒ˜œŒ•›ˆ“G
š •›šG“’ŒG›ŒGw™–—Œ›T}zG—ˆ™›G–G›ˆ›G•ˆ™™ˆ›ŒfG
The Prophet-VS was kind of in between—hybrid
digital oscillators and analog filters with the whole
vector synthesis thing. It wasn’t an attempt to “be
more digital.” That was what we were doing with samplers like the Prophet 2000. [The VS] was more that a
couple of guys came up with the idea of this four-way
envelope-modulated vector synthesis idea, controlled
by a joystick. We all just said, “Hey, that sounds like
fun.” I’ve said this many times before, but to me, one of
the reasons the Prophet-5 was so successful is, it was
the first time people could actually have an emulative
instrument on which they could play brass and strings
and organ, some electric piano-like sounds, flutes . . .
Of course, we would’ve sold ten times more if it was
$1,000 instead of $5,000. One of the main reasons the
DX7 did so well is it was $2,000, it had 16 voices, it had
velocity, but it was a better emulative instrument. That
Rhodes sound was, like, 90 percent of it!
~ˆšG ›ˆ›G ›ŒG ‰ŒŽ•••ŽG –G ˆ•ˆ“–Ž˅šG “–•ŽG
š“œ”‰Œ™f
The real death blow was when the Korg M1
came out, which was by far the most popular keyboard ever made. It even outsold the DX7. Finally,
here was what keyboard players always wanted—
real piano, brass, strings, organs, basses, leads.
~ˆšG›Œ™ŒGˆG‰œš•ŒššGŠˆšŒG”ˆ‹ŒG›ˆ›Gš–”ŒT This is somewhat unfair and I’ll say why, but it
–•ŒGž–G–ž•šGš •›G‰™ˆ•‹GG”Ž›Gˆ“š–G‰œ G put synthesis innovation into a 20-year dark ages,
‰™ˆ•‹G€GG›ŒG›ž–GŠˆ•G›ˆ“’G›–GŒˆŠG–›Œ™fG
because ever since the M1 every company just
I don’t remember it being quite that market- kept building M1s. More voices, more and better
driven. Kakehashi was an engineer and a prod- sounds, more precision—just more, more, more.
uct guy, just like me. The same goes for Bob, Tom,
Roger—everything was driven by someone where, p•G š–”ŒG žˆ šSG ›Œ ˅™ŒG š›““G ‹–•ŽG ›UG z–G ž G
it was their company. I think that’s what’s gone žˆšG›ˆ›Gœ•ˆ™G›–Gšˆ f
Because it’s what 90 percent of keyboard playmissing as things have become more corporate. The
work was mostly done by Roland and Sequential. ers need to play gigs, which is different from players
We were the only non-Japanese company so we who are into synths for their own sake. What’s cool
wrote the spec and handled the English-language and different now is people are once again playing
side of things. Yamaha, Korg, and Kawai came on- synths as synths because they’ve already got their
Nords and Motifs and so forth to cover all the other
board, and I knew then that it was going to work.
sounds they need. So if you buy a synth now, it’s be€–œGˆ“š–GŠˆ”ŒGœ—Gž›G›ŒG•ˆ”ŒGˈtpkpˉfG
cause you actually want to play a synth. That’s why
I remember a meeting where Kakehashi visited I think this time it’s going to be different than last
Sequential in San Jose and Jim Mothersbaugh [of time. There’s not going to be something digital that
Roland] was with him. They wanted to talk about comes in and makes true synthesizers go away again.
the name. We all decided USI wasn’t good. So
they’d suggested Universal Musical Instrument In- mˆš›T–™žˆ™‹G ˆG ŒžG Œˆ™šUG hG “–›G –G —Œ–—“ŒG
terface, pronounced “you-me,” as in “we all connect Š™Œ‹›G zŒŒ™G z š›Œ”šG yŒˆ“› G ˆšG ›ŒG ͌™š›G š–›G
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š •›UG~ˆ›GžˆšG›ŒG”—Œ›œšG–™G –œ™GŽŒ››•ŽG
•›–Gš–›žˆ™Œf
Well, whenever you talk firsts, there’s always
somebody earlier. They were in a university, or
they built one and nobody knew about it, or they
sold 20 of them, whatever. But at Seer we did three
generations of soft synths. The first one was for Intel. Intel was just starting the idea of native signal
processing actually being able to do real stuff on a
computer, and Andy Grove even used it for demos
at Comdex. The second generation, we licensed to
Creative Labs to put in one of their sound cards—
this was mainly sample-based with General MIDI.
A million of those things shipped. But what we’ll
call the first real professional soft synth was Reality. It had sampling, it had subtractive, it had FM,
it had modeling—all of this in one soft synth.
So we called it the future of music synthesis
and to a degree, we were correct. But the first
time we showed it at NAMM, people would come
in and we’d have a keyboard connected to it and
they’d go, “What do you mean, software synth?”
“We’ve got this PC here. It’s running software that
actually is the synthesizer.” “I don’t understand.”
It was one of those cases where you’re too early to
the marketplace.
sophically, I prefer to build complete
instruments.
twlˁtœ“›—“ŒG w–“ —–•ŠG lŸT
—™Œšš–•ˁšG š–ž•ŽG œ—G •G ”–™ŒG
ˆ•‹G ”–™ŒG Š–•›™–““Œ™šG “’ŒG y–ŽŒ™˅šG
s••z›™œ”Œ•›SG›ŒGy–“GzŒˆ‰–ˆ™‹šSG
ˆ•‹G rŒ›G tŠt““Œ•˅šG š›œUG pšG ›šG
›ŒGœ›œ™ŒG–G—“ˆ •ŽG›ŒGš •›Œš¡T
Œ™SGˆGš–“œ›–•G•GšŒˆ™ŠG–GˆG—™–‰T
“Œ”SG–™Gš–”Œ›•ŽG•G‰Œ›žŒŒ•f
It’s something in between. Roger
just asked me very specifically about
MPE. We have customer wish lists for
all our products. MPE is something
like that. We’ve had a handful of people request it. I told Roger if it gets to
the point where a lot of people want
it, we’ll consider it. It’s like alternate
tunings. People have been bugging us
for years about that—usually the same
small group. We finally did implement
it—I think the Prophet 12 was first.
This gets back to our limited engineering time. Of
course, people have been interested in alternate
controllers for years—go back to the original Moog
versus Buchla debates in the ’60s!
Using technology developed for
its keyboard synths, Dave Smith
Instruments now makes a line of
Eurorack modules.
as-is, MIDI is good enough to do anything you need.
p˅ŒGšŒŒ•G–žG –œ™G‰––›Gˆ›GuhttG
‘œš›G”–‰‰Œ‹UGp˅ŒGšŒŒ•G›ŒGˆ‹œ“ˆT
›–•GžŒ•GYWT Œˆ™T–“‹šG•Gˆ•G•T
‹ŒG‰ˆ•‹G™ŒŠ–Ž•¡ŒG –œUGp˅ŒGšŒŒ•G
›šG ˆ——Œ•G ›–G {–”G ˆ•‹G y–ŽŒ™UG
p•G ›ŒG ͌™š›G Œ ‹ˆ G –G š •›ŒššSG
›G ‹‹•˅›G šŒŒ”G “’ŒG ›ŒG š •›G ‹ŒT
šŽ•Œ™G žˆšG ˆG —Œ™š–•ˆ“› ˁŒŸŠŒ—›G
—–šš‰“ G i–‰G t––ŽUG u–žSG –œG
Žœ šGˆ™ŒG›™Œˆ›Œ‹G“’ŒG™–Š’Gš›ˆ™šUGpšG
›ˆ›GˆG•ŒžGŒŒ“•Žf
A lot of it is about longevity and history. Bob started ten years before we
did, and this is going to sound kind of
silly but his name was simple to pronounce—even though most people mispronounced
it! It became the Kleenex of synths. People looked at
any synth and went, “Is that a Moog?” When I came
out with the Prophet-5, I didn’t have that history, and
~ˆ›Gˆ™ŒG›ŒG”ˆ•GŠˆ““Œ•ŽŒšG•G‹ŒšŽ••ŽGˆG
I was actually the only one that didn’t use my name.
Ž––‹Gˆ•ˆ“–ŽG—–“ š •›Gˆ›GˆG™Œˆš–•ˆ‰“ŒG—™ŠŒf {ŒGˈŒˆš›GŠ–ˆš›ˉGŒ™šœšGˈžŒš›GŠ–ˆš›ˉGšŠ––“šG Moog, ARP, Linn, Oberheim—pretty much everybody
Well, the Prophet-6 has over 100 control voltag- –Gš •›G‹ŒšŽ•f
else did. So of course nobody knew who I was, even
es flying around, so we have high-speed processors
Right. [East coast] has a keyboard because the second time. “Dave Smith Instruments, what’s
generating control voltages at audio rates. We were that’s what most people want to play. [West coast] that? The Prophet guy? Oh, cool.” Just like everybody
able to do it at a reasonable price point. It’s a tricky didn’t because synthesizers should have a control- loves old synths, they like the old synth designers, too!
design. We know all of our competitors probably ler that connects to their unique sound possibiliIt’s funny you compare us to rock stars, bebought one last summer and opened it up. It actual- ties. Well, we know which one won the Darwinism cause there’s a big parallel between bands and
ly started with the Poly Evolver—the idea of having battle. The main thing, though, is chicken-or-egg; synth designers. How many bands did something
a high-speed processor per voice to do everything getting enough people willing to spend the hours 20 or 30 years ago that was really cool and ever
efficiently, and that’s of course what’s in the Korg to develop the muscle memory to play your alter- since, they’ve been trying to record new albums?
Minilogue. It has four voices, each one with a fast nate controller, and they’re not going to do that Go to a show and they want to play the new stuff
processor controlling it. This is to be expected once unless they’re pretty much guaranteed that the but the audience only wants to hear the old stuff.
people figure out how to do things.
thing is going to be around. I used to point to the I get that even now. People come up to me at the
Chapman Stick as an example. Here is this cool booth and only want to talk about the Prophet-5,
~Œ™ŒG‹–G –œG›•’G›ŒGž–“ŒGlœ™–™ˆŠ’GŠ™ˆ¡ŒG bass-guitar hybrid thing that Tony Levin played, even as they’re surrounded by new instruments.
šGŽ–•ŽG›–GŒ•‹Gœ—f
but aside from a small group of enthusiasts it’s not It’s having to prove later in life that you can still
I refuse to predict, but I think it’s awesome. really in the musical instrument repertoire now.
be relevant, just like somebody in a band. Some
The fact that people are getting into synthesizers,
bands like Radiohead or U2 do this successfully,
getting hooked on buying modules, and hopefully ~ˆ›G‹–G –œG›•’G–G›ŒG—™–š—ŒŠ›šG–™Gˆ“›Œ™T but many still tour based on what they did 20 or
actually using the modules they buy to make cool •ˆ›ŒGŠ–•›™–““Œ™šG•GŽŒ•Œ™ˆ“fG
more years ago.
Well, the Seaboard is better because it’s keynew sounds. Personally, I like having a “save” butSo I think why we get treated like that now
ton in whatever instrument I’m working with. I’d board-based. It’s kind of like black-and-white is because if we haven’t so much reinvented ourput a Prophet 12 or Pro 2 up against most modular keyboard on steroids. Don’t get me wrong—I re- selves, we’ve been able to reproduce what we did
systems. Obviously it doesn’t give you the advan- ally want to see things like the Seaboard and the before with instruments that people actually like
tage of adding some awesome wacko little mod- LinnStrument take off. One of the first accessories and use and that have modern convenience and
ule somebody built in their basement. I’d like to I ever built for my Minimoog was a light-based stability. It’s a good combination, and we also have
see more real music made with them, but that’s controller, in fact. It’s similar to what I’ve always the name recognition that comes from history,
difficult because any sound you get, you have to said about the idea of MIDI 2.0: If you could get since the mindset in our industry is very “vintage.”
use it right then because you won’t get it again! Yamaha, Korg, Roland, and maybe Nord to do it, It shouldn’t be, but I’ll take it! Q
Of course, modulars look great. Having all those game over. Everybody else would have to sign on,
wires gives you that synth cred! But just philo- just like the first time around. But I also think that Read more of our interview with Dave Smith at keyboardmag.com.
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by Dominic Milano
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This interview was excerpted from the June 1979 issue of Contemporary Keyboard. Visit keyboardmag.com to read the full Interview.
z
he’s one of the top studio synthesists in
New York, and while you’ve more than
likely never heard her name before, it
would have been hard for you to have
o–žG ‹‹G –œG ŽŒ›G ™–”G ž–™’•ŽG –™G iœŠ“ˆG ›–G
—“ˆ •ŽGšŒšš–•šfG
avoided hearing her work. Take this, for example:
I had hoped that from working for Buchla I
Remember that Coca-Cola commercial where
would learn how to build a synthesizer, because I
had to have one. The Mills College situation was
someone pops open a bottle of Coke and pours it
impossible, but there weren’t many synthesizers
into a glass? Guess what. That wasn’t the sound of
available at the time. There was one at the graduate school, but it wasn’t allowed to be touched. It
a bottle of Coke being opened. It wasn’t the sound
was still in boxes. They didn’t know how to set it
of Coke being poured out, either. It was the sound
up. There was a lot of egotism centered around
of a Buchla synthesizer being manipulated by Suelectronic music at that time. People had a lot of
insecurities about not knowing what they were
zanne Ciani to sound like Coke.
~ˆ›G’•‹G–Gž–™’G‹‹G –œG doing so they hid behind egotism.
It’s typical for Suzanne to do 50 or so sessions
‹–G–™GiœŠ“ˆfG
Anyway, I announced—that’s usually the way I
I
started
out
soldering
and
do
things, I make a decision and then that’s it—that
a week, so you can imagine just how many comI was fired after the first day. I was going to get a synthesizer. Everybody thought
mercials she’s done. She can’t even begin to reI’ve always held that against that was very piggish of me. Here I was making $3
him, but I refused to leave. I an hour and within a year I had an $8,500 Buchla.
member all of the people she’s worked for, but off
called him a chauvinist, which That was the beginning. But it did necessitate findthe top of her head, she recalls having done things
he was. It was quite a situa- ing a commercial outlet to pay for my habit. So that
for Lincoln/Mercury, American Express, NBC,
tion he had going. We were was when I started doing commercials.
all lined up at a bench. He alABC, General Electric, Atari, General Motors,
ways liked to surround him- ~ˆšG›Gˆ™‹G›–G‰™Œˆ’G•fG
Time Magazine, and Sperry/Rand, not to mention
Very, very hard. It really takes years and a lot of
self with people. I don’t know
persistence.
It’s a very closed business. It takes a long
how
you’d
characterize
them,
Meco’s disco version of the theme from Star Wars.
but it wasn’t strictly business. time to build up your credibility and reputation.
Suzanne’s massive Buchla synthesizer sports
The people who worked there
no keyboard at all. It was designed by Don Buchla,
were all his friends. They were o–žG‹‹G –œG‹–G›fG
The first thing I did was to try to become a
philosophers, poets, dancers,
who feels that keyboards have no business being
and Sanskrit specialists! They recording engineer. I looked in the yellow pages
interfaced with synthesizers.
all learned how to solder, and and went to every recording studio in the San
we would sit at the bench. But Francisco Bay Area. There was no receptivity at
no one was allowed to talk. I all for women engineers. I had no doubt that I
~Œ•G‹‹G›ŒGš •›Œš¡Œ™GŠ–”ŒG•›–G›ŒG—Š›œ™ŒfG don’t even know if I should be saying all of this...
could do it, but it’s a typical problem for women. I
After college, I went off to graduate school in
think they fester in the wings too long and become
California. I went to U.C. Berkeley. Of course, I was p›˅šG –’ˆ SG žŒ˅ŒG Œˆ™‹G ›ˆ›G iœŠ“ˆG ‹–Œš•˅›G overqualified. Anyway, the recording studio situseeking the antidote for the East Coast and all of their “’ŒG j–•›Œ”—–™ˆ™ G rŒ ‰–ˆ™‹G ‰ŒŠˆœšŒG ›˅šG ation didn’t work. I ended up getting my first job
academic things. While I was there I found that grad ’Œ ‰–ˆ™‹TG–™Œ•›Œ‹G ˆ•‹G ŒG ‹–Œš•˅›G ›•’G ›ŒG from a friend of a friend. I was in Chicago visiting
school is even more irrelevant than I had ever hoped! š •›Œš¡Œ™Gš–œ“‹GˆŒGˆG’Œ ‰–ˆ™‹G–•G›UG
and a film producer there needed some music for
I know. There’s a certain philosophy which Don- Macy’s commercials for Christmas. They were to
I continued my studies right through in a kind of
automatic way, but I discovered an electronic music ald has and which I adopted just by being in that situ- be all-electronic, and I took the scripts back with
center—it was one of the first ones in the country—out ation. It is very anti-keyboard. Although I had been a me and hid in the Mills College studio. Technically
at Mills College. You could rent studio time for $5 an pianist, I found that when I seriously got involved in you aren’t allowed to do commercial music there.
hour, which was very reasonable. At first there were the Buchla synthesizer it did not interest me whatso- Of course, nobody at Mills even knew what coma few really serious people who did as they pleased, ever to play keyboard in connection with the synthe- mercial music was. So, I did these 22 Macy’s combut eventually the situation changed. In order to keep sizer, because there seemed to be more to it than just mercials and they came out just perfectly. I made a
funding for the program they had to get grants, and keyboard. The keyboard is basically a one-on-one lot of money doing that. I developed a taste for it,
the grants necessitated developing academic pro- device—one action produces one response. You’re too. From then on, I had to go around San Francisnot really limited to that in the synthesizer. When co looking for work. There’s not a lot of commergrams. With that went the creativity.
All the Mills students used to take the class to fulfill you get into the habit of controlling any number of cial production there, and there never has been. It
their requirements. They weren’t that serious. They events, the keyboard seems too one-dimensional.
was a small market so it was a good place to start.
had a large Moog there and an
incredible array of junk from
surplus. You could spend all the
time you wanted soldering and
reorganizing old junk into new
junk. So, I went to work for Don
Buchla, who was the local manufacturer of synthesizers. He
also happened to be one of the
most sophisticated. So, I was in
the right place at the right time.
JA NUA RY
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~Œ™ŒG –œG–•“ G‹–•ŽGšŠ–™•ŽGž–™’SG–™G‹‹G –œG
—Œ™–™”G–•GŒ“ŒŠ›™–•ŠšG›––fG
I did both from the beginning. Because I have a
background in scoring and arranging and because I
happened to be very specialized in electronics I never
wanted to get cubbyholed as an electronics person. I
thought that was too limiting. It was limiting at the
time, because people were just beginning to find out
what a Moog synthesizer was. It was very frustrating.
You couldn’t take out an instrument without having to
answer 1,001 questions. So, I was involved in producing commercials and scoring films and I did some of
my own projects. I had a little studio where I could set
up my synthesizer and do my own work.
is what they’re doing with spatial modulation, but
you can’t move anything except what you generate
digitally. That’s the thing I’m involved in—this quad
thing. I’m really angry that quad is dead on the consumer level. I know that quad will be the biggest
thing eventually. I know it: It died because there was
never any decent product. Nobody put money into
developing products, because they were all hung up
about what format it was going to be in and nobody
could decide. I don’t think people understood it. Not
many people even know what spatial modulation is
or how great it is until they’ve experienced it.
~ŒG ˆŒG ›–G ˆš’G –œG ˆ‰–œ›G ›ˆ›G j–ŠˆTj–“ˆG
Š–””Œ™Šˆ“UG
~ˆ›G’•‹šG–G›•ŽšG‹–G –œGˆŒG›–G‹Œˆ“Gž›G
Yes. I’m the queen of soft drinks now! I’ve done
•G›Œ™”šG–GšŠ–™•ŽfG~ˆ›G’•‹šG–G›•ŽšG‹–G sounds for Fanta and Sprite…
—Œ–—“ŒGˆ•‹G –œG›–G™Œˆ‹fG
Now that I have the opportunity, I would say that z •›Œš¡•ŽG›•ŽšG›ˆ›Gˆ™ŒG—–œ™•ŽG–œ›G”œš›G
my main complaint used to be that there was a lack ŽŒG –œG ˆG •ŠŒG –œ›“Œ›G –™G š—ˆ›ˆ“G ”–‹œ“ˆT
of understanding of what the synthesizer could do. ›–•G›•ŽšSGŒŒ•GžŒ•G›G–•“ GŠ–”ŒšG–œ›G–GˆG
Now my main complaint is that producers do not ”–•–Gš—Œˆ’Œ™UG
Yeah. At first, I had all kinds of ideas for that. I tried
leave room for the synthesizer. They continue to
treat it as an after-the-fact overdubbed instrument. to make the bubbles sing. I was going to play the jingle
I worked with a producer just recently and it’s a per- in the bubbles. I had all the harmonics tuned to play
fect example of that kind of thinking. He came to me a melody, but it didn’t work out. Again, I was given a
and said, “I don’t want you to do the typical dumb hole to fill and the thing that read quickest and worked
synthesizer lines. We know what you can do and we the best was the single line up to infinity. It’s a perfect
want you to do it.” So I thought, ‘’Terrific.” I patched pour. It’s really very easy. The harmonics are the hara few things and he said, “Great! Let’s do that.” Then monics of a sub-audio fundamental. You sweep up the
he puts the track on that I’m supposed to do this harmonics, and then the noise part of course is FMing
great stuff to and there’s no room. You can’t come in the filter. That’s how you get that fuzzy sound.
when they’ve done strings, horns, vocals, and bass
lines that move too much. It’s so busy that you can’t jˆ•G –œGŒ•š–•GˆG‹™Œˆ”G”ˆŠ•ŒG›ˆ›Gž–œ“‹G
Œ“”•ˆ›ŒG ˆ•ŽG ›–G ‰™•ŽG ˆ““G ›–šŒG ‹Œ™Œ•›G
do anything but the typical synthesizer line!
I would say that if you’re a producer, you’re ’Œ ‰–ˆ™‹šfG
Well, my studio dream machine of course is the
better off starting from the very beginning with
the person that’s going to do your electronics for digital Mellotron. It would obviate the need for
you. It’s an opportunity at least to get something anything else, because you would have access to
that works. Because what happens if you want the all the parameters of any sound, and the ability to
electronics to be doing a sequencer-type thing? manipulate them in any way you wanted to.
If the music is laid down beforehand, you can’t
get the sequencer to follow the musicians—only iœ›G‹–Œš•˅›G›ˆ›G”Œˆ•G –œGž–œ“‹G“›Œ™ˆ““ GˆŒG
the musicians can follow the sequencer. Ideally it ›–G™ŒŠ–™‹GŒŒ™ Gš–œ•‹G•GŒŸš›Œ•ŠŒG‹Ž›ˆ““ fG
Yes, and you could decide what it is you want
should all be integrated from the beginning.
to manipulate and feed immediately. You want to
~ˆ›G‹–G –œG›•’G–Gš›™ˆŽ›G‹Ž›ˆ“Gš •›ŒššfG play a bass line that sounds like a basketball, you
Digitally generated sounds just haven’t made it just feed it in. The machine would interpolate the
yet in terms of sound. They can make it eventually, sound up and down. There are obvious problems
but in digital things you’re required to describe ev- in doing this. An Eventide Harmonizer can take
erything you want to hear, unless you have short cuts things up and down a little bit now, but
like FM [frequency modulation]. FM is perfect be- lots of changes occur in the sounds.
cause it’s easy and it gives you nice rich waveforms,
but it’s still not the answer. I studied computer music p›GšŒŒ”šG“’ŒG –œGŠ–œ“‹G‹–Gžˆ›G –œG
at Stanford with John Chowning. It was really terrif- žˆ•›G›–G‹–Gž›G –œ™G‹Ž›ˆ“GtŒ““–T
ic. The computer world is another world altogether. ›™–•Gž›G›ˆ—ŒG“––—šGˆ•‹GˆG–Š–‹Œ™UG
It allows you to look at things that you could never pšG›Œ™ŒGˆ• ›•ŽG›ˆ›GšGˆ““G›ˆ›G‹T
Œ™Œ•›Gˆ‰–œ›G‹–•ŽG›Gž›G –œ™G‹ŽT
get your hands on in an analog situation.
One of the things that’s really great at Stanford ›ˆ“GtŒ““–›™–•fG
Z]
JAN UA R Y
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When I first got involved with all this stuff,
people didn’t realize that sound wasn’t important
to me. It was the way that I could move it that interested me. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why
I hated keyboards. Eventually timbre got more interesting because there were more sophisticated
control devices. If you talk about a digital Mellotron and recording sounds, yes, having a library of
sounds is a part of it. But the trick is knowing what
to do with them. The interface between you and the
sound is important to me. The technique of playing
is no simple thing. If you’re playing a Lyricon you
know you have to use a different technique in order
to be expressive. You develop new patterns to get
the same things on different instruments.
My real dream machine is to have a theater. It’s
awful to talk about technology because it sounds
so much like technology, but it’s not. We have this
fixation that technology is something concrete. It’s
a thing unto itself. You don’t discuss fiber content
when you’re buying a new dress. You talk about
the way things feel. What’s really important to me
is controlling sound in space. I will never give up
saying that. Nobody can ever tell me that quad is
dead. Sound is changing now. We’re finally getting
away from a couple of mechanical axioms. When
it’s really free it’ll be like a substance you could
reach out and touch. That’s the kind of sound I
want in my theater. Quad is a nice thing for that.
It lets you bounce sound here and there. The thing
that people thought it would do was create “concert hall realism.” We all know that’s bullshit. Who
needs concert hall reality? It doesn’t relate to anything we’re doing. Even smart people in the industry think that that’s what quad was about. So right
now, it’s not the time for my theater.
k–ŒšG ›ŒG ‹Œ–G ‹šŠG •›Œ™Œš›G –œG ž›G ™ŒŽˆ™‹G
›–G œš•ŽG ›G ›–G Š™Œˆ›ŒG ˜œˆ‹G ›•ŽšG ˆ“–•ŽG ž›G
‹Œ–GŒŒŠ›šfG
I think only in a consumer market. My dream
thing has to do with a performance space and theater. I might mention that disco interests me in
that respect. I think that disco is the grass roots
growth of the theatre of the future.
iŒŠˆœšŒG ›G ŽŒ›šG —Œ–—“ŒG •–“Œ‹G •G žˆ›˅šG
ˆ——Œ••ŽfG
Yes. The emphasis is on the environment and
the experience. You know, the senses, the emotion,
the sound, the volume, the visuals. It’s
a very intense theater and the people
are the performers. The sound comes
at you from all different directions.
The visuals are coordinated with the
sound. Some of it’s tasteful and some
of it isn’t, but basically, I think that’s
where it’s going to grow out of. Discos
are a very convenient coincidence. Q
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POWER
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GUIDE
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BY JERRY KOVARSKY
D erek Sherinian has been at the forefront of the aggressive keyboard playing pack for almost thirty years, from his
first gig with Alice Cooper through his time with Dream Theater and Black Country Communion, on more than seven
solo albums, and with his latest band Sons Of Apollo. Greatly influenced by guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Randy
Rhoads, and Allan Holdsworth, Derek has a distinctive and recognizable distorted tone and soloing approach with his
lead-synth playing.
THIS SOUND IS ALIVE
Derek developed his signature lead sound
during his tenure with Dream Theater, after
acquiring a Korg Trinity. Working with Korg’s
Ex. 1. Derek’s solo on
“Alive” is chock full of
tasty guitaristic techniques and wonderful
note choices.
q=88
sonic maestro Jack Hotop, he crafted a sound
based on a Program called “Monster Lead”
that beefed up the tone through the choice of
waveforms, distortion and EQ, giving Derek
control over the wah by pulling the joystick
toward him, and faded-in feedback harmonics
using the ribbon.
You can hear it on the new Sons of Apollo
B‹
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≈
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ribbon
sweep
1
2:49
B‹ K
r Kr Kr Kr K K K5 Kr Kr Kr Kr K K Kr Kr K 6 K
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œ œ œ
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2
E note is held, mono mode creates alternation
B‹
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. . ÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ ÍÍÍÍ
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#
? ## œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œfijù nœ û œ œ œ œ œ
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œ
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3
4
5
ÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ
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œ
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œ
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? ### Œ
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œ
œ
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œ œ
B‹
### œR ≈gli™ss. œ œ œ œù œ œ œ œ œ œ j
œ
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& Ô
JS wah
JS wah
JS wah
3
6
B‹
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7
trill using positive pitch bend
7
œn œ œ œ œ ™œ œ œ œ ®˙ œ ® œ ® œ ® œ ® œ ® œR ® œ 7® œ ® œ œ ® œ ® œ ®
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q=55
Ex. 2. “God of the Sun”
features a majestic, Dave
Gilmour-inspired synth solo
with soaring melodies and
virtuosic runs that say a lot in
a short amount of time.
1
6:04
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rapid octave trills
D
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release, Psychotic Symphony,
with Sherinian’s solo on the tune
“Alive” (see Ex. 1) illustrating his
mature, guitaristic approach. Soloing over a B minor riff, Derek
8
enters with a low A that bends up
D
into a B. Towards the end of the
bend, he uses the ribbon to add a
hint of the feedback effect. In bar
10
2 he holds down an E while trillD
ing between an A and then a G:
The mono-mode behavior returns
to the held E between the repeated upper notes. (This is a classic
11
guitar move reminiscent of Jan
Hammer.)
Note how he superimposes the
E major tonality over the band’s
12
B minor groove. In bar 3 he plays
a bluesy riff that brings it back to
the B minor harmonic territory,
and in bar 4 he opens the wah/
sync sweep on the target notes.
Bar 5 is a wonderful ascending line that uses very
colorful note choices, including the sixth. Played
on its own, it sounds like D Lydian, and the note
choices and wider intervals remind me a bit of Allan Holdsworth.
The next few bars are a tour-du-force of runs
still hewing to that colorful sound, emphasizing
the D triad plus the sharp-fifth tone. He doesn’t
seem to be thinking B minor so much as superimposing these colorful sounds over the riff center.
Bar 7 offers another mono-mode trill, this time
holding one tone while moving the other constantly around. The final descending flurry again
seems outline chords other than B minor; perhaps
an A major followed by an E major and so on. The
b
&b
9
because of 1/2 step bend, the played B's sound as C
3
3
œ œ œ#œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
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negative pitch bend modulation
œ
6
6
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6
6
6
lesson here is how much more interesting the solo
is versus simply running a B minor mode or the B
blues scale. He even ends on the fifth of the chord
rather than the root, retaining our interest.
Watch the video of Derek playing this solo at
keyboardmag.com.
ANOTHER FINE LEAD
The opening lines of his solo on “God of the Sun”
outline the chords nicely. The trill at the end of bar
4 moves into rapidly shaken octaves in bar 5, and he
then takes off on a virtuosic run with a lot of the flat
ninth in it (the E). Bar 7 has a melodic three-note motif that he answers down the octave, and then repeats
over the next chord.
In Bar 8, Derek bends up a note and then, while holding it, hammers on some upper notes as a guitar player
would. Because the held note is bent, he compensates
and plays a half step lower on the keyboard to get the
right pitch. A soaring run up into the next bar continues his melodic approach, and then in bar 10 he plays
a beautiful phrase using the note below, and then
above the final target tone, and continues to build an
ascending line using that same construct, ending on a
rapid arpeggiated figure (with some slight variations)
to fade out the solo.
Derek feels it’s some of his best playing to date,
and I wholeheartedly agree. See the online video
where Derek, again, shows how he executes the
solo, with his usual slight variations. Q
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BY CHRIS CARROLL
I f someone came up to me and said, “You only have only five steps to make
Donald Fagen’s Rhodes ready for his recording session tonight,” my initial reaction would be, “That’s hard,” because so many variables determine how a
piano sounds and plays. But for the sake of this article, and to inspire players
to reach for improvements they can make now, here are five steps to help
maximize the playability of your Rhodes.
1. KEY BED SETUP
I cannot stress the importance of this first and
most important aspect. Before addressing other
procedures, a Rhodes key bed must be set to the
proper height, key dip must be verified to your
liking (usually 3/8" ± 1/16"), and keys must be
leveled and squared to the key slip of the case.
The feel and performance of the key bed has a
direct correlation to how your piano feels and
responds. It also forms the foundation to how
all other setup procedures are balanced and
supported, and how they operate. You will set
your key height; level all keys, square to the key
slip of case, and check key dip. Once the key
bed has been set, you can determine whether
you need an action modification known as the
“Miracle Mod” for any piano built before 1978.
It is at this point when you would install that
modification to the piano if needed. 2. ESCAPEMENT AND STRIKE
LINE ADJUSTMENT
Most Rhodes pianos can be improved by adjusting two specs, the escapement and the
strike line. The escapement is the relationship
or “blow distance” between the hammer tip
and tine. By depressing a key into its farthest
point without going into “after touch,” you find
the point where you will measure the escapement gap. Proper escapement will allow your
piano to respond to a softer touch more evenly
across the piano, as well as offer you the optimal hammer “blow” to the tine. There are different ways to achieve escapement: by adding
or removing shims to the harp supports (this
lowers or raises the harp on each side), by adjusting the rear tone bar screw closest to the
keys to a standard height of 3/8", and by utilizing graduated hammer tips. Anytime escapement is changed, hammer tips are changed,
tines are replaced, or if you just are not quite
sure you are hitting the “sweet spot,” it is likely
that a strike line change is needed. This is done
by removing the screws on each side of the
harp so that you can adjust the harp back and
forth while striking notes such as Cs and Fs up
and down the keyboard, all the while listening
for that sweet “crack” of the tines.
Chris Carroll is the founder and president of the Vintage
Vibe Electric Piano Company, an instrument retail, restoration, and repair shop. Vintage Vibe is also the maker
of the Vintage Vibe Electric Piano and Vibanet. Find out
more about Carroll, and Vintage Vibe’s products and
services at vintagevibe.com.
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3. DAMPER ADJUSTMENTS
Another important element responsible for
the way your Rhodes piano feels and responds
are the dampers. Weak and incorrectly adjusted dampers are responsible for many issues—
from notes double-striking to after ring and
muting. The subtleties of damper adjustments
are paramount to setting up a proper Rhodes.
4. TINE REPLACEMENTS
At Vintage Vibe we replace a lot of tines! This
makes a huge difference in producing an even
scale across the Rhodes piano. Replacing questionable tines also makes voicing (our next
step) that much easier. All three sections of the
Rhodes have trouble spots; in the lower section they often oscillate poorly causing pitch
shift or drift. This is inherent in some longer
tines. A remedy is utilizing a heavy spring on
the back tone bar spring, and if that does not
work, replacement is necessary. In the mid
section they can lack clarity and the proper
ability to vibrate correctly causing a dull tone.
Most always replacement is necessary. In the
upper treble section, the shortness allows for
a lack of sustain. To remedy this, tone bar clips
are added to aid in sustain.
5. VOICING
While tuning is a given for any instrument,
voicing is where the magic happens. Voicing is
where you take your time and articulate each
and every note over and over until the desired
tone is achieved. Use a Phillips head screwdriver
to adjust the front tone bar screw, and you can
effectively change the tonality of any given tine
adding or removing harmonic and fundamental.
A ¼-inch nut driver is used to adjust the pickup
volume; by loosening the pickup screw and sliding the bracket toward or away from the tine, you
effectively change volume. Together these two
adjustments form the bulk of basic voicing. Q
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BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
POWER
USERS
GUIDE
N early every modern analog monosynth includes a jack on the back panel
called “Ext In” and whenever the topic comes up in my workshops and classes, students often ask, “What’s it for?”
As it turns out, the External Input is arguably one of the most powerful features on an
analog synth, because it allows you to route
any audio signal into the synth’s filter and amplifier engines and use it in place of (or in addition to) the onboard oscillators. This month,
we’ll take a look at two useful techniques for
making the most of this often overlooked feature.
Method 1: Many keyboardists think the
ability to mix and match filters and oscillators
is only available in modular rigs, but thanks
to the external input, that’s definitely not the
case—especially if you have your DAW controlling your hardware synths via MIDI. If
so, combining two synths in your sequencing
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software is easy, just copy the same sequence
to two different tracks— each routed to a different synth—with one of those synths including an external input for its synthesis engine.
For example, the Arturia MiniBrute includes an external input that has its own volume fader on the synth’s mixer. As a result, you
can use any other synth in your rig as the oscillator bank. Just set the source synth’s filter
cutoff to max and use a simple gated amplifier
envelope (with extended release time, if appropriate). Then plug the output of that synth into
the external input of your “processing” synth
(in this case, the MiniBrute) and you’re in
business. From there, send the same sequence
to both synths, tweak the filter, its envelope,
and the amp envelope
of the MiniBrute, and
voila, you’ve got a hybrid synth without
the fuss of a modular rig. (Note that
this will also work
in a live context by
sending MIDI data from your controller, when
set to the same channel of your paired synths.)
Method 2: The external input is also a great
way to warm up your softsynths. Both Ableton
Live and Apple Logic include software effects
modules that can route signals from a free output on your audio interface to your external
processing synth, then return the audio from
the synth’s output to a second free input on the
interface. Logic’s module is called I/O (you’ll
find it in the Utilities effect menu) whereas
Ableton’s is called External Audio Effect. In either case, just place one of these devices after
your softsynth, with its oscillators, filter, and
amp envelope set up as described above, and
route the same MIDI data to both the softsynth and processing synth. If you’ve followed
the steps correctly, you’ll now have real analog
filters and VCAs processing the tone generators of your softsynth, which can really warm
up the sound of digital sources.
In this month’s web-audio clips, I included
examples of the Arturia MiniBrute filtering a
Moog Little Phatty, then the Moog filters applied to the Arturia oscillators,
and finally Ableton’s Operator
being filtered by the Moog. All
three have distinctly different
sounds, each with its own character. So check the back panels
of your hardware synths and you
may well be ready to roll with
this handy trick. Q
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BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
R eleased in 1981, Kraftwerk’s Computer World was astonishingly ahead of
its time. So much so, that Rolling Stone added it to their Top 10 EDM albums of
all time. Not bad for a record that’s 35 years old!
The album includes several how’d-they-dothat sounds, some of which were sourced from
digital toys, notably Texas Instruments’ Speak
& Spell. Others were innovative approaches
to analog gear that blurred the line between
melody and sound design. This month, we’ll
examine two of those sounds using a synth
that routinely appeared on the band’s equipment lists—the ARP Odyssey—using the recent
Korg reissue.
THE THWIP
Appearing on several tracks (“Numbers” and
“Computer World 2,” specifically) is a percussive effect that sounds like a laser zap, affectionately known as the “thwip.”
Step 2: From there, it’s
just a matter of modulating
the cutoff and VCA using fast
ADSR settings—0 for the attack, sustain and release, and
a miniscule amount of decay
(around 2 to 5%). The result
should be an extremely
short, chunky zap.
Step 3: For that final
Kraftwerk polish, thin out
the sound by raising the
highpass cutoff to around
80%, then add a touch of
tempo-synced stereo delay.
THE RISE
Another unforgettable sound from Computer
World is the rising synth that pervades “Home
Computer.” Over the years, I’ve seen descriptions of this sound that suggest an arpeggiator
is the source. Nothing could be further from
the truth. The secret sauce for this patch is a
free-running, upward sawtooth LFO, which
the Odyssey readily offers.
Step 1: The key to the sound is a self-oscillating lowpass filter. Start by turning the volumes
of both oscillators to zero in the filter mixer,
then set the filter cutoff to zero and resonance
to maximum. On the Korg reissue, there are
three filter circuits to choose from. For this recreation, I used Type 1, but if you want an even
thinner sound, Type 3 is a good choice.
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Step 2: To apply this modulation, you’ll need
to use the S/H
Mixer, selecting
VCO-1 sawtooth
as the input and
raising the value to maximum. Additionally, you’ll want to
switch the S/H trigger to keyboard, so that
each key event passes the sawtooth through
wherever it is in its cycle.
Step 1: Start by setting VCO-1
to LF (low-frequency) mode for
use as the LFO. Because the Odyssey’s sawtooth waves are specifically upward ramps, this is
perfect. Dial down the frequency
to about 25% (about 0.5 Hz).
Step 3: The rising tone itself is a sine wave,
which the Odyssey can produce with its selfoscillating filter. Here, I’ll select Type 2, as
Type 1’s gain structure gives the resonance
too much saturation. Raise the resonance to
maximum and the cutoff to 50%. The ADSR
envelope modulates only the VCA, so leave
the filter envelope amount at zero. Next, set
the attack, sustain and release to zero, with
the decay around 10%. Applying a 16th-note
sequence to this sound should now result in a
repeating sine wave at a single pitch.
Step 4: To add the rise, switch the filter
modulation source to S/H Mixer and increase its
level to about 60% and fine tune from there. As
a final tweak, add a touch of delay and reverb. Q
SPITFIRE AUDIO
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DYNAMIC SHIMMER
A more subtle effect is created by using velocity to add sparkle and shimmer to emphasized
notes. This can be accomplished using oscillawŒ™–™”ˆ•ŠŒGj–•›™–“G–™GyŒˆš–•˅šG{–™
tor 3, as it has its own volume control in Thor’s
oscillator mixer, making it easy to apply in the
matrix. For this technique, start with a basic
BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
one- or two-oscillator patch, either with a
touch of detuning or with the second oscillaT he velocity parameter is something we take for granted and rarely modify tor an octave lower than the first.
when programming patches. This month, we will have velocity control differStep 1. Once you have your basic patch, add
ent parameters than the typically used filter cutoff and amp modulation. The
oscillator 3 to the mix, routing it into Filter 2
goal is to develop expressive patches that can be tailored to your playing and (with no filter selected, so the signal is unproadd a greater amount of nuance to your music..
cessed) and making sure Filter 2 is routed diTo demonstrate these techniques, I will use
one of the world’s most ubiquitous software
instruments—Propellerhead Thor. Thanks to
its availability within Reason and as an affordable, standalone iPad app, Thor is an ideal softsynth for trying out performance options.
DRIVE, SHE SAID
Controlling the overall volume of a patch can
be accomplished by applying velocity to the
amplifier in Thor’s gain module. But for those
looking for a more aggressive sound, try routing velocity to the drive parameter on one of
its four filter options. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. In each filter, there is a drive slider
that controls the input gain. High values add a bit
of overdrive, which can sound fantastic on percussive sounds. Start by experimenting with the
drive setting to get a feel for its effect, then set it
to the lowest value you want when playing softly.
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Step 2. In the modulation matrix, select Velocity as your modulation source. You will find
it located in the MIDI Key options of the matrix Source menu.
Step 3. Next, select the Drive option (on
the appropriate filter) from the matrix’s Destination menu. Set its value to maximum (100)
and test it on a few different kinds of riffs.
From there, lower the value until you’ve got a
good match for your playing style.
rectly to the Amp section. Then tune Osc 3 to a
very high octave, like 7 or 8.
Step 2. Set the
Mixer level for Osc
3 to zero to make it
silent.
Step 3. In the
mod matrix, select velocity as the source, then
route it to Osc 3’s Mixer level. Set the amount
to maximum (100) to hear it in action, then
tailor the amount to your playing style in the
context of your patch. Q
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Step 4. To create a wavetable that morphs
from sine to sawtooth, click on the Morph pulldown window and select Morph - Spectral. This
will interpolate between the sine and sawtooth
waveforms, allowing you to transition smoothly
between the two, just like on the CZ-101.
BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
POWER
USERS
GUIDE
T his article explores wavetable design using Xfer Records Serum’s sophisticated editing tools. To begin, we’ll emulate the character of the classic Casio CZ-101 and its unique approach to waveshaping.
Back in 1986, the CZ-101 became a huge hit
among keyboardists, thanks to its combination of
affordable digital synthesis and multitimbral operation. Priced around $500, its FM-like method
for waveshaping, called Phase Distortion, allowed users to smoothly morph from a sine wave
to one of eight selectable waveforms, including
classics like sawtooth, square, and pulse.
Xfer Serum’s wavetable design tools make light
work of this task. So to get you started on creating
your own wavetables, we’ll go over the essentials
of creating a sine-to-sawtooth morph in Serum.
Step 2. The sawtooth wave appears in the
first index. Clicking on the second index will
copy the original sawtooth to that position.
Step 5. Returning to the front panel of Serum, the WT Pos (wavetable position) knob
adjusts the morph and allows you to modulate
the waveform with envelopes and LFOs.
Step 3. Reselect the first
sawtooth index
(3a), then, in the
harmonic editor
at the top of the
window, raise
the level of the
first bin to 100%
(3b). This will
transform the
first index to a
single sine wave
at the fundamental frequency (3c).
ProTip. Because the CZ-101’s Phase Distortion method also imparted a lowpass-filterlike quality to the waveshaping, you can add
authenticity to this emulation by modulating
Serum’s frequency cutoff, as well.
Experiment with creating additional wavetables with waveforms such as square and
pulse, because next month we’ll be returning
to Serum’s wave-table editor to emulate PPGstyle wavetables, which is a more complex
process. Q
Step 1. Starting with Serum’s Init preset,
click on the pencil icon next to the default
sawtooth to open the wavetable editor.
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The AT5047 is a premier studio microphone that is equally
at home with vocals and instruments, boasting the greatest
dynamic range among all Audio-Technica microphones. The
AT5047 includes a four-part rectangular element that provides
a combined surface area twice that of a standard 1" circular
diaphragm. Every aspect of the microphone has been carefully
considered to minimize any effects on the audio signal.
The classic HD 25 comes with its iconical split headband, 1.5m
single-sided connection cable, and flip-away earcup for singlesided listening. The newly designed headband ends ensure that the
earcups lock securely into place, while the lightweight aluminum
voice coils ensure excellent transient response. With a frequency
response of 16Hz to 22kHz, an impedance of 70 ohms and a maximum SPL of 120dB, the HD 25 lends itself to any monitoring task,
whether broadcasting, live recording, or in the DJ booth. The HD 25
comes complete with a screw-on 1/4" adapter for its straight cable.
JA NUA RY
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MOOG MUSIC
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I ntroduced in 1970, the Minimoog set the template
feeding the Mini’s output back
into its audio input. The added
LFO means you don’t need to
tie up oscillator 3 to add vibrato.
How close does the reissue sound to the original? The
short answer is absolutely, indistinguishably, identically so.
The fatness of the oscillators,
the saturation characteristics
of the ladder filter, and the “snap” and responsiveness of the envelopes is all here. Non-linearities
in the way components interact are also a huge
factor in the warmth and soul Minimoog owners
cite: Those are present as well, but unlike many
under-maintained vintage specimens, not enough
to amount to a musical problem for you.
Not satisfied to play the new Minimoog in isolation, I set up some blind listening next to a wellmaintained 1978 Minimoog and a Voyager Performer Edition. The patches were made as identical as possible (and any Voyager-only features,
such as hard oscillator sync and stereo output,
were not used). After a while, I was consistently
able to pick out the Voyager as sounding slightly
more polished and polite. By contrast, the similarity between the Model Ds was tenacious.
Overall, Moog Music nailed it: The sound and
user experience of the new Model D are total.
Should you spend $3,499 on one? Well, do you
want a Minimoog? The new Model D costs less
than many “perfect” specimens on the secondary
market and will give you all of the sound but none
of the potential trouble.
So, if you’re wondering whether it’s a new Minimoog or a vintage Minimoog, the bottom line is
that it’s both. And it’s perfect. Q
for how most musicians used subtractive analog synthesis. The signal chain was based on a patch scheme
owners of large Moog modulars almost always used;
oscillators into mixer, mixer into filter, filter into VCA, volume and filter controlled by envelopes. Only here was
a self-contained synth that didn’t require patch cables,
and so portable that carting it to a gig was a no-brainer.
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The new Model D gives a stunning visual and
tvylH tactile
impression. Every texture and surface feels
BY STEPHEN FORTNER
Former Keyboard magazine
editor-in-chief Stephen
Fortner currently consults
in the music, automotive,
and film/TV industries,
and helms the website
synth-expert.com.
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Original signal path
and construction techniques are perfectly
reproduced. New features are very useful
but unobtrusive to the
vintage experience.
Sounds the balls.
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Expensive. We’d like
to see an upgraded
kickstand for the tilting panel and a way to
lock the panel down for
transportation.
$3,499 street
moogmusic.com
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like the original. The Fatar TP-9 keyboard action
is an unavoidable departure from the original, but
that’s okay because it’s much more even and responsive. The way it’s seated and how the keys hit
bottom feels authentically like a Minimoog.
The keys sense velocity and Aftertouch, which
are not hardwired to internal destinations: Each has
a 1/4’’ CV with its own depth control, which you can
patch back into the control inputs for filter cutoff,
loudness, oscillator pitch, or a modulation source
that supplants noise on the Modulation Mix knob.
Velocity and Aftertouch are also sent via MIDI. Internally, the audio and control paths are unchanged,
the circuitry discrete, and the parts placement mirrors the original. An external power supply connects
via a locking 4-pin XLR-style barrel.
Modern touches include MIDI In/Out/Thru
(but no USB). Standard voltage trigger I/O is on
hand, and you can double the CV range of velocity from five to ten volts separately from three selectable curves for MIDI velocity output. Global
settings such as note priority (high, low, last) and
legato triggering are changed by holding keys or
chords as you power up, and an internal signal
path now duplicates the old overdrive trick of
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Tracker drum replacer
Wider variety of
instruments
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Realistic drum tuning
Toontrack Superior Drummer 3
sports a completely new look
to go along with its new sounds
and new capabilities. The
GUI is also scalable and has
detachable windows.
TOONTRACK
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a wide variety of room sounds
for every drum. SD3 can also
use those ambience channels to
create a 11.1 surround mix.
Also notable is the drumtuning algorithm. Rather than
just pitch-shifting a drum, SD3
closely imitates the changes
that happen to a drum when
you tune the head. The results are impressively
realistic. Moreover, the cymbal-tuning algorithm
lets you realistically change the “size” of any of the
cymbal samples.
And this is the first version of Superior Drummer to include electronic sounds; 350 snares and
kicks sampled from a variety of sources, including TR-808 and -909 drum machines, and Steiner
Synthacon and Buchla synths, among others.
The sounds are quite good, and you can mix and
match them with the acoustic sounds in a kit.
Surprisingly, there are no electronic tom or cymbal samples. Among the electronic-kit presets
are those created by well-known names such as
Richard Devine.
The percussion offerings have also been expanded and include shakers, tambourines, cowbell, finger snaps, hand claps, and electronic claps.
Some merely burnish the graphics and throw in a few
new features. But that’s not the case with Superior
Drummer 3, one of the most substantial updates I’ve
ever seen. From the sounds to the grooves to the outstanding audio-to-MIDI feature and GUI, this upgrade
is about as major as you get.
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or a standalone app, and its features
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CHANGE IS GOOD
tvylGwv~lym|s Toontrack
totally redesigned the GUI, giving it
BY MIKE LEVINE
Mike Levine is a composer,
producer, and multiinstrumentalist from the
New York area.
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Sounds produced by
George Massenburg.
Ambience channels.
Electronic instruments.
Brush, rod, and mallet
hits. Percussion added.
Drum replacement.
Improved Groove features. 35 mixer effects.
Macros.
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No electronic tom
or cymbals. Tedious
search function in the
manual.
$399 (Upgrade and
crossgrade pricing
available.)
toontrack.com
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JAN UA R Y
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a more modern look, including 3D graphics and
a new window structure that includes a Song
Track for assembling full-length drum parts, a la
Toontrack’s EZ Drummer. Several key windows
are detachable, and the full GUI is scalable, as are
any detached windows, making customization for
your monitor easy.
More importantly, the sound library has been
significantly expanded, providing seven kits by six
different brands: Ayotte, Gretsch, Ludwig, Pearl,
Premier, and Yamaha. The drums are played with
sticks, brushes, rods, and felt mallets, and you
can load snare samples with the snares on or off.
George Massenburg recorded and produced the
recordings and, as you’d expect, they sound excellent and totally realistic.
A fairly sizable collection of presets—including some from Massenburg, himself—offer varying levels of ambience, compression and effects.
All of those aspects are adjustable in the Mixer,
which offers nine ambience mic channels (six
stereo pairs and one mono channel), giving you
GROOVE GURU
One of the anomalies of SD2 was that its MIDI
drum Grooves section was not as robust as Toontrack’s less expensive EZ Drummer 2. SD3 changes that by incorporating the best of EZ Drummer’s
Groove features, and more.
Tap 2 Find lets you tap in a rhythm to search
the library for similar beats, and the Groove window allows you to filter your searches by catego-
ries. The Song Creator builds a series of songlength arrangements based on any single Groove.
The overall Groove collection covers a variety
of styles, and additional Groove sets are available
in the Toontrack online store, which you can audition from within SD3.
FOR A SONG
Grooves can be loaded into the Song Track one at a
time, or strung together into a complete song from
the Song Creator. The Tabs feature, which is not in
EZ Drummer 2, allows you to have multiple songs
(or individual Grooves) loaded at once. Whichever
Tab is active will play, and it’s easy to switch between them.
You can sync your track to the host or play it independently: SD3 has its own transport controls.
The Song Track offers cut, copy and paste editing,
and you can drag loops around, and even color
code them by song part.
The new Grid Editor is like a sequence editor where you graphically edit selected Grooves,
quantize the hits, and graphically edit velocities.
When you’re done, you can export the song as
a MIDI file, drag it from the Song Track directly
into your DAW, or use the Bounce feature to create
an audio file.
MIX MASTER
The Mixer provides all the tools you need to mix
the drums from within SD3— individual channels
for each drum mic (or mic pair, in the case of room
mics), along with buses, inserts and a master bus.
As with previous versions, SD3 gives you control
over the amount of drum bleed in each channel.
The Mixer includes 35 new effects (up from
five in SD2), split into six categories—EQ, Dynamics, Distortion, Reverb, Delay and Modulation. The EQ is excellent, offering multiple
parametric bands and a spectrum analyzer. The
Tape Simulator is great for warming up the drum
sounds (I loved it on the master bus). Models of
classic hardware such as the UREI 1176 and Fairchild 670 are provided, as are stompbox models.
Modulation effects such as Tremolo, Phaser, and
Vibrato are particularly handy for the electronic
sounds.
TRACKER STAR
One of the most impressive additions in SD3 is
called Tracker (see Figure 1). It’s essentially a fully
featured drum replacer. Use it to convert multitrack drum recordings into MIDI so that you can
replace them with SD3 sounds. It was created
using machine-learning technology and is smart
enough to recognize the various parts of a drum
kit, even on a track with a lot of bleed. And using
the hi-hat’s multiple articulation setting, it can
recognize the difference between open and closed
hi-hats.
Once Tracker analyzes the audio, it categorizes
it as either snare, kick, tom, cymbal (crash), ride or
hi-hat. If it gets it wrong—which didn’t happen in
my testing—you can manually switch it. You can
audition the converted MIDI along with the original audio to hear how they line up, and there are
a number of tools for tweaking the conversion if
needed. For example, you can set the threshold of
the algorithm that recognizes the different instruments and adjust the velocity above which the algorithm will look for notes.
I used Tracker to replace the snare and kick
drum on several multitrack drum parts and it
worked without any adjustments, capturing the
nuances of the sticking on the snare track (and
avoiding the dreaded machine-gun effect). It
didn’t go quite that easy when I converted a hihat track. I had to do some post-conversion adjustments because SD3 recognized some of the
closed-hat hits as open.
When you’re finished tweaking Tracker’s results, you can export your newly minted MIDI
tracks together in one combined MIDI track, or
split each track out individually. You can move
your new tracks into the Song Track—where you
can make additional adjustments with the Grid
Editor and the other tools. Alternatively, you
can drag and drop them into your DAW, or even
bounce them back out as audio using SD3’s sounds.
Another cool new feature lets you import external audio files to replace, or stack on top of the
samples for the various drums and cymbals. This
opens up a lot of creative possibilities.
If you want to get really tweaky, Toontrack also
added a Macro function that lets you gang multiple parameters on a single control knob. You can
create up to 100 of these Macro controls.
MANUAL LABORIOUS
Probably my least favorite aspect of SD3 is its
manual, which is accessed from inside the interface, but opens as a webpage on the Toontrack
site (you must sign into your account to access it).
The manual’s internal search function is tedious
and inefficient. Search results are comprised of
every instance where the search term was found.
There’s no weighting for relevance, so you often
end up having to scroll through a bunch of text to
find the information you want.
Usually, I export online manuals as PDFs, to
take advantage of the superior searching capabilities of that format, and you can now download the
SD3’s manual directly from toontrack.com.
Fig. 1. The Tracker lets you import multitrack drum audio tracks and turn them into MIDI so
you can replace the various instruments using SD3 samples.
SD3 FOR YOU AND ME
Overall, I was highly impressed with Superior
Drummer 3. The sounds are great, the features
are powerful, and the new GUI is much more intuitive and functional than the previous version. It
is on the high end price-wise, when compared to
its competitors, but as an all-around MIDI drumproduction environment, it’s hard to beat. SD3
lives up to its name—it is superior. Q
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The Keith McMillen
BopPad is like having
four electronic drums in
one Frisbee-sized MIDI
controller.
KEITH MCMILLEN
INSTRUMENTS
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BY MARKKUS ROVITO
Markkus Rovito is an
electronic musician,
drummer, and DJ in San
Francisco, California.
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Four zones can send
up to 6 notes and 5
control data steams on
their own MIDI channel. Fast, accurate
response and feel with
sticks or hands. Velocity, pressure, and radius
sensitivity. Lightweight.
Extremely rugged.
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Requires extra hardware to control MIDI
modules. Some learning curve to programming its control data
modlines. Web Editor
doesn’t work from iOS
browsers. The four
zones can feel a bit
small when incorporated into a larger drum kit.
$199
keithmcmillen.com
\[
JAN UA R Y
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W hen James Brown said “give the drummer some,”
on “Funky Drummer” in 1970, Clyde Stubblefield laid
down what would become one of the most sampled
drum beats in history. Perhaps it gained such popularity because the expressiveness of Stubblefield’s
timing and velocity was so difficult to reproduce with
sequencers and programmed beats.
For such percussion-driven music, the electronic genres have spent a long time not really giving the drummers any. However, more and more
expressive electronic kits, trigger sensors for
acoustic drums (e.g., Sunhouse Sensory Percussion), and things like Melodics’ e-drum kit interactive lessons for dance-music drums have provided new opportunities for electronic producers
to give their beats a funkier feel by, finally, giving
the drummers some.
Keith McMillen Instruments’ (KMI) BopPad
further exemplifies this welcome drummer-centric momentum.
While the Sensory Percussion trigger can turn
an acoustic drum into eight separate triggering
zones with location-based MIDI parameter control, it’s a costly option with a lot of setup involved.
The BopPad, by comparison, provides a 4-zone
drum pad that responds and feels as much like an
acoustic drum as you could ever expect from an
affordable and highly portable pad controller. Yet,
in addition to up to six notes per quadrant, each
quadrant can also send MIDI for velocity sensitivity, pitch bend, continuous pressure, polyphonic
aftertouch, and location CCs for radial sensitivity
(moving from the center to the edge of the pad).
Moreover, the Class Compliant BopPad is plugand-play with computers (Mac, Windows, or
Linux) and iOS/Android mobile
devices.
A LOT ON THIS PLATE
Drummers will notice that the
BopPad looks like a traditional
practice pad, and it is a similar
size, except much flatter—less
than a half of an inch thick.
Excluding the red, metal guard that protects the
included USB cable when connected, the BopPad
measures a little more than 10 inches in diameter, with a playing surface of just over 8 inches.
It weighs a hair more than 21 ounces. That means
you can pack the BopPad in a laptop bag, cymbal
bag, or on top of a drum in a hard-shell case.
Although the playing surface feels like rubber,
inside is the same Smart Fabric Sensor Technology
that KMI has used and refined in its other controllers, with special electronic inks printed directly
on the material to provide different dimensions of
sensitivity. A layer of elastomer (elastic polymer)
covers the Smart Fabric.
That resulting surface responds very fast and
is very sensitive, picking up even light finger taps.
KMI says the latency of the pad is less than 3ms,
and in my tests with it connected to a MacBook
Pro and an iPad, the BopPad played indistinguishably from an electronic pad with onboard sounds.
You can play it as hard as you want with sticks,
mallets, or other objects (as long as they’re not
sharp), as well as with your hands and fingers,
which can make it feel more natural to control the
continuous pressure, the radial location sensitivity, or to trigger the different quadrants by dragging across the zones like a touchpad.
The Micro USB output is the only port, and the
BopPad has no moving parts. In keeping with the
legendary durability of KMI products, the BopPad
is built to last a lifetime of performances.
When playing the BopPad with sticks, it should
be on a steady, flat surface or secured in a stand.
Some snare drum stands will be able to hold it
more or less steady, but for the best fit, KMI sells
the BopPad Mount ($29), an anodized aluminum
frame with an 8mm thread that mounts to most
cymbal stands. However, I found that, especially
when playing it with hands and fingers, the BopPad easily rests on my lap or on some other surface, such as the top of a suitcase or laptop bag.
PLUGGING IN THE DISC
With its USB cable plugged into a computer, the
BopPad works with any MIDI-compatible software,
and you’ll have to program a setup in the downloadable BopPad Editor to dive into routing the Velocity,
Pressure, Radius, and other settings. On its website,
KMI includes basic templates for using the BopPad
with Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, and Apple Logic
X/Mainstage 3 and GarageBand. These templates
include tracks with instruments loaded and named
after the BopPad’s four factory settings: Universal,
Unison (where the pad is a single zone instead of
quadrants), Sticks, and Hands (see Figure 1).
To connect the BopPad with a mobile device,
KMI recommends using an Apple Camera Connection Kit adapter for iOS and a USB OTG cable
for Android. I tested it with an iPad, and when
connected, the BopPad drew very little power off
the iPad battery to run. Apps from synths to sequencers recognized the device right away and
without issue. The only problem is that, if you
want to edit your BopPad settings to use it with
iOS, you’ll have to do it from the BopPad Editor on
a computer first. While KMI does provide a Web
Editor, it requires a browser that supports Web
MIDI, such as the desktop versions of Chrome
and Opera. As yet, no iOS browser apps support
Web MIDI. However, Chrome for Android should
be able to run the Web Editor.
If you want to control MIDI hardware with
the BopPad without doing it through a computer,
you’ll need extra hardware like the KMI MIDI Expander ($59). It sends power to the BopPad and
provides 5-pin MIDI I/O ports, but you can’t use
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the BopPad with both the MIDI Expander and
computer or tablet at the same time.
EDITOR SOFTWARE
The BopPad Editor software unlocks the BopPad’s
expressive potential; you’ll want to use the Editor
in order to do more with the controller than simple 4-zone note triggering. The BopPad hardware
holds four presets at a time, which you can access
from the Editor by sending the BopPad Program
Change Messages numbered 0-3 from connected
hardware or software. You can create, store, import, and export unlimited presets with the Editor.
Each BopPad quadrant can send up to six
notes, six “modlines” (control data), and has its
own settings for MIDI channel, sensitivity, strike
density (playing style), and other parameters. The
Editor’s Keyboard makes it easy to visually assign
notes to quadrants, and you can also draw and save
four custom Curves to apply to modline data. The
Editor and Web Editor are functionally the same
and also update the BobPad’s firmware.
FLAT-OUT FUNKY
Anyone—not just experienced drummers—can
benefit from BopPad’s four zones to program
beats; trigger loops, arpeggios, and synth pads; or
simply to send control data to any destination. The
ability to use it just as well with sticks or hands
really makes it convenient, as well as creatively
flexible.
Drummers specifically should appreciate its
playability and responsiveness, as well as the creative possibilities of assigning control data to the
radial location of hits and the continuous pressure
applied to the pad. The BopPad gives drummers a
compact alternative for programming and recording beats using their existing rhythmic skills and
styles to their fullest, rather than forcing them into
a paradigm that may not be as comfortable, such as
finger pads for a MIDI keyboard.
I enjoy using the BopPad for its great feel and
ability to play fast buzz-rolls with sticks, but I really appreciated its high sensitivity, four zones and
polyphony for hand and finger drumming. Finally,
all my years of developing finger dexterity by tapping on tables and walls can amount to something
other than annoying anyone within earshot: The
BopPad senses finger rolls and thumb tapping,
all on different quadrants, triggering any sound I
want during a performance, in the studio, or just
for fun and practice.
That’s already several unique traits. When you
consider that this controller works just as well for
expanding an acoustic drum set into an electrohybrid kit as it does for being your mobile MIDI
setup that slides into a back pack, BopPad becomes
another one of KMI’s irresistible instruments. Q
Fig. 1. The BopPad Editor software sits here on top of KMI’s BopPad Template for Bitwig Studio.
JA NUA RY
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Shimmer
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Many toneshaping
features
Add synth
sounds
The Ivory II 2.5 engine
provides a wide variety of
parameters that let you
alter the tone and feel of
the instrument to fit your
needs.
SYNTHOGY
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I love a piano. (And so did legendary composer Ir-
Grands harnesses the processing
power of the Ivory II 2.5 engine.
New features include the ability
to authenticate licenses using either a traditional PACE iLok key
or via machine-based license authorization without the use of an
iLok. Ivory 2.5 also adds a Shimmer feature, which provides
unique control over the decay/
sustain portion of the piano note,
new half-pedal controls (accessible from the Session page), and support for the MIDI
CC88 High Resolution Velocity prefix (see Figure 1).
After installing Studio Grands using the included USB thumb drive and then authenticating the
license, I quickly delved into the numerous virtual
incarnations of these acclaimed instruments. The
instrument is based on a 112GB core library offering up to 24 velocity levels, as well as a plethora
of tone-shaping controls, effects, and a synth layer
for adding pads to the piano voices, as well. The
sound possibilities are vast.
I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades on tour around the world, so by this point
I am intimately acquainted with the physical
versions of both of the pianos sampled in Studio Grands. (Some favorites of mine include the
American Steinway Model B CD178 in Steinway
Hall in New York City, and the Bösendorfer 225
in the now shuttered Joe Zawinul’s Birdland Jazz
Club in Vienna, Austria). While these instruments
are roughly the same size, they have distinguishing characteristics all their own. I would describe
the sound of the New York Steinway B as lush, and
that of the Bösendorfer as clean and clear. A quick
sampling of the 20 varieties of each model con-
ving Berlin, as his song of the same title attests.)
From a battered upright to a glorious concert grand,
there’s just nothing like the wood, steel, and felt of the
real thing vibrating together in harmony. But as many
of us who tour and record for a living know all too well,
affording and maintaining concert-quality instruments can be a daunting proposition at best. Many
top-tier concert pianos cost more than $100,000
these days.
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BY JON REGEN
In addition to being the
editor of Keyboardmag.
com, Jon Regen is a singer,
songwriter, and pianist
from New York City.
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Stunning virtual representations of two
legendary acoustic
pianos. Myriad toneshaping controls.
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Your piano dealer
might have just lost a
sale!
$279 street
ilio.com
in the studio.
Keyboard magazine has reviewed numerous additions to Ivory (now Ivory II), from Ivory II Grands
(with its Steinway, Bösendorfer and Yamaha instruments) and Italian Grand and Upright Pianos (featuring Fazioli and Yamaha, among others) to the
American Concert D, which sampled a 1951 Steinway concert grand. All of those were stunning, supple representations of their physical counterparts.
Now, with Ivory II Studio Grands, Synthogy
has added two new instruments to its impressive virtual lineup—a 6'11" New York-made Steinway Model B sampled at the Power Station New
England in Waterford, Conn., and a Bösendorfer
Model 225, the company’s 7'4" concert instrument, recorded at Firehouse Recording Studios in
Pasadena, Calif.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Like other members of the Ivory II family, Studio
\]
JAN UA R Y
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Other standouts for me were “Model B in the Marble Staircase” with its trailing reverb, and “Country Pop B,” which could sound at right at home on
the current Nashville hit parade. I especially like
the ease by which you can tailor sounds on the
Session and Program pages, changing parameters
such as key noise, soundboard quality, pedal noise,
and more. With a few quick keystrokes, I added a
pad alongside my piano preset and my inner Bruce
Hornsby (circa 1986) was ready to go!
The Bösendorfer presets were no less impressive and reminded me of numerous jazz gigs I
played in Europe where I was fortunate enough to
perform on such a powerful piano. I particularly
liked “Jazz Bose 225,” with its resonant bass notes
and bell-like top end, and the bright “Rock ’n’
Bose 225” preset, which had me doing the best impromptu Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation I could
muster on short notice!
Fig. 1. You can further customize the playability of each instrument from the Session page,
including Half Pedaling.
firmed what I had hoped; that Ivory II’s recorded
versions of these pianos capture their signature
sonic personas, spot-on.
UNDER THE FINGERS
First up in my test drive was the “Intimate Model
B Steinway” preset. I was immediately struck by
STRUM GS-2
the humanness of the sample set. Digital pianos
can often sound sterile, but that’s not the case with
Studio Grands. This particular Steinway preset
came alive and sounded so much like an acoustic
piano that I lost track of time digging into it. Notes
at the top and bottom of the keyboard rung-out
with a richness that belied their digital source.
AT HOME AND AWAY
Synthogy’s Ivory II Studio Grands is about as close
as you can get to owning and performing on these
famed instruments (without the bank loan or
moving fees), and its sounds are versatile enough
to fit into just about any live or recorded situation.
As a piano purist myself, I would have no reservation using Studio Grands onstage or in the studio.
It’s that good. Q
ACOUSTIC & ELECTRIC GUITARS
Applied Acoustics Systems
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Two kinds of tube sounds
Use Mix for parallel
compression
The Virtual Tube Collection
offers three distinct
sounding modules: London,
Hollywood, and New York.
SLATE DIGITAL
P lug-ins designed to add “warmth” to digital audio
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in as much or as little of the tube
effect as you want. Like the mix
knob on a compressor, it gives you
parallel processing capabilities.
The other two knobs are
Output, which controls levels
coming out of the module, and
HP Freq, which sets the cutoff frequency of a highpass filter, giving you extra control for rolling off unwanted bottom end.
It has a pretty subtle roll-off; I compared it with
the highpass filter on the FG-N EQ module in the
VMR, and its effect was much more gradual.
Just like other VMR modules, a pull-down
menu at the top gives you access to a collection
of factory presets. You get 16 presets in each VTC
module, ranging from mix bus settings to patches
for snare, bass, vocals and more. I found them to
be very useful, and they made excellent starting
points for various situations. One of the features
I particularly like is that all three VTC modules
have the same presets, which makes it a lot faster to compare their sounds. And like other VMR
modules, you can save your own presets.
A large virtual VU meter sits at the top of each
of the VTC modules, measuring the level at the
output. You can calibrate the meters between -6
dB and -24 dB right from the front panel. Below
the meter is a Clipping Bulb, which lights when
clipping occurs (which is desirable with VTC if
you want the sound of tube distortion) and provides a visual indication of how much you’re overdriving the processor.
have become common; many aim to re-create the
saturation characteristics of analog tape, while others go for the sound of tubes. In the latter category
is the impressive new Virtual Tube Collection (VTC)
from Slate Digital.
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BY MIKE LEVINE
Mike Levine is a composer,
producer, and multiinstrumentalist from the
New York area.
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Excellent modeled
tube sounds. Each
module has its own
sound. Well-designed
controls. Matching
presets in each module helps with sonic
comparisons.
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$179
slatedigital.com
\_
JAN UA R Y
201 8
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Like most of the company’s current plug-ins,
they open as simulated 500-series modules in the
Virtual Mix Rack (VMR) format. The VTC consists
of three separate modules: London, Hollywood,
and New York. Despite having the same controls,
each module has a distinctive sonic signature.
On the upper left of each VTC module is the
Preamp/Console switch that selects between
two different tube-modeling algorithms: Preamp
mode emulates the characteristics of a tube preamp, and Console mode models the sound of the
tube summing circuit of a mixer.
The switch on the upper right is called Normal/
Push. The Normal setting is the default for the
module. Selecting Push toggles the module into a
boosted state with an exaggerated tube effect.
Two key knobs for adjusting the behavior of
the modules are Saturation and Mix. The former
controls the amount of tube distortion you get.
In Preamp mode, you don’t usually start hearing
audible distortion until you’ve turned Saturation
past about 12 o’clock.
In Console mode, you have to crank up the Saturation a lot higher before hearing any distortion.
But whichever mode you’re in, you don’t need to
hear obvious distortion to reap VTC’s benefits. I
found that it added a richness to the sound, even
with the Saturation turned all the way down.
The Mix knob is quite useful, allowing you to dial
LONDON, HOLLYWOOD, AND NEW YORK
The differences between the three modules seem
subtle at first, but the more you familiarize yourself,
the more you start hearing each one’s distinct sonics. According to Slate Digital, London was modeled from “European Tube Gear.” Although they
don’t mention Abbey Road Studios, the module’s
name seems to imply that. In any case, it’s the subtlest of the three VTC modules, and it provides a
smooth distortion, whether the Saturation is low
or off, adding a pleasant sheen to the audio.
The Hollywood module provides plenty of
breakup with the Saturation set high and the
Push switch on. Of the three, it’s the only one
that offers a bit of low-end boost (as well as added high-end).
The New York module is capable of the most
crunch of the three, and it also seems to add a
little high-end to the signal.
A SPOONFUL OF TUBE SOUND
I used the VTC modules on multiple tracks across
several mixes and was uniformly happy with
the results. A couple of the songs had multitrack
drums, and I was able to add beefiness to the
kick drum with any of the three modules. With
Preamp mode chosen, I found that Saturation
settings above about 12 o’clock were as high as I
could go and still keep the kick sounding natural.
On snare, as well, all three provided excellent
results. I particularly liked the sound of London
for this application, which added natural sounding crunch and sustain to the snares I tried it on,
giving them a lot more life. I also favored London for fattening up a Rhodes-type electric piano
sound that was already a little crunchy. In that
application, Console mode seemed to work best.
For electric guitar, New York was my favorite, because of its superior distortion capabilities,
but Hollywood and London were also excellent
for fattening and livening sounds. Any of the
modules worked well on electric or synth bass,
making those sources sound either distorted on
higher settings or just “bigger” on more subtle
settings. In general, I found the Mix knob to be
helpful for fine tuning the settings.
All three VTC modules excelled on vocal
tracks. To add a little extra energy without audible
distortion, I used Console mode and increased the
Saturation until it started to sound dirty, and then
slowly backed it off until it cleaned up. The result
was impressive fatness and warmth.
In fact, VTC processing benefitted every track
I tried it on. Even without any Saturation, all
three modules had a subtlety pleasant effect.
The other area where the VTC modules excel is on the master bus, especially when set to
Console mode. I particularly liked London for
this application, because it sounded the most
transparent. As with vocals, I’d slowly raise the
Saturation, and then back it off when the effect
became too apparent.
Over the course of my testing, I didn’t find the
VTC modules to be overly CPU intensive, which
is good because you’ll end up using a lot of them
if you have a big session.
VTC AOK
As with other Slate Digital VMR processors I’ve
tried, the Virtual Tube Collection is very impressive. Its design allows you to get a lot of mileage
out of a relatively small set of controls. The Preamp/Console switch gives you a choice of two
distinctly different settings. The Push/Normal
switch also changes the character, as do, obviously, the Saturation and Mix knobs. Between all
of these controls and the three distinct modules,
you have a lot of options.
I’ve been a Virtual Mix Rack user since it
came out, employing it for compression, EQ, and
console emulation among other things. After my
initial tests with VTC, I decided to integrate London into my basic VMR preset, which already
had the FG-N EQ, FG-401 compressor, the VCC
Channel and the Trimmer (see Figure 1). I used
this configuration on each track of my mixes during the review period and swapped London out
for Hollywood or New York, depending on what
I was going for on specific tracks. Consequently,
the VTC modules have now become an indispensable part of my mixing workflow.
When it comes to sound
quality, ease of use, and utility, I have only positive things
to say about the Virtual Tube
Collection. Some may find
its purchase price to be a
tad high, but considering
the quality you get, I think
it’s reasonable. Slate Digital
also offers VTC as part of its
Everything Bundle subscription plan, which lowers the
price considerably and lets
you access most of the comFig. 1. If you use other Virtual Mix Rack modules, you can
pany’s other plug-ins. Q
easily integrate the VTC into your workflow.
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BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
M ake no mistake, the Minimoog Model D was the synthesizer that
kickstarted our industry. Its architecture has been the basis for countless
analog monosynths to follow and its sound remains so distinctive that Moog
recently reissued a circuit-perfect, limited-edition version for those with a
devotion to authenticity.
Fig. 1. The Roland SE-02 brings the Minimoog flavor to a wider market, thanks to its
affordability.
]W
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Fig. 2. The SE-02’s
X-Mod section has
dedicated knobs
for routing its oscillators as modulation sources
for filter cutoff,
pulse-width, and
oscillator FM simultaneously.
But the modern
era has brought us
software and hardware versions of the
Minimoog architecture that update the
synth’s essential characteristics in ways that reflect
the march of technology since 1971. For example, the
Arturia Mini V has modulation amenities that would
be impossible to do with analog hardware alone,
whereas the Roland SE-02 offers far more flexibility
than the original. And ApeSoft Mood, an iOS take on
the Mini, approaches the original’s iconic filter behavior while adding sampling and FM to its array of
Moogish oscillators. Consequently, if you’re in the
mood for a Model D but can’t afford the real thing,
these hardware and software interpretations can get
you there, but with greater flexibility than the original and at a price that won’t break the bank.
Here’s how to get the most out of the unique
features of each of these synths, as well as from the
original model.
MINIMOOG MODEL D
The Minimoog is known for its thick, aggressive
sound, which can be enhanced using the following
techniques.
1. The Modulation Mix knob is continuously
variable between oscillator 3 and noise as its
sources. By turning on filter and/or oscillator
modulation and using noise as the primary modulator, raising the mod wheel imparts a distinctive
grunge to the tone.
2. A function that’s found on many modern
synths—such as with Arturia’s Brute Factor—is the
ability to route one of the Minimoog’s outputs (low
or high) into the external input. This creates an adjustable feedback loop that adds a touch of grit at
low amounts and absolute chaos when maxed out.
3. The classic Minimoog application of Osc 3 is
to switch the tuning to Lo mode, turn off keyboard
tracking and use it as an LFO. However, leaving it
in the audio range and keeping keyboard control on
lets you add dirty analog FM to either the filter or the
other oscillators. Keep in mind that this is nothing
like digital FM, so the results can be unpredictable.
Note that these techniques will work both on
Moog’s original Minimoog Model D and the reissue, as well as the inexpensive Behringer Model
D module.
Fig. 3. For more
familiar vibrato
and filter modulation, the SE-02
also includes a
dedicated LFO
that operates in
one-shot mode
for pseudo-envelope effects.
ROLAND SE-02
Roland’s SE-02, designed in conjunction with Studio
Electronics, is a
modern, fully analog take on the Minimoog—with bells and whistles
galore (see Figure 1). In addition to a dedicated
knob for the Model D feedback trick, its three oscillators offer extensive cross-modulation options,
as well as hard sync for oscillator 2. Like many vintage synths, osc 2’s pitch can be modulated by the
filter envelope for new wave and funk squawks.
The oscillator cross-modulation tools are where
the SE-02 truly shines, offering audio rate modulation effects that are usually the domain of modular
gear (see Figure 2). Three knobs govern the X-Mod
effects: Osc 2 to filter cutoff, Osc 3 to Osc 2 FM, and
Osc 3 to pulse-width of 1 and 2 equally. It’s also
worth mentioning that all three oscillators can be
switched to Lo mode, though their frequencies are
not low enough for classic vibrato effects. Fortunately, the SE-02 has a dedicated LFO for that purpose.
That said, here are three noteworthy effects that
can be achieved using the X-Mod features:
Pulse-width modulation. Because Osc 3’s keyboard tracking can be disabled, sending a fixed frequency regardless of key, setting it to its lowest frequency and applying a tiny bit to oscillator 1 (set to
one of the three pulse wave options) while detuning
oscillator 2 slightly, is a great way to generate thick,
animated leads.
Pseudo bit-crushing. You can emulate the
sound of bit-crushing by setting Osc 2 to a square
wave at its highest frequency (2'), then using that
to modulate the filter cutoff frequency with a 100%
(self-oscillating) resonance setting. From there,
sweep the cutoff frequency very slowly while processing and the result will be quite similar to the
“alien talking” sound from many dubstep and techno tracks. Just be careful with your master volume,
as this self-oscillating filter can be hard to tame.
Cascading modulation. Because the X-Mod
effects involve all three oscillators, you can quickly achieve complex and chaotic modular results.
To hear this in action, set Osc 3 to Lo mode with
keyboard tracking off and add a touch of pitch
modulation to Osc 2 for a warbling effect. Next,
slowly increase the amount of cutoff modulation
from Osc 2 until it starts to get a bit grungy. At that
point, experiment with fine-tuning the parameters. Here, restraint is key, as high values become
extremely unpredictable.
Note that any of these X-Mod effects can then
be controlled with the mod wheel—in conjunction
with the LFO depth—using the Whl Mix parameter
on the left side of the front panel, which is great for
live performance or sequence automation.
Modulation. The SE-02 envelopes offer a high
degree of customization, with the filter offering
both single and multi-triggering, as well as the ability to tie the release to the decay value for either the
amp envelope, both envelopes simultaneously, or
neither. What’s more, the envelopes can be autotriggered by the LFO for pulsing, ’80s bass lines.
The LFO includes options for tempo sync, as
well as the ability to run freely or restart from the
beginning of each note event. Best of all, you can
set it to one-shot mode, which cycles through the
selected wave once, at the selected rate. This is
useful for envelope-like effects (see Fig. 3).
For advanced modulation tricks, the SE-02’s
sequencer lets you modulate any parameter on a
per-step basis by simply holding the button for an
associated step and adjusting the value of a given
parameter. While the most common destinations
are filter cutoff or envelope stages, experiment
with X-Mod values, mixer feedback, and delay
functions for more dramatic results.
ARTURIA MINI V
You can skate across Arturia’s version of the Mini for
a traditional experience, but popping the hood exposes a treasure trove of contemporary tools, including a dedicated LFO. Beyond that, it gets deep quickly.
Modulation Matrix. The Mini V’s matrix has
eight slots that can modulate the majority of its
synthesis parameters, from oscillator frequency
and amplitude to individual envelope segments
(see Figure 4). Of course, the modulation sources
include common MIDI control options such as
mod wheel, aftertouch, and expression pedal. But
digging deeper, you’ll find exotic sources like VCA
output, triggered S&H, and the external input
(which is configured differently in each DAW and
worth a trip to the manual for specifics). Here are
Fig. 4. The Arturia Mini V’s modulation matrix
offers up to eight source-destination pairs.
Shown here are a few more unusual routings.
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]X
Fig. 5. Whether in loop or one-shot mode, the Mini V’s Motion Recorder lets you create
detailed automation shapes for almost any synth parameter.
Fig. 6. Located in its Effects section, the Mini
V’s Vocal Filter is a great resource for formant shaping and includes a dedicated LFO.
Fig. 7. apeSoft Mood is an affordable Minimoog emulation for iPad users, which adds
sampling and FM to the setup.
a few unusual tips to get you started.
1. Negative Velocity to Filter Attack or Decay:
Performance control of envelope parameters is a
great strategy for adding life to a riff. By applying
negative amounts of velocity to filter decay (with
cutoff modulation from its envelope) you can create staccato plucks when you smack the keys.
Alternately, using negative velocity on attacks allows you to shorten the attack as you play harder.
Taking a different approach, using the mod wheel
instead of velocity lets you manipulate the filter
envelope character with your left hand as you play.
2. Triggered S&H to Filter Cutoff: The dual triggered S&H generators send a different random
value with each note event. ARP Odyssey fans will
recognize this immediately as key triggering. Lower the cutoff and add a touch of resonance and you
can instantly create vintage Depeche Mode sounds.
3. VCO 3 to Panning: Not many synths support this,
but audio rate modulation of panning adds both unusual stereo width and a touch of grit to any sound.
4. VCA out to anything: This trick is similar to
patching one of the Minimoog’s outputs to the external input but far more nuanced, as you can feed the
synth output back into any modulation input. The results are equally nasty, but with detailed control.
Motion Recorder. The Mini V’s four-track motion
recorder lets you draw freeform automation loops
that can be applied to the same set of destinations as
the mod matrix, with drawing tools that are reminiscent of both Adobe Illustrator and Xfer Serum (see
Fig. 5). Each motion sequence offers control over rate
and amount, and can be set to either loop or one-shot,
so they can be used as either detailed LFOs or custom
envelopes. What’s more, you can quantize your drawings to common note values for stepped effects.
Since these motion recorders are so flexible,
there really aren’t any hard rules or tips for their
applications, but they’re fantastic for ultra-complex swells and swoops as well as intricate rhythmic effects for dance music.
Vocal Filter. The Mini V’s effects section includes
a standard chorus and delay, which are useful as such,
but the real standout is its vocal filter, which operates
in a unique manner (see
Fig. 6). Here, the five
vowels (A, E, I, O, and U)
appear as blocks on an
]Y
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Fig. 8. Mood’s FM
oscillator refers to
its modulator as an
Index, but the end
result is the same:
A shimmery and
percussive element
for layering over the
Moog-like warmth.
Fig. 9. Mood’s audio oscillator lets you load samples from your own library, as well as layer audio
captured from the iPad’s microphone input.
X-Y axis. These can be freely repositioned, with both
the matrix and motion recorder available as modulation sources for its X and Y axes. The motion recorder
is the way to go if you have specific vowel transitions in
mind, and with a bit of dedication, you can get exactly
the timbral shifts you’re after using that approach.
On the other hand, if you want something quick
and easy, you can activate the filter’s LFO, adding
a graphic circle with a point that traverses its circumference according to the rate you’ve set. From
there, you move selected vowels around the grid
(even placing them outside the circle for a subtler
effect) and experiment until you find the sounds
you’re after. With both options available for combined results, this is a spectacular tool for both
choir effects and dubstep/EDM robot voices.
APESOFT MOOD
On the iOS side of things, Arturia has the iMini,
which is an abbreviated version of their Mini V
with fewer features and a decent replica of the
Moog sound. But for those who want to explore
the wilder side of the Model D architecture, apeSoft Mood is the way to go (see Fig. 7).
Noise Envelope. Mood’s noise generator includes
the pink/white modes of the original, but with an optional amp envelope. This is obviously great for analog
drum sounds, but with a bit of tinkering, you can use it
for woodwind chiffs (in conjunction with square and
triangle waves) as well as sharp attack transients with
an instant attack, no sustain and fast decay.
FM Oscillator. Mood’s FM generator consists
of a modulator-carrier pair, based on Yamaha’s classic sine-wave approach (see Fig. 8). That said, it’s
important to know that the modulator operator is
called the Index. Thus, the Index parameter controls
the modulator amount, in conjunction with the dedicated Index envelope. Ratio can be set freely, with
one knob governing both coarse and fine-tuning.
Pro Tip: Higher ratio values add shimmer,
whereas values in the 1 to 7 range will generate iconic Yamaha textures, with a little experimentation.
You can also route the FM generator’s output
pre- or post-filter using its Send knob, which is a
great way to layer crystalline bell tones on top of
warm Moog-like analog pads, similar to what you
would hear from Roland’s LA synthesizers.
Sampler/Warp. Mood also includes a samplebased oscillator that lets you load files from a wide
range of sources, including live audio from your iPad’s
microphone input for performance applications (see
Fig. 9). Mood lets you scrub the waveform in real-time
from the Sample page and gives you independent control over pitch and time. A Jitter function introduces
randomization to the sample phase (start point).
Pro Tip: Collect a bunch of one-shot C3 samples from your favorite synths and import them to
your iPad library for quick access to a wide variety
of additional timbres within Mood. Q
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BY SARAH JONES
M ulti-instrumentalist and synthesist
from point A to B of a story. Each game state
Sarah Schachner creates music for requires a certain musical energy level that
worlds at the edges of our imagination. can last for a very short or long amount of time
In addition to writing for film, television, depending on what the player does. Play styles
can affect the experience as well. In Assassin’s
and commercials, she’s earned acCreed, for instance, if you wrote an assortment
claim for her evocative, atmospheric of combat music that referenced the main
scores for blockbuster game titles theme but the player wanted to avoid combat
such as Call of Duty and the Assassin’s as much as possible, he or she would have a
Creed series. Recently, Schachner unique musical experience that’s maybe difcomposed the music for Assassin’s ferent than what you intended.
With less of a focus on linear storytelling, the
Creed Origins, which transports playmost important thing is to create a soundscape
ers to ancient Egypt; and she contrib- that is as immersive as possible. The more you
uted to the Cassini Finale Music Project, can engage the player emotionally through ama musical trilogy commemorating the bience, mood, and energy in every stage and not
spacecraft’s dramatic final moments just the big cutscene moments, the more they’ll
feel connected to the characters and story.
around Saturn.
For Assassin’s Creed Origins, I gave [the main
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nizable. That way, it was easy to weave it in and
I love playing and writing on string instru- out of gameplay tracks as a repeating background
ments because they are so expressive. There are texture as well as use it singularly to punctuate
infinite ways you can play the same melody with key story moments in cutscenes. Since it wasn’t
different articulations, phrasing, portamento, dependent on any chordal harmony, it was easily
bow pressure, etc. Having all of those options al- adaptable to a wide array of scenarios.
lows for a very direct form of expression, similar
to singing. You can immediately convey subtle- p•Ghššˆšš•˅šGj™ŒŒ‹Gv™Ž•šSG–žG‹‹G –œG‰ˆ“T
ties of emotion that can be harder with instru- ˆ•ŠŒGˈˆ•ŠŒ•›ˉGš–œ•‹šGž›GšŠT͌GŒ“Œ”Œ•›šf
I used detuned CS-80 and Jupiter 6 textures as
ments like piano that have fixed pitches.
I love working with synths for the same rea- well as modular-synth drones to evoke the feeling
son. My favorite part of working with Eurorack of the vast desert. I utilized solo ethnic and string
modular is the unexpected nature of the result instruments to reflect the ancient Egyptian time
and the happy accidents. It can sometimes be period, but a lot of these acoustic sounds were
intimidating, but it gets you out of your head altered with granular synthesis and other audio
processing. Nothing is off limand breaks the way you natuits when I’m making custom
rally approach music.
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a film, where music is always
I don’t really think of perdeveloping in one direction
JAN UA R Y
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forming, writing, and arranging as distinct, separate phases. It’s more like one jumbled process.
Sometimes I will sit down at the piano and plan
something out before recording, but I usually
just pick up an instrument nearby, hit Record
and fiddle around until something cool happens. Once there’s an initial idea or inspiration,
I’ll start fleshing it out from there and tracking
more parts as I go. I try to avoid using temporary MIDI sounds as much as possible and need
to be inspired by the sound itself and not just
the melody/harmony to see an idea through.
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I was looking at actual Cassini footage of Saturn as I was writing, so I was constantly thinking about how far away and alone the spacecraft
was, discovering all of these incredible wonders
for us. The rings of Saturn are so weird and fascinating and I tried to capture their beauty with
exaggerated portamentos and arpeggios.
I was also imagining what Cassini would
sound like if it was sentient and could talk.
There’s a repeating synth motif with a call-andresponse pattern that sounds like the spacecraft
making little observations to itself and saying,
“Hello? Is anyone out here?” Finally, Cassini is
asking us not to forget her sacrifice. Joby Harris from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory put
together the most incredible videos to accompany each song of the project and I was beyond
thrilled with what he came up with for mine using the actual black-and-white Cassini visuals. Q
1980 Moog Prodigy 336A Analog Mono Synth
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