Max 7 is the newest version of Cycling ’74 visual development to… um… erm…
Well, actually, it’s really hard to explain what tools like Max, Pd, Reaktor, Plogue Bidule, and the like can do. Sure, they’re nerdy environments for making stuff. But because they’re open ended – because what they do is really up to you – just calling them a “development tool” doesn’t really say a lot.
So, in a cute new video, Cycling ’74 shows off Max 7. It’s really stuff you could do with previous tools, showing visual and sonic capabilities. But if you didn’t fully grasp why that’s cool, maybe a singing mushroom will help. And long-time Max users will see that Max 7 has a very different UI – even if Max 5/6 themselves offered a lot of changes. Tools are in a trendy gray on the borders around the window, always handy, and there’s a new browser. No new objects are immediately obvious that I can spot, but I know there’s a lot more to Max 7 than that. I’ll try to see if Cycling wants to help a CDM out a bit with that information, but I’m pretty sure they’re being coy.
Certainly, I hope Max 7 also coincides with the next Max for Live and that those are in sync, too. I’ll find out for us when they’re ready to reveal that.
PS, David, while you wrote that post in an airport – somewhere – I wrote the post about your post waiting in terminal D at Berlin Tegel. Even funnier would be if we were blogging each other across the room, but – not this time. Next time. Music for Airports. Blogging for Airports?
Wayward insects become the source of eerie, ambient music in a new work by British-born, Baix Penedes (Spain)-based artist Dickon Stone. Each insect lured by the glow of his light-up sculpture in turn triggers musical elements. Over the course of five years, he’s shaped that process into a strangely-lovely, otherworldly soundscape and formed a two-track EP, which you can preview here.
(Five years, huh? Well, that’s proof that even with swarms of insects helping you shape the music, you can wind up obsessing over finishing. But the results are worth it!)
Dickon sends us a video of an early 2011 test, which gives you an idea of how the method works.
The gimmick might just leave it at that, but the results are rather nice. Listen:
Spin off those spinning CDJs. Pioneer DJ is now a separate company, sold to an equity firm in New York at the price of roughly US$551 Million.
Pioneer Corp in its past form was diversified in the old-fashioned model of Japanese brands. So, yes, it made the mixer and the CD player in your discotheque … but also your car stereo, and iPod docks, and earbuds, and a system for monitoring your cycling activities while you pedal bicycles, and it put its name on all of them. (This is the same country where the Yamaha brand is on both jetskis and grand pianos, after all.)
Now, that changes. Pioneer already dumped the home audio-video business to an Asian private equity firm (controlling stake), splitting the rest with Onkyo. Next, Pioneer Corp is divesting the bit we care about: Pioneer DJ. So yes, your DJM mixers and CDJs – and soon new turntables – get made by one company, in the DJ business. Pioneer Corp meanwhile focuses on car stereos.
The timing comes at an interesting time; Pioneer DJ is celebrating its 20th anniversary. But can you read some sort of deeper meaning into what’s happening in digital DJing? Not necessarily, no. The company is healthy and from your perspective as a Pioneer user, nothing much is likely to change visibly.
Instead, this appears to be what happens when Japanese conglomerates decide to focus. And that leaves an American equity firm in this case to snap up the business and try to make money as it grows.
The buyer is none other than Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), the leveraged buyout company made famous by Barbarians at the Gate, a book that chronicled the dramatic story of KKR’s attempted purchase of RJR Nabisco. Yes, that’s RJ Reynolds, the tobacco folks, and Nabisco, the snack people. See also Altria: the 80s were all about getting rich trying to kill you with crackers and cigarettes. I know about this chapter in business history first-hand, as my Dad was working for a company in the sights of legendary corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith, in that case a company involved in retail, insurance, and tobacco.
KKR isn’t really a corporate raider these days in that mold; they’re just a hugely successful equity company that shops for companies a lot. And now they’re looking at Japan, already having bought Panasonic’s spun-off healthcare unit. Two solid bets in the current globalized world would certainly be old people and ravers. See Sophie Knight writing for Reuters for some background.
If you think Pioneer was diverse, KKR is just about money. They own the Chinese farming giant that sells chickens to KFC. They also have wind farms. Their portfolio includes a Milwaukee company that makes industrial blowing machines, Go Daddy (the domain company), an off-highway tire company, and the water and wastewater company in Bayonne, New Jersey, to name just a few. David Petraeus, the American former NATO commander, works with them to talk about global opportunities.
I don’t yet know how the new business will be structured, so this is all speculative. But here’s what’s most important: Pioneer DJ sounds healthy, and this may give them more resources while their previous parent worries about what’s happening in your Volkswagen.
The Pioneer DJ staff are moving to the new spun-off company. (700 in total go to that company and the new audiovisual group at Onkyo according to Reuters; we don’t have breakdowns.) And the business is profitable, if dwarfed by car stereos.
Kotani said that the DJ business was highly profitable, running an operating margin of nearly 20 percent on sales of 21.6 billion yen in the year ended March 31, giving it a 60 percent share of the global market, but further growth in such a niche business would require significant further investment.
20% margin on roughly US$200 million – nice margins, but small, in other words. Presumably KKR could then make the sort of investment that could make that grow. With club culture booming worldwide, that’s a big deal. Remember, we’re mostly focused on the US and Europe, but clubs are about young bodies, and the youth population is booming in the rest of the world even as it shrinks in just those places. So if you want to speculate about the future of DJing, the question may not be what, but where.
In fact, the DJ business to me sounds safer than the car business. Pioneer has effectively no competition for devices like the CDJ and a growing market for everything it makes; the cuthroat car stereo business means going head to head with some of the world’s largest car companies inside their own vehicles.
See Mixmag – though I disagree with the notion that the introduction of a new turntable changed the buyout picture.
I do agree with Dan White at DJ TechTools. The parallel here is Allen & Heath’s sell-off. The only difference there was the equity partners were in the UK rather than US, but the ultra-diversified company is in the same model. And sure enough, Allen & Heath has continued strong since that happened in the middle of 2013.
So, in other words, unless you are weirdly fascinated by 80s corporate raider culture as I am and this sends you off on into a link-hole, there’s nothing to see here; move along.
For DJs, this probably changes nothing – and, if anything, ensures Pioneer’s power in the DJ booth will remain formidable for the foreseeable future.
Seriously, CDM should probably talk more about CDJs. It’s hard to imagine music in clubs today without them.
littleBits, the snap-together magnetic hardware module system for easy DIY hardware mash-ups, has a unique take on how to add new hardware. Previously, modules came from littleBits; the popular Synth Kit collaboration with KORG being a significant exception. littleBits has certainly offered a lot of options, including the recent Cloud Kit for adding Internet connectivity.
But now, it’s opening up hardware development to anyone with an idea. While littleBits calls itself “open source hardware” – founder Ayah Bdeir even co-founding the Open Hardware Summit — that openness has always been restricted when it comes to the magnetic connectors. Those are proprietary, and littleBits has told us previously that they’d be hard for anyone else to manufacture.
That changes with the release of the “Hardware Development Kit” (HDK) and the new Pro Module and connectors. Now you can add littleBits connectors to any project you’ve made. Built an Arduino-powered noisemaker? Now you can connect it electrically to littleBits using magnets. The US$39.95 HDK is basically a bundle of Proto Modules, magnetic snaps, and a perf board for assembling circuits. See video below.
That’s already very cool, but littleBits – fresh with venture funding – is going further. They’re letting users vote on modules they want, then manufacturing them if projects get a minimum of 1000 votes. (It’s up to makers whether to go open source or not, though the current modules are all open circuit designs, and littleBits tells us they’re encouraging the idea.)
There are various launch partners, including Makey Makey and an EKG. For us music folks, that already includes Bleep Labs and their lovely Drum Beat drum machine, which should pair nicely with the KORG Synth Kit (see video at top), and the Gabotronics oscilloscope, from Venezuela-born, Florida-based developer Gabriel Anzziani. (I’d love to see hardware show up in Venezuela, Gabriel, but that’s another topic!)
Here’s a look at those modules I’m especially excited about – see the oscilloscope at top and drum at bottom:
If you join the manufacturing program and your design goes into production, littleBits tells CDM you earn 10% net revenue (gross revenue minus returns, discounts, etc.) on your work, plus co-branding if you have an established brand, as works with KORG. That’s of course a fairly slim margin compared to what you’d optimally have producing hardware yourself, but it also means you don’t carry the obligation of manufacturing, distribution, and sales support, which can drive your take-home profits down to that number or into red ink and requires you to have your own capital.
Impressively, they’re also promising worldwide distribution.
Here’s the new hardware development stuff:
I still find the littleBits idea fascinating. The modules aren’t cheap compared to buying individual parts, but of course, that saves DIYers the trouble of soldering and allows insanely rapid prototyping with different combinations of modules. There are some tradeoffs for designing music solutions too: the connectors can snap apart as easily as together, and some of the (necessary) requirements of designing the hardware can restrict certain ideas. But there’s still a lot of potential. It’s best thought of as its own universe than a direct competitor for standalone DIY hardware or things like Eurorack modules. (I only bring this up as I’ve seen some direct comparisons, and that may miss the point.)
If you’re interested, check out the lab, vote for projects you like, or even consider making your own hardware:
Musical tastes are personal. And it seems that force-feeding people a new album from U2, unsolicited, doesn’t go over well. Apple giving away U2′s new Songs of Innocence is in itself not a bad thing. But there are two problems. One, the album is poorly reviewed – think Paul McCartney “Wonderful Christmastime” rather than Abbey Road. Two, because the album simply appeared in purchased music – and because iTunes (cleverly enough) displays what you’ve purchased from iCloud – it showed up in people’s collections when it didn’t belong.
So, we’ve learned something. This doesn’t work. And as always, you can’t really buy marketing. That is, sure, Aphex Twin rented a blimp, but in the end, they had more successful viral marketing because they let their fans choose to spread their new release. U2 tried to force that promotion, and even though Apple and U2 are loved by many people, the combination comes across as corporate and inauthentic.
Peter Cohen shouts at the Internet over this, but I think that’s because he’s in the unfortunate position of reading lots of tech blogs.
This isn’t a “self-indulgent, first world problem.” It’s a textbook case study in the difference in power between word-of-mouth and a poorly executed promotion.
I know lots in the music production community who were offended by the U2 move, too. And there’s a reason for that. Apple may be a big corporation, but they aren’t Coca-Cola. They’re Bic pens, or a Nikon camera, or a Gibson guitar – we use the product to make things. And they’re an RCA turntable or a pair of Sennheiser headphones, Technicolor film or a book printed by Penguin. We use the product to take in stuff we love, too. Apple’s marketing has lately been really cleverly sensitive to this (and has featured a lot of great music making apps, too). So the U2 record proved, like the release, to be a bit deaf.
There will be subtler cases of this. If YouTube or Spotify or SoundCloud tries to tell you what to like, if Facebook ultimately buries your friends under ads, it’s a problem, not because advertising can’t work, but because it can obscure the reasons to use those services. Heck, I even have to protect my own personal authenticity and CDM’s. So, yes, sometimes the reaction on the Internet overdoes the tone a bit. But filter out that tone and you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t.
And every PR person in music, every record label looking to promote a new release ought to pay attention to what has happened here. I will meanwhile enjoy scoring this Aphex Twin 1, U2 0.
It happened just as Apple was giving us one thing many of us couldn’t imagine wanting (a watch), and one thing we definitely didn’t ask for (“buying” U2′s new record for us).
Apple quietly killed the iPod. That is, iPod touch lives on as an iOS handheld minus a cellular radio, and there’s an app on iOS. But there is no standalone device, with the as-expected discontinuation of iPod Classic.
This is a big deal. It means that the iconic object that transformed music is beginning to look more like a blip in music history – the leading edge of a change, but only part of that change. The iPod brought digital music and big collections, it’s true. But it’s being supplanted by something that, while it still involves digital files and pocket-friendly players on the go, is a different animal. It’s music you stream rather than own. It’s listening on a range of multi-functional devices, rather than syncing a single dedicated player to a computer. It’s music as an app, or rather, music as apps. Think Brian Eno-constructed generative music, RjDj and interactive sounds, NINJAMM remixing Ninja Tune, apps you use at concerts, strange sonic toys from Björk, and more. Commercially successful or not, that doesn’t matter – you can’t re-establish boundaries once they’re gone.
Once you have an operating system, music is software, not media.
And once you have the Internet, software is service as well as app.
This shift has sent some people into an existential tailspin. Mat Honan, for instance, gets a bit dark over at a much-forwarded elegy at Wired:
I miss the time when we were still defined by our music. When our music was still our music. I miss being younger, with a head full of subversive ideas; white cables snaking down my neck, stolen songs in my pocket. There will never be an app for that.
I will miss the iPod as dedicated device, too; I’m not immune to nostalgia. But then the iPod can be grouped at the end of a movement rather than the beginning – the age of recorded media and media players, each as discrete objects. Once, it was the iPod itself that was heretical. The nostalgic moaning here was once levied against the iPod and MP3, as it replaced CDs, and CDs, as they replaced tapes, and tapes, as they replaced records. We mourned the feeling of needles and records, of big jackets, of dubbed mix tapes, of analog sound, of lossless digital sound, low fidelity, high fidelity – various characteristics, often missing from one format even as they’re found on another.
Maybe it’s time to cut out all the mourning of these particular embodiments of music and start to ask ourselves, what is it about music that we really like? What can it be, once it’s removed from humans in a room making it?
Reader DoAn Forest reminds us of a thought piece he made in video form back in 2011. It’s worth watching the whole thing, as a fascinating meditation on materiality and scale that considers the world beyond the superficial remembrance of someone’s Danish wedding or crappy waterproof case and earbuds or how subversive it was to pirate tunes. (Ahem, sorry, Wired.)
We are left, then, with various characteristics of recorded music and its playback:
Physical media objects.
Collections and ownership.
Playlists and selection – that bit that “defines” us or not.
Dedicated playback objects (versus multifunctional ones), and whether they sit on our desk or travel with us.
Applications versus records.
Streams versus static media (be it analog or digital, really).
And then there’s the matter of what all this stuff means.
I suppose what I find odd about the press beyond the realm of musicians is that they’re so focused on connections to music that leave out the music itself. I understand why the music industry has this hangup: initially, they were worried that their power would be undercut by the loss of those bits of remade petroleum and the distribution apparatus required to get them into your ears. Now, I think, the industry has realized that overabundance is itself a new opportunity to consolidate power and control what we hear and who gets paid, but that’s a matter for another story.
For now, I would ask instead: was it really the earbuds, the waterproof case, the jog wheel that you remember? Or, if you call up the chorus of the song you once fell in love to on Spotify or even a crappy YouTube stream, wouldn’t you have the same lump in your throat?
Music is invisible and ephemeral. It can make us cry in our quiet moments, piped invisibly into our ears, because that is the nature of sound.
Of course, we want to collect and own because we are creatures of a consumer culture that does such things, or because some ancient, primeval hoarding instinct drives us, or because our minds like the association of memory with objects. And record jackets are magical because they make those invisible things visible, and they create other worlds, acid trip journeys into outer space and lineups of Beatles in marching outfits.
It’s clear that we’re still fumbling our way to solutions here. Records, in fact, have lasting appeal as objects despite (or because of) their ungainly size. Download stores aren’t yet out of business, and indeed expand with the rising popularity of DJing. There are two fundamental questions raised by the loss of the iPod, then.
Collections. The iPod was special in that it associated a particular collection of music with an object that stored it. (The “pod” is the clue.) As the film above suggests, it’s the materiality of the record crate without the weight and space. It’s obviously not dead yet, either, given that people lined up to spend hundreds of dollars on extra storage for the iPhone introduced this week. The Wired story gets at this collection quality, but does little to suggest the optimal way this would work. It seems that with instant-on streaming, collections become more important, not less. Proper collections were much-requested on Spotify, for instance; the absence there seems more to do with Spotify’s inability to implement the feature than a lack of demand. Music does still define us; the issue is that we have difficulty expressing that definition in the blurred space of the cloud.
The iPod Classic was beautiful in that it was so freaking huge; it could contain everything you love. If anything, online streaming services have something similar. The challenge now is to allow users to draw that line between “me” and “everything else.” To my mind, nothing has done this quite as perfectly as a cassette mix tape, though that’s obviously an anachronism.
Streams are soulless and impersonal. But that doesn’t mean it will make people the same way. On the contrary: those service won’t survive unless they can find a way to get back to what the user is passionate about. Oh, yeah, and about the players.
Apple showed their own lack of understanding of the problem with this week’s U2 announcement. It’s the low point of digital music: a record you bought without buying it. At least when I play a stream, I meant to play a stream. This is like a car radio stuck on a single station, permanently switched on. While writing this, actually, I called up an old U2 track I actually like, one connected to memory.
Dedicated players. It’s clear what the average music listener wants; they want to listen to music. They want that music wherever they are, whether in a car or on a jog or in the shower.
The iPod was never a very good serious dedicated player. I miss the amount of storage on Classic, but I think the Internet connectivity of the iPhone and iPod touch are perfectly lovely. If you really want a dedicated player, get an iPod touch and delete the extra apps.
But then, if you want a dedicated player, you might want something with greater audio fidelity. The thing is, an iPod just isn’t that different from anything else. That’s where players like the FiiO get interesting. The iPod getting out of the way leaves extra space for dedicated niche players. The challenge for these devices is to demonstrate that higher fidelity is something you can hear. A funny thing has happened in Berlin – the lovers of obsessive-compulsive details of bass drums I know have started to get addicted to just this sort of listening. I’d want some double blind testing myself on different kinds of music to convince me, but there’s some potential there. And I have no doubt that we can represent sound with something better than 2-channel, conventional stereo at compressed lossy 16-bit 44.1kHz. Our ears and brain have a lot more potential than that.
Listening technology lags listening
Let’s not write a sad song for the iPod. The iPhone is about as subversive as a bag of potato chips, Wired? Come on. The iPod was about as subversive as a bag of sour cream potato chips. This is subversive. D motherf***, D. Anyway, now Bed-Stuy I’m sure was one of the neighborhoods breaking the iPhone 6 Plus preorder. So yeah, times change.
Let’s instead look at the sad state of collection and playback.
I think ultimately it isn’t the vinyl we miss, or the iPods. I think we miss the moment when a love song meant something different, some deeper nostalgias that drive those journalists. To be human is to sometimes love and miss the past, far beyond any particular bits of plastic. Musicians have always spoken to those feelings; we earn our living on it. Now that we’re not strumming around a campfire and singing until people cry, some middle men have to work out how to let listeners find the right song.
My guess is, the day will come when people look back at the spreadsheets of tracks to stream and mostly no one will miss them.
Yes, U2 is the soundtrack to this whole conundrum in which the record industry finds itself. Not a requiem for the iPod.
Apple Watch could be the first in a new wave of wearable technology for musicians.
The idea isn’t new. We’ve seen various notions involving wearing extra controls for music. In fact, the whole category of alternative interfaces is deeply indebted to Michael Waisvisz, who helmed STEIM for many years and whose interface The Hands inspired generations of musical gloves and gestural interfaces. Guitarists have had various rings to wear; IK Multimedia is currently experimenting with rings that aid in gestural control of iOS.
Apple Watch may not become the accessory the iPad and iPhone have for music, but – partly due to the success of those platforms – it’s ripe for experimentation. And since I can already prepare Traktor sets with my iPhone and plug my guitar through an iPad, music companies already target iOS as an additional platform (atop Windows and Mac).
Those developers should see Apple Watch alongside the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch developer tools soon. Apple is promising that you’ll be able to use their wrist-born iOS gadget for notifications and information, with “fully native” apps (presumably iOS apps with a different screen size and hardware capabilities) “later next year.” So, figure notifications first, full apps later. Even the former will be useful, but putting those two categories together, imagine this:
Visual notifications while you play. BPM, cues in songs, uh… lyrics, if you’re especially bad at remembering them.
Remote controls. Transport controls and the like are a logical app. Think of a simple app with wireless Mackie Control for transport information.
Touch. The iPad and even iPhone offer larger touch surfaces, but you do get something out of the Watch. There’s reportedly pressure sensitivity, and “Taptic” provides haptic feedback. Now, you wouldn’t buy an Apple Watch for these features, but you can bet some developers will try hacking creative musical applications with them anyway. The new touch sensing tech could be something we see on iOS devices later, too.
Easy-access controls. Even the “Digital Crown” looks useful. Imagine a metronome on your wrist, turning this dial to change the tempo up and down precisely.
Wireless and Bluetooth provide a connection with your computer, so as with iPhone and iPad controllers, remote control is a likely application.
But I could see a KORG tuner or metronome on the Apple Watch, too, or an Ableton transport.
Copy and paste the above observations to Android-powered watches, or other wearable tech, too, of course, but there’s reason to wait for Apple to run this headline. I think the Apple Watch has a particular shot in that so far Android watches have been fairly disappointing in their design, and that iOS, unlike Android, has proven a viable platform for music developers to actually make money, reach customers, and find a single platform that’s easy to develop for and test. Even at companies that are giants of music tech, there simply aren’t big budgets for testing on a lot of different devices, and so critical mass has very logically shifted to iOS. (A reader called this a “monoculture” last week. Hardly – AAX, VST, AU, OS X, Windows, Linux, 32-bit and 64-bit and different OSes on top of embedded and DSP chips… this industry has enough platforms, so one mobile OS may be enough.)
Apple Watch is mostly a teaser at this point. We should know more as Watch Kit shows up in the developer tools. Apple’s increasingly liberal policy on developer NDAs should also mean we get to talk about it sooner.
Now, I’m very skeptical as I’m sure you are about whether I personally need such a thing – that’s $350 that could be spent on an entire synthesizer, which is more fun than a watch. (I like watches, the old-fashioned kind.) But I bring this up in part because I imagine the Apple Watch could serve as a platform for new ideas. It’s possible (and often desirable) to prototype synth hardware on the iPad. And the very presence of the Apple Watch on the market may reinvigorate a decades-old discussion about just what sorts of sensors and instruments you would want to wear. (McRorie, again, ahead of his time – the musical utilikilt may always beat the watch.)
And because many DIY solutions can be constructed for far less than $350, there’s no reason you can’t go off and make your own, non-Apple wrist-worn creation today. That’ll fill the time.
But whether it’s made by Apple or not, I’m fairly confident that the cultural impact of Apple’s creation is that wrists will go naked no more.
Let’s get one thing straight: now that Akai has made the jump from hardware to hybrid hardware/software, the hardware they make is very, very good.
The MPC Studio is slim and messenger bag-friendly, when Native Instruments’ Maschine is big and luggable. The MPC Renaissance is more of a “throw it in your station wagon” affair, but it feels fantastic – the pads are brilliant.
The downside has been software. But Akai is making headway there. I’m not convinced the changes are going to make anyone switch, but I can imagine what Akai is delivering here should make existing users very happy, indeed.
As NI bundled Maschine with Massive, Akai also – via InMusic’s AIR – have a killer synth of their own, the lovely Hybrid 3. But while bundles are nice extras, I think the big news here is more mature functionality for the MPC software’s workflows.
Musically speaking, the best feature of all may be “Direct Record” mode. After all, the heritage of the MPC is all about sampling – it’s what made it so essential in music. Here, finally, we see looping as an essential feature, recording layers directly in real-time.
New in this release:
Real-time loop-style sample layering, “Direct Record” mode
A new mixer architecture: better metering, better control (much-needed – and often-overlooked; mixing is an essential part of the drum machine/groove workstation)
“Filter” the information displayed on the mixer for customized information views
Audio export finally works as it should: export by program and track
Expanded track automation, with visual feedback
Better performance, with a multi-processor audio path
Reworked browser with adjustable volume on sample auditioning (so you don’t scream “ow” any more)
AAX plugin compatibility with Pro Tools 10 and 11
More keyboard shortcuts
There are various other enhancements and additional loop content. But I think it’s improving the mixer and adding sample recording – plus export – that really gets the most interesting. That export workflow is essential, as a lot of people working with this sort of software eventually drop clips in Ableton Live or another DAW to do their arrangement; drum machine workflows still work better for improvisation than they do finishing tracks for many users.
Maschine is definitely the rival here. Its effects and content are terrific, the Maschine mkII remains a great middle-of-the-road compromise between size and usability, and it has some beautiful features for sound design and production that function seamlessly. Akai’s software also just can’t match it on looks – and that’s more than aesthetics; it impacts how you use the program. (It’s telling that Akai didn’t even bother including a screen shot in their press pack. Yes, the hardware looks great.)
But Akai is starting to look like proper competition by improving their software. If you focus on the hardware and work with features like this new loop recording, it’s a contender.
What’s interesting now is to see NI’s next move on Maschine – and on the Akai side, whether this can gain some traction. I know loads of people who still love their MPCs, but still haven’t found MPC software users; if you’re out there, please sound off and let us know how this works.
Meanwhile, I know long-time MPC lovers still await dedicated hardware that doesn’t require a computer. (Rhythm Wolf doesn’t count.)
File this directly under “why has no one done this properly before?”
One of the few remaining annoyances in computer music making is just getting connected. First, you need an audio interface to get proper sound and headphone cueing. Then, you’ve got all this great gear for control – but where to put it? Macs and even many new PCs have few USB ports (especially ultrathin notebooks like the MacBook Air).
Yes, it’s about time someone combined a practical audio interface with a USB hub.
Focusrite/Novation seem to be the right folks for the job. Focusrite’s audio interfaces are some of the best of the bunch – I’ve had good luck with their drivers, and they deliver good sound for the price, thanks to the company’s experience in things like mic pres. Novation, meanwhile, are one of the companies making all the stuff you want to plug in (like the ever-popular Launchpad line).
The Novation-branded Audiobus, labeled “Audiohub 2×4″ (meaning I would expect they have other configurations in mind), merges both sides. There’s a 96kHz, 24-bit Focusrite interface for the audio guts, plus a three-port, powered USB hub.
Three USB 2.0 ports
Stereo line input (phono/cinch plug) with high/low gain switch
Four line RCA outputs or two balanced jack outputs
“Loud” outputs, including the headphone jack (with DJs and producers in mind)
Bus-powered audio interface – or connect a 12V DC power supply (included) to power the USB hub
Low latency performance and zero-latency (direct) monitoring
Crucially, those headphones can be set to outputs 1-2 or 3-4, so you do get separate headphone monitoring. That, combined with loud headphone output gain, indeed makes this DJ and live performance worthy. I also like those output knobs on the top of the unit.
And it works with the iPad, Linux, and the like, too, thanks to class-compliant operation. In fact, the hub combined with the ability to connect to iOS via a USB camera adapter makes this really ideal.
All in all, this looks like a box that ticks all the boxes for live PA and DJing. Where it sacrifices things is for those who need a mic or instrument input. If it’s a hit, though, a variant that does that seems close behind.
MIDI is missing, too, but that fits easily on one of the USB ports, so no complaints. (And then you can add more ports, for yet more connectivity…)
And because it’s hard to find a perfect, leave-it-in-your-bag-at-all-times interface for sampling, DJing, and live electronic performance, I have a feeling this will become a classic if they’ve done their job. Definitely hitting the review queue – stay tuned.
In the meantime, Novation has some nice marketing on this – I like the mention of DJ and Maschine sampling workflows alike, alongside this cute artist video.
Not that you need any of this. They had me at “USB hub.”
Your next modular input might just be an iPad or iPhone headphone jack.
Control voltage inputs, once associated only with racks of modular synths, are now showing up on all kinds of synthesizers and keyboards. Arturia’s MicroBrute and MiniBrute are two very lovely, very affordable examples, priced less than most entry-level digital synths were just a few short years ago.
And since all you need is a sound signal to modulate those inputs, even a phone or tablet app will do the trick. Developer Justus Kandzi, who came to one of our music app meet ups here in Berlin, has built some brilliant, compact apps for the job. Brute LFO is the cost of a cable — just five bucks; Trigger Box is free.
Plug them in, and you can use touch to create elaborate sound sculpting shapes (Brute LFO), or spawn Euclidean sequencer rhythms (Trigger Box). These apps don’t replace anything already on hardware; they add to what’s already there, and in the case of Trigger Box, can use an interface and design paradigm that makes sense on a display but might not on physical hardware.
Here’s a great example pairing the iPhone app with Arturia’s keyboard:
A second film shows analog voltage measurements.
Of course, part of what’s nice is that this sort of tool is agnostic. A new Arturia? A vintage KORG? Yes – both. Here’s a PolySix:
And then there are sillier possibilities, like an accelerometer shaker (upcoming):
Brute LFO may have fake knobs on it, begging the question of why you wouldn’t want to add these controls to the synth itself. But on the other hand, that’s part of what keeps the Arturia keyboards portable and affordable, and Brute LFO is a powerful, flexible tool in combination.
And yes, I’m aware I missed this earlier this summer – but now, with autumn coming for some of us, it seems the perfect time to wrangle some useful tools.
The old “MIDI versus analog” debate seems long forgotten. Now, both MIDI and control voltage are becoming no-brainers on new hardware. They each solve a particular problem conveniently; they each work with a massive variety of hardware – they’re about the two easiest tools hardware makers could implement. And they each coexist as well with vintage hardware as new, affordable hardware, DIY creations, and the latest computers and Apple gizmos.