16″ MacBook Pro, a better MBP at 15″ prices, as Apple responds to user feedback

Apple has a 16″ MacBook Pro that improves performance, adds a bigger, better display, and makes promising changes to the keyboard – without increasing price. Next question: should you upgrade?

Apple’s flagship laptops still command a price premium: standard configurations are US$2,399 and $2,799, which can be punishing for cash-strapped musicians (especially in other countries once accounting for currency and cash). Figure budgeting at least $2599 for 1TB storage, and then the $2799 standard price point bumps processor speed and graphics.

But as before, what you get in exchange for the luxe price is some luxe hardware. That’s always been especially true of the display. Even big fans of the price/performance ratio on PCs have got to concede that Apple ships some big, bright, color-accurate, gorgeous displays.

And the 16″ revision does three things:

  1. It sweetens the display deal with what might be the best laptop display on the market.
  2. It improves the performance-to-price ratio with upgraded specs for the processor, graphics, and battery. But maybe most importantly –
  3. It fixes the damned keyboard. (Or at least first impressions suggest so.)
Now with an Escape key – and while the Touch Bar is standard, improved keyboard performance means there’s not really anything in particular to gripe about, we hope.

The keyboard had held a lot of people back. The butterfly-action keyboard on past models prompted some complaints about key travel, and worse, were subject to reliability problems. I was unable to attend the press preview for the new Apple laptop, but journalists more experienced with those issues are so far impressed – Dieter Bohn for The Verge and Roman Loyala for Macworld each have their first hands-on impressions. Apple are confident enough that they’re dubbing the new keyboard Magic Keyboard, in a nod to their well-liked Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad (all the way back to the Steve Jobs era, actually).

You still get the Touch Bar whether you want it or not. But it’s no longer at the expense of a dedicated escape button (it’s back), and the fingerprint sensor now also gets its own dedicated control. Plus even the inverted-T directional keys are back.

Having tested the old keyboard, I have to say this is the MacBook Pro I would save up for. But I think the most encouraging thing about this is it means Apple was listening to complaints from pro users.

Also encouraging – you get more ports. You’ll still need adapters for a lot of gear (or a hub), but with USB-C evolving, having four USB-C ports that also double as Thunderbolt 3 (yeah, all four of them) makes this a machine that’s easy to connect.

Computers have largely caught up with the needs of most musicians, meaning all these extra performance specs won’t matter to anyone. But producers pushing the envelope should appreciate the new machines. All images courtesy Apple.

We’ll need a full review before we can judge the on-paper specs, but so far the indications are positive.

  • Ninth-generation CPUs (6- or 8-core, depending on model) from Intel – these will be great for running things like modeled synths (hello, VCV Rack), as well as CPU-native operations for visuals and so on.
  • 100 watt-hour battery (that’s the biggest battery approved to fly in the USA), for longer battery life
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5000M GPU with 4GB VRAM, option for 8GB

This is new generation AMD stuff, made just for Apple, though that also means it’s tough to make a direct comparison. As in past models in this line, it’s middle of the road stuff. Just remember that Apple likes to choose balanced GPUs as far as heat and power draw; they’re not making gaming laptops with big fans.

The relevant factor there is, you still don’t get to take advantage of NVIDIA-specific instructions and acceleration. I guess we’ll see if Apple are able to push Adobe to finally optimize Creative Suite for the Apple GPUs. (Right now, CS uses NVIDIA CUDA optimizations, and suffers quite a bit when it comes to performance on AMD chips. Of course, Apple will be happy if you use Final Cut Pro, at least on the video side.)

You can load up to 64GB of memory, though that’s overkill for even some sample playback applications and as usual is a fairly expensive build-to-order.

Speaking of nice options for deep pockets, you can also add an 8TB SSD. Please don’t drop this machine when riding your helicopter.

But to me, it’s really the display and slick form factor where Apple continues to reign supreme. And, wow, that new display –

  • 16‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit display with IPS technology; 3072‑by‑1920 native resolution at 226 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors
  • 500 nits brightness
  • Wide color P3 / True Tone
  • Refresh rates: 47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, 60.00Hz

So everything is great, and you should go buy this – well, maybe.

The Catalina factor

Now that Apple has successfully responded to MacBook Pro customer feedback, let’s see how they handle complaints from developers. Developers I talk to are still venting widespread frustration with glitches under macOS Catalina – and Catalina is installed by default. These go beyond just eliminating 32-bit code and adding expected security improvements. Many developers I’ve talked to tell me that the major changes made to the OS are producing unexpected glitches and challenges.

I wish I could be more specific – Apple, for their part, infamously emailed developers to ask them to stop being so negative in their communication. But I can say this: Apple changed a lot of security features at once, and then shipped that OS on a strict timetable. That introduces a lot of variability, because it doesn’t leave a lot of time for even Apple to respond to developer and user feedback, let alone their third-party ecosystem.

16″ is the one to watch

I think the 16″ machine is likely to be a great choice in the long run – just maybe not today. As with new OSes, patience is a virtue.

If you can keep dust away from the keys, it’s even worth considering a refurb 15″ model for significant cost savings, which is what CDM contributor and friend David Abravanel just did. (Since we don’t live on the same continent, he’s safe from me showing up every day with croissants to see if I can torture test his new baby.) The 16″ model is almost certainly better, but if you get a great deal, that’s another matter. And a new Apple launch is likely to flood the market, especially since there’s no price increase here.

The 16″ model does look like the new sweet spot for the Mac. I would just wait a little bit to get some detailed reviews of the new laptop, and to wait as Apple inevitably works on any bug fixes for this new machine generation and/or macOS Catalina. Plus third party developers are working really hard on support, meaning even a couple of months from now, you can expect a smoother Catalina switch experience than now.

By then, maybe we’ll see this keyboard rolled out on the more affordable, more mobile 13″ model, too.

And Windows laptops remain an option. With more and more music software offering essentially identical experiences across OSes to end users – even in a growing number of cases, on Linux – we’re in a competitive landscape for laptops for music and live visuals.

But that’s a good thing. And it’s great to see a new laptop from Apple that promises to be genuinely inspiring again – and what users actually want.

https://www.apple.com/macbook-pro-16/

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MOTU’s new audio interfaces may finally be what we all need – $169.95

The no-compromise and entry-level audio interface – it’s something that should be impossible, but MOTU might have just cracked it.

I have literally been trying to pack suitcases for a long trip, staring at audio interfaces because I can’t find the one that does what I need. I’ve been equally stumped sometimes asking inevitable questions from friends about what they should buy.

MOTU has always made great audio interfaces. But many of them require drivers, which means your Linux-running laptop with Bitwig Studio or your iPad with those great new Eventide apps are both out of luck. Or they don’t fit a small budget.

So the M2 / M4 genuinely surprised me. They have the specs of a high-end box from MOTU or others, but they start at US$169.95 and at last they also work with every OS, all squeezed into a portable package.

Here’s what you might not expect:

High-end converters

2.5 ms latency with their drivers

A high-res color screen and built-in metering (unheard of at this price)

RCA outs? MIDI I/O? Sure!

But that’s not why I say they’re really no-compromise (though the high-end converters surely go there). MOTU did their own custom USB drivers for ultra low-latency performance on Mac and Windows but they also made this class-compliant – so it doesn’t need drivers on Linux or iOS or Android.

And then the pricing is stupidly nice.

So finally, one little box does everything – and if you get into the iPad or Android or Raspberry Pi, you don’t have to go buy another interface.

Yes, these are USB-C but that will also connect to your existing USB A connection.

Promising stuff – I’ll be interested to pick one to review (or pick up one to hopefully keep).

Full specs from MOTU:

• 2-in / 2-out and 4-in / 4-out USB audio interfaces with studio-quality sound
• Best-in-class audio quality driven by ESS Sabre32 Ultra™ DAC Technology
• Best-in-class speed (ultra-low latency) for host software processing
• Best-in-class metering for all inputs/outputs with a full-color LCD
• 2x mic/line/hi-Z guitar inputs on combo XLR/TRS
• Individual preamp gain and 48V phantom power for each input
• 2x balanced 1/4-inch line inputs (M4 only)
• Hardware (direct) monitoring for each input
• Monitor mix knob to balance live inputs and computer playback (M4 only)
• Measured -129 dB EIN on mic inputs
• Balanced, DC-coupled 1/4-inch TRS outputs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• Measured 120 dB dynamic range on the 1/4-inch balanced TRS outputs
• RCA (unbalanced) analog outs that mirror 1/4-inch outs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• 1x headphone out (driven by ESS converters) with independent volume control
• MIDI in/out
• Support for 44.1 to 192 kHz sample rates
• USB audio class compliant for plug-and-play operation on Mac (no driver required)
• Windows driver with 2.5 ms Round Trip Latency (32 sample buffer at 96 kHz)
• Mac driver (optional, for 2.5 ms RTL@32/96 kHz and loopback feature)
• iOS compatible (USB audio class compliant) 
• Driver loopback for capturing host output, live streaming and podcasting
• Bus powered USB-C (compatible with USB Type A) with power switch (USB cable included)
• Rugged metal construction
• Workstation software included (MOTU Performer Lite 10 and Ableton Live Lite 10)
• 100+ instruments (in Performer Lite)
• Over 6 GB of included free loops, samples and one-shots from industry leading libraries
• Kensington security slot
• Built in the USA
• Two-year warranty

Now shipping, $169.95 for the 2×2 M2, or if you want 4 ins and 4 outs, $219.95 for the M4.

https://new.motu.com/en-us/products/m-series/m2/

https://new.motu.com/en-us/products/m-series/m4/

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Abyss is a free doom effect for Max for Live – happy Halloween!

Subtle, nuanced, transparent, almost inaudible sonic adjustment? No – let’s kick things into the deep, terrifying flaming pits of Hell. Meet Abyss.

So, yes, it’s Halloween. That means even if you don’t have a costume, you can make up for it by grabbing this free Max for Live device and plugging in a microphone. (Say your costume is “audio engineer.” Pretty much anything works.)

But the cats at Max for Cats have put together a wonderfully disturbing audio effect in “Abyss” that I’m sure some of us will use year-round. Their description says it:

… lets you forward any input signal into the abyss. The result is an ominous, gory and hellish version of your original input signal. Use with extreme caution and only if you have a strong, sane mind.

Sorry, what was that last bit? I tuned it out. Never mind.

What’s actually here: repitching, reverb, delay with feedback, but all mashed together in a truly wonderfully demented way. So you get precise controls for damping, tail, spread, early reflections, flanging delay feedback, modulation rate and depth, and pitch presets.

Plus included Mirror, Cat, and Crow at no additional cost.

As it’s a Max for Live device, you’ll need Ableton Live 10 or later and a Max for Live license (included in Live Suite).

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How focusing on one tool cured writers block, and made one sharp, chilly, ‘stoic’ EP

Tools and technology are often described as obstacles. But sometimes focusing on a tool can refine musical process and composition – as main(void) reveals.

And yes, the goal here is, as always, to cure writers’ block and finish something that you feel really happy with. Let’s first hear the finished item, as it’s got the kind of deliciously calculated, precise electronics that first drew me to Europe. It feels chilly, but still sensual – foreplay for cyborgs, you know, putting the tech in techno:

Working musicians all have to balance different gigs. An emerging role for us is working out how to take day jobs in designing tools and sound design, and use that experience to help us make our creative musical experience better.

In the case of main(void), aka Jan Ola Korte, it meant parlaying his work in 2018 designing sounds for Native Instruments’ TRK-01 into honing his music making process. He writes:

When I was working on the sound design for Native Instruments TRK-01 in 2018, I saved a few presets to use in my own music. These sounds and patterns ended up becoming the foundation of Stoicism, my first solo EP that was released Aug 21 on Spatial Cues. I had a little bit of a writer’s block situation, so I tried to resolve it by working within very restrictive parameters. All five original tracks on Stoicism use TRK-01 as the only sound source, processed through a number of effect plug-ins. Limiting myself in this way created a nicely coherent sound palette. Since I only used TRK-01’s internal sequencers, I arranged the tracks via automation in Ableton Live, which switched up my routine in an inspiring way. In the end, this workflow not only resolved the writer’s block but led to my most comprehensive release so far.

The basic idea of TRK-01 is to do just that – it puts some focused modules dedicated to dance production in a single place. There’s a kick module, bass, sequencer, and effects – but it’s not preset territory, as each module has a number of different engines. That is, the clever twist here is removing cognitive overhead (by simplifying and integrating the interface), without limiting your creative choices (since there is still a full spectrum of very different sounds you can get out of each module).

Even with that being said, you still might not be certain how to turn this into a completed track. Now, each person will find a different pathway there, but seeing how Jan works – a bit like working with a studio mate – can often give you that “ah ha, I could actually learn from this” feeling.

Jan asked if he should do a full narrated look at his working method. Answer: aber ja.

By the way, of course this also means that by keeping this focused, adapting the release to a live gig is far easier. You’ll be able to catch main(void) live at Griessmuhle, alongside some very special DJ friends like DJ Pete, Alinka, and Qzen, plus some great names, in late October in Berlin.

More music:

Site: http://www.spatialcues.com/

Oh and yeah, go grab the music on Bandcamp! This is the them problem with promo pools, I see some huge names are playing these tracks out but they got the music for free.

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FL Studio 20.5 adds FLEX, a surprisingly powerful preset synth

So, I hear you like tuned 808s. And strings. And pianos. And wavetables. And FM. And filters. And… okay, let’s just put all of those in one synth but make everything a preset. Meet FL Studio 20.5.

The folks at Image Line are always full of surprises – somehow their always-free-upgrades churn out more and more diverse updates. So, as music tech makers all try to figure out ways to encourage you to get to the sounds you want more quickly, FLEX is both that and – not that.

a

Yes, it’s a “preset-based” interface. So you get lots of sounds to navigate to pre-designed sounds quickly, plus macro controls that let you tweak them to your own purposes. That preset library also includes an in-line store for buying more sounds, which will give Image-Line room to grow later – and to make some money off users in the process, since they give you your FL upgrades for free.

We’ve seen this idea before, everywhere from Arturia’s Analog Lab to Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol. It makes sense that not everyone wants to be a sound designer, and even those who do are sometimes up against a deadline or need some fast inspiration. So you want quick access to sounds, but you still want the ability to modify those sounds and make them your own – a little or a lot.

But this is FL Studio, so you know this won’t just work exactly like everything else does. FLEX has a crazy number of possible sound engines under the hood – subtractive, wavetable, multisample, FM, and even amplitude modulation synths. It seems it also consolidates sound presets from elsewhere, including FL’s own Sytrus and Harmless, and could be a front end to sounds in the tool in future.

And then there are the extras. You can opt for lots of visualizations, including a vectorscope, frequency histogram, and nice colored sepctrogram, in addition to the usual waveform oscilloscope view. The envelopes aren’t dumbed down, either – you get full AHDSR envelopes for both amplitude and filter.

Wow – then, also, 22 (I think I counted right) filter types. That includes two comb filters, a vowel filter, notch, and lots of different shapes of shelves, low pass, and high pass – even three different variations of phaser effects. So, uh, what started as a freebie “beginner” synth somehow accidentally morphed into a filter-packed rival to flagship soft synths of late.

You also get effects, which also have tons of variants, including reverb and delay. The Limiter gets alternative distortion models.

It’s like you went in for a plain hamburger Happy Meal on sale for a dollar, and the kitchen went mad and added siracha sauce and replaced the meat with truffles, but … you know, no complaints there.

Also new in this version:

You can use FL as a VST or AU on Mac (Windows already worked as a VST)
Browser audio previewing
Performance monitoring
Tons of plugin updates
Tons of workflow updates

See the full release notes:
https://www.image-line.com/documents/news.php

FLEX manual:
https://www.image-line.com/support/flstudio_online_manual/html/plugins/FLEX.htm

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MASSIVE X synth arrives; here’s what makes it special

The last time Native Instruments released a synth called Massive, they accidentally helped define genres (EDM, dubstep). But MASSIVE X returns to the original vision: make it easier to get deep with wavetables and modularity and go wild with sound. And now, the wait is over.

It’s been years in the making. But the original team behind Massive are back with a sequel to one of the most influential software synths ever made.

I was actually the very first press meeting for Massive, back in the day. But what that tells you is, initially they thought they were making something for nerds, not what would become EDM mainstages.

In 2019, MASSIVE X enters a world that’s not only been shaped by the first Massive, but is also far more comfortable with digital sounds and modularity, the staples of the original. Even inside NI, you’ve got REAKTOR and BLOCKS. There are plenty of other wavetable synths, plenty of semi-modular plug-ins. There are semi-modular synths – heck, Moog alone has three just in one line. There are Eurorack modulars in pricey hardware racks that require a screwdriver and modeled in software so you just need a laptop.

I mean, basically, those of us who love synths are all really spoiled. And like any spoiled child, little wonder there are bunches of those people whining and crying and rolling around on the floor like a toddler who ate too much candy. Well… if you read message forums, which I try not to.

So is there a place for MASSIVE X? You’ll hear plenty of talk from Native Instruments and reviewers alike, but let’s boil this story down.

MASSIVE X is a rarity – a kitchen sink digital synth plug-in that keeps its front panel easy to read.

Deep routing lets you path when you want to. But unlike a full-blown modular, that doesn’t stop you from creating sounds (and even modularity) straight away – and your sound design remains within a consistent interface and architecture.

Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside

Basically, the latest MASSIVE gives you this: it makes an argument for a semi-modular design by packing the oscillators with features, and then giving you ways of playing and modulating and inter-connecting all that depth easily. It walks that balance between complexity under the hood and legibility inside a coherent interface. So while other people might easily dismiss adding another semi-modular plug-in when you could just patch, there is a fundamentally different method to constructing sounds based on this architecture:

All about those oscillators. 170 wavetables, 10 oscillator modes, submodes for each of the oscillator modes – Massive focuses you on one architecture and one UI, but then gives you loads of choices once you’re there.

Get weird without even patching. It’s a true semi-modular, so you can make sounds without patching anything – and you can use its phase modulation oscillators to start that modulation just from the oscillator section. (Yeah, you’ll wind up doing some sound designs where you never get past those oscillators. And that’s fun, anyway.)

Route and patch in ways conventional modulars can’t. With a huge routing matrix and a unique approach to insert effects, you can swap all sorts of unique processors inside an individual sound – and recall all of those as presets. Any control output can be connected to any input; audio can go to and from anywhere you like. It’s enormously flexible.

There are plenty of synths out there with deep architectures, but MASSIVE X allows you to then take that depth and work with it:

Trackers give you sophisticated control over how MASSIVE X behaves as an instrument – by designing how it responds as you play.

Make uniquely playable instruments. NI have added a number of tools for tracking input from performance, as in velocity, and then scaling and mapping that where you like. This means you can make sounds like instruments, and ‘play’ a lot of that sonic depth live. (There are four Tracker modules to accomplish this.)

Add variety in performance and modulation. Tracker modules let you play live; Performer modulators let you draw in up to eight bars of modulation patterns and use those without playing. That can mean either unattended modulation in the sound, or can be triggered live with your controller.

You have 9 slots for LFOs, voice randomization, and then a bunch of potential sources and shapes for those variations.

The original MASSIVE isn’t going anywhere. And that’s important, because it’s light on the CPU in a way the new X – and other plug-ins – aren’t.

But MASSIVE X is simply a beast. As a flagship for Native Instruments, it enters some competitive waters – not the least being the fact that NI itself has, effectively, more than one flagship.

Performer envelopes give you the kind of extensive, visual modulation you expect from 2019 flagship software. The Remote Editor lets you trigger those envelopes live, making this a tool for improvisation or onstage.

Inside the Voice

Having said MASSIVE X is all about having a consistent architecture and UI – there is definitely a candy store inside. Just some rough ideas of specs, to give you an idea:

Wavetable modes: Standard, Bend, Mirror, Hardsync, Wrap, Forant Capture, ART, Gorilla, Random, Jitter

Insert Effects: Anima, BitCrusher, Correction Filter & VCA, Fold Wrap, Frequency Shifter, Distortion, Track Delay

Unit FX: Dimension Expander, Flanger, Nonlinear Labs, Phaser, Standard EQ, Stereo Delay, Stereo Expander

The Voice page. You can also find some possibilities messing about with Noise Restart, Oscillator Restart, Spread and Engine Reset – think serious sound design with phasing. Combine that with the various oscillator types and modes and poly/mono/unison modes, and a really wild option called Unisono (for unique, analog-ish drifts and detunes), and you could probably devote a whole month in the studio just on this page and be perfectly satisfied.

Filling a Massive niche?

The thing is, MASSIVE X makes even more sense in 2019 than it did when it first arrived. And if MASSIVE demonstrated that a larger slice of the population was ready for edgy, hyper-modulated experimental sounds, MASSIVE X might demonstrate that more people are ready for experimental sound design..

This isn’t a straight modular workflow. It isn’t a Eurorack. It isn’t REAKTOR. And it shouldn’t be any of those things. Instead, MASSIVE X brings back what made the first MASSIVE compelling – drag and drop routing, easy visual “saturn ring” modulation – and adds more sonic depth, the kinds of organic quality now possible on today’s CPUs, and more visual feedback. We all spend too much time staring at screens, but MASSIVE X gives us a good reason to look back – and is far easier on the eyes (and brain) in the process.

So, sure, we are spoiled for choice, which I’m sure means MASSIVE X will get some significant hostility from the sorts of people who lurk in comment threads instead of make sounds. But I’m happy to have my cake and eat it, and my other five cakes, too.

From my own vantage point, having not been entirely swayed by would-be contenders to the plug-in throne, I think MASSIVE X will be ideal as a complement to open-ended modulars. Having a single oscillator section that does this much means you don’t get lost window-shopping modulars. And that matrix and the depth of Trackers and Performers means MASSIVE X is manageable when other modulars (hardware or software) turn into messes of spaghetti-routing, at least for sounds you want to pack to the brim with subtle shifting transformations over time.

More details of this as I spend more time with the now-finished build. (Sound design, too – just give me some time on that!)

[watch this space, we should have the overview video from NI shortly…]

https://native-instruments.com/

Cost:
USD / EUR 199
USD / EUR 149 upgrade from the previous version
Included in KOMPLETE 12 (and greater editions)

The competition

There’s indeed a lot of competition. Look to:

U-he‘s ZEBRA2, Hive 2. Also deep modulation, but with a single window mode – more like Massive 1 – to MASSIVE X’s various pages and options.

ARTURIA Pigments We’ll be looking more soon at the sound possibilities of this one. It’s perhaps more conservative than MASSIVE X, but its virtual analog/wavetable hybrid is a crowd pleaser, there’s a unique and easy-to-follow interface, and it has a clear high-contrast dark look to the all-gray/beige Massive approach.

Serum of course arguably stole the bass crown from Massive as NI bided their time on an update. It is focused on wavetables (and custom wavetables) compared to MASSIVE X’s fascinating sprawl.

Who else would you want to see up for comparison? Let us know.

To me, at least my initial impression is all this mayhem of choice makes MASSIVE X stand out, but we’ll be interested to dig deeper and get feedback from other sound designers.

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There’s evidence of standalone Maschine hardware in the latest update

What if you could get Maschine and its live performance and sound capabilities – without the computer? One inquisitive user on the Native Instruments forum has found some compelling evidence that that could be what’s next.

Maschine 2.8.3 dropped this week. A post by user moderator D-One points to materials in the scripts folder that seem to suggest standalone Maschine hardware – a device that could switch between a controller for your computer and hardware that works on its own.

This wouldn’t be the first time Native Instruments inadvertently revealed hardware before it was announced. The Maschine MK3 was also located by a user snooping around in the Lua scripts that connect the hardware and software.

The forum thread has been up since Thursday evening Berlin time, though I don’t know if eventually it will get deleted.

2.8.3 And the future of Maschine???

It’s fun reading the whole thread, but here’s the gist:

  • Maschine hardware, apparently designated MH (MH1071)
  • Shutdown, reboot, and recovery routines, suggesting it works on its own
  • Mention of an SD card, USB mode
  • Apparent references to controller and standalone modes

(1071 is a strange number to use as designation, so it seems likely that part is intended as a codename, unless there’s something we don’t know. 1071 buttons. No idea.)

D-One grabbed this image after loading the script on his/her existing hardware. Yeah, this is certainly suggestive.

The appeal of this is pretty clear. AKAI have already staked out hardware that doubles as standalone (without computer) and controller. But despite the storied “MPC” moniker being associated with that company, the overwhelming feedback I’ve seen from readers of this site is that many of you have moved on to workflows in either Maschine or Ableton Live. While the Akai Force was an interesting preview, I think we’re also waiting on a standalone device that has robust sync performance and handles complex sound production without choking its CPU. That is, these things need to be better than a computer when running on their own. So if Native Instruments are working on this, I’ll be keen to check it out.

You should take this with a grain of salt. Part of the reason manufacturers don’t announce gear ahead of time is not so much to keep secrets from competitors – many of whom know what they’re working on – as to manage our expectations. Hardware doesn’t always ship as planned, or when scheduled. So there’s no way to know for sure whether these Lua scripts mean anything about new Maschine hardware coming soon.

But… that is still very possibly what they mean. And that would be awfully nice. Stay tuned.

Because you know, what this all ultimately comes down to is getting to play these wonderful gadgets like instruments without having to worry about OS updates or drivers onstage. Ever again. Heck, it’s summer – grab a roving PA or mobile speaker and let’s head out for a techno picnic.

One reader also points us to this – it looks like the name of the product could be Maschine Plus. (You’ll see that buried in the symbols in the code.)

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PORTAL from Output lets you navigate granular effect chaos

PORTAL is a new granular synthesis effect plug-in from Output – and it lets you get into some serious mayhem across pitch, time, and synced tempo.

Output’s stuff has generally delivered deep, cutting-edge, futuristic sounds with pretty, easy UIs, and this is no different. You can dial up presets by category (with names like “vocals,” “stretch & smear,” “drums,” and “glitchy”). Then you can use either macro knobs and faders, plus the signature graphical portal X/Y control, or dive into a more detailed editing interface.

Macro effects and X/Y give you the spaceship control panel overview.

And there’s reason to love this particular package: PORTAL is the stuff of science fiction. Whether you’re just dialing up presets or drawing your own modulation and controls, it lets you mangle space and time the way you dreamed – not just at random, but really warping the heck out of your sounds.

I have no idea how I’d make a demo of this, but – I did wind up mangling a kind of boring groove I’d worked on into this alien world. Pick four tracks, add PORTAL to each, and go. Fun times.

And their demo:

For those not in the know: granular synthesis involves chopping up sound into tiny bits – grains – and then producing new continuous sounds by clustering lots of those pieces together as it plays back. The result can be stretching, smearing, re-pitching, and glitching and distorting sounds, warping and mangling time and frequency in the process. It’s the basic basis of a lot of re-pitch and re-time effects, as well as more specialized (and weird) effects.

Start by navigating the presets – seriously, go ahead and scroll through them, as each category has a pretty broad range.

What makes PORTAL special is a deep granular engine – combining wild-sound granular reprocessing with a built-in grain delay – all wrapped into a powerful interface. At the top level, that interface lets you just modify a couple of parameters for some major sonic effects. But dig in deeper, and you get a few key features:

  • Tempo-synced delay effects (meaning you might even just use this as a grain delay)
  • Tuning that ranges between free and tuned intervals
  • Two modulation sources with editable curves and time sync

That may not seem significant right away. But the ability to run time and pitch free (for mangled special effects) or tune it into specific beat-synced effects and tuned intervals means this can be as chaotic or as tied to the project context as you wish.

The modulation interface is also really clever. Click RNDM to generate curves. Use SYNC to adjust modulation curves to tempo. And then use a HUMANIZE option to add bits of randomization. I’d love this particular modulation editor just about anywhere.

Creating new sound designs this way is intuitive, but this is a case where even the most preset-prone will want to explore some of the presets just to find out what’s possible. Granular effects being as wide-ranging as they are, there is a certain fun to just scrolling through effects presets for happy accidents with whatever source material you have.

I think Output sell short the existing granular effects out there, which they describe as “a method that has previously been out of reach and impractical for many musicians.” There are plenty of great grain effects, and from Reaktor to iPad apps, casual musicians have often found ways of getting creative with them.

The editor interface is where the fun really starts, thanks to the ability to sync to pitch interval and tempo, easily see what you’re doing, and generate/edit your own modulation curves.

But I also mean to say, I think Output are underselling how special PORTAL is even among those other grain options. Integrating the grain delay and making modulation and pitch and time controls intuitive and accessible makes this one of the easiest sound design tools for grains I’ve seen yet. It’s especially useful as a grain delay.

Just don’t be shy trying a lot of the presets – some are way more useful or musical than others. And don’t be afraid of that editor interface: mouse over the labels for descriptions or numerical feedback on settings, and give the modulation a go.

Now you’re playing with PORTALS.

Take a tour:

Learn about how those grain controls work:

Dive into modulation:

Check it out. PORTAL is 149 EUR / USD.

https://output.com/portal

The post PORTAL from Output lets you navigate granular effect chaos appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

PORTAL from Output lets you navigate granular effect chaos

PORTAL is a new granular synthesis effect plug-in from Output – and it lets you get into some serious mayhem across pitch, time, and synced tempo.

Output’s stuff has generally delivered deep, cutting-edge, futuristic sounds with pretty, easy UIs, and this is no different. You can dial up presets by category (with names like “vocals,” “stretch & smear,” “drums,” and “glitchy”). Then you can use either macro knobs and faders, plus the signature graphical portal X/Y control, or dive into a more detailed editing interface.

Macro effects and X/Y give you the spaceship control panel overview.

And there’s reason to love this particular package: PORTAL is the stuff of science fiction. Whether you’re just dialing up presets or drawing your own modulation and controls, it lets you mangle space and time the way you dreamed – not just at random, but really warping the heck out of your sounds.

I have no idea how I’d make a demo of this, but – I did wind up mangling a kind of boring groove I’d worked on into this alien world. Pick four tracks, add PORTAL to each, and go. Fun times.

And their demo:

For those not in the know: granular synthesis involves chopping up sound into tiny bits – grains – and then producing new continuous sounds by clustering lots of those pieces together as it plays back. The result can be stretching, smearing, re-pitching, and glitching and distorting sounds, warping and mangling time and frequency in the process. It’s the basic basis of a lot of re-pitch and re-time effects, as well as more specialized (and weird) effects.

Start by navigating the presets – seriously, go ahead and scroll through them, as each category has a pretty broad range.

What makes PORTAL special is a deep granular engine – combining wild-sound granular reprocessing with a built-in grain delay – all wrapped into a powerful interface. At the top level, that interface lets you just modify a couple of parameters for some major sonic effects. But dig in deeper, and you get a few key features:

  • Tempo-synced delay effects (meaning you might even just use this as a grain delay)
  • Tuning that ranges between free and tuned intervals
  • Two modulation sources with editable curves and time sync

That may not seem significant right away. But the ability to run time and pitch free (for mangled special effects) or tune it into specific beat-synced effects and tuned intervals means this can be as chaotic or as tied to the project context as you wish.

The modulation interface is also really clever. Click RNDM to generate curves. Use SYNC to adjust modulation curves to tempo. And then use a HUMANIZE option to add bits of randomization. I’d love this particular modulation editor just about anywhere.

Creating new sound designs this way is intuitive, but this is a case where even the most preset-prone will want to explore some of the presets just to find out what’s possible. Granular effects being as wide-ranging as they are, there is a certain fun to just scrolling through effects presets for happy accidents with whatever source material you have.

I think Output sell short the existing granular effects out there, which they describe as “a method that has previously been out of reach and impractical for many musicians.” There are plenty of great grain effects, and from Reaktor to iPad apps, casual musicians have often found ways of getting creative with them.

The editor interface is where the fun really starts, thanks to the ability to sync to pitch interval and tempo, easily see what you’re doing, and generate/edit your own modulation curves.

But I also mean to say, I think Output are underselling how special PORTAL is even among those other grain options. Integrating the grain delay and making modulation and pitch and time controls intuitive and accessible makes this one of the easiest sound design tools for grains I’ve seen yet. It’s especially useful as a grain delay.

Just don’t be shy trying a lot of the presets – some are way more useful or musical than others. And don’t be afraid of that editor interface: mouse over the labels for descriptions or numerical feedback on settings, and give the modulation a go.

Now you’re playing with PORTALS.

Take a tour:

Learn about how those grain controls work:

Dive into modulation:

Check it out. PORTAL is 149 EUR / USD.

https://output.com/portal

The post PORTAL from Output lets you navigate granular effect chaos appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

VCV Rack hits 1.0; why you need this free modular now

Software modular VCV Rack just hit a major milestone – it’s now officially version 1.0, with polyphony, full MIDI, module browsing, multi-core support, and more. And since it’s a free and open platform, you don’t want to sleep on this.

VCV and developer Andrew Belt have hit on a new formula. Rack is free and open source on Mac, Windows, and Linux, and it’s free for developers to make their own modules. It also has tons of functionality out of the box – both from VCV and third-party developers. But then to support ongoing development, those developers offer some superb paid modules. Once you’re hooked, spending a little extra seems a good investment – because, well, it is.

All those modules… now seen in the new 1.0 visual browser.

Crucially, it’s a good deal for developers as well as users. Independent software developers, VCV included, are able to communicate directly with users, who in turn feel good about supporting the platform and community by spending some money. And hardware makers have a new way of reaching new audiences, as well as offering up try-before-you-buy versions of some of their modules. (Open source hardware makers like Mutable Instruments and Music thing were early adopters, but I hear some other names are coming.)

Maybe you’ve heard all this. But maybe you weren’t quite ready to take the plunge. With version 1.0, the case is getting pretty strong for adding Rack to your arsenal. Rack was appealing early on to tinkerers who enjoyed messing around with software. But 1.0 is starting to look like something you’d rely on in your music.

And that starts with polyphony, as shown by the developer of the VULT modules, which include many of my own personal favorites:

Rack 1.0

1.0 is really about two things – new functionality for more flexible use in your music, and a stable API for developers underneath that makes you feel like you’re using modules and not just testing them.

Mono- to polyphonic, on demand. Modules that want to support polyphony now can add up to 16 voices. Cables support polyphony. And the built-in modules have added tools for polyphonic use of course, too.

Polyphony, now a thing – and nicely implemented, both in UI and performance under the hood.

Multi-core accelerated engine. Adding polyphony, even on newer machines, means a greater tax on your CPU. There are a number of under-the-hood improvements to enable that in Rack, including multi-core support, threading, and hardware acceleration. This is also partly built into the platform, so third-party modules supporting Rack will get a performance boost “for free,” without developers having to worry about it or reinvent the wheel.

Adjustable performance: From the menu you can now adjust CPU performance based on whether you want lower CPU usage or more modules.

Adjust priority of the CPU based on your needs (more modules with higher CPU usage, or fewer modules but lower CPU).

MIDI out. You could always get MIDI into Rack, but now you can get it out, too – so you can use sequencers and modulation and so on to control other equipment or via inter-app MIDI routing, other software. There are three new modules – CV-GATE, CV-MIDI, and CV-CC. (VCV describes those as being suitable for drum machines, synths, and Eurorack and talks about hardware, but you could find a lot of different applications for this.)

Assign MIDI control easily. Previously, controlling Rack has been a bit of a chore: start with a MIDI input, figure out how to route it into some kind of modulation, assign the modulation. Many software racks work this way, but it feels a bit draconian to users of other software. Now, via the MIDI-MAP module, you can click a parameter onscreen and just move a knob or fader or what have you on your controller – you know, like you can do in other tools.

That will be essential for actually playing your patches. I can’t wait to use this with Sensel Morph and the Buchla Thunder overlay but… yeah, that’s another story. Watch for that in the coming days.

Meet the new MIDI modules, which now support output, mapping, and even MPE.

Numeric pad input as well as revised gamepad support. Now in addition to gamepads (which offer some new improvements), you can hook up numeric keyboards:

MPE support: MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) now works with MIDI-CV. That makes Rack a fascinating new way of controlling MPE instruments.

Enter parameters manually. You can also now right-click a parameter and type in the value you want.

Browse modules visually. All the previous options for navigating your collection of virtual modules textually are still there – type module names, use tags, search by manufacturer or type. But now you also get a pretty visual browser so you can spot the module you want at a glance, and click and drag to drop modules into place. VCV isn’t the first computer modular to offer this – Softube has an awfully pretty browser, for one – but I find the Rack 1.0 browser to be really quick and easy. And it’s especially needed here as you quickly accumulate loads of modules from the Web.

Get new modules by sorting by build. This feature is actually on the VCV website, but it’s so important to how we work in Rack that it’s worth a mention here. Now you can search by build date and find the latest stuff.

Sort by build now on the plugins interface on the Web.

Move and manage modules more easily. You can now disable modules, force-drag them into place, and use a new, more flexible rack. The rack is also now infinite in all four dimensions, which is a bit confusing at first, but in keeping with the open-ended computer software ethos of software modular. (Take that, you Eurorack people who live in … like … normal physical space!)

You can also right-click modules to get quick links to plugin websites, documentation, and even source code. And you can see changelogs before you update, instead of just updating and finding out later.

Undo/redo history. At last, experiment without worry.

Parameter tooltips. No need to guess what that knob or switch is meant to do.

You can check out the new features in detail on the changelog (plus stuff added since 1.0, in case you live in the future and me in the past!):

https://github.com/VCVRack/Rack/blob/v1/CHANGELOG.md

Or for even more explanation, Nik Jewell describes what all those changes are about:

An unofficial guide to the Rack v1 Changelog

Getting started

Rack 1.0 will break compatibility with some modules, while you wait on those developers to update to the new API (hopefully). Andrew tells us we can run the old (0.6.x) and new Rack versions side by side:

To install two versions that don’t clash, simply install Rack v1 to a different folder such as “Program Files/VCV/Rack-v1” on Windows or “/Applications/Rack-v1” on Mac. They will each use their own set of plugins, settings, etc.

You can duplicate your Rack folder, and run the two versions side by side. Then you’re free to try the new features while still opening up your old work. (I found most of my previous patches, even after updating my modules, wound up missing modules. Rack will make the incompatible modules disappear, leaving the compatible ones in place.)

Right from the moment you start up VCV Rack 1.0, you’ll find some things are more approachable, with a new example patch and updated Scope. And for existing users, be prepared that the toolbar is gone, now replaced with menu options.

Here are some useful shortcuts for getting around the new release:

Now you can right-click a plug-in for an updated contextual menu with presets, and links to the developer’s site for documentation and more.

Double-click a parameter: initialize to default value

Right-click a parameter: type to enter a specific value.

Ctrl-click a connected input, and drag: clones the cable connected there to another port. (This way you can quickly route one output to multiple inputs, without having to mouse back to the output.)

Ctrl-E: Disables a module. (You can also choose the context menu.)

Ctrl- / Ctrl+ to zoom, or hold down control and use a scroll wheel.

Ctrl-drag modules. This is actually my favorite new feature, weirdly. If you control drag a module, it shoves other modules along with it into any empty space. It’s easier to see that in an animation than it is to describe it, so I’ll let Andrew show us:

Do check out the Recorder, too:

All the new internal modules to try out:
CV-MIDI
CV-CC
CV-Gate
MIDI-Map
Recorder

And developers, do go check out the migration guide.

Full information:

https://vcvrack.com/

The post VCV Rack hits 1.0; why you need this free modular now appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.