Pioneer Squid is a monster standalone sequencer for your gear

Forget for a second that Pioneer is the CDJ and DJM company. Their latest TORAIZ goes a radical new direction – making what might be the biggest mainstream hardware sequencer since the MPC and Octatrack.

But a deep sequencer with MIDI and CV, for 599€ (awaiting US pricing details) – that sounds like a blockbuster.

The rise of gear for making sound has left a fairly significant hole in the market. You’ve got tons of drum machines, tons of synths, tons of grooveboxes, and then a whole black hole of semi-modular and fully-modular instruments.

But what about making, you know – a song? There aren’t so many choices for actually pulling together rhythms and melodies on all those toys. You’ve got a mishmash of internal sequencing features and devices capable of multiple tracks. But there are limited options beyond that – used Akai MPCs, the Elektron Octatrack, and Arturia BeatStep Pro being most common. The Arturia piece is cheap and cheery – and shows up astride an amazing number of fancy Eurorack rigs, prized for its simplicity. But having just dusted mine off, I find its sequencing really limited.

So here’s the surprise: the company that promises a really deep sequencer, one with elaborate rhythmic features that happily get you off the grid and bending time if you want, is … Pioneer.

The SQUID is certainly in a funny position. On one hand, it’s a natural for real gearheads and synth nerds. On the other, it’s a Pioneer product, so you can bet marketing and DJ press alike will try to say this is about “DJs getting into production” or … something. (No! DJs! Stop while you still can have a social life and, like, money in your bank account! You’ll become broke antisocial hermits like the rest of us!)

But – who cares who this is for? What it does appears to do … is a hell of a lot. And while it might actually have too many features (that will be I think the main element of any test), what’s surprising is that it isn’t a me-too sequencer. Despite the pads and step structure, Pioneer have made an effort to let musicians get off the grid and bend and warp time – so maybe drum machines can have soul again.

First, the predictable bit – it is a pad-based step sequencer, yes:

16 multicolored LED rubber pads with velocity sensitivity
Step record patterns
Live / real-time recording
Scale mode
Per-step automation recording (at least it seems that way – “parameter locks” or p-locks as known to users of other hardware)
Interpolation – this lets you set a beginning, middle, and end on steps and let the machine transition between them, a bit like creating automated envelopes
Harmonizer with up to six chords assigned to buttons
Chord mode with 18 built-in chord sets (I’m curious how customizable this is, as I’d rather the machine not make harmonies for me)
Transpose phrases on the fly
Up to five MIDI CCs on external devices
Randomizer (which covers everything, even CCs)
Pattern Set – this is interesting; it lets you lock in a combination of patterns into an arrangement, a bit like you can do with scenes in Ableton Live

And you can run sequences in different directions (bounce, reverse, whatever), as expected.

Multiple loops. Trigger probability – yeah, Pioneer are ready to take on Elektron here.

Already appealing and powerful, but it’s the real-time manipulation features that go in a new direction.

Speed modulation: look out, locked-bpm techno, because the SQUID can modulate speeds via six waveform shapes (triangle, sawtooth – please tell me there’s a random/S&H mode, too)

Groove bend: yes, there’s Swing, but there’s also “Groove Bend” which lets you use a slider to change timing. (I really hope there’s a way to optionally impact pitch, too, CDJ-style.)

Instant double-, half- speed triggers, too.

You can also shift the Scale and Arpeggiator knobs in real time, meaning… yeah, you can go super free jazz with this if you want.

There’s even an automatic mode that saves your jams even when you don’t hit record. (Ableton Live recently introduced this feature, joining a number of DAWs that have had it over the years.)

And yeah, it works with USB, MIDI, 2 sets of CV/gate, clock and DIN sync. It’s ready for your hardware from the 80s until now.

There’s even software for managing sequence patterns, projects, and MIDI clips – so you can save your work librarian style for live performances, and finish off tracks on the computer with patterns you made on the hardware.

Specs: 64 steps, 8 notes per step, 64 patterns, 128 projects.

I mean – we are sure this is a Pioneer product, right? Did someone get into our brains and make what we want?

I have a lot of questions. Step resolution seems fixed at 32nd notes, without mention of tuplets or other rhythms. I don’t see a listing for ppq resolution (the timing resolution of the sequencer). Performance reliability is something to test. Pioneer talks polyrhythms but I have some questions there.

But – wow. Yes. Let’s test this. Pioneer have so far given us some strange and mostly expensive “producer” devices lately, but this is different. This looks like it has the first shot of being the Pioneer gear every producer wants to buy – not just the Pioneer gear you use when you show up at the club. I can’t wait to get my hands on this so we can share with you what it does and how it might (or might not) fit your needs.

Obligatory promo video. Uh… someone stole Native Instruments’ typography and sci-fi light effects. But no matter – Pioneer made this device before NI did. (Okay, I’m buying the next round of beers in Kreuzberg after that comment, sorry, but it had to be said.)

The competition? It’s boutique, for sure, but the Synthstrom Deluge is the real rival:

It’s more compact than the Pioneer. And this really comes down to whether you want a 4×4 grid with a lot of dedicated triggers, or a whole bunch of pads and the Synthstrom’s nested editing capabilities. What’s really, really nice about the Deluge is, it has an internal synth engine and even sample playback. And ironically, that makes the Deluge better suited than Pioneer’s offering to taking a live project into a DJ booth – because you don’t have to reserve an entire table full of gear just to make sounds. That said, I think making a product dedicated to sequencing does free up the designers to focus on that workflow.

There should be room for both in the market; the workflow is very different, even apart from Synthstrom’s internal sound engine.

I feel bad I haven’t given the Deluge more time on CDM, so – now, no more excuses, I’ll get both these units in for a proper test.

All product details:

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en-us/product/production/toraiz-squid/black/overview/

I’m a child of the 80s, but every time Pioneer writes that this is “the heartbeat of your studio,” I think of old Chevrolet “heartbeat of America” ads. Is that just me? Okay, it’s just me.

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Moog teases spectral shift invention for Moogfest

Moogfest is inbound, and that means some new, limited quantity creation of the engineers at Moog. This year it’s a fascinating looking spectral shift module.

The packed festival season is inbound, and whereas that once meant bands and crowd pleasers, now there’s a lot of advanced technology and electronic music – from SONAR to Superbooth to MUTEK to GAMMA to Moogfest, among others.

And Moogfest with a renowned synth builder in the name, of course some of the hardware is also “headlining.” Moog this year haven’t even named their creation yet, but it seems there’s some spectral/vocoder (check the carrier knob) processing going on. They describe it thusly:

This year’s design (shown here patched into synthesizers from previous years’ Engineer Workshops) explores how electronic instruments create an analog of the human experience, speaking directly to the way in which physical circuits resonate within one’s self to create a “Spectral Shift”…

Well, watch:

I’m in another country this Moogfest, but if you splurge on an Engineer Pass, you get to make this and take it home with Moog calibration included. The lineup is filling out, too, with the likes of Daniel Miller, nd_baumecker, Jlin, Martin Gore, GAS, Mor Elian, and others (just to name a few favorites).

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moogfest-announces-initial-2019-lineup

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deton8 is a little drum machine with loads of soul

Twisted Electrons move on from acid and chip synths to drum machines. And the deton8, for around three hundred bucks, packs a ton of personality and sound possibility in a cute, playable package.

Twisted Electrons made a name for themselves in fun little boxes and boards packed with 8-bit, chip music, and acid sounds. Those instruments all stand out for lots of sequencing features and hands-on playable options. So a drum machine is of course a natural next step.

But what a next step the deton8 is. Mixing samples and synthesis, 8-bit sounds and wavetable synth, custom kits, and a ton of control and performance, it promises to be one of the more fun packages we may see this year. There’s even a simple NES-style synth in there, so even though a compact bassline synth would be an obvious combination with this, you could even do a lot with just the voices in this hardware.

I’m terrifically eager to get my hands on this one. It’s now much clearer what deton8 is about thanks to a new video – and some tantalizing new details:

For live performance, what’s especially appealing is the sound knob, which has different characteristics for different sounds. That’s a lot more fun than menu diving to change sounds, or being limited to tweaking pitch and duration alone.

Oh yeah, even that decay knob is more fun than usual, since decay doubles as glitchy repeat “delay.”

And in keeping with Twisted’s legacy, this thing is packed with downsampling and bit reduction, which is a perfect match for drums. (Again, that’s especially live – there’s a reason those Game Boy parties got so wild. There’s something about squashing dynamic range and making things screaming and digital that can make people go nuts. I guess partying is about reducing bit depth, anyway, right?)

Stutter, reverse, retriggering, granular algorithms – there’s a bunch there to play and record. I imagine you might make this a primary instrument, or some icing on your existing drum machine … that you could use it for relatively subtle stuff, or go totally nuts.

And it’s eminently affordable. The deton8 is 255 EUR (that’s under US$300), or around 300EUR with VAT.

Here’s the full list of features. The big development was, at the last minute, Alex at Electron responded to overwhelming user requests to load your own samples. So that means in addition to multiple kits included in the box, you’ll be able to use a software editor to slice up and upload your own samples, as both loops and 1-shots – see screenshot.

(Dear Roland, please, please add this to the TR-8S, too! And … yeah, I can imagine the TR and Twisted Electrons would make a wonderfully psycho combo.)

Features:

USB-MIDI
Hardware MIDI
SYNC IN
SYNC OUT
16 patterns of 1-16 steps each
Chain up to 16 patterns in a row to make a song
8 Voices (Kick, Snare, Metal (hats), Clap, Can (tinny sounds), Tom, Nut (woody sounds), SYNTH (NES inspired triangle wavetable synthesizer, with arp that can be shaped to a square).
Two modes: Loop Mode (for breaks and melodic content, decay and tune is global) & Kit mode (individual tuning and decay per part)
Pitch and decay modulation per step on every voice
8 hands on Stutter modes: Beat repeat (with variable rate), Forward granular, Reverse granular, Pendulum granular (scratch), buzz/texture , random granular (noise generation), spin up, spin down
Forward & Reverse sample playback per track
Delay with variable delay time and pitch decay (upwards and downwards)
Ring mod effect with variable frequency
Global pitch shift
Copy/Paste patterns
Real time pattern recording with optional metronome
Tap tempo
Swing
Mute/Solo a track
Drive any voice into distortion
Sound variation knob for Kick (add sub), Snare (add noise/snappy), Hats (change texture) and Synth (arpeggiate)
Pump aka sidechain compression emulation (any track can “duck” the others for the pumping/breathing effect)
Pattern clean and randomize for accidental magical beats

It sounds like we should see a review unit in April. See you then.

Promo video for some more sounds:

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/deton8/

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Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool

The leak was real. Akai have a standalone box that can free you from a laptop, when you want that freedom. It works with your computer and gear, but it also does all the arranging and performance (and some monster sounds and sequencing) on its own. It’s what a lot of folks were waiting for – and we’ve just gotten our hands on it.

Akai have already had a bit of a hit with the latest MPCs, which work as a controller/software combo if you want, but also stand on their own.

The Akai Force (it’s not an MPC or APC in the end) is more than that. It’s a single musical device with computer-like power under the hood, but standalone stability. It’s a powerful enough sequencer (for MIDI and CV) that you some people might just buy it on those merits.

But it also performs all the Ableton Live-style workflows you know. So there’s an APC/Push style interface, clip launching and editing, grids for playing drums and instruments, and sampling capability. There’s also a huge selection of synths and effects (courtesy AIR Music Technology), so while it can’t run third-party VST plug-ins, you should feel comfortable using it on its own. And it integrates with your computer when you’re in your studio – in both directions, though more on that in a bit.

And it’s US$1499 – so it’s reasonable affordable, at least in that it’s possibly cheaper than upgrading your laptop, or buying a new controller and a full DAW license.

First – the specs:

• Standalone – no computer required
• 8×8 clip launch matrix with RGB LEDs
• 7″ color capacitive multitouch display
• Mic/Instrument/Line Inputs, 4 outputs
• MIDI In/Out/Thru via 1/8″ TRS inputs (5-pin DIN adapters included)
• (4) configurable CV/Gate Outputs to integrate your modular setup
• (8) touch-sensitive knobs with graphical OLED displays
• Time stretch/pitch shift in real time
• Comprehensive set of AIR effects and Hype, TubeSynth, Bassline and Electric synth engines
• Ability to record 8 stereo tracks
• 16GB of on-board storage (over 10 gigs of sound content included)
• 2 GB of RAM
• Full-Size SD card Slot
• User-expandable 2.5″ SATA drive connector (SATA or HDD)
• (2) USB 3.0 slots for thumb drives or MIDI controllers

Clarification: about those eight tracks. You can have eight stereo tracks of audio, but up to 128 tracks total.

And there’s a powerful and clever scheme here that lets the Force adapt to different combinations of onboard synths and effects. Akai tells us the synths use a “weighted voice management” scheme so you can maximize simultaneous voices. Effects are unlimited, until you run out of CPU power. Since this is integrated hardware and software, though, you don’t fail catastrophically when you run out of juice, as you do on a conventional computer. (Ahem.)

All that I/O – USB connectivity, USB host (for other USB gear), CV (for analog gear), MIDI (via standard minijacks), plus audio input / mic and separate out and cue outs.

US$1499 (confirming European pricing), shipping on 5 February to the USA and later in the month to other markets.

I’ve had a hands-on with AKAI Professional’s product managers. The software was still pre-release – this was literally built last night – but it was very close to final form, and we should have a detailed review once we get hardware next month.

The specs don’t really tell the whole story, so let’s go through what this thing is about.

In person, the arrangement turns out to be logical and tidy.

Form factor

The images leaked via an FCC filing of a prototype did make this thing look a bit homely. In person with the final hardware, it seems totally logical.

On the bottom of the unit is a grid with shortcut triggers, looking very much like a Push 2. On the top is a touch display and more shortcut keys that resemble the MPC Live. You also get a row of endless encoders, which now Akai call just “knobs.”

The “hump” that contains the touch display enables a ton of I/O crammed onto the back – even with minijacks for MIDI, the space is needed. And it means the displays for the knobs are tilted at an angle, so they’re easier to read as you play, from either sitting or standing position.

There are also some touches that tell you this is Akai hardware. Everything is labeled. Triggers most often do just one thing, rather than changing modes as on Ableton Push. And there are features like obvious, dedicated navigation, and a crossfader.

In short, you can tell this is from the folks who built the APC40. Whereas sometimes functions on Ableton Push can be maddeningly opaque, the Akai hardware makes things obvious. I’ll talk more about that in the review, of course, but it’s obvious even when looking at the unit what everything does and how to navigate.

Oh and – while this unit is big, it still looks like it’d fit snugly onto a table at a venue or DJ booth. Plus you don’t need a computer. And yeah, the lads from Akai brought it to Berlin on Ryanair. You can absolutely fit it in a backpack.

Workflows

What impresses me about this effort from Akai is that it takes into account a whole range of use cases. Rather than describe what it does, maybe I should jump straight into what I think it means for those use cases, based on what I’ve seen.

It runs live sets. Well, here this is clearly a winner. You get clip launching just like you do with Ableton Live, without a laptop. And so even if you still stick to Live for production (or Maschine, or Reason, or FL Studio, or whatever DAW), you can easily load up stems and clips on this and free yourself from the laptop later.

You get consistent color coding and near-constant feedback on the grid and heads-up display / touch display about where you are, what’s muted, what’s record-enabled, and what’s playing. My impression is that it’s far clearer than on other devices, thanks to the software being built around the hardware. (Maschine got further than some of its rivals, but it lacks this many controls, lights, and display.)

That feedback seemed like it’s also not overwhelming, either, because it’s spread out over this larger footprint. There’s also a handy overview of your whole clip layout on the touch display, so you can page through more clip slots easily.

Logical, dedicated triggers and loads of feedback so you don’t get lost.

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

It’s a playable instrument – finger-drummer friendly. Of course, now that you can do all that stuff with clips, as with Push, you can also play instruments. There are onboard synths from AIR – Electric, Bassline, TubeSynth, and the new multifunctional FM + additive + wavetable hybid Hype. And there are a huge number of effects from lo-fi stuff to reverbs to delays, meaning you can get away without packing effects pedals. It’s literally the full range of AIR stuff – so like having a full Pro Tools plug-in folder on dedicated hardware.

That may or may not be enough for everyone, but you can also use MIDI and CV and USB to control external gear (or a computer).

The grid setup features are also easy to get into and powerful. There are a range of pitch-to-grid mappings, from guitar fret-style arrangements to a Tonnetz layout (5th on one axis, 3rd on another) to piano and chromatic layouts. There are of course scale and chord options – though no microtuning onboard, yet. (Wait until Aphex Twin gets his, I think.)

And there are drum layouts, too, or step sequencers if you want them.

Two major, major deviations from Push, though. You know how easy it is to accidentally change parts on Push when you’re trying to navigate clips and wind up playing the wrong instrument? Or how easy it is to get lost when recording clips? Or how suddenly a step sequencer turns up when you just want to finger drum a pad? Or…

Yeah, okay well – you have none of those problems here. Force makes it easy to select parts, easy to select tracks, easy to mute tracks, and lets you choose the layout you want when you want it without all that confusion.

Again, more on this in the review, but I’m thoroughly relieved that Akai seems to understand the need for dedicated triggers and less cognitive overhead when you play live.

Tons of playing options.

It can replace a computer for production, if you want. There’s deep clip editing and sampling and arrangement and mixing functionality here. Clips even borrow one of the best features from Bitwig Studio – you can edit and move and duplicate audio inside a clip, which you can’t do in Live without bringing that audio out into the Arrangement. So you could use this to start and even finish tracks.

The Force doesn’t have the same horsepower as a laptop, of course. So you’re limited to eight stereo tracks. Then again, back in the days of tape that bouncing process was also creatively useful – and the sampling capabilities here make it easy to resample work.

Powerful clip editing combines with sampling – and you can use both the touchscreen and dedicated hardware controls.

Or you can use it as a companion to a computer. You can also use Force as a sketchpad – much like some iPad tools now, but of course with physical controls. There’s even an export to ALS feature coming, so you could start tracks on Force and finish them in Ableton Live – with your full range of mixing an mastering tools and plug-ins. (I believe that doesn’t ship at launch, but is due soon.)

Also coming in the first part of this year, Akai are working on a controller mode so you can use Force as an Ableton Live controller when you are at your computer.

There’s wired connectivity. You can set up MIDI tracks, you can set up CV tracks. There’s also USB host mode. Like the grid, but wish you had some MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads? Or want some faders? Plug in inexpensive controllers via USB, just as you would on your computer. You only get two audio ins, but that’s of course still enough to do sampling – and you get the sorts of sampling and live time stretching capabilities you’d expect of the company that makes the MPC.

For audio output, there’s a dedicated cue out as well as the stereo audio output.

On the front – SD card loading (there’s also USB support and internal drive upgradeability), plus a dedicated cue output for your headphones.

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

And there’s wireless connectivity, too. You can sync sample content via Splice.com – which includes your own samples, by the way. (Wow, do I wish Roland did this with Roland Cloud and the TR-8S – yeah, being able to have all my own kits and sample sets and sync them with a WiFi connection is huge to me, even just for the sounds I created myself.)

There’s Ableton Link support, so you can wirelessly sync up to your computer, iPad, and other tools – clocking the Force without wires.

There’s even wireless support for control and sound, meaning that Force is going to be useful even before you plug in cables.

Yeah, it’s a standalone instrument, but it’s also a monster sequencer / hub.

Bottom line. It replaces Ableton Live. It works with Ableton Live. It replaces your computer. It works with your computer. It’s a monster standalone instrument. It’s a monster sequencer for your other instruments. It does a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t try to do too much (manageable controls, clear menus).

Basically, this already looks like the post-PC device a lot of us were waiting for. Can’t wait to get one for review.

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Modular to go: 4ms are making cute little $100 “Pods” for modules

It’s Eurorack without the big rack. Or rack modular that thinks it’s desktop. In any event, if you ever found a module or three you wanted to use without getting a big rack, or quick portability for a beloved module, 4ms may have a solution for you: 4ms Pods.

They’re cute. They’re cheap. They’re daisy-chainable. So if you don’t want that “cockpit” / “I’m outfitting a submarine command center” look, now you can take modules and put them in little handheld boxes you can move around, mix with desktop synths and effects, guitar pedals – whatever.

The daisy-chainable power designed just for this range also mean that you can put together a handful of pods pretty economically, since you only need to buy one with power supply. The pricing – the number being the size in hp, of course:

Pod20: US$55 unpowered / $99 powered
Pod26: $60 / $109
Pod32: $65/$119

It’s a clever idea, and they look really nice. Now they just need a nice carry case – a Podpod?

4ms announced these earlier today; “coming soon.”

https://4mscompany.com/

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Moog reveal their first polysynth in decades – inside the Moog One

It’s been a decades-long wait, but now Moog have revealed a flagship polyphonic keyboard instrument – a new dream synth. It’s high-end, for sure, but it also reveals where the brand that became synonymous with synthesis sees us going next. We’ve talked to Moog to find out more on today, release day.

The last time Moog made a polysynth, Ronald Reagan was President, the Space Shuttle was the epitome of futuristic, MIDI wasn’t really even a thing, and to slightly misquote Douglas Adams, people were “so amazingly primitive that they still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.”

And let’s be honest. While Moog have been studiously revisiting the evolution of their polyphonic instruments, Moog are known for their monosynths, not polysynths. This could change that. Sure, the Moog One is expensive – you might still choose a poly from Novation, KORG, Arturia, or fellow American brand Sequential (now renamed to its original moniker from Dave Smith Instruments).

But it’s also beautiful, and deep. It’s going to top the wanted list of rockstars again, maybe in a way we haven’t seen since the 80s – as proven by the promo video (some of which feature those same 80s synth superstars). If we still cared about print magazines graced by keyboard covers, this would have a glossy special edition devoted to it with a pull-out centerfold that let you lie in bed and stare at its front panel on your ceiling.

As for the “One” part, well, that’s more about it being the one, as in:

— well, except instead of Wayne, apparently Suzanne Ciani and Chick Corea reached that conclusion.

To celebrate, Moog have rebooted their 1976 Polymoog promo film, this time with Jeff Bhasker, Suzanne Ciani, Chick Corea, Mike Dean, Robert Glasper, Dick Hyman, Dev Hynes, Mark Mothersbaugh, Mark Ronson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Paris Strother. (Hey, you left out the ghost of Liberace and the Queen of England. That’s a Jerry Lewis telethon-level cast right there.)

And given the price is $6k or $8k list, you’ll probably want to know more. So Moog are doing a first-ever AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit:

https://www.reddit.com/r/synthesizers

Plus there’s a live stream of them building these (with another discussion to follow):

About the synth

So, what’s the big deal about this big synth?

It’s really the blockbuster follow-up to everything Moog have been doing – take the Minimoog Voyager, then make each single analog signal path more powerful, multiple that times 8- or 16-voices (depending on which model you buy), and then turn that into three independent polysynths.

That is, the “tri-timbral” part means that you could think of this as three analog polysynths in one. Each timbre can be addressed separately, with its own sequencer, its own arpeggiator, and its own set of effects.

What else?

  • Three all new dual-output analog VCOs
  • Ring modulation and FM
  • Two independent analog filters
  • Dual-source analog noise generator
  • Analog mixer with external audio input
  • Four LFOs
  • Three envelope generators
  • Effects, including Eventide reverbs (more on that below)
  • Preset recall, with 64 performance-fiendly presets loaded right from the front panel (and thousands more via the browser)
  • 200 front panel knobs and switches
  • Mod Matrix for visual modulation patching (also more on that below)
  • Easy-access “Destination” button – hit it, tweak something, and you get instant assignment

Now, all of this matters, if you think about it.

What’s the reason people are into hardware? Easy: hands-on control. And this has a lot of it.

But why are people also buying modular? Well, in part, at least, they want deeper sound design possibilities – complex modulation that allows more sound worlds. And this does deliver a lot of that via its voice architecture and modulation offerings.

Why did manufacturers start making keyboards and not only modulars – even for people who had been big modular users? That’s easy, too – modulars don’t give you instant performance recall, and they’re (by definition) not integrated instruments. This does both of those things.

But we also see the advantage of time. We’ve come full circle to lots of one-to-one performance controls. But we also can take advantage of an integrated display, without trying to use it to replace knobs and switches. We’ve become more allergic to menu diving and hidden features. And computers have made us demand more of hardware – like those instant-assign destination buttons. This is a Moog for a time when hands-on control and depth aren’t mutually exclusive.

Let’s ask Moog

I wanted to know more about how the Moog One came about and how you play it, so here are some answers to those questions – though for more, of course, you can join the AMA thread.

Making a new polysynth was unsurprisingly on the minds at Moog. “Moog has a long history of polyphonic synthesizer development, beginning with the Moog Apollo project in 1973,” Moog tells CDM. “Although the Apollo never moved beyond the prototype stage, Keith Emerson’s use of the newly designed instrument during ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery Tour provided Moog with valuable feedback for the release of the Polymoog in 1975. During this 10 year span, 6 different takes on a polyphonic instrument where created, ending with the Moog SL-8 prototype in 1983.”

Players have never stopped asking for polys, nor has the idea ever died, Moog tell us. Some resistance came from founder Bob Moog himself, however: “In his later years, Bob was not keen on the idea of a new Moog polyphonic synth, knowing firsthand the challenges of creating one, but over the years we have been able to substantially reduce costs and have increased the stability of our analog designs to the point that creating an analog poly no longer seemed out of reach.”

So when did the Moog One start to come into being. “Officially, we began the research phase in earnest in 2013,” say Moog, “talking with artists and creators about what their vision of the ultimate Moog synthesizer would be.”

“By 2016,” Moog says, “we had the first hardware prototypes for the circuitry, with the first stages of a working Moog One prototype taking form in early 2017. Now that the Moog One has been realized, we only wish that Bob Moog was here to play the first chord.

Okay, so how does it actually work, though? More details:

How modulation works:

Each of the Moog One’s 4 LFOs and 3 EGs have their own dedicated Destination Buttons for making modulation quick assignments on the front panel. Simply press the Destination on any LFO or EG, and the next knob you touch will set the modulation destination and amount.

For a modulation deep dive, the onboard Modulation Matrix provides immediate visual access to every possible combination of Moog One’s modulation sources, destinations, controllers, and transforms. The Modulation Matrix makes it easy to quickly program complex modulation paths while also giving an overview of all the modulation routings that have been set up in a given Preset.

What about the Eventide reverbs?

It sounds like two come from favorite algorithms known on the Eventide SPACE and related products:

Moog One was developed to explore what is possible in a polyphonic synthesizer, and Eventide’s breath taking reverb technology was the right fit. The Room, Hall, Plate, Blackhole, and Shimmer reverbs are all implemented using Eventide’s world-class algorithms with a few optimizations for use in Moog One.

A direct connection to service

There are some other changes coming, too. Moog are adding a chat feature so during business hours – 9-5 Monday through Friday Eastern Time – you’ll be able to ask questions of Moog staff in North Carolina, in real-time. (They’re quick to remind us those are “employee owners.”)

And there’s also that mysterious Ethernet port on the Moog One. From day one, it’s there for remote diagnostics and service. But more is coming:

Now, when a musician experiences issues that typically would require shipping an instrument back to the Moog factory, we are instead able to access their Moog One remotely and run a series of tests, calibrations, and whatever else may be necessary to best service their instrument remotely, which is a huge advancement and time saver for customer, dealer and manufacturer. While we can’t talk specifics regarding future product development, we can tell you that we have plans for the Ethernet port that will open new portals of creativity for Moog One owners.

Above, top: inside the Moog factory, as the first Moogs One are completed.

Availability

Moog One is out now, for real:

As of today, Moog One is available for order through all authorized Moog Dealers world wide. You can actually watch us building the Moog One right now through the live-stream player on the Moog website. Sweetwater will receive the first 150 units over the next few weeks, and we expect to begin shipping the Moog One to all US dealers in November, with international shipments starting shortly there after.

And what about those of us with budgets the Moog One doesn’t fit?

I had to ask Moog this, too – a lot of us are more in the market for $600 instruments than $6000. So what does this mean for us?

When we began development of the first polyphonic Moog analog synthesizer in over 35-plus years, we wanted it to be a dream-synth that pushed the limits of what is technically possible while still being an intuitive instrument for self-expression. This year we’ve released DFAM, Grandmother, and the Moog One, which are three instruments that cover a wide range of creative possibilities.

That’s fair, I think. As I’ve observed before, Moog have kept a range of products in reach of those on a budget – down to very affordable iPad/iPhone apps, but also including this other hardware. They’re releasing a fair number of products for a mid-sized manufacturer (compared to tiny boutique shops at one end, or mighty Japanese makers at the other). And since they first came up with their crazy Keith Emerson modular relaunch, while we have seen big-ticket rockstar items, those do appear to drive creation of more affordable analog gear and other devices and apps for the rest of us.

The Moog One will have a lot to live up to, because of its price, because of its obvious ambition, but mostly because of its name. But this looks tantalizing – a Moog poly that could be worth the wait.

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moog-one-polyphonic-analog-synthesizer

Meanwhile, in 1976:

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Teenage Engineering to ship their OP-Z, a handheld game-like synth

In a sea of synths that embrace retro vibes or big form factors, futurists and minimalist design lovers have eagerly awaited the Teenage Engineering OP-Z. And that wait is nearly over.

The new thing from Sweden now at last starts preorders now, with a ship date in mid October. The first batch are already gone, but at least we know these things are making their way into the world.

It’ll even come with a cute case bundle. (Cables and grippy knobs sold separately.)

There’s even an atypical apology from the Teenagers:

– let us start by apologizing for the long delay.* to develop new products can at times be quite hard and when you work on things that have never been done before,

it’s even harder. over the last year we have re-worked and re-thought in absurdum, but now when three long years of development have finally come to an end, we feel quite confident that you will actually thank us for that extra long wait. why? you might ask…– because the result is just pretty, pretty great.

Hands-on sessions at Moscow’s Synthposium – the surprise in-event this year for synth lovers – in fact confirmed the pretty-greatness of the OP-Z.

So instead of Stockholm, we got the really proper view of the OP-Z in the Russian capital, as documented here. The “Z” stands for “depth”:

And that’s also how Cuckoo, YouTube personality, suddenly shows up on Russian Music Mag’s channel and not only his own:

The jumbo candybar form factor of this synth recalls the Teenagers’ other flagship, the OP-1. But it’s safer to say that the OP-Z brings together a lot of what the design shop have been about over the years. There’s the lineage from the machinedrum and the early Elektron days, and its emphasis on design, rectangular corners, minimal controls, and grooves embedded into hardware. There’s the reduced calculator-style layout and key controls as we saw on the Pocket Operators. You have the unmistakable design aesthetics, introduced on the OP-1 but continually improved with collaborations with the likes of IKEA. So the OP-Z looks more stylish and design-conscious than anything else on the market.

But that’s not nearly as important I think as the way Teenage Engineering have increasingly mixed gaming metaphors, particularly from the Nintendo legacy, with music.

The OP-Z looks like a portable gaming console, and one that’s simultaneously both futuristic and kind of 1980s. (It’s a future for people who spent part of their past in the 80s.)

It plugs into a bigger display, in a throwback to old consoles and PCs.

And it suggests that an electronic musical instrument is a game and a tool at the same time.

The best way to follow how it works is to catch up with some of the best hands-on videos coming out of the YouTubers who were seeded beta units. Tutorial:

Jam session:

Do you speak German? Do you speak English but prefer the way synthesizer talk sounds in German? (Really, sounds way more … intelligent, somehow.)

The visual possibilities, meanwhile, are captured more clearly in Japan, and … those features sound better in Japanese, I think.

And here’s Cuckoo playing the thing live:

Check out the preorder:

https://teenage.engineering/products/op-z/pre-order

Or in person, Teenage Engineering is showing this and their other recent stuff in King’s Cross London:

https://teenage.engineering/now

https://teenage.engineering/

* Side note: once upon a time, I projected a graph of awesomeness vs. shippingness, specifically regarding the OP-1. Seems it’s still a curve you have to fight – but it can be defeated even with awesome stuff.

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A favorite sequencer gets more dimension: new Make Noise René

Forget about gear fetish: the delightful surprise behind the modular movement is that a whole bunch of people are interested in exploring weird new musical ideas. And one of the sequencer modules at the heart of it is getting a big refresh.

The René module wouldn’t strike anyone as something that’d turn into a big hit. This is an esoteric little device: a grid of touchplates and a bunch of knobs, which you then spaghetti-wire into other modules to make, uh, odd patterns.

But making weird patterns you can then shift around – well, that’s a lot of fun. And René liberated modular rigs from one of their major weaknesses: too often, people were stuck with rigid step sequencers that produced overly repetitive loops that would drive you insane. Basically, the “Cartesian” bit is, instead of having a line (those marching steps), you get a grid (x + Y).

So, here comes the René refresh. This is three-dimensional chess to the original model’s checkers.

The new model is three channels instead of one, three dimensional sequencing instead of two, and boasts expanded memory so you can save up to 64 states – no more long modular performances that sound great for the first three minutes and then … sort of exactly like that for the next hour, too.

This “three-axis” business is maybe a little exaggerated, but basically what you get is z-axis touch sensitivity, so added expression. Combine that with three channels of output, though, and you can in fact route a lot more control from this one module than before. And no doubt the additional memory will be useful in performance.

Here’s the full feature set:

  • 3 CV outputs for controlling pitch or timbre
  • 3 Gate outputs for generating musical events
  • Snake and Cartesian patterns available simultaneously
  • STORE all Programming in one of 64 STATEs.
  • New Z-Axis allows for modulating through any combination of 64 STOREd STATEs
  • All programming done real-time, programming of René is a key performance element
  • Visualization of pattern activity always displayed on left half with 16 illuminated Knobs
  • Visual indication of Programming always displayed on right half with 16 illuminated touch buttons
  • Communicates w/ TEMPI via Select Bus to Select, Store, Revert, Multi-Paste and MESH STATEs
  • Maximum amount of artist controlled musical variation, derived from minimum amount of analog data input
  • All new touch sensing technology tested successfully on the most commonly used euro rack power solutions

Of course, since the René first came out, it’s gotten a lot more competition. So it could be fun to see how this stacks up against other modular (and desktop, or software, even) sequencers.

René is available to preorder for US$525.

http://makenoisemusic.com/modules/rene

Since that’s my monthly rent, it’s worth saying Eurorack is still pricey relative to some lower-cost desktop hardware, to say nothing of computers. Clever software patching is great if you’re broke, or if you’ve a little scratch, something like Five12 Numerology.

But that said, this no doubt will go high on people’s shopping lists in the modular world – and it’s an impressive piece of work. Look forward to seeing more.

Oh yeah – there’s a GIF, too.

via GIPHY

https://gph.is/2CTzLbq

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UA unveils a maxed-out Thunderbolt 3 Apollo – and it’ll monitor surround sound

Universal Audio’s Apollo flagship audio interface and DSP platform is getting a big generational refresh and Thunderbolt 3. There’s a lot here, but maybe the most significant development is that 5.1 and 7.1 surround monitoring support is coming later this year.

It’s the Apollo X line for Mac and Windows – the x6, x8, x8p, and x16, all with Thunderbolt 3 connections to the computer and loads of I/O.

“UA’s hardware are just dongles for their plug-ins” – yeah, I hear that a lot. But the Apollo line was from the beginning the hardware that changed that. It said to users, hey, what if that add-on was also one of the best audio interfaces you can buy, even before adding in the DSP benefits. And then, over time, we’ve seen UA bake in greater functionality using that DSP horsepower.

The new Apollo really speaks to the high end of the market. These are the people who do depend on the reliability of the DSP hardware – because native processing, while enormously powerful, lacks the same predictability. (That’s a nice way of saying your CPU will suddenly peg and make a horrible glitching noise out of your sound.) That’s good to have anywhere, but especially in production environments in studios, in TV and video and games, in live tracking. A “studio” isn’t what it once was, to be sure, but then that’s also been the advantage of UA’s mobile interfaces. This is still about those situations where time is money and quality is everything, even if that use case may or may not be a studio per se.

Nicely enough, UA has managed to price out these systems for that full range, from the entry-level model at two grand (in reach of at least some serious independent producers) up to a maxed-out $3499 model.

In the process, we also see UA’s move from its more iterative, provisional approach of the past to a top-to-bottom hardware upgrade and greater software integration we get now. Having been on the UA train for a while, their stuff is just way more useful and way more reliable and easier to configure than when it started.

So here’s what you get:

All new A/D and D/A conversion which UA claims now best the industry for dynamic range and low signal-to-noise.
More DSP. 6-core processing boosts DSP by 50% over the past generation.
Mic preamp emulations. So, here’s another reason to run dedicated DSP – you can track through integrated preamp emulations of Neve, API, Manley, Fender, and more, saving money and space and adding flexibility in the studio, and then letting you take that studio rig on the road in a way that was previously impossible.
Surround formats up to 7.1, with speaker calibration and fold-down.

The surround thing is coming quarter 4, and obviously makes this way more appealing to exactly the sort of production environments likely to be attracted to UA in the first place.

There’s also various nice little touches: a built-in talkback mic and cue support, +24/+20 switchable operation, and a nice software bundle which interestingly now includes Marshall and Ampeg models. (I’m guessing that’s part of this focus on producers.)

The various models:

Apollo | x16 — US$3,499
133 dB dynamic range, THD+N -129 dB, 18 x 20 interface.

Apollo | x8p — $2,999
8 Unison-ready mic preamps, 129 dB dynamic range, switchable +24 dBu headroom settings, 18 x 22

Apollo | x8 — $2,499
Like the above but 4 Unison mic pres, 18×24.

Apollo | x6 — $1,999
The “producer one” – 2 Unison mic pres and Hi-Z ins, still surround support up to 5.1 (the others do 7.1), and 16×22 I/O.

The full range looks like a winner to me; I think we will see a lot of these show up in the studios, mix rooms, post facilities, and a lot of producer rigs, as UA promises.

There just isn’t anyone else doing this kind of platform. (The closest, Softube’s Console 1, in fact works perfectly with the UAD so it’s less a rival than a part of the same ecosystem.) It’s not going to be for everyone, but it does continue to look better for the people it’s for.

https://www.uaudio.com/apollo-x

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NI’s moving haptic wheels could change digital DJing: the new S4

DJing techniques are all built around moving turntables – around record players. The biggest news from Native Instruments today is that the company is finally bringing that tactile, kinetic experience to a digital controller you might actually go and buy. Meet the TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 MK3.

In the beginning, of course, there were turntables. And even though a digital file has nothing to do with a turntable, the gestures born out of the older analog, mechanical technology are tough to beat. Look at it this way: if you needed to represent the playback of a sound, and allow physical control with human hands over speed and time, you might actually arrive at the solution of a big spinning wheel with resistance. (Think about clocks, for instance.)

Native Instruments has had a big role in popularizing digital vinyl control, and later has had some of the most sophisticated jog wheel sensing. But a turntable with control vinyl can be unreliable and impractical, and controllers, no matter how good their sensing, don’t give much in the way of haptic, kinetic feedback. You can push them, but they don’t really push back. So those jog wheels have more in common with controls for video decks than they do audio. And in turn, NI has fallen behind in recent controllers, venturing into a side track (excuse the pun) working with touchpads, which proved even less sensitive and tactile than the wheels they replaced.

The solution: make something that moves, that responds the way a real-world object would in terms of resistance and gesture, and map it intelligently to software. It’s a haptic, digital wheel. You get advantages over the mechanical-analog solution, too: greater reliability, flexibility (you can adjust how it behaves interactively), lighter weight, and lower cost. Plugging real turntables into computers is novel and interesting, but it’s still impractical, like plugging old telephone switchboards …. oh, wait. Uh… sorry, forget the metaphor, as everyone is into Eurorack which is exactly using old telephone switchboards.

Let me start over: these wheels feel great, and for digital DJs, finally allow the kind of feedback that make digital fun to play.

No matter how much you love vinyl, being able to DJ with digital files matters. Pressing vinyl carries some cost in time and money, and translates into unsold inventory for lower-demand items. Digital DJing is important because it allows independent underground labels with small budgets to put out music and let DJs play it. And it’s essential for times when you can’t carry record bags. What’s exciting about the new S4 is, it finally makes digital DJing start to feel less like a compromise.

NI aren’t alone in going this direction. DENON have their own standalone player, the Denon DJ SC5000M. Like the S4, it’s motorized and gives tangible feedback. How does it compare? I have no idea, as I haven’t tried one in person, though you should absolutely go check out the extensive story on DJWORX:

EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK: Motorised Denon DJ SC5000M Prime

If anything has a chance of unseating Pioneer’s ubiquity in booths, it’s a rival maker replacing lifeless wheels with moving ones – assuming Pioneer don’t quickly respond with a CDJ-3000NXSmove or whatever they want to call it.

But as for independent DJs, here’s the thing: that Denon deck costs US$1899 per deck. So your rig will cost around 4 grand even before you add a mixer.

The S4 MKIII by comparison will be available in November for USD/EUR 899 for the entire package. So that’s within reach of the an aspiring DJ.

NI let the press get our hands on the new S4. And in just a few minutes of playing with it, I was already hooked.

Here’s what you get with those “high-torque” motorized jog wheels:

Three modes of haptic feedback: jog, turntable-modeling operation (vinyl-style beatmatching), and “beatgrid adjust” (something new and specifically digital – you can actually feel simulated bumps where your grid is located)

Visual feedback. The RGB light rings around the wheels aren’t just for show: they provide additional visual feedback, and it looks like they’ll be adjustable/configurable (or you may even be able to switch them off if you want).

High-res displays: waveform strip, track title, loop length and activation, key, BPM, plus Stem and Remix Decks. You don’t get touchscreens this time round – though you’d be pretty greedy to ask for them with those two wheels, of course. But the displays, like those we’ve seen on Maschine, are really nice and information-rich.

STEMS and Remix Decks: Oh yeah – love them or hate them, the two signature TRAKTOR features are back, and benefit from those great screens. STEMS remains a compelling idea, and it seems while its obvious application for tracks with vocals hasn’t caught on, it has a niche following in some techno circles. Remix Decks remain a clever way of loading up samples and extras.

Built-in audio interface, multiple inputs: Oh yeah, remember how I complained yesterday that the new Pioneer XDJ-RR has only one stereo input? This has inputs on each channel. So you can add vinyl or other machines and add in records or play hybrid sets. There are multiple microphone inputs, too.

Faders that are dirt and particle-resistant. All-new “Carbon Protect” faders are inverted carbon strips that help keep foreign substances from gumming up your faders. Nice.

A new TRAKTOR. The other important story here is that TRAKTOR itself gets a major updated – the long-anticipated TRAKTOR 3. And there’s lots of good stuff there, which I’ll cover separately.

So, for around a grand now, you have two new “intermediate” options for DJs that look really promising. There’s Pioneer, with their Rekordbox-ready standalone all-in-one – upside, no computer and full compatibility with CDJs, downside, not really a mixer. Or there’s NI, with their TRAKTOR S4 MKIII solution, adding a new kinetic experience and mixing capability while actually coming in at a lower cost than previous flagships. Requires a computer, yes but … can also do a bit more. And the wheels move.

The question to me is, is the S4 MKIII good enough that you’ll want to lug it to gigs. Because then Reakordbox compatibility ceases to matter, and you show up with something different. Stay tuned for a hands-on.

Here’s proof meanwhile I did get on the prototype, complete with Chinese factory stickers:

Yesterday’s entry from Pioneer:

Pioneer’s latest DJ all-in-one wants to help you get ready for clubs

Last major TRAKTOR news was way back in fall 2016 – so TRAKTOR 3 is very welcome:

Traktor 2.11 is here, and a bunch of stuff now works together

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