Roland VT-4 adds MIDI, control for performer-friendly vocal FX

Roland’s revised VT-4 – the replacement for the first AIRA VT-3 – makes it look like someone finally gets what vocalists want in effects. More effects options, actual control over harmony, and MIDI could make all the difference.

The original VT-3 is a little too simple to recommend. A big dial locks you into some stock effects, without any parameter controls beyond pitch and formant. But at the same time, it is unusually direct and accessible, and it doubles as a USB interface, meaning for singers it’s carry-on luggage friendly. So as a cheap, fun effect, it does have potential. It’s cheap on the used market, but then so are a number of pedals.

Roland have apparently been listening, though. Just as the fun but simplistic TR-8 was replaced with the sample-loading, all-around improved TR-8S, so to the VT-3 has gotten a revamp. The Slimer-green trim is gone, but more importantly, you now can control the way it sounds, via expanded effects options and controls. And it does MIDI input.

Here’s the thing: there are lots of great sounding vocal effects out there, but none of them seems designed with singers in mind. They fit into two categories: pedals that seem to have been created by guitarists, or “studio” boxes that have way too much menu diving. (If you can think of an exception, shout in comments.) The VT-3 was already significant in that it was live friendly. Now the VT-4 fills in the gaps the VT-3 left open.

From the VT-3, and still a good idea:

  • USB audio interface functionality (so you can use this with a computer)
  • XLR mic in with phantom power, plus minijack in
  • Four faders: pitch, formant, balance (for controlling wet/dry of the effect), reverb
  • Push-button preset recall
  • Dedicated bypass switch

But new on the VT-4:

  • A friendly “key” dial at the top right
  • Direct access to “vocoder” and “harmonizer” modes
  • Multiple effects at once
  • MIDI input – so play in the notes/harmonies you want for the vocoder, harmonizer, and pitch engines
  • Variations for all the effects

It’s finally what you want to sing with, whether you’re a great singer or can barely sing at all – direct access to effects, performance-friendly controls. Singers don’t necessarily want to have to do everything with their feet or in pages of menus. This hardware’s designers seems to understand that.

It’s the effects that appear to be totally overhauled. The only variations on the VT-3 are printed directly around the dial – as in, you get two alternatives for the auto pitch, and that’s it.

On the VT-4, there’s a whole slew of effects hidden behind the variation buttons. (Those buttons still double as preset storage and recall, so what you’ll likely do is explore to find the ones you like, then lock them in at the top.)

There are still some toy-like presets as on the VT-3 – though some of those are interesting for processing drums and the like. In addition, though, you also get a bunch of new, musical effects, and enough variations that you can dial in what you need.

There’s a chorus effect (categorized inexplicably as “megaphone.”) There’s a model of the classic Roland VP in the vocoder, along with talk box, advanced, and Speak & Spell (sorry, trademark – “spell toy”) variations. The Harmony option lets you choose intervals (fifth, third, forth below, and combinations, though you can also use MIDI for more). Even robot has octave options and a new feedback variation.

Also, that fixed “reverb” is now really a multi effects unit – reverb, echo, synced tempo delay, and dub echo are now available.

I’d likely buy it for those upgrades alone, but then you can also use a MIDI keyboard as input to control pitch.

I need to research more how multiple effects work and exactly how these models relate to those available on the VT-3 and other Roland AIRA and Boutique series models. But generally these days Roland are constantly improving their modeling and sounds, thanks to architectures that are more flexible than those of the past.

More at Roland’s site:

https://www.roland.com/us/products/vt-4/

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Akai Professional launches MPK Mini Play MIDI controller with built-in sounds

Akai Pro MPK Mini PlayAkai Professional has announced the immediate availability of its all-new MPK Mini Play portable MIDI controller. Based on the popular MPK Mini MIDI controller, the new MPK Mini Play comes packed with 128 sounds and its own built-in speaker. With 8 backlit MPC drum pads and a 4-way joystick for simple control, players have all […]

Apogee launches Jam+ portable USB audio interface

Apogee Jam PlusApogee has announced the release of the all new Jam+, a portable, studio-grade USB instrument input and output. Jam+ connects your electric guitar, bass, keyboard or any acoustic instrument with a pickup, directly to your iOS device, Mac, or Windows PC. With an adapter (sold separately) you can also connect a dynamic microphone. Jam+ aims […]

Steinberg launches new UR22mkII Production Pack

Steinberg UR22mkII ProductionPackSteinberg has announced the immediate availability of a new UR22mkII Production Pack, a complete music recording and production solution. The UR22mkII Production Pack consists of the UR22mkII USB audio interface, ST-H01 studio headphones, ST-M01 studio condenser microphone together with a microphone cable as well as the Cubase Artist 9.5 music production system, WaveLab Elements 9.5 […]

Novation’s SL MkIII has it all: sequencer, CV, MIDI, software control

One upon a time, there was a Novation keyboard called the ReMOTE SL. That’s as in “remote control” of software. Times have changed, and you’ve got a bunch of gear to connect – and you may want your keyboard to work standalone, too. So meet the SL MkIII.

The additional features are significant enough that Novation is dropping the “remote” from the name. Now it’s just SL, whatever those letters are meant to stand for.

The story here is, you get a full-featured, eight-track sequencer – so you no longer have to depend on a computer for that function. And Novation promise some higher-spec features like expanded dynamic range (via higher scan rate). With lots of keyboards out there, the sequencer is really the lead. Circuit just paid off for keyboardists. Novation gets to merge their experience with Launchpad, with Circuit, with Web connectivity, and with analog and digital gear.

Features:

  • The 8-track, polyphonic sequencer is both a step and live sequencer, it records automation, and you can edit right from the keyboard.
  • Arpeggiator onboard, too.
  • USB, MIDI in, MIDI out, second MIDI thru/out
  • Clock/transport controls for MIDI and analog, which also run standalone – route that to whatever you like.
  • Three pedal inputs
  • Eight faders and eight knobs, handy for mixing (there’s DAW support for all major DAWs, plus dedicated Logic and Reason integration)
  • Color LCDs
  • RGB everything: yep, over the keys, but also color-coded RGB on the pitch and mod wheel as track indicators. (I’m waiting for someone to release a monochromatic controller. You know it’s coming … back.)
  • Those RGB pads are not just velocity sensitive, but even have polyphonic aftertouch (more like higher-end dedicated pad controllers)
  • Cloud backup/restore of templates and sessions – a feature we saw unveiled on Novation’s Circuit

And of course there’s more mapping options with their InControl software and Mackie HUI support.

(Some notes from the specs: you do need separate 12V power, so you can’t use USB power. I don’t have weight notes yet, either.)

Novation must know a lot of their customer base use Ableton Live, as they’re quick to show off how their integation works and why those screens are handy.

Here it is in action:

We also see some cues from Native Instruments’ keyboards – the light guide indicators above the keys are copied directly, and while the pads and triggers are all Launchpad in character, we finally get a Novation keyboard with encoders and graphic displays. Unlike NI, this keyboard is still useful when the computer is shut off, though.

And wait – we’ve heard this before. It was called the AKAI Pro MAX25 and MAX49 – step sequencer built in (with faders and pads), plus MIDI, plus CV, plus remote control surface features. You just had to learn to like touch strips for the faders, and that garish racecar red. That AKAI is still worth a look as a used buy, though the hardware here is in a more standard layout / control complement, and a few years later, you get additional features.

The big rival to the Novation is probably Arturia’s KeyLab MKII. It also strikes a balance between studio hub and controller keyboard, and it comes from another maker who now produces analog synths, too. But the Novation has a step sequencer; Arturia makes step sequencers but left it out of their flagship controller keyboard.

Oh yeah, and if you just wanted an integrated controller keyboard for your DAW, Nektar have you covered, or of course you can opt for the Native Instruments-focused Komplete Kontrol. Each of those offerings also got revisions lately, so I’m guessing … a lot of people are buying keyboards.

But right now, Novation just jumped out to the front of the pack – this keyboard appears to tick all the boxes for hardware and software. And I’ll bet a lot of people are glad to do some sequencing without diving into the computer. (Even alongside a computer for tracking, that’s often useful.)

£539.99 49 keys; £629.99 61. (Both share the same layout.)

https://novationmusic.com/keys/sl-mkiii

What keyboard strikes your fantasy at the moment? What do you want a keyboard to do for you? Let us know in comments.

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PreSonus launches Studio 2|4 USB-C portable audio interface

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Arturia reissues Black Edition BeatStep, BeatStep Pro & KeyStep

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Run your audio gear off of USB power banks: KOMA’s Strom Mobile

You’re on the go. And those wonderful USB power banks will charge your phone – so why not audio gear, too? KOMA Elektronik’s new Strom Mobile makes it possible.

Here’s the problem: USB power banks (mobile batteries and whatnot), while plentiful, only output 5V power for phones and USB, and they’re anything but “low noise” (meaning you’ll hear garbled interference when you plug a lot of them in).

A lot of your compact audio gear is probably running on 9V or 12V power, and it’ll make you happier if it’s low noise. (Some gear is 5V, of course, but that’s another story.)

Enter Strom Mobile, a small accessory from KOMA that adapts power banks for your gear. Specs:

  • 9V/12V DC power compatibility (clean, low noise)
  • Two power channels – plug in to one or both, and set each channel to either 9V or 12V
  • Indicators to show you which power is connected, and how much current you’re using
  • Four outputs for gear – or connect more via daisy chaining (until you run out of current, anyway)
  • Cables and manual in the box: 1x USB B, 2x DC-DC, printed guide

The USB B cable is especially designed for this application.

There’s also a Strom Mobile Cable Pack you can buy as an add on, which includes another of those special USB B cables, a 1-5to-5 daisychain DC cable, 2 more DC cables, and 1 polarity changing DC cable.

And of course, this is intended for use with the Field Kit and Field Kit FX from KOMA, but the list of 9V/12V drum machines, recorders, samplers, effects pedals, mobile synths, and the like is very long.

Pricing: 175EUR suggested retail, or 35EUR for the Cable Pack.

Check the intro video:

Artists Hainbach (known for his lovely cassette tape videos and ambient creations) and Wouter (KOMA founder, here with his ODD NARRATIVE project) play and record using the gear en plein air at Berlin’s former airport-turned-park Tempelhofer Feld.

Product page:

https://koma-elektronik.com/?product=strom-mobile-portable-power-solution

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Expressive E launches Touché SE, little brother of expressive controller

Expressive E Touché SEExpressive E has introduced Touché SE, an expressive instrument that allows you to control the sound of your synthesizers with the pressure of your hand. While the original Touché has internal memory and can be used standalone, the smaller, USB-only Touché SE controller must be connected to a computer to function and does not have […]

Touché now puts expressive control at hand for $229

“Expressive control” has largely translated to “wiggly keyboards” and “squishy grids,” with one notable exception – the unique, paddle-like Touché from Expressive E. And while keeping essentially the same design, they’ve gotten the price down to just US$/EUR229, making this potentially a no-brainer.

The result: add this little device to your rig, and play gesturally with a whole bunch of instruments, either using provided examples or creating your own.

Preset-packed paddle?

Expressive E’s approach has set itself apart in two key ways. First, they’ve gone with a design that’s completely different than anyone else working in expressive control. It’s not a ribbon, not a grid, not an X/Y pad, and not a keyboard, in other words.

The Touché is best described as a paddle, a standalone object that you sit next to your computer or instrument. There’s a patented mechanism in there that responds to mechanical movements, so with the slightest pressure or tap, you can activate it, or push harder for multi-axis control.

And that, in turn, opens this up to lots of different control applications. Expressive E market this mainly for controlling instruments, like synthesizers, but any music or visual performance input could be relevant.

The second clever element in Expressive E’s approach is to bundle a whole bunch of presets. The first Touché had loads of support even for hardware synths. The new one is focused more on software. But together, this means that while you can map your own ideas, you’ve got a load of places to start.

Touché SE

The original Touché is US$/EUR 399.

Touché SE is just $/EUR 229.

Here’s the cool thing about that price break: the only real sacrifice here is the standalone operation with hardware. (The SE works with bus-powered USB only.)

Other than that, it’s the same hardware as before, though with a polycarbonate touch plate.

In fact, otherwise you get more:

  • Lié hosting software, with VST hosting so you can use your own plug-ins
  • UVI-powered internal sound engine with leads and mallets and loads of other things
  • 200 ready-to-play internal sounds, which you can call up using dedicated buttons on the device
  • 200+ presets for popular plug-ins (like Native Instruments’ Massive and Prism, Serum, Arturia software, etc.)

So connect this USB bus-powered device (they put a huge four-foot cable in the box), and you get multi-dimensional gestural control.

Standalone, VST, AU, Mac, Windows. (Would love to see a Linux/Raspi version!)

I’ve been playing one for a bit and – it’s hugely powerful, likely of appeal both to plug-in and synth lovers and DIYers alike.

http://www.expressivee.com/touche-se

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