Much as we love computers, who hasn’t dreamed of a dedicated hardware box for gigging that plays your plug-ins seamlessly? The Muse Receptor does this already, and it’s a very effective solution – everyone I know who’s got one loves it. But it is a full rackmount space, and prices start around US$2000 (though it does look like you can snag a refurb for less). That could be well worth it, but I’m sure for some potential customers, weighing the bulk and cost against a computer makes it tougher to bite.

That makes the V-Machine pretty impressive on paper: it’s more compact, like “throw it in a backpack” compact, and promises to list for only US$599. That’s so impressive, in fact, the “this is too good to be true” effect starts to set in – at least until we see one in person. But at least on paper, here’s what it promises:

  • VST/VSTi playback
  • External MIDI controller support for all parameters
  • Three USB connections, which you can use for sample storage, installation of plug-ins, dongles (ewww), or connecting controllers
  • MIDI-in jack (no MIDI out jack, which says to me you’d want to slave this to something else for tempo sync, not the other way around)
  • Control configuration via Windows and Mac
  • Load software via USB when connected to your computer
  • Aluminum case (so far, we only have the mock-up above, not actual product photography)

Looking closer at the specs, there are a couple of catches:

  • 1GHz CPU / 512M RAM / 1G flash disk (meaning this could be the catch; i.e., it’s likely to be a bit underpowered for some plugs)
  • 1 audio input, 1 headphone out, both minijacks (minijacks, really?)
  • 2 unbalanced TS audio outs (hmmm, no balanced? no XLR?)

Without the audio I/O and more powerful computer specs, I don’t think it’s likely to rival the Muse Receptor. But given the small size and low price, it could be ideal for someone who wants something simple and portable – it’s just a different market.

At US$599. Available at the end of this month. And it all comes from SM Pro Audio, who are something of a known quantity in the business.

Stay tuned. SM, I’d like one here, please, even if just for a few days.

V-Machine Press Release

V-Machine Product Page

  • Taylor Livingston

    But the only audio in is a stereo mini-jack. I would use this for processing instruments as much as VSTIs, but they've made it unnecessarily difficult to do so. It makes me wonder if you're able to send the audio in to effects or if it just goes straight to the output for playing along with a CD player or something.

  • http://toilville.com peter

    Well at that price, I can just use a eeepc hooked up to a fast track pro.. sure its less standalone, but I get a few extra cycles out of the setup :D

    Here's hoping they can up it to a atom proc at least…

  • Vanceg

    Yes, I'm wondering about the audio input processing too. I've been waiting for the pedal version for some time now – hoping it would enable me to run some of my favorite plugins for my guitar playing without having to bring the computer with me. Personally I'm a lot more interested in trying to use these as portable processors than synths.

  • Cptn

    I love the concept of these standalone VST hosts for live use, which is why I am having a tough time with this one. If you aren't going to get proper I/O or at least knobs, then why bother? A cheap laptop from a net retailer and a cheap FW interface can be had for exactly the same price (or less) with the added benefit of quadrupled specs and balanced I/O on 1/4" TRS. You obviously have the "no tech wizardry required" advantage here, but are digital neophytes looking for HW VST hosts?…and are digital gurus willing to run their audio through a series of unbalanced adapter chains in order to replace a closed laptop?

    MIDI I/O/T and audio I/O on 1/4" TRS for these things at the same price would probably pull some more believers….but right now, it seems like they are building a subcompact front-wheel-drive vehicle to sell to race car drivers.

  • Chainsaw~

    599 buys a 1.83 Ghz mac mini with an 80 gig drive.

    Why would you buy one of these?

  • http://www.swamidigital.com/ Swami Digital

    I think it comes down to its convenience to use vs. a computer, and its effective processing power. Not just the specs, but actual performance testing. It may do much better than an equivalently spec'd computer because it has much less overhead. I think its price point will also make it much more accessible than the Muse Receptor. (Which is an excellent product, btw.)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I hear the complaints. I can see someone wanting to show up at a gig with something like this and nothing else — just a keyboard — for whom the Receptor might be overkill. But I agree, the specs are a bit shy of what I'd want for that. And people have already demonstrated they don't mind the screen on laptops — on the contrary, it can be useful — the issue is wanting instant-on reliability. That's something that someone *could* deliver with a pre-configured laptop, especially one running Linux. (Anyone listening?)

  • Cptn

    It's a big ol' can of worms when you talk about instant-on reliability for a laptop that people can install various HW/SW on. The instant-on part is easy, but the reliability is tough due to the fact that you cannot predict what the end-user will stick in the FW port, be it an M-Audio interface or a Cheeto. That's why I think Muse NAILED it with a racked up micro-linux distro using a built-in audio interface with proper I/O and no capability to run your word processor.

    The SM box may not have a ton of power, but it's certainly workable. Anyone who's been in the game for a while has done a lot more than host VSTs with a lot less power than 1Ghz. I think the right connections and a couple of front-panel rotaries is all it would really take to make it compete with the Receptor.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Cptn: well, right, exactly. And I don't think it *has* to compete with Receptor. It's like Receptor Lite. If you only want to play one instrument, for instance — think fairly conventional keyboardists — then this could be great, and you probably weren't thinking Receptor anyway. But I agree with others that they could put a good pre on this and make it appealing as an effects box.

  • MonksDream

    As one of those "fairly conventional keyboardists" Peter spoke of I can say that this box puzzles me. I play in an experimental orchestra and the idea of leaving the MBP and FastTrack Pro home for something this size is very appealing. I'm guessing the market for this is those of us who can't afford/justify a Receptor or who are interested in the Roland Sound Cell. However, when I look at this box I see:

    1) the need for a bunch of I/O adapters, which means more fiddly bits that can get lost, unplugged, or can fail

    2) no balanced outs

    3) the need for a MIDI clock source?

    4) 1 x 1/8" input? they obviously don't expect this to be used for VSTi very often.

    Strangely, the one place this would be very useful with a sequencer, and if you have that at the gig why use this? Odd.

  • MonksDream

    Just noticed that their website specifies Windows VSTs. That leaves out most of my fave plugs. Its a neat idea though and it certainly beats the hell out of hauling more boards or one's laptop/interface/etc.

  • cubestar

    1. I'm guessing since it supports midi learn, so you would assign your controllers and just let this be the "brain".

    2.It does have 1/4"outs – Do people really need balanced connections much, esp. on stage?

    3. It may be almost as much as a cheap Mac Mini, but it might also be a good companion to a Mac, since it runs Win Vsts. It's also only $200 more than a Mopho…

    4. Built in USB controller support is pretty hawt…

    5. Maybe people should drop them a note about 1/8" input and no midi out kind of sucking though (not only for clock, but running VSTs that output midi).

  • MonksDream

    sorry…I meant VSTfx in my prior post, not VSTi

  • cubestar

    I'm guessing that for most people, how powerful it is will be the hitch.

    The thing that really stops me is that I'm addicted to Ableton's built in FX…

  • MonksDream

    @cubestar

    2. I stand corrected on the size of the outs. However I prefer balanced outs because they're quieter and if one is lucky enough to have XLR outs that's another stereo DI I can leave at home.

    3. Doesn't it seem odd to you that this seems to be a good companion for the very device it's supposed to obviate the need for?

  • poopoo

    I love the idea and all but I think this thing is vaporware. It's been on the sm pro site for the longest time.

  • http://www.retrothing.com/ James Grahame

    Hmm. I could build a really small box around a mini-ITX motherboard with an Atom processor, add 2 GB or RAM, a 4GB Flash card for storage and a decent audio card. It'd cost me under $300. All that would be missing is the display and a smattering of rubber buttons.

    Don't get me wrong. This box is a cool idea, but the price is twice what it needs to be to ensure success.

  • Taylor Livingston

    Hey James, if you'd do that for $300, sign me up for one!

  • http://www.orju.net M.A.S.

    This is what, the 4th company to attempt a vst player in hardware. You know what every single one of them has gotten wrong so far? There are not enough knobs!!!!!!!

    With the amazing stuff that Novation and Korg are doing these days with the automap and auto assigning of controllers to VSTs I want to see a knob box with either an LCD per knob or just a strip and have all the parameters of the loaded synth auto assigned to the knobs.

    Is that really so much to ask for? If we can do it on a computer already why cannot one of these boxes do it?

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  • clarity

    @ poopoo…

    …my rep is bringing one to show me in the next couple of weeks ;)

  • Lame

    I dont know how you gueys have missed this, but

    http://www.smproaudio.com/index.php?option=com_co

    theyre also releasing the V-Pedal, which basically addresses most of your issues (except the RAM, which should be upgradeable). But more importantly, has a pedal, thus making it have actualy function on stage. The problem with the v boxy thing is that it is obviously less functional then a laptop for a similar price, and way less practical than the whosemawhatsit.

    †he V pedal also has XLR out! and really isnt that what we all need?

  • http://english2.7pm.jp/ mack

    I m looking forward to next update.

    good!

  • http://N/A tiago morgado

    hey peter and all cdm readers!!! I hope you're all going well guys.. I wanted to know if this thing is like a vst processor/DSP(and if so how far would it free my cpu load), if it works with Native Instruments plug-ins, with MAC, and if there is previewed that it works with stuff like ableton live, MaxMSP, and if there will be solutions like this based on AU so that I can host audio units plugins on logic 8/macintosh.. thanks

  • poopoo

    @clarity …really? make sure you take a photo! sm pro can't seem to produce one of those :)

  • clarity

    @poopoo – Yup, but I may have to surreptitiously take photos…unless I can convince him to leave it with me for a day. Rest assured though, I'll be loading up some of my favourite plugins to see what this thing is capable of doing.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Hmm. 1GHz CPU, they say… which CPU would that be, exactly? They're not all created equal – if it's a Pentium M derivative (as in the 7" Eee) then all well and good, because they're rather pokey (and power-light enough to be passively cooled) at 1GHz (and for those asking for Atoms, I think the general wisdom is that 1GHz P3 > 1.6GHz Atom); but if it's a VIA thingy, then it might well be underpowered in the very areas it needs to be beefy (FPU, SSE2) to play nicely with VSTs.

    If they aren't going to be straightforward about their CPU choice, I'd be wary of it, for fear of other "silent" compromises if nothing else.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Update: just looked at the V-Pedal, which looks very pretty, but mentions a 1.5GHz CPU. Those numbers look like they come from the VIA CPU series to me…

    Proceed with caution!

  • http://www.gomakemusic.de Max

    German-speaking guys may want to read this review at http://www.gomakemusic.de/hardware/sm-pro-audio-v

  • gbsr

    im mostly interested in the v-rack actually. although the pedal would be nice. this vmachine could very well work, but as alot of readers already pointed out: you could easily build a more powerful portable vst/vsti setup, be it a modified laptop put into a new enclosure or just simply a laptop as is. both the pedal and the rack versions looks interesting though.

  • http://www.indamixx.com ronald stewart

    Well, I know exactly why this product has hit the market, but for the first time in my life I think I will keep my mouth shut :)

    PK>That’s something that someone *could* deliver with a pre-configured laptop, especially one running Linux. (Anyone listening?)

    RS> Yes Peter listening…. we are testing and optimizing Indamixx Laptop right now. Fully loaded Audio Netbook with ArdourXchange for 499.00 breaking the sub 500.00 mark for an audio computer.

  • SpencerNotForHire

    This box is a joke. There's so many better things to buy with the money: a mac mini, a laptop, 2 PC's with better specs, etc.

    Putting VST to dedicated hardware is just a stupid idea to begin with, cos the reason we have something like VST is so we can change the software without changing the hardware.

    PLONK! Banished to the trash heap of bad ideas. This really has zero appeal.

  • cubestar

    That pedal looks like it will cinch many issues, but it's not gonna be cheap. Also, they better put a security lock port on that thing!

  • gwenhwyfaer

    <blockquote cite="SpencerNotForHire">This really has zero appeal.

    For you, perhaps.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    the ardourDeveloper dreams of being able to host VST plugins *WITHOUT* their editor GUIs.

    life would be so sweet …

    i dream on, and envy the simple task these guys face :)

  • Rupert Lally

    Lots of the comments posted here seem to be missing the point slightly:

    Yes, you can buy a Mac mini etc for the same price or less. However, they will not allow to use VSTs in the same way as a hardware synth – this will do that and you can use more than one vst at a time. Plus theres nothing to stop you using this with your laptop on stage as you would a hardware sound module – it's small enough to fit in a rucksack with your laptop – thereby freeing up a lot of proccesing power. audio comes out of the Vmachine itself so the only thing you'd need would be a USB cable to your laptop.

    The comment about lack of controls is fair enough but with all the hardware contollers and keyboards on the market this is hardly a major problem.

    The make of the CPU is worrying but, remember a this a 1ghz CPU that doesn't have to contend with GUIs, Windows, or the processor demands of your favorite sequencer and with much lower latency.

    The USB ports at the back can be used for license keys (though sm pro audio say that once the plugin is put into the units hosting software that effectivly licenses it – we'll see about how well that works in practice. The ports can also be used for streaming samples from external hard drives, according to SM PRo – so could use it and an external HD to play and layer those massive KOntakt sample libraries we all love, but our computers hate.

    and Spencer for hire: what planet are you on? Having this unit doesn't mean you can't change the software without changing the hardware – it just means your computer hardware doesn't have to bear the brunt of the processing power needed. You can change the software whenever you like just load the new stuff into the unit; And I maybe wrong but I thought most people used VSTs for their relatively low cost, their sound and ease of integration with their sequencer.

  • vj runninghorse

    ok i have one of these from thomann here in europe for 499 euros.

    all points made here are valid.

    my unit has 2 gig flash though….

    people buy this for the same reason some people buy hardware a synth instead of software: turn it on and go!

    for me there's no difference between my v-machine and my guitar effects pedal.

    sure i could use guitar rig (i do sometimes), but for me my pedal board works great.

    some people drive cars others drive motorbikes. both will get you there!

  • neongreen

    Well the price is the main thing that interests me and well when you put into consideration the price of The Muse receptor and the price of the V-Machine…well is there anything else left to said :) ….I am gonna go buy myself one in day or two and will post a comment back to you once I out one into practice

  • http://www.myspace.com/sinistersaint Doc Sinister

    I'm building a computer for a little more than this unit costs. Its rack-mount, 8gigs ram, dual-core 3ghz, 2 sound cards, but i'm worried. I'm planning on running Symphonic Choirs, Symphonic Orchestra, and Superior Drummer 2 simultaneously. I'm thinking i can pick up this unit (or one like it) if my road computer can't handle all of the vst traffic. At the same time, i think mabey a quad core will resolve any latency issues. any suggestions?

  • appel

    @Doc Sinister: Just curious, what os/distro will you use and what (if any) application would you use to host the VST plugins?

  • http://www.myspace.com/sinistersaint Doc Sinister

    I'm planning on using Windows XP 64bit and Ableton Live 6. I'm using Live with the Symphonic Orchestra now on a Pentium 4 3.0ghz, 2 gig ram laptop with ONBOARD audio. the lag hurts. I'm now looking into a quad-core just to be on the safe side.

  • appel

    Ah, I see. I was kinda hoping you were gonna use some amazing vst-compatible Linux distro I hadn't heard of yet :) Ah well, as soon as a V-machine is available at the local shop I'll give her a spin. Good luck with your project!

    ap

  • nylo

    As a Mac user I'm interested to know whether you'd have to buy the same application, say NI Kontakt, twice to get it installed both on the computer (Mac version) and the V-machine (Windows). Or do VSTis allow multiple cross-platform installations?

  • Marco

    Bought this box this afternoon, and still trying to get it work under XP sp3.

    - this device is not recongnized in the device manager, after installing the software.

    - there is no .inf, no driver available

    - it doesn't run the vstplugin (B4 and TruePianos) from my usb key

    - the SampleTank cd does'n install correct, there is no icon or .exe to start the sample tank.

    - my sustain pedal of the piano does not work correct with the vmachine

    So, I'll spent a lot of hours to try solve these problems…tommorow I will try again and if everything isn;t work correctly I put it back in the box and bring it back to the store….so, be aware..this is not realy plug and play

  • Hyper5nic

    @Marco

    SM ProAudio have released a software-update. This is available through their website. If you have any problems, contact the people there first. They might be able to resolve them quickly for you.

  • http://www.smproaudio.com VFXAU

    A complete Support System has been setup so if you have any issues they are normally resolved withint 24hours. http://www.smproaudio.com

  • Pepe

    I am very DISSATISFIED with this V MACHINE.

    Dont buy it. This is an unfinished product.

    Latest firmware (20090130) still is not able to save changes after turnin device off. Only basic VSTi work due to the need of "wizard files" that have to be edited to work on your personal computer.

    Spent too many hours trying to make it work properly but still not able to use it in live gigs. Sampletank software included will never definetly work on the V MACHINE.

    I will send it back to the shop.

    DONT BUY THIS PIECE OF SCRAP

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  • frank

    Build a computer in a rackmount case, use solid state drives for stability, add a soundcard with 1/4 inch outs and set windows to autoload the vst you want on startup and ignore whether monitor and mouse are present anyone paying more than 500 bucks for less performance is either lazy or an idiot.