This is how much the world has changed: we aren’t just talking the resurgent, enduring synthesizer. Nor are we talking about retro reissues. We aren’t even talking the return of analog control voltage.

We’re uttering “Roland” and “Eurorack” in the same breath.

Roland has taken the wraps off their AIRA modular plans, and they’re extensive. Make no mistake, this is still AIRA, and it’s still Roland – these are devices that look and sound like the AIRA series. That is an obvious point of differentiation for the boutique makers, the sometimes one-person manufacturers, and the uniqueness of what they produce. But we’ll have to see what the impact of Roland is on that market. What we know right now is that a big player is acknowledging the world those small makers have forged over the past couple of decades.

You can use the AIRA modulars on a tabletop – you don’t even need to rack mount them. But if you do care about Eurorack, everything they’re unveiling today can be mounted in a Eurorack setup. One mass-produced product can sit next to something that was part of a run of 50 built by hand by one guy in his kitchen.

Let’s look at the lineup.

airamodular Continue reading »

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Akai’s new US$99.99 Midimix is built on a simple idea – so much so that you could easily miss it. But one button makes it much more useful than its nearest rivals.

First, the obvious: yes, it’s a MIDI controller with a mixer layout. So, there are eight line faders and a master fader, 3 knobs per channel (for EQ), and dedicated mute (switchable to solo) and record arm buttons, plus bank controls. That’s it – no extra functions, no confusing mappings.

And then there’s one very obvious but clever button: SEND ALL. Hit SEND ALL, and you fire off everything to the DAW in one button.

Some of you are slapping your foreheads already. If not, the basic notion is this: MIDI controllers with this sort of design by and large don’t send all their current knob and fader positions at once. So unless you have a motorized controller, that means you have to wiggle or move everything until the DAW works out where the physical controls are before the two are in sync.

Ah. SEND ALL. Continue reading »

marshall

The Marshall “Plexi” Super Lead plug-in is the first amp to bear the name Marshall that isn’t actually an amp – the first authorized plug-in. It’s been built by Softube for the Universal Audio plug-in of DSP, arriving in May.

This is a reference 1959 Super Lead borrowed from Marshall themselves. The model number is 1959, built in the year 1967.

Now, it’s nice to have in UAD format, because you can mix and “reamp” and track and add effects and the lot in real-time on UA’s Apollo hardware. It’s also nice to see Softube doing the development; to my ear, they’ve done some of the best modeling work out there. (I got to meet with them most recently when visiting Sweden – they’re basically a boutique shop of modeling wizards.) Continue reading »

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UK maker Modal Electronics last year surprised the synth scene with a move into premium analog. This is luxury synthesis – the Aston Martin of synthesizers.

Well, it turns out they were only getting started. The product line for 2015 today gets a full range of models. And the 008 is the new headline instrument – an 8-voice analog synth that’s worthy of pinning up to your ceiling and staring at at night, boys and girls (or, um, “grown-up” boys and girls, perhaps).

Yes, we’re keen to test this and see if it sounds and functions as well as it looks.

On paper, to be sure, it looks great. Where to begin?

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The 008 has two analog oscillators (VCOs) per voice. You can blend waveforms for new waveshapes.

There’s a 16-multi-mode filter, with notch and phase and combination modes in addition to the usual business. Two LFOs, each audio rate, each with multiple wave shapes, each with MIDI sync.

And there’s stuff that reminds you why you have a polysynth – like oscillator and frequency filter modulation.

Without a single patch cable or any deep menu diving, there’s also quite a lot of modulation. Choose from eleven sources, and route everywhere, with each destination with its own depth. Continue reading »

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We’ve seen boxes that claim to sync everything you have to everything else you have. But the E-RM multiclock claims to do it even with a computer as the clock source – without jittering.

Just announced, the multiclock is the follow-up to the midiclock+, the clever MIDI sync box introduced by Berlin’s boutique E-RM Erfindungsb├╝ro back in 2012.

The most important thing to know about the multiclock is that it takes this obsession with getting sync right directly to your computer’s audio card. Whereas MIDI and MIDI over USB from a computer are inherently susceptible to jitter, E-RM claims that the audio synchronization gives them sample-to-sample accuracy. That allows you to use a computer as a clock source without some of the nastiness that can often ensue.

Rewind. Plain explanation. Remember when you could use a phone to tell what time it was? A lady’s voice would intone from the other end, “the time is now… 7:45 and 33 seconds pm.” Think of a MIDI stream as giving you those time indications a little irregularly – not quite on the right tick – and an audio stream giving times that are always exactly correct, many times per second (44,100 times per second for a regular CD audio setting, for instance). That’s my explanation, not E-RM’s, so I hope they approve.

You still retain the versatility to use what you want. So you can use MIDI or DIN (from more reliable MIDI gear that isn’t a computer, that is). You can use clock signals from analog modular gear. If you really must use a USB MIDI connection, fine – that works.

Or, of course, the multiclock – like the midiclock+ before it – can simply be your stable clock source for everything else.

This is all fine and well, but I think it’s the adjustment that makes this interesting. You can tweak timing on everything – each channel has two knobs for shifting and shuffling. That can allow you to fine-tune sync or even create your own grooves. I can really imagine dialing in something more life-like and human with this. Continue reading »

Serato and Native Instruments may have a fierce rivalry when it comes to tools. But at the end of the day, the leading DJ vendors exist for one reason: they’re there to support musicians.

And I do mean musicians. Watching new routines from Jazzy Jeff and Shiftee, you really see the turntable emerge as a virtuoso musical instrument.

They’re released as promotions for Serato (Jeff) and Native Instruments (Shiftee). And the tools are important: they’re there to allow these players to make use of their skills, to do more than just select tracks like a jukebox.

But this really is about engineering supporting the human body, supporting physical gestures. I think they also tell us something about who DJs can be in the age of digital DJ technology.

Jazzy Jeff is Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Allen Towne, here covering a Run DMC classic that has me tingling with nostalgia as a tail-end gen Xer. Now could be a perfect moment in his career – a time when young people are rediscovering hip hop DJ roots, and perhaps not so hung up on the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince association. (Well, or maybe those young people will have additional associations; I’m sure The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lives on on Netflix and so on.)

jazzyjeff Continue reading »

I must admit to knowing neither the term tubes musicaux, nor “boomwhackers.”

We’re on the eve of the Musikmesse trade show, which for music technology sites means time spent largely in Hall 5.1 – the bit dedicated to electronic stuff and “DJs.” But that’s no reason to ignore the possibilities afforded by acoustic sound. So long as people are being inventive with materials, that end of the spectrum (so to speak) will remain compelling.

And the “Boomwhacker” is a great example. As Wikipedia kindly fills me in, “Boomwhackers Tuned Percussion Tubes are lightweight, hollow, color-coded, plastic tubes, tuned to musical pitches by length.” Okay, you mostly can see that in this video. But they’re a success story in new musical toys: the 1995 invention by Craig Ramsell has now sold millions of units. Continue reading »