Synthesizers in the mass market are forever part of up and down swings – and we’re back in an up swing. At the same time as other musical instrument segments lag in sales, NAMM reports both more synths at their trade show and double-digit year-on-year sales growth. (In music, that’s just huge.)

So, you can expect we’ll see a lot more synthesizer options.

And the first of the 2015 products has already leaked out. As Synthtopia noted on Friday, Japanese artist Daisuke Asakura leaked a new Roland keyboard on Twitter, following a public performance on New Years’ Eve in Japan. (Asakura is a huge star in Japan, so little wonder that early access to Roland’s latest is a perk. The image has since been deleted. See also discussion on

In the image, you can clearly see mention of a digital synth section and an analog oscillator and analog filter section. It appears that the digital section gives you polyphonic operation, whereas the analog oscillator section is much simpler (with a sub-oscillator) and the other analog portion is a filter.

All of this also appears to be genuine analog sound, not the digital modeling featured on last year’s AIRA line.

I think the safest guess here is that this is a synthesizer offering from the Old Roland, and not the new Roland Product Group (RPG) that birthed the AIRAs. You’re absolutely welcome to bet against me. For one thing, the mechanical design – the encoders, for instance – is shared with AIRA. But I’m curious whether product management is inside or outside RPG. The first clue is the name: the awkward “Roland JD-Xi Synthesizer” suggests the old Roland nomenclature, and a direct line to the Roland JD series of the 90s. (Your next challenge: working out how the heck to say “Xi” – um, eleven? Ex-aye? Or, did Roland suddenly go Chinese?)

But whether I’m right or wrong, there are a couple of things to watch out for later in January. Continue reading »


The most sophisticated, most important music and sound instrument of 2014 is – your hearing.

But the best hearing protection is simply the one you’ll always use. And that’s why DUBS are the best product of 2014.

There are great hearing protection products out there, and for professional applications like touring, something spendy may well worth be considering. But you may have decided you don’t have the time to get your ears molded, or they’re too expensive to buy, or you aren’t using them because you’re afraid you’ll lose them. (I think I know as many professional musicians who have lost expensive hearing protection as I know with tinnitus.)

Then, there are the inexpensive earplugs. I think these may actually be doing more harm than good. They feel uncomfortable. They pop out. Then, at best, they sound absolutely terrible, just slightly worse than sticking your fingers in your ear and putting your head under a pillow. They train people that protecting your ears means not hearing a concert or event. I see people with toilet paper stuffed in their ears. This has to stop.

DUBS acoustic filters tick every box. They’re cheap enough that you can afford to lose them. (They’re US$25 a pair, with European availability expected any day now.) They don’t look strange in your ear; I actually got a couple of compliments. They feel perfectly comfortable, feeling just like standard-sized earbuds, and with enough flex that they seem to be happy in most ears. (Swappable sizes might be an improvement, but I haven’t needed them yet.)

mydubs Continue reading »

Analog synthesizers are superior because of their pristine, high-fidelit –

Oh, f*** it, who are we kidding?

We want to wail on an ARP Odyssey with ridiculous modulation that turns it into a groovy, angry space alien, and then film it on VHS interspersed with some car chase, just because. Someone in Krakow, Poland agrees, and the video above is what happened.

I’m going to defend the ARP Odyssey remake. Reader reactions clearly show this is a favorite. And the video reveals why: the Odyssey captures some of the ridiculously, wonderfully diverse noises of the ARP 2600 in a keyboard. That’s really all you need to know; the Odyssey is a perfectly reasonable target for a reissue.

At the same time, I’ll repeat that remakes alone aren’t enough. It was a pleasure to see Uwe of Berlin’s MFB the other night – his instruments, like the Dominion, are something new. So, too, have we seen creative new creations from Tatsuya Takahashi and KORG in the volca series. And the Arturia MicroBrute. And Mutable’s Shruthi. And Dave Smith, and Moog. And the list goes on (even before we get into modulars). I’m more excited about the new stuff, because it can produce unexpected new sounds, and because it renews all of these design challenges.

If an ARP Odyssey is beautiful because of its association with your own music in the past, with music you made and heard, these new creations are beautiful for the opposite reason. Of course – of course we should keep inventing instruments no one has imagined in order to make music no one has yet heard. Continue reading »

Careful, drinking this much coffee could start some Internet feuding. I know. Photo from the artist.

Careful, drinking this much coffee could start some Internet feuding. I know. Photo from the artist.

Enjoy it, because this will be about the only time something this weird racks up hundreds of thousands of SoundCloud plays.

Yes, it’s Toronto’s Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, uploading this week to SoundCloud. 432 is an ode to 432 Hz, with horror movie-spooky sounds oozing over the top. “DAT KICK DOE” from earlier this year is a raunchy, thumping distorted loop. (Back story: this sonic horror is how deadmau5 trolls. Well, I’m all for sound as a way to settle feuds.)

This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a return to the service after he deleted it – a major exodus, given he had 33 million plays when he shut it down. Now, the artist has his own streaming service: allows him to control what content he releases and charging US$5 for webcasts, downloads, and lots of other stuff. It seems it could be a sign of things to come – better to charge every fan five bucks if you can rather than wait for five bucks to show up from the likes of Spotify, and much better to have control over how things are released. Continue reading »


KORG has now made it public: we’ll get to see their ARP Odyssey, a remake of the classic 1970s synth involving one of the original creators, in January. Some sort of working unit at the NAMM trade show seems a likely thing to hope for.

And we can also see from the image they’ve posted that they’ve opted to recreate the third-generation ARP aesthetics, faithfully reproducing the black-and-orange labels. (Click for a full-size version, without the text.)

The Odyssey is a reasonable enough synth to reissue. Moog Music has already corned the Minimoog and KORG themselves the legendary MS-20; the ARP Odyssey is a logical rival to those units, a 2-oscillator, standalone synth in a keyboard. Just as it was a more affordable, accessible entry point to the ARP 2600, so, too, is an ARP Odyssey remake today. Continue reading »

nilsstudio_Alexander Schneider_06

Nils Frahm is a gem in music right now, a sensitive and reflective voice. And infused into everything he does is an unwavering sense of taste.

If you’re feeling the weight of the endless rotation of overplayed saccarine-sweet Christmas tunes, Nils can cure what ails you. For the second year in a row, he’s released an achingly mellow mix of favorites he’s dusted off from his vinyl collection. Curl up under the crackling analog fuzz of those records and settle in.

Each has obvious touchstones of piano inspiration; last year’s he described as “your mobile campfire.”

We have this year’s and last year’s mix here for your listening pleasure, plus the twinkling beauty of Wintermusik, his 2007 release featuring improvised piano, celeste, and reed organ. (Durton Studio, the photo pictured, was the setting. Photo: Alexander Schneider.) Continue reading »

There is so much bell action in this free download, there are bells combined with other bells. There are church bells, and there are Yamaha DX7 bells, synthesized through FM. It’s maximized Christmas soundware. Once you fire this up, it’s like an Egg Nog with a mulled cider inside and then a duck inside that.

And, incredibly, it’s the 114th Ableton pack release from Brian Funk, aka electronic musician (and certified Live trainer) AfroDJMac. That’s 114 free downloads – far more than we could ever hope to cover.

Because these are Ableton Live sound packs, you can actually open up the audio in any tool you like – minus the convenient mappings, but totally usable nonetheless.

Beyond the free downloads, there’s a sale on now with coupon code “half” getting you all Brian’s paid stuff for — you guessed it – 50% off.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. Merry Christmas, Brian!

More info:
Yamaha DX7 Ableton Live Pack:
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