There’s an oft-repeated conventional wisdom about Apple that I think is just plain wrong, and it goes something like this:

The success of the iPhone and iPad means that Apple is now a consumer company, and doesn’t care about pros.

Now, let’s parse the above statement and say Apple sometimes makes decisions pro audiences don’t like. Well, that’s certainly true; it just happened to be true prior to the success of iOS.

It’s time to face this question again, partly because of the widely-noticed demise of Apple’s Aperture for pro photography workflows, but also because of significant and under-appreciated updates to all the other pro apps.

First, let’s acknowledge that we’re talking about three Apples: there’s Apple the computer and mobile hardware maker, Apple the OS vendor, and Apple the pro app developer. In each category, I would contrast it with its rivals in terms of the attitude toward pros and consumers.

This is not an endorsement of Apple above other computer makers. There are some fine PCs out there, and some are terrific values. There’s Windows-only software worth using – for music, including SONAR and FL Studio. The fabulously-innovative Sensomusic Usine combines modular sound powers with multi-touch you can use on high-performance laptop/tablet hybrids, something not available from Apple. (You can run Usine on Mac, too, but you can’t buy a MacBook with touch input yet, of course.) Some of you will run Windows on Apple hardware; some of you will pick PC hardware. And while many higher-end laptops fall into the same price brackets as Apple, PCs are particularly good when it comes to saving you money on desktop systems. (Ironically, the Mac Pro is now so “pro” in the sense of high-end hardware, it’s out of reach for those who don’t have big budgets.)

But it’s possible to say that you have a choice between Apple’s offerings and PC platforms (even, for some, those running Linux), rather than to say that Apple is just for consumers. It just doesn’t fit the facts. Continue reading »


We have mono synths galore, but true polyphonic instruments are rarer. And while the images are blurry and details are vague, an upcoming English instrument has just the kind of pedigree to grab our attention. SonicState broke the story yesterday, but additional details have been dripping out on social media.

It’s called the modulus.002. What we know: it’s a polysynth. It comes from Bristol. It’s got a rather large keyboard with loads of controls. We know it makes rather thick sounds – listen below. And we know that driving that polyphony is a hybrid analog / digital design. (Sorry, it’s English – make that an analogue / digital design.)

And we know Paul Maddox must be involved. The company is called Modulus Music; Paul’s previous builder was Modulus (though he has also shipped hardware as Vaco Loco). One of Paul’s creations, the MonoWave, graces the site. Continue reading »

Hardware makers have tried different ways of fusing those tools with software for years. Now, we get to see just how Roland’s PLUG-OUT scheme will work, as the company shows off the SH-101 plug-in for the AIRA SYSTEM-1 keyboard synth that just began shipping.

The SH-101 PLUG-OUT ships on the 25th of July, available for free with purchase of a SYSTEM-1.

And, just as I’m enthusiastic about Elektron’s direction this year with Overbridge, I have to say PLUG-OUT looks really convenient. The name might be a gimmick, and I don’t know that everyone will want to swap models regularly, but the integration features look eminently logical.

A video released yesterday (just shy of making it into our SYSTEM-1 mega roundup) shows how it all works.

The selling points:
1. Software you can use without the hardware.
2. Hardware control of the software.
3. Software automation (recording and editing) from that control.
4. Preset storage and management in software.
5. The ability to swap models on the keyboard itself, effectively turning the same hardware into different instruments. Continue reading »


It’s the fourth and final piece in the AIRA puzzle: Roland’s AIRA SYSTEM-1 has finally appeared in finished form in the last few weeks, and is starting to arrive in dealer and user hands around the world.

Like the other AIRA models, the SYSTEM-1 is build around component modeling, new digital models of analog components. But whereas the TR-8 and TB-3 model the 808/909 and 303, respectively, the SYSTEM-1 initially ships with an all new synthesizer assembled from the sounds of its Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) models. For a Roland classic of yesteryear, we’ll be waiting until the end of July for the SH-101 PLUG-OUT to ship.

CDM will have more on PLUG-OUT, ACB, and that SH-101 model soon – as I think the SH-101 is really the key to whether you’d have this synth.

In the meantime, though, the SYSTEM-1 is an ultra-slim, compact synthesizer with lots of hands on controls (though no velocity sensitivity). In fact, that contrasts with the TB-3, which, while it sports a really lovely touch-enabled sequencer, limits control over synthesis to broad-strokes.

The SYSTEM-1 enters some fiercely competitive waters for inexpensive synth hardware. But it also fits nicely with the rest of the AIRA line, and it’s earning no less attention, even if it doesn’t have the “look, I’m a new 808″ draw of the TR-8. So, we’re pleased to offer a range of videos from around the world for your AIRA-gawking pleasure.

As usual, topping the bill are the intrepid lads of SonicState, out front with their hands-on review. Continue reading »


KORG and partner Detune, last seen bringing the M01 to Nintendo handhelds (as well as iMS-20 to iPad), are at it again.

This time, Nintendo 3DS will get a package called the DSN-12. Technically, it’s not just one synth: it’s twelve monosynths, plus effects, plus sequencers.

And you can view it all on an oscilloscope – in three dimensions.

This could be boring, but it isn’t. The results sound gritty, funky, and groovy, and the pattern chaining should appeal to people who like handhelds for their all-in-one musical inspiration. Details are a bit sketchy, but here’s what we’re told:

  • Twelve monophonic synthesizers
  • Add up to three effects
  • Effects modules: delay, chorus, flanger, compressor, kick, and reverb
  • 64-step sequences
  • Chain sequence patterns into 99 scenes
  • 3D oscilloscope display, with both Wave and Lissajous modes (check the hypnotic twisting arcs below)
  • eShop download: North America, South America, Europe.
  • Compatible with 2DS/3DS/3DS XL. (Obviously, 2DS lacks 3D functionality.)
  • Availability: September.

The UI already shows some familiar features from the past KORG DS outings – but, nicely enough, combines the best of each of them. There’s MS-20-style patching for sound creation, pads and keys for live playback, grids for sequencing, mixing options and effects controls.

The press release emphasizes real-time song creation, with “DJ-like” performance controls – so apparently you can load up sequences and perform with them. There’s also file exchange over local communication (no word yet on whether you get SMF export, etc.).

Sounds interesting. We’ll be watching.

Videos: Continue reading »

Google isn’t just being a little bad in their contract negotiations with indie labels. In a leak to Digital Music News, it proves to be the worst contract I or anyone I’ve talked to has ever seen, for anything music-related. It puts the “boiler” in boilerplate.

F*&K It: Here’s the Entire YouTube Contract for Indies…

If this leaked contract is what Google still stands by, and current analysis in the music press is correct, the deal is deeply unsettling. It blurs the lines between free and premium services by placing them all under a single contract. YouTube and its Spotify rival would be under one deal. It sets rates independently for smaller labels based on a single, not-very-good fee. And then it protects Google from any action that would stop unauthorized or pirated uploads to their services.

I can sum it up roughly this way, unless I’ve seriously misread the terms and their intentions: Continue reading »

One hole that should stick around. Photo (CC-BY-SA) William Hook.

One hole that should stick around. Photo (CC-BY-SA) William Hook.

Is Apple coming for your headphone jack? It’s a question I’d seen bouncing about publicly. Now, Macworld’s Marco Tabini goes as far as suggesting that the end of the analog headphone jack is a likelihood, and even “might be a positive change.”

Hit the road, jack: Why Apple may say goodbye to the headphone plug [Macworld.com]

See also Forbes’ Gordon Kelly, though that story isn’t as balanced as Tabini’s, and gets muddled on the subject of “digital” outputs and “exceedingly high lossless” output – whatever that means. The difference in output is 48KHz instead of 44.1KHz, which amounts to very little; both can be “lossless.”

I’ll let the (justified) screams of “noooooo” die down for a moment, and then first debunk the notion that this is a good idea (as it apparently isn’t obvious to everyone), then suggest a few reasons why Apple might promote Lightning adapters and its new Beats brand, but leave the headphone jack alone.

I could be wrong, of course. And maybe Apple really is about to embark on a really dumb idea. But before we get hysterical, let’s consider the first two points.

I am completely positive that eliminating headphone jacks is a bad idea – and reasonably optimistic that Apple would agree.

First, one admission (updated, after comments):

This isn’t just click bait from the tech press. Would Apple consider removing the headphone jack? “Consider”? Yes, almost certainly. Any physical jack you put on any hardware design is something you will consider carefully. Those decisions represent cost – in manufacturing, in space for the rest of the design, in support. And that’s true on big hardware; it’s an order of magnitude more true on small hardware.

Furthermore, these jacks really do get clogged with dirt, and, worse, headphone plugs routinely snap off while plugged in. They’re a support issue. The question isn’t whether Apple would consider replacing them; the question is why wouldn’t Apple consider replacing them.

But considering and acting are two different things, and there’s both an argument for keeping the jack from our user perspective, and an argument for why Apple might reach that conclusion from their manufacturer perspective.

Eliminating the Headphone Jack Would be a Huge Regression

Apple has done something Microsoft and Google couldn’t even begin to do with their mobile devices: Apple has made the iPhone and the iPad essential tools for musicians, producers, and DJs. And having already established the iPod as the iconic listening device, they did the same for the iPhone, not only for music, but TV and movies, as well.

Eliminating the headphone jack would hurt that strategic advantage. Apple might well be considering it, but it would be a grave mistake.

The headphone jack isn’t like a floppy disk, or the printer or SCSI port, or any of the other antiquated technologies Apple wisely eliminated from its devices. It’s not a “legacy” port; it’s a standard, and even a necessity — all audio transmitted to speakers uses analog signal. It isn’t like the analog audio in jack, which was ignored both by consumers (they didn’t need it) and pros (they used a more serious tool for better quality). And it isn’t even like the CD drive – indeed, it’s the opposite, as it drives consumption of music and apps through Apple’s own channels. Continue reading »