Wednesday, January 26, 2022

PRODUCT SURVEY: Controller Keyboards. Part One. Functions, Features, and Software Packages.



 

If there's one product group within the world of hi tech music that offers a truly bewildering array of products and options then it's controller keyboards. If you need, or think you need a controller keyboard then there really are plenty of manufacturers, ranges, sizes and types to choose from. So I'm going to attempt to 'unpick' and sort out the entire market. 

So in this part of our controller keyboard review we'll ask 'what does a controller keyboard do?', and begin to answer the question what might be 'the best usb controller keyboard for me?'

In the next part we'll take an in depth look at the market, ranges, and controller keyboard manufacturers. 


What Does A Controller Keyboard Do?


A controller keyboard makes no sound of it's own, but instead provides a piano style keyboard alongside a number of other switches, faders, and triggers that can be used to 'control' the software within a computer for live performance or recording. These tactile controls are much more accessible and instant than reaching for a mouse and several parameters can be adjusted simultaneously. 

As the controller keyboard has developed, more ideas have been introduced and we'll take a look at each of the common concepts and sections of these devices below. 






The Keyboard.


I guess the first thing we should talk about is the keyboard itself. Many lengths and keyboard sizes are available. Micro, mini, full size, and weighted piano style actions in anything from 25 to 88 (concert piano) notes. Most of them offer velocity sensitivity (they respond to how fast/hard the keyboard is played), including most 'mini' keyboard types, and some offer aftertouch/pressure sensitivity which can be used to introduce modulation such as vibrato by applying pressure to the keys when they are fully depressed. 

'Legacy', Or Performance Controls.


Things like the pitch bend and modulation wheel controllers I include as 'legacy' controls since they've been around pretty much since the invention of the synthesizer (the Minimoog had them). Pitch bend adjusts the pitch of a sound within a set number of semitones up and/or down whilst the 'mod wheel' was commonly used to introduce pitch modulation (vibrato) to a sound, although nowadays it can be assigned to any parameter.      

Modern keyboard controllers may also add switches to the performance controls. Again, as with most of the controls these can be assigned to almost anything. Often they are used to transpose the keyboard up or down, particularly useful on the shorter 25 and 37 key models. 


Trigger or Performance Pads. 


This is where we start moving away from what might be traditionally found on any reasonably well equipped synthesizer or workstation. These can be used to trigger sampled drums or loops and beats, but many manufacturers also use them as a way of instantly selecting the keyboards programs. So the entire keyboards controller assignments can be changed in an instant. Often, you'll find colour coded LED backlights for these. 

DAW Controls. 


Many controller keyboards have transport controls for your computer based DAW. These are the most popular controls including play, record, reset to zero, forward and rewind. Most keyboards and DAWs now adhere to the MCU/HUI protocol so these controls should work with the most popular DAWs at least. 

The ability to use hardware switches to control your recording platform without having to reach for the mouse, trackpad or computer keyboard is a real plus. 

Knobs and Faders.


A collection of knobs and faders that can be assigned to just about anything. They can be used to control level and panning on a DAWs mixer or they can be used to control the parameters of a software synthesizer such as it's filter cutoff, resonance, or release time.  


LCD Screen and Program Control. 


Since there are so many possibilities and assignments that can be made to this comprehensive collection of controls, a way of arranging them into programs can usually be found. Memory slots that allow you to instantly reprogram the controller assignments for different songs. 


Around The Back. 


Then there's the all important connectivity around the back. The primary function of most controllers is the control of computer based software such as a music production platform or live music VST host, so you're usually going to find a USB connector to hook straight up to your computer. 

Many USB keyboard controllers are 'bus powered' which means they are powered by the computer down the USB cable so no mains adaptor power connector is required although one of these is usually supplied if you're using the keyboard without a computer, for one or more MIDI modules for example. 

Which brings us to MIDI. Many provide a MIDI output (5 pin DIN) connector for connecting to MIDI equipment directly and not via a computer and interface. 

Other connectors may be provided such as a connector for a damper/sustain pedal which is usually fairly essential but sometimes not available particularly on the mini usb controller keyboard variants, so look out for that when you're choosing. 

There are controller keyboards that have CV/Gate connectors for interfacing with analog synthesizer equipment mainly modular synths and modules. These tend to feature on more expensive, specialised models. 

Controller Keyboard Software Packages








The vast majority of USB controller keyboards now come packaged with a software collection. Often an entry level DAW or music production platform, and maybe some additional plugins. If you find two or more keyboards that fulfil your requirements then this may be the deciding factor. 

Again, different packages may suite different types of musicians. Some may be geared more towards the electronic artist and some may be more for singer/songwriters. 

A note of caution here, as some manufacturers do package software that is readily available free to download anyway, without purchasing the keyboard hardware.    

Choosing The Right Controller Keyboard for You. 



So with this guide to the features and facilities of controller keyboards, we should be able to decide which ones we need, what is important to us, and maybe what might be surplus to our requirements. 

What type of musician and/or performer you are might be a factor. If you're a singer songwriter putting together demos using largely acoustic recreations, piano, bass drums, that sort of thing, then you may only require something relatively simple and clutter free....and cheaper. 
If you're writing and recording electronica then you may find an abundance of assignable knobs and faders more useful to facilitate real time changes to your synth and effects parameters much more useful.  

If you're a pianist then a weighted action 88 note model may be the ticket, equipped with the features you require. 

Of course, you may be many types of musician, in which case you may need an all-rounder such as yourself, or maybe even more than one. 

And then there's the software package. The software packages are often entry level or 'taster' type products designed to tempt you into the larger commercial versions. But don't underestimate some of the supplied products, they can be quite capable and useful. 


Controller Keyboard Models


In the following parts of this series we'll take a look at some product types and specific models starting with popular mid-range 49/61 note models from some well known and not so famous manufactueres. All in Part Two.     


Hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. For all my latest music technology blog posts, videos and sound packs, follow me on at my Facebook Page


Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.

Monday, January 24, 2022

VST REVIEW: IK Multimedia Syntronik 2 CS

 



IK Multimedia Syntronik 2 CS Review

Syntronik 2 adds a raft of new synthesizer samples to the Syntronik family, and the great news is there's a free version so you can check out a taster before taking the leap into the bigger versions. 

I must admit I really like IK Multimedia's Sampletank and Syntronik concepts. I use them all the time, especially the 'Syntauri' synth bass sounds, and Sampletank CS is worth it for the Overdriven Hammond alone.

So I was really looking looking forward to checking out the latest additions to the library. 

Sampletank/Syntronik are sample based rather than modelled, so they are rather memory intensive. You'll need a few gig of hard drive space even for the free (CS - Custom Shop) version. 

But just because we're dealing with samples doesn't mean this is just a simple sample playback instrument, far from it. You get Sampletank's fully editable synthesizer engine (pictured below), so you can turn many of these presets into something completely different. 




I was able to turn the Osc-V patch 'Great British Machine' LFO/FX patch into a great sounding solo/synth lead, in almost no time at all. 

The synth editing follows a single oscillator, multimode filter with amp and filter envelope generator model. A single LFO is available for modulation and keyboard modes include poly and mono/legato modes with glide. But, of course the samples themselves are often taken from multiple oscillators so the patches can still sound fat and thick. 

The effects section follows a rack model with a selection of EQ, compressor, reverb, delay, and chorus/ensemble modules. So lots of scope for effects editing for each patch. 

The final 'trick' up Sampletank/Syntronik 2's sleeve is a fully programmable arpeggiator which fits perfectly with a collection of vintage synths.  

So the new synthesizer sample groups for Syntronik 2 are:

Cato
GS-V
KW8000
M-12
Megawave
Obie One
OSC-V
ProVS
Sorceror
Syner-V
Triptych. 

It's clear IK don't want to simply use the names of the instruments, but the new names, alongside IK's nice little graphic representation of the synth in question leave you in no doubt what has been sampled and what the instrument is based upon.

So as we're dealing with the free (CS) version here you only get a few presets per instruments but they do give a good idea of what each instrument is capable of. 

Syntronik 2 Patch Highlights. 

Some of the sounds I enjoyed in Syntronik 2 include the bell pad Across Time from Cato's (Octave Cat) 4 patches (remember in ;virtual land mono synths can become polyphonic), the Horns Down In Africa brass/horn pad from M-12s (Matrix 12) 5 patches, Greenhouse in Berlin is a lovely digital pad from the Megawave (Waldorf Microwave), the Isosceles Triangle Lead from Obie One's (Oberheim OB-1) 3 patches is a wonderfully warm synth lead, as is the synth lead I mentioned I was able to develop from the OSC-V's (OSCar) Great British Machine patch.

So lots of great sounds and potential for zero outlay, and plenty to tempt users into purchasing one of the commercial collections.
 


Downloading and Installing Syntronik 2   

As mentioned, Syntronik 2 CS installs within their Sampletank 4 CS product and you'll need the latest version of ST4 to access these new collections. (I'll explain a little later). 

As a sample based collection, as opposed to 'modeled' recreations, you will need a fair amount of hard drive space to accommodate the sound library. 

Across the internet you will find lots of commentary regarding IK Multimedia's system of downloading and installing their products. Often in a negative light. You need to use IK's software installer to download, install and authorise your product. As a user of a number of IK's products I was expecting a little bit of drama accessing these sounds and so it proved. 

Initially, the sounds seemed to be available, but no audio was forthcoming from the new Syntronik patches. All the older patches were working fine, so there was no issue with audio or midi setup. After re-attempting the download and installation process at least twice, am 'update' option appeared at the Sampletank 4 CS download slot. After downloading the updated version of Sampletank CS all was well. So you will need the latest version of ST4 CS. 

Conclusion. 

I didn't really think I'd like the whole Sampletank/Syntronik concept. I've always tended to use more modern wavetable style software synths such as Synapse Audio's DUNE series rather than what seems to be an endless stream of vintage recreation releases. But at the end of the day, it's the sounds that pull you in. It just sounds great. The analog emulations are really fat and authentic and the digital ones (Megawave, GS-V) also have something to offer and still sound different to more modern wavetable types. 

And the thing is, the synth editing and the effects still offer plenty of scope for your own creations. As a soundware developer and synth programmer this really is a must for me and Syntronik still delivers in that department even with just the few patches in the free (CS) version. 

I think it's one of the best free vintage synth VSTs around. 


Links:

Find out more and download Syntronik 2 CS at the IK Multimedia website via the link below. 



Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Keyboards. In Depth Preview.

 


Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Review / Preview. 

I'm old enough to remember the days when Casio were a force in 'pro' music and often shook up the music tech establishment with surprise product releases that offered groundbreaking capabilities at previously unheard of prices, and sometimes with 'quirky' features that gave them 'cult' status. 

Think of the CZ101 phase modulation synthesizer. A mini keyboard that was a fully programmable synth, not a 'portable keyboard' with rhythms and backings. The FZ-1 sampler, the first affordable 12 bit sampling keyboard.... with what was then an enormous editing screen, and, of course, the VL-Tone micro keyboard that had ADSR synth style editing. 

So when rumours started of some new Casio products that might be a little more geared towards the 'pro' arena, I looked forward to hearing about them perhaps without the preconceptions that Casio were 'just' a portable/piano/home keyboard manufacturer.   

So in the depths of this year's Winter, I made myself a cuppa and huddled around my ancient laptop awaiting Casio's 'Live Keynote Event' live video with accompanying live comments. The whole of which can be viewed below. Exciting though these instruments are, the presentation and available documentation have perhaps left as many questions as answers, but I'll try and answer as many as I can. The instruments themselves are available from Monday 24th of Jan, so not long to wait for some 'hands-on' play.  






So two new keyboard models were launched and the first question, I guess, is 'are they pro keyboards?'. Well...... yes...... and no..... let me explain.....

The two new keyboards in question are the Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V and as far as I can tell they really differ only in one regard and that is that the CT-S1000V has Casio's 'Vocal Synthesis' feature on board and can be easily identified from the bold red sections on it's fascia. 

And here they are........



So before getting to the Vocal Synthesis bit of the CT-S1000V let's take a look at the 'basics' which are common to both models. 

We have a touch sensitive 5 octave (61 note) keyboard with  64 voice polyphonic AIX sound generator with 800 preset tones. AiX stands for Acoustic Intelligent eXpression and is Casio's latest generation of sampled sound generation and articulation. So we're largely dealing with acoustic recreations although it does include a number of 'classic' Casio synth tones from VL, VZ, and CZ series synthesizers. There are some real-time editing controls for filter and effects, but no in depth synthesizer editing. So I don't think we can really call these instruments 'synthesizers'.    

As a preset sample player, the keyboards sound really good, in particular the 'German Grand' piano preset which the instrument defaults to when powered up. 

The CT-S500 and CT-S1000V further betray their 'portable keyboard' roots by providing 243 'auto accompaniment' rhythms and styles.

I guess the inclusion of a built in speaker system also tends to suggest 'portable keyboard' rather than 'pro synthesizer', although this feature does certainly have it's uses. 


CT-S500 and CTS-1000V Arpeggiator, Sampling, and Sequencer.


Other features include a preset arpeggiator with 150 preset patterns. 

Sampling is available for user drum sounds, loops and beats. Drum samples can be mapped across the keyboard or a single sample can be 'pitched' across the keyboard. Sample time is listed at 10 sec (melody), 3 sec (drum). 

A 6 track sequencer is provided which is kind of a nod to the 'workstation' concept. There are slots for 10 songs. Functionality and editability remains, at this point, an unknown quantity. 

Which brings us to the question of storage. The keyboards are not equipped with an SD card slot. USB is provided via a micro-b connector. The available information states the 'no drivers or installation is needed' which perhaps means that settings can be stored by simply copying the data to your PC. This area still requires some clarification.  


CT-S1000V Vocal Synthesis. 

In truth, the focus of this launch was the 'Vocal Synthesis' of the CT-S1000V. 

Vocal words and phrases can be entered via the iOS/Android app and then the pitch of each syllable, word, or phrase can be altered via the keyboard. Twenty two vocal 'types' are provided including solo and ensemble types and each can also be adjusted for filter and 'age'!

The vocal 'tones' seem to be treated rather like the traditional keyboard tones so they can be used with the arpeggiator and sequencer.  

Christian Matthew Cullen has provided a great video demo of this through a complete song. 





As we speak, the CT-S1000V is only around £50 more than the CT-S500, so I would imagine this would be by far the more popular model.


CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Street Music Potential. 


All the time I spent looking at these keyboards I was struck by the efficiency of their design. How so much is included in such a compact box with so few controls. How the elliptical speakers keep the chassis sleek and narrow. To me, the whole concept just screams 'street music' and busking, and this may be where the new CT-S' find their niche. They can be powered via six AA batteries.

Lightweight, portable, built in speakers and a few choice tunes using the 'vocal synthesis' of the CT-S1000V would be more than enough to stop a few passing tourists in their tracks for a few minutes and hopefully reach into their wallets for a few coppers. 

Oh...... and there are strap anchors at each end so you can sling it 'round your neck.  
 

Casio CT-S500 Video Demo:




Casio CT-S1000V Video Demo:



Conclusion.

It's a little difficult to pin these two products down. It's easier to imagine Casio's designers trying to steer away from all the traditional concepts of 'portable keyboard' or 'workstation' and produce something more innovative that defies categorisation. 

The design is stunning. To produce a keyboard in these dimensions that sounds so good, has so many features, and is so accessible and easy to use is a design triumph. They may even achieve cult status in that regard. 

The AiX sound source provides plenty of high quality sounds and, at this price point, it really can't be argued with. Users looking at the more programmable aspects and features such as the arpeggiator, sampling, and sequencer may not find what they are looking for here and a more 'traditional' workstation product such as Korg's remarkable 'Kross 2' may be more up their street, although a much steeper learning curve may be involved.   

So who are they for? As 'home entertainment' and 'learning keyboards they are difficult to argue with. Those looking for a composing or songwriting tool may find the 'programmable' features somewhat lacking. For me, as mentioned earlier, these keyboards will find their niche in the burgeoning busking and 'street music' scene, for which they were born, and may become 'classics'. 


Casio CT-S1000V and CT-S500 Links. 

Casio's international site has the most comprehensive information on the CT-S1000V


If you're in the UK, you can purchase the items from Casio UK. 


and Casio's Youtube channel has lots of informative videos including the ones here. 



Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Smokin' Hammond Organ For BitWig

 




Great thing about Bitwig is that within it's suite of standard effects processors it has a rotary speaker simulator. 

A hammond organ without a rotary (or Leslie) speaker is like steak without chips, so I thought I'd make the Smokin' Hammond a Bitwig exclusive. Although it is also available as a standard .SF2.

Four Instrument Presets are available, all with EQ, Stereo Width, Reverb, Distortion/Overdrive and Rotary effects/processors nested so there's loads to play with, and the rotary speed is mapped to you mod-wheel, so you can easily control it.

Whilst Bitwig does have it's own 'organ' instrument, I kinda like the sound of this sample based one. It does offer something a bit different. 

Use the download link below to get your free presets. 


Download Link. 



Just download the whole folder and use Bitwig's browser to load your presets. 


Follow/like me on Facebook to get all the latest updates on my free soundware packs for Zampler, Soundfont .SF2, and Reason/Combinator patches, as well as Bitwig presets. 


Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

FREE SOUNDWARE: Smokin' Hammond Organ Soundfont.

 


A great sounding Hammond organ .SF2 soundfont. Now available to download free. 

The samples themselves contain a hint of overdrive but the sound can be further enhanced by the use of effects such as rotary speaker (naturally), reverb, chorus, and maybe a bit more overdrive!

Some DAWs or sound development platforms have their own organ/drawbar facilities, but I thought these samples sounded great so I developed them into a soundfont and some Bitwig programs will follow shortly. 

Smokin' Hammond Soundfont Download Link. 


Here's the download link. Just download the .SF2 file to your hard drive then load it into your soundfont compatible player. Usually via a browser function or by 'dragging' it into your instrument. 

  

Follow me at my Facebook Page for loads more free and commercial soundware including sample libraries, synth patches, loops and beats. 


Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.