Monday, June 21, 2021

CONSULTANCY: MPC Beats PCs. Modern Music Production. Minimal Outlay.

 



Powerful, fast computer music systems with a modern, beat orientated open ended production platform with masses of additional plug-ins and soundware starting from around £500*. 

PC computer music systems built around Akai Pro MPC Beats DAW (Digital Audio Workstation.) plus lots of additional instruments, effects and soundware giving you masses of creative options from day one. 

*core system with computer and software suite. Other hardware items and peripherals such as audio interfaces, microphones and keyboards are extra.

Here we'll take a look at some PC computer music systems with Akai Pro's MPC Beats as the 'core' music production platform. For a more detailed look at MPC Beats itself, check out my review below. 




If you're looking for a way into modern music production or EDM songwriting and recording then the MPC Beats is the perfect introduction, offering a modern 'beats based' way of working, on-board soundware and instruments, and an open ended architecture that supports third party instrument plug-ins.    

I provide consultancy designed to offer independent, high quality advice in order to supply the very best computer and audio hardware options for your MPC Beats based computer music setup. 

All software is installed and configured, as well as all supporting hardware drivers and software. All installed and working so you're ready to start creating instantly! 

MPC Beats offers an introductory level of sounds and instruments, but my systems come supplied with a range of additional plug in instruments and soundware that give serious creative options, and have you producing your dream tracks right from day one.  

So if you're in the market for your first or an upgraded computer music system then why not try something different to the usual 'music shop' option. Try an alternative. Someone committed to ensuring you have the right tools and system for your needs with ongoing support and updates. 

As an example, imagine a music PC with the following:

- A modern music production platform built around an industry standard MPC style drum instrument/machine
- A suite of great sounding effects processors covering everything that you need from vocal processing to guitar and instrument effects modelling. 
- Additional plug-in support so sound possibilities become endless.  
- A sample player instrument with an extensive library covering high quality versions of 'essential' sounds including piano, electric piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, organ, strings, etc.
- Thousands of additional drum sounds. Including 'essential electronic' sounds such as 'classic' TR606, 808, 909 as well as complete MPC collections. The collection includes:

                        Essential Electronic Drums.
                        Urban/Rap/Hip Hop Collection. 
                        Complete Akai MPC500
                        Complete Akai XR20.
                        Contemporary Production Classics. 
                        Production Kicks Collection. 
                        
                        The Ghost Machine vintage collection including.
                        Korg S3. 
                        Kawai R50/R50e.
                        Yamaha RX5.
                        Akai XR10.

- A collection of great sounding synthesizer plug-ins including:

A powerful analog monosynth for fat synth basses and cutting leads. 
Two amazing wavetable synthesizers with additional sound collections. Great for synth pads, electronic arpeggios, and plucked dance sounds. 
An analog polysynth emulator based upon the mighty classic Yamaha CS80 synthesizer. 

All this assembled and pre installed, so you immediately have creative options way beyond even the most expensive pre-packaged music production software and at a fraction of the cost. 

All achieved through years of experience and knowledge and certainly NOT through the use of cracked/illegal software. 

Akai Pro MPC Beats.


At the heart of the setup is MPC Beats. A fully featured DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that can handle all music making applications, but is particularly geared towards modern loop-based dance music production. 






Built around an MPC style drum machine/instrument with powerful recording and editing, MPC Beats also offers a full suite of effects including reverb, delay, compression and EQ plug-ins, a really powerful sample editor for all your 'hits' and effects samples, and full integration with Akai Pro's range of controller keyboard/pad trigger units. 



The First Steps.......

In addition, you'll receive two hours of MPC Beats face to face, one to one training covering all the basic procedures and features. Once you've mastered the basics, the details come much more easily. Manuals for MPC Beats and the individual instruments are also pre-loaded onto your hard drive. 

Pricing.

Core systems are available from around £500 for laptop or desktop systems utilizing refurbished but still powerful, big brand up to date computer hardware. A desktop monitor would be an additional cost.

Brand new options are also available, with tried and tested hardware from HP, Sony, and Acer.   

Close attention is paid to computer specs including processor type, speed and age (min Core i5) as well as hard drive (256gb SSD) and RAM (min 8gb). 

Other items and peripherals would include audio interfaces, microphones, headphones, monitor (speakers) and keyboards from top manufacturers and suppliers such as Focusrite, Shure, Novation and Akai Pro themselves. Again high quality refurbished items are generally available offering incredible cost savings. 

It's starts with a conversation...........

Give me a call or email outlining your requirements and start the discussion. Once I have a solid idea of your requirements I can begin to research and suggest some suitable computer hardware alongside any additional hardware items you may require including audio interface, microphones and keyboards, etc. 

Once you're happy with my suggestions and information and give me the green light I'll proceed with obtaining the required hardware, configure your audio interface, and install and configure all your software and soundware elements. 

Two hours of initial MPC Beats training are available (if you're based in the local area) so you can confidently start on and focus on your music and art. 

But that's not the end of the story.........

Full telephone support is available for your system via my own personal mobile telephone number. 

Every quarter you'll receive my email updates with additional plug-in suggestions, new soundware and sample collections and general computer music news to keep your creative options fresh and varied. 

So if you're looking to enter the world of computer music why not contact me so I can let you know what I can offer. If you're a beginner, you'll get your own personal guide that will be with you every step of the way. 


Telephone: 07802 640373.
Email: simonthompsonmusic@outlook.com  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

SOUNDWARE: PROJECT ZOMPLER. Free Pipe Organ Sounds for Beat.de Zampler.

 


Eight pipe organ sounds for Zampler.

Some pipe organ patches as part of Project Zompler

Project Zompler is a soundware project designed to provide a comprehensive library of sounds for Beat.de / Synapse Audio's Zampler sample/soundfont player / synth. 

You can get your free copy of Zampler here:


'Project Zompler' is now well underway. This is the ninth category. Piano/E-Piano, Bass Guitar, Rock Organ, Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Flute, Strings, and Voices being the other eight. You'll find posts and download information on those within these pages. Just search 'Zompler' in the search bar. Current total number of patches is now, I think, 68. Plenty more to come.....

Not too much added really in terms of effects, obviously judicious use of reverb to place the sounds in a large space sometimes. Zampler's reverb sounds great to me. 

I would say most of them are 'smaller' kind of church organ sounds rather than gigantic cathedral types, but download them and check them out. 

Should have a short demo video available soon, but they don't take long to download and check out if you want to try them in the meantime. Download details below. 

Download Link.

Just click the link below and download the entire folder. Navigate to the folder via Zampler's 'load patch' function and ope any of the .fxb patch files. 




Why not follow/like my Facebook Page for more free soundware, sample libraries, synthe patches as well as computer music news, product reviews and opinions.  

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, June 14, 2021

SOUNDWARE: PROJECT ZOMPLER. Ambient Vocals. Free Choir Patches for Beat.de Zampler


Ambient Vocals. Voice Patches for Zampler.

The latest soundware installment of free Zampler sounds are four rather nice choir/voice patches. Making full use Zampler's lush reverb and delay, these sounds are ideal for all your soundtracks and ambient pieces. 

Check them out with the link below.  

Project Zompler is my ongoing soundware project for Beat.de magazines's Zampler sample/soundfont VST instrument/player.

You can get your free copy of Zampler using the link below.



Demo Video. 

There's a quick demo video available at my Youtube channel. 






Free Choir Sounds for Zampler. Download Link. 

Just click the link below, the right click 'Ambient Voices'. Download the whole folder then use Zampler's load patch function. Navigate to the Ambient Voices folder and load one of the four patches. Then enjoy your new sounds!



If you enjoyed this post and the sounds, then why not like/follow me at my Facebook Page  for more free soundware, sample libraries and loops and beats as well as the latest computer music production news, reviews and features. 


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. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

CONSULTANCY: Soundbridge Music PC's. Outstanding Capability, Minimal Cost

 


Powerful, fast computer music systems with masses of additional plug-in instruments and soundware starting from around £500*. 

Computer music systems built around the incredible Soundbridge DAW (Digital Audio Workstation.) plus a 'container load' of additional instruments, effects and soundware giving you masses of creative options from day one. 

*core system with computer and software suite. Other hardware items and peripherals such as audio interfaces, microphones and keyboards are extra.

In the world of computer music a little knowledge goes a long way. There are many pitfalls that can waste time, cause distractions and even prove to be costly mistakes. 

I provide consultancy services focusing on assembly and installation of desktop and laptop computer music systems tailor made to meet the your exact requirements, maximise creative options, and get you up and running straight away. 

Whether you're a singer/songwriter, electronic musician, soundtrack writer or ambient composer, I supply high performance hardware with a literal 'mountain' of additional software and soundware that offers you enormous creative possibilities and potential from the word 'go'. 

So if you're in the market for your first or an upgraded computer music system then why not try something different to the usual 'music shop' option. Try an alternative. Someone committed to ensuring you have the right tools and system for your needs with ongoing support and updates. 

As an example, imagine a music PC with the following:

- Unlimited audio and instrument track capability with detailed editing and control.
- A suite of great sounding effects processors covering everything that you need from vocal processing to guitar and instrument effects modelling. 
- Unlimited additional plug-in support so sound possibilities become endless. 
- Collaborative/cloud features that allow you to work with other musicians around the globe. 
- Powerful vocal 'autotune' processing to make sure you're vocals sound fully pro and locked in tune. 
- A sample player instrument with an extensive library covering high quality versions of 'essential' sounds including piano, electric piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, organ, strings, etc.
- The best drum machine plug-in instrument around with comprehensive programming and editing features as well as thousands of additional drum sounds. Including 'essential electronic' sounds such as 'classic' TR606, 808, 909 as well as complete MPC collections. The collection includes:

                        Essential Electronic Drums.
                        Urban/Rap/Hip Hop Collection. 
                        Complete Akai MPC500
                        Complete Akai XR20.
                        Contemporary Production Classics. 
                        Production Kicks Collection. 
                        
                        The Ghost Machine vintage collection including.
                        Korg S3. 
                        Kawai R50/R50e.
                        Yamaha RX5.
                        Akai XR10.

- A collection of great sounding synthesizer plug-ins including:

A powerful analog monosynth for fat synth basses and cutting leads. 
Two amazing wavetable synthesizers with additional sound collections. Great for synth pads, electronic arpeggios, and plucked dance sounds. 
An analog polysynth emulator based upon the mighty classic Yamaha CS80 synthesizer. 

- A powerful sampler instrument with comprehensive editing and control. Ideal for loops/beats, vocal and instrumental 'hits', as well as additional instruments and drum kits. Supplied with Drum Mechanics acoustic drum sounds/kits consisting of 900+ acoustic drum sounds. 

All this assembled and pre installed, so you immediately have creative options way beyond even the most expensive pre-packaged music production software and at a fraction of the cost. 

All achieved through years of experience and knowledge and certainly NOT through the use of cracked/illegal software. 

Soundbridge.


At the hear of the setup is Soundbridge. A fully featured DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that can handle all music making applications. It has an instrument and audio track count limited only by the speed and capability of your computer hardware, detailed track editing, comprehensive mixing facilities, a powerful suite of effects and processing covering everything you need including reverb, delay, EQ, and compression, and unlimited third party VST plug-in support. 



All beautifully presented with high quality graphics and intuitive layout. In many ways, it's the music technology world's best kept secret. 

The First Steps Are Always The Hardest.......

In addition, you'll receive two hours of Soundbridge training covering all the basics, along with my own quick start guide to get you up and running. Once you've mastered the basics, the details come much more easily. Manuals for the individual instruments are also pre-loaded onto your hard drive. 

Cost.

Core systems are available from around £500 for laptop or desktop systems utilizing refurbished but still powerful and up to date computer hardware. A desktop monitor would be an additional cost.

Close attention is paid to computer specs including processor type, speed and age (min Core i5) as well as hard drive (256gb SSD) and RAM (min 8gb). 

Other items and peripherals would include audio interfaces, microphones, headphones, monitor (speakers) and keyboards. Again high quality refurbished items are generally available offering incredible cost savings. 

It's starts with a conversation...........

Give me a call or email outlining your requirements and start the discussion. Once I have a solid idea of your requirements I can begin to research and suggest some suitable computer hardware alongside any additional hardware items you may require including audio interface, microphones and keyboards, etc. 

Once you're happy with my suggestions and information and give me the green light I'll proceed with obtaining the required hardware, configure your audio interface, and install and configure all your software and soundware elements. 

Two hours of initial Soundbridge training are available (if you're based in the local area) so you can confidently start on and focus on your music and art. 

But that's not the end of the story.........

Full telephone support is available for your system via my own personal mobile telephone number. 

Every quarter you'll receive my email updates with additional plug-in suggestions, new soundware and sample collections and general computer music news to keep your creative options fresh and varied. 

So if you're looking to enter the world of computer music why not contact me so I can let you know what I can offer. If you're a beginner, you'll get your own personal guide that will be with you every step of the way. 


Telephone: 07802 640373.
Email: simonthompsonmusic@outlook.com  

SOUNDWARE: PROJECT ZOMPLER. Magnum Opus. Free Rock Organ Patches for Beat.de Zampler.

 



The latest installment of 'Project Zompler' are four 'rock organ' patches. 

Project Zompler is my ongoing soundware project aimed at providing a full set of 'essential' sounds/patches for Beat.de magazine's Zampler sample/soundfont player. Zompler is a combination of Zampler and Rompler if you hadn't already guessed. 

The sounds are organised into groups and you'll find all the previous groups on this site with the download links. Use the search function with the word 'Zompler' and you should find them all. 

Previous groups include piano/e-piano, basses, drums, acoustic guitar, strings, and flutes. The total number of sounds now stands at 53 patches. 

You can download your free copy of Zampler here. You don't need to subscribe to the magazine or anything like that. 


So here are some 'all bars out' style rock organs. Here, Zampler's effects suite has really come into it's own with judicious use of it's tube distortion section, although there are some 'cleaner' instruments. 

I've called the collection Magnum Opus referring to a classic progressive rock track.


Rock Organs Demo Video. 






'Magnum Opus' Download Link.

Use the link below. Just 'right click' on 'Magnum Opus Rock Organ' and download the entire folder. Then use the 'patch load' function on Zampler to load your organ sounds. 


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. 
 

Friday, June 11, 2021

VST SYNTH REVIEW: Cherry Audio Eight Voice. SEM VST Emulation.

 


Cherry Audio's instrument VST releases are coming thick and fast at the moment, having only got pen to paper on this review that the new PS-10 was announced (a polyphonic Korg MS-10 emulation with upgraded patch section and on-board effects). 

Now, before starting, I have to admit straight up that I've never played a real life, hardware Oberheim 8-Voice, 4-Voice, or 2 voice, or indeed a real life hardware Oberheim SEM. The nearest I've come is extensive use of the Hy-Plugins Mono SEM synthesizer VST which I happen to love. So authenticity is a difficult one to gauge here. 

Incidentally, Hy-Plugins Mono SEM is freeware and can be downloaded here:


The original Oberheim SEM was developed as a keyboard-less synth that could be controlled via a sequencer (probably Oberheim's own DS2) or via a keyboard. By mounting multiple SEM units into an enclosure with keyboard, it was possible to assemble polyphonic synthesizers and so the 2, 4 and 8 Voice synthesizers were born.

Whilst the synths were capable of awesome sounds (the 8-Voice had a total of 16 oscillators) they did have one major drawback, which is happily overcome with this software emulation. The controls are not 'multiplexed' across all voices which meant that to adjust the filter cutoff, for example, you had to adjust the filter of all 8 modules (for an 8-Voice). 

Whilst this actually opened up some creative possibilities, with every voice of a 'sound' having completely different settings and sound, the cons really outweighed the pros. 

Thankfully, controlling eight SEM modules in 2021's software realm is far easier than with 1977's electronic hardware technology, so controlling the 8 SEM modules of Cherry Audio's Eight Voice flexible and easy using two voice groups to determine which SEM modules are 'linked'. You can create stacks or splits or combinations of the two with this flexible voice architecture and control. A modern patch storing and recall system further enhances this concept which was unavailable to the hardware designers in 1977. 

Voice Assign, Key Range, and Link Group Controls. 


The bottom section of each SEM module and the Link Group buttons in the master section are the new software additions that make the Eight-Voice much more usable than it's seventies hardware counterpart. 

These sections allow much more flexible control than seventies hardware electronics allowed. These three sections allow the individual SEM modules to be linked (and unlinked) instantly so you don't need to adjust the parameters of every unit used in a 'patch'. They also determine whether the module is triggered by the keyboard or the mini step sequencer, select from three mono and two poly modes, and obviously, the key range determines the playable note range for each SEM module. 

So I guess at this point, I'm thinking, and maybe you are too.....why not just build an 8 voice polyphonic SEM with 'multiplexed' parameter control. Or maybe something with two 8 voice SEMs, one with the mini sequencer or for another stack/split sound. It would certainly be a smaller, more manageable GUI. Well I guess the answer is that the software Eight Voice gives you the best of both worlds. You can set up the basic sounds using linked modules and then unlink them and dial in some subtle (or not so subtle) differences to each module. I guess authenticity is also a factor here. Maybe a single 8 voice SEM would just be seen as a bit of shortcut and of no historical significance since it never existed. 

Oberheim SEMs.


So since the Eight-Voice is essentially eight synthesizer modules contained within a flexible system of control, it makes sense to focus on a single SEM module and imagine it repeated 8 times. 




Each SEM module is a two oscillator, filter, dual envelope and LFO synthesizer. 

The syncable oscillators offer saw and pulse waves with 4', 8', 16', and 32' pitches and frequency detune with pulse width setting and modulation. 

The filter section is a 12db/oct state variable resonant filter with fully variable type control from low-pass to high pass via notch filtering. Band pass filtering can also be employed via a dedicated switch. The filter section also acts as a mixer, adjusting the levels of the two oscillators saw and pulse waveforms. It might be worth mentioning at this point that the Oberheim filter here is a bit of a departure from most American hardware synths of the seventies which usually employed 24db/oct ladder filters a la Moog. Maybe one of the factors that gave the SEM and it's keyboarded offspring their unique sound.

Each SEM has 2 envelope generators fixed to modifying amplifier and filter respectively. They are slightly different as they are three stage with the decay section doubling as both decay and release. 

Each SEM has an LFO (1) with a fixed sine wave. This can be assigned to each VCO or the VCF frequency cutoff. Because these are available on each SEM they can have different rates. A global LFO (2) with a number of waveforms is also available. This can also be assigned to the VCO frequency of each oscillator, or the VCF cutoff, but as it's a global LFO, only a single rate is available. 

Below the LFO and envelope generators is the voice assign and keyrange section which we dealt with earlier, plus an output section with pan, solo and output level settings. The solo function is really useful when programming so you can silence other modules and monitor each SEM individually with a single button push.    

Eight Voice Master Section.


Master Section (Left)


Eight Voice's Master section starts with master tuning followed by a filter offset control. This closes or opens the filters of all the SEM modules by the same amount. Quite handy for instantly brightening or darkening things. 

The two link groups follow with the poly assign mode switches underneath. These determine how notes are assigned and 'stolen' if you go beyond the 8 note polyphony. 
Portamento is dealt with in the next section with various polyphonic and mono portamento modes. You can assign portamento to one poly group but not another so some notes glide and others don't. With maximum 8 voice polyphony, polyphonic glide effects can be a little limited.

The aforementioned LFO2 controls come next followed by the 8 voice Mini Step Sequencer. Compared to most modern sequencer and arpeggiator applications this will seem a little basic, but it is in keeping with the vintage and era, and it is an integral part of the plug-in with the ability to assign the sequencer to single or groups of SEMs. Check out the default preset 'Reflective Mood' with a sequence triggered from the bottom section of the keyboard from SEM 8 and the rest of synth providing a seven voice pad above. The Mini Step Sequencer can be synced to the master tempo which in turn can be synced to the tempo of your DAW software.

Master Section (Right)

 

Finally, some modern digital effects are provided with a reverb and delay section. The delay section has enough control that it can also create chorus and flanging effects.

The Top Toolbar.


Top Toolbar (Left)


The top section of Eight-Voice deals with patch loading and settings including a 'New' patch function which sets the synth up with the all oscillators and filters fully open producing a saw/pulse polyphonic comp style patch. 

Undo/redo buttons are provided. Really handy.

The settings menu deals with global parameters including setting up the audio if you're in standalone mode. 

Midi lights and an 'all notes off' panic button is provided in case of any stuck notes if you change channels  while a note is sounding. I wish all VST synths had this!


Top Toolbar (Right)


One of my criticisms of Eight Voice was going to be that the large GUI is a little difficult to navigate and even with the zoom function you still can't see the lower controls in close up. However, this is fixed with the 'Focus' control allowing you to focus the GUI on pairs of SEM modules, the master control strip (left section), the Mini Step Sequencer, or the FX section. So problem solved. 

How Does The Cherry Audio Eight Voice Sound?


OK. So that's the 'nuts and bolts' of the Eight Voice, but what does it sound like?
Well as I mentioned earlier, I really like the sound of the SEM, although I've really only got the Hy-Plugins Mono SEM to go on. 

It offers a different kind of sound to many other synthesizers of the era which yo would expect. The oscillators and filters are very different to something like the Minimoog with fully variable pulse width and 12db state variable filters, which perhaps make it sound a bit brighter, not quite as warm as some other synths of the era. 

I guess at this stage it's worth pointing out that Eight Voice is available as a free 30 day demo version, so probably the best thing is to try it for yourself, and it comes with a healthy selection of factory presets. Some of my favourites include 'Diane Sawyer' a bass filter sweep a la Rush, 'Noisy Res' is a wonderfully squelchy bass patch and 'Good Ol Funk' is a fat 70s bass patch. 

The Mini Step Sequencer plays it's part in the factory patches with 'Who's There' offering Baba O Reilly in an instant, 'Dance Floor' gives is a thunderous take on the '4-on-the-floor' dance motif, and 'Solar Phases' offers some spacey ambience. 

As you would expect, a 16 stackable oscillator monster like this should be able to serve up some impressive leads sounds and 'Synching Lead', 'Sawblade' and 'Lyle Legend' don't disappoint.

For pads 'Angels Songs', 'Fluttering Fairies' and and 'Stellar Orbit' showcase Eight-Voice's abilities and 'Rock Poly' and 'Jump Higher!' are nice fat poly comps.

Conclusion.


I guess all designers of 'vintage' synthesizer emulations have to walk the line between authentic and usable. When considering software enhancements to the hardware equivalents they have to weigh up what might enhance the capabilities of a synth (and, honestly, this path probably goes on forever) whilst keeping the authenticity that made the synth a classic in the first place. 

In the end, Eight Voice is a great sounding VST emulation with software enhancements that make the classic more usable and enjoyable whilst remaining authentic to the instrument's quirks and eccentricities that almost all vintage analog synthesizer all had, at least all the classic ones.
 
I guess the one thing I might have liked to have seen is if more polyphony could have somehow been built in. Obviously, polyphony is only usually only limited to a computer's CPU capability and RAM, so I don't think it would have been a problem from that point of view. Maybe a polyphony parameter for each SEM. But I guess that might have made the voice assignment ad poly modes more complex.
 
Anyway.....other than that, I really liked Eight-Voice. It's not difficult to find your way around it and program once you get the basics of the software enhanced SEM grouping and control. I would recommend tweaking some of the factory presets first and then moving on to some programming from scratch via the 'New Patch' selector. Oberheim's SEM is a synth module that rewards a bit of time and effort in spades.

Cherry Audio provide an excellent online manual if you get stuck. 

The other great thing about Eight-Voice, as with all Cherry Audio plugins, is it's affordability. $29 dollars (intro price) for a fully functioning version. So I would suggest downloading the demo version and check it out. Only difference is an intermittent burst of white noise with the demo version. 

Find out more and download the full or demo versions here:


Online user manual. 



If you enjoyed this post then why not consider liking my Facebook Page where you'll get all the latest news on future reviews, soundware, news and lots more!

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. 



Sunday, June 6, 2021

FREEWARE DAW REVIEW: Akai MPC Beats

 



Akai MPC Beats Review.

Throughout the pages of this little blogsite, I've regularly taken a look at the freeware DAW market and drawn some comparisons between the various platforms available. You can check out my review of four popular platforms here:


Just about all freeware platforms with the exception of the rather excellent soundbridge freeware project are 'entry level' versions of larger/paid for programs with the idea that, at some point, the user will progress to the more fully featured commercial version. And so it is with MPC Beats (being the freeware/entry level version of Akai Pro's MPC software package), but you may find that on this occasion you have enough open ended power and features, and it may be all the audio software you will ever need. I will explain.....

Akai MPC Beats: Basics.

Carrying, as it does, the Akai MPC moniker you would be right in thinking that MPC Beats is geared for contemporary pattern based writing and recording, but don't be fooled, MPC Beats is capable of producing fully formed musical artworks including the final mixdown and mastering process.

So 'the basics' are 

- Eight MIDI/instrument tracks with two stereo audio tracks. 
- An board MPC style drum machine instrument is provided (as you might expect) with a range of included drum and effects samples with additional sounds available to purchase from the Akai Pro webstore. 
- Three keyboard/synth type instruments: Electric, which is a vintage electric piano style instrument, Tubesynth, analog style synth instrument, and Bassline bass synth instrument. 
- A wide range of effects and processors on board provided by AIR.

All rather excellent as it is......but here's the real difference. MPC Beats supports third party VST plug-ins so you immediately have access to an almost unlimited choice of freeware and commercial third party instrument plug-ins. You'll be amazed at how good some freeware synth plug-ins are. 
Many freeware DAWs do not offer this facility or provide it in a limited capacity such as allowing only two third party instruments to be used in a single project) but MPC Beats allows third party VST instruments to be assigned to all eight of it's instrument tracks. 

MPC Beats Hardware Integration.

Perhaps MPC Beats other greatest feature is the solid and powerful integration of Akai Pro's MPK Series of keyboard, pad, and data controllers, so you can instantly take creative 'tactile' control of the software and it's features with minimal mouse pointing and clicking although MPC Beats can be used via any USB or MIDI (if you have a MIDI interface) keyboard, synth, workstation, or controller. 



The MPC Bit

As you would expect, MPC Beats centres around an MPC style sample player with 16 trigger pads with Q-Link editing controls for each, which can be allocated to various parameters including pitch, fx send levels and envelope parameters. Q-Link parameters can be automated so that parameter changes take place during song playback.




As with it's hardware equivalents, recording of the drum pads is carried out within the overall program sequencing although the sixteen pads can be used to perform drum machine style pattern development via the 'step sequencer'.   

User drum sounds can be imported from the host computer's hard drive as well as the factory supplied drum sounds. 

MPC Beats Instruments.

Three other instruments are supplied as standard. 

Tubesynth is a powerful 2 oscillator plus sub synthesizer with blendable waveform oscillators, dual filters and tube style distortion effects. It produces powerful, fat and convincing bass and lead sounds. Polyphony is limited to four voices so it's a little less capable when it comes to pads and comp/polysynth type patches. 





Bassline is a single oscillator with synth bass sounds in mind. Produces some good quality sounds but I feel that much of this kind of thing is already covered by Tubesynth. 





Finally, Electric is a great sounding electric piano/Rhodes emulator with an appropriate effects suite attached. 



Third Party Instrument Plug-Ins.

As mentioned earlier, third party VSTs are supported which is a major plus for a freeware DAW. The possibilities become almost endless. 
Third party plugins can be loaded and played by the usual folder scanning process. Third party VST GUIs (graphic user interfaces) open in a window above the main window. 



Sample Recording and Editing On MPC Beats.




MPC Beats also features a very handy sample recording and editing feature. This enables you to sample, edit and use externally or internally sampled drums, vocal hits, beats and loops. 

This feature also has some very handy 'routines' such as a loop splicer as well as more standard editing facilities such as trimming. Pitch shifting is available without affecting sample's length is also available. All very useful. Even the mighty Soundbridge can't do all that. At least not on it's own. 

Recording and Editing. 

Recording on MPC Beats is done via a fairly familiar 'piano roll' style grid editor. The usual 'coloured blocks' appear as you build your song track by track and these can be moved, drawn or deleted using the marquee, pencil and eraser tools. The usual looping facilities are available with overwrite and overdub modes. It's all very well laid out with the greatest detail available in the track view page. 

Mixing and Effects.




The mix page offers level and panning controls for tracks as well as a powerful and comprehensive suite of effects and processor plug-ins. 

Whilst the effects sound great and cover lots of areas, most of them do lack a nice clear graphic user interface, opting instead for a simple 'strip' like window with simple text for parameters and numeric menus. But there's enough EQ, reverb, delay, distortion and compression to go way beyond beginner level. 


Mixdown and Exporting.

Once you're happy with your masterpiece's levels, panning and EQ you can click the Audio Mixdown option and export your song as a stereo mix with a number of file type, bit and sample rate options including MP3, wav and even Flac. 

Standalone or VST Plugin. 

As well as being a standalone music production platform MPC Beats can also be usd as a VST plugin within another compatible DAW. So you can add an MPC style drum instrument, sample recording and editing, three new synthesizers, and a buch of free sounds to your existing setup.  

Conclusion.

I think MPC Beats is a real contender in the freeware DAW arena and is the first to be produced by an industry 'major player' shall we say that competes with dedicated freeware projects such as Soundbridge. It's a really useful package in it's own right and not just a free-leader to get you to purchase the full MPC package, although whilst trialing MPC Beats I was sent a special offer email with the full MPC software platform for half price. Just £99. 

I guess it's greatest limitation is it's track count with 8 Midi/instrument and 2 stereo audio tracks, and here Soundbridge wins hands down, but it's support for third party VST instrument plug-ins, it's supplied instruments and effects and it's powerful sample editor make it a really powerful computer music platform, and all for the price of an email address. 

Download Link.

Get your free copy of MPC Beats here:



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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, June 5, 2021

TECHNICAL: Soundfonts. Explanation, History, and Resources.

 


The Soundfont Page.

Soundfont explanation, history, and resources.
 
The purpose of this page is to provide the latest news and information on soundfonts including developer tools and up to date information on which instruments are capable of loading and playing soundfont files.

I'll also provide links to soundfont developer pages and resources. You'll find these towards the bottom of the page in the resources section.   


What Is A Soundfont.

Soundfonts are interchangeable sample based instrument files that can be loaded into a number of sample player software instruments. These can be third party VST instruments or 'standard' instruments supplied with a number of popular software music packages and platforms. 

As such, soundfonts are a great idea. They allow soundware developers to produce sample based instruments that can be read and played by a number of software products without having to develop different files for a range of different products and instruments. 

In order for a multi-sampled instrument to be accurate, playable and usable we need certain things. Sure, we need a collection of audio files (or samples), but we also need some more information. We need to know how this collection of samples is 'mapped' across the keyboard, in other words which key 'triggers' which sample or group of samples. We may need information about velocity layers, in other words does a different sample trigger if we play a key harder. Do different samples play at different volume levels? Do the individual samples that make up our instrument need individual panning assignments. What's the pitch bend amount for each sample? 

There are more parameters, but what is important to know is that all this information is dealt with and assigned by the information embedded within the standard soundfont file. 

It's also important to know that the raw samples are not included within the soundfont (sf.sf2.sfz) file. You need the raw samples within the same folder. 

The information and parameters that make up a soundfont file can be created and edited within a simple code editor such as Windows Notepad but dedicated editors are also available. These allow editing in a more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) style and offer other functionality such as file conversion. 
We'll take a look at some of these programs in the 'resources' section. 

History of the Soundfont.

The Soundfont standard was developed in the early 1990s shortly after EMU Systems was incorporated into the Creative Labs (Soundblaster PC card developer) company. The Wikipedia page for Soundfonts seems to contain quite a lot of inaccuracies liking the soundfont standard to the General Midi standard for Midi file playback. I guess the two standards are linked but there's no reason you can't create Soundfont files outside of the GM standard. 
Anyway since then there have been updates incorporating more parameters and therefore file types (see below).
As far as I'm aware the standard is no longer being developed (2.04 being the final incarnation) but we have all the features and parameters to create great sounding sample based sounds. 

Soundfont File Types.


Soundfont Resources.

Software Instruments Capable of Loading and Playing Soundfonts.

Zampler. Probably the most useful and up to date Soundfont player.....and it's free! Zampler is a sample player with synth parameters developed by Synapse Audio and available free via Germany's Beat.de magazine. It's a VST instrument that can be used by most major music software production platforms. It reads .sfz files which might be a problem as many Soundfonts are .sf2 files but Polyphone (see below) can quickly and reliably convert .sf2 files into .sfz files. 
Once you've loaded and perhaps carried out some edits to the soundfont you can then save it as a dedicated Zampler patch. 
You can get your free copy via the link below.



BitWig 'Sampler'. For BitWig users, I've discovered that Sampler (part of BitWig's standard suite of instruments) can read and playback .sf2 Soundfont files. Just drag the file from the browser on the right hand side into an open instance of 'Sampler'. Although this ability does not seem to be mentioned in BitWig's documentation, it does seem to work reliably and it loaded all the soundfont files I tried. 

Presonus' Presence. Part of Presonus' very popular Studio One music and audio production platform, this instrument will load some Soundfont files but the process does seem a little unreliable. It loads some but not others, I've tried in vain to figure out why or if there are any edits you can carry out to make the non-working ones work. If anyone has a solution I'd be really pleased to hear it. 

Reason NN-XT Sampler. Reason's resident NN-XT sampler can also load .sf2 soundfonts. Rather like BitWig's Sampler, you can edit the files and then save it as a dedicated NN-XT patch which is a real bonus. NN-XT shows the mapping for the soundfont file as if it was an NN-XT file so you can edit it, select different outputs, etc. It would be great if it could save soundfonts as NN-XT is a really quick, graphic multi-sample editor, but this does not seem possible.

Steinberg HALion. It seems that full versions of HALion will load .sf2 soundfont files, but HALion Sonic SE3 (HSSE3, the free version won't). So if you have a full version of HALion, you can load a .sf2 soundfont file and then export it as a HALion Sonic SE3 VST preset if you want to distribute it for HSSE3 users. This seems to work quite well.  

 

Soundfont Creating and Editing Software.

Polyphone. As far as I'm aware, the most up to date Soundfont creator/editor. It has it's quirks and I seem to remember it took me a little while to get it to talk to my audio interface, but I think it works pretty well. It will also instantly convert different Soundfont files reliably. It's also free and has a library page with a fairly comprehensive collection of free soundfonts. 


Viena. Originally developed by EMU/Creative, this software is now quite old but I do know some creators still use and enjoy it. I'm due to take a look at it shortly......stay tuned. 
Viena does not have a dedicated website or page as far as I can tell but you can download the 32 and 64 bit versions here.


Soundfont Libraries.

Free Soundfont Libraries. Soundfont Directory.

Polyphone.
As well as being an editor and convertor, Polyphone is also a great source for Soundfont instruments and files.
 

RKhive.
Large selection of categorised acoustic instrument soundfonts. 


Hedsound.
Collection of soundfonts which includes some excellent pipe and tonewheel organ instrument files. 


Zanderjaz
Large soundfont collection including strings choirs and organs. 



So there we have it. Soundfonts explained alongside some essential resources relating to all things soundfont. 
As I mentioned, I'll continue to update this page as more information and resources become available. 
Feel free to email me any information or additional resources you may know of that you think might be of interest to readers. 

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.