AF’s Weblog

June 10, 2010

Rhodes Mark 7 73 Midi Organ

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

May 5, 2010

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 Review

Native Instruments has been announcing the launch of Traktor Kontrol X1 for several months now and it was even possible to pre-order it on the NI website, if you wanted to be one of the lucky first owners. Was the waiting worth it? Does the Kontrol X1 fulfill our expectations? We’ll see… but let’s unpack it first!

Unpacking

Traktor Kontrol X1The packaging is good quality and all parts are well protected. The box contains a USB cable, a 37-page “Getting Started” document in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, an installation CD including Traktor LE, the drivers, the full user’s manual as well as alternate mappings for the different Traktor versions (Duo, Pro, Scratch, etc.), and the Traktor X1 unit with an overlay to rename the buttons manually if needed. On the CD, you’ll also find the Kore 2 Player software (available for free on Native Instruments’ website) as well as the Controller Editor software that allows you to customize the assignment of each button for MIDI applications.

Traktor LE v1.2.4 was already installed on my computer (the X1 driver is already included in the software ever since version 1.2.3 came out), so I just needed to connect the Kontrol X1 and it was immediately recognized without the need for any further installation (however do notice that if you have an old computer you will not be able to use the controller given that it requires a USB 2.0 port!). The Kontrol X1 is USB powered so you only need to do that one connection! I had already experienced problems with other hardware controllers for Traktor, but this one is really plug ‘n’ play. It’s a joy not to have to spend hours before the controls light up.

How Does it Look?

Traktor Kontrol X1When you switch it on it looks like Knight Rider’s KITT… The dark design is sober but well-achieved, all buttons and knobs feel sturdy, pleasant and they seem to be good quality. The Kontrol X1’s layout is symmetrical and almost all controls are mirrored so that you can control both decks (A and B) independently. The only buttons that aren’t doubled on the X1 are Shift and Hotcue.

The unit is light (1.5 lb.) and slim (4.7″x2″x11.6″). If you play live with a full DJ set, you’ll have to buy the optional Kontrol X1 Bag so you can raise the Kontrol X1 to the same height as a mixer or turntable. The Kontrol X1 includes four anti-slip pads.

All buttons have two different backlit levels: dimmed when inactive and bright when active. This feature is very convenient to find a specific function in dark environments. Both brightness intensities can be adjusted in Traktor. The knobs are not backlit but you can find them pretty easily thanks to the buttons around them.

Each button has different colors to distinguish the different functions:

  • Effects = orange
  • Browsing and loading = orange (it would have been nicer if it was a different color)
  • Loops = blue
  • Transport = blue (a different color would have been nice)
  • MIDI = green
  • Shift and Hotcue = white

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Traktor Kontrol X1 is a well-manufactured and excellent-quality product that seduced us. It is extremely easy to install: real plug ‘n’ play. The backlit buttons look great and are very practical in dark environments. So, yes, the Kontrol X1 looks really hot! But it is almost impossible to use it as a mixer with a notebook, which is a pity because it would be a real plus for this slim and light controller which fits my carrying bag perfectly along with my notebook. It only lacks two controls for Native Instruments to be able to target DJs using compact systems.

Advantages:

  • Plug ‘n’ play
  • USB powered
  • Great design and finish
  • Lightweight and compact without compromising operation
  • “On” button in the filter section

Drawbacks:

  • No track volume control! Requires an additional mixer!
  • Price ($199)
  • Additional products required to make full use of the Kontrol X1: Traktor Pro ($199) and Kontrol X1 Bag
  • Unfortunate names on some buttons with Traktor LE

To read the full detailed article please see:      Traktor Kontrol X1 Review

January 27, 2010

Novation Launchpad: Who’s Pad?

Novation Launchpad Gear Review

Novation surprised everyone by bringing out an Ableton Live dedicated control surface. Like Akai’s APC? Not really, and obviously not at the same price.

Even though the Ableton Live revolution already goes back several years, it is noteworthy that dedicated control surfaces started to appear very late on. Except for Faderfox and Livid – which were the first to offer products conceived for Ableton’s baby – most manufacturers limited themselves to offering Live mappings for their generic controllers. The market started to get interesting for Abletoners when Akai launched its APC40. Following Akai steps, Novation introduced its own Live controller, but with a serious advantage: it’s sold for under $200 – half price of the APC40. So let’s take a look at what Novation has to offer for that price.

Novation Launchpad

The Launchpad is basically an eight-by-eight pad matrix with 16 function buttons made out of the same smooth, translucent plastic as the pads. All buttons are backlit (green, amber or red, depending on the application – we’ll come back to this later). The device is a 6.45″ long and 1.2″ thick square. It weights about 1.5 lb. and is equipped with four large rubber feet to ensure it stays secure and perfectly stable on almost any surface, even when you hit the pads. There’s nothing to criticize the finishing quality about except for the pads’ hardness, but that ought to change with time. We appreciate its lightness and compact dimensions that allow you to take it with you in a backpack along with your notebook for mobile applications.

The device has only one USB connector. No MIDI in/out/thru, no sustain or expression pedal connector, only the bare minimum! But Novation points out that you can use several Launchpads at the same time using a standard USB hub. However, we received only one unit for the review so we couldn’t test this setup. We recommend you to use a USB hub with a power supply because the Launchpad is powered via the USB connector and it might be too much to ask from your computer to power several units at the same time, especially if it’s a notebook…

The device is, obviously, provided with a dedicated Live version (limited to eight scenes, though). Once you install Live and the drivers, you just have to declare the Launchpad as a control surface in Live and you’ll be ready to go. As a (funny) side note: the program installed the Novation Audio Control Panel on my computer, which is less than useless considering Launchpad is a MIDI-only control surface and I only got error messages when I tried to open it…

Among other regrettable details, I’ll mention the two-page Getting Started guide provided as “documentation” with the product. It’s true that the Launchpad is a masterpiece regarding intuitiveness but I still find it hard to believe that it takes only two pages to describe how it works… I bet Novation had to sacrifice such details in order to command such a low price. On the other hand, the manufacturer provides some nice video tutorials on its YouTube website which are clear enough to compensate for the lack of a serious user’s manual.

Conclusion

The rugged, compact and light Launchpad will surely be a success among Ableton Live fans who can’t afford an Akai APC40. Novation clearly gave a lot of thought to its product, and even though some aspects could still be improved, it will definitely win you time and improve your ergonomics. As a result, you can rest assured that you’ll see it on lots of stages and in home studios, and certainly under more than a few Christmas trees…

Advantages:

  • Extremely affordable price
  • Compact size and lightness
  • Rugged
  • Ergonomic and well thought out
  • Four modes for virtually any application…
  • Effective MIDI learn function
  • Several Launchpads can be used simultaneously

Drawbacks:

  • Lighting intensity hardly distinguishable by daylight
  • Not velocity/aftertouch sensitive
  • Continuous controllers set by steps: we miss encoders and faders…
  • The lack of track information display can get you lost in the matrix

To read the full detailed review see: Novation Launchpad

November 4, 2009

MIDI: The GM Standard and its Extensions

Filed under: MIDI, Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:23 am

GM, GS & XG: A Little History

Many sound cards and synthesizers, as well as most audio software, are compatible with one of the three midi norms (GM, GS, XG). Though MIDI has long since proven its utility, the existence of different standards can be confusing, so this article has been put together in order to clarify a few points.

Dossier sur le general MIDI : GM, GS et XG For someone who just wants to listen to music, or for a multimedia developer looking to add background music or sounds to their program, the Midifile format has proven to be a real asset. It allows a user to play a sequence that was written by another person, whatever gear or software they were using. But in the past, only the notes and rhythm of the musician were encoded, which didn’t necessarily guarantee a similar sound. In fact, the sounds coming from each sound card, each synthesizer, were different (different in their sound and in their organization). Patch number 15 could be a piano on synthesizer X, and a trumpet on synthesizer Y. It was sometimes necessary to be an expert in MIDI and/or have a lot of patience to get the right settings in order to listen to a piece written by another musician working on a different synth or platform.

The MMA (Midi Manufacturers Association) fixed this problem in 1991 by creating the GM (General Midi) standard. The goal of this standard has been to unify the behavior of sound generators when playing back a Midifile sequence. In order to be labeled GM, an instrument must be multi-timbral and polyphonic up to at least 24 voices, and include at least 16 families of sounds (pianos, guitars, strings…), each containing 8 variations (for example, for strings: violin cello, double bass, etc…

The main advantage of this standardization is that each patch number now corresponds to a certain instrument no matter what the machine. So, instrument number 71 will always be a bassoon and number 12 a vibraphone. The sound generator must also contain a drum kit, whose mapping (placement of the separate elements on a keyboard) is also standardized. Finally, MIDI controllers must be recognized also.

To read the full detailed article including the GM reference guide see:  MIDI The GM Standard and its Extensions.

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