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August 5, 2010

Akai Miniak Review

After having repositioned Alesis on the market, Numark seems to have entrusted Akai with the fate of the synth/drum machine product range. The Miniak is the first Akai synth “in the modern era”.

Late after the extinction of analog dinosaurs, musicians started to rediscover and revere these fat monsters. Manufacturers, which were developing preset-based digital workstations, decided to digitally model the behavior of analog circuitries. The last step was to conceive ergonomic user interfaces that included direct controls for a more authentic playing feel (to make the illusion more real, say analog fundamentalists). Very few manufacturers started to develop real programmable, polyphonic analog synths… One of the exceptions was Alesis who, against all odds, launched ten years ago the most powerful analog synth in history: Andromeda. This was a masterly achievement but also their deathblow: Numark bought the manufacturer in 2001, drastically reduced the Andromeda market price and launched a very successful range of analog modeling synths.

In 2003, the Ion provided eight voices of pure happiness with three powerful oscillators, two full-featured filters and a front panel fully packed with control elements. More affordable versions came out pretty fast: born in 2004, the Micron used the same sound synthesis as the Ion and even added effects to the rig, but it was hosted in a compact housing with reduced space for controls — not very ergonomic. Numark bought Akai Professional the same year and immediately redeployed the MPC product range. Now, they have introduced the Miniak: a Micron synth repacked under the Akai brand. So, the key question is: do they need cash and have relied on a tried and tested technology already amortized, or is it a strategic move to try to reposition the two brands? Anyway, people under 20 will think the Miniak is the first Akai analog synth. With a bit of luck, the rest of us might remember that their first analog synth was the AX80. In 1985!

New Look

Akai Miniak

Repacking means getting a new outfit. With its strong black PVC housing mounted on a rugged metal bottom side, the Miniak is no exception to the rule. The unit is manufactured in Taiwan and has a remarkable construction quality. The impression of sturdiness is reinforced by the weight of the unit: 11 lb. are quite a lot for such a compact device. It’s actually a big difference in comparison to the Micron’s aluminum lightness! The finish is perfect, be it the silkscreen or the encoders that use a metal axis screwed on the housing for a longer life. The three XYZ encoders are absolute encoders: they can be assigned to sound synthesis parameters and they have 12-bit resolution, which translates into 4,096 possible values. The fourth encoder is labeled Data. This incremental control with push function allows you to switch between menus and parameter edition.

Akai Miniak

Besides the play mode, sequence triggering and volume controls, you’ll find three quality wheels (pitch plus two freely assignable modulation wheels) that light up orange. The 37 half-weighted keys are velocity and aftertouch but not pressure sensitive. The response of these standard sized keys is quite good and make playing easier. There is an XLR input for dynamic microphones, like the gooseneck mic included. All other connections — firmly screwed on the housing — are on the rear panel: a socket for the external power supply, power on/off switch, stereo inputs and outputs on balanced TRS connectors, phones out, two footswitch inputs, MIDI in/out/thru, and a connector for a notebook-type anti-theft device. Just like on the Micron, we miss a USB port on this synth…

Arduous Editing

Akai Miniak

Getting started is pretty straightforward: just look at the silkscreen and push, simultaneously, the “program” button and a key to select a bank; then simply browse the programs with the incremental knob. Now, you can play the keyboard, trigger rhythm patterns and arpeggios, depending on the note you play; adjust the tempo with the “Tap tempo” button; and edit three sound parameters using the assignable XYZ encoders or the three wheels. Dedicated buttons allow you to transpose the keyboard up to three octaves up and down, considering that the Miniak can handle all 128 MIDI notes. It’s ideal for live performances!

Akai Miniak

On the other hand, editing possibilities are very frustrating because, excluding the three assignable encoders, all other settings must be made via menu pages. Once again, push the “Programs” button and a key to access the section you wish to edit (oscillators, pre-mix, filters, outputs, envelopes, etc.). Afterwards, you’ll have to browse the menu pages using the “Data” selector: push it to edit a parameter and push it again to toggle back to navigation mode… Considering the large number of editable parameters, you’ll beg for a dedicated editor. But it’s no use: Akai doesn’t provide anything! However, you’ll find a VST/standalone editor for Windows from HyperSynth: http://www.hypersynth.com/miniak-editor.html (which we haven’t tried out). By the way, we would also like to criticize something else: the backlit LCD display has only 2×16 digits and is much too small to manage the countless parameters. It is hardly readable in spite of its adjustable contrast (blue characters on blue background) and it is too recessed into the panel (the readability decreases when you don’t stand directly above the display).

Now let’s dig into the sound!….

Born to Run

Finally, the Miniak is a very compact, rugged and clever instrument that produces vintage synth emulations as well as modern techno sounds. Compared with the Micron, the biggest change is only aesthetic. However, the Miniak does bring some improvements in the control layout, which enhances operation. The Miniak is a stage monster conceived to be transported all over the world to play live on stage. On the other hand, it is not so powerful for direct editing. That’s the other side of the coin: with such a small size and price, it offers a very limited number of direct controls. This is when we start dreaming about a Maxiak fully packed with knobs and buttons!

Advantages:

  • Sound quality and versatility
  • Powerful sound synthesis
  • Control resolution
  • Construction quality
  • Compact and easily transportable
  • Integrated effects
  • Included gooseneck mic
  • Pattern generator
  • Real dynamic keyboard

Drawbacks:

  • Complex direct editing
  • No USB port
  • No dedicated editor
  • Vocoder’s intelligibility

To read the full (this is just the beginning) detailed article with sound samples see:  Akai Miniak Review

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March 31, 2010

Best of Musikmesse 2010: The Top 11

They came to Frankfurt, Germany, showed their stuff, we looked, touched and video taped. Now with everybody back home, it’s time to make sense of the best gear presented at Musikmesse 2010.

Wrapping up a trade show like Musikmesse is no easy feat.  The editorial purpose here is not to declare that such and such product is the best, because as we all know it’s comparing apples to oranges in most cases.  For us here at Audiofanzine is it an opportunity to give a congratulatory nod to the products that we felt stood out in the crowd and did something for us.

Audiofanzine’s Top 11 picks from Musikmesse 2010 is presented in no particular order.

1.  RME Babyface:

Equipped with 192 kHz AD- and DA-converters and two microphone preamps the bus-powered Babyface uses the USB 2.0 high-speed bus and has been optimized under Windows and Mac OS. The Babyface combines analog circuit design with AD/DA converter chips of the latest generation. On top RME’s SteadyClock is designed to ensure an AD- and DA-conversion. Both digitally controlled preamps provide individually switchable 48V phantom power.  The Interface allows to record multiple channels and it’s still very simple setup. It is very small and actually fits in a laptop bag. Most other small interfaces are a lot bigger…

2.  Line 6 Variax James Tyler:

james tylerThis new line of guitars is designed to ”deliver the feel of the finest boutique instruments and the optimal tonal performance of Line 6 guitar modeling technology,” the company says.

Variax guitars are designed to reproduce the sounds of a collection of 25 vintage electric and acoustic instruments, and a dozen custom tunings. The modeled instruments include solid-body, semi-hollow guitars and hollow-body electrics with a variety of pickup configurations, six- and twelve-string acoustics, and other guitar-related instruments including a resonator, banjo, and an electric sitar.  This new line of guitars will be available in three styles, said to reflect the designs of James Tyler in each curve, component and control.

3.  Roland GAIA SH-01:

roland gaiaThe triple-stacked engine of this synthesizer features a “fun, friendly and inviting” designed to attract first-timers, according to Roland. The signal flow is said to be simple to grasp, with logically arranged knobs, sliders, and buttons.

This instrument is designed for music students, songwriters, session players, and live performers of all styles and skill levels and features, among others:

  • Three virtual analog engines onboard, each with a dedicated oscillator, filter, amplifier, envelope, and LFO
  • Layer up to five simultaneous effects, including distortion, flanger, delay, reverb, low boost, and more
  • 64-voice polyphony for massive sounds without note drop-out

To see the rest of the Top 11 from Musikmesse please see: Best of Musikmesse 2010

January 20, 2010

Best of NAMM 2010: The Top 11

The Audio & Musical Gear that Made the Show

As the dust is settling in Anaheim, and the post-buzz is gathering wind, us here at Audiofanzine present to you our Top 11 gear picks from NAMM 2010. Why 11? Well, it’s one louder isn’t it?

With the hundreds of new products revealed and displayed last week at NAMM 2010, it is quite a battle for manufacturers fighting for attention space in the minds of consumers and partners.  It is always a challenge, and everyone of course has their favorite category, brand or particular gear need that directs their attention to this booth or that piece of hot news.  It is also extremely difficult to say hands down- this is the most innovative product to come out because invariable each product can only fairly compete within its own category.  Furthermore, like I said innovation is the outcome of a particular unfulfilled need, and not everyone will share this need.  Some products at the end are not groundbreaking but are just ‘cool’.  And that’s cool too.

Hence, without further ado, the editors of Audiofanzine present to you the Top 11 picks from NAMM 2010, in no particular order- as the products present a mixture of categories that cannot be compared.

Teenage Engineering OP-11.  Teenage Engineering OP-1:

It may look like a Japanese toy, but the OP-1 is the all-in-one portable Synthesizer, Sampler and Controller. With additional features like the FM Radio and a G-Force sensor for pitch and bend effects. Beside a creative approach to sequencing with multiple choice of sequencers, it also has a built-in Tape feature.  Check out all juicy details on Teenage Engineering .  This one is a keeper.

Pearl E-Pro2.  Pearl E-Kit:

What makes the E-Pro Live drumset truly different from other electronic drumsets, the company says, is the “real feel and response from the pads”. Pearl’s Tru-Trac Electronic Heads feature dual-zones that reproduce all of the intricacies the drummer is used to hearing when playing an acoustic drum. The smooth coating on the heads makes moving from drum to drum fast and easy, Pearl says. And of course, let’s not forget the obvious: the real sizes of the drums. The set features 10″, 12″ and 14″ toms, a 14″ snare drum, and a 20″ bass drum. Say goodbye to 8″ practice pads.

Taylor Baritone 8 Strings3.  Taylor Baritone 8 Strings:

Taylor decided to add 2 octave strings to each of the A and D strings. The resulting 8-string baritone GS complements the baritone’s lower tonal range, adding a touch of upper-octave brightness without too much 12-string jangle. The result is a guitar with great tonal range, perfect for walking basslines and rich melodies.  How does it sound?  Simply divine.

Want to see the rest of the list?  Visit us here:  NAMM Top 11

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.

May 3, 2009

Video Demo: Doepfer A-100 Compatible Modules

Filed under: Musikmesse 2009, Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:58 am

This one’s for die-hard modular fans: a demonstration of modules compatible with Doepfer’s A-100 modular system.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

April 29, 2009

Video Demo: Modules for Doepfer A-100

An overview of different modules compatible with Doepfer’s A-100 modular system.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

April 28, 2009

Video Demo: Doepfer Dark Energy

Doepfer talks about the new Dark Energy, their analog monophonic stand-alone synthesizer that also features a USB and Midi interface.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

April 12, 2009

Musikmesse: Akai Miniak Synth

Akai presents their new Miniak analog modeling synthesizer.

akai-miniak

For more Musikmesse videos and news visit Audiofanzine Musikmesse

April 1, 2009

Clavia Nord C2 Combo Organ

Filed under: keyboards, Musikmesse 2009, Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:00 pm

A list of the new features in the Nord C2:

  • Pipe Organ
  • New keyboard action
  • Improved output routing capabilities
  • Monitor input
  • Percussion controls moved to the “classic position”
  • Vibrato and chorus controls moved to the “classic position”
  • Enhanced click
  • Drawbar Preview

Accessories:

  • Pedal Keys 27– This MIDI pedalboard has 27 keys and an integrated Swell pedal, with a sturdy chassis of aluminum.
  • Aluminum stand The C2 can be used with a new stand, a very sturdy but lightweight stand made of aluminum.

5354 5356

53561

For more Musikmesse photos and news visit Audiofanzine Musikmesse

March 16, 2009

Sonic Charge Synplant: The Test

The Secret Sound of Plants
Sonic Charge Synplant: The Test

Since the dawn of synthesizers, there have been many types of synthesis to emerge. But the same can not be said about their approaches to work flow or interfaces. With Synplant, Sonic Charge has taken inspiration from the world of plants and their growth patterns in order to come up with a new way of creating sound. Marketing ploy or innovation?

Overview

Ouverture

The first thing to know about Synplant is that it’s an AU and VST plug-in that’s Mac and PC compatible. So far, so good. But soon we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. First of all, the interface is quite minimal: a big round dial, referred to as a “bulb” (it kind of looks like Ueberschall’s loopeyes), surrounded by 12 buttons that represent the 12 half-steps of an octave, a patch selector/browser, four buttons and seven sliders, and that’s all (for now). The way it produces sound is as follows: you plant a “seed” in the center of the “bulb” and grow branches out from this seed (yes, really). Pretty original, right?

Let’s try it, then. A click in the middle of the screen, and a seed appears, accompanied by a brief sound (each seed contains its own particular sound). You can also right-click, which opens a menu offering, amongst others, the same function (more on this later). You can always jot down the name of the seed just in case (in order to stay within the botanical theme they’ve chosen some complicated ones), but you can’t choose one directly since new seeds are chosen randomly. One solution: open a Seed and save it as a preset without touching any settings. This can be done in a separate folder. Just as an indication, after generating 215 Seeds (whoa. ..), I only had four duplicates (same name, but not the same sound). Sound production is completely and utterly random.

Then, from out of this seed grows 12 branches, each corresponding to the notes of the octave on the outside of the bulb. When the branches are at there smallest (like when a seed is created), their sound is identical to the Seed. One of Synplant’s main principles of sound creation is to elongate these branches (in real time) to get a different sound.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Longueur variable

No doubt, originality pays off. First of all, the presets show that you can get all kinds of sounds, from typical FM pluck (with mod wheel effects) to ethereal choirs, a pseudo-Rhodes to an unstable pad, a classic lead to a prog pad, all with the surprising results that using the mod wheel brings.

But where this synth is really interesting is in its sound production, which forces us to rethink our whole approach. It’s more like a voyage rather than thinking in terms of frequency, timbre, pitch, etc.. And, if you accept this premise, you have to admit that the interface is absolutely brilliant. What’s rather reassuring, is that in terms of sound you don’t come across new sounds that are totally unusable (there are some, but not many), which is something you might assume after seeing the interface. There is always a direction to explore in one of the branches.

A few small drawbacks, like the unnecessary “complexity” of the envelope or the lack of clarity in the filtering, do not spoil the pleasure of working with Synplant, which generates as many new sounds as it does new compositional ideas. So, marketing gimmick or innovation? Innovation, kudos to Sonic Charge.

AudioFanzine décerne au Synplant de Sonic Charge l'Award de l'innovation.

In light of this test, AudioFanzine gives the Award for Innovation to Sonic Charge’s Synplant..

Concept
Originality of the interface
Quality of the interface
Inventiveness
Sound Quality
Oscillator Quality
Seed creation due to complete chance
Richness and diversity of tones
The ability to refine sounds
Numerous modulations
Many presets
Midi Learn
CPU friendly
Interactive help included
The price

Manipulate Genes interface sometimes unclear
Only one envelope
Why not include a simple ADSR?
Filtering and envelope need getting used to
No aftertouch

To read the full detailed article see:  Sonic Charge Synplant Review

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