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NAMM 2012 Interview: Teenage Engineering on New OP-1 OS

Just before we went away to NAMM we put out our review of the Teenage Engineering OP-1, and sure enough the team were at NAMM showing off their new operating system with, coincidentally, a bunch of stuff that we said we wished was in the version we reviewed. Typical. At least NAMM meant we didn’t have time to get the video review done, though, so I’ll be putting together a review of the OP-1 with its brand new operating system in the next couple of days and it’ll be nice and fresh! In the meantime here’s a chat I had with David on how Teenage Engineering think about the instrument creation process, with a really interesting insight into the way the team try to make sure their instruments technically powerful and yet still facilitate a fun way to make music. Watch on, and let us know what you think!

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NAMM 2012: Interview with Dave Smith on Tempest

Over at NAMM we decided that we’d leave product demonstrations and the like to the million other sites that do them – especially seeing as we like to do our reviews in house where we can really get the best quality and a truly objective opinion (trade shows are loud!) – so instead I decided to interview a few of who we consider the key players in the electronic music manufacturing industry. Dave Smith is definitely one of those guys, so we had a chat with him about all things Tempest – the new drum machine from Dave Smith Instruments and Roger Linn Design. Take a look!


NAMM 2012: Arturia Minibrute

Arturia have surpised a lot of people with the Minibrute; after all, they’re one of the biggest advocates of analogue modelling in the game so turning up with an analogue synth is a little strange – they did raise the very valid point that having actually researched just about every analogue synth out there and exhaustively figured out why they sound like they do, they’re actually very well placed to  create an analogue synth.

Best Bits:
  • Sounds fantastic
  • Very easy to use
  • MIDI over USB
  • CV in and out, and the unit acts as a CV converter too
  • No audio over USB
  • Utilitarian design
  • Monophonic synthesizer
  • 100% Analog Audio Signal Path
  • Steiner-Parker Multimode Filter (LP, BP, HP and Notch)
  • Voltage Controlled Oscillator with Sub-Osc
  • Oscillator Mixer (Sub, Sawtooth, Square, Triangle, White Noise, Audio In)
  • LFO1 with 6 waveforms and bi-polar modulation destinations
  • LFO2 with 3 vibrato modes
  • Brute Factor™ – saturation
  • Ultrasaw
  • Metalizer – harmonic increaser for triangle wave
  • Two ADSR Envelope Generators
  • 25 note Keyboard with Aftertouch
  • USD 549.00 / EURO 499.00
  • Available April


The wave mixer on the VCO allows you to mix saw, square, and triangle waveshapes, as well as the white noise generator, to taste. Arturia have added three extra controls to the signal: Brute introduces foldback distortion, ultrasaw stacks sawtooths, and Metaliser adjusts the angle of the triangle waveform to increase harmonics. All this goes towards the raw sound of Minibrute being fantastically rich and sweet. They all go through a Steiner-Parker designed filter that features notch, bandpass, lowpass, and highpass modes, and the calibre of the filter is bananas. It is unbelievably smooth and squeals so musically that it’s undeniably worth the price premium that it presumably added over using a stock filter design. In general the unit’s solid – it’s not the most beautiful design we’ve ever seen but its plain look means it’s also completely inoffensive – and the aftertouch keys are really responsive.

We’re not calling it until we’ve had one in the studio for a play, but I’m pretty excited about the Minibrute – Let us know how you feel!


NAMM 2012: Akai Max49

The Akai Max49 is another of NAMM’s little surprises, and I don’t think anyone was quite expecting it. It’s a reversion of the MPK49, essentially – although that’s not to say that the MPK49 is being discontinued – with far superior pads and ribbon controllers in place of physical sliders. There’re also CV connections round the back, a cool step sequencer function, and the debut of Akai Connect, which looks to be pretty much the same concept as Novation’s Automap. It commands a bit of a premium over the MPK49 for all these reasons, but the removal of the rotary pots has detracted from the value in our opinion. The pads are much better than the ones on the MPK range, and that’s what stuck out to us most I think. That and the metallic red paint job of course. Expect a review around release time!

Best Bits:
  • Markedly improved pads over MPK range
  • Ribbon strips for pickup of software changes
  • Same excellent keys as the MPK49
  • No knobs
  • Premium price
  • 49 semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch
  • Built-in step sequencer
  • Expanded arpeggiator with latch and time division controls
  • Included AkaiConnect software automatically maps to VST plugins
  • 12 backlit, real MPC pads with MPC Note Repeat and MPC swing
  • Eight backlit LED touch faders
  • Four pad banks & four fader banks
  • CV & Gate outputs for use with vintage analog synths (1V/Oct)
  • Large, centrally-positioned transport controls & rubberized pitch and modulation wheels
  • Mackie Control & HUI modes




NAMM 2012: Feeltune Rhizome SXE and LE

Best Bits:
  • Ability to choose the all in one or controller version
  • Superb workflow for quick creation of a song
  • Better looking black colour scheme
  • It’s very big and unwieldy
  • The angle might become tiring to use after a while (even at the lowest) – we’ll have to see.
Key Specs:
  • Four 24 bit colour screens
  • Velocity sensitive pads
  • 32 encoders
  • Embedded i5 processor Windows 7 system, or bring-your-own computer option

We first saw Rhizome at last year’s Musikmesse, and it impressed me then; it’s an all in one production solution with various modules that allow VST plugins to become part of its workflow, from step sequencers to piano roll and live remixing tools. I had a few reservations here and there, but Feeltune have more or less totally cleared them up with their reboot. The original white Rhizome is discontinued to make room for the SXE and LE models, which are a more attractive black colour and feature improved specs and no embedded computer, respectively. The software (which can be used to update the original model too) is now a real force to be reckoned with, as the sampling engine has had a big overhaul and live performance features have been tweaked and refined. We’ve been promised a review model next month, so expect the usual in depth look soon!


Akai MPC Renaissance: Exclusive In-depth Look

We’ve been following the Akai MPC Renaissance since its announcement, and NAMM gave us the perfect opportunity to get some hands on. Rather than get the same old sales pitch, I decided it would be a whole lot more interesting to get some cool background information from someone who worked (and is still working) closely on the development of the product, so I roped in Dan Gill, Product Manager at Akai Pro.

Here’s a quick lowdown of some of the key points in the video:
  • How the choices for the visual design were made, and some of the big names that were consulted
  • How coloured pads help work flow
  • The nitty gritty on the emulation modes, including the plans for SP1200 mode
  • The audio interface and its features (did you know that the signal path is a replica of the MPC3000? Interesting…)
  • The decision to use rotary pots and drop the sliders
  • Software capabilities
  • How the JJOS has influenced the design of the Renaissance

Whilst the hardware is finalised – except for the fine tuning of the feel of the pads – the software’s still in early beta and there are a lot of bugs still to iron out. We were told we’re to expect things to be finished up in around six months, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it develop; the reason we’ve not included much footage of the software in action is because it’s not particularly stable and in many aspects not fully functional so there’s very little point in showing you something that’s just not going to represent the final (or close to final) product.

It seems apt, on that note, to bring the Studio and Fly into the conversation. Neither products are as close to being final as Renaissance, and whilst MPC Studio was out for a hands on it was still very much in prototype; MPC Fly was in a plastic cage to keep it away from prying hands. Because of this we’ve not focused on them, but that’s not to say we’re not interested because we most certainly are – I’ll write up some of my thoughts in our wrap up coverage.

Any thoughts? Let us know in the comments or come LIKE our Facebook page!

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First Look Video: Nektar Panorama P4

It’s the first day of NAMM, and there’s not much to see for the lowly press yet. We did get a sneaky look at the Nektartech Panorama P4, though – check out the video for the scoop!


Review: Teenage Engineering OP-1

I hope you live somewhere cold. Honestly. It makes all the difference if, when removing the OP-1 from its packaging – which is an exercise in artistic design in itself – if the aluminium chassis is cold to the touch. The build quality of the OP-1 is fantastic; it’s unbelievably solid, from the encoders to the buttons, and the OLED screen is beautiful to behold. Does the sound match up to the looks though? Let’s find out.


24/96 DAC/ADC, 3.5mm stereo out, mic/line in, 7 synth engines + sampling engine, 4 effects + 2 master, virtual 4 track tape recording, USB2 for connection to Win/Mac, 16 hour battery (charged via USB)

  • Gorgeous
  • Ambitious
  • Great sounds
  • Fun workflow
  • Minor interface grievances
  • Imprecise sample editor
  • Lack of MIDI sync
Price at Review: €799 Teenage Engineering have really made the OP-1 a labour of love. It’s not, admittedly, the greatest sounding synth in the world, but it’s absolutely capable of killer sounds. The reel to reel system is a bit of a throwback, but it’s got a unique charm that you might just enjoy.
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The aesthetic qualities of the unit are only really only a value adder to the hard and fast audio capabilities of Teenage Engineering’s flagship OP-1, of course. What the OP-1 comprises is eight synthesis engines, a drum machine, effects, a step sequencer, and a flexible recording system that emulates reel to reel tape recording. There’s more besides, such as the gyroscope that can be assigned to many of the parameters, an inbuilt FM radio, internal speaker… It’s a huge amount of stuff to cram into one unit, and thus it’s not surprising that the OP-1 doesn’t have best in class performance of any single feature. What it does do, though, is combine its functionality with its form to enable it to be an inspiring instrument to use – velocity-free note keys notwithstanding.

The OP-1 can have eight simultaneous instruments loaded at once – any combination of the same or different engines that it produces – although it’ll only play one at a time. The synths in the OP-1 are all very simply designed, with an emphasis on making tweaking them fun and easy. Having only four parameters means that they’re not hugely versatile individually, but between them the breadth of sounds that the OP-1 can produce is very impressive.

A run down of each synth engine:
  • String: with the ability to change string taughtness, impulse from a morphing slider of very dull to very metallic sound, impulse decay for wetness, and detune, with the right settings you can achieve some quite realistic string sounds – just don’t expect string concertos to make their way out of the OP-1 any time soon.
  • Pulse: A simple PWM synth, with the ability to modify the width and height of two pulses and modulate the rate at which they shift.
  • Cluster: One of the more versatile engines, Cluster allows you to combine up to six waves and change the envelope to get anything from pizzicato to drone effects. Spread and unitor controls allow you to widen the waves right out and detune them to get expansive sounding patches; it’s good for anything from raspy electro leads to warm atmospherics.
  • Digital: Reminiscent of video game sound chips of yore, digital allows you to play with the wave shape, alter the timbre with ring mod and the octave of overtones, and then dial in ‘digitalness’. Chiptune fans rejoice, basically.
  • FM: As you might expect, there’s a pretty wide range of sounds to be had out of the FM synth, and modulations can provide wild digital sounds. That said, it’s one of the more abstract interfaces – perhaps because FM synthesis is a constantly surprising synthesis method when turning dials anyway, there’s very little to indicate where parameters are at any given point.
  • Phase: Based around putting two sine waves out of phase, the phase synth is capable of some really growly basses. There’s no in-built mechanism to retain the sub bass that is often lost with phase, but there is interesting wave distortion and phase tilt that can really squeal.
  • Dr Wave: An wavetable synth with simple controls for wave shape, filter, phase and chorus; Dr Wave sounds great and really benefits from the wave display on screen, as it really shows you how the synthesis can sound so radically different with small changes in parameters.

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Akai’s MPC Studio Unveiled

As we run up to NAMM, and after last week’s big MPC news, we can follow up the news of MPC Renaissance with MPC Studio, Akai’s real Maschine competitor. Whilst Renaissance is designed to appeal to the producers who love the centre-stage presence of MPCs of yore, MPC Studio is definitely the one that’s going toe to toe with Native Instruments’s baby.

Key points:

The big screen looks great, and if you’re used to – and love – the MPC workflow, then MPC Studio will definitely appeal with its recognisable jog wheel, d-pad, and transport arrangement. Akai have gone with MPC1000 style ‘areola’ jog wheels, and as well as the main data wheel there are four, vertically aligned wheels on the left. Keeping the function key layout is smart on Akai’s part, because it further reinforces the MPC workflow, but one of Maschine’s greatest design features is the encoders that line up with the screen so that you’re never in any doubt as to their function; the jog wheels here are a little stranded, not to mention probably not great for tweaking live parameters compared to a grab-able knob. Other than that we’re pretty impressed; as long as Akai do the sensible thing and compete fiercely with Native Instruments on price compared to Maschine then they could well wrestle some market share back. We wonder whether there’ll be a package deal for the two to appeal to particularly flush amongst you… would you buy both if they did? Let us know!

Oh, one more thing: we’re not touching the supposed MPC Fly leak until it gets confirmed. Right now, as far as we’re concerned, those images have as much likelihood of being fake as they do real, and even if real they could be concept shots, outdated, etc.


Bitwig Studio Beta Looms

You’ll be forgiven for being thus far oblivious to Bitwig. They’ve been quietly beavering away at developing their flagship product, Bitwig Studio, since their inception in 2009, and only just approaching beta. With a team comprising some notable ex-Ableton brains, it’s no surprise that Bitwig Studio has more than a couple of things in common with Ableton Live. Here’s the video:

Bitwig Studio though has a number of features that Live users have been wishing for either en masse or in niche for some time – here are a few of the most interesting features we’ve picked out of the information we’ve had thus far:

  • Full cross platform support: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • ‘on note’ automation editing that looks similar to Cubase 6′s VST note expression (we’re waiting for confirmation on the exact functionality of this, but it’s confirmed that it can control per note panning, timbre, and volume of included instruments)
  • Onion skinned automation lanes showing multiple parameters simultaneously
  • Split pane workflow of clip/groove based sequencing and linear sequencing
  • Clip based effects automation sequencing
  • Block style pattern sequencing, ala MPC, FL Studio, Maschine etc
  • Non exclusive mixer tracks that will play audio and software instruments on a single channel
  • Multiple document editing, allowing copy and paste between documents
  • Multiple window support

The future for Bitwig Studio is a spinning coin of opportunities and threats: It’s very similar in many aspects to Ableton Live, and thus is likely to get someone’s back up somewhere. If Live can essentially integrate what Bitwig are doing close enough to the release of Bitwig studio, especially now the cat is somewhat out of the bag, it could see Bitwig Studio struggling to gather steam. That said, with Ableton Live’s next big update presumably being Live 9, the iterative nature of Ableton’s product development seems to have hampered its once unshakeable stability and if Bitwig Studio’s ground up design means it’s rock solid yet still fully featured, it could reap the rewards of a defection or two.

We’re certainly excited to see and hear the extent of the included instruments and effects, and there’s even plans to include a Reaktor/Max like instrument editor after launch. We’re thinking ahead here, but if Bitwig Studio can be installed on an ultra-low footprint Linux install and manages to sound as great as it looks without relying on third party plugins… well, let’s just leave it at ‘we’re excited’.

More information as we have it – which will be soon. Let us know what you think – are you thinking about it as an Ableton Live beater, or is it unnecessary to draw that close a comparison?

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