Livid Release Builder V2

We’ve been a fan of Livid’s for a while at OD, catching up with them at shows when we can (check our YouTube channel for an interview with CEO Jay) and we really liked their Block controller last year, and their gradual growth from small boutique to genuine player in the controller market is admirable. Their Builder was a way of helping to spread their boutiquey ethos, and the announcement of Builder V2 brings perhaps the most simple and capable way to create your own controller we’ve seen into the market. Continue Reading

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NAMM 2012: Livid Instruments Interview and CNTRL:R Walkthrough

We’ve been fans of Livid for a while, we reviewed Block last year and were quite taken with its aesthetic – and its usefulness, of course. Livid have some modular controls in development that we got to take a quick look at, and I’ll write about them soon, but the star of their stand at this year’s NAMM show was the CNTRL-R, which has been designed in conjunction with Techno legend Richie Hawtin. I think Livid are going for the CNTRL-R live performance crowd with CNTRL-R, but we really think that it’s got a future in the studio too, as workflows become more fluid and less stuck in the mud.

We had a chat with Jay, Livid’s CEO, about how they make their controllers, and the process by which they try to make instruments rather than MIDI controllers that don’t have much of a vision. There’s a bunch of interesting stuff in here! We also got to watch Gabe take us through some of the workflow with CNTRL-R and Ableton Live along with the custom Max 4 Live patch that powers the step sequencer control. Enjoy!

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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
But:
  • No knobs
  • Premium price
 Specs:
  • 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

 

 

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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!

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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.

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Akai Announce MPC Renaissance, Studio, and Fly Controllers

[break]As we beaver away behind the scenes on the oh-so-nearly-here Oh Drat update and work overtime in preparation for NAMM, we’re excited, intrigued, interested, and simultaneously a little reserved about Akai’s hand showing ahead of the Anaheim extravaganza: the MPC Renaissance, MPC Studio, and MPC Fly. First off check the reveal video for the MPC Renaissance:

[highlighted_text color=]So what does this mean?![/highlighted_text] Details are light, and the only current information we have on the MPC Studio is that it’s going to be a ‘slimline’ controller whilst the MPC Fly is an iPad app.

Akai are obviously hurting from repeated blows from Native Instruments’ Maschine over the past couple of years, and with 2011′s introduction of Maschine Mikro and iMaschine, it’s understandable that Akai are really going head to head on all fronts with the Renaissance, Studio, and Fly. [infos]First off, the key information on Renaissance:[/infos]

      [list type="type1"]

    • It’s a controller with a built in audio interface; there’s no standalone operation here
    • It supports direct import of all existing MPC projects
    • 16 rotary encoders with LED ring feedback
    • Hinged LCD screen
    • Combi inputs with phantom power, phono inputs with turntable preamp
    • Stereo 1/4″ output with additional stereo 1/4″ mix out.
    • Multi colour back light on pads
    • MPC Software can use VST plugins and run standalone or as VST, AU or RTAS plugin
    • 64 track sequencer

[/list]

[biglines]We’ve got so many questions about the new MPC range.[/biglines]
The big shock… apart from the fact that there’s a new MPC at all, of course, is that this MPC requires a computer to run. No brains inside it at all. Are we happy with that? …no, not really. We think there’s something really special about firing up an MPC and not having the hum of a computer or the glow from its screen in sight, and I think many will have expected any new MPC to have capabilities that could be augmented  by software, not require it. All that said, it’s also a new dawn, and with so many producers switching to Maschine – and importantly, having a decent enough computer to run the MPC software is now more or less as likely as having a two slice toaster – perhaps it won’t be such a problem. we’re still a little sore though.

There’s no indication as to whether it requires its power supply (there’s one plugged in in the video), although we suspect it does, especially if it’s to provide phantom power AND power the screen. Akai boast ‘genuine MPC pads’, which is something they’ve run fast and loose with in the past and there’s something of a philosophical argument to how much you can remove from an MPC pad until it stops being one. Between the MPC 2500/5000 and now, though, funnily enough people have gotten over the ‘MPC or nothing’ mentality that competitors’ controllers were blighted with for years. Maschine’s pads are extremely sensitive and have a much more consistent feel across the pad surface, and third party suppliers have had large successes both with aftermarket thicker pads and mods to improve sensitivity across a greater area of pad. Not only that, but one of the prevailing determiners of what makes an MPC pad – at least in our opinion – is the soft rubber that’s used, a markedly different feel to the backlit variety that Native Instruments, Korg, et al use. It’s a surprise to see backlit pads, then; we’re a little worried that they look just like the ones used on Akai’s LPD and MPK Mini, and they’re not great. Perhaps it’s the sensors that qualify the Renaissance’s pads as MPC – it can’t simply be that they’re on an MPC controller, therefore they must be! Either way, multicoloured backlights are going to be very useful.

 


[heading size=]Akai’s first ever MPC software looks… okay, actually.[/heading]
There’s no indication on exactly how much you can do with your eyes away from the screen and hands away from the keyboard and mouse of your computer on the Renaissance, but we hope you can do pretty much everything – including play with plugins – on the unit itself. NI absolutely nailed Maschine’s heads down workflow, and so a company who has spent the past 30 years making instruments that rely on tiny dot matrix displays should be easily capable of pulling it out of the bag. We assume ‘MPC workflow’ means just that; you can work as if you were using any hardware MPC. Perhaps it’s the usability of the MPC Software that we should be most interested in then, because we get precious little indication of the real capabilities it holds. We imagine that despite only advertising VST plugin compatibility that it will also be compatible with AU on Mac (and likely RTAS on ProTools setups), but don’t take our word for it. One potential issue we did notice is that there are faders on the software, but Akai has actually done away with all faders in the hardware. We think it’d make more sense to use GUI elements that either tied in with the controller or were completely abstract, but maybe we’ll change our minds.

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Looks wise, we think Akai have made a superb decision.

What do you do when your competitor out-high techs you in the looks department and makes your attempts at ‘modern’ look dated? Go back to your roots. The MPC Renaissance has taken its style right from the MPC 3000; the button shapes, the jog wheel, palm rest, white on blue screen and beige box with red and blue highlights screams ‘classic’, and thankfully Akai have also reverted to their classic MPC logo (the reboot that began with the 2500 was one of my biggest disappointments after switching from a 2000xl!). Only the new backlit pads and LED rings round the encoders indicate that this is Akai 2012. Bravo.

We’re also really interested in audio quality.

Akai boast MPC sound, but MPC sound has always been such a weird thing. No two MPC models sound exactly alike, and it’s always been the converters as the digital audio gets turned back into electric that have given the MPC ‘that MPC sound’. It remains to be seen whether the MPC Software will require audio to go through the outputs of the MPC Renaissance so that sound is coloured by the hardware to really get that MPC sound, whether there’s an internal connection that can enable the Renaissance to perform these conversions, re-convert, and send back as digital audio through the USB cable (that’s probably dream-land, but still…), or whether the MPC sound is just well researched and programmed emulation within the MPC software audio engine. The same goes for the emulation modes – are they hardware or software? We’re pretty sure the answer to all these questions is going to be the most boring – ‘yes, it’s software’, but we can’t help but wonder.

More information as we have it – including on the MPC Studio and MPC Fly as well as what this means for the MPD range – but for now, let us know what you think!

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Nektar Announce Panorama P4 Competition

We’ve been keeping our eye on Nektar‘s forthcoming Panorama Controller, because not only is it gorgeous but since we got our review copy of Reason 6 we’ve been absolutely in love (prepare for our review soon!).

Nektar have announced that they’ll be giving away the very first Panorama P4 to one lucky winner

Presumably feeling the Christmas spirit, Nektar have announced that they’ll be giving away the very first Panorama P4 off the production lines to one lucky winner; you can enter for your chance to scoop up the controller here. This isn’t an endorsement of course, as we’re yet to use one – but we hope that’ll change soon, right Nektar?!

Nektar Announce Panorama: Custom Reason 6 Control Surface

Reason is the perfect software for control surface functionality. Write it up using Propellerhead’s Remote interface, and you can rest assured that the closed box system means your controller will remain compatible with the software until at least the next major update.

we’re quite taken with the looks of the controller, the screen, and its promise of integration at a level that will make you forget that you’re merely using a controller

Many manufacturers, notably Korg (were they the first? We think so, but let us know if you know otherwise) with their Microkontrol have implemented strong mappings, but Nektartech seem to be the first to come out with a dedicated controller. It couldn’t come at a better time; Reason 6 looks like it could genuinely be a DAW killer for home studios, combining the excellent sound of the Record engine that ushered in the SSL console emulating mixer, direct record sampling and all the instruments in Reason 5.

Details are thin on the ground for the moment, but we’re quite taken with the looks of the controller, the screen, and its promise of integration at a level that will make you forget that you’re merely using a controller. Reason 6 is on the way, and we can’t wait to get one of these in the studio to test it with! Until we do, check out Nektar’s slow release of info at their site…

Steinberg CMC

Steinberg Announce CMC Modular Cubase Controllers

All too often we’re forced to choose between either something that’s slightly under specced for our needs or something that’s got everything but the kitchen sink but is way too grand for what what we need it to do.

Steinberg have broken down their control concepts into modular offerings to allow us to mix and match our perfect control surface

Steinberg seem to have cottoned onto this, and rather than come out with a family of differently sized controllers as seems to be the trend, they’ve broken down their concepts into modular offerings to allow us to mix and match our perfect control surface.

Each controller is designed with a specific Cubase function in mind for extra tight integration with Steinberg’s flagship, but also doubles as a standard MIDI controller for maximum flexibility. The products, and their main features, are:

  • CMC-CH Channel controller: A hands on mirror of a Cubase channel strip
  • CMC-FD Fader box: Four touch strips with LED feedback
  • CMC-QC Quick Controller: Eight rotary encoders and a selection of buttons for quickly switching functions
  • CMC-PD Drum Pads: 16 velocity sensitive, tri colour LED drum pads
  • CMC-TP Transport controller: A mirror of the Cubase transport section with a touch strip for scrubbing
  • CMC-AI Cubase Advanced Integration Controller: A ‘smart knob’ large sized rotary encoder that can be set to various functions by the accompanying buttons

There are some neat and novel design choices on the CMC series; we like the look of the use of touch strips to sidestep the issue of fader position when switching between functions, but we’re not 100% sure about the dynamic illumination on the rotary encoders instead of a traditional LED ring. Tight integration with Cubase is great for Cubase users, and hopefully users of other software will be able to enjoy the controllers in standard MIDI mode.

The CMC series is due for release in October. No word on prices yet, but take a look at the below video for a good look at the controllers in turn – Steinberg have also set up a CMC minisite for your browsing pleasure.

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