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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those images have as much likelihood of being fake as they do real, and even if real they could be concept shots, outdated, etc.

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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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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!

AAS Swatches

Creating a High Quality Free Audio Plugins Shortlist (part 1)

One of the things we’re trying to pull together behind the scenes is a comprehensive, high quality bumper pack of multi platform software that can be used free of charge. We’ll be warming things up on the tips and tutorials front when it comes to specific software, but I’d really like to be able to make guides that use the same thing that you use so that you can follow along really easily, and maybe even share project files and presets with you too. As a taster, here’s a quick list of some of the things we’ve uncovered…

Native Instruments Reaktor Player is a free download from NI that allows Reaktor instruments to be loaded without owning the full version of Reaktor – and some Reaktor instruments are free too! The most impressive might be Carbon 2, included in the free Factory Selection pack, a solid subtractive synth that could even be used as your workhorse instrument.

Applied Acoustic Systems AAS Player is a simple sound bank player, and AAS are behind some of the best acoustic and analogue modelling software in the business.

AAS are behind some of the best acoustic and analogue modelling software in the business

Weighing in at just 6MB, AAS Player has 80 sounds, which are presets taken from products in the AAS stable – and thus sound fantastic.

Audio Damage Rough Rider is a compressor that can be used to create fiercely pumping audio. It’s not by any means a compressor that handles signals with grace and subtlety, but for that balls-to-the-wall effect it works really well.

Brainworx Cleansweep is a free filter, simply featuring low and high pass filters that can be operated by separate knobs or, for quick control, a joystick. The ability to switch between four settings and the superb quality mean it’s a shoe in for a main channel filter for mixing your channels.

Camel Audio CamelCrusher is a simple but effective audio distortion plugin.

used just right CamelCrusher can seriously thicken up drums and bass sounds

It’s sensitive, and has quite a bright sound, but used just right it can seriously thicken up drums and bass sounds.

Arto Vaarala Kirnu is a very usable yet powerful MIDI arpeggiator. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful arps we’ve laid eyes on, with everything from automated steps to a step sequencer, swing and gate functions, MIDI learn built in, and it’s all built into a simple interface.

That should keep you going for a little while – if you have any particular favourites do let us know! Oh, and if you’re not already, make sure you’ve Liked our Facebook page so that we can keep giving you tips, tutorials, free stuff and more inspiration!

Imageline - FL Studio iPad

FL Studio for iPad Coming Soon

Imageline’s FL Studio software goes from strength to strength – and you can expect our full review of the brand new FL Studio 10 next week – but the long standing Windows only hold on the studio in a box software came to an end recently with FL Studio for iPhone and this new video of FL Studio for iPad is very promising.

It’s not a port of the Windows version, more a re-imagining of the brand

It’s not a port of the Windows version, more a re-imagining of the brand, with quite a lot of similarities with Apple’s GarageBand iPad but enough differences and unique features to make it keeping an eye out for.

Also… anyone else spot the slip up in this otherwise good mockup?! It made us laugh, at least.

 

Maschine

Review: Native Instruments Maschine 1.6

Maschine’s greatest achievement has been dragging staunch hardware users away from their MPCs and towards computer based production. It’s been a real investment for early adopters, as two major updates since the original release have seen Maschine grow from a great idea with slightly flawed implementation into a tour de force of production potential – and all for free. 1.6 continues this tradition, and brings some radical additions to Maschine’s workflow, perhaps most notably audio plugin support and full 64 bit support. Have Native Instruments succeeded in giving Maschine all the tools it needs to compete with a DAW, or are they over egging the pudding and taking the focus off its core features?

the 1.6 update finally implements both instrument and effects plugins in VST/AU format

A long requested feature by Maschine users is plugin support, and the 1.6 update finally implements both instrument and effects plugins in VST/AU format. Rather than simply shoehorning the capability in, however, there are a variety of workflow tweaks and additions to maximise both the advantages that plugin support brings and the ease of use of plugins within a project.

In 1.6, rather than each pad having a source select and two effects slots each pad is comprised of four modules, one of which one can be an input source and the other three effects – or all four effects, should you wish. You can route groups and sounds to each other through the module chain, too; you could dedicate a group to being an effects bus and load in effects chains into each of the 16 pads, then send sounds or groups to the chains in those groups via an aux channel. This is a very powerful but at the same time very simple system, made even more powerful now that Maschine’s outputs have been doubled to 16.

handling of plugins is implemented really effectively

Actual handling of plugins is implemented really effectively. Maschine will attempt to map plugin parameters in a sensible way, but if, by the plugin’s design, automatic mapping doesn’t do such a great job, learning is built into Maschine and is as simple as switching learn mode on, fiddling with the control in Maschine and then the plugin. These mappings can be saved, so you can create different presets to load for different uses, and your favourite can be saved as the default that will load whenever you load that plugin – a godsend when a plugin developer has assigned their plugin’s CC messages alphabetically, for instance.

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Scratch Live

New Serato Scratch Live ASIO and CoreAudio support

In case you’re not sure what this means, new (currently beta) drivers for Rane’s SL3 and Sixty-Eight hardware allow them to be used as standard audio interfaces. Since their inception, the hardware that powers Serato Scratch Live has been interfaced with proprietary drivers or (Windows only) ASIO support. Now, though, all that’s changed – providing you’re the proud owner of one of the prestige models in the Scratch Live lineup, the SL3 or Sixty-Eight mixer.

new (currently beta) drivers for Rane’s SL3 and Sixty-Eight hardware allow them to be used as standard audio interfaces.

This is great news for people drawn to the Scratch Live software, but feeling somewhat short changed by the fact that just about all DVS solutions, notably NI’s Audio 4 and 8, can be used as audio interfaces to power their other music software. It’s a shame there’s no word of SL1 core audio support, but this is definitely something to look forward to for the people with the right hardware.
Take a look at this forum post to get hold of the beta drivers, or keep your eye out for the final versions soon. There’s also a 2.2 update for Scratch Live in beta available here, which brings better effects support for TTM57 users, integrates Vestax’s VFX1 effects controller, and a few pages of bug fixes.

Maschine 1.6

Maschine 1.6 to Host Plugins

Maschine is one of my favourite music production tools. It’s made waves of increasing magnitude with each point release it’s received over the past 18ish months, developing from a great idea to a slick realisation of the potential of the groove box/computer software hybrid; its freshly announced forthcoming ability to host VST/AU plugins takes it one step closer to becoming a total all in one power tool.

I can’t help but start to imagine that the things Native Instruments are learning along the way are trailblazing for their vision of the DAW of tomorrow

According to the forum post that announced this news, plugin hosting won’t be the only thing that the 1.6 update brings to the table. NI seem to be implementing features both large and small fairly steadily to Maschine, and I can’t help but start to imagine that the things they’re learning along the way are trailblazing for their vision of the DAW of tomorrow. An amalgamation of Maschine’s groove box mentality, Kore’s sound management, and track based audio and MIDI sequencing, combined with a a proprietary control surface to power it, could totally change the game. Is it just a matter of time?

maschine

Review: NI Maschine 1.5

This is an extract from my full review, published on Skratchworx. Read on and catch the link to the full article at the bottom of the post.

Despite my relatively glowing review of Maschine 1.0, as time went by little niggles began to turn into big qualms. Compared to its only real competitors, hardware behemoths in the Akai and Roland stables, it was the basic ingredients rather than the icing on the proverbial cake that was lacking. A machine designed to sample, but lacking basic sample editing features, created a workflow encumbered at its very core by workarounds and jury rig solutions.

Thankfully, the sampling system has received a major overhaul in 1.5, and I’m pleased to report that the bods at NI have finally seen it fit to furnish their little groove box with a pair of scissors

Thankfully, the sampling system has received a major overhaul in 1.5, and I’m pleased to report that the bods at NI have finally seen it fit to furnish their little groove box with a pair of scissors. Yes, Maschine 1.5 can destructively edit samples, and it’s wonderful. Truncate, Normalise, Fix DC Offset, Cut, Copy, Paste, Silence… it’s all there (and made smooth by the introduction of waveform zooming and more sensitive value editing on the controller). At least, almost all there – a few features are still conspicuous by their absence, most notably a ‘mono’ feature for combining the channels of a stereo signal, a ‘Snap to Zero Crossing’, and a destructive slicing mode.

This is an extract of my full review, published on Skratchworx – click here to go to it, and gaze admiringly at the exclusive photography, from which this post borrows.

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Adobe Audition Mac Beta

It’s been over four years since Apple began its Intel chip led foray into the personal computing mainstream. For many creatives, Macs are central to their workflow – despite Adobe’s generally relaxed attitude to the platform. It wasn’t until over a year after the release of the first Intel Core Duo based Macs that Adobe released a Universal Binary version of its Creative Suite, and many a Mac adopting music producer has been left scratching their head after finding out that Audition, the ubiquitous audio editor for Windows, isn’t available for Mac. Until now, that is.


Just released, Adobe is finally bringing Audition (now up to version 4) to Mac, with an open beta available for download. I eagerly downloaded and proceeded to prod around, and was treated, more than anything else, to a hefty gust of nostalgia. Audition translates handsomely to the OSX environment, and behaves snappily and sleekly, yet the basic interface still harks back to those heady old days of Cool Edit.

Audition translates handsomely to the OSX environment, and behaves snappily and sleekly, yet the basic interface still harks back to those heady old days of Cool Edit.

My current workflow doesn’t necessarily warrant Audition – I don’t even remember the last time I opened Audacity, its clunky-yet-free alternative. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether the way I work now is shaped by the absence of the powerful audio editor and multi tracker, and whether the release of Audition for OSX will give me back time I never knew I’d lost… Time, I suppose, will tell.

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