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TC Electronic Clarity M Stereo Review

Clarity M on Box
TC Electronic Clarity M Stereo

The Clarity M Stereo is not only an innovative but extremely versatile tool for the monitoring and visualization of audio levels. Are its features unique? No, but its accuracy and presentation of audio information is comparable to some of the most popular meters on the market. Believe me when I say you will be searching for a veeery long time to find another device that incorporates the tools provided by the Clarity M and also in the form of a tablet at a price that won’t bankrupt you. There are more advanced devices available from companies like DK Technologies and RTW but they can’t hold a candle to the simplicity, practicality and mainly affordability of the Clarity M. If you do have a couple thousand laying around though I would definitely take a look at what those companies are offering! now on to the review 🙂

Clarity M close up
Background

The Clarity M has been around for a while now in a hybrid 5.1 & stereo version but was not well received initially due to (in my opinion) bad marketing. The original incarnation of the device was geared toward editing 5.1 audio and even though there was a lot of 5.1 content being developed at the time, this was done mainly by large studios with hardware that you would typically find in a professional studio environment. The TC Electronic Clarity M Stereo & 5.1 set out to change that and provide a tool that smaller studios and home users could use to visually analyze their 5.1 Surround and stereo content. There was a little problem though, they chose a very niche demographic at a time when 7+ channel surround sound was taking off… Also, with a price of just under $600 the Clarity M wasn’t that appealing either, not when you had software plugins such as the Waves Loudness Monitor, Izotope Insight and  Flux Pure Analyzer available for a lot less money. To be fair though these options would require you to dedicate either a separate monitor, some of your screen’s real estate, or even a separate PC to realize your dream of audio visualization nirvana but they did exist and were definitely being considered at that time.

Clarity M Rear Connectors
Stereo Clarity

The Clarity M Stereo is TC Electronic’s response to a changing market. There are a number of monitoring solutions available including the software solutions mentioned earlier in addition to plugins such as Levels from newcomer Mastering the Mix (My personal favorite). TC decided that they would take the smart route though and go after music producers and small scale video engineers with the stereo version of the Clarity M. They also dropped the price significantly even though the firmware is practically the same and the hardware remains mostly unchanged.

 

Design

The Clarity M Stereo and it’s predecessor are designed around a 7” monitor with a resolution of 840×480 pixels. I was hesitant at first when I saw the resolution of the display but I have to say the information is presented with a level of clarity you would not expect. The field of view was exceptional and I was able to clearly see the display even at extreme viewing angles. The display is encased in a metallic chassis and the knobs and buttons are solid and seem to be very durable. I’ve played around with a few tablets and small displays in my lifetime and I can say with no reservations that this display is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with. It comes in second only to the video monitors I use when filming. The Clarity M Stereo has a number of audio inputs and can even be used as a VST plugin via optional software. It can analyze Stereo 96 kHz AES3 digital audio over 75 Ohm BNC connectors and S/PDIF right out of the box. Optional adapters enable you to connect standard AES/EBU and you can also use the TOSLink port for optical input and the USB connection to work seamlessly with your favorite DAW.

Clarity M Rear Stand
Usage

When I initially acquired the Clarity M I was set on using it as a plugin for Studio One, then I thought to myself why load it up as a DAW plugin when I can use it to analyze all the audio from my Focusrite Scarlett interface. It has a plethora of input options available and I was able to seamlessly connect it via SPDIF to the computer via the Scarlett. I use my PC for both audio and video production which typically have differing standards when it comes to audio levels. For example, most videos are normalized to -23 LUFS/LKFS while streaming music is typically normalized to -16 LUFS/LKFS (which is actually “louder” despite the lower number). Having the Clarity M grab the raw audio signal from my computer allowed me to compare my audio levels to an unlimited supply of content available on the internet. This is actually the best feature of the Clarity M compared to software plugins, it’s the ability to run all the unprocessed audio from your PC outputs directly into the monitor. I streamed everything from Netflix movies to YouTube videos to Pandora Radio, I was like a kid in a candy store. I now knew what everyone else was limiting their audio to, so I could now apply those levels to my own creations in real-time.


Interface

The interface of the Clarity M is laid out in a very intuitive manner and is very legible. The signature feature of the TC loudness meters is the LM6 Loudness Radar which shows the history of your contents loudness over a user-configurable time period. The Loudness Radar shows both average loudness and momentary peaks which is not unique by any means but because of its circular design you can fit a lot more information into a smaller space. The colored bands are nice to look at and also easy to read as well so no need to guess what’s being displayed when analyzing your audio streams. The Clarity M Stereo has a number of tools available to complement the radar. There is a Vector-scope for detailed Left-Right analysis, a real-time analyzer with 1/3 octave resolution, a “Balance-O-Meter” to quickly check the Left-Right and Mid-Side balances of your mix, a precision correlation meter that warns you about phase problems and also a scalable true peak meter that can identify clipping in DACs, CODECs and downstream filters.

Clarity M on box close
Testing

I tested the unit by routing the audio stream from my DAW while filming the review of the Clarity M for our YouTube Channel. I also loaded up my go-to plugin meters (iZotope Insight, Waves Loudness Meter and the Levels plugin from Mastering the Mix). I monitored each meter to verify that they were all showing the same information which they were for the most part (They were all within 1LU of each other during the testing process) and also made sure that the stereo balance etc was uniform across all the meters. I’m not a metering expert but I’m fairly certain that as long as they are all showing the same information then everything should be okay. I know that all these meters have presets etc but I’ve never really needed to use them. For those of you in broadcast or television, there are a variety of standardized presets available that you can load into the Clarity M. This is because it has the ability to be booted up as a USB storage device (you can even change the logo if you want to, which is cool). Overall the unit performed as was expected and has now become our go-to meter, I will update this review with reliability information if we run into any issues but the outlook is looking good for this one.


Summary

The TC Electronic Clarity M Stereo is a great addition to any semi-pro or home studio that needs accurate metering of stereo signals. If I was in the market again I would purchase the 5.1 version at its current price which is significantly less than it was when it was introduced a few years ago. Why, well, because, who doesn’t want extra channels? I may actually make a 5.1 surround sound film in the near future… In all seriousness though, the Stereo version of the Clarity M is actually the 5.1 version without the extra channels so you’re really not missing anything. Plus, Dolby Atmos is the all the rage now so if TC decides to release a meter for that I may consider upgrading until then the Clarity M Stereo has earned its place in my studio!

Specs
  • Professional stereo audio meter for mixing, mastering and post production
  • 7” high resolution LCD display for precision metering in all studio environments
  • USB connection for hassle-free VST*, Audio Units and AAX* plug-in metering
  • Stereo 96 kHz AES3 digital audio on 75 Ohm BNC connectors for broadcast-grade metering
  • Ultimate metering toolbox to diagnose your mix for phase, balances, frequency distribution, loudness, channel weighting, clipping, mono compatibility
  • Vectorscope for detailed Left-Right analysis
  • High accuracy real time analyzer with 1/3 octave resolution
  • Easy-read Balance-O-Meter to quickly check Left-Right and Mid-Side balances of your mix
  • Precision correlation meter warns you about phase problems
  • State-of-the-art scalable true peak meter identifies clipping in DACs, CODECs and downstream filters
  • Legendary LM6 loudness radar meter provides all essential loudness monitoring information on a single screen
  • Detailed statistics overview for all key loudness measuring parameters
  • Provision for custom logo on LCD display
  • Compliant with all major broadcast standards including ITU BS.1770-4, ATSC A/85, EBU R128, TR-B32 and OP-59
  • RAM-mount compatible for wall or ceiling mounting (not included)
  • Stereo Optical Input for TOSLink* source
  • General purpose input (GPI) for meter reset
  • 3-Year Warranty Program*
  • Designed and engineered in Denmark

Start Analyzing Now






Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

$297.33
$296.93  in stock
29 new from $294.99
6 used from $ 259.51
Free shipping
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Amazon.com
as of September 19, 2019 6:12 pm

Features

  • Eight analog inputs: four natural-sounding Scarlett mic pres with plenty of even gain; two inst. Inputs, four additional line level inputs. Two 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs; two discrete headphone outputs with dedicated gain controls; MIDI I/O; S/PDIF in and out; ADAT input to expand channel count
  • Class-leading conversion and sample rates up to 192kHz / 24 bit; Super-low roundtrip latency for using your plug-ins in real time without the need for DSP; Focusrite iOS Control - download the free Focusrite iOS Control app and adjust cue mixes remotely from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: FREE Venomode DeeQ, Maximal 2, and Pivot, plug-ins upon registration and download.
  • Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite's Red Plug-in Suite, 2GB of Loopmasters samples, Choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument, all available via download upon purchase and registration
  • Compatible with Windows 7 and higher, and Mac OS X 10.10 and higher. Supported Sample Rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz. Frequency response - 20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB. 2-year limited warranty on manufacturing defects

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

$525.88
$499.99  in stock
18 new from $499.99
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as of September 19, 2019 6:12 pm

Features

  • Eight of the best performing mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever seen, now with switchable air Mode to give your recordings a brighter and more Open sound. Two high-headroom instrument inputs to plug in your guitar or bass. Four monitor outputs with anti-thump technology and speaker switching, and onboard talkback functionality with built-in, front panel talkback mic. Eight balanced line inputs for connecting synthesizers, drum machine and other line-level sources
  • High-performance converters enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz
  • Quick start tool to get up and running easier than ever
  • Includes Pro Tools | first Focusrite creative pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube time and tone bundle, focusrite's Red plug-in Suite, 3-month splice subscription, and your choice of one free XLN Addictive keys virtual instrument, All available via download upon purchase and registration
  • Limited time offer: free audiority deleight and distortion 1 plug-ins upon registration and download

Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

$221.00  in stock
28 new from $219.95
6 used from $ 174.95
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of September 19, 2019 6:12 pm

Features

  • Two natural-sounding Scarlett mic preamps with plenty of even gain; two instrument inputs plus two additional line level analog inputs. Four 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs; two headphone outputs with gain control; MIDI I/O; S/PDIF in and out for connecting to other digital devices
  • Class-leading conversion and sample rates up to 192kHz / 24 bit; Super-low roundtrip latency for using your plug-ins in real time without the need for DSP; Focusrite iOS Control - download the free Focusrite iOS Control app and adjust cue mixes remotely from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: FREE Venomode DeeQ, Maximal 2, and Pivot, plug-ins upon registration and download.
  • Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite's Red Plug-in Suite, 2GB of Loopmasters samples, Choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument, all available via download upon purchase and registration
  • Compatible with Windows 7 and higher, and Mac OS X 10.10 and higher. Frequency response - 20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB. Supported Sample Rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz. 2-year limited warranty on manufacturing defects

MOTU Ultralite-Mk4 USB Audio Interface

$595.00  in stock
9 new from $595.00
Free shipping
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as of September 19, 2019 6:12 pm

Features

  • 24-bit/192kHz USB 2.0 Audio/MIDI Interface with 2 Microphone Preamps
  • Built-in Effects - Mac/PC
  • 18-in/22-out

The UNO Synth is Analog Reimagined

When you hear the words “Analog Synth” what comes to mind? For some it’s the nostalgic sounds of the famous Moog synths of past and present, while for others it may be the joy of twisting and modulating a variety of knobs and controls. In an effort to conserve on hard drive space, I searched for a long time to find a “cheap” analog synth but for years there was nothing that fit the bill. Recently though Behringer started cloning a number of classics starting with the famed Model D, and It seems that IK Multimedia is now riding this wave of analog resurgence with a little help from Sound Machines (a niche manufacturer of modular synths).

UNO

IK’s UNO is the marriage of classic analog sound with a modern control interface. The synth features a ton of controls to “tune” the signal coming from the two Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCOs). Input options also include a 16 step sequencer and multi-touch 27-note chromatic/scale keyboard, there’s even an app that supports Mac/PC and iOS devices. The first time I saw the UNO I thought that there is no way this is an analog synth. It looks way too modern, but the sound that came from the device, though, quickly disproved that theory. The noises that come from this synth are extraordinary considering its size and weight. One may think that there is some medieval class circuitry processing those electrons upon first listen, but fortunately for our wallets and limited desktop real estate, there isn’t. I really don’t know how they did it but this synth is really good though it does have some quirks of course as you’ll see below.

NoNo

Using the UNO will be a little weird initially, especially if you are used to traditional “Analog Synths”. The few knobs that are there need to control multiple functions, which makes the sound manipulation process more difficult since you have to use modifiers to change what each knob controls at any given time. For example, the main four knobs control the tuning of the oscillators and also the filter and amplifier envelopes, so once you tune the OSCs you have to then change the function of the knobs to modify the attack, decay, or release for the amp and filter. These shortcomings are thankfully made up for by the ability to save presets and the inclusion of other sound modulation functions such as Dive, Scoop, Vibrato, Wah, and Tremolo. There is a delay function as well which is another easter egg that rounds out this feature-rich device.

You Know

I like the UNO Synth, it’s a breath of fresh air in a category of devices that’s existed since well beyond my years being on this planet. I admire IK Multimedia’s resolve to bring something different to the table knowing that it could have flopped spectacularly. Even though I like the concept and to some extent, execution of this device, there are a few things that could have been better, like more knobs. I really dislike the fact that so many parameters are controlled by so few knobs. I don’t think the size and cost of the device would have increased dramatically with a few more dedicated controls. At the end of the day though it’s the sound that really matters and the analog audio path does shine in that regard. Overall I welcome different interpretations of existing technology and I hope that this specific device will be refined to the point where it’s not only fun to listen to but also fun to use. In the meantime don’t hesitate to grab one as an external instrument for your DAW or sequencer, you won’t be disappointed!

Update: At the time of this post, the UNO had a newer firmware available. The post will be updated once I get a chance to test the new FW.


Specs
  • All-analog audio path with 2 VCOs with continuously variable waveshape, noise generator, resonant multimode VCF and VCA
  • 2 independent analog VCOs with Saw, Triangle, and Pulse waveforms with continuously variable shape including PWM of the square wave and a separate white noise generator
  • A 2-pole multimode OTA-based sweepable analog resonant multimode filter with LPF, HPF, BPF
  • LFO with Sine, Triangle, Square, Up Saw, Down Saw, Random and Sample-and-Hold to modulate Pitch, Filter and Amp
  • AD (Filter) + AR (Amp) envelopes (full ADSR control available via MIDI CC or software editor)
  • 40 onboard controls and LED display
  • 100 onboard presets
  • 10 mode, 4-octave arpeggiator
  • Real-time and step edit 16-step sequencer with 20 automatable parameters
  • Onboard multi-touch 27-note chromatic and scale keyboard with 13 scales
  • Sync Delay audio effect and 5 performance effects
  • Self-tuning with auto-tune calibration
  • USB MIDI and 2.5 mm jack MIDI IN/OUT (cables included)
  • Audio In to daisy chain other audio devices with no need for a mixer
  • Mac/PC/iOS Editor
  • Complete MIDI implementation with all parameters and clock can be controlled via MIDI CC
  • Battery (4xAA Alkaline, Ni-Mh) or USB powered
  • Ultra-portable and lightweight
  • Designed and made in Italy

Gallery


IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 25 Review

IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 25 Review

 

 

Intro

IK Multimedia is a company that has been making musician focused software and hardware since 1996. They are best known for their T-RackS plugins and have a very loyal following on social media. I’ve followed this company’s products for a while, but I’ve never found a reason to acquire one until now. Why? well If you’ve ever considered or attempted to make music on the road using either a laptop or mobile device you’ve probably come across this problem…audio. One of the major downsides to making music on the road is access to a quality audio interface with proper preamps and DACs. Most mobile musicians (the ones who create music digitally, not with real instruments) are usually limited to the soundcards in their tablets, phones or laptops. There are dedicated interfaces on the market that allow you to squeeze some decent audio from your mobile device, but these are typically low-quality or very expensive. Another problem faced by the mobile musician is the lack of expansion ports so even if you can find a decent interface for your phone, tablet, or laptop you may eventually face a problem where you don’t have enough ports to connect your devices. There are solutions to all these problems, but they usually include the need to travel with more gear which completely defeats the purpose of having a mobile setup in the first place.

 

Features

As Stated earlier IK Multimedia is one of the leaders in mobile-centric hardware for iOS devices under their iRig moniker. They also have a few Android compatible devices as well although the unit we will be reviewing today is not officially one of them. The iRig Keys I/O 25 is a special device it’s not unique in what it offers but it is currently the only MIDI controller on the market in its price range that features full-size synth-action keys and an audio interface in a compact 25 key package. The goodness doesn’t stop there though. The unit also has 8 backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, two multi-function capacitive sliders, dedicated transport controls and 5 endless encoders including one that is clickable. On top of all that you get access to the company’s TRackS Deluxe and Sample Tank 3 software which includes 10 mixing and mastering tools and over 33GB of samples, 4,000 ready-to-play instruments, 2,500 rhythm loops, and 2,000 MIDI files. Finally, they tossed in a copy of Ableton Live Lite (Not Intro as stated on some sites) for good measure and the unit can be powered by USB, Batteries or by a dedicated power supply that is sold separately.

Design

The iRig Keys I/O 25 carries on the trend of minimalistic but attractive design cues typically featured by the company’s products. It has a simple Black and White color scheme with glossy plastic on the top half of the controller and matte plastic on the bottom. I want to tell you that the build quality of this controller is great, but it feels cheap. The company’s website touts their factory in Modena Italy but the unit I received was made in China. That’s not necessarily a red flag though because let’s face it practically everything is made in China nowadays. I did notice some minor blemishes on the bottom of the unit but nothing too unexpected in this price range. The back of the unit has all the connectors for the important bits. There is a Sustain pedal input, a Neutrik combo jack with phantom power, dual ¼ inch jacks for audio output from the interface in addition to a headphone jack for separate monitoring of the output signal. The controller can be powered by either USB or 4 AA batteries that were provided in the box, it also has a “DC IN” jack on the back for a separate power supply that the company states will charge your iOS device when it’s connected to the controller. On the topic of connections. The I/O series of controllers have a special “Device” port on the back of the unit that allows you to use different cables depending on what device you want to connect the controller to. There were two cables included in the box at the time of purchase, one with a typical PC USB connector and another with a Thunderbolt connector for use with iPhones and iPads.

Usage

Using the Keys, I/O is what you would expect from a controller of this size in the $100-$200 USD price range. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in the Keyboard Controller arena. Yes, the keys are full size, but the drum pads and sliders are tiny. The knobs feel cheap and “rattle” when touched almost like they will come off if twisted too hard. I’m sure that is not the case though since once you start turning them they move very smoothly and in a controlled manner, but the initial touch will always throw you off. The Synth action keys are just that, not weighted but are velocity sensitive. The multi-functional sliders are a little too sensitive for my taste and can be a bear when trying to make precise changes (like changing octaves and pitch bending). I’m sure with time a reasonable person can work within these limitations, but they are limitations nonetheless.

The Interface

So, the part you’ve been waiting for and the saving grace of this hybrid controller is the built-in audio interface. Let me just get this out of the way right now. If you are using this product for what it was designed for, as in connecting it to your iPad or iPhone, you are good to go, it works flawlessly, and you can stop reading this review right now. If on the other hand, you are a PC user (I can’t speak for Macs since I don’t have one to test) you want to read everything I type in the next few paragraphs and let it sink in before you think about using this device to replace your existing mobile setup. Okay, so first I want to thank the guys at IK Multimedia for even having the Cojones to release a device like this in the cookie cutter MIDI Controller market. For their first attempt (to my knowledge) at a hybrid unit they did a reasonably okay job and I’m sure the V2 of this device will blow everything else out of the water. That being said, if you are going to be using this with a PC be aware that this unit “cannot be used” with professional production software because of one glaring omission by the guys at IK. It has no ASIO drivers and based on what I’ve seen from the company there will be none. They do have built-in WASAPI support for Windows 10 devices and I have used this with some success, but many professional apps will not allow you to use certain functions or will perform poorly without proper ASIO driver support. The company suggests that those of us that require ASIO functionality should use the open source ASIO4All driver and even though this is a functional workaround it is not the same as having dedicated drivers.

Limitations

Another limitation of the interface is that it only has one input which means that you won’t be able to record stereo sound sources. With dual inputs, this thing could have been a mobile musician’s powerhouse. Imagine having a little external mixer with a synth or looper attached and then your Mic(s) and drum-machine, sampler etc. connected and then piped in through a stereo capable interface which doubled as your MIDI controller right into your DAW. This would be the killer app. I know that this limitation was not implemented because of size, the reason being that there is a larger 49 Key version of this unit that has the same 1 channel input. I’m sure they did this to avoid cannibalizing their synth software by allowing external high-quality stereo sound sources which would probably prevent you from having the need to purchase the expansion packs for Sample Tank and Syntronik software included with the controller. By doing this they limited the potential of this unit to people that can actually sing, something that I definitely cannot do.☹ All jokes aside, unless you are comfortable with mono input from your external sound sources or you are a classically trained vocalist, you are probably better off using the soundcard that came with your PC. As I mentioned earlier if you are using an iOS device with this unit then you’re all set. When I connected the keyboard to my iPad 2 Mini and installed the iOS version of Sample Tank the unit popped right up showing a little “MIDI Connector” in the lower right-hand side of the software just above the virtual keyboard.  After that, I was able to use the pads and keys on the controller to play the instruments on the tablet.

 

Summary

I think this product fills a large void in the Midi Controller market with its hybrid approach, especially for mobile musicians that depend mainly on their iOS devices for most of their audio content when playing out. I also think that this company missed a huge opportunity by intentionally releasing a neutered Interface and not providing proper drivers for PC users. Maybe this was their way of testing the waters before they went all in with an iRig Keys I/O Plus or whatever. Maybe they know who their market is and are comfortable with their current profits negating the need to expand and capture additional market share. It could possibly be that the hardware they are selling is just a way to get you to start using their software (which is great by the way) so that they can do the old upsell on you which would eventually eclipse whatever you spent on the hardware in the first place. Maybe it’s the obvious reason, cost. It could be that there was no way they could release a complete product at this price point, so they came as close as they could and released an unfinished product to see how the market would react. I don’t know what their reasons were but regardless of how useless some of the features on this controller are, I will be keeping it because, well, the software is pretty damn good, and they included a free stand to put my iPad on as it sits on my bookshelf gathering dust. Also, full-size keys are hard to get in this price range with such a small overall form factor. I hope the guys at IK read this review and fix the problems in the next version. I will definitely support a company that is willing to take risks!

 

Features
  • All-in-one, fully portable, ultra-compact MIDI controller with 24-bit / 96kHz capable input/output audio interface for iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC
  • Available in 49 or 25 keys versions with full size keys and smooth, velocity-sensitive, synth-action keyboard
  • Smart, ultra-compact, elegant design
  • Easily transportable, fits anywhere
  • MFi certified by Apple (“Made for iPhone and iPad”) includes Lightning Cable
  • Includes mobile device support stand
  • Comprehensive controls: 2 slider strips for pitch and modulation (user programmable,) octave, program change and transport controls, 5 programmable touch sensitive knobs, 8 velocity-sensitive multi-colored assignable pads
  • Neutrik® combo input jack for line, instrument or microphones
  • 48V phantom power button
  • Balanced stereo and headphone outputs
  • Powered by USB, 4 AA batteries or optional external power supply (charges your iOS device)
  • Comes with the most comprehensive collection of software instruments and pro studio processors on the market: a value of over $550 (25-keys model) and $750 (49-keys model) for software and apps
Get Your own iRig Keys I/O 25

Sennheiser HD7 DJ Headphone Review

If you are a regular visitor to the blog then you already know that I’m a notorious Cheapskate and not in the sense that I like cheap things. I always seek out the best products at the most affordable prices. This typically means that anything you see me reviewing is probably selling at a significant discount under retail. Case in point, these great Headphones from Sennheiser. The HD7 DJ Headphones came out a couple of years ago as part of a trio of DJ/Producer-centric  gear. The HD7 falls right between the HD8 and HD6 Mix headphones from Sennheiser and are designed specifically for DJs with its foldable design and tuning. I did some research on this model and based on what I found it became glaringly obvious that the only real  difference between this model and its big brother the HD8 was the materials used to build the chassis. The HD8 being a premium model featuring a mostly metallic build while the HD7 has a more wallet friendly plastic design.


Sennheiser HD7 Jacks

Design

The Sennheiser HD7 carries on the company’s tradition of exemplary build quality. The cans feature a Gunmetal design with blue accents on the joints, logo and foam speaker pads. There are a ton of accessories included in the box and that isn’t an overstatement. In addition to the headphones you get 2 cables, one coiled and the other straight, and you also get two sets of earpads, one leatherette, and the other velour. The drivers in the HD7 are exactly the same as the ones that you will find in the HD8. They both have a 95 Ohm Impedance and a Frequency range of 8-30,000 Hz and although I haven’t heard the HD8s myself, almost everything I’ve seen says that they sound exactly the same. One of the better design features is the swiveling earcups, each can be angled up to 210° to help with single ear monitoring which is something most DJs do at some point during a set. I like what Sennheiser did with this product but one major problem I have with these headphones is the cables. They are ridiculously long, I mean, you can’t avoid stepping all over them even if you try long. Each cable has a maximum length of 10-ft. The coiled cable is a little easier to use but even when it’s fully coiled the cable is still 5-ft long. If you’ve done some research already you’re probably saying that the cables are removable and they are… BUT and that a big one, they use a proprietary locking mechanism which means that the jack plug that goes into the earpiece is 2.5mm. One more thing, the fit on this model is tight. I’m guessing it’s for the passive noise reduction but I can’t recommend these for extended listening sessions if you have a big head like mine, fatigue sets in fairly quickly. On a good note, the HD7 features dual jacks (one on each earpiece) which make cable placement very flexible and although these headphones are made from plastic, it is a very dense material and is actually cool to the touch similar to what you would feel if they were made from metal.


Usage

I’m actually wearing the HD7s now as I write this review and they sound pretty good. The soundstage is not as wide as some of the other Headphones I have, but for the intended demographic of these headphones that won’t be an issue. They are also very transparent, during my testing, I listened to a few low-quality YouTube videos and I could hear a lot of imperfections in the audio that I could not hear on my other headphones. Sennheiser says that they designed this series with beatmatching in mind and according to what I’m hearing in my ears at this very moment, they achieved their goal. Is that a good thing? Well, it depends on what you’re planning on listening to after you buy these or the upmarket HD8s. One of the downsides to Sennheiser’s “tuning” is an uneven balance of frequencies. Imagine that you are looking at an EQ curve that looks like a triangular cliff, with the short edge on the left, and the longer edge on the right, now add a slight incline where the higher frequencies would be…. That’s what these headphones sound like!  The lower mid frequencies of where the bite of the kick would be are “enhanced” and not in a good way. Due to how these cans are tuned it makes most music sound off balanced with a bit of “muffled muddiness” where vocals usually sit and a little overlap between the snares and kicks of certain songs. As I said before this is great if you’re a Beatmatching DJ but not so good if you want to use these for any type of multi-genre listening. I bought these for mixing, because they have a higher than typical impedance of 95 Ohms and because I like to mix my music with more bass than what would appeal to the casual listener. These headphones keep my mixes balanced because if I lose focus and mix a little heavy on the low-end, the end result will have less since these headphones have a peak at those frequencies. Before I get ragged on. I always check my mixes on monitors before I finalize them. Plus I create music as a hobby so….


Bonus Headphone Comparison

Headphone Comparo
Since I had a few other headphones laying around I decided to do a quick comparison between them. To save myself a lot of typing I’ve dropped everything in a table with some pros and cons of each unit.

Model Build Usage Verdict

V-Moda Crossfade LP       Design: Closed
Driver: 50 mm, neodymium
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Freq Resp: 5 Hz – 30 kHz
Max Input Power:?
Hot: These headphones are made from premium materials with almost every part of the headphone being or accented by metal. They have been replaced by LP2


Not: The headband material started to peel after about a year and this is with barely any usage on my part since these are for my Bedroom DJ’ing sessions

The LPs are the definition of “Beatmatching Headphones” which is all I use them for. They barely have any high-frequency presence and the low-end is very pronounced, not very good with any casual music listening except maybe Hip Hop or Dubstep, great at detecting transients though, hopefully, the LP2s sound a little better! These cans are great and the guys over at V-Moda definitely paid a lot of attention to the materials used, but these headphones fall more into the form over function category. They will be a great accessory to the fashionistas out there but not for any serious listening due to the higher than average low end and mid frequencies
Sentey Warp Pro                 Design: Closed
Driver: 50 mm, neodymium
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Sensitivity: 98 dB SPL (1 mW)
Freq Resp: 10 Hz – 30 kHz
Max Input Power: 300 mW

 

Hot: For less than $20 these headphones are solid. They feature a Matte Black soft touch coating and real chrome plated metal sliders. Pads were very supple and feel good although somewhat tight for extended listening


Not: In only a few months they’ve all but vanished from the online retailers. You can only find overpriced used models. If you get your hands on one let me know where you got it.

These headphones are very clear and would be good for listening to music that does not have a lot of bass. They have very crisp highs and decent midrange performance. The low-end is almost nonexistent without heavy EQ’ing, but for $18 there had to be some limitation. For what these headphones cost, I think that they are a good choice for any type of music that doesn’t have a lot of bass. These would be good for more practical applications such as listening to recorded dialogue or watching movies. These things are dirt cheap but decent quality. If you get your hands one just remember to let me know where you found it.

Presonus HD7                          Design: S-Open
Driver: 50 mm, neodymium
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Sensitivity: 98 dB SPL (1 mW)
Freq Resp: 10 Hz – 30 kHz
Max Input Power: 300 mW
Hot: These are my mixing headphones and I love them. For less that $50 dollars these things are practically indestructible. Based on either the ISK580 or Superlux 681 you can’t go wrong with the HD7. They feature an “autofit” headband and weigh only 222 grams, great for long-term listening


Not: The OEMs are cheaper by a good margin and the cable is a little flimsy but nothing a little electrical tape can’t fix. It also feels rather cheap for the price you’re paying

 The design of these headphones make them the perfect companion for extended mixing sessions. They are lightweight and they sound great. They are a little on the Bassy side, but it says that on the box. The soundstage is also a good bit wider than the other models in this list. This is probably due to the semi-open design of this model. Just remember to check your final mix on reference monitors before you send it off for mastering because it may be lacking a little low-end due to the enhanced bass response of the HD7s  The combination of lightweight materials and proper tuning make these a good deal but if you don’t care about Brand names you can actually get the OEM versions of these headphones for a significant discount. I’m sure Presonus has their own QA process but I doubt the performance is much different. The autofit band is great for almost any user and the overall design is okay but a little on the ugly side. They work well though so don’t hesitate to pick up a pair of your own
Tascam TH-02                    Design: Closed
Driver: 50 mm
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Sensitivity: 98 dB ± 3dB
Freq Resp: 18 Hz – 22 kHz
Max Input Power: 600 mW

 

Hot: These are probably the most neutral Headphones you are ever going to find under $20. It has its own little following over at Head-Fi and the drivers in these are excellent for the price.


Not: The TH-02 is cheap, not inexpensive. This is the headphone equivalent of a Honda Civic with a Rolls Royce motor under the hood. They don’t look good but get the job done and are just the right size to toss in a paper bag (if you catch my drift)  

 The Tascam Th-02 is the most balanced pair on this list. the soundstage is a bit narrow but the reproduction of the frequencies are on point. The bass is lacking but that’s by design. I actually use these when I’m self-mastering because they are very good at picking up low-end distortion and any artifacts that may pop up in your final mix.  I got these for free with a piece of gear I bought a while back. At first, I left them in a closet but after a while, I started using them and I’m happy I did. These headphones are very underrated. The headband material on mine started peeling off after a while but that’s about it. The Th-o2s are so cheap that you can buy a replacement every month and still spend less than you would on some of the “better” cans on the market.
 

Sennheiser HD7 Side View
Sennheiser HD7 DJ                 Design: Closed
Driver: 50 mm
Impedance: 95 Ohms
Sensitivity: 115 dB
Freq Resp: 8 Hz – 30 kHz
Max Input Power: 600 mW
Hot: The HD7s are Sex-E if it’s one thing the guys over at Sennheiser know how to do, it’s to design a good can. This is german engineering at it’s best. The swivel mechanism clicks satisfyingly and although this unit is almost all plastic it has a premium feel and presence.


Not: These things will squeeze the living daylights out of your head and there is no way to fix it. In addition to the tight fit, the cables are almost 10ft long and you will be hard pressed to find a shorter replacement since the locking mechanism is proprietary. They do exist though.

These things get loud and the drivers are very durable. I accidentally overdrove them by a good measure for a few seconds fiddling around with the settings on my mixer but they still work. Lesser drivers would have blown. The sound quality is meh… but for what I will be using them for it works in my favor. I think the HD6 may have been a better buy but these were about $50 cheaper at the time of purchase so can’t complain too much. The Sennheiser HD7s are a bittersweet experience. Although they have a higher impedance they sound louder than the 32 Ohms models I have. I love that they are built very well but I don’t like having headaches after listening to a few tracks. The dual jacks are great but the cables are too long and expensive to replace. I like them though so I will keep them but I’m just happy I didn’t get the HD8’s because I would not be a happy camper.

Gallery

The Roland A-01K Better Late Than Never Review


The Roland A-01 and A-01K variant were released a little over a year ago. The A-01 is listed as a Controller+Generator by Roland and rightfully so. It has a plethora of connectivity options in addition to a neat little 8Bit synth that can produce some hardcore, gritty basslines in addition to the beeps and pops that 8Bit music is known for. I’ve been following the progress of this unit for a while now and one thing that I see trending across almost all the sites and forums I’ve visited is that people really don’t know what to make of the device. I think the misconception that most people have of this unit is that it is a Synth with a few “Controller” options. In actuality, it’s the complete opposite. The A-01 is a Controller with a synth thrown in for the heck of it! Once you take a step back and look at it from this perspective, you will begin to see just how novel this little device is.

A-01 Akiatech


Design

The A-01 and it’s Limited Edition A-01K variant feature a design that can best be described as “Functional Minimalism”. Roland went out of their way to make sure that the design of this unit was clean. All you see when you look at the device are straight edges and circles. Almost all the buttons and knobs serve more than one purpose and are mainly there to control the menu driven interface on the built-in monochromatic LCD display. The A-01 is built like a tank and weighs over 2 lbs on its own. When paired with the K-25m it is a whopping 3 lbs and 11 oz just a hair short of 4 lbs. I understand that a quality built device is going to be a little heavier that usual, but come on Roland. You give us the perfect form factor for travel use and completely negate all of those benefits with something so heavy that it’s almost akin to lugging a brick around in one’s gig bag. This is the only gripe I have with the unit, it is unexpectedly and uncomfortably heavy for its size. As far as connectivity goes the A-01 delivers in spades. Although it’s a bit on the small side, it features 2 full-size MIDI DIN connectors in addition to three 1/8″ jacks for  Headphones, CV and Gate connectivity. The unit can be powered by 4 AA/LR6 type batteries or a Micro USB cable. Additionally, there is Bluetooth LE Connectivity according to Roland but I never got that to work on any of my Android devices. I have seen online though that there has been success with Apple devices but I did not confirm with my own.

Roland A01 Box Akiatech


The Synth

The A-01s claim to fame is its built-in synth which is also the basis of a lot of the confusion that surrounds this device. The “8bit CPU Synth” as Roland calls it [is a “Virtual Analog” digital sound engine that reproduces a subtractive synthesizer with an 8-bit CPU.] The Synth was the brainchild of a former Roland engineer by the name of Akira Matsui, who played an integral part in the development of a number of Roland devices in the 80’s. The synth deserves a lot more credit than it’s given. With a good Daw and some patience, you could roll out a full track with this thing. The synth can produce sounds ranging from deep growling basslines to high pitched percussion type sounds with just a little knob twisting and waveform tweaking. Another function of the A-01 is the sequencer and although this falls under the “Controller” section of the device it can also be used with the built-in synth. I made a quick video below demonstrating some of the capabilities of the internal sound engine:

 


Usage

Using the A-01/K was a little intimidating at first. It took a little getting used to all the different parameters that were controlled by the few buttons and knobs on the unit. There are three main “pages” on the interface that can be cycled through using the Mode button on the front of the A-01. The first is a “MIDI configuration” page that allows you to assign CC, Octave, Pitch-Bend and Modulation values to the main controls on the front of the device and also the Global MIDI Channel. This section is great for adjusting the parameters of external Synthesizers whether Physical or Software based. The second page allows the configuration of the internal synth parameters. You are able to control all aspects of the synth including a variety of waveforms (no Sinewave), ADSR Envelopes, Resonance/Environmental and LFO settings. You even have Portamento control in the waveform selection area on the synth page. The final page has the Sequencer configuration options, here you can set the Steps, Order and Tempo of the sequence. Inputting the sequence is as easy as holding down one of the bottom 4 buttons and using the knobs or keys (A-01K) to adjust the note and other settings. You also have the ability to shuffle the sequence and Adjust the time signature if needed. Using the A-01 is a breeze once you get over the initial learning curve of knowing which button controls what and as a bonus Roland also threw in a nice little oscilloscope so you can see your waveforms in all their aliased glory.

A-01K connections Akiatech
Conclusion

The A-01 and especially it’s A-01K variant are extremely good at what they do, and for what you can get them for on the market now I would definitely jump on board! I used this unit to replace my trusty Minilab and although it’s almost twice as heavy and has only a quarter of the knobs, it excels with its built-in synth, sequencer and true connectivity options that can only be rivaled by the Arturia Keystep at its current price point. I really wish that it was a little lighter, though, as lugging this beast around is not going to be easy. I guess it will help me gain some well-needed muscle while on those long road trips. I can’t complain too much, though the A-01 has everything you would need in a portable controller and then some, true aftertouch and sustain/expression pedal connections would’ve been nice but then it would have been even bigger and heavier, and that is definitely something I can do without! Specs Below:

K-25m accessory keyboard Akiatech


SPECIFICATIONS
Memory

Controller Mode: 16 patches (4 patches x 4 banks)
Synth Mode: 16 tones (8 tones x 2 banks)
Seq Mode: 16 patterns (8 patterns x 2banks)

Connectors
PHONES jack: Stereo miniature phone type
CV OUT jack: Stereo miniature phone type
GATE OUT jack: Stereo miniature phone type
MIDI (IN, OUT) connectors
USB port: MicroB type (MIDI)

Bluetooth
Bluetooth LE

Power Supply
Rechargeable Ni-MH battery (AA, HR6) x 4
Alkaline battery (AA, LR6) x 4

USB bus power
Current Draw
500 mA

Expected battery life under continuous use:
Rechargeable Ni-MH battery: Approx. 12 hours

Accessories

Owner’s Manual
Leaflet “USING THE UNIT SAFELY”
Alkaline battery (AA, LR6) x 4Options (sold separately)Keyboard unit: K-25m


SIZE AND WEIGHT

Width
300 mm 11-13/16 inches
Depth
128 mm 5-1/16 inches
Height
46 mm 1-13/16 inches
Weight
950 g 2 lbs 2 oz


 

Get your own A-01K below
A01K

 




Arturia Minilab MKII vs Minilab Comparison


The reason I’m doing this review is because like you I was considering purchasing the newly released Minilab MK2. The problem for me and potentially anyone else reading this post is that I already have the previous Minilab model and I love it! When the updated controller was released I was ready to throw all my money at Arturia, but as an owner of almost all the sub $200 Arturia controllers, I had to stop and think about whether it was wise to add yet another MIDI keyboard to my already overcrowded “Studio”. After meditating on it for a while, I decided that at this time I will probably not be upgrading to the newer model. The main reason for me is that I already have the Keystep which as you may or may not know is the more “flexible” big brother to the Minilab and it’s great for on the road production. Although it lacks certain features like pads and MIDI assignable knobs it has a ton of connectivity options and includes an Arpeggiator and Sequencer making it great for Standalone use. The Minilab (unless you’re a super Haxor like me) requires a Computer or Tablet. The good news is that the Keystep is practically the same price as a Minilab and I reviewed it here.

Arturia MiniLab MKII Akiatech


Design

Based on some hands on loving in one of the local music stores and checking out some other reviews and imagery on the web I was able to get a good feel for what the Minilab MK2 brings to the table from a design perspective. The Minilab was redesigned based on user input from the previous model according to the Arturia website. The most visible change being the redesigned keys and relocation of the now capacitive pitch and mod sliders. In addition to those changes, the pads are now RGB backlit vs the basic red LED backlighting of the original Minilab and 2 of the 16 encoders are now clickable. The build quality of Arturia’s products is always top notch so I would have been surprised if the MK2 was not as sturdy as its predecessor. Unsurprisingly it is, which is a good thing! Along with this Sturdiness is an increase in weight and almost all dimensions except for width which has been decreased by about two-thirds of an inch. The wooden style panels have been reduced and are now inlaid into the sides of the Minilab. When looking down at the MK2 it has a more organized layout compared to the previous model. There are now two distinct sections. The upper half contains all the knobs, pads and sound manipulating controls while the lower half contains the keys. I like the minimalistic look of the new unit but with so much more visible plastic it now looks a lot less unique than its predecessor. Below you can see a comparison between the two units as shown on their respective pages on the Arturia website.


Minilab MKII

Original MiniLab



Software

The Minilab units normally ship with a nice software bundle which includes Analog Lab and Ableton Lite for the older model and Analog Lab Lite, Ableton Live Lite and UVI Grand Piano for the MK2. I think that the addition of the UVI Grand Piano is welcomed, although I’m not sure why Arturia did not use one of their amazing synths like the Oberheim SEM V which is included with the Minilab Black Edition or  their own Piano V. I’m sure it’s a money issue but they could have probably released an upgradeable “Lite” version similar to what they are doing with Analog Lab. Since we’re on the topic of neutered software you may be wondering what the difference is between Analog Lab and it’s Lite counterpart. Well, the good news is not that much except and this is a big one…. they’ve removed 90% of the presets. This means that Analog Lab has 5000 presets while Analog Lab Lite has 500. I’m going to be honest, as an owner of AL I’ve never scratched the surface of all the included presets. That being said, It’s a little hard to pay money for something that you know is only 10% of what it used to be, especially when you can still find 1st Gen Minilabs on the market. At the end of the day, Arturia is a business and businesses need to stay profitable, so I can see why they are making certain moves with their products. If the Minilab was more expensive I would complain but I doubt most people that purchase this unit will be using solely AL as their instrument of choice.


Conclusion

Arturia’s products are second to none in regards to features, build quality, and overall performance. I have about
4 different units including the full V Collection software synth suite and I love all of them. The Minilab MKII will not be a contender as long as the original Minilab remains on the market. Within a few months, though when the older model is completely sold out I think the MKII will claim its rightful place as one of the most affordable full-featured controllers on the market. Until then I recommend that you go out and search for a Minilab or Minilab Black Edition. If you already own one I would say stick with it. Unfortunately for Arturia, their products are built very well, so by the time you need to upgrade they may very well be selling the MKIV model. I think that I will eventually purchase the MKII just because it’s so inexpensive, but I’m more than happy knowing that I don’t have to!

Get your own MiniLab
 Get your own MiniLab MKII

The Samson Conspiracy is Shockingly…Okay

The Samson Conspiracy!

Its name conjures up images of secret hideouts, sinister plots, and dastardly deeds. Its design is a cross between a Novation Launchpad and a Rii Mini, and its support framework is practically nonexistent. The conspiracy also features a design that unfortunately only a mother could love. I can’t knock it too much, though, this device is definitely the definition of “Function over Form”. I think Samson set out to design a competitive product that would appeal to a variety of individuals, and for the most part, they succeeded in this goal. There are compromises though and also a few oversights but in the end, the Conspiracy does in some way atone for its misdeeds!


Design

Where to start…. The design and layout of the Samson Conspiracy are comparable to that of a Swiss Army Knife. The guys over at Samson made sure that they squeezed every bit of functionality in what little space they had to work with. I mean, this thing has so much functionality built in it’s ridiculous. The Conspiracy features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive, 3-color backlit trigger pads with aftertouch
  • 14 endless encoders, 10 backlit function buttons, 6 precision faders
  • 2-channel DJ section with crossfader
  • Assignable X/Y touch pad for next-level control over software effects
  • Backlit LCD controlled by master encoder and four direction buttons
  • Dedicated transport controls
  • Save and Recall up to 20 presets

I had to copy and paste all that info, too much for me to type on a Friday morning. Oh yeah and Friday the 13th no less, this review seems very appropriate. Okay, so now that you see what the device has to offer you may be thinking that it must cost a lot of money. The good news is that it doesn’t. When It was originally released a couple years ago it retailed for about $199. Since it now qualifies for antique status you can get it for as little as $69.99 (Jan 2017). This is the only reason why it’s sitting on my desk at this very moment being reviewed for your reading pleasure. The Samson Conspiracy is a confused device. It wants to be a Drum Pad Controller, Clip Launcher, DJ Controller and DAW Control Surface all at the same time but fails miserably because the pads are too small to finger drum effectively, there are not enough buttons to launch clips, no jog wheels, and it provides only basic transport controls. For someone who has one of the aforementioned devices already but would like a few extra buttons or knobs the Conspiracy may then become an attractive option. Even though it will never be the star of the show, the conspiracy makes for a very good fluffer.


Setup

I read a few reviews prior to purchasing the device and the majority of them were less than favorable. I being a tad bit overconfident in my technical abilities dismissed the reviewers as non-techies and figured it would be a piece of cake for me to get this thing set up. I was wrong! The packaging of the conspiracy is as minimalistic as it gets. The only items in the box aside from the controller were the user manual and a USB to Mini USB cable. I can see that all expenses were spared when they brought this product to market. After unboxing the device I figured since it was plug and play it would do just that but for some reason it did not. To get it to work I had to swap the cable and then plug it into an adjacent USB port. Once it was detected in the Windows Device Manager the next step was to upgrade the firmware to the latest version. To Samson’s credit, they packaged all the documents, firmware, and editor into a single zip file on their website so it was easy to access everything that was required for installation. By default, the Conspiracy’s buttons are set to transmit MIDI Notes but many DAW’s require CC Messages. This was pretty easy to do without a computer since the Conspiracy has support for Presets, so you can create up to 20 with or without a PC by using the Samson Conspiracy Editor or the built in menu system via the unit’s LCD display.

Initially, I could not get the editor to work, on my computers and most other Windows PC’s, the download folder is located in the user profile folder (The one with your name). Based on my testing, for some reason, if the editor is not extracted to the root of the drive it will not work. I could not get the editor to detect the Controller even though it was being detected by windows and other MIDI software. Only after relocating the folder to the root of my drive was I able connect to the controller and upgrade the Firmware. The User Manual said that you could use the editor alongside other MIDI applications to access the unit simultaneously in Windows 10, but this did not work for me, so each time I needed to edit a button or knob I had to close out my DAW. This was a pain for testing configurations in real-time, but eventually, I got it where it needed to be. Once the unit is configured you can always make on the fly changes using the built-in display and menu buttons.

Usage

Once the conspiracy puts its mind to something it actually does a pretty good job getting it done. After struggling over the hurdles of configuring the editor to recognize the unit and setting up a custom preset, I was able to open up my DAW and configure the unit the way I wanted to. After I got everything situated, I launched a few instruments to test the capabilities of the unit. I have to say that I was impressed. Everything worked, the sliders slid, the knobs turned the XY Pad scrolled, the velocity sensitive buttons sensed pressure and aftertouch. All was good in the world. If you are a finger drummer or someone used to mashing away at a Launchpad or Ableton-centric controller, using the Conspiracy should be a breeze for you. If your synapses don’t fire very quickly, like mine, you may have a little trouble hitting buttons you don’t intend to. If you’re flexible with your music creation requirements that may not be too much of a problem but if you are trying to precisely hit specific notes every single time it’s best to start practicing, you will need it. One gripe I have with the Conspiracy is that the encoders are not the best. They turn smoothly, but every few turns they spike. So after performing some automation I had to go back and remove the “spikes” so that I could get a smooth line. Another gripe is with the pad bed. When you press and release a pad it sticks for a few milliseconds it’s not too bad then you are drumming slowly but it may throw you off a little when you press the pads in quick succession. To be fair this is something that affects other controllers as well but the pads on Novation and Akai units that I have used don’t have this problem. Lastly, this controller has button LEDs that I have yet to figure out how to control. You do get a nice flash when you tap a button or pad and you also have the ability to customize most buttons with your choice of a red, green or blue backlight, but as for having your software activate the LEDs, there are absolutely no instructions anywhere.


Conclusion

The Samson Conspiracy is not as interesting as its name purports it to be, but it is a solidly built controller with poorly developed software and drivers. If you can get past the fact there is practically no information or online help out there for this product you will feel comfortable knowing that it is actually worth what you might end up paying for it as long as you spend less than $100. As for reliability, I don’t know yet, but I have a Samson Microphone that I’ve been using for over two years now that is still going strong. I think Samson is sleeping on this controller and with better support could have dethroned a few market leaders. Things like a TSI for Traktor a Script for Ableton some MIDI mapping templates for the buttons and LED’s all this could be accomplished by a single employee in less than a month. Hardware isn’t everything, helping your customers help themselves goes a long way to improving the quality of even the crappiest device. If you want to charge premium prices for a device you better make sure that the competition is not on their A game because at the end of the day, poor support leads to poor adoption which then leads to poor profits and wasted potential. I probably won’t purchase another Samson product for now but I’m definitely keeping my eyes open for anything interesting they release in the future.


Get your own Samson Conspiracy Below

P.S.
What’s the deal with this Vegas Mode thing? You can’t have a device go into Vegas mode while it has an active data connection, all the devices I’ve seen with this feature activate it only when there is power to the USB but no data. Why would a company introduce a feature that requires someone to reactivate the device in the middle of a performance? I like the pretty lights but it’s an unnecessary feature at least in its current implementation. Please, Samson, spend a few bucks and release some new firmware, a TSI an Ableton Script and maybe one or two tutorials. Your customers will thank you!

 


Gallery

 


I Love the Arturia KeyStep

I’m usually pretty reserved about the products I review but the KeyStep will be the exception. When Arturia first release the controller I thought “How nice another Keyboard Controller” I already had a Minilab and other MIDI keyboards and I know a lot of other musicians or wannabes like myself 🙂 probably have a few laying around their studios. So, why the hell would I or most others need another? Well, the answer is summed up in one word, “Functionality”. The Arturia KeyStep is a very useful and practical device, in addition to that, the thing is loaded. There are more inputs and outputs than you will probably ever need. The built-in Arpeggiator and Sequencer are very welcome, throw a little after-touch into the mix and you have a world-class device on your hands.

Design

The KeyStep carries on Arturia’s tradition of building solid hardware at an affordable price. The build quality is what you would expect from the company. The chassis are built from high-quality plastics and feature a solid weighted metal base. This will be my fourth Arturia hardware device (Their V Collection software is awesome too) and I’m always impressed by how good their controllers look and feel. The KeyStep features 32 velocity sensitive keys with after-touch, a 64 step sequencer with support for 8 notes per sequence and an Arpeggiator with 8 selectable modes. It has USB MIDI, standard MIDI in and out, clock sync and DIN sync jacks, and If that wasn’t enough they also threw in CV/GATE outputs, plus a separate, assignable modulation CV output that can be used with the mod wheel, velocity, or after-touch. As you can see this controller has a LOT to offer. The one thing that I really like about this keyboard is that, although it can’t be powered with batteries it can be used with a micro USB charger, which is great if you want to make music on the road.

Usage

Using the KeyStep was a breeze. Pairing it with the Novation Circuit really showed me how capable a device it is. One of the best features of this controller is the ability to change MIDI ports on the fly. This is great for controlling synths 1&2 on the Circuit, also the actuation of the keys feel okay, not quite the same as weighted keys but good enough. The Sequencer was a little tricky to use at first but once you get used to it, its a breeze. The Arpeggiator is  a welcomed feature and is the second most used feature (for me) after the sequencer. Connecting the KeyStep to other devices is as simple as it gets, except for one thing. If you work with a lot of MIDI devices at some point you will need to sync them all. To do this you will need a master clock. The good thing with the KeyStep is that it has a built-in MIDI clock and if you’re going to use it as the main device to sync your instruments then you are golden, But If you need to receive sync information from another device then you may be in for a little surprise. Changing the “Sync source” on the KeyStep is accomplished by adjusting 2 dip-switches on the back of the device. You  may think that’s not a big deal, but you will quickly change your mind when you attempt to make an adjustment. Pain in the ass is an understatement. I’m surprised Arturia did not include a tool to adjust these things. For some reason, they designed the switches using the smallest most fragile hardware on the market, and to make it worse the switches are recessed. Maybe they did this to prevent accidental changes to the sync settings but this design was definitely an afterthought. Outside of this major annoyance, the KeyStep is practically flawless, I actually feel a little bad dinging the device as it is almost perfect for it’s intended purpose.

Conclusion

I wanted to present the KeyStep in a positive light because it is a great product. The team over at Arturia really did make a device that could possibly be the ultimate portable MIDI Controller. This is now my go-to device for making music on the road and when paired with the Novation Circuit, it allows tasks that would normally require a full blown DAW to be accomplished without the need for a computer or and advanced setup. I like the KeyStep and (sorry Arturia) it actually stopped me from purchasing a Minibrute. I’m happy to add this device to my setup and for the cost of the unit, I can’t really complain. If you are in the market for a new controller you should definitely take a look at the KeyStep. It will not disappoint. Check out the official product page here.

 

Specifications
  • Arturia’s own Slimkey keybed with velocity and aftertouch
  • Arpeggiator mode:
    • Up, down, inclusive, exclusive, random, note order, double up, double down modes
  • Sequencer mode:
    • 8 polyphonic step-sequences with Rest, Tie, and Legato note entry
  • Rate control and tap tempo:
    • REC, PLAY, and STOP buttons for performance control over the sequencer and arpeggiator
  • Sustain HOLD button
  • Sustain pedal jack
  • Chord play mode
  • SHIFT button selection:
    • MIDI channel selection, GATE time, SWING values
  • DC jack for standalone operation
  • USB MIDI connects to computers and our MCC editor
  • MIDI in/out ports
  • Sync i/o ports:
    • Supports 1 pulse per step, 2 PPQ (Korg Volca), 24 PPQ DIN sync, 48 PPQ DIN sync
  • Sync select switches:
    • Internal, USB, MIDI, Clock
  • CV/GATE outputs:
    • CV supports 1Volt per octave, Volt>Hz modes, Gate output 5V or 12V for modern or vintage gear support
    • CV Velo/Aftertouch/Modwheel output
  • Capacitive-touch pitch bend and mod wheels
  • Each sequence can have 64 steps, each step can have up to 8 notes
  • Low power; can be powered by Apple iPad® (camera connection kit required)
Gallery

Launch Control XL | Software does not support multiple devices simultaneously

Recently I purchased a Novation Launch Control XL to compliment the Novation Circuit I’ve had for the last few months. I needed something with a lot of knobs and a few sliders to make it a little easier to adjust the parameters of the Circuit in addition to manipulating the controls of a few of the Synths that I use with Presonus S1 which the LCXL is perfect for with its built in HUI support. As with all newly purchased gear, the first thing I checked for was to see if there were any new drivers or firmware for the device, and there was. I downloaded the files and enthusiastically began the installation. The file that I installed (Update 59) included the addition of HUI support to the Launcher XL. It accomplished this by creating secondary MIDI in and out ports for the LCXL that could then be mapped to your DAW to provide HUI control of the Mixer and transport sections of the software. This is the root of the problem with the editor as it only supports one device at a time.

After contacting Novation Support I was provided with the solution to this problem which I will detail below:

  • The first thing that you will need to do is to uninstall the LCXL Editor.
  • The next step is to download the latest Launch Control Software V1.1
  • Third re-install the Editor and then your LCXL should be detected
  • Now you can connect to the LCXL error free to modify your settings

Edit: Novation has officially released v1.1 of the editor, please click the image below to go to the new download page for the LCXL

Launch Control XL V1.1 Editor fix

 

That’s it, I’m sure this update will eventually be released officially but for now, the beta version is working fine for me. As with all beta software be careful, I’m sure it’s still in beta for a reason so don’t update unless you really need to use the Editor. I needed to upload the Circuit templates to the LCXL which is why I performed the update. I also have a solution for people needing to control the circuit via the LCXL when connected to windows PC without using a DAW. I’ll try to have that up by the end of this week.



Hands on Review of the Denon MC4000

Denon MC4000

Intro
MC4000 right Jog wheel
MC4000 right Jog wheel

| The Denon MC4000 is the first controller to be released by the recently acquired Denon DJ. This model is completely redesigned but could possibly be considered as the spiritual successor of the now discontinued MC3000. The MC4000 is a Serato DJ compatible unit that ships with Serato Dj Intro and at the time of this review also includes a 50% discount off the regular price of the Pro version of the popular mixing software. This unit is very well built and has enough inputs and outputs to satisfy even the most demanding DJ. This controller is built to be portable and seems to be designed with the mobile entertainer in mind. It does lack some advanced features of flagship controllers such as the DDJ-SZ/RZ but for those needing that level of performance the MCX8000 should be right up your alley.

Design
MC4000 Mixer Section
MC4000 Mixer Section

The Denon MC4000 features a metal chassis with a plastic base. The Jog Wheels seem to be roughly the same size as the Numark NV and are about 5 inches in diameter. The capacitive platters are perfect for scratching if you need that capability and there is no play whatsoever when pressing on the wheels. The MC4000 features all the typical bells and whistles you would find in a controller at this price point. There is a 2 channel mixer, dual balanced mic inputs, balanced XLR main, 1/4 inch TS booth and unbalanced RCA outputs.  The controller has a number of drum pad style buttons similar to those you would find on an MPC, combine those with the plethora of function knobs available on the device and you will be able to control a variety of functions in your favorite Pro DJ software. The officially supported programs are Serato DJ (of course), VDJ Pro, Algoriddim, and Traktor DJ (with the downloadable TSI file). The build quality of this device is exceptional for this price range and will not disappoint. For all the specs of the MC4000 please scroll down to the bottom of our review. 

Usage
Left Jog and Pads
Left Jog and Pads

Using the Controller was a breeze. My preferred DJ program is Traktor Pro but I decided to purchase Serato DJ Pro with the included discount code. I was not impressed at all with Serato, I have a custom built setup with all the hardware that I prefer to use to DJ. The main one being my Sound Blaster Omni Surround 5.1. This card and the cheaper X-Fi model have the best low latency performance I have seen in a USB device and although I haven’t performed any scientific tests I have set all my ASIO applications to 1ms and have no latency issues whatsoever. No clicking, popping or cutting out of audio…..nothing! So, I was sorely disappointed when I opened up Serato and there was no sound. I checked the settings of the software and saw that there was no option to change the default audio device. This is actually normal with Serato since it will only work with “Serato ready” devices.

MC4000_back_web_1200x750I will do a “Traktor vs Serato” blog post in the near future. With Serato not playing nice with my hardware, I decided to open up Traktor and import the TSI that I downloaded from the Denon DJ site. Once I got all my settings right I was on to do some quick juggling on the decks. This controller is one of the better controllers I’ve used and is leagues ahead of the Behringer CMD Studio 4a it replaces. The controller is just solid, the textures on the buttons and encoders are very pleasing to the touch and make you want to mash buttons and twist knobs all day. I don’t have much need for all the input options of the device at the moment since I have a dedicated mixer, but if you are a mobile DJ the additional connections are a godsend and negate the need to carry an additional mixer to your gigs. Since we are on the topic of the mixer. If you ever run into a situation where your laptop crashes or needs to be rebooted there is one feature of the MC4000 that will buy you some time. The built-in AUX input functions independently of your computer, meaning that, if need be, you can quickly throw some tunes on via a phone or other playback device from your emergency DJ toolkit while you get your laptop back up and running.

Summary
Right Jog and FX/Loop buttons
Right Jog and FX/Loop buttons

If you’ve read any of my other reviews you will see that I try not to oversell a product. The fact of the matter is that any hardware or software that you choose will be solely based on your preference. Some DJ’s swear by Serato, some prefer Traktor, you maybe a Pioneer fanatic or you may just want something basic to mix on. Either way the MC4000 will not disappoint. With a solidly built frame, inputs, outputs, and controls that can pretty much cover any DJ’s requirements, one would be hard pressed to find something else in this price range that can compete. I own a few inMusic products and I’m happy with all of them. If the MC4000 and the upcoming MCX8000 are any indication, I would say that the future of Denon DJ looks very bright indeed. You can find more information on the MC4000 Product page here.

 


Click the image below to
Get your own MC-4000

 Specifications
  • USB Audio / MIDI Interface
    • USB 2.0
    • Sampling Rate: 44.1, 48 kHz (0 channels in, 4 channels out)
    • Bit Depth: 24 bit
  • Frequency Response:
    • 20 Hz – 20 kHz (+1.0 dB)
  • Dynamic Range:
    • Digital-to-Analog Converter: > 112 dB (A-weighted)
    • Total: > 105 dB (A-weighted)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio:
    • > 88 dB, A-weighted
  • Headroom:
    • Aux Input: > 17 dB
    • Mic Input: > 20 dB
    • Outputs: > 20 dB
  • THD+N:
    • < 0.01% (1 kHz at unity)
  • Channel Separation:
    • < -80 dB (1 kHz at unity)
  • Analog Input:
    • Microphone: -60 dBu (minimum), -40 dBu (unity)
    • Aux: +17 dBV (maximum), 0 dBV (unity)
  • Analog Output:
    • Master (XLR): +24 dBu (maximum), +4 dBu (unity)
    • Master (RCA): +19 dBu (maximum), 0 dBu (unity)
    • Booth: +24 dBu (maximum), +4 dBu (unity)
    • Headphone: > 100 mW at 40 Ω
  • Microphone Input:
    • Equivalent Input Noise: < -116 dBu (Rs = 150 Ω, DIN)
    • Common Mode Rejection Ratio: > 75 dB
  • Microphone Effects:
    • Talkover: -20 dB attenuation, 40 ms attack time, 250 ms hold time, 100 ms release time
    • Echo: 199 ms rate, -6 dB feedback, -∞ to 0 dB range (-9 dB center)
    • EQ: +15 dB high band (1 kHz cutoff), +15 dB low band (1 kHz cutoff)
  • Unit Size:
    • 19.9 (W) x 12.3 (D) x 2.7 (H) (Inches)
    • 505 (W) x 312 (D) x 69 (H) (Millimeters)
  • Unit Weight:
    • 8.95 lbs
    • 4.06 kg
  • Unit Weight with Carton:
    • 13.22 lbs
    • 6.0 kg


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