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Home > Features > General: Winter NAMM 2014

Winter NAMM 2014 Special Report:
Keyboards

By: Jason Buchwald and Scott Kahn

 
   


Arturia Beatstep

ARTURIA

Arturia released a new hardware/software combo called Beatstep. Sporting sixteen backlit LED pads, sixteen encoders, transport buttons, a large data dial,  and both MIDI and CV/Gate outputs, this truly is a controller you can connect to just about anything. You can use it in MIDI controller mode, of course, but you can also use it in Step Sequencer mode. In this mode, the pads and encoders work together to set and enable steps in a sequence and set pitches for each step. By pressing a pad, it will enable or disable the current step in a melodic pattern, making easy work of real-time beat manipulation. BeatStep allows for sixteen sequences to be stored in memory and recalled instantly.

Perhaps more evolutionary than revolutionary, Arturia also released Spark 2, which should begin shipping by the time you read this report. Building on the great Spark drum software (reviewed by us here), the new version improves upon the first in many ways. Spark 2 extends REX file use and playback, an improved interface/layout with tabbed pages, fifty new drum kits (eight hundred new instruments!), and a new song mode that allows segments to be configured in any way you like and recalled with a button. Perhaps most exciting, though, is the introduction of a modular virtual analog drum synthesizer!

You can add and subtract modules, create your own patch routings, and assign up to six macro controls for immediate control. The modular engine should make Spark 2 a very versatile sound source, and we’re looking forward to getting our hands on it.

DSI Prophet P12

Dave Smith Instruments

MusicPlayers.com Best of NAMM AwardDave Smith has done it again.  Last year the Prophet 12 hybrid analog/digital keyboard synth was released to great accolades. This year, the Prophet 12 (P12) module was introduced.  We spoke with Dave himself, and he explained that while the interface looks a bit smaller, the same P12 circuit board from the keyboard version resides inside the compact, tabletop box. Despite its compact size—the P12 can easily fit inside a backpack, the P12 sports a great screenand full-sized encoders.  Imagine having twelve voices of Dave Smith analog goodness that weighs less than five pounds you can take anywhere. Patches are 100% compatible with the full-sized Prophet 12.  With an MSRP of just $2,199, we expect to find these in a lot of pro rigs and studios.

IK Multimedia

Recently, we’ve been inundated with new products from IK Multimedia that focus on the needs of the mobile devices market, so it was refreshing to hear some new product announcements related to software applications and DAW plug-ins.

SampleTank 3 is coming!  While it is still finishing testing, we did get a quick demo of it and came away super excited.  It sounds great, looks great, and is going to have 30 GB+ of material bundled with it. Yes!

On a, well, sillier side, IK Multimedia released… the iRing, which lets you move your hands in the air over your iOS device while its camera translates the motion of the ring into MIDI continuous controller data.

But more exciting is news that many of our beloved IK Multimedia plug-ins are making their move to 64-bit AAX. We just obtained the update for Arc 2, and more updates will be arriving soon. Another great tip we learned while talking with the IK Multimedia folks: if you love Classic Studio Reverb as much as we do, it will run from within the AAX-happy T-Racks CS plug-in.

Korg RK-100s

KORG

Korg had some cool products on display this year.  We start with the RK-100s keytar, an instrument near and dear to many keyboard players’ hearts:

Coming in black, white, and red, the RK-100s lets you get your ‘80s on. First released decades ago in 1980, 2014’s version is lighter, thinner, and boasts 200 internal sounds (whereas the original needed to be connected to a sound module). The 37 keys (same keys as MS-20 mini) are accompanied by two ribbon controllers (short and long), a mic/audio input jack that can be used as a vocoder, layering/splitting the keyboard, eight-voice polyphony, and it even runs on six AA batteries. There’s also a MIDI Out and USB jack.  We saw a demo at NAMM, and while we were suspicious at first, the onboard presets sounded pretty good!  Now if only we could regrow our ‘80s hair…

Korg Triton Taktile

Korg also released the Taktile and Triton Taktile USB MIDI controllers. Coming in 25- or 49-key versions, the Triton Taktile adds 512 best-of-Triton sounds (up to 80 voice polyphony) to the Taktile controller, making it a very capable synth on its own. The Taktile line includes trigger pads, sliders, knobs, two wheel controllers, dedicated DAW transport buttons, a touch pad that can also double as a mouse for your computer, and an arpeggiator (Triton version). This could be really useful for musicians on the go who use soft synths but may need a standalone synth without taking a second keyboard along.  We look forward to getting our hands on this one!

There has been renewed interest in Korg’s legendary MS-20. Available in soft synth versions, even on the iPad, Korg previously released the mini MS-20. Now, you can get a full-sized MS-20 in kit form!

Korg Synth Kit

No soldering is needed, and this kit includes both the old and new filter circuits these classic instruments used. You can select which one is active via a jumper on the board. A dedicated front panel switch might have been even better, but so what? If you want to build your own synth, this one’s still a classic. MSRP $1,399.

Moog Theramini

MOOG

For those unsure exactly what it is, the Theremin is a single-oscillator instrument that uses two metal, rod antennas to control pitch and amplitude. The left antenna (a horizontal hoop) reduces the amplitude as the left hand is moved closer to it, while the right antenna (a vertical pole) increases the pitch as the right hand is moved towards it.

While at the Moog booth, David Molnar—one of the lead developers—gave us a personal demo of the new Theremini. Its design matches the experience of performing with an instrument you never actually touch, with a sound engine derived from Moog’s classic synthesizer, the Animoog.  Assistive pitch quantization allows each player to adjust the instrument's level of playing complexity. At the maximum position, the Theremini will play every note in a selected scale perfectly, making it impossible to play a wrong note. As this control is decreased, more expressive control of pitch and vibrato becomes possible. When set to minimum, the Theremini will perform as a traditional Theremin: the analog heterodyning oscillator controls pitch, and there is absolutely no assistance.

A built-in tuner supplies real-time visual feedback for each note as it is played. The presets section allows you to select from 32 wave- or wavetable-based patches, store a selected scale and root note, set and recall a specified playing range, and specify per-patch settings for the included stereo delay.  Recessed in the top of the Theremini is a compact speaker perfect for easy rehearsal without your studio rig. Silent rehearsal is also possible via the headphone jack, but we expect any owners of this awesome box to sit in their local Starbucks playing the theme song from Star Trek out loud. Daily.

PianoArc

PianoArc

This year’s NAMM Show really seemed like a big year for MIDI piano controller keyboards. Continuing along that theme, the PianoArc is… a round piano! Essentially a circular controller keyboard, it consists of 292 Keys: three contiguous, eighty-eight note keyboards and one 28-note control section, with pitch bend/mod controls allocated per keyboard section. You’ll need roughly six feet across any direction to enjoy this controller, and the stand can be angled as well as adjusted for height.

Roland FA-08

Roland

Roland had several interesting offerings this year. They released the FA-06 and FA-08 workstations, sporting 61 and 88 keys. Both feature 2,000 sounds from the Integra-7 sound module, the ability to export tracks directly into your DAW, two virtual memory slots to allow for even more sounds, an onboard sampler, 16-track sequencer, multi effects, arpeggiator, input jacks for guitar/microphone, and plenty of physical controls for real-time sound manipulation.  MSRP FA-06 $1,199, FA-08 $1,799.

Roland RD-800

Roland also released the RD-800 stage piano.  Featuring hammer-action keys, 1,100 sounds for pianos, organs, electromechanical pianos, strings, and many others, dedicated split/layer buttons, a color LCD, balanced XLR output jacks, and a “Tone Color” knob for real time manipulation of your sound. Consider this board a serious contender if you need a great, professional stage piano. MSRP $2,499.

Roli Seaboard

ROLI

Roli introduced an intriguing keyboard instrument, the Seaboard.

The Seaboard comes in three sizes: 37-, 61-, and 88-keys. The Seaboard reimagines the piano keyboard as a thin, soft, continuous surface and has polyphonic pitch bend, vibrato, and per-note dynamic changes, marrying the intuitiveness of a traditional instrument with the versatility of digital technology.  So go ahead: squeeze your piano keys, slide your finger along them (or key-to-key) and make them trigger different sonic responses!

Vintage Vibe Deluxe Stereo

Vintage Vibe

Chris Carol (Vintage Vibe owner) keeps chugging along!  Making great-sounding electro-mechanical pianos for the modern era, Vintage Vibe showed off their new Deluxe Stereo console model.  This unique 80-watt stereo, four-speaker cabinet design has two speakers (below the Rhodes and Wurli-inspired piano) pointing out towards the audience, and two pointing upwards towards the piano player (allowing for easy monitoring of your playing). The piano is detachable and can be placed on legs and used with any other amp/pa/mixing console. 

Also intriguing was their soon-to-be-released Vibanet, the modern version of the revered clavinet.  It sounds great, is half the weight, has on-board auto-wah, and three-band EQ. Every piano is hand made with Vintage Vibe-manufactured parts: not old, recycled parts! 

Yamaha CP4 Stage Piano

YAMAHA

Not to be outdone by that other big keyboard company, Yamaha released their new CP4 stage piano. We spent some time playing it, and liked the feel of the keyboard. The CP4 Stage features a selection of 45 voices from Yamaha’s grand pianos (including the CFX, CFIIIS and S6), 47 vintage electric pianos with Virtual Circuit Modeling effects, and 321 sounds based on the flagship MOTIF synthesizer. The CP4 has an 88-note Natural Wood Graded Hammer action, which we liked the feel of. The model weighs 38.5 pounds, and has an easy-to-understand interface with dedicated buttons for splits and layers that makes it easy to use in live settings. MSRP $2,999.

Yamaha was also showing off their MOXF synths, in 61- (MSRP $1,499) and 88-key (MSRP $1,999) versions. Building on the technology of last year’s MOX synths (which were entry level versions of their MOTIF flagship synth), these two synths have the same sound engine but different keyboard sizes.

Yamaha Motif

They include the latest MOTIF XF sounds, effects, and flash memory expandability. The MOXF line also shares compatibility with the voices and library of the MOTIF XF, MOTIF XS and the MOX Series, allowing access to a large collection of sound
and sample libraries and optional software.

The 88-key Graded Hammer Standard MOXF8 and 61-key semi-weighted action MOXF6 come with 741 MB wave ROM, 3,977 waveforms and 128-note polyphony, with up to 1 GB of sample expansion. In addition to a 16-track sequencer with realtime loop remix features, MOXF Series synths come with built-in, four-channel USB audio/MIDI interfacing and extensive DAW/VST controls.  Pretty good bang for the buck!

While not new, the Motif XS rack was also seen in full force. What is new, however, is the software. Korg users may remember being blown away by KARMA’s sonic sound manipulation over a decade ago. Now featured in Yamaha’s Motif, it has been upgraded to version 3 here, and KARMA president Stephen Kay personally demonstrated the new features and capabilities of KARMA 3.0 as implemented in the MOTIF XS rack. We were amazed. Real-time control of the multiple sequences made the previously-awesome Korg implementation feel downright simple by comparison. Check out http://www.karma-lab.com/people/skay.html and http://www.karma-lab.com/karmasoft/kmo/kmo_main.html for more details.

 

 

   
             
             
             
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