Novation Launchkey Mini vs Arturia MiniLab

Disclaimer:
I have not used the Launchkey Mini yet, the below is based on specs and photos.

launchkeymini_angle-640x412So Novation has announced the Launchkey Mini (sp ~$99). With 25 mini keys, 16 pads, 8 rotary knobs and 2 performance buttons, all assignable of course, it makes for a sweet little MIDI keyboard, not at all unlike the Arturia MiniLab that also launched recently.

I got a chance to play around with the Arturia board for a couple of days and it certainly has the upper hand when it comes to design in my opinion. Of course the two are not entirely comparable given that you get a bloody awesome collection of 5000 analog synth emulation presets with the Arturia board..

My biggest gripe with the Arturia MiniLab was the touch strips. Very poor quality and performance which in the end rendered it almost unusable for me. The keys and the pads though were very nice and responsive. The Launchkey Mini has gone a step further and done away with the traditional modulation / pitch controls entirely. My suspicion is that you can use the two ‘performance buttons’ for this by assigning them your self?

MiniLab_275In terms of connectivity the only difference is that you get a foot switch input on the MiniLab. This could be important to you depending on your playing style. Both are USB powered and class compliant. I for one really wish they had a MIDI out port for connecting straight to some of my older analog gear, but that dear old round connection seems to be an endangered species these days…

Looking at the bundles software (Launchkey Mini: Bassstation, V-Station, Live Lite, Samples, Launchkey app for iPad vs. MiniLab: AnalogLab with 5000 classic synth presets) it really depends on your style of music and workflow. I love the Arturia emulations since they fit very well with the kind of music I make, but the flexibility of the Novation soft synths where you are not limited to presets is also very attractive. In the end it’s up to you.

Check out the rivals at their respective websites below:

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Echigoya, another synth power-spot in Tokyo

In January this year I presented the FiveG store in Harajuku, Tokyo, but the city is home to many other fantastic gems for synth heads. Today I’ll post some pictures from the Echigoya Music (えちごやミュージック) store in Shibuya.

Along with FiveG, I would list Echigoya as probably one of the best spots in Tokyo to go searching for vintage or just used synthesizers and other studio gear. It’s a small shop but filled floor to ceiling with some really fantastic gear. Prices are reasonable too, and the manager is more than happy to assist with shipping to just about any region of the world.

To get to this store you get off at the Shibuya station and walk towards Harajuku along the JR (Yamanote) line tracks. You’ll bump into Tower Records on your right side.

TowerRecords

Echigoya will be across the street.

EchigoyaExt

You have to take the elevator up to the 9th floor.

EchigoyaElevator

Inside you’ll find keyboards, synth modules, rack gear, accessories and tons of other gear.

E_Keyboards

Look at that, a used Korg Volca Beats makes a surprise appearance. I would have bought it but my mind is set on a Elektron Machinedrum now…

E_VolcaBeats

Lots and lots of gear.

E_Keyboards2

If I had the means I would have picked up a SEM or two…

E_SEMmodules

Lot’s of MPC goodness. With some custom skins too…

E_MPCs

On a side note, when I was walking back to Harajuku I spotted this charming sign near the Yoyogi park:

Sign

It basically says that all unauthorized live music performances using amps are forbidden in the park. The background is most likely that this has traditionally been one of the most popular spots for amateur bands and performers to do impromptu shows. Thus, today the area was entirely devoid of any music and mostly desolated. Sad to see such a nice ‘tradition’ go, but I’m sure they will find other spots across the city.

Check out the Echigoya Music website here!

SKB 61 Key Case For Access Virus TI2

Quick review for all of you looking for a road-worthy case for an Access Virus TI 2 Keyboard.

I’m about to move some gear over a great distance and I’ve been looking for suitable, rugged cases for my keyboards / synths. Check out my other posts on the cases and solutions I’ve come up with, but today we’ll focus on the Access Virus TI2 Keyboard.

The Virus TI2 is a 61 full size key synth measuring roughly 40″ long by 15″ deep and 4″ tall. Based on this size I decided to get the SKB Roto-ATA 61-Note Keyboard Case from Amazon since it’s interior dimensions matched the requirements and it looked rugged enough.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 10.29.38 PMFirst in terms of build quality I would say it’s a 7/10. Not bad but also not as good as a Pelican case for example. I have no immediate concerns that the case itself will break in any joints or details, but the sturdiness and thickness of the plastic is not as high quality as I had hoped for. Still, with sufficient padding it should stand up to shipping / transportation just fine.

The included padding and wedges are of high quality, but because of the tight fit it is hard to use the wedges that are supposed to keep the keyboard from sliding around inside the case. You can squeeze them in there but then there is no room for any additional padding. I opted to leave them out and instead wrap the synth in large format bubble wrap. I also added extra foam, that I had left over from a pelican case, on the sides. Last I added sheets of bubble wrap below and on top of the synth to give it some extra padding from accidental bumps and such.

All in all I think it worked out just fine, and I feel pretty safe about seeing the Virus off in this case.

Moog Little Phatty Road Case Review

This is a short review of the Moog Little Phatty Road Case from (tada!) Moog.

It works. It fits. It’s well built. Buy it.

LPCase1Now for the details. Since I’m about to move some gear and I’ve been wanting a good case for the Little Phatty I decided to go all out and order the official Moog branded Little Phatty road case.

The case is actually made by Gator as you can see on the hatches that locks the lid in place. The interior foam however has been custom fitted to a Little Phatty, including the wedge shaped front panel.

The case also comes with 2 extra pieces of thick padding that you can move around to a position that gives you the greatest confidence in terms of securing the synth.

LPCase2

I put them behind the synth to keep it from rocking back and forth. When the case arrived they were placed in the bottom to raise the synth about 3 inches, but with this configuration the lid will not  close. If you look at the official product picture on the Moog site it shows the synth sitting level with the interior foam. This will not work as the wedged front panel will then be too high for the lid of the case to close.

Overall I think the build quality and the fit is very nice. It is not exactly a cheap case, but since the Little Phatty is an oddly shaped, expensive piece of gear I think it is totally worth its premium price.

You can buy it either at the Moog site directly, or from Sweetwater and get $20 off and free shipping. (Why Moog charges such outrages shipping prices is beyond me…)

Highly recommended!

Day 14 – 17 in Japan

Lots of new material being worked on right now, but the most exciting piece for me is in the more dance oriented bucket. I can’t say too much at the moment but I’m working on something that I think you will find quite different from what I’ve put out so far. As always, expanding into new territories is extremely exciting and full or learnings.

I’ve sampled some new environments as well, including a really nice airport atmosphere that I hope to be able to use at some point. I have some ideas. As I’ve said before, all the environment sampling that I do now will be made available for download and free use once I’ve polished it up and cut it to appropriate format.

I found two great books at amazon that I’ve begun to sink my teeth into. The first is called ‘The Audio Expert’, a thick tome on most of the common engineering aspects of sound and audio. I have only flipped through it so far but it looks really interesting.

PowerToolsCoverThe second is called ‘Power tools for Synthesizer Programming’. This is an older book (2004) but it is a great introduction to sound programming and design with synthesizers. I have read through most of it and have to say I really recommend it as a starting point for learning the fundamentals of synthesis (including both styles such as additive, subtractive, granular, … and the components such as Oscillators, LFO, Filters, …). If you are like me mostly self taught, you’ll be surprised at all the little stuff in the knowledge gaps that really make things ‘click’ when you understand them.

RIght now I’m back in Tokyo for work for a week, during which there probably won’t be much music made, but I hope to find the time to stop by some interesting instrument/music stores. More on that in later posts.