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.

Day 8 in Japan (Vocaloids!!)

Went to a book store and found these awesome magazines about digital / electronic music production.

UTAUThe first one is a sort of tutorial for a Japanese software called Utau. It’s described as a “singing synthesizer”, and it’s essentially a freeware vocaloid software. It does have a few tricks that set it apart from more commercially established vocaloids, such as the ability for a user to record their own voice and then use that as the basis for synthesizing new words and melodies.

The fact that it’s free has also lead to a significant user base in Japan, with 100s of free, user created voice banks (some capable of singing in up to 15 different languages) and add-ons available online. It’s greatest restriction is that you need a PC running Windows that supports a fully Japanese locale, and almost all the usable documentation as well as the UI is all in Japanese.

I picked up the magazine with the intention to buy it, until I realized that it was Windows only. Since I do not have a Windows box in my MBP right now, I decided to hold off for now.

You can read more about UTAU here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utau

If you are interested in vocaloids and speak and read Japanese, it’s a great place to start and get your feet wet, before investing in one of the commercial packages.

DTMThe second magazine is a monthly one called “DTM Magazine”. The reason it looked interesting was because it lists a catalog of software synthesizers and DAWs current for 2013, and I wanted to see what kind of apps / synths are popular in Japan at the moment.

I haven’t had a chance to read through it, but just browsing the pages I already spotted some interesting synths that I have not come across before. I’ll post an update if I find something interesting worth sharing.

Akai MAX49 Review

I own several MIDI controllers already, so why would I consider another one? Well the new Akai MAX49 actually has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that at least from the outset looks to add some new functionality rarely if ever seen on a MIDI keyboard controller. If you’ve followed along with the news you know the short list I’m talking about:

  • CV Out (Pitch / Gate)
  • Touch faders instead of knobs
  • Multi purpose MPC pads
  • Built in sequencer
  • Akai Connect software (not unique but still)
  • Mackie Control and HUI
  • And that beautiful red color (totally subjective of course…)

Thanks to the kind folks at a retailer that shall remain unnamed, I had the opportunity to play around with one for a a short while, and here are my initial thoughts.

The Good

photoThe construction is very solid. It feels like it’s well built and could withstand significant abuse. Not that I would recommend it of couse, but if you are considering this as a MIDI controller for the road it could be important. The fact that there are no knobs or faders sticking out also add to the impression of a controller that could stick with your for quite some time. The buttons that do exist have a satisfactory, clicky feel to them that also feels solid. Thanks to excellent use of real estate the actual footprint of the unit is also really small. In fact it’s one of the smallest fully featured 49 key controllers I have ever used. An important point if you are in a home / bed room studio setup…

The keys feel very solid too, quite different from the ones on the MPK 49 which have a much softer, ‘synthier’ kind of feel (which I prefer to simply call cheap and crappy, but that’s just my preference…). The MAX49 keys have enough stiffness to make them easily playable fast without the risk of hitting adjacent keys by mistake.

The pads are wonderfully responsive and light up beautifully. The fact that they have little cut out letters for the shift functionality is a great detail that makes the keyboard a lot more usable in a dark room / on a stage.

I’d also like to point out the rubberized mod / pitch wheel which also feel like they could withstand a lot of heavy dubstep wobbling without a flinch.

The included Akai Connect software and the Program Editor install easily. I tested this on an iMac with Lion 10.7.5 and there were no software glitches during my tests. While the software might not be the most beautiful to behold, it does the trick and is easy to navigate with a minimum of fluff.

Akai-MAX49

The CV out capabilities are certainly an added bonus though it will likely only appeal to a certain subset of synth heads who have an affinity for analog gear.

If you do count your self to this category the MAX49 could be an excellent way to interface with your old gear, including routing MIDI sequence data from a DAW via the keyboard to your other synths. Be careful with the specs though since not all gear uses the same CV specification.

The Bad

While ‘Solid’ is the best word to describe the overall construction of the keyboard, this solidness also makes the unit rather heavy. Compared to other controllers such as the Novation Impuls or SL MK2 the unit has significant weight, which could be a problem if you are weak (meh) and need to lug it around a lot.

While the key bed feels well built and has stiffness, it was actually so stiff that it felt like it would wear out my fingers within a couple of hours of playing. This is likely a combination of my preference for keys like the Moog Little Phatty or the Novation Ultranova, and the fact that the unit was brand new. Give it some time and it would probably loosen up.

As with the key bed, the wheels are also surprisingly stiff (perhaps no dubstep wobble after all, at least not a fast one…).

The built in arpeggiator is rich, with a vast array of options and expression capabilities. Unfortunately I found it to be quite laggy, often dropping a beat or missing a note if I did fast chord or note changes in the middle of a pattern. I plugged in a Novation Impuls 25 and tried the same kind of ninjutsu, but without any such hiccups. A future OS update might change this behavior, which frankly felt more like a bad design decision than an actual bug. (Kind of like ‘let’s let each pattern finish or drop a beat if the notes change in the middle of it’.)

MG_2590(1)The touch faders are one of the most visible and often cited features of the MAX49, and while they look great I sometimes found it hard to get them to react to my ‘dragging’.

I would place a finger on top and drag up or down, only to find that as soon as I lifted my finger the value would return or jump all over the place. Perhaps an early adopter problem that will be addressed in a future OS update. Perhaps it takes a while to get the hang of how to use them?

The Akai Connect software is a great tool for editing the supplied factory DAW programs or creating new ones, but when it comes to actual DAW integration (such as having Ableton Live recognizing the controller) be prepared to do some terminal / finder file copy/pasting before Live will map properly with the ‘Live Program’ supplied in the keyboard.

I did get it to work though after some juggling. Granted I only tested it with Live, but for a controller that touts ‘Automatically Maps’ as selling point, DAW integration could definitely be a smoother process.

The documentation also deserves to be called out. The included manual is depressingly thin and really does not go far in terms of explaining how to set up or work with the unit, instead it often refers you to either online documentation or the docs included in the 2 editor software packages that come bundles with the MAX49.

It also fails to mention such minor but important things like why the touch faders will sometimes only show the LED for the current value instead of a full row (Hint: Plug in the wall plug in addition to the USB cable and they show up), or why after selecting a program the main display just sits there flashing the program name (this is by design) leaving you asking your self if you actually loaded a program or not.

The Ugly

You either love the red color or you hate it. It’s that simple…

The Verdict

Overall the MAX49 is a solid MIDI controller with some tricks up it’s sleeves that will cater to certain audiences. Some forward looking new features like touch faders combined with rich expression control (the sequencer is a lot of fun) and a nod to the past (CV out FTW!) makes this controller stand out.

Early adopters will suffer some of the minor hits like lackluster documentation and sometimes glitchy faders and arpeggiation, but I’m sure Akai will work those issues out with a simple software update in the near future.

If I had a lot of analog gear that I needed a rich interface for, or a need for a small footprint 49 key controller, I would probably get one of those and stick it out until the OS is upgraded.

You can get it from Amazon at the following link, which is also a great way to support this site:  Akai Max 49 Advanced USB/MIDI/CV Keyboard Controller

Elektric Music (Karl Bartos) – Esperanto

EMEsperantoCoverI learned recently that Karl Bartos is about to release a new album (sometime around March of 2013). This got me interested in what he’s been up to since he left Kraftwerk in the early 90’s. As I dug into his background I quickly came across the Elektric Music project that he started with Lothar Manteuffel sometime around 1992. The first release out of this outfit is called Esperanto, and coming so close on the heels of him leaving Kraftwerk, this immediately piqued my interest.

Unfortunately with music like this getting access to it can be a challenge, but not impossible. I found a used CD shop in the Ukraine that had a copy in store. For the low low price of 80 cents + 4 dollar shipping and handling I held it in my hand in less than 1 week.

Esperanto is definitely a product of its time as much as a clear extension of Karl Bartos’ work with Kraftwerk. Interestingly some of the tracks were co-written with Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Movements in the Dark (OMD) who also provides lead vocals on some songs. The influences from OMD are clear on those tracks.

The album does have a bit of an identity crisis going back and forth between songs that are clearly in the Kraftwerk fold and more techno (as it was executed at the time) heavy tracks.

All in all though the songs still hold up great. If you are interested in synth pop and have ears with an affinity for the likes of Human League, early Depeche Mode and electronic Krautrock I highly recommend it!

Best track: Lifestyle