There's more than one way to turn a guitar into a synthesizer. But Boss and Roland have always gone for the most elaborate and complicated approach. While the new SY-1000 can be played simply by plugging in a guitar or bass via a standard 1/4-inch instrument jack, it really shines when connected via Roland's proprietary GK pickup. Unlike a lot of other guitar synth pedals, the GK pickup system allows for polyphonic tracking of notes on a guitar without the use of MIDI, which can be a little unreliable. The SY-1000 builds on the tech in the SY-300 which turns your guitar licks into everything from a gnarly synth lead to a rich pad, or even a thick Leslie-like organ.
Whether you're a musician always on the go or just tight on space, there are plenty of reasons to pick up a portable MIDI controller. I've been on the hunt for the perfect portable and affordable controller. (You don't want to lose or break something expensive while you're traveling, after all.) But honestly, there is no perfect controller. There are some very good ones out there, but none has ticked every box for me. Similarly, you'll need to figure out which one best addresses your specific needs, with the fewest trade-offs. None of these controllers rises head and shoulders above the rest to make it the clear winner. So I've laid out the strengths and weaknesses of what I think are the five best options currently on the market.
Elektron's synths, samplers, drum machines and grooveboxes are known for their top-notch sound and unique sequencing features. Once thing they're not known for, though, is being affordable. The Model:Samples is the big exception to that rule. And it's getting even cheaper for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Most retailers have knocked $100 of the price, bringing the Model:Samples price to just $299 -- making it perhaps the best bargain in grooveboxes right now.
Artiphon first made a splash back in 2013 when it started showing off a rather rough prototype of a device that would eventually become the Instrument 1. By the time it hit Kickstarter in 2015 it had undergone a serious facelift. In its final version it was sleek and futuristic, with an almost minimal design. Now that company is back with it's second product, the Orba, and it takes many of the core concepts of the Instrument 1 to their logical extremes.
Expressive E isn't quite the household name that, say, Korg is. It's a small French startup with just a couple of niche musical devices under its belt. But its Touché and Touché SE are unique in the way they allow musicians to control and sculpt their sound. They're essentially expression pedals with four degrees of motion that you control with your hand. It's hard to explain, so maybe just watch this demo. What's exciting though is that Expressive E took what it learned from the Touché and built its first standalone synthesizer: Osmose. While it looks rather unassuming and perhaps even a tad boring, it hides some powerful features inside.
Not long ago, "portable" was basically a synonym for "toy" when it came to keyboards and synthesizers. Sure, a classic Casio like the VL-1 is not without its charms. But it's not exactly a serious musical instrument. That's changed a lot in recent years, partially due to miniaturization and clever engineering but mostly thanks to the relentless march forward of computing power. Perhaps no device is more emblematic of this than Critter & Guitari's Organelle. It is, at its core, a computer, and I don't mean that in the same broadly defined way that almost all electronics are computers. I mean that inside there's a Raspberry Pi running Linux. It's this fact that makes the Organelle so unique and flexible. Unlike other portable music gadgets, like the Pocket Operator, that focus on being a drum machine or a sampler, the Organelle tries to be all the things. It's a synthesizer, a sampler, a sequencer, an effects processor -- almost anything someone with the right coding skills can dream up. But there is a danger in trying to be a jack-of-all-trades: You often end up as a master of none.
It's hard to believe, but it's been 25 years since R.E.M. released Monster. And, like any classic album approaching such a milestone, it's getting a massive reissue complete with a remastered version of the album, demos and outtakes, plus two discs worth of live material. But, perhaps most interesting, there's also a remix of the album done by original producer Scott Litt. Some of the changes are not subtle, and for something that has been in the pop culture consciousness for so long, there's bound to be some brush back. (For instance, ditching the stuttering tremolo guitar in "What's the Frequency, Kenneth" seems pretty brazen.)
Don't believe the hype: The guitar isn't dying. But the industry that surrounds the instrument is definitely in a transitional period, to put it politely. Fender has weathered a lot of the storm by focusing one thing: getting more people to play guitar. Simply building decent affordable instruments isn't enough, though. So a couple of years ago it launched Fender Play an app and subscription service that delivers guitar, bass and ukulele lessons straight to people's computers and phones. And Fender Tune (which, frankly, is a must have for any guitarist) has an encyclopedia's worth of alternate tunings, scales and chords at players fingertips, making them less likely to abandon the instrument.
To say that Google's Pixel Buds were "maligned" is putting it lightly. We even said that, compared to the competition (most notably Apple's AirPods), they felt unfinished. But Google is giving it another go, with a truly wireless pair. The new Pixel Buds (no number differentiator here) don't look terribly different from the originals, but this time there's no cable connecting the two. And they have a nice two tone finish that matches the colors of the new Pixel phones. Google claims it's also improved the fit. A number of reviewers complained that the originals weren't terribly comfortable to wear over long periods of time. But the fit here has supposedly been reengineered and they sit flush with your ear, instead of sticking out like some sort of high-tech costume jewelry (or a Q-Tip broken in half).
<p>A few months back a reader asked us what the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/03/30/ask-engadget-best-connected-guitar-amp/">best connected guitar amp</a> was for beginners. And there are a few solid options, including <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/09/21/yamaha-updates-thr-desktop-amps/">Yamaha's THR line</a>. But, one amp topped the rest: Boss' Katana 50. And now Katana line is getting major refresh that makes it an even better bang for your buck than before. This most immediate change is the number of amp simulations available. The original Katanas had five, the <a href="https://www.boss.info/us/categories/amplifiers/katana/">Katana MkIIs</a> add a variation of each, for a total of 10 amp models. You can also use more of the built in effects simultaneously now. Where as before you were limited to three, the MkII line lets you chain up to five together. And it's still pulling from the same library of over 60 excellent Boss effects (after all, Boss is better known for its effects pedals than its amps).</p>
<p>Apple has proven that combining true wireless earbuds with always-on access to a virtual assistant can be a reliable recipe for success. Its Airpods continue to be the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/01/apple-airpods-best-selling-true-wireless-earbuds/">best selling option</a>, even as the true wireless scene really starts to take off. So, it's no surprise then that Amazon is <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/04/amazon-alexa-earbuds-to-rival-apple-airpods/">looking to cash in</a>. Its Echo Buds don't look terribly different from the competition. (They've got a bit of a <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/01/bragi-sells-off-hardware-business/">Bragi</a> vibe going on.) But they do allow you to talk to Alexa without touching a button -- basically it's an Echo you shove in your ears.</p> <p>One thing the Echo Buds <em>definitely </em>have over their Apple competitors though, is noise cancellation. Airpods have none, whereas Amazon has partnered with Bose to borrow its active noise reduction tech. And while <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/08/16/bose-700-headphones-review/">Bose isn't king of the hill</a> anymore when it comes to noise cancellation it's still pretty dang good (not to mention a pioneer in the field).</p> <p>It doesn't seem like Amazon sacrificed too much on sound quality either... at least on paper. (Again, the final judgement will have to wait for when we get to test them on our own terms.) Inside each bud is a pair of balanced armature drivers, which should deliver pretty solid bass. The five hours of battery life isn't exactly earth-shattering, but the charging case brings the total runtime up to 20 hours before you need to plug in again.</p> <p>Echo Buds are available to preorder today for <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Echo-Buds-immersive-reduction/dp/B07F6VM1S3/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til?tag=productpost2019text-20&linkCode=w00&linkId=c30920ac53c291bb7e29ceccb47afc0d&creativeASIN=B07F6VM1S3">$130</a>.</p> <p><strong>Update 9/25/2019 3:10PM ET:</strong> This article originally used the term "active noise cancellation" (ANC). It has been updated to reflect the terminology used by Amazon, "active noise reduction." It's unclear currently if this is purely for marketing reasons, or if there is a functional difference between Bose's ANC and what is found in the Echo Buds.</p> <p><em>Follow all the latest news from <a href="https://www.engadget.com/tag/amazon2019/">Amazon's 2019 hardware event </a>here!</em></p>
<p>Amazon's new <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07R1CXKN7/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B07R1CXKN7&linkCode=as2&tag=productpost2019text-20&linkId=6e5463ec10056a3e937c3c685b46d6d7">$99</a> mainline Echo is all about <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/07/12/amazon-higher-quality-echo-speaker-vesta-robot/">improving the music listening</a> experience. It's basically an Echo Plus in new clothes. Under the hood are the same core audio features, including neodymium drivers and a 3-inch woofer. It should have better frequency response, especially on the low end, but Amazon also claims the mids and highs are clearer. We'll have to wait to test it outside the chaos of a press event though, to know for sure.</p>
<p>Moog regularly releases new and exciting instruments like the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/09/10/moog-matriarch-semi-modular-synth/">Matriarch</a> and <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/01/24/moog-sirin-analog-synthesizer/">Sirin</a>. But it also has a rich history of iconic instruments that it's not afraid to tap into. For example, the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2016/07/20/moog-minimoog-model-d-synth-full-production/">Minimoog Model D</a>. But its latest adventure into its archives is a bit of a different beast. Rather than bring back an iconic keyboard found on countless pop records, it's reviving the Model 10 -- a "compact" modular synth built around the 900-Series Oscillator that was the foundation of Wendy Carlos' immortal <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switched-On_Bach"><em>Switched-On Bach</em></a>. <em>(Editor's Note: Why is this not on any streaming services!?)</em></p>
<p>It's been a few months since Moog announced the four-voice analog <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/04/25/moog-matriarch-four-voice-semi-modular-analog-synth/">Matriarch</a> at Moogfest. But it's finally actually shipping to customers. The <a href="https://www.guitarcenter.com/Moog/Matriarch-Semi-Modular-Analog-Synthesizer.gc?pdpSearchTerm=moog%20matriarch">$1,999</a> synth is the flagship entry in the company's semi-modular lineup, that also includes the similarly-styled <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2018/05/14/moog-grandmother-retro-inspired-synth-all-skill-levels/">Grandmother</a>, as well as the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2015/10/01/moog-mother-32-synthesizer/">Mother-32</a> and DFAM (Drummer from Another Mother). What sets the Matriarch apart from the rest of the lineup though, is it's four-note paraphony. Which just means that, while you can split the four oscillators up to play separate notes, they all share a single filter and envelope. Being "semi-modular" means the Matriarch makes some delicious synth sounds right out of the box. But, the real fun happens when you start rerouting things with cables and the 90 different patch points on the front.</p> <p>Check out the video below to hear literal synth sorceress Lisa Bella Donna coax gorgeous sounds out of the Matriarch (as well as a few other pieces of Moog gear).</p>
<p>While, what we've come to call "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groovebox">grooveboxes</a>" have been around for some time, it was Roland that first used the term and really pioneered these sort of all-in-one music production boxes. But, the company quietly let its MC line of loop-based musical instruments die in 2008. 11 years later though, it is attempting to steal back its crown with the all new MC-707 and the MC-101.</p>
<p>There are a few instruments that really defined the sound of the 80s: The <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1Ha0MMT0aA">Yamaha DX7</a> and the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxz6jShW-3E">gated snare</a> chief among them. But just as important was Roland's Juno line of analog synths. They were (at the time) reasonably priced polyphonic synths that found their way into studios with the Cure, Madonna, A-ha, Duran Duran. It's no surprise then that one of the first entries in Roland's portable <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2015/09/21/rolands-boutique-synth-line-leaks-ratchets-up-the-nostalgia/">Boutique</a> series attempted to emulate the classic Juno-106. It's also no surprise that it's the first entry in the Boutique line to get a sequel.</p>
<p>This review is a little different. Normally when Engadget reviews something, we're bringing years of experience and expertise to the table. But not here. The <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/01/15/korg-volca-modular-and-volca-drum-synths/">Volca Modular</a> is a semimodular, West Coast-style synthesizer. And until I received this review unit, I had zero experience with either modular or West Coast-style synths. I am coming at this device from the perspective of a novice. And that's exactly the target audience. The Volca Modular is an affordable entry point to two worlds typically priced out of the range of the casual hobbyist. So the real question isn't "what do modular experts and West Coast veterans think about it?" It's "what can a beginner like myself learn from it?"</p> <p></p>
<p><em>A Day That Will Never Happen Again.<br /> Here You Are, You Are Here.<br /> Everything You Love Will One Day Be Taken From You.</em></p> <p>Believe it or not, these are not the names of Cure songs, but of electronic musical instruments -- though obviously not particularly traditional ones. They're collectively known as <em>The Book of Knowledge of Impractical Musical Devices</em> and they were created by Yann Seznec, a sound artist based in Scotland. (Though he is in the process of moving back to the US.)</p> <p>It's a project that pulls inspiration from a number of places. But there are three big ones that unify the series. As the name suggests, <em>The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices</em> by Al-Jazari is a major reference point. But Seznec's project also explores our relationship with sound and media, as well as the fleetingness of... well, everything. As he says in describing the third volume in the series <em>Everything You Love Will One Day Be Taken From You</em>: "Every time I play that sound I'm destroying it. And it's slowly slipping away from me. Just like everything is." Yikes.</p>
<p>In May of 2018 PicoBrew announced the <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2018/05/16/pico-u-universal-brewing-machine/">Pico U</a> -- a universal brewing machine that was supposed to make basically any beverage you could called "brewed", from coffee, to beer to horchata. Well, the story didn't end well for the Pico U. Its Kickstarter campaign was pulled and the device never actually saw the light of day. A little over a year later and the company is ready to try it's hand at an all-in-one system again. The Pico MultiBrew takes the core concept of the U, but refocuses it. The result is a product that might have an easier time finding a home on your counter.</p>
<p>Teenage Engineering says the Pocket Operator series is about <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/01/18/teenage-engineering-pocket-operator-modular-synth/">compromising on everything <em>except</em> sound quality</a>. But I think UK-based <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2018/07/09/skulpt-tiny-feature-packed-synth-under-300/">Modal Electronics </a>may have beaten it at its own game. The CraftSynth 2.0 (from here on out called Craft 2) is a tiny, cheap synthesizer that sounds huge and is stunningly flexible. But like any synth in this price range -- the Craft 2 costs <a href="https://www.modalelectronics.com/craft/">$149</a> -- there are those aforementioned compromises.</p> <p></p>
<p>When I was younger I took my acoustic guitar with me wherever I traveled. It's ridden in the back of a van to the Poconos, taken rides down to the Jersey Shore and even flown to the Grand Canyon and Disney World. But it was always a hassle to bring places. It's bulky and fragile. Even if I trusted an airline to treat my guitar with care (which, to be clear, I 100 percent do not), it's prohibitively expensive these days to check something of that size every time you fly. Over the years a number of companies have tried to address this problem, most notably Martin with its Backpacker guitar. But if you prefer your electric guitar and a handful of pedals, then you've been SOL.</p> <p>This is where <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2019/01/09/jammy-makes-the-practice-guitar-modular/">Jammy</a> is supposed to come in. It's a portable digital guitar, with actual metal guitar strings, that comes apart and easily fits in a carry-on or even a backpack. You can plug a pair of headphones straight into it or connect to a regular guitar amp. It also has a companion app that allows you to change the sound from acoustic to electric or add effects. What's more, since it's digital, it can never go out of tune! It all sounds too good to be true. And for the most part it is.</p>
<p>At its heart, hiking is about getting away from technology. Stuffing everything you need to survive for a few days into a bag and disappearing into the woods is as much about breaking free of the daily Twitter grind as it is about pushing yourself physically and connecting with nature. And while there's certainly something to be said for really roughing it, there's no rule that demands you give up all the creature comforts of modern living to enjoy camping. (If there were, all these ultralight hikers would be boiling water over a fire instead of using filters and stoves.) In fact, part of the allure of backpacking is all the gear. And anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.</p> <p>So, how do you boost the tech quotient of your backcountry setup without dragging all your figurative technological baggage with you? Well, let's start by upgrading some of basics, like water purification. If you're really old school you could go with some iodine or chlorine tablets. But, let's be frank: They taste like garbage. The more common solution is a filter, but they can clog, are sometimes tiring to use, and are quite a bit bulkier than a bottle of purification tablets.</p>
<p>Look, nature is beautiful. It's fun. But it can also be unpredictable and dangerous. And while I highly encourage you to head in to the great outdoors as often as possible, you should only do so if you're prepared for an emergency. Obviously you need to be physically and mentally ready -- you shouldn't be trying to through hike the Appalachian Trail if you can't shoulder a 30-pound bag for six-plus hours a day, and you shouldn't be trying to ski isolated slopes if you just finished your first lesson. Fortunately there's plenty of gear out there you can carry with you, just in case the worst happens.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/2019/04/hikers-survival-tips/"><em>National Geographic</em></a> there were 46,609 search and rescue operations in US National Parks alone between 2004 and 2014. So, first and foremost, anytime you venture out into unfamiliar territory, you need to know where you are. This means a map and a compass are essential. Honestly, almost any compass will do, so we'll skip any particular recommendations there.</p>