Akai’s MPK Mini mkII is one of the best-selling MIDI controllers out there. It’s small, affordable, and has a solid arpeggiator plus the best pads on any budget or midrange controller. The portable MIDI controller field has gotten a lot more crowded, not to mention more competitive.
The Pico System III is a reasonably priced entry point into the world of modular and west coast synthesis. It has everything you need to get started exploring the nuts and bolts of analog sound design.
There are no shortage of crazy and unique MIDI controllers out there. It claims to let anyone create music, regardless of skill level, while also teaching them about music theory. Well TheoryBoard has two 12x4 sets of velocity sensitive pads, with a touchscreen in the middle.
Unsurprisingly, the Blipblox also turned out to be a hit with adults. Earlier this year Playtime Engineering, the company behind Blipblox, announced a new adult themed version -- Blipblox After Dark.
Sensel’s Morph is, by design, a bit of a shapeshifter. Obviously, this is only going to be useful if you know how to program in Pure Data. But, thankfully, it’s a relatively easy programing environment to wrap your head around. But, even if Pure Data is a bit too much for you, don’t worry.
The Subharmonicon indulges its experimental side more than other Moog synths. It's inspired by the Mixtur-Trautonium and the Rhythmicon a pair of early electronic music instruments. Those avant-garde roots show and can make it a bit daunting if you’re just looking for a quick fix of that iconic bass sound. But patience and persistence reveal that the Subharmonicon, for all of its complexity, is still classic Moog.
As part of its revamped Roland Cloud service, it’s also launching Zenology as a standalone VST instrument that can be used in your DAW of choice. The full version comes packed with over 3,500 different synth sounds and 80 drum kits.
The Joué Play lowers the price -- $289 with four overlays -- and adds a companion app that allows you to quickly and easily start making music with built in sounds. In fact, if you ask the company, it think the Play will appeal to even those who can’t play an instrument, but want to make music.
Empress Effects ZOIA is unquestionably a one-of-a-kind effects pedal. Its interface can be daunting at times, but it puts an almost limitless number of sounds at your feet.
Critter & Guitari gave its Organelle music computer a major upgrade last year. This year, it's turning its attention its line of video synthesizers. The ETC visualizer is being replaced by Eyesy, a Raspberry Pi-powered computer that turns sounds and music into Atari-esque pixelated animations. Like the ETC before it, the Eyesy runs visualization programs called "Modes" written in Python -- a relatively user-friendly language. Basically it's the visual companion to the Organelle. And you can find a library of official and user-created modes hosted on Patchstorage.com.
It's no secret that there's a growing interest in synths, drum machines and other electronic music instruments. There are many reasons for that -- most obviously because electronic music is now popular music. But it's also because improved technology and manufacturing have driven the prices of such devices low enough that even the most casual musician can dabble. Plus there are a dizzying number of options for you to choose from at the entry level. So how do you get started? Should you get a portable and affordable Volca? Or that new Model:Cycles that we liked so much? And are Behringers actually any good? I know you have a lot of questions, so let's get right to it.
Fair or not, Elektron has a reputation for making complex and kinda pricey electronic music gear. Last year though, it made a serious play for the entry level with the Model:Samples ($299), an affordable, sample-based groovebox that simplified Elektron's unique workflow for beginners. In a lot of ways, it's a stripped-down version of the company's Digitakt sampler. If you're familiar with the Digitakt, you've no doubt often seen it paired with the Digitone, a sort of sibling groovebox that relies on FM synthesis instead of samples. So it only makes sense that Elektron would want to give the Model:Samples its own FM-based partner in crime. Physically the Model:Cycles is basically a palette-swapped version of the Model:Samples -- Subzero to the M:S' Scorpion. At its core it's the same six-track monophonic sequencer -- but with a streamlined version of the Digitone's sound engine under the hood. Obviously though sacrifices had to be made to hit that $299 price point. As a result, the Cycles isn't exactly a budget-friendly replacement for the Digitone. It's very much its own instrument.
With the original THR line of guitar amps, Yamaha basically invented a new product category: the connected desktop amplifier. It filled a need that honestly many guitar players didn't even realize they had. These amplifiers are small enough to sit on a table or desk, they sound great even at low volumes and they're stylish enough that you won't feel compelled to hide them when company comes over. You don't have to search long or hard to find people singing their praises. I bought one a couple years ago and have zero regrets. But the THR amps weren't without flaws. And in the nine years since they were introduced, the competition has caught up. The highly revered Roland Katana line made a play for the space with the Air. And the iconic Vox brand introduced Adio. So Yamaha announced the THR II in September with new features, new amp models and a rich new app in the hopes of not only keeping pace but also showing the competition it's still the benchmark for tiny amps.
The American electoral system is a weird arcane thing. And primary politics even more so. Honestly, I could spend the next 2,000 words trying to explain the caucus process and, chances are, I'd still only be scratching the surface. So, I've got to hand it to the Iowa Democratic Party for managing to make things even more confusing with its half-baked attempt to bring modern technology into the process. It took the party nearly a week to certify the results and award Pete Buttigieg the most delegates. It's worth noting that most news outlets, including the Associated Press, which usually verifies election results, have so far refused to declare a winner. And now Bernie Sanders' campaign is asking that some precincts be re-canvassed. It's been over a week and this thing shows no signs of ending. How did we get here? Well, like so many tragedies, this is a story of good intentions gone awry.
By now, you've no doubt heard that the Grammy-winning song of the year and record of the year were not recorded in some giant studio loaded with over-priced, pro-grade gear. Instead a brother and sister duo recorded them in a bedroom at their parents' house, primarily using tools available to the average hobbyist. (The $2,000-ish audio interface being an obvious exception.) It's not news that the tools of creation or the avenues for distributing art are accessible to more people than ever. But this weekend, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas proved that the cultural institutions that have dominated popular music for so long can no longer ignore the bedroom producer or budding Soundcloud star. Maybe you've even been inspired to build your own home recording studio. And maybe, you're not quite sure where to start. Well, an audio interface, a good mic and a decent set of headphones will get you pretty far. But the first thing you'll need is probably staring you right in the face: a computer.
Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai takes his sweet time getting to the point in a new Financial Times editorial. But when he gets there, he leaves little room for interpretation: "...there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to."
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the history of guitar pedals. But, I'm fairly confident in saying there has never been a pedal quite like Rainger FX's Minibar. It's an overdrive pedal, but one that requires a little something extra to work -- a liquid. There's a small container on the top that says "pour liquid here" and, until you put something in there it simply wont make a sound.
Regardless of your opinion of Behringer, you can't deny that the company is tireless in its efforts to bring affordable versions of classic synths to the masses. In 2019 alone it successfully launched clones of the Korg MS-20, ARP Odyssey, Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Electronic Dream Plant (EDP) Wasp Deluxe, not to mention the TB-303, TR-808, VP330 and SH-101 all from Roland, and a polyphonic version of the Moog Model D. And we know there are plenty more to come, like the Octave Cat. So it's no surprise that, shortly after it revealed it was getting into the Eurorack case game, Behringer announced its plan to clone some of the most iconic modular synth components ever made: Roland's System 100m.
When Arturia announced the Microfreak at NAMM last year, we told you there was nothing stopping the company from adding new oscillators down the line through firmware updates. Well, guess what -- it's got a new oscillator.
Anytime Moog releases a new synth it's worth getting at least a little excited about. And the Subsequent 25 (or Sub 25) is no exception. It's the successor to the Sub Phatty -- basically the standard bearer for classic Moog bass sounds over the last several years. The Sub 25 takes what made its predecessor such a powerful and aggressive tone monster and just goes bigger.
It's been a few years since Akai's iconic MPC line has seen a significant new entry. But at NAMM 2020 the company is not only introducing a new model, but specifically going for the entry level... or at least what qualifies as entry level for an MPC. The MPC One in a $699 standalone production studio that basically takes all the essential parts of the series and skips the luxuries.
Roland basically abandoned pure analog synths. Instead it's been focused on improving its digital instruments and software that pay homage to the past, while embracing the future. But here's the thing, thanks to powerful audio processors there's very little these days keeping one synth engine tied to any particular device; The Microfreak borrows heavily from Mutuable Instruments Plaits and the Organelle runs patches built in the cross-platform, for instance. Roland has apparently decided this is a harbinger of the future of synthesis and so it's launching Zen-Core, a synth engine that will work across a wide swath of its instruments.