Category Archives: ENGLISH

KORG KROME 73

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After more than 10 years of (mostly) faithful service, my venerable Roland Fantom X7 was starting to show signs of old age; stubborn buttons requiring multiple presses before engaging, crackling knobs, and this would happen during gigs at times.
I wanted to buy a Yamaha Montage 7, but they were in short supply, and I had to buy a new fridge at the same time, so I ended up buying this Korg Krome 73 instead. The rationale was that it should be enough to hold me over until I’d have enough for a Montage or a laptop-based setup.
The Krome is cheap, and it shows. It is made of flimsy-feeling plastic, but the upside is that it weighs next to nothing. You can lift and maneuver it with one hand.
There are no upsides to the flimsy keyboard action, however. It feels like something from the Fisher Price bargain bin, and it is without a doubt the Krome’s biggest shortcoming. It makes dynamic playing a challenge, as the velocity response does not feel intuitive, and often softer touches are not detected.
Also, while it is nice to have 6 octaves, I think it would have made more sense to have an E-E layout, rather than the C-C. that way, middle C would still have been close to the middle of the keyboard. Inexplicably, Korg does do this on the Kronos 73, so why they changed this for the Krome is beyond me.
Another pet peeve is the external power supply. Now I understand that is a factor in keeping the cost down, but the thin and bendy wire is simply unsuitable for road use. In fact, an acquainted keyboardist is already on his third power supply, and keeps a spare just in case.

But, of course, there is good stuff too. The Krome is cheap, but packed with value. First of all, it has a killer Rhodes sound that is great to play, even on that crappy action. The acoustic piano sounds very good, but it is let down by the action’s velocity response. I suspect that the Krome 88’s weighted action would work great with it. Organs and clavs do the job, and all in all the Krome delivers in the meat-and-potatoes keyboard department.
Synth sounds are good, too, but coming from a Roland Fantom I miss the warmth of the pads, and some of the softer stuff. The Krome does bright and punchy, but smooth and mellow is not what this things is all about.
Brass sounds are good, too. It doesn’t excel here, but it can definitely hang with the competition here.

Despite its shortcomings, I’ve come to like the Krome; as a second-tier board it makes a lot of sense, and it’s great value for money. I do wish Korg would have included USB-audio functionality, as its direct competitors (Yamaha MOX, Roland FA) do offer that. A regrettable omission, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending it to anybody who’s looking for an affordable but great-sounding all-round keyboard.

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SPECTRASONICS OMNISPHERE

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test systems: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.9.5 | Cubase 6.5.5 (64-bit) | MacBookAir i5-4250U (4GB RAM) | OSX 10.10.5 | Mainstage 2 | VSTLord

Disclaimer: I am definitely biased when it comes to Spectrasonics, as its founder Eric Persing was the man responsible for some of Roland’s best sounds in the 1990’s. His sounds just work for me, and Atmosphere and Trilogy were my favorite software synths for the longest time.

I have already reviewed Trilogy’s successor Trillian, and now I’ll tell you what I think of Omnisphere, Spectrasonics’ flagship.

This does not aim to be an in-depth and thorough review, there are quite a few of them readily available elsewhere, so I’ll simply share what works for me and what doesn’t.

For the most part, it sounds bloody great, it covers a wide variety of synth sounds and the only thing I could wish for is Spectrasonics’ take on more conventional sounds like run-of-the-mill piano/rhodes/organ/brass etc.

All the good stuff from Atmosphere is included, and I find myself still reaching for them because I already know how they will work in an arrangement and they generally load quicker, as some of Omnisphere’s patches are positively gargantuan in size.

Other than sheer volume, the biggest difference between Atmosphere and Omnisphere is the engine. Atmopshere was powered by the venerable UVI engine, whereas Omnisphere is built around Spectrasonics’s own STEAM engine. While the UVI was very reliable and efficient, it was essentially a sample-player, and Spectrasonics needed more if Omnisphere was to be a proper synthesizer.

Inside my DAW, Omnisphere is great. You get Spectra’s signature sounds in an 8-part multi-timbral package, with insert and send FX on every channel, great stuff. STEAM needs more cycles than UVI, but on a reasonably modern computer it shouldn’t tax your system too much.

So all praise so far, which is boring and what you really want to hear is about the cons, right?

Well, there is one thing: there is no standalone version of Omnisphere. I think this is a regrettable omission, as it makes Omnisphere less ideal for live use. In my particular situation, hosting Omnisphere in Mainstage on my humble 2013 MacBookAir is not really a viable scenario. Thankfully, Spectrasonics support pointed me to the excellent VSTLord freeware host app, and it works really great with that (hardly ever taxing the CPU over 30%).

Also, cheap it ain’t. And Spectrasonics doesn’t do price drops like some of its competitors do, but the upside of that is that you’ll never have to feel duped when you buy it at full price only to see it on sale at half price one week later.

But that’s it. Everything else is great. I have a free upgrade to Omnisphere 2, and plan to install that sometime this year. It’s hard to imagine how it could be better than the original, but I’ll be happy with just as good!

 

 

sE Electronics Reflexion Filter

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I bought this around three or four years ago, when I had my home studio set up in a tiny room with tiled floors, wall-to-wall mirror closet doors on one side and french patio doors on the other.

This thing does what they say it does, so you can’t complain, but it is NOT a one-stop solution for vocal recordings. It will eliminate much (not all) of the room sound, but only with moderate levels. It is defeated as soon as a vocalist belts out.

I spent $299 on it, and in the end I feel it hasn’t quite been worth it. I moved house and now have a decent amount of acoustic treatment in my home studio; in this situation the Reflexion Filter adds little value.

Another gripe I have is its weight: my boom stand got bent at the hinge because of it. In addition, the weight requires you to really screw the clamp on tight, which damaged the rubber grip:

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In conclusion, I’d say that if you have no alternative, this thing can help take quite a bit of room out of your signal. But it is no silver bullet, and I question the wisdom of forking out $299 for this. Perhaps that money is better spent on room treatment.

 

 

 

 

2015 LA Auto Show

ONE WORKING MUSICIAN’S TAKE ON THE L.A. AUTO SHOW

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I think this photo really illustrates how much more bulky cars have become over the last 50 years

I’m definitely a car guy, but over the years my taste has evolved; away from super cars and luxury barges, towards efficiency, practicality, affordability and reliability. Perhaps that is just another way of saying I’m getting old, but nevertheless I remain a car nut, and the LA Auto Show is turning into an annual pilgrimage for me.

I get a kick out of going to a car show by public transport, so I park and ride from Redondo Station where I take the Green Line to the Blue Line and about 50-60 minutes later I get off at Pico Station, which is right in front of the LACC.
Sure, even in typical LA traffic driving may still be (a little) faster, but getting to and fro downtown is a hassle, and with the insane parking fees in and around the convention center, I don’t bother.
And did I tell you, taking the train from Redondo to downtown costs $1.25? That’s right, a roundtrip for two whole dollars and fifty cents! My car would probably burn about two gallons of gas, which currently works out to around seven bucks. Add $20 for parking and taking the train becomes an unbeatable value proposition.

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the possible future of urban transportation according to Toyota

But really, I’m a car guy. No, really. I keep up with auto industry news, know quite a bit about the history, and most importantly, I love to drive.
My current ride is a 2005 Infiniti FX35, which is basically a Nissan 350Z on stilts. With its higher center of gravity (and 4000+ lbs. curb weight) it’s not quite as agile as a proper sports car, but it’s closer than you’d think.
The best part is you can haul stuff in it, which is great for a working musician like me. I have to schlep keyboards and amplification to and from gigs, so a hatchback with collapsible rear seat is all but a necessity for me.
For the most part, the FX has been an enjoyable mix of brawn and practicality, but after ten years and 132K+ miles, the clock is ticking. Also, averaging 15-16 mpg around LA is becoming unjustifiable, so this year’s Auto Show was to be my opportunity to check out a bunch of potential replacements all in one place.

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Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid left me unimpressed

I was most looking forward to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. I had previously driven a 2013 RAV4 rental, and the experience had been a pleasant surprise. Stop and go traffic is pretty much the norm in this town, so from that perspective the hybrid thing makes a lot of sense. You don’t burn any unnecessary fuel while idling. Unfortunately, the RAV4 Hybrid’s batteries are stowed right behind the rear seat. Not an issue with the seats up, but with the seats down there is an ungainly and impractical bump right in the middle of the floor, which is pretty much a deal killer for me. I have (part of) the rear seat down 60% of the time, and with that bump my keyboard would be seesawing. So without ever having driven one, my enthusiasm for it has cooled considerably. For good measure, I checked the cargo hold of a Toyota Prius V with the seat down, and that was a lot more even.

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the RAV4 Hybrid’s utility is compromised by this hump

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with the seats down, the cargo area of the Prius V is nicely level

Market leader in the segment is the Honda CR-V, which just about ticks all boxes except for its looks. Maybe other people love it, but I sure don’t. Then there is the Mazda CX-5, which purports to be a sportier alternative, and my personal favorite, the Subaru Forester. I got to take one for a spin around the block at the show, and it seems like a perfectly agreeable companion for the LA grind. Domestic contenders are the Chevy Equinox (or GMC Terrain) Ford Escape and Dodge Journey. I have driven all of them as rentals, and while they were decent, I would not consider owning any of them. Then there is the Jeep Cherokee, but I have yet to get my paws on one.

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the Subaru Forester remains my favorite in its class

Direct competitors for my old FX would be the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC300, Lexus RX and maybe the Volvo XC60, but I don’t think I’ll be shopping in that price bracket. Not on a working musician’s income, anyway. Of those models, I think I’d like the RDX the best. It is basically a luxury version of the aforementioned CR-V, with a V6 and minus the ugly.

These days I don’t pine much for unattainable exotic sports cars, and a vehicle has to make economic sense for me to be interesting. The Buick Cascada does just that. In Europe it is sold as an Opel, and it has just the right mix of affordability, luxury and style. If I didn’t have to schlep gear all the time, this would make my shortlist.

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Buick Cascada, semi-affordable luxury convertible

I did walk through Porsche’s room, but that was no fun. It is like walking through a jewelry store, where everything is locked up in glass displays; look but don’t touch. Based on that, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to give Porsche a sale, even if I had that kind of money.

There was a bunch of aftermarket stuff, like custom RV’s or van-based executive limos, but as far as new models go, the show wasn’t all that exciting.
Still, I look forward to doing it all again next year!

Spectrasonics Trillian

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

I can keep this review pretty short; like its predecessor Trilogy, Trillian is THE definitive bass sample library. That said, there are certain synth bass tones in NI Massive that I prefer for some things, but as a one-stop-shop bass solution, Trillian is the business.

But as good as the synth bass sounds are, the library’s true strength is its excellent acoustic and electric basses. These are simply in a league of their own, nothing else comes close. Indeed, you’d have to have a pretty great bass-player and premium signal chain to approximate the sound quality on offer here.

Playability, too, is second to none. Most of the stuff feels lively and responsive, although I typically set a MIDI velocity limiter at value 125, to avoid trigger the slides etc. While it is cool and fun to play with, it can be distracting and somewhat restrictive in conjunction with the velocity response of my Roland Fantom X7.

Compared to Trilogy, the tweakability has been noticeably improved. Each sound has a few quick controls assigned to the most relevant parameters, but the old edit pages are still there. Multi-timbral operation is logical and intuitive, and many synth sounds really lend themselves well for exploration beyond the bass register. One of my personal faves is using the Chapman Stick as an electric guitar!

Drawbacks? Nothing much. The new acoustic and electric sounds are huge and can take up to twenty seconds to load (I run them off a dedicated 7200rpm HDD), and I often grab legacy Trilogy sounds because they load faster. Oh and you’ll need a lot of RAM for the new sounds, too.

Otherwise, I really can’t think of anything else, it is that good. Trillian is not cheap, but it sure is worth every penny.

Izotope Alloy 2

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

Looking at past reviews, I see that I am never enthusiastic about the “good deals” I got. The sweetness of the lower price is not yet forgotten, but I never feel that it was money well-spent.
As I keep saying, my impulse buys are rarely good ones, but Izotope’s Alloy2 is the shining exception. It was not on sale, but the regular price ($199) is extremely fair, considering all that you get.

Alloy 2 has 7 sections: an EQ, a transient shaper, an exciter, two compressors, a de-esser and a limiter. Each of these can be individually switched on and off. The transient shaper, exciter and compressors have multi-band functionality which greatly enhances their usefulness. But you can get the details from Izotope’s site or other reviews, so I’m gonna skip all that and get right down to business.

This thing sounds seriously good. It doesn’t do vintage or classic stuff, but it does digital, and it does digital right.

At the risk of offending legions of pro engineers, the presets in this thing are fantastic. They provide excellent “ballpark” sounds, which serve as great starting points for further tweaking. And not a lot of tweaking is needed, typically it is adjusting thresholds etc. and pretty soon you’re good.

I use it mostly for vocals and drum buss, and it is excellent on both. Most of the presets sound very current and up-to-date, many of them designed to give you that ‘boom, now it sounds like a record’ feeling. To really get it right, you’ll need to dive in there to finish it up to make it ‘sit’, but a lot of the hard work has been done for you and in my case, many of the presets are great time-savers.

For those who prefer to start with a clean sheet: all the different blocks give you an amazingly versatile and superb-sounding tool that allows to sculpt and mold the sound to your heart’s content.

It’s hard for me to think of true negatives; I think the exciter is probably less impressive in isolation. It distorts pretty quickly but at modest levels it doesn’t appear to do much. That said, whenever it is active in a preset it is easier to pick out what it does by switching it on and off, so perhaps it is simply my ineptitude.

Also, this is a modern plugin and you’re not gonna run 500 instances of this on your MacPro. It is not too heavy considering all it does, but it does take cycles, and when you have a lot of instances open, you will notice.

In conclusion, Alloy 2 sounds great, has excellent presets for those who don’t want to be bothered, offers deep control for those who need it, and generally delivers on all counts. I think it is well worth the $199.

 

Camel Audio Camel Crusher

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

I appreciate you reading my review, but since this is a free plugin, you’d better download it and get busy with it!

Most developers have some kind of free product, and while some are genuinely good and/or useful, a lot of it is just a waste of disk space.

The Camel Crusher is among the best that I know of. If this was $99 it would be good value. For free? Bloody amazing!

It sounds really, really good. I am not a fan of distortion and didn’t think I’d have use for this, but it turns out this little gem is supremely versatile and it goes from subtle but audible coloration to beyond 11 and breaking your speakers.

I find that I can use this plugin on just about anything and it will do something good to it, but it excels at breathing new life and energy into dull or bland sounding tracks.

It is a distortion/saturator/compressor/filter, and it does all of that really well.

Controls are limited but that is actually a good thing. You don’t waste 30 minutes fiddling with knobs only to find out it’s not gonna work.

I’m gonna say it again, this thing sounds GREAT. It’s free. It is better than many plugins I paid good money for. It has a definite “analog” vibe to it.

What are you waiting for? Go get it!

http://www.camelaudio.com/camelcrusher.php

February 17, 2015:

Since Apple bought Camel Audio last year, this plugin is unfortunately no longer available. However, Camel Audio’s flagship product, Alchemy, reappeared bundled with Apple’s Logic Pro X and Mainstage 3, so perhaps this plugin will be included at some point as well. I sure hope so.