I cooked up 24 fresh presets for Smartelectronix’s Galactix–a nifty little free softsynth VST with a big sound (click on picture to find out more about it/download the VST):
You can grab my presets here, and here.
I’ve been working my butt off recently, and decided to take a couple of days off this weekend (gee, imagine that–resting on the weekend–what a novel idea!) and get my hands dirty with some music-related activities. One of them was to buckle down and design some synth presets, as I’ve been meaning to bite the bullet and do some serious learning about synthesis. I picked Smartelectronix’s Galactix as my first try–it was really just a random pick, since the interface didn’t seem all that intimidating. After an afternoon of non-stop programming, I learned about using the right kind of waveforms for specific sound characteristics, how changing the filter envelop’s attack would totally alter the feel of a sound, how subtle tweaking of cutoff and resonance can make a lot of difference, how detuning various oscillators at various settings creates a totally different feel (dissonant or pleasant), and some other cool and educational tidbits. It was a lot of fun designing those presets (and grueling as well when you are trying to shape the sounds you hear in your head with all those parameters, but learning as you go). I predict I’ll be designing more presets from now on–maybe I’ll do some for Synth 1, Oatmeal, and Superwave P8 next–maybe even a couple of commercial synths.
The second music-related thing I did this weekend was to terrorize the local Guitar Center…again. Since we’re still living at the temporary place and haven’t moved to a new apartment yet, I have no room to add any new gear, so I can only content myself with researching, testing, and comparing potential candidates. This time around, I tried out more 88-key weighted piano action midi controller keyboards, portable 2~3 octave controllers, some synths, drumpad controllers, mixers, and studio monitors.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the M-audio stuff will never be on my shopping list, however, I’ve come to realize that I’d need a semi-weighted or synth action 88-key controller as well, since certain sounds can only be played well on a non-weighted keyboard (for example, fast repeated 16th notes, drums, organ sounds..etc), and some of those sounds in my libraries contain keyswitches. For those of you that understand, using keyswitches for realtime performance without an 88-key controller is pretty much a stupid thing to attempt. So, it looks like M-Audio’s Keystation 88es might fit the bill (M-Audio says it’s semi-weighted. Like hell it is. That’s like saying a 6-shot revolver is a “semi-automatic pistol”). I suppose I could always spend more on one of the Studiologic’s semi-weighted models, but it appears they’re either missing a mod-wheel or a pitch bend (which is baffling), and none of these semi-weighted 88-key controllers I mentioned have aftertouch. WHY do manufacturers do that? I wish these companies would start including the standard mod-wheel, pitch bend, velocity sensitivity, and aftertouch into every single keyboard.
Although I like the key-action on some of the digital pianos, most don’t have mod-wheels. It’s not a deal-breaker, as I can just use the mod-wheels on my other keyboards (and I plan on getting a portable 2~3 octave controller to place on my desk anyway–I can stack that on the digital piano for extra set of controls), it is kind of annoying to be playing/recording a passage and have to reach to another keyboard (no matter how nearby it is) to use its mod-wheel. Also, part of me really don’t want to pay for onboard sounds I’ll probably never use, although it’ll be nice to be able to turn something on and start playing/practicing–without turning on the DAW, wait for it to boot up, and load up some resource intensive highend piano library.
2~3 octave controllers:
Once again, majority of the M-Audio ones were just pathetic, with the new Axiom line being the exception (I mentioned before that getting bought out by a giant corporation has forced them to up their quality level, as not to embarrassed their new parent company). I couldn’t believe that Guitar Center didn’t carry any of the Novation Remote SL series (then again, they don’t carry most of the products I’m interested in, like Parker guitars, Studiologic controllers, and a bunch of other stuff), since those are some of the hottest products in the midi controller market.
I spent some time tweaking and playing some synths, and most were quite nice. I personally think it’s really hard to make a bad synth today, as the synth market has evolved to a point where even a cheap little synth can make stunning sounds.
The Roland SH-201’s design looks too much like a “synthesis for dummies” tutorial, but the sounds were quite nice. Of course, I gave some love to the Access Virus TI, and man, what a lovely synth it is. Not only does it sound brilliant, it also looks super cool. The Alesis QS6.2 was a bit of a surprise–I thought it might suck in a “Hi, I’m the cheapest products from my company. I’m here to fill the needs of the lowest common denominator” way, but it wasn’t all that bad. The infinite rotation knobs were annoying though–I personally hate them.
Ok, I have a bone to pick for a moment–it’s something that really bugs me. Why is it that all the drumkits in most synths are terrible? I mean, if all the non-drum sounds are programmed to have evolving filter cutoffs, resonance, and other timbre changing goodies, why can’t the drum sounds have timbre changes depending on how hard you hit them? Most of the synths have drum sounds that are just one flat layer–no dynamics whatsoever. I mean, at least program some kind of amplitude/filter change that happens at a harder velocity, so that playing these drum sounds can be more interesting.
The Korg Radius was really nice. If I had money to burn, I’d get one. Like the Virus, a sexy beast with both good looks and lovely sounds.
Drum pad controllers:
I might be the only person on the planet who feels this way, but I actually prefer to play midi drums on a synth-action keyboard than one of these drum pad controllers. The pads just seem really stiff and unresponsive, and the layout isn’t very efficient for using all your fingers for playing (which is what a keyboard is designed to do). I tried the Korg Padkontrol, M-Audio Trigger Finger, and Roland’s Handsonic 10, and all of them disappointed me. I guess I’ll stick to either keyboard drumming or my Ddrum 4 kit.
Testing studio monitors is always so much fun. You get to bring your absolute favorite music in the whole wide world and listen to them on some of the best studio monitors available on the market (well, limited to what the store actually carries. Guitar Center, unfortunately, is not exactly highend in that regard. You will not see the more expensive monitors there, except on very rare occassions). I already have a list of candidates that I’ve shortlisted from past testing sessions, so I just focussed on those (the rest of the monitors they carry I’ve disqualified during past testing sessions). The candidates are:
Event Studio Precision 8
and two new additions:
Every once a while, I’d throw in a lesser monitor just for comparison (and a good laugh). The KRK and M-Audio monitors are always good for a laugh or two (ok, I’m being mean now. I’ll stop).
Before I start listening, the first thing I always do is ask the salesperson to flatten all the monitors so no frequencies are hyped, and also to volume match them if possible. I always try to move them into suitable listening positions too.
My experience this time is a bit different from the previous tests. For one, there are two new candidates, and let me just say right off the bat that the JBL’s really impressed me this time around. They just sounded so pleasant–almost too polite. I guess that’s a sign that it’s totally flat and neutral, without any noticeable hyped frequencies. The front panel controls are a really nice touch (it’s got a remote too!), and the automatic self-adjusting feature (a special mic is included for measuring your room’s acoustical characteristics, and the monitors will automatically adjust itself through the onboard DSP algorithm to remedy any frequency anomalies) is like a thick, sweet icing on the cake. I see it as–you can spend lots of money treating your room’s acoustics, or you can buy the JBL’s and be able to use them in any location that has no room treatment. (The JBL’s only take care of the lower frequencies though–for the higher frequencies, you’d still need to treat the room for reflections.)
As much as I like the Event Studio Precision 8’s, I just can’t get over the lack of the bottom end. In all the reviews I read, it is always mentioned that it’s got a full bottom, but in all of my listening tests, it has the least bass compared to the other 8 inch monitors. Maybe I should adjust it’s settings next time and boost up the bass a bit.
The Yamaha HS80M on the other hand, had too much bass this time around–to the point of obscuring certain sounds. For example, one of the tracks I used is “Chinese Burn” from Curve, and it’s got these pounding drums that are industrial/noise-esque. On all the other candidates, I can hear the consecutive bass drum notes that are placed closely together, but on the Yamaha, I can only hear the first note clearly, while the subsquent ones were blurred. I did some adjustments to the Yamaha’s–cutting the bass, and when that didn’t help, I boosted the mids–neither worked. I guess at this point, the Yamaha’s will get knocked off my candidates list.
The Mackie HR824’s weren’t as enticing as they once were. This time, I felt the mids and mid-highs were a bit lacking–which although gives it a dynamic sound, isn’t good for accuracy. I think there are adjustments I could make to it in the back, so I’ll try that next time.
Overall, I really liked the JBL’s–particularly the LSR4328P’s, as it has the automatic adjustment feature that the LSR6328P doesn’t have (it does come with a testing kit, but you have to manually make adjustments after getting the test results). They aren’t cheap though–the LSR4328P’s are $1,399 each, so that’s $2,800 a pair.
I can sense the sheer terror of my wallet already.
But look at them–they sure are pretty: