Korg Volca FM – minimalistic and cheap synthesizer for professional amateurs.

‘Professional amateur? You mean somebody who repeats the same mistakes and somebody who doesn’t want to grow out of his / her errors of the past?”

It is in my eyes more fitting for somebody who isn’t a complete beginner and also not a complete pro, yet not completly middle-experienced-user-friendly.

While browsing on my favourite Synthesizer Facebook meme groups, I saw a lot of pictures of the Volca and how many people made fun of it.

Is it because it can run with batteries? Maybe. Some people out there think that synthesizers that need batteries, are too similar to kids toys and therefore too similar to kids keyboards.

Is it because of it’s price? Probably too. You can buy nowadays a new Volca for 175$ in a new condition! I repeat: in new condition. Some Eurorack or Buchla modules cost twice as many, for only one module! But who is the judge when it comes to musical instruments? Is a smartphone for 50 bucks less of a smartphone than one for 1,500 bucks?

The point is, if you want to trample on the Volca, you go enough vantage points.

But like so many times in life, you need to stand on the other side of the fence to properly judge and comment.

Dabble with stuff like the Volca…

before you drown in a tech-pool. We get it. There are a lot of rich YouTubers and influencer and artists out there who got good studio-equipment for tens of thousands of dollars. It is necessary though to get a feeling for hardware and software step by step. This is of course when you want to enter the world of modular synthesizers. If you’re not comfortable in that zone at this point of time, I suggest you start with basic DAWs. Get your feet wet with open source software like the VCV Rack and if you’re ready to begin modular, you can either buy the Volca on eBay or newly from officially trademarked Korg salescompanies. 

Modern problems require modern resolutsion:

While old analog synthesizers have more analog knobs than digital displays, knobs, functions and automations, nowadays it’s the other way around. Cheaper synths tend to have less knobs, because of the cost and more functions for these knobs. Let’s say you have a simple knob. It’s labeled Content goes here. So you have the C3 keyboard button and it’s labeled as “1” and “POLY”. This means you automatically have 2 buttions that can be used for 3 functions. 1 function is to play the note C3.

The next function is to program something with the value of “1” and the last function is to switch between “MONO” or “POLY”. You save up space and the production of the Volca FM is therefore less expensive. It is up to you, the user, to learn all the functions by either trying around, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, contacting Korg or reading the manual.

So Korg saved some money and you saved some money but the information to use the instrument completly, takes up your mental learning. While learning in itself is beneficial against Alzheimer’s disease, it can easily sweep up into the other direction. When one key has 5 functions and you need to memorize that stuff for an optimal workflow, so in order for that you need to study the manual in and out. You must be able to quote the manual to percision or otherwise it’s plain and simple trial-and-error for you.

I am somewhat quite ashamed to tell you that I’ve read way less manuals than I actually should’ve.

It won’t be shocking for you that most of the folk out there also avoid reading memory.

Creativity beginns when you throw your self onto something that you’ve never tried and it ends when you know its strict rules and when you know how it works and you understand its inner mechanics. So most people, like me, try stuff out and if it sounds alright, they stick with it. The Volca FM… if you watch this, you will understand what I mean:

You must learn and study hard that manual to unfold its wholesomeness, otherwise you limit yourself and the Volca

to the potential it has to offer. It’s more of a journey of learning and understanding and applying with the main focus on the learning-segment.

A big minus

is the calculator-alike display that shows numbers and letters in its limited ways. I bet if they sold the Volca FMs for 200€ or 200$, they could’ve built in some small resolution displays. That would have been a big improvement. I bet there are some extremists out there who already soldered some high resolution displays onto the Volca while programming it newly to display proper letters and values and such. But in general I see this as the biggest issue. You don’t need no small 4k display to show every bit of detail that you might never use or which is just there to show you that it exists, but I know for a fact that you can get a Raspberry Pie display for 30 bucks.

Make yourself also a picture on their homepage.

Like a lot of newer and cheaper models

It is inspired by an older synth, in this case the DX7. Which is in itself a little meme. Since many people

know that it was a pain in the a** to work with the Yamaha DX7, they used rather more the presets of the

DX7. Some people found even work to program the DX7, because choosing the presets was easy

but programming, learning and understanding the patches was just horrid. Very confusing menus

and too much work. So getting inspired by the DX7, is like copying ethic values from a serial killer. 

In both cases it’s bad. Luckily they just got one or two inspirational ideas out of it and added enough features

so the Volca wouldn’t end up as a purchases-nightmare, like the DX7 in some way did. Not to mention

that you can either get a used DX7 for twice the price with waaaaay less functions, or you can get

the Volca newly for half the price plus guaranty and support and an active community that still

converses information on special threads. It’s some years old but not so old that anybody would

forget it very soon.

This brings us to our final rating and conclusion:

Get it, if you got the money. If not, save up for a Moog Minimoog Voyager. Nah, just kidding.

There is always room in the middle. I haven’t tried the Volca yet, but I bet there will be a chance

where I come to try it out and it will be fun. Volca FM is also part of a series.

So if I ever get the money, time and chance, I want to try all of ’em out as the series bundle.

This means:

If possible I hope to somewhat get someday a chance to synchronize and connect the 

Volca Bass with the Volca Beats, Volca Keys, Volca Sample, Volca FM, Volca Kick, Volca Mix, Volca Drum, Volca Modular and the Volca Nubass. But if and when and how this happens… lays in the stars.

When this happens, I will let you guys know of course what I’ll enjoy and hate about that series.

That’s it for today. I hope you had fun reading my rant and I hope to see you next time.

Contact me directly or comment on here if you want and I’ll get back to you.

Bye =)

MicroFreak – Arturia’s hybrid beast

While everybody was focusing on releasing new digital synths or analog synths, Arturia went another totally different direction by combining both to get the best out of those 2 worlds. The same theory was implemented when people started to build hybrid cars. Instead of focusing on digital versus analog and listing of advantages and

#disadvantages, you have rather a strange symbiosis that can stand as its own. It’s for us to decide if we like to see this sum as a rather useful addition to our collection or if we see it as another trashy piece of gear that gets on top of the pile of already older hybrid models that everybody disliked.

Here you have the original page.

What we have and what we don’t have:

The MicroFreak comes with a wavetable function and summable oscillators and analog filters, poly-aftertouch and a flat keyboard. Sadly it lacks a pressurable keyboard. I suppose they followed the hype of the TSNM. In one of the videos from the official Arturia page they mention that they built the keys that way to make it affordable for a fair price of 299,99,-$ USD.

Otherwise it would’ve been probably one hundred bucks more. You can fix that either by plugging in another MIDI keyboard which you have to purchase or already have. Sadly you have no “audio in”, which bears a big minus if you want to build an audiochain with various guitars or synths, microphones and effect pedals.

Optically the strange drawing right above the keypad looks rather strange and I think it’s not to necessary. Like some psychedelic childrens-cartoon in minimalstic thick lines drawn and all that. Rather good for you, if you buy or download synthesizers because you’re interested in their functions. I think there is only a small percentage of people out there who buy synthesizers only for their optical appearances.

These might be the same guys that buy albums, vinyls, Blu-Rays and books, just to look cool while they’ve never consumed any of the media they have in their shelves. As a reader of mine though, I suppose you’re rather more interested into building soundscapes that fit into your daily use. On Thomann you can hear beautiful examples of what this little demigod can do.

 

Consider that I am a beginner and you are too:

While I write and you read and we both might know one or two things about synthesizers…

We both know a thing or two about synthesis of sound. Emulating real instruments or creating

rather new ones, but there is always a big learning curve with every instrument that you can get your hands on.

Even basic household instruments could end up for a recording session of yours, to build the next breakbeat of your newest song. Therefore we have everevolving companies that sell us cheaper and cheaper synths by the day. Be it hardware or software. I already saw some firmware updates

and a heavy POSITIVE backlash of responses regarding the newest addition of the Arturia trademark. I might even fear to say that this synth will push me into a vulnerable state where I might think almost every newer synth is a positive addition to your old setup.

In comparison with 2 other “hyped” synths at the moment:

The Korg Minilogue or the Korg Monotribe for example. Both were head-players for a short amount of time.

While the Minilogue got famous by people like Aphex Twin or fans of Stranger Things and the intro of the series.

The Korg Monotribe earned it’s status as an affordable and cheap synth, which is highly regarded in the modder

community. Sadly they stopped producing the series after version 2. So these things are “the 303” of our generation

as one user describes it in a music equipment forum. If I have learned anything about hardware, then it is that you are  on some level forced to try out every piece of hardware and software that is on the market as fast as you can get it.

While the MicroFreak persuades with digital oscillators and an analog filter, the other 2 convince by beeing 100% analog from oscillator to filter. So you get a unique combination of analog and digital that you won’t find in any other synth in this world. Except you would try to hack and rebuild the system to acquire more knowledge. 

 

Consider also the usual suspects:

Like the lack of space for yet… another piece of gear, except when you sold old hardware to purchase new hardware that fits the same size. Then there is the thing with the workflow. I somehow got raised as a VST child, so for me it only feels natural to open up my DAW and load up any plug-in that I desire in seconds. With hardware you are limited to either wait until the analog gear is warmed up, or for digital gear to connect it properly. Either you have enough input slots to plug in all your 10

synthesizers (I am just exaggerating to underline the main disadvantages here) or your a poor guy like me who has to move around his keyboard, like me, everytime he wants to play and you have to re-assign to certain working space everytime. When I come home from work, I always have this down-phase, where I am unable to do any hard chores. I just want to eat something, watch an episode of a series or the next segment of a movie. After some time, I get a feeling for when I am ready for my personal work.

There are days where I totally want to ignore the training aspect and only produce music, then there is this time where I feel sorry for myself, for acting so stupid, so I learn until I am too confused to learn anything new. I go to bed angry and I am sad that I didn’t make a nice balanced split of learning, measuring physical room properties and producing. If possible I do this in a 1 to 3 ratio and if even better, I don’t have to do any anoying chores and paperwork that distract me unnecessarily from doing what I like:

Music. Sadly we know that this is merely impossible to manage. So I say focus on your hardware / software. Get to learn every little bit of it. Decided wether it is time to change and sell it and buy new stuff or wether you need to acquire more “free time” to work with the device that you got at the moment. Sadly I am easily convinced and I only

find hardware bad that doesn’t work, but don’t you follow my advice. If you have a very sharp and exact idea of the stuff you want to do, don’t fear and fret to force you and your surroundings to that decising. You only live once, so you should focus on stuff that matters to you. If you have read this far than I suppose we both share the same

interest. Therefore I hope you purchase the hardware OR you don’t purchase it. Either way. Please contact me in any way. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Bandcamp, E-Mail, the comments on here or privately on WordPress. Let me know if I got anything wrong and what I could improve or if you even agree a littel bit with me here and there.

Conclusion

If I ever have the chance to get a factory hall all for myself this synth will definitly be added. As for now I am on a budget and even though it convinces with some nice features like certain speech synthesis

immigrations or 12 oscillators, it is yet another mono synth, but POLYPHONIC playable  with aftertouch, but a cheap-ish keys layout because of its lower prize range.

As always: If you guys want to share your thoughts and feelings with me on this one, please let me know in the comments or via e-mail. Maybe you have some suggestions on points that I got wrong and stuff that NEEDS to be mentioned.

Spice up your learning progress. Introducing Sibelius and EarMaster

Instead of covering one subject, I want to freshen things up.

Why not cover 2 things in one post?

In the first half, I want to talk to you about Sibelius.

The second chapter will be about EarMaster.

Both are digital tools, therefore software that helps you learn music in a traditional sense, while improving other major skills that are needed, and considered to be fundamental for serious gigs, jobs and scoring of music in form of album tracks, singles or even orchestras.

You find yourself in this situation…

Either you’re self-taught in notes reading, or your music teacher is handing you over note sheets that you can’t comprehend.

Some symbols… you have to ask your music teacher again and again what they mean. You got a basic music book that

covers beginners symbols for reading notes and playing music with various instruments. Now you want to add a mental note on how everything sounds. You are forced to compose. Compose short bits and bars, pieces and full tracks.

You listen to your favorite song and think to yourself:

“How do I replicate that song? How would the song in notational form? What do all these symbols do?”

You’re forced to use basic methods like a pen & some paper ooooor you go with the 21st century and grab yourself some piece of notation software.

Instead of worshiping Sibelius to the maximum praising its perfectionist design and ability. I’d much rather start off by showing you what you can get free and for what you have to pay money for.

Here is a long list of notation software you have to pay nothing for or only small amounts:

Wikipedia Link

I regret saying this, but so far I have only tried out Sibelius.

Here’s the reason why:

#1 I asked my keyboard teacher what he thought about the software and he highly recommended it.

He works with it on a regular basis for live gigs and private use as well.

If I notated a song and I would send it to him via e-mail and he would look over it…

I have every 2 weeks or so my keyboard lessons.

He would be able to take a look at it and suggest to me what I could do better and what I did proper so far.

You save ink, it’s comfy and newer versions are still compatible with older versions of Sibelius.

So if you think your teacher has Sibelius 7 and you have Sibelius 6 and you think you need to spend some money on an update… then don’t. It is not necessary for you to spend your hard-earned cash for an update that you don’t even need.

From one beginner to another…

I always tried to avoid classical music notation styles and the art of knowing scales, harmonics, and relative keys.

At some point, it can be quite refreshing though to know all these rules so just you can avoid ’em or play strictly by the book with ’em. You might find yourself drawn to certain arrangements and you didn’t know what made the characteristics of that certain style. Now you know the name of its character and when it is advisable to avoid or to add it.

Even with no musical knowledge, you can start immediately.

Either you “paint” every note with your mouse via mouse click, or you plug in your MIDI keyboard and record the song via MIDI-step-recording. Then there’s the classical method where you set your metronome and play in the wished tempo

in your timeline or you just fixate yourself on shortcuts.

One of the things that always convince me as a buyer/customer/fan/supporter is the ability to use a program via short cuts.

By that, I don’t mean that I know one or two short-cuts to help me here and there.

Nope.

I mean the full deal. The whole darn program.

From opening a new project, through saving a project, loading the last project, placing a quarter note, inserting pauses, styles of playing, vibrato, staccato, instrument choice, volume and mixer controls and other short cuts for sub-menus that enhance your workflow in real-time to a maximum.

In a way, you could call that piece of notational software an instrument.

You can, like many other good music programs, misuse it as a DAW or as an additional software instrument in your collection. So far I can’t tell you sadly how good all the freeware programs are out there. But I will keep you informed for the future when I’m at that point.


EarMaster. What it is and why it is the way it is:

I just mentioned that Sibelius is optimal for beginners. Guess what? It’s even easier to learn with EarMaster.

You have hundreds of short courses. They’re most of the time between 5 – 15 minutes long.

So if you come home, like I do, from work and your attention span is almost fried, then these courses have

the perfect balance of boosting your ability to play and sing and hear while being not to heavy to digest with an already tired mindset and physical shape.

If you can’t work with this piece of software you are in for a lot of trouble.

I’ve used the program for over a year on a daily/weekly basis and I am still quite astonished and happy with the material it provides for me. Not to mention that it’s half the price of Sibelius and focuses 100% of your ability to recognize keys, key-changes, scales, chords, and what-not.

I even selected vocal coaching. I sing into the mic while the task is to sing in the proper pitch and duration.

You have 50 things to consider when you practice.  It doesn’t matter none of you’re a pro or a beginner.

Training is essential for you, otherwise, you will always be stuck in that trial & error phase in notes that sound good together.

You need to recognize patterns. Read scores, write scores, listen to music, play music, record, mix, master.

If you’re on an even tighter budget than EarMaster is definitely for you.

I used it cracked for half a year and bought it afterward in its newest version for 60€.

Now it only costs 3/4 of that price.

You get asked what instrument you want to practice.

If you want to practice your singing as well as if you want to train in a classical or a jazz style.

I might have mentioned Synthesia earlier.

While it’s popular as learning software for muscle memory and funny meme songs on YouTube

It has helped me less than EarMaster did.  So while EarMaster is a 10/10 for me, I’d say Sibelius.

“So you’re telling me I need to spend money in order to learn properly”

Like I mentioned before:

A lot of good software out there is for free.

If the free software is up to your standards is another topic though.

I also don’t want to buy my software, but when I consider the features and possibilities in EarMaster and Sibelius, I’d say it is definitely worth it all.

At some point, you must financially support a product that contains hard labor.

I seriously wanna try out all that free stuff too though.

Some free stuff out there is very glitchy and ideal for experimental recordings.

Let’s hope I get to try it all out and I can tell you all about the funny software out there.

See you next time.

Overall…

I introduced you two powerful tools when it comes to learning and showed you a lot of alternatives.

The main goal for you is to practice, practice, practice again and again.

Rather do 5 minutes every day then learn 1 hour per week.

Don’t expect to play like Mozart after 10 hours of practicing.

It takes time and patience and a solid routine, only then you will master the instrument of your choice.

My steady companion: The Zoom H4n Pro

In today’s post, I want to talk to you with my very last old friend that I got. I somewhat counted and got like 16 old instrument-buddies, and this one is also a special one to me that I still own to this very day.

When it comes to Hi-Fi field recordings or tingling ASMR recording sessions, this is one of the most found fundamental

and basic tools. I’m talking about the Zoom H4n Pro Recorder.

Zoom H4n Pro Mobile Recorder Continue reading “My steady companion: The Zoom H4n Pro”

Proper recordings with a cardioid microphone: The Shure SM57 LC

We all started out as little kids with cheap toy-like cassette players with a plastic-mic attached to the toy

that had a recording function for the cassette. Later on, we progressed to mobile phones, which in some cases could even record!

The quality was quite bad though and you couldn’t just plug your mobile phone to your PC.

Even then you might have had only a mono file in bad quality with a low bitrate and a very low Hertz rate.

All in all a cheap recording, therefore.

Let’s say you buy a mic. You have no idea what is what and you just buy a mic. You record with it and

find out that it’s recording a little bit of your instrument and ALL of the surroundings as well.

You wonder what has gone wrong with your decision, and here’s the answer to that:

A cardioid microphone!

Shure SM57 Cardioid Microphone
Shure SM57 Cardioid Microphone in usage

First of all: There are 4 types of microphones out there. Figure 8, Omni, Super Cardioid and Cardioid.

Today we will focus on the cardioid side of microphones.

It should be mentioned that these types of microphones are a standard as a studio recording mic and they’re accounted

as professional gear. It works in a close range and a tight angle. You might wonder: “How can I filter out background noise?”

Well, the answer is you start with the right recording hardware and finish with slight software approvements.

Cardioid mics were build to pick up sounds in front of them and not behind

Not an all-around tool:

It is specifically used for vocals or when you record your guitar amp. It is not a must. You can “misuse” it of course for other

sounds, like recording animals at a close range or weird feedback noise live improvisations, but who would do something like that. Am I right? 😉

If you consider doing a lot of vocals, this is the tool for you.

Excerpt from Wikipedia and fun trivia to know:” It is used extensively in amplified music and has been used for speeches by every U.S. president since its introduction in 1965.”

You won’t record feedback in your room if you’re in a room with bad acoustics and it is also known as a solid and steady companion in regards to recording drums.

I wish somebody would’ve told me that these kinds of mics have existed for over 60 years now.

I love my mobile mic, but a lot of recordings are puzzled down to this factor that you don’t have any background noise that modulates your recording session in a negative way.

Not just limited for music or politics…

The more you work with audio, the more you realize that audio surrounds you every time.

If you’re on a tight budget, these kinds of mics are definitely for you.

Instead of fixing your walls and ceiling and ground with expensive styrofoam with or without

measuring, you need a quick, cheap, effective and immediate workaround.

If you’re a streamer you can use it for your voice-overs or if you’re into editing videos you

can overdub ’em quite well. Don’t forget that you need a pop filter when speaking into a mic.

That is a general rule of thumb for every kind of mic.

Noise reduction, one of the most important aspects…

… when it comes to music or film production. Unless you want to use background noise for aesthetical

reasons on a VHS-like movie or song for a vaporwave-like vibe you prefer lo-fi sound and quality

to give everything an authentic feel. But consider that you always can take a high-quality recording

of everything, put it through a lot of effects and you get a retro vibe while you’re limited in your style

if all your equipment is lo-fi.

I’m not a rapper or singer, but…

once you got the same tools as these guys, you want to try out their style, act out in their territory.

If you would’ve asked me in the past if I would ever consider focussing more on my vocal side, I would

have laughed at you. Now, look where we are today. A lot has changed.

You get a certain urge to use some gear more than others.

I am constantly busy thinking about new lyrics for my new rap track, even though I’m not that much into

rap, nor did I calculate the capacities that it takes to make a proper track in that kind of genre.

Still possible to record with lo-fi mics:

In today’s age of time, it is easier than ever to get huge success with very cheap hardware.

As years-long music hardware and software (ab)user though I think it is nice to have such

a back-up plan.

Imagine you recorded all your songs with your iPhone headphone mic and now you got your first

gig. They want you to perform live. You need a mic like the Shure SM57 LC so the mixer knows

how he has to worsen your voice to sound like an iPhone headphone mic while still seeing and

knowing the frequencies the mic is capable of in real-time.

If you’d do it with your cheap mic some frequencies might be hidden and it not visible

comprehensible how and why the cheap mic is acting the way it is acting.

Somebody goes deaf or experiences hearing loss and somebody might even sue you then.

To keep a full look over the situation you need something that professionals have worked with.

I wish I wouldn’t have to pay for any music gear, but you know that somebody else has to make

a living producing those products and they also won’t do it for free.

So we come to a final conclusion like most of the times:

Do you need it? Yes? Then buy it. If you find no real use to it, you might want to wait

or save up for some other great gear that it out there.

Remember Black metal artist Burzum record one of his first albums completely by

his own using a cheap children’s toy headset. So that is the other side of the grass.

As always. Thanks for reading and I hope I could teach you something about proper mics and when to use ’em.

MY kind of sound! The Yamaha HS 8 Active 2-Way Nearfield Monitor experience.

As you progress with music scores, notation, software, hardware and the general learning and all the aspects that you want to cover for a future in which you’re prepared for any case, you will stumble over problems that you would’ve never thought of.

One part of that is choosing proper speakers, or as professionals in the music industry call it:

Studio Monitors

“Why not just buy expensive Hi-Fi speakers for gamers?”

A studio monitor tries to lie to you as seldom as possible, while Hi-Fi speakers try to emphasize on certain audio aspects when you listen to a song or play a game. The goal is to get as neutral as possible. It is physically not possible at this time to reach pure neutrality, but with studio monitors you get pretty close to that, while “Hi-Fi” speakers don’t even try.

They rather manipulate psychoacoustic and convey the feeling that your song sounds good, just because it does.

So your  goal is to get a neutral view on your sound. You might thing you will hear the best music you never heard before, but in some cases it is quite the opposite! 

This is “raw” and “unprocessed” sound that isn’t counterfeit-like delivered to your ear drums.

Modes

Another aspect to look at are (vibrational) modes. Sound waves reflect on most material. Some materials

reflect higher frequencies better, some material reflect lower frequencies better.

You as a human being reflect frequiences yourself.

Either you hire a professional that calculates your weak and strong spots and the professional builds from there,

or you go to a forum and ask around.

That is actually the process I’m in right now.

I got my studio monitors but I lack a Measurement Calibrated Microphone.

In combination with a Room Acoustics Software you get crucial data.

The software will output sounds on your studio monitors and the microphone will detect any delay and reverb

and frequencies that are to strong or to weak.

Progress then to the next step.

Examples of deceptive advertising:

Some sites advertise that they sell little walls for your mic so you don’t have to fix your whole room when you record something. These microphon filters are called “reflexion filters”. Some advertizers managed to lie to a big mass of uninformed and untrained people. They managed to sell you a big fat lie. 

They tell you that they made a special material with 4 or even more layers that filter out the frequencies that your mic is getting and that you won’t have to spend big money on expensive foam and other utilities to fill out your room.

There is still a lot of reflextion of frequencies going on underneath, above and even from both sideways.

This example is perfectly applicable on buying the proper foam for your room in order to make it perfect for recording.

Also: Don’t buy a lot of eggs in order to get egg cartons. They won’t help you either and are even a hazard in regards

to starting a fire because you or one of your friends forgot to turn out your cigarettes. 

Rather ask around in some forums which solution works best.

Try out stuff for yourself and read some books if possible.

This sounds horrid and complex and overwhelming at first, but think about it like this:

You think I wrote this whole piece in 3 hours straight without blinking, breathing, eating, drinking something?

Just do small steps and everything adds up in the end.

You will be glad that you made that decision.

Who knows? Maybe you consider the thought of renting out your studio to make some extra bucks?

That’s quite improbable though, considering the fact that home studios GET LITERALLY CHEAPER by the minute!

An investment over long time:

It’s not just mixing songs in your DAW. It’s also a nice addition when you watch a movie with your friends, if the set allows it or when you come home from a hard days work and want to relax by listening to music. I think I don’t need to mention that this can improve your gaming experience as well, right? Either that or you switch to headphones. The problem with head phones though is, that there is no “physical room” calculated when you produce a track with ’em. So you mix with headphones and show it a friend of yours in his car and suddenly it sounds like total garbage because of the physical properties that got added to your track. 

Final anecdote:

I used to have cheap-ish Creative speakers for around 4 years or so.

When I drove around with my in-ear headphones on my bike, I experienced clearer and better sound and I was always hyped to drive around with my bike, listening to new albums on my smartphone.

When I switched some weeks ago to the Yamaha HS 8 and I started to listen to new albums on my smartphone I thought in the back of my head:’Something isn’t right here. Something sounds off. Did I activate a setting on my smartphone app that lets me perceive sound different, or in that case, worse?

The answer was:

NO. Nothing changed in regards to my mobile “setup” for listening to music.

I know that I look like a phony. Preaching about clear song with studio monitors at home but listening to music

with in-ear headphones when I’m in my car or on my bike.

But at the time it is not possible to make a full room follow you when you drive around.

That might be a cool idea for a video game though ahahahaha.

Nah, I need this cheap fix / subsitute or otherwise I would die of a cold turkey for lacking new music input, which I need daily in high doses in form of listening many hours quietly to new genres.

The problem is that your regular smartphone can’t provide enough current for high end over-ear headphones.

Cheap over-ear or expensive in-ear headphones do the trick for smartphones though.

Either that or you start welding and experimenting on your smartphone.

Long story short:

The sound of my smartphone didn’t get any worse, the sound at home improved so radically that projected it all on my smartphone for being trashy, even though nothing changed in that time, except for my speakers.

Everything sounds crystal clear to me now and hopefully to you soon aswell.

I will always remember that moment when I plugged ’em both in and started to listen to my favourite tunes like this one for instance:

Simian Mobile Disco – Sleep Deprivation

and my eyes filled with tears. I started to cry man. The sound tickled my ears like no tune ever did to me.

I always fell for music, but this time it really hit the spot deep in me. I want everyone to experience something like this.

Share the love.

P.L.U.R.

The Steinberg Yamaha UR22

In order to work with music programs on a high-end basis, you need a proper sound card that follows through

your every order. If you just started with music software you probably have an onboard soundcard.

The usual motherboard soundcard is very poorly built and doesn’t match the requirements that audio software usually has.

Here comes the USB sound card into play.

Compare, make notes, compare more, make more notes

I only had one USB sound card in my life and that was and still is the Yamaha Steinberg UR22 MKI.

That’s why I throughout the suggestion to get yourself one too at first.

Then I’d suggest anything that has high reviews and good ratings.

Instead of saying you should take exactly this or that model, I suggest you go over to Thomann ( https://www.thomann.de/intl/audio_interfaces1.html ) read for yourself what kind of interface you would want.

Like earlier mentioned most people prefer an USB interface for many reasons

Steinberg and Yamaha are my favorite companies, but there might be a personal preference for you though.

Essential hardware has its name, not from nothing. It is necessary to produce proper music on a big scale.

High-end audio interfaces support 192khz or even more. Nowadays it is really quite cheap to get a proper sound card.

Cubase 10 works for example perfectly with a Steinberg Yamaha device. Another product name or company might support other DAWs more therefore or even on the same level.

I think it is quite necessary for your audio interface to have a microphone jack plug. Some of those audio interfaces don’t have an audio jack for recording. Rather get one yourself before you regret it later.

Workaround:

As always there are many solutions for a problem that you encounter. You are always able to spend thousands of dollars to avoid using a computer or computer software. You can still use tapes or digital recorders. All this stuff costs a lot more though, might be old and is hard to use. Not to mention that you need a lot of roadies or friends that carry all that heavy stuff for you around. Before I even knew what an audio interface was, I was used to working completely in Cubase or watching YouTube videos. I didn’t know that my onboard soundcard wasn’t able to allow instances access to my soundcard. With the sound card that I’m having right now, I can record in multiple programs, play a song, play a movie, watch a YouTube Clip and mix their volumes in real time. Not that I would need that, except if I wanted to go insane maybe. But I always like gear that allows you to be free. You can do stuff that you would never need. This is for me personally an argument to convince me to buy a good game or certain software. You know you can do crazy stuff with it if you want, but you don’t want to do that yourself, so you limit the program to your needs or in this case the hardware that communicates with the software.

Some scary facts:

In general, hardware gets cheaper, better, faster. In the audio area though…

Have you ever noticed how your old smartphone recorded better voice messages and your new one sucks at it?

Have you ever noticed how useful tools disappeared in newer OS’ but were always available in the old OS’?

The manufacturers try to bring down their production costs at all levels, even if it means using older technology.

So while I made bad experiences back then… they might be good if you relate it to right now.

I think there is a good chance that you’re having a worse sound chip in your device while reading this than I have.

My disadvantage is old hardware, your disadvantage is that your manufacturer tried to minimize costs at all levels.

Have you ever recorded yourself on your computer with a cheap OR expensive mic? Or did you even record your guitar?

Did you notice how strange and off the sound felt, even though you recorded everything properly?

That is because those plugs on your motherboard did not build for high-end performance.

It’s enough for simple Skyping or Discord / TeamSpeak voice chatting, but other than that you got a problem.

Now I know there are some of you out there that prefer to stay “Lo-Fi” as an underground artist statement, or

simply because the money isn’t enough, but at some point, you need to improve your audio experience.

Maybe you don’t enjoy listening to music because your hardware isn’t right and you always thought you’re

just not the music-type, but in fact, everybody is a music type. There are so many genres out there and yet sadly

so much bad hardware out there too. So do yourself something good, treat yourself and spend some bucks

for a proper audio interface that you will love and cherish and appreciate every waking moment of your life.

Laaaaaateeeeeencyyyyy

Working with an onboard soundcard is very time-consuming. Time is money, therefore sometimes you save more money when you spent it. All those moments in anger that I had when I just simply pressed the “Play” button and it took 10 seconds to start my record because I had 3 effects on 3 instruments. The mere horror and pain you experience. Live fast, die young, but don’t think twice about an audio interface! Did I mention that it also looks cool if you have a metal box thingy that your friends don’t know about? Even on an optical base, it makes you look more serious.

I really hope…

that I could convince you on some level or at least wake you up on what you’re missing. I’m happy if I know that I reached you mentally and that you learned something. Either way, I would be quite hyped if you could tell me what experience you

made so far with or without sound interface and which songs you made or made not. If you need help or have any questions, please let me know. Until then… see you next time!!! =D

The MASCHINE Sampler, the bad, the ugly

I’ve worked over 5 years with this sampler and I think I am at a point where I can judge this product to a fair amount. I didn’t check out every feature it had, but I also wasn’t lazy and didn’t invest any time in learning this hardware.

Time flies by. Sometimes time flies a little to fast by and you think to yourself: “Am I really 5 years older?”

“Did I spend my time wisely?”

Well the answer for me, in that case, is yes and no.

I made some music with it. Not too much, not too little. My personal problem is always that I want to have everything and try out everything then there is a phase right now in my life where I want to dig deeper into Modular Synthesis and music theory, programming and video editing. I started again with LSDJ and got a little frustrated.

I still use the MASCHINE hardware sampler and the software in a stand-alone environment. I know about its basic features.

I know that I am using MKI right now even though there is an MKIII and a Studio version of MASCHINE out there.

At that moment that is enough for me.

Hell… if you’re on a budget you might even cut one corner more and purchase the MASCHINE Mikro for only half the price which has basically the same functions but you have to push more buttons to get to your goal. If you’re a hardcore learner on an island-syndrome autistic level, this might be even your thing. Choosing a not so ideal piece of hardware and pushing its buttons so fast that you might overrun the casual users like me.

It’s basic, but it gets you fast to your goal.

You start the software and off you go. It’s as simple as that. Just press “Play” & “Record” select a Sample / Kit / Loop / Instrument and off you go. In the beginning, you think stuff like: “That is so simple….. how could I enjoy this so much?”

Welp you just do! The pressure sensitive buttons in combination with a simple note repeat function add a lot of value to dynamic parts in your tracks. You simple clone and copy and extend Scens and Patterns and if you’re really good, you got a professional hip hop beat in under 10 minutes. MASCHINE was my first sampler. I heard a lot of positive stuff about the MPC hip hop sampler series, but they also had their disadvantages. Like you had to save samples on a floppy disc or an SD card and plug it into the sampler to start. They also had to be in a special format. You still have that issue with the special format.

Kinda ironic when you think about all the music programs and their sampler functions and how little capability they have when it comes to just simple samples in very well known formats like .FLAC or .WAV or .MP3, .AAC, M4A….

Makes you sometimes wonder. But this is a general problem in the music software industry in general and a subject for another time…

NATIVES INSTRUMENTS - MASCHINE MK II
NATIVES INSTRUMENTS – MASCHINE MK II

Use it in most DAWs:

You don’t have to use it always in its stand-alone mode. No. You’re totally free to add it in your DAW like FL Studio or Cubase. The disadvantage here is that with every new MASCHINE version and every new Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio or Reason version it gets more and more and more complicated to direct your MASCHINE hardware in proper order to start your personal jam session. Sometimes you’re lucky and somebody uploaded a useful tutorial to the subject you have and it fixes your request. In other cases, you must be some kind of 3rd level quantum mechanics mathematician to understand the routings that each program has to get and give and how to direct what to do where when. This can be the most frustrating part for you and it might leave you unsatisfied. You just wanted to start producing, recording and mixing some concepts. Nothing more. Instead, you got an inner look on how to build a whole church by starting all alone brick after brick. This is really hardcore-nerd stuff.

 

“What about other samplers?”

Samplers need to be intuitive and you should be able to craft loops together spontaneously. Simple as complex.

If this criterion doesn’t apply with a sampler that you don’t have, you should consider buying a new one and selling

the old one. Remember always the physical laws of entropy. Everything that you bought new and sell as used will have

less value. There is that factor. Then there is the thing about the software that I MUST use in order to use the sampler.

The pro is that I can quickly arrange from my laptop or PC new sounds and samples and I got 2 displays to edit my song.

The con is an extra device. An extra device that might fail any minute, an extra device that cost me extra money.

In a case like mine, it is necessary for me to work with my PC. Some other people try to build a musical set up by

purchasing musical gear and connecting everything with each other fitting piece in order to avoid a PC at all cost.

Be it a funny project or a serious endeavor, you decide in the end. In my case, it is easily applicable. Plus nowadays a good laptop for 200€ isn’t a too heavy purchase. You’ll survive it.

Are you coming from a different hardware/software background?

Maybe you’ve avoided NATIVE INSTRUMENTS all your life to focus on freeware programs. I always feel the need to improve something in every song. An exported song is not a finished song. No matter what you do. You always have your consciousness nagging about how the song could’ve been improved and what not. This feeling gets sometimes too strong in the MASCHINE songs that I did. You are always free and able to export certain loops or parts or only special groups and you’re able to edit them afterward in any DAW you like.

 

In the end

You’re left with a solid sampler that lasts for some years if you use it properly. Even as a non-musician you can direct the color pads to a certain color and you got a nice piece of music gear as an optical appetizer. Some people buy a lot of books without ever reading one.

I am joking of course. As many of these reviews, I will mainly focus on my own gear and hardware and tell you why I suggest it. So far I only screwed up one order. All the other stuff is quite helpful for my learning process though and that is why I am so positive at the moment. We will get to the point where I am going to mention a lot of bad stuff as well, but till then I have to write about my other stuff.

I wish I had started describing on a textual level what I feel about my gear earlier. Everything would’ve been more organized and less pressured, but that’s life right?

See you soon again.

Why I enjoy having the Yamaha PSR-S710.

Today I want to talk with all y’all folks about my Yamaha PSR-S710. As usual, it is advised to use a keyboard

of such a size (100,3 cm width times 14,8 cm height and 43,3 cm of length) with a keyboard stand (weight is approximately around 12 kg).

I didn’t choose the Yamaha PSR-S710 out of the blue. I am participating on keyboard lessons. I have to pay around 66€ per month for 2 hours of keyboard lessons per month. In this educational facility or private music school, whatever you might call it, I got introduced into this keyboard.

Which makes kinda sense, since I choose to learn to play keyboard and if I got good, I’d progress with Piano and then guitar, or something like that was the plan. Welp… 4 years of music theory were crammed into my brain. I feel more stupid than before, since I know with every lesson what I don’t know and what I need to learn in order to understand musical theory as a whole. Let’s get back to my story. I started 4 years ago with this keyboard at school.

So in the keyboard lessons I learned to play with the Yamaha PSR-S710 and in my spare time I practiced with the M-AUDIO KEYSTATION 88ES. After 3,5 years I finally decided to switch keyboard. Here are the reasons why:

– It felt like the Keystation 88ES had smaller widths, which wasn’t bad for recording, but bad for practicing. Imagine you practiced every 3 days a song to play in front of your music teacher every 2 weeks, just so you realize that the Yamaha PSR-S710 had more widthe keys and the size of the S710s felt more normal.

– After 6 years of usage, the color of the white plastic keys stained from pure white to chain-smoker yellow. I suppose every piece of plastic all around us becomes those stains because of the sun itself…?

– The Keystation 88es was purely 100% a MIDI keyboard. It was not “self-sufficient”. It always ran only with a computer. Be it a Mac, a PC or a Raspberry Pi, you always needed an external source for your sounds. The Yamaha PSR-S710 had built in presets, options, effects and styles that I wanted to check out.

A very complex menu that I won’t be able to understand in the near future (which I like, since I enjoy the challenge =) ). The Keystation 88es was very basic at this.

– You can use the S710 as well as a MIDI device or even plug-in an USB stick to record a song to it.

– The new-comer price of the S710 was around 1,000.00,-$ USD. Now it’s somewhere around 500.00$. Which is a fair price for such a complex “entertainment keyboard”.

– The keyboard speakers are also quite good. I’d almost say that I enjoyed more the sound of the S710 than my classic PC speakers. Which makes sense, since I only spend around 50€ for my speakers.This undermines of course the fact that I want to become a serious and professional producer. A lot of producers have those high-end pricey monitor speakers, but I spent my money elsewhere….

 

Musical Electronic Keyboards…

Can contain a multi pad, a pad that allows you to switch between sounds in the genres you’re playing. Music Arrangers can

be helpful if you’re a beginner. These automatic functions allow you to play a chord once with your left hand while you play on with your right hand. The left hand can relax and you can focus on the next chord you want to play.

You know these kinds of keyboards from weddings or other festivals that don’t contain modern EDM or DJs. It’s mainly for single performers as far as I know, but of course there are exceptions where people with entertainment music keyboards play in a band.

 

Just the sounds…

A big plus are the sounds. They sound a little campy and they sound a little realistic. They vary from very strange and synthetic to serious sounding orchestras. You got funky organs and flutes, guitars and you can add simple chorus and reverb effects on it. Remove voices and add voices.

Definitely better than the one keyboard I had before and definitely worse than other keyboards or synthesizers, which is kinda sure. You still get a good keyboard though for that kind of dough. 😉

 

The Keys…

Simple plastic keys. 66 of ’em. The right size. Good for beginners. The keys are not weighted and I gotta say at this point:

Git Gud as a beginner then spend some serious moolah on hardcore synthesizers or keyboards or even serious pianos.

You might even come to a point where you played and played all the time and you feel like you can do all that with your mouse and a simple piano roll.

I’m not here to judge. I prefer to jump between my Yamaha keyboard, my PC keyboard (asdf qwer) and my mouse. It feels proper to switch between all 3 to feel what you’re missing or not missing.

 

Buttons, Features…

You have a demo button. Highly recommended by me. It shows you the voices and possible arrangements and what is theoretically playable with it. The speakers on the keyboard are even better than my PC speakers. XD

You have your music arranger options on the left wing side of the keyboard and the main display in the middle. Choose and switch between sounds, patterns, styles and arrangements on the right side.

It’s a black and white display with a very small resolution. Can’t seem to find any proper info on that… however… it’s enough to read what you’re selecting and what your settings are.

 

 

Hardware / software

You can install USB MIDI drivers on your PC / Mac / Linux, but it’s not a must and from there you can start off with free software or bought DAWs. You can also use it as a single rack. Combine it with a microphone and you can basically start to entertain people where you’re playing.

The Yamaha PSR-S910 has even a vocal recognition algorithm. So the keyboard is always in your key. A nice feature, but I don’t need it. Consider if you really need it.

 

In the end I highly recommend it.

 

I basically start with all my hardware and software and supplies.

From there I want to spread out what interests me.

Of course, you guys could always suggest me new stuff to write on.

 

I highly encourage you to drop me a message, ask for help or if you’ve found errors in my writings.

I want to improve and I want you to improve as a reader.

 

So please let me know in the comments what was good and bad so far.

If you’d like to see me focus in a different approach, or anything that might be healthy for an open-minded

and bright conversation.

 

My own Yamaha PSR-S710

 

Why I wouldn’t and why YOU shouldn’t buy the teenage engineering op-1

Today I wanna tell you something about the iPhone of the synthesizers and keyboards out there.

It is small, handy, slick, elegant, minimalist and complex, and yet it costs way too much money for

these few features in it. I am talking about the op-1, produced by teenage engineering. Terms like

“musical synthesizer” would be not fitting for the category, to be honest.

Source: Russian Wikipedia

I won’t go too much into the details of the specs, as it would be more practical for you to look it up on Wikipedia.

Strangely I didn’t find any information about its dimensions, so here they are:

Dimensions (LxHxD)11.1 x 4.0 x 0.5” (282.0 x 102.0 x 13.5mm)

This article also mentions 50% of important details that the Wikipedia site didn’t mention as well.

The synthesizer got quite popular from the beginning and Teenage Engineering grew fast as a company.

But you always should ask yourself some things…

Do I need it?

There are so many synthesizers out there. What is so special about this one?

“Wasn’t there a time when this was THE meme synthesizer?!”

“Could I spend my money more wisely?”

The answer to this is:

Yes, yes, and yes/no at the same time.

The main pro as I see it, from a perspective of a non-purchaser, is its mobility.

The Keyboard itself is as bis as 3 normally sized smartphones in a row.

It is a light weight, connectable via USB 2.0 and it has that minimalist touch of an Apple product.

It also floats around in that very same price range as a new iPhone X.

Maybe Teenage Engineering started out as a joke. They might have had the goal to build

one of the smallest synthesizers out there that looks like a funny gadget from a Toys “R” Us advertising campaign.

Will you use it once and then throw it back in its box, because you see the limitations in it?

Then there is this saying that pure limitation is the perfect ground to let your creativity grow.

Will it add value, even though I spent money on it?

There is always that certain point you need to reach, to make something worth your money.

Let’s say you buy an apple and you don’t eat it. You spent 2$ for something that would’ve

been nutritious and healthy, but you wasted it. It is the same with hardware and software

that you buy to produce music. Luckily I never spent too much $$$ on music hardware, but

I wasted a couple of bucks on software. So I know that I am not without “sins”.

I also know that I have to make up for it. It is the same with the op-1. I mean sure, you

could do at least 2 or 3 tracks with it easily in any DAW you’d like, but after that…?

There is this great YouTube channel out there called “Red Means Recording“.

That dude got mad skills. So if you think you can compete, go ahead.

I am just joking and messing with you. I just think that 1k is a little much.

You can good a solid PC for 500 bucks, Cubase for 80 bucks, 25$ for the

Cubase Protection stick for 25 dollars and for around 300 bucks you get the

smallest NATIVE INSTRUMENTS KOMPLETE ULTIMATE 12 version, which

is even in its compact form 20 times more versatile. Plus you have a neat

work station for writing your homework, essays, watching movies and / or play

games on Steam. Maybe all this salt comes from me, because I don’t own one?

If I have the money, I will definitely try one of ’em out. But at the moment the prizes

are getting quite ridiculous. Since the end of 2018 Teenage Engineering stopped

producing the synth. There are collectors synths out there that get sold for 11k.

I am not kidding you guys. 11k for this. This is 1 / 10 of a house. This almost

ranks with eating or burning your money. If I get one for 400$, I will get it.

You might stumble over a cheap sale yourself. Who knows? For live gigs this

might be quite handy though, instead of packing around heavy gear, you

just have to flip the synth in your pocked and your good to go.

Are there alternatives?

Exaggerated speaking: Yes. Everything that is freeware software. From my point of view its

like this, you have to understand software at its basic core and you need to get your hands

on as much software you can get, to understand the inner mechanics of hardware.

As a rule of thumb: Most analog synthesizers are way more expensive than their

digital VST plugin clones. So maybe in 2 or 3 years we might see a OP-1 plugin from

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS, u-he, Omnishphere, Arturia or even Teenage Engineering

themselves. Also, good to mention. If you want to make a compromise between

hardware and cheap and even with the tag “same company” in it, then you should check

out one of their musical calculators on their site. You can get the cheapest new models for 60$

Just 3 examples for show:

Teenage Engineering TE010AS020A PO-20 Arcade Pocket Operator

Teenage Engineering TE010AS014 PO-14 Sub Bass Synthesizer & Sequencer

Teenage Engineering TE010AS028A PO-28 Robot Pocket Operator

I must sound like I hate that poor little synthesizer

It just seems irrational to me that they offer their musical calculators so cheaply and the op-1 is a way to pricey.

When you read that Diplo, Avicii, Thom Yorke, Deadmau5 and Tame Impala also use it, you might get the urge to purchase it. With the thought in the back of your mind that goes a little something like this:

“Famous musician X got this instrument. If I get this instrument, I will get as famous as musician x.”

That is indeed partially correct. On the other hand:

How often do you see clips of street drummers that build their drum set from literal trash?

At some point you need to invest in your virtuosity.

If you’re into funny bleep sounds, you might invest once or twice in these calculators or even buy a whole bundle.

A Moog synthesizer is always expensive. Why? Because its sound is hardly ever reachable. That’s what everyone says.

Could you recreated the sound of an OP-1? Probably. With the right now how and enough YouTube demonstration videos, you could rip the sound collages and soundscapes. I think it might be also a fun task. Trying to force one synthesizer to sound like another. That might spice things up for you.

And finally:

You need to decide for yourself if the OP-1 is what you want. Ask your local music shop if you can try it out if they have it, or even a friend purchased it and that’s why you stumbled over here, to get some more background on this piece of gear.

Spoil yourself with a massage and get yourself some proper software. You might not have the feeling for the knobs

when you produce and record and mix and master, but you will have a more straight-forward plan in which direction you are acoustically heading. With that in mind, I thank you for reading my bold statements and hope that you might take away one or two advices that I mentioned in here. Have a nice day.

(Official home page by the way)