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GEAR GALORE

August 19, 2009
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By Stephen Fortner

Welcome to Keyboard magazine’s new blog. Here, the editors will keep you posted on what we’re working on, and what you can expect to see in future issues and on our spankin’ new, redesigned website.

In addition to helping you become a better keyboard player, a huge part of Keyboard’s mission has always been keeping you abreast of the latest developments in music technology. How-to clinics, gear roundups, and single gear reviews are just some of the ways we do this, but until we this blog, we didn’t really have a way to “think out loud” in real time about what we’re tearing the shrink wrap off of and what kind of experience we’re having with it.

Here are just a few of the new toys to arrive on our doorstep in the past month or so, so expect to see them covered in the pages of Keyboard, here on this site, or both.
Open Labs DBeat. The company that first put a turbocharged Windows PC into the form factor of a keyboard synth has gone the drum machine route. It’s still a PC, and it still does everything a NeKo or MiKo does, but having had ours out of the box for just a few days, it handles like their tightest, most elegant package yet. Plenty of knobs and faders and buttons are on it, so for keyboard players, it invites you to hook up a simple MIDI controller. We did this with an M-Audio Keystation 88es, and the combination of the two is actually easier to carry around than a five-octave NeKo. More to come.

IK Multimedia Stealth Pedal. Okay, so it looks like a guitar pedal. It comes bundled with different versions of AmpliTube. IK aggressively markets it towards guitar players. But you know what? If you play soft synths onstage from a laptop, you should consider one of these as your audio interface. Think about it — what do you need for getting audio out of a laptop rig on a crowded stage? Something that involves a minimum of setup and cord spaghetti, something that stays out of your way (like, on the floor), and something that gives you very quick physical volume control in the event your next program change comes in too loud — and anyone who gigs with soft synths knows that no matter how diligent your programming is, that will happen at some point. Point being, the Stealth does all this. You just need to have two free USB ports on your machine if you intend to use it at the same time as a MIDI keyboard controller. Again, more to come.

Lionstracs MediaStation 76. Google for videos of this, and you’ll see how it can sound under the fingers of someone who knows his or her way around it. What Open Labs did for Windows, Italian relative newcomer Lionstracs does for Linux. This monster of a keyboard combines “pro workstation” with “arranger” functionality, runs Kubuntu Linux, and can host VST instruments. A lot of the demos you’ll see online focus on the one-man-band concept, but we can already tell that’s just scratching the surface.
Cakewalk Sonar V-Studio 100. The V-Studio 700’s little brother has a completely different mission. Where the 700 is meant to be your main desktop multitrack workstation, the 100 is for on-the-go recording. Without a computer, it records audio to an SD card. With, it becomes an audio interface. And since we all tend to think of Cakewalk as a “PC company,” listen up — it and the included software work on the Mac.

Ventura Keyboards TX-5. There’s this organ company from Brazil called Tokai, who are rebranding themselves in the U.S. as Ventura to avoid confusion with Tokai guitars. They’ve made a single-manual clonewheel organ that, like a certain model from a certain far-more-famous organ company, can be augmented with a cosmetically-matched lower manual and pedal setup. When it arrived, we have to admit our first thought was “Another clonewheel? From Brazil? Gotta be a ‘me too’ product.” Then we started playing it. Then, we tweaked the rotary simulation to get it just right. This thing screams and sounds killer, and we love the classy brass knobs. It’s been picked up by Armadillo, who used to have Nord. We know the main keyboard guy there, and he knows sugar from shineola, so if he’s behind it, it may be good enough to become a contender in the North American market. It’s about time we did another big clonewheel roundup — the last one was in the November 2004 issue — so stay tuned.

That’s just a taste. In future blogs, we’ll get into single pieces of gear in greater depth as we work on the reviews. Got something you’d like to see reviewed? Want to add your agreement or disagreement to something you read here? Leave a comment — and thanks for reading Keyboard!

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