Sunday, 13 March 2011

Windows 7 Slate/Table - one week of use

Had a busy week but managed to get some time in using the Win 7 slate for music.

First, and foremost, I cannot stress how incredible it is to have full music software running on something so thin and portable with a touch interface. In one instant it shows just how far behind mobile "studio" software is. I've been running Ableton Live Lite 8 and Virtual DJ Pro and almost re-falling on love with them as they are available to use within seconds of pressing the power button on a quiet, slim device that is always to hand.

It's not all sweetness and light though. These apps were never designed for use on a touch screen and all too often I get frustrated by clicking on something that I didn't mean to, or wishing for a mouse. Coupled with my Keysonic 540RF wireless keyboard it all makes so much more sense. Obviously that reduces the portability so I tried my tiny bluetooth keyboard (not much bigger than an iPhone and weighs almost nothing) and was just as pleased when moving through Ableton's interface.

Performance isn't up to the level of a non-Atom powered laptop, and battery life isn't iPad-bothering at about 4 hours, but it is perfectly happy running two tracks in Virtual DJ with effects and some attempts at turntablism. I haven't hooked up a turntable yet to try it with virtual vinyl so I can't comment on performance there. In Ableton recording audio was solid and using a few virtual instruments and VSTs was also great. Again, the improvement over iOS virtual synths (Nlog aside!) is phenomenal.

What really brings the device alive though is hooking up my Behringer UMA25s. It's not a great keyboard in terms of key action (my Novation Remotes are miles better) but it has a good onboard audio interface with ASIO drivers and is amazingly portable. The performance of mic and guitar input is much better than the built-in soundcard on the slate. Of course it also works happily for both MIDI and sound duties without complaint, unlike my iPad with CCK that only works with MIDI unless I provide mains power as well.

So far then I love the portability much more than the touch aspects of it. Touch is great for web surfing etc but Win 7 is about as far removed from the touch friendliness of iOS as you can get.

Friday, 11 March 2011

iPad GarageBand with MIDI gear

There's lots of opinions about GarageBand hitting the net so I'm not planning to rant about missing features or whatever. I just want to talk about my experiences of hooking up some MIDI gear to it.

I have tested my Behringer UMA25s keyboard over USB via the Camera Connection Kit and my Novation Remote 49 via a cheapo USB MIDI interface into the CCK. The Novation also has sustain and expression pedals plugged in.

First up, both were recognised perfectly and proceeded to play notes on GB's virtual synths and even the drumsets. Velocity sensitivity was transmitted properly (anyone else find the accelerometer "velocity" really hit and miss?). I really like many of the built-in patches, and playing them via a real keyboard is a joy.

As you'd expect, pitch wheel and mod wheel both worked just fine, their effect being dependent on the particular patch. Knobs and rotaries were more hit and miss. With a General MIDI setup loaded into each keyboard, the only rotaries that changed anything were the pan control and volume. I was hoping filters, chorus, reverb and ADSR would match the GM spec. Not sure if there is a MIDI mapping table anywhere on the web.

A less successful test was the arpeggiator. When switched on, incoming MIDI notes do not go to the arpeggiator. I like to use arpeggiators a lot (due to a lack of playing talent and a tendency to twiddle controls during playing) so this was a disappointment.

A big surprise, however, was the recognition of the expression pedal from the Novation (and the sustain pedal - less surprisingly) and seemingly the channel aftertouch, which had me squealing filters using the key pressure.

Overall, despite many criticisms from people, I am very happy with Garage Band for keyboard and MIDI. Oh, ok, it could use a piano roll :o)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Using a Windows 7 Slate/Tablet - woohooo!

About a year ago I agonised over whether to get a Windows touch screen device or the iPad. In the end the iPad won, and I love it.

However, I have just been handed the allegedly "best Windows 7 tablet" to test for a while (thanks!) - it is the variously branded Pegatron-made tablet most notably branded as the ExoPC. I could write my own review of it as a tablet, but there's a great review here at Tech Radar instead.

In a nutshell it's got an 11.6" 1366x768 multi-touch capacitive screen, mini-HDMI, 2GB RAM, a 32GB SSD, Atom 450 procesor, SD card slot, a couple of USB ports (yayyyy), a combined 3.5mm headset jack (booooo)and something like 4 hours battery life. Amazingly it is only about 1mm thicker than my iPad but it feels much bigger. So in essence a remarkably thin touch screen netbook without keyboard and with HD res screen.

I've only just got it, so will add to this as I go along (e.g. photos), but I am very keen to push it as a mobile music device. I've installed Ableton Live 8.2.1 and Virtual DJ thus far, along with a bunch of VSTis and VST fx. I installed ASIO4ALL but there may be a Realtek HD Asio driver somewhere. I can report thus far that all seem to work just fine, albeit tiny!

Hardware wise I plugged in my Behringer UMA25S and that worked straight away for MIDI and audio duties with no noticeable latency playing VSTis in Ableton. I have also tried my USB guitar cable and that works fine, but there's noticeable latency. Need to spend some time on that. Will be testing Hercules DJ console, UC33e, Korg Nanopad and my incredible Saitek P8000 (that needs a blog post all of its own one day.)

So far my few hours with it have been enjoyable, with a few Windows 7 frustrations due to the tiny on screen buttons coupled with my big hands. I do have a stylus somewhere so may try that. Interestingly the touch screen, although capacitive, supports 256 levels of pressure! How, exactly, I don't know.

The acid test, after a few weeks with it, will be "would I spend my own money on one?"

Thursday, 3 March 2011

DJ Player 3 submitted to Apple

I know this is not a news blog but I have had a chance to try this out and it is very professional and about the best non-scratching DJ app I have tried. Here's the rather extensive list of updates:

Universal app with native iPad and iPhone interfaces.
New interface design, new minimal look.
New workflow, new navigation. No more "which side is which" and "where am i".
No importing necessary: directly uses your iPod library, with playlist support. Mass analyzing of iPod library tracks, sort by BPM too. USB or WiFi upload is still available.
Serato and Traktor metadata support (BPM and cue points).
Much-much lower latency, reduced CPU usage. Feels faster.
Double-deck output mode for hardware mixer.
4 gapless cue points, play like a sampler.
Reverse play (tap before or after the pitch fader head).
Auto beatgrid and waveform display.
Automatic Vinyl Vision creation in background.
Better sounding flanger and echo.
Navigate between the screens using a gesture (iPad only, slide your finger from outside of the screen towards the center).
Swap play/cue button position.
Sharp echo/reverb release on/off.
iPad only: master output fader, master VU meter before or after.
Network BPM sync: if there is only one deck loaded, the app broadcasts and receives the current BPM value over the local WiFi network or Bluetooth, so you can sync between different devices. Very useful in Classic Club mode, or when you switch DJs in the booth.

So there you go. Definitely worth a try!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

All this, and iPad 2!

Just watched the Apple iPad 2 launch event. Nice to see it thinner and lighter and the addition of the cameras would be good for Skype assuming it works with Skype.

Garageband will be nice to see, and the boost in CPU is welcomed but other than that not much for musicians, especially no USB or SD.

Glad to see the screen res remained as devs are strugling with 3 resolutions as it is.

iOS 4.3 doesn't bring much for me. Just hope the USB power limit gets raised again for MIdI devices etc.

HDMI sounds fine and all that, but my current iPad boasted VGA output with the purchased cable. I have tried 4 monitors, 1 TV and a projector and not a single one works with my iPad.

Most impressive is the cute screen cover thing. Wonder how, exactly, the hinge attaches with magnets?

So generally a nice incremental update and not so much that I feel like selling a body part to upgrade. Of course if my bank balance ever supports it then it will be hard to resist!