My hardware collection
As you most likely have read by now my synthesizer gear totally evolves around software, ‘soft synths’ as I like to call them. But with software you can only do so much. A mouse is great for navigating a computer desktop, but it doesn’t really work that well as an instrument.
And although I can easily use my computer keyboard to play a few small tunes, I don’t fancy banging the keys in order to ram a nice percussion beat into it
This is where my hardware comes into play. Turning a knob simply gives a much better feel than dragging your mouse… In fact, even though I heavily favour my synth gear it all actually started with me picking up an electronic keyboard so that I could make some music again….
Alas; here are all the controllers and devices I use. And just like in the list of my synth gear there are some products which I favour more than others, so these have a (small) page fully devoted to them. These products are marked with an asterisk, either click the link in front or select the product from the menu above.
This is the device where it all started. Although I didn’t know about dedicated midi controllers at the time when I purchased my Casio I still wouldn’t trade it for a “dumb” midi keyboard anytime! It comes with 61 keys which give you room enough to play with, a large variety of sound presets and the onboard rhythms are also a very neat way to expand on your play. Everything which you might want out of a keyboard is right here; pressure sensitive keys, large collection of sound presets, sampling capabilities, metronome, arpeggiator, splitting the keyboard right to the option of layering instruments. And obviously it also supports midi.
Akai’s APC40 (‘Ableton Professional Controller’) is what I believe to be the perfect interface between software and hardware. Although I made a specific choice to go with the so called soft synths this did come at a specific price: the loss of control. Turning a knob to get a certain sound can never compare to using your mouse. Changing the value on a fader will also never be comparable with dragging a slider up or down. And that is where the APC40 prevails for me. For me the APC40 truly gives me the feel of hardware while actually working with a soft synth.
When I dove more into “drum racks” using Ableton Live I quickly realized that although my Casio keyboard (which comes with a good variety of percussion sounds itself) was perfectly usable as some sort of drum machine it wasn’t very ideal. And so I soon decided on a low-cost dedicated interface for percussion. And that is what the MPD24 provides me with. Its an older model, but quite frankly I’m very happy that I got this one instead of one of the modern models since this one has 8 dials (which match the 8 macro’s on a Live drum rack).
Yamaha Pocketrak C24 – (product page here).
This is not a real instrument or midi controller, but still a valued expansion on my gear; a sound engineers Swiss army knife. This is a digital stereo audio recorder, which is extremely portable due to its small size. Ever since I dove a little deeper into Ableton Live’s sampling capabilities I often wondered how you’d be able to use “real world” sounds with your own sound material. And that is where the C24 comes into the picture. 2 sideways microphones, sampling capabilities varying from 44.1 kHz up to 96 kHz (either 16 or 24 bit) or record directly using the MP3 format (from 32kpbs up to 320kpbs). With its default storage capacity of 2Gb you should already have some room to play with; but its quite easy to fit in an extra micro SD card for even more storage. Next it supports everything you might expect; from a metronome to a tuner, hp filters to make recordings as clean as possible and you can easily use it with an external mic. or headphone as well. Connecting this to a PC is done by simply moving out the USB connector.
The G-Track is a professional USB condenser microphone which also contains an USB audio interface. Ever since I got more interested in sampling I’ve been considering to pick up a microphone for this. The sound quality is excellent, and its other capabilities are also outstanding. Thanks to the embedded audio interface the microphone also provides for line-in and headphone connections. You can basically use the microphone together with the line-in input and monitor everything using a connected headphone. So apart from being an excellent microphone its also a valued audio interface for me; now I finally have a decent solution to record vocals or samples while I can also record the audio from my Casio keyboard.
Sweex SC016 – (product page here).
This is an external USB sound card which I picked up last year in an attempt to use 2 dynamic computer microphones with my DAW. Unfortunately the scheme failed because of 2 problems; Windows would eventually start producing horrible clicks, pops and delays no matter how I configured the Asio4All driver and also the sound quality of the microphones wasn’t very good. The sound was decent, but they also picked up lots of side noises which eventually resulted in a not too great (vocal) recording. I fixed the first problem by purchasing the G-Track condenser microphone and I fixed the second problem by hooking up my speakers to this Sweex sound card instead of the internal sound card. For some reason Windows doesn’t cope too well with the internal sound card anymore as soon as I connect some kind of USB sound device, but using an USB sound card avoids these issues.