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Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

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Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Friday » Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:45 pm

Hoping for some advice regarding which keyboard to go for, for live use/touring.

It would need to fulfil the following criteria:

1. 37-61 note keyboard (I was recommended the Korg Micro X but unfortunately the 25 key layout was slightly too small. I could stretch to a 76 key layout at a push. At the end of the day it will be us lugging it about rather than a squad of roadies and there's only so much room in a transit...)
2. £500 budget (preferably less)
3. Semi or fully weighted keys
4. Robust design with good build quality
5. Ability to be used as a MIDI master keyboard
6. Seperate pads to trigger samples (ideally switchable between velocity sensitive and full level). On the whole, a "stage friendly" layout.
7. Able to easily transfer samples from home studio (computer based, running Cubase 5) to keyboard. Ideally it would be good to be able to easily integrate it into my home set-up when it's not being used live.
8.Plenty of "stage friendly" inputs and outputs.
9. Plenty of memory or at least the ability to upgrade.

We currently run a backing track for some synths/samples using WAV files with track panned hard left, click panned hard right from a portable player, click sent to pre-amp to drummers headphones, track to DI Box to Desk. If it was possible to transfer the backing+click entirely to the keyboard it would be a bonus as it's less gear to cart about however this isn't a neccessity.

Apologies if I've phrased things poorly or ommitted something obvious..although I love playing with them, keyboards are not my area of expertise!
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Re: Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Fibes » Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:42 am

You're asking quite a lot for your £500!

A secondhand Alesis Fusion might be the ticket, it ticks most of the boxes.
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Re: Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Shreddie » Sun Feb 14, 2010 3:38 pm

Fibes wrote:You're asking quite a lot for your £500!

A secondhand Alesis Fusion might be the ticket, it ticks most of the boxes.
And probably the only one that comes close for £500 or there abouts!

1. 37-61 note keyboard

61 keys on the Fusion 6HD and 88 keys on the 8HD.

2. £500 budget (preferably less)

That's about the going rate on ebay for a 6HD.

3. Semi or fully weighted keys

6HD has a semi-wieghted action, 8HD has light hammer action. Fully wiehgted/hammer action keyboards are rare in 61 key keyboards... 76 and 88 key hammer action keyboards can be pretty heavy if you're planning on gigging. I own a Fusion 8HD btw, it is a heavy beast!

4. Robust design with good build quality

The Fusion is pretty solid... Not quite built like a tank (very few synths are these days) but would be fine for gigging as long as you have a proper case for it.

5. Ability to be used as a MIDI master keyboard

It makes a pretty good master keyboard in Mix mode.

6. Seperate pads to trigger samples (ideally switchable between velocity sensitive and full level). On the whole, a "stage friendly" layout.

Not many synths have pads. What most people tend to do is set up a mix/multi/performance where some keys at one end of the keyboard can be used to trigger samples. Otherwise they get something more suited to the job such as an Akai MPC... Some get a pad/MIDI controller and plug that into the synth.

As for stage friendly, all buttons are illuminated and the screen is bright on the Fusion. The 4 Knobs are used for the controller matrix which has 16 destinations, three of the four rows have fixed destinations (filter, arp and EQ controls) but the bottom row is for your four assignable controllers... Thank's to the mod matrix in the Fusion, these can be routed almost anywhere and to multiple destinations.

7. Able to easily transfer samples from home studio (computer based, running Cubase 5) to keyboard. Ideally it would be good to be able to easily integrate it into my home set-up when it's not being used live.

The Fusion has a USB connection for transferring samples directly to it.

8.Plenty of "stage friendly" inputs and outputs.

The Fusion fairs pretty well here, one pair of main outputs and two auxes. Two sampling inputs (external audio can be routed through the Fusions analogue model) and 8 inputs for the HD recorder. There are a few caveats with using the inputs though.

9. Plenty of memory or at least the ability to upgrade.

The Fusion has an internal hard disk (40Gb on early models, 80Gb on later ones, maximum of 120Gb) so has the ability of carrying a far bigger sample library than just about any other hardware synth. It's internal structure means that it has two sets of memory, as standard this is 2x64Mb but with the addition of two 128Mb memory expansions (the same one is used on the Akai MPC5000 so it's still available but you'll have to buy a pair) you can have up to 2x192Mb for a total of 384Mb.

While the hard drive and RAM means that the Fusion can hold a massive selection of sounds, as the sounds have to be loaded into RAM from the HD, loading sounds (and especially large mixes) can take time.

Other than the Fusion the only synths I can think of that meet your needs are the Roland Fantom series and Korg M3 (they both have pads)... But you'll have to pay much more for those. They may also be a bit easier to use than the Fusion too. The Fusion is a bit of a tweakers synth, it's pretty deep so some people (especially the less experienced) don't get on with it due to it's complexity. You also need to know what you're doing when mucking about with the hard drive or you can (and will) run into problems... You have been warned! However, if you're a tweaker and make alot of your own sounds, it's a very rewarding and powerful synth to use once you've taken your time to get used to it.
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Re: Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Friday » Mon Feb 15, 2010 1:08 am

Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed reply, it's very much appreciated!

After a long session of internet searching last night the Fusion definately was on my list as it does seem to do everything I need it to. The pad issue is not a major problem as I have an Akai MPD24 I was just hoping to find something with it "all in" if possible :)

The only other thought I had was to perhaps go in a slightly different direction and buy two seperate units...something like a Korg Microsampler which I could use (along with the MPD24) and a seperate, but more basic, synth/digital piano affair with weighted or semi weighted keys that one of our guitarists (who luckily happens to know his way around a keyboard) could use. It would allow me to trigger samples and bash away at the odd synth riff while our other chap handles the more intricate stuff. Not sure if there's something to suit the budget though? If that isn't a feasible option, getting the Fusion for him and just sticking to the MPD24 for me would still probably work, although I must admit I'd like to have the option of keys!

We previously used a Fantom live and got on with it really well (the "Xa" version picked up on Ebay for a smidge over £500 which was a bit of a bargain) but sadly it departed with our traitorous ex-guitarist (Bitter? Me? Never! ;)).

I have to admit I enjoy making my own sounds but today it's something I've done solely using software synths (of which my computer is full to bursting!) and never through hardware. I have to admit your warning has slightly daunted me as ease of use is pretty important.

But, even so, it really does sound ideal and again, thanks so much for outlining it all for a self proclaimed keyboard novice like myself!
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Re: Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Shreddie » Tue Feb 16, 2010 1:54 am

Friday wrote:I have to admit I enjoy making my own sounds but today it's something I've done solely using software synths (of which my computer is full to bursting!) and never through hardware. I have to admit your warning has slightly daunted me as ease of use is pretty important.
Well, the thing with the Fusion is that it is a very powerful synth with flexible synth engines. Unlike other synths which have mostly fixed synth engines, the Fusions synth engines are semi-modular... At least in terms of control routing. On the down side, that kind of power breeds complexity which can take time for people to get their heads round. On the up side, it makes the Fusion a very capable synth indeed... Which makes it great for those who like sound design... Which is why I got one!

I'll just explain the S+S (sample based) engine...

The actual audio path is much like that of other synths following the common Oscillators (x4) > LPF (x4, one per oscillator) > Multi mode filter ( x1, common to all oscillators) > amp > out paradigm. But where other synths will have controllers (envelope generators, LFOs and the like) with fixed destinations within that. The Fusion allows you to route any controller (including physical controls) to almost anywhere else, even other to controllers and to multiple destinations. You have a total of 8 envelope generators, 8 LFOs and two mod matrices. One of these matrices has 32 slots and is dedicated to the synth engine, the other has 16 slots (I think) and is dedicated to effects.

That makes the S+S engine very powerful indeed but as if that wasn't enough, the Fusion also has FM synthesis (complex to understand but sounds great), Virtual analogue (not the best out there but still pretty good, very flexible) and two forms of physical modelling (wind and reed instruments... But they ain't that good). While the audio path is different for those synth engines compared to the sample engine (as you would expect), you still have the same mod matrices and controllers available. All those synthesis types can be freely assigned in a mix by the way, the Fusion has no real restrictions in that sense*. It's processing power is such that everything is dynamically assigned which is why you can have up to 272 note polyphony (more than any other synth I IIRC)... Though real world figures will normally be lower than this, possibly as low as 40 notes if you used noting but physical modelling. That said, I have never heard of anyone complaing about lack of polyphony or note stealing on the Fusion!

Personally, I feel that the user interface could be better for editing/creating sounds but for doing things like just selecting your presets and making mixes, it’s not much harder than any other synth and has a few shortcuts to help speed things up here and there.

The thing is, the Fusion is a synth that rewards you more the more you use it and the better you become accustomed to it. Especially for those who make their own sounds. It’ll keep you finding new things for years where other synths may keep you happy for a while, but you eventually reach their limits.

I (and many others) love it but some hate it. It all depends on what you’re after and what kind of person you are. For the money though, and even if it was far more expensive on eBay, you won’t find a more capable synth.


*Though things are dynamically assigned, it's only dynamic up to a point. The Fusion has two processors (each with their own memory, memory is not shared between processors) for it's synthesis types. What you put in odd numbered mix locations goes on processor 1 even numbered locations are for processor 2. Users must bare this in mind when setting up large or complex mixes which may test the limits of the Fusion. For example if you only put sample based sounds on processor 1 and physical modelling sounds on processor 2. You could get to the point where processor 1 runs out of memory but has polyphony to spare (sample based sounds are memory intensive)... But processor 2 has used no memory but has run out of polyphony (physical modelling is very processor intensive). For this reason it's best to spread things about a bit. There is a screen in the utilites which shows memory and processor use in real time. The memory use one can be a bit misleading though, if you have loaded up some sounds but then chosen something else it's samples remain in memory until something else forces the Fusion to shift them out of the way. However, it's still a handy screen if you are really pushing the Fusion.
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Re: Recommendations needed for a Keyboard to take live/on tour

Postby Friday » Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:42 pm

Again, thank you for the detailed response (and apologies for the delayed reply, this last week has been a bit mad with auditions for our new guitarist which were thankfully succesful, a good job to as I hate doing the damn things!).

I have to say the Fusion is starting to sound like the ideal candidate for the job, so much so that I've started seriously looking into second hand units. I've pointed our bassist (who is a lot more technically minded than myself) to this discussion as I think he'd glean a lot from your comments and help us decide which way we're going to jump. Right then, looks like I better get ready to part with my beloved and trusty Akai S3000XL to help fund these new keys!
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