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Compact midi/softsynth controllers

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Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Adam Inglis » Mon May 07, 2018 11:34 pm

I was looking at the Roland A300PRO. Seems to have a lot of control hardware in a compact area. Then I read Desmond's comments bemoaning the availability of a true softsynth controller, so I thought I'd ask: what are people currently using that does both of these jobs, and what are the compromises?
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby The Elf » Tue May 08, 2018 7:37 am

For live I use a Roland A-800 Pro (amongst others). It's a great controller keyboard. On stage I don't need every control layed out in front of me, so I'll just map the handful of controls to performance-useful functions. A neat feature of the A-800 is that it presents its keyboard and controllers as two virtual MIDI ports over USB, which can help with designing the virtual rig.

In the studio I have a single 'Controller' Patch on my JP-8080 that I map to any softsynth that allows it. That gives me very extensive control. The JP-8080 is a fabulous synth anyway, but it really does make for a very capable and helpful control surface. I will map controls one-to-one as far as possible (cut-off to cut-off, amp attack to amp attack, etc), so I don't have to remember which control goes where.

Last year I acquired a Roland System 8, and I suppose that would be my tip for a device that treads a path similar to both of the above. I haven't tried mapping with it, but I would imagine it would work fine. The 4-octave keyboard and lack of aftertouch are lamentable limitations, but other than that it's a pretty good instrument.
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Adam Inglis » Wed May 09, 2018 5:20 am

Many thanks Elf.
I have hardware synths coming out my ears, including a jupe and a jx, so buying a System 8 would be overkill, but I see your point.
Sorry if this seems a dumb question (my studio's midi control system has been a dx7 plus a peavey faderbox for about 2 decades!), but does your system requires you to manually set up templates for each synth controlled, via some sort of midi learn function? Do you use the software bundled with the Roland A800 to assist here?
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Adam Inglis » Mon Jun 11, 2018 4:50 am

Just bumping this to see if anyone else is using one of the Roland's mentioned, as they do seem offer a lot of control for not much money.
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby The Elf » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:31 am

Adam Inglis wrote:does your system requires you to manually set up templates for each synth controlled, via some sort of midi learn function?
Largely, yes, but many synths offer at least the basics (filter cut-off, resonance, etc) on the same controllers (e.g. cut-off on controller 74), so it's not always necessary to customise everything.

Adam Inglis wrote:Do you use the software bundled with the Roland A800 to assist here?
To get an initial map set up, yes. I created a mapping when I first got the A800 and I've used that exclusively. With the controller numbers fixed I just map those to whatever function I want them to control. TBH it is Cantabile (my chosen performance software) that makes this simple - I can 'bind' any of the A800's controls to any function I need, with scaling, value limits, translation, or anything else that does the job.
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Adam Inglis » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:50 am

The Elf wrote:TBH it is Cantabile (my chosen performance software) that makes this simple - I can 'bind' any of the A800's controls to any function I need, with scaling, value limits, translation, or anything else that does the job.

Hmm, that's a good trick. Gives me an idea - I may be able to get some of that kind of functionality using Midi Patchbay

http://notahat.com/midi_patchbay/

cheers Elf!
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Dave B » Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:28 pm

Whilst I hesitate to disagree with the Elf on this, I would (for the sake of balance) point out that a couple of other people I know really don't like the Roland Ax00 range - mostly due to the keybed. I was all set to go that way a couple of years ago and was told to check the keys for myself. I'm glad I did, because in comparing various units, I found that most of the current crop of usb keyboards are quite horrible to play.

I've just picked up a Novation SL61 mk2 and have to say that it's head and shoulders over anything else out there. But they don't come up cheap too often. Shame. It's a great unit (nice keys, aftertouch, trackpad, solid build, class compliant, usb powered, etc) and seems to tick just about every box. In fact, the only fault I've found so far is that 8 sliders aren't quite enough to map to Hammond drawbars ... ! :)
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Logarhythm » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:20 am

Dave B wrote:I've just picked up a Novation SL61 mk2 and have to say that it's head and shoulders over anything else out there. But they don't come up cheap too often. Shame. It's a great unit (nice keys, aftertouch, trackpad, solid build, class compliant, usb powered, etc) and seems to tick just about every box. In fact, the only fault I've found so far is that 8 sliders aren't quite enough to map to Hammond drawbars ... ! :)
Another happy SL MK2 user here - don't regret spending the extra on it and will likely swap my 25 for a 61 when space allows. Really like the action, automap is quite impressive, seems very well built (feels a hell of a lot more sturdy than the M-Audio Oxygen I had previously).
If this is the direction you want to take then Kkeep an eye on Scan, as they seem to have B-stock unit comes up occasionally ;)
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby The Elf » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:50 am

As you know, I'm VERY fussy about keyboard feel. I think my A800 is actually pretty good for an ultra-portable board. A bit 'clattery', but not so bad. I've not tried the models with fewer keys, so I don't know if there's any difference related to that.

But I do like a very light key action, so my opinion may not be the best reference for most people.

The fact that it is so light, 5 octaves, has aftertouch (which seems to be a dying species in many synth keyboards - Korg Prolog and Roland System 8 hang your notable heads in shame...) and carries a plethora of programmable controls (9 sliders and rotaries too, Dave!) makes it a good match for my needs.

The Novation SL 61 looks good (I've not tried one, but it sounds like I should), but new it's over four times what I paid for my secondhand A800!
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Logarhythm » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:43 am

The Elf wrote:The Novation SL 61 looks good (I've not tried one, but it sounds like I should), but new it's over four times what I paid for my secondhand A800!
It sounds like you may not get on too well with the action on the SL - Novation describe it as semi-weighted and whilst you'd never mistake it for a piano, it is definitely heavier than any synth action keybed I've tried (not that the list will be anything like as exhaustive as you or Dave's). But worth a try if you get the opportunity.
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