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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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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby rhearhino » Tue Dec 24, 2019 2:52 pm

Adam Inglis wrote: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?

The Elf wrote: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.

Dave B wrote: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 ... ! :)

Logarhythm wrote:
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 ;)

Hi guys!

I don't know if the topic still interests you, but since you were looking for a softsynth MIDI controller, I assume so. I'm creating a concept for a new MIDI controller and it would be great to receive some feedback from you.

The idea is to design a MIDI controller fo software synthesizers, which will be built of modules. However, unlike other modular solutions, each module will correspond to a specific element of sound synthesis. The modules will be universal – we want to analize as many VSTi plugins as possible and develop the most versatile layout of functions / controls that will support most softsynths (of course the ones that can be mapped with MIDI). we know that it is impossible to do everything and satisfy everyone, but we want to design it really well and we believe it can be done. For example: the envelope module will be able to work with various plugins that offer ADSR, ADHSR, DAHDHR, T1 L1 T2 L2… etc. envelopes.

We would like to design the device in such a way that the user would have the impression as if he is interacting with a classic synthesizer – regardless of the plugin he is using. In addition, the controller will be equipped with a large number of high quality knobs and sliders, but in a very thoughtful layout. We are also considering the possibility of connecting and controlling hardware synthesizers through our device.

Our project is in the early stages of development. We decided to post it because we would like to get the widest possible feedback. At the moment we have a short description and some simple sketches that are intended to illustrate the idea. Please do not treat them as the final project. You can read about the idea here: https://www.oscine.co/. At the end of the page, you can find a short survey – we would be very grateful if you could complete it. After all, this device is designed for you, and we would like it to be the best softsynth hardware controller.

What are your thoughts on this?
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby The Elf » Wed Dec 25, 2019 11:14 am

Interested, but...

Please tell me these 'modules' will sit in some sort of fixed 'frame' - with a single (not wall-wart/line-lump) power supply? The idea of having loads of loose modules is chilling!
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby rhearhino » Sat Dec 28, 2019 6:25 pm

The Elf wrote:Interested, but...

Please tell me these 'modules' will sit in some sort of fixed 'frame' - with a single (not wall-wart/line-lump) power supply? The idea of having loads of loose modules is chilling!

Thanks for the feedback!

It's nice to hear that you're interested.

Of course – there will definitely be some kind of case for modules (or different types of it depending on the number of modules inside) that will keep everything in line.

We plan to make the power supply via USB, which will be connected to only one module – the "Host" one – which will distribute it to the rest of the modules. So it will be just one cable for the whole device.

I hope this cleared up the doubts. Do you have any more questions?
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby The Elf » Sun Dec 29, 2019 9:34 pm

rhearhino wrote:there will definitely be some kind of case for modules... that will keep everything in line.
:thumbup:


rhearhino wrote:We plan to make the power supply via USB
:frown:
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Re: Compact midi/softsynth controllers

Postby Chevytraveller » Sun Jan 05, 2020 4:14 am

The Elf wrote:
rhearhino wrote:We plan to make the power supply via USB
:frown:

This is far preferable to normal PSU connectors.. it should mean it can be powered from USB power banks(thus making it portable/self contained)

One issue I can foresee though is the limited power available from USB.. depending on the power consumption of the modules, it may prove to be a limitation of how many can be chained

:bouncy:
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