Monthly Archive for August, 2004

Casio is out, Keystation Pro is in (almost)

After I had the Casio Privia PX-100 el-cheapo MIDI piano for a month of so, my brother told me about a new product from M-Audio: the Keystation Pro 88. It’s another 88-key weighted keyboard, but the Keystation is a MIDI-controller only, it doesn’t generate any sound on its own. What makes it really compelling for me, though, is the vast array of knobs, buttons and sliders, all of which generate MIDI that can be mapped to the controls inside my virtual instruments (Pro-53 and B4, mainly).

The Keystation costs about the same as the Casio, so I was kicking myself that I hadn’t known about it before I bought the Casio.

I thought I would make an attempt to return the Casio to Costco where I bought it. After a lengthy battle with the perplexing packaging (which I still had), I got it all boxed up again, found the receipt and headed back to Costco. I had had the Casio already for a couple months. I was delighted that they actually took it back and refunded my money!

Yesterday, I headed to Long and McQuades in Toronto. I picked up the Keystation Pro 88, together with a two-tier keyboard stand (the Keystation doesn’t come with a stand like the Casio did; going to a two-tier stand saves some floor space in my studio.) And spent quite a while with the salesman trying to get a Behringer B-Control Rotary BCR2000 going for a demo. That device also looks like a highly compelling value proposition. Like all Behringer, it’s dirt-cheap. And since no sound actually goes through it, there’s no way Behringer can screw it up. (Many people seem to delight in bashing Behringer for either their sound quality, or build quality. Personally, I have no problem with the sound of my pieces, and I’ve never had any quality problems either.) Perhaps I’ll pick one up another time.

Anyway, I got the Keystation home and tried it out. Not all is cream, unfortunately. It is a complex piece. It comes with “preset librarian” software, and you can also download a more sophisticated “Enigma” programming tool (not sure why don’t just include that on the CD). Both of them are going to require some RTFM before I understand them.

But the really bad part: after a couple hours, the LCD started going weird. The contrast fluctuated alot, many segments would shut off entirely. At the same time, it started generating a constant stream of random MIDI control changes. I shut it off for the night, to try it again in the morning. It is that morning now, so I’ll go give it a shot. I hope I don’t have to drive to Toronto again to return it. That would suck.

More channels is more better

I recently picked up a Behringer ULTRAGAIN PRO-8 DIGITAL ADA8000. It’s basically an 8-in/8-out audio interface, with mic preamps and phantom power available on every channel. The digital side is an ADAT light-pipe. At CDN$360, it’s probably the cheapest 8-channel A/D D/A on the planet. That’s Behringer for you.

Of course, an ADAT light-pipe interface to the computer is required. Fortunately, my main audio-interface is a much more expensive MOTU 896HD, which has ADAT in and out connectors on the rear panel. So, I just added the cheap ADA8000 to my rack, wired it up, and instantly doubled the analog channels in my studio.

That’s a good thing, because in the past we ran out of channels when we tried to thoroughly mic up the drum set, plus bass and guitar.

I had some challenges in getting it to go, though. The ADA8000 can generate its own sample clock, or it can get it externally from the ADAT-in pipe, or from a BNC cable. I tried using the ADAT clock option, but I got a lot of clicks and pops. I went and bought a properly spec’d BNC cable and terminator instead, and that seemed to solve my clocking problems, at least for analog-input. I still get some clicks when I try to use the analog outputs, though. Fortunately, I don’t really use the analog outputs much. I have eight outputs already on the MOTU 896HD, and I rarely use any of them. All my effect processing is done by VSTs in software. If I really need to get all 16 analog outputs going, I’ll probably have to spring for a master clock generator.

Some weaknesses of this device. The phantom-power is an all-or-nothing affair; you can’t turn it on for individual channels. And it is limited to a 48kHz sample rate. The MOTU can go as high as 192kHz. But the Cubase SE software I’m currently using is limited to 48kHz too, so it’s not a problem.