Force of nature!

I've for some time considered the potential of a playback sampling trigger unit like the Native Instrument Maschine or similar. I've normally come to the conclusion that, although I like the idea of triggering samples and sounds, I wasn't sure that I could put it to use. I've also thought that some kind of stand-alone sequencer/production system to develop ideas, as well as use as a live playback unit, would be great. At the beginning of the year, Akai released their latest development following the MPC format in the form of the Force.

>> Akai Force <<

Along with the features I've previously mentioned it adds a lot more, including a comprehensive stand-alone production environment with a built-in drum machine, synthesizers, sample playback and more besides. There's also been a number of software revisions, adding even more useful features. Akai has also talked about adding a linear song mode in a future update and I understand that there's a beta program in progress this space. The fact that the Force does not require a computer to operate is probably one of its most compelling features compared to most of the competition.

Up until recently, the price was a little too steep to justify taking the plunge but since there seems to have been a  price reduction of over 20% it became a bit more sensible. Andertons to the rescue again and in stock and delivered the next day (today). I've yet to work out whether this will be permanently studio based or perhaps floating between the house and studio - we'll see on that for the moment.


Just in case there is anyone desperate enough to swing by here, I thought I ought to make a post. It's been over a year since I last posted anything, so this is just an update to let you know what's been happening.

Well - not a lot musically actually, although there have been the odd moments of creativity but not a great deal to show for it. The main reason for my lack of activity here has is because my (limited) available time has been devoted to the completion of a house extension which, as always, is taking a lot longer than I would like. Basically, I had the main shell built by a builder which has left me with the job of completing everything internally from plumbing, woodwork to electrics, plaster boarding, minor building jobs, etc. etc..  Although it has been a long process, for me it has one distinct advantage: allowing me to implement new ideas and design changes along the way that I might have otherwise just made do with. Of course, there is another reason I should have perhaps mentioned first of all and that's the small matter of costs! Well, there is a significant cost saving in doing this myself of course and if I wasn't doing this work then we would most likely not be having the build done at all. I'm working on the electrics at the moment and have just started drylining the main room.  I can mix and match jobs as well - so I can put my electricians' hat on one minute and switch to chippy, plumber, builder, etc. next. The job is coming along but there is still a huge amount to do but I just have to focus each job at a time and be patient. The only job that I intend to sub out will be the skim plastering very near the end.

My earlier studio build was perhaps a great learning experience in preparation for this although, in many ways, the studio was a more technical challenge than this. That said, I did need to do a lot of research in terms of planning/building control and regulations for this project. I did all of the planning and build drawings for this job, so I had to get myself up to speed with the process. All-in-all, I'm very pleased so far with the way things have gone and it's something that I seem to enjoy at the same time. I had to employ a structural engineer to sign off my design to ensure that it satisfied building control and, more importantly, didn't fall down!

In terms of music/studio, I have just been keeping things ticking over and ensuring that the studio systems/software are updated. There have probably been two updates to Cubase since my last post and the latest v 10.5 was only released a short while ago.  I still enjoy finding out what the latest version brings to the table and I like to keep things up to date so that, when I can devote more time to music, I have the latest and greatest available. I am planning to build a dedicated desk for the studio, replacing the ad-hoc setup I have now. Although functional, the current setup consists of an adapted dual keyboard stand with some additional pieces of wood to stand the monitors, etc. on. It works better than it sounds but it's time to make an improvement in this area.

Anyway, that's enough for now - turned into a long post in the end.




OK, so I didn't get around to posting an update on the P6 immediately as I thought. That's possibly a good thing really as it's better to give a new piece of hardware more time to establish itself in the setup. Especially with a controller keyboard like this, which has fundamentally changed my workflow.

All in all, the P6 is settling into its role well and although the keyboard doesn't have the best feel overall it is a compromise between a piano and a synth feel. I'm certainly not using the controller to its full potential but I'm gradually using it more and more as time goes by. I'm not a big synth sound tweaker but I have found the tactile filter/envelope control really nice, resulting in me tweaking sounds a bit more.

The transport controls are excellent and I'm finding these great and I use these more often than not. I also now very rarely use a mouse for fader and pan movements, with the motorised fader and the small mixer sliders getting a lot of use. With the latching when the current channel volume is reached it's really usable.

I can understand the few criticisms I read before purchasing the P6 and I was, and am still, not entirely convinced with the look and feel of it.  But, for me, I can't see any other controller offering the same level of flexibility of control. I'm using the mouse a lot less for tracking and general mix operations now. I have experienced the occasional glitchy connections but its never been a deal-breaker.

Another long pause between posts - another year passes.

I've been considering picking up some kind of MIDI controller device to integrate with Cubase. Having looked at various options over the years, including DAW mixer control boxes and full keyboard controllers from a number of manufacturers. I had in mind the Akai MPK261 for some time and liked the overall appearance of it though I wasn't entirely convinced by its integration with Cubase.  I had also been looking at the Presonus faderport with a single motorized fader which looked to work pretty well with Cubase but of course this only provided transport and a few other functions along with the automated fader movement.

I then got to thinking that wouldn't it be great if there was a keyboard controller with a single motorized fader and transport, reducing the footprint of separate  keyboard controller and transport. I did a search and the Nektar Panorama P4/P6 came up. This has exactly that and although I had seen them around I wasn't entirely convinced by the look of them so I didn't dig any deeper.

It immediately became clear that the P6 controller has some fairly detailed Cubase support. I have since spent some time reading feedback on the web via reviews and user experience with the P6. As always there's negative reports on some aspects of the device but on the whole it seems like a great choice with perhaps a little patience with the setup and adapting to the workflow. Andertons delivered one from stock today so we'll see how it goes over the weekend. I'll post a report.

As I have finally put together the hardware setup I thought I would post an additional item to talk about the setup of the front end of the studio i.e. the input/output hardware. The Apollo Twin USB and its associated console software are the hub of the setup and with the addition of the Focusrite OctoPre 8 channel preamp maximise its IO capability. With two Unison ( >>more info<< )  capable inputs on board for use with instruments or microphones and 8 mic/line inputs via the OctoPre ADAT link. There are also ample stereo outputs: monitor, line out & headphone connectors. The monitor outs connect to the Adam A7X studio monitors, the Line outs 3/4 connect to the Behringer HA4600 4 channel headphone amplifier. Of course with the addition of the UAD-2 Satellite Octo I have a lot more DSP available for tracking with effects too, further enhancing the recording capability.

Below are the items used in this setup: