Akai MPC 500 tips…

Using the Akai MPC 500 I noticed that the downfall of the “baby-MPC” are :

  • the pads are a little hard to play
  • the volume of the machine is low compared to the big bros.
  • the filter does not always behave correctly

The first problem , which may seem quite hard to face, for me became not so limiting.
The air-space between the internal of the pad and the sensor is quite far, more than 1,5 mm, so you have to hit hard to make the rubber  to touch the sensor.
When you use the machine intensively the rubber of the pad bank tend to behave in a more soft way because of the use , so the pads beaten more often get more “easy to manage” with velocity on and react better to the thump of the fingers.

The second point is the volume.
Reading the manual you can see that the 500 has 12dB less of output volume than the 1000 and 2500, this is quite a lot of volume!
The only way to get it play louder is to use an external preamp or pump up the gain in your mixer.
The  problem is caused by the fact that at akai have studied the amp section for a battery powered use, so there are no special settings to get better results.
The one thing to avoid is to pump up the volume of the pads, and get the headroom under -6dB.
Setting the sample volume to 100 will lend for sure to a highly annoing overdive of high frequencies and the total lost of fidelity of the sample played.
My advice is to get the master volume knob to max, headroom to -6dB, and sample volume between 70/90.
In this way you will have a godd result and no overdriven frequencies, then using the gain in your mixer you will get the right volume to fit the 500 in the mix with the other instruments .

The third and quite absurd downfall of the 500 is the strange behaviour of the filters.
I noticed that the LP filter (used as preset in every program) is the main reason that leads to lower volume and distorted sounds.
Sampling a closed hat , the sample sounded good in the “preview” (pushing “play”) while had a different “fidelity and a total loss of high frequencies and a lot of  distortion in the program.
Switching the filter from LP(lowpass) to “–” (that means bypass) the sample sounded good again as in the preview.
So the filter was the cause of that awful sound!

I don’t mean that every sample sounds bad with the filter on , but I noticed that quite all the samples gained a little volume and a cleaner definition bypassing the filter, and however some samples sounds very bad with the LP filter on, especially the ones that are rich of high frequencies as hats, cymbals, etc..

Roland MKS-50 (AlphaJuno) review

Roland MKS-50

Roland MKS-50

The Roland Alpha Junos was born as a mix between the old junos synth engine and layout and the dominating look of the Yamaha DX7, with touch membranes an push buttons and the infamous Alpha Dial (here comes the name Alpha Juno).
The absence of knobs or sliders at the time was considered sleek and futuristic (and even cheaper!) that’s way the alphas are quite overlooked today, but they are so much more than an old dark synth with an alpha dial..

The alpha juno (juno1, juno2 and mks50) is still a completely analog synth , with a really powerful and complex sounding DCO , a 24dB lopass filter, a multistage envelope, and the classic non resonant hpf, lfo and chorus common to the other juno family.

The DCO is  quite different from the prvious Junos, it has a various waveform to chose  from for the saw and the pulse wave.
In effect even the saw can be “PWMed” making it a really wide sounding dco.
If you need an extra bass response turn up the sub osc and you’ll get a really punch in the bass range!

The filter is a little different from the previous junos, first it’s resonant but does not reach self-oscillation (like the one on the Roland JX10P), it sounds a little harder and darker and creates really powerful sub bass frequencies.
Apart from the lack of self oscillation this is a really good filter, it sounds liquid and can cut the sound with great precision but it’s not clinical or sterile.

Roland Alphajuno 2

Roland Alphajuno 2

The ENV is part that makes the ALPHA serie stand up with the other Roland of the time.
The env is an advanced ADSR with time and level, so it delivers really fast attack sounds using the T1 at zero and L1 at max, and T2 L2 as decay.
For bass and percussive sounds is great because it can shape various attack and decay or sustain curves, being snappy or angular, at your will.
For pads has a good “long time” for musical pads but even for drones.

The LFO is quite basic , with the classic triangle wave only,with RATE and DELAY (reallly useful for leads or drones/pads).

The interesting point is that the PWM wave has its own rate and does not use the lfo for the modulation of the width , so you canm have a very low sweep  on filter and a fast mod on the PW.

The CHORUS is, as on the other junos a trademark, and having a rate control instead of the previous models that had only 3 preset chorus (off-slow-fast) can create interesting sounds interacting with the rate of the pwm and of the sweeps or vibratos.

The last TOP FEATURES , not present on the previous models are the “dynamics” control and the AFTERTOUCH over the filter cutoff control, VCA and the pitch control.
This is a great addiction making the Alpha a more expressive synthetizer even with classic keyboards technics, but also a easier  techno synth to be controlled by a sequequencer/daw, without using sysex if a filter motion is needed.

All in all a great synth that can sound a little harder than the 60&106, but that retain all the warmth and power of the others juno with added features.

Making Kick drum using an LFO (in a modular synth)

The kick is a relly important percussion sound in electronic compositions, let’s get a different way to make it.

Usually to synthetize a good kick we use a sine wave layered with a square, and balance the two if we want a softer kick or if we want more attack.
VCOs tends to be harmonically rich so it’s not simple to get a kick that sounds not clearly tuned.
To get a more “percussive & less harmonic” kick (but it is even useful to create percussions like toms or bongos) I use an LFO.
LFO sounds more clinic, not many harmonic content on the wave generated.
Using a simple SINE wave on the DOEPFER A-145 can lead to interesting kicks and percussion.
The path is really simple A145->A132-3 (vca) and an env to control the vca.
The A145 is interesting as a sound source because it can work very well into audio frequencies, the only downfal is the fact that it has no freq. modulation capabilities.

Using the LIVEWIRE VULCAN MODULATOR  we can go further into sound design as the vulcan has cv inputs for the frequency mod.
Using the same signal configuration we can notice that the vulcan sounds more organic, the wave is not a perfect sine, it has some fluctuation too.
The result is a percussion that is not rounded as the 145 but with more punch and more attack.

Making fat drums using together hardware and software samplers

Actually most of the production process is done In The Box, only with softwares in the computer.
This is considered now a standard because of a total recall of the project settings, no loss of audio quality duing converions and more funtionality within the virtual intruments.
I totally agree with this modus operandi, and I too use a ITB approach for most of the production process, but I think that a little interaction between the “standards” and somenthing “personal” can make the difference.

A useful tip in my making music process is to treat the drum sounds Out Of The Box, usually using old hardware samplers.
In hip hop or r’n’b, even today, there’s a hard culture on old samplers, together with the vinyls and turntables they are seen as the “instruments” to have that phat beatz.
Paying attenction to the power and details of hip hop and black music, especially from the usa, the fact that the sound is incredibly present and detailed is true, even for the people who don’t like the genre.
The making of this sound is composed by three main points:

  • Choosing the right samples, not the ones that sound better standalone, but the ones that are thought to sound better in the contest we are planning to create.
  • Hardware sampler processing to give the sounds a certain “imprint” together with the ability to cut the samples in a personal way that makes the samples stand up in the composition.
  • Hardware processing with hi-end outboards to give more definition and to maximize the sounds and reshape the dynamics.

The aim of my post is not analizing the hip hop making of but take inspiration from that attitude.
Hi-end outboards are really expensive so I plan only to use old samplers to make an A->B test.

The first thing is to get the good material to sample.
Samples from a library are usually compressed and eqed so they are just perfect to try the sampling process in an easy way.
Using our own sampled or synthetized material can be often more difficult  because we have to “preprocess” the sound before sampling.
We can choose between two different tipe of processing:

  • Sampling a one shot sample into the sampler, tweak it and then sample again the sound played by the hw sampler into the computer.
    Making this process we obtain a “personal” drum sample with more punch ready to play with our favorite sw sampler.
  • Sampling a track of a drum element played by the sw sampler into the hw.
    Making this process we obtain a “coloured” new track to rerecord into our daw to mix or to use instead of the same track  “before sampling”.
    Usually sampling a loop not only change the dynamics of the audio material but create a particular “ambience” that’s the strong carachteristic of hw sampler.

At the end of the process we have two important conclusion to take care of:
if the sample is a short one shot the hw sampler give a more punchy and personal sound but that can fit really well in every softsampler because the short sample sounds “dry”, if the sampled part is longer, a kick loop  for example, the loop will sound more “processed” but also less or more (it depends on the sampler used) “ambiented”.
A famous hip hop statment about the Akai S900 is “everything sampled with the 900 sounds like old vinyls…”

Roland Alphajuno and Behringer BCR2000

Roland Alphajunos are overlooked today because of their lack of slider and knobs and their controller PG300 is hard to find and not cheap.
The Behringer BCR2000 is the easy way out, the perfect substitute to the PG300, take a look at this video…

Video not available

The Behringer is a midi controller that can send even sysex messages, the old Roland Alphas work  only with sysex messages so you have to map the BCR2000 with the learn function and a virtual pg300 programmer.

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