Novation MiniNova

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Champion synth manufacturers Novation have recently announced a new synthesizer called MiniNova that takes their UltraNova synth’s sound engine and packages it in a smaller unit, aimed at electronic music producers who are looking for depth in a compact form.

Novation Strikes Back

2012 has been quite a solid year for synthesizers. With companies such as Moog, Arturia, Casio, and Dave Smith Instruments releasing new synths this year, it’s been a great time for hardware enthusiasts. Not to be outdone by the competition, esteemed synth manufacturers Novation have stepped into the ring with a new piece of gear called MiniNova that takes the best elements of their UltraNova synth and packages them into a smaller package with some new features. The result is a product that has obviously taken some visual cues (such as mini keys, a vocoder mic and wood panels) from Korg’s incredibly popular MicroKorg line, but with a sound and feature set that is uniquely Novation. As much as the synth looks like the MicroKorg, remember that Novation is the company who brought us the ubiquitous Bass Station in 1993, a pint-sized VA synth that completely changed the game with its portable size and deep sounds.

Novation MiniNova

The Novation MiniNova is a analog modeling synthesizer based on the sound engine found in the company’s flagship UltraNova synth. It features three oscillators, up to five effects, two filters, six envelopes, three LFOs, and 36 different wavetables. The instrument comes loaded with 256 factory patches and has room for an additional 128 user patches, all of which are found via the large “genre select” knob and a scroll wheel to cruise through the individual patches. A parameter matrix on the right side of the synth offers 24 variables for tweaking that can be accessed by four knobs and a switch at the far right. In the midst of this matrix is also a dedicated filter cutoff knob for instant access. The MiniNova has two quarter-inch outputs,  stereo headphones output, MIDI in/out, and XLR and jack inputs for routing sounds through the vocoder and on-board effects. Power can be supplied via USB or a through the included 9V DC power supply.

Novation Vocaltune

One new feature that Novation has introduced with the MiniNova is Vocaltune, an  effect that can tune your voice to the note being played on the synth in real-time. The synth also comes with an expressive new vocoder engine which can be fed by either the included gooseneck mic or the external input. Other performance features include a robust arpeggiator and the new Animate buttons which “let you apply up to eight deeply expressive modulations, with a hold button that latches any or all of the animations,” as Novation explain on their site. The Novation MiniNova drops in October 2012 with a suggested retail price of $629  and an expected $400 street price.

(Originally published on

Jesse Dean Designs: Custom Pro-Audio MODs – Maschine, MPC, Traktor, Technics, Pioneer +

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I call it functioning art. I look at a piece of gear and try to figure out what I can do to make it more ergonomic and pleasing to the eye. Most designs are inspired by the artist that contracts the modification.”

Jesse Dean Designs

Jesse Dean Graves is an artist, turntable technician and industrial designer who specializes in the customization of music gear such as Technics 1200s, Pioneer CDJs, Native Instruments’ Maschine, and just about anything else you want to bring him. He’s worked with heavyweights such as DJ Q-Bert, DJ Muggs (Soul Assassins), DJ Q-Ball (Bloodhound Gang), Chris Kilmore (Incubus), and DJ Scratch (EPMD). But you wouldn’t guess any of that by meeting him; his humble demeanor and obsession with deconstructing electronics and crafting new objects overshadows the impressive portfolio of work that you can find on his website and YouTube channel.

“Since I was a kid, I always ripped things apart to see how they worked,” he explains during a visit to his Lancaster, CA studio/workshop where there was  a buzz of creation happening. His assistant Brandon was working at a workbench of Maschine mods (one of his most popular products) while Jesse explained what sorts of customizations he does. “What I do mostly is Direct Image. That means, what you see…colors, textures, and feel. I do some mods to electronics too, depends on the gear,” he explains. “97% of the time I can find a way to do it. Turntables, microphones, keyboards, rack gear, guitar cabs, guitars, MPCs, Maschines, mixers, speakers, and much more.”

Some of Jesse’s recent projects include making the finish on a set of turntables look like a guitar, creating a custom skateboard for Pioneer, and installing Novation Dicer modules in a Technics turntable. Many of these projects seem to be inspired by the discovery and manipulation of new materials, as he explains: “I watch a lot of progress in different industries. Automotive performance, aerospace, and of course electronic automation. I try to use these technologies and materials in my designs. There are so many people studying and creating new materials and processes, I try to utilize this progress in the manufacturing of my designs.”

Technics 1200 Customizations

One of Jesse’s recent projects was a set of turntables created for Chris Kilmore of Incubus (see above video) that features wood paneling and the first modification to incorporate a pair of Novation Dicer units into the turntable chassis. Modifying 1200s was his first love and specialty, and he’s customized a number of them for aesthetic reasons as well as improved performance. “I love Technics turntables,” Jesse tells me when asked about how he found the path to customizing them. “I built a set of turntables for fun. They were a busted pair of 1200MK2s I had laying around. I stripped them down, powder coated the chassis, changed the LEDs, and engineered out a straight tone arm. They were pretty cool. I showed them to a friend, he asked if I could do something to his 1200s—it all started going from there.”

On the technical side, Jesse shows me a few modifications that aim to enhance the Technics 1200s’ functionality, including a straight, carbon-fiber tonearm. “Carbon fiber dose not transmit sound waves like metal alloys,” he explains. “Plus straight tonearms have a direct back pressure. Unlike the s-arm it pushes straight back. The s-arm pushes out when the record is pushed back. So I incorporated the two together to make a awesome performing scratch tone arm.”

Another mod he’s created is a new tonearm PCB board for Technics turntables. “I enhanced the original design to fit today’s wants and needs. For instance I made the zip tie mount more rugged so the board no longer breaks in this weak spot. And I built in internal grounding.” In addition to modifications, Jesse stresses the importance of maintenance. “Tuning is also very important and the right setup is critical. Tuning tables helped me come up and engineer products for better performance, such as different materials tonearms are made of and weighting for tracking on a record.”

NI Maschine Modifications

One of Jesse’s most popular products (and more affordable ones as well) are his wood panels, graphic overlays, and metal knobs for Native Instruments’ Maschine and X1 MIDI controllers. While these are somewhat simple modifications compared to some of the custom work that Jesse does, the upgraded knobs and wood panels do bring a touch of class to the devices. He also offers a wood stand that will combine the X1 and Maschine together in one stand, at the same height. The wood trim kit for Maschine costs $49.99, Maschine covers cost $15.99, and the Maschine knob kit is $34.99.

Lego CDJ 2000

One project that has gotten a lot of attention in the media (and tipped this author to his work) is Jesse’s Lego CDJ2000. As a final question during our visit, I had to ask how this came about. “I was at a event at ASTRO AVL in Glendale for a Pioneer DJ demo,” he explains. “After the show I asked the rep, how do I get hold of Pioneer parts to mod? He asked me what I wanted to do with them. I told him how I make custom turntables and other gear. By surprise he had seen my work before and asked me if I wanted to participate in the Pioneer DJ Art Mix? Wow what a honor…how I got the idea with the Legos was, I wondered what a 5-year-old DJ would rock out on. I loved and still love Legos. When the CDJ2000 came in the mail I geeked out like a 5-year-old!”
For more information on Jesse Dean Designs you can visit his website. Knobs, wood panels, and overlays for Maschine, the X1 (and other performance controllers) may be purchased through Tempo Records.
(Originally published on

Akai’s new iPad-based MPC Fly

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Guest blogger Steven Williams got to look at the MPC Fly at Musikmesse and sent us his thoughts:

The new Akai MPC Fly combines two of the most iconic musical production tools of the last few decades, the MPC controller and the iPad. As you’ve probably noticed by the images, the two devices seamlessly combine to create a laptop style case that securely protects you’re iPad. But the Fly is much more than just a case; it has 16 genuine MPC velocity-sensitive pads in the familiar 4×4 layout and a four-track sequencer for beats on the go. The MPC Fly is built with the same quality as the rest of the MPC series but as it costs just £170, it needs to be integrated into a DAW or higher-end MPC unit to be used to its full potential. Ideally you make you’re beats on the go and then take you’re results back to the studio and optimise them. (Author’s note – its important that I stress it isn’t compatible with the 1st generation iPads so don’t make that mistake.)

With the introduction of the iPad you get the obvious benefit of a well-designed and integrated app and it looks like Akai have taken great time and effort in creating the application side of the Fly. Like I’ve mentioned, you can sequence 4 tracks at the same time and there’s an existing library of various drum sounds and samples that were at a higher quality than I was expecting. You can also adjust each sample’s velocity, length and tuning through what Akai’s renowned the 16 level mode.

I really like the Akai MPC Fly because it is targeted a larger audience but for various purposes. It could be a producer’s best friend and be used to fine-tune songs on the way to the studio or by you’re average guy in his room making tunes. You also get guaranteed quality with MPC and for £170 you can’t really go wrong.

Teenage Engineering Release OP1 Update (12616)

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Teenage Engineering uploaded a nice gift for their user base yesterday with the release of a new operating system (OS#12616) that you can download from TE’s website. Below are some features that have been added/fixed:

– Tape import from external material now possible.
– Added MIDI Start and Stop.
– Added Finger key copy.
– Sequencers now respond to external MIDI notes.
– Battery indicator improved.
– Added MIDI indicators in the signal flow screen.
– Added Hi Res rec level control in tape screen with shift.
– Drum Sampler snapshot saving did not always function correctly. Fixed.
– What you hear downmix was not done correctly. Fixed.
– Ghost jumps backwards could sometime result in a gap in playback. Fixed.
– LFO did not update all graphics correctly. Fixed.

9-9-09 (An Oral History of Drum Machines)

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is a documentary celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the Roland TR909. In this documentary, narrated by Robbie Ryan, we traverse the history of the programmable drum machine from the CR78, TR808, TB303, TR909, and LinnDrum, with audio examples of each.

Teenage Engineering OP1 + Ableton Live – MIDI LFO

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

In SYNTH and DRUM modes you can press SHIFT + T4 to access the LFO section. Here is a quick demonstration on how to use it. Enjoy!

Numark iDJ Live – A Fun Little Surprise with this iPad Djay Controller

March 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Numark iDJ Live

Last week I became slightly obsessed with finding a DJ control surface for the iPad. There was a possibility of hotel party on the weekend and I didn’t want to bring a computer or DJ rig.. but I really wanted to bring some music. The iPad itself is not an ideal dj interface; the lack of tactile control ruins the fun for me. Now you’d imagine that within the prolific world of DJ applications there might be more hardware controllers on the market for iPad use. But most developers have focused on the application side of the experience rather than the hardware.. and there’s really not much out there besides this piece of hardware designed by Numark that works with Algoriddm’s popular Djay iOS application. So I gave it a shot.. what the heck, right? Sam Ash has a 30 day return policy. But you know what? After a week of playing with this thing, I don’t think it’s going back.

Now I feel the best way to approach this mini-review is in Top-Gear style (if you’ve never seen Top Gear, they have what I’d call a reverse complement-sandwich approach) where I’ll begin with where this device falls short and why you’d never want to use it for a pro gig. I really didn’t think that I would like this device for the sake of it’s DJ-Hero style design and immediately upon opening the box I realized this interface lacked many features that I take for granted in other dj setups.

The initial groans happened when I realized that the headphone / monitor functionality of this program/device happens via a simple 1/8th inch stereo to mono splitter cable. This means you must run a mono output if you want to use monitor headphones. In addition there’s no headphone volume on the iDJ Live (a splitter cable gives you the headphone output). After playing around with the output options on different stereos I concluded that I could not deal with the sound of this split/mono signal. Some modern house tracks seemed to phase into the abyss without the stereo field. The next issue I found was that the EQ works fairly well but there’s no mid-band EQ, only Hi and Low (mid exists in the Djay app but not on the interface). The third thing I realized about iDj Live was – no pitch faders. The pitch faders do exist within the Djay application but they are therefore on your iPad – not the place where I want to find them. Upon realizing this I thought – well the sync better work.

And here comes the good news. The Djay application is actually a well-designed app that has been finessed to give you the feel of working with vinyl. The BPM detection and sync functionality are actually really good. Djay misread the tempo on a few of my tracks but for the most part it could detect and match the BPM of most house tracks I ran through it along with some dub, bass, techno and electro. Now an interesting thing about the sync feature is that it doesn’t seem to work the same way that Traktor does with Beat Grids. It does detect a Beat Grid, and to some extent it reads the timing / phrase. But it’s not always accurate. Strangely, this is part of why I started to like this device.

While Djay offers a beat-matching functionality, it’s not perfect and therefore you have to pay attention to the mix and adjust things as you go. With Djay and the iDJ Live I found I had JUST ENOUGH control over the mix that I could keep it running for a good three or four minutes. There are four buttons (two for each deck) at the top of iDJ Live and I found that a quick press in either direction could nudge a track back into the mix fairly easily. The platters on the device are actually a lot of fun in Scratch Mode, but be sure to switch modes when you’re using the EQ because a small bump can skip your record. I can forgive this because the scratch function is tactile and accurate. I found that I could drop a beat into a mix by hand and quickly get things in sync with minor adjustments.

As a DJ who came up on 1200s and CDJs, I like beat matching. I believe this love has a lot to do with the meditative side of the DJ experience. It also provides the gratification of training your ears and timing. When I am IN the mix I find more spontaneity in my mixing and choice of music.  When I’ve used Traktor I find that my mixing is often very structured and when the Sync button is depressed I get incredibly bored with the DJ experience. With the iDj Live and Djay app, two things happened that made me enjoy the experience. First, I had to ride the mix a bit (even with sync being used) and the control experience of the platters reminded me of turntables. Second, I got away from my computer. I spend far too much time in front of a computer monitor and I’m eager to get away at any chance. The iPad is not exactly getting away from the computer but  it’s different enough (and small enough) to make it feel like a different experience. Add to this the tactile control for scrolling through your music library with the Numark hardware, and it just feels better than a laptop.

One benefit of using the iPad as your music source is that you must decide what to put on it. By limiting my music selection to whatever fits on the iPad there is a back-to-roots sort of thing happening. It used to be that you had to fit ALL your music into one or two bags for a performance and you’d practice with those tracks. Today there is endless possibility for selection when you have a 3TB hard drive and I find that a lot of DJs don’t take time to create a flow with their mixes. I’ve always felt that art is best created with limits, and DJing is no exception. I’ve recently found a nice workflow of dumping all my new tracks onto the iPad and then later using the iPad and iDJ to sift through the music and find mixes. For some reason the experience is much more gratifying than dropping tracks into Ableton or Traktor. Being away from the computer allows me to listen differently and I can discern which tracks need to stay in the collection and which can go.

Currently iDj Live sits on a small shelf in my living room with the iPad plugged into a small Bose portable speaker. It sounds nice when the levels are set at 50% – just loud enough to rock out but soft enough to not bother the neighbors. I don’t use the splitter cable nor do I use headphones for mixing with this unit. I find that the waveform display allows me to cue up a track visually while using the platters and the bpm sync is usually close enough to drop the track in and use the + and – buttons to get things running in sync. The EQ is not extensive but if I find tracks that work together in this sort of setup they are guaranteed to work together in a pro format. And that’s part of the point of all of this. When I play professional gigs I’ll most likely use 1200s,  CDJs, and possibly Serato/Traktor. But I don’t have room for a massive digital DJ setup in my house (and I’d rather spend that money on synths these days).  I’ve been looking for a solution to this dilema and for $80, the iDJ Live seems to be working fairly well. It’s small, light, easy to use and a lot of fun to have sitting around for spontaneous mix sessions. I look forward to future updates of Djay as well. Algoriddm seems to be doing great things with this program.

Ps, Did I mention that my 14 month old LOVES it?

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