Portable USB MIDI Keyboards

Last week we did a quick unboxing of Akai’s new Synthstation 25. The keyboard works with your iPhone or iPod touch running synth software from Akai or third party developers. In addition it also functions as a USB MIDI keyboard which is also handy to throw in your bag if you bring your laptop on the road.  Thinking of it as a portable midi keyboard reminded me of Peter Kirn’s article for Create Digital Music on compact USB midi keyboards and his “dream portable keyboard.” I decided to dig out some of the small keyboards we have in the warehouse and see how they size up (literally) as portable control surfaces. I should note that I avoided the M-Audio and Novation’s 25 key offerings for this video. We’ve done in depth feature videos on both the Axiom and Nocturn series which  come in small sizes, and I thought I’d try and give some shine to small keyboards we have from other manufacturers.

Arturia’s The Player keyboard was particularly impressive as a rugged two octave board with MIDI or USB output and nice feeling key bed.   It also comes with a basic soft synth featuring sounds from Arturia’s classic synth emulators as a nice bonus.  The MIDI output is nice to have in case you’re looking to use this keyboard as a controller for outboard synths.  Pairing up one of these with a tabletop synth like the Tetra or Mopho would make for a nice little compact REAL analog setup.

Roland also makes a line of midi controllers branded “Cakewalk” that are small and feature rich. The A-300Pro is a 32 key interface with drum pads, knobs, and sliders.  It’s pretty small considering the octave range and encoders on board and also features USB and MIDI ports.  I imagine these play nicely with Sonar and other Cakewalk software but they’re mapable to any software on either Mac or PC.  Didn’t even know about these controllers before I found one in the warehouse and I’m glad I did!

Hope this provided you with some info on some of the smallest controllers we have available.  Put one of these in you bag when making beats on the plane, or when you need key sounds at the gig without lugging your full size keyboard with you.

Hi Quality Ways to Rip Digital (Mp3s) from Vinyl Records

As a guy who started DJing with vinyl in some ways I consider myself a record collector first. I still bring a vinyl crate to the club with me sometimes, but it’s not always practical when traveling, and can be risky when packing some of my prized 12″s. Re-buying songs in digital format is easy and time effective (many classics come remastered too which is a bonus), but I can’t always find some of my favorite cuts or 12″ versions online. Recording my vinyl will get it into my digital crates but has always made me nervous. If I’m spending the time ripping a record, I want to make sure I get the best possible quality. Here’s what my current vinyl ripping station looks like:

  • Thorens TD 125 turntable
  • Micro Acoustics 2002 cartridge
  • Pro-Ject Phono BOX MK2 (non usb) preamp
  • Motu Ultralite interface
  • Logic and Izotope Ozone

The Motu Ultralite may not feature the best A/D for a hi-fi turntable, but this setup gives me a permanent deck I can throw a record on when I need to rip it in since my Technics aren’t always set up in my studio.

I was just talking about this with PAS associate Spencer who DJ’s and collects disco classics.  Here’s his vinyl ripping rundown:

  • Technics SL1200M3D
  • Shure White Label
  • Bozak CMA10-2DL (refurbed/capped by Mario G)
  • Apogee Symphony audio card with Apogee AD8000 & DA16X converters
  • Antelope Audio OCX-V Master Clock
  • Bryston 2B SST Pro
  • Klipsch Cornerhorns
  • Logic and Waves plug-ins

The white labels track great, high output, low record wear and the best detail on a needle I can DJ with (back-cue with).  The Bozak is a huge component in getting the sound I want…it makes a huge difference, especially on the bottom end.  And with the funk, disco, reggae and dance music I play it’s rather desirable!  Last in the recording chain is the Apogee AD8000.  This is the old Apogee with the amazing LED meters and ridiculous clarity.  It only goes to 48khz which is what made a lot of people dump them but I do everything at 44.1khz anyways so for me this was a great deal for an amazing converter.  I use the Antelope master clock which is the icing on the conversion cake.  There’s no comparison to the stereo imaging and top-end detail that this gives me.

But what’s good for the DJ who wants a dedicated all in one hi quality solution to rip their vinyl without going through their DJ mixer?  If you’ve got Technics or a hi-fi turntable you’re halfway there.  The Bellari Rolls VP530 Tube Phono Preamp with built in USB interface could get you the rest of the way. Bellari phono stages have received rave reviews in Hi-Fi magazine for outperforming in their price range. It’s onboard USB convertor records at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz which should be on par with the other files in your library for quality and file size. If you eventually want to step it up to 24-bit recording you can use it as an analogue stage and send it to a dedicated interface. We’ve got a crazy deal on the Rolls VP530 going on right now so check the link below!