In Studio

New Yamaha CP1 – Could this be the one?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Was it just me, or did any of you feel that 2009 was uneventful in terms of new technology introductions? It seems that the tide may be turning, however, as we’ve just concluded the NAMM show here in Southern California.

For me, the new Yamaha CP1 is amongst the most exciting product announcements, and I felt compelled to share what I’ve found to date given that so many of my readers are keyboard aficionados!   Hell, we’ve been carrying on a wonderful discussion about the Roland GX for nearly two years!

Yamaha CP1

The new CP1 is the flagship “no compromise” model of the newly released CP line. The early read would indicate that this could possibly be the best of all worlds – latest acoustic modeling technology putting the sounds on par with the Roland V-Piano, a brand new killer action called NW-STAGE with real wooden keys putting the authenticity of the action on par with the Kawai MP8, and just enough multi-zone midi control to make it equally versatile on stage and in studio like the Roland RD700GX… Could it be possible?

I’m very open to the possibility and can’t wait to try one out – the street price appears to be approximately $5,000 (USD) which is far from trivial, but given the specifications, not surprising and slightly under the Roland V-Piano. What strikes me about the CP1 (vs. the V-Piano) is that it appears to be a bit more versatile in the MIDI realm. The V-Piano is sorely lacking in terms of MIDI control and it’s a huge heavy beast. The CP1 is much tidier, weighs nearly 20lbs less, and has an acceptable range of MIDI controls (4 zones; 2 internal, 2 external).

My take on the Mac vs. PC debate for Music

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

First, my apologies for being MIA with respect to posting frequency of late.  Suffice it to say that I’ve been fairly busy the past few months, and I’ve neither had the time nor proper mindset for my music mistress…  So, I’ve been using this “time out” to deeply consider my options for migrating my studio onto (one of) the looming 64-bit platform choices: Windows 7 vs. Mac OSX (Snow Leopard 10.6 and beyond).   While I personally feel that the first few years of stable 64-bit computing will provide an evolutionary (vs. revolutionary) improvement, there is still enough benefit to make the move worthwhile.  Besides, if you’ve like me, and have been patiently hanging around in Windows XP, your hardware is likely approaching its end of life.   Therefore, you’re next upgrade will likely dip your toe into 64-bit waters ready or not!

Given then that a hardware upgrade is in many of our futures, it’s understandable that PC users are more tempted than ever to switch to a Mac.

Apple has clearly leveled the playing field in terms of price-performance, and continues to garner market share while Microsoft has only recently acknowledged its Windows Vista debacle.   As luck would have it, I was forced into this decision recently with my business machine, and felt what better way to help my dilemma than give the Mac a try in my work life first – realizing that a laptop migration is far less complex than a music studio retrofit!  So I made the switch to a Macbook Pro for business, and most recently upgraded to Snow Leopard (Mac OSX 10.6) and couldn’t be happier.  Without question – the Mac is a superior piece of kit with an unmatched price-performance ratio.

macbook_pro

So why not do the same for my music studio?   Well, I’m thinking about it! But as of now, I view these as very different scenarios.  For work, mobility and multi-tasking are extremely important to me.   And, with desktop virtualization, I can have the best of both worlds on the Mac.  In the studio, my workflow mostly centers around a single application, my DAW.  I require no mobility because I choose not to take my music on the road and my collaboration with other musicians is done over the Internet.

For me, switching to the Mac for music would be justified only if driven by a change of DAW software.  Why?  Because most leading DAW applications are, unfortunately, tied to either the Mac or Windows platform.   For better or for worse, that’s one of the reasons why I opted for Cubase many moons ago; Cubase is one of few supported on both.   Whether professional or amateur, we invest heavily in our DAW relationship; and like any long-term relationship, it ain’t always pretty.   Regardless of your choice, you’ve likely contemplated greener pastures along the way, but I believe a “better solution” today ultimately morphs into “different challenges” tomorrow.

I find it helpful to pose this question: Would a Mac (and/or alternate DAW) help me make better music or make music better?

Forcing that perspective has kept me grounded – and not become distracted by an endless pursuit of perfect technology.  So for all the accolades I can now officially bestow upon the Mac, it’s neither helped me to write a good post, nor has it made it easier to write.  Would it be any different with music?   Or should I say, contribute enough improvement to justify the time and investment to switch?   In my opinion way too much energy is expended upon senseless debate of superior tool or platform.   It’s simply not a binary question; the answer is extremely situational and highly dependent on your workflow and what you’re trying to accomplish.  So until someone can prove to me that the choice of platform materially affects the quality of the end-product, the music, I’m going to do my best to stay grounded with regards to my studio technology refresh.   What are your thoughts?

Studio Ergonomics

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

I’m presently noodling with some new riffs which may see the light of day – eventually!  In the mean time, as promised, more posts regarding gear and studio design.  As I contemplated where to start, I realized that my previous “gear posts” mostly focused on new stuff which, in many cases, was acquired to replace less than desirable stuff.  So this time, I’m going to highlight instead what has stood the test of time inside my studio!

Like many of you, my sanctuary has been a work in progress… In fact, I prefer to call it a “journey” rather than a project because if held to even the most liberal boundaries of project management, mine would be an abject failure in terms of being “on time and on budget”.   For nearly 3 (expensive) years, I churned through loads of gear, only to settle on premium professional products to replace more crap than I care to describe.  Thankfully, my studio has been relatively “stable” now for the past few years; not bad considering the pace of today’s product lifecycles!

So what’s stood the test of time?  Well, oddly enough the most senior item in my studio (besides me) isn’t even an instrument!  It’s my studio mix desk – the Argosy Dual 15K – or as Argosy likes to call it, the “Rocket Ship”…

Home studios usually have limited space and a purpose built mix desk not only maximizes your space and ergonomics, it provides the framing for your work environment.  Yes, there are many less costly alternatives, including DIY; but looking back on it, I’m convinced this thing has paid for itself many times over.  For one, we naturally “fill” the space we have at our disposal right?  How many empty spaces do you ever see in a woman’s designer shoe closet?   Rack spaces are the male equivalent, I’m afraid…  The Argosy desk has forced me into a “less is more” mode while still allowing me to fit a reasonable amount of gear into a relatively small space.  Oh yeah, and compared to cheaper alternatives, it looks uber cool.  To this day, I am still inspired to man the rocket ship!

IMG_1113

I’ve also added a few customizations along the way.  To begin with, I’ve always preferred to use an outboard mixer as the interface into my DAW.  This, too, has proven to be a valuable long-term decision, and I’ll expand on that in a future post.   The Argosy Dual15 provides an abundant surface directly behind the keyboard/master controller, and Argosy sells an adjustable control surface shelf (the MPX) that fits into this space.  But, it’s designed for smaller light-weight control surfaces – which the Yamaha O2r96 is not!   So instead, I had them precision cut the MPX shelf so that the Yamaha O2r96 could be receded – just like you see in other custom consoles.  The mixer is heavy enough that it’s not going to move around, but I support it with a pair of Auralex loudspeaker isolation risers – these provide a stable cushion for the O2r96 and just enough “lift” to allow the the mixer to peep through the MPX shelf, as you can see in the photos.   Next, I secured the MPX shelf from the rear of the desk to provide added stability and balance to support an additional extension I attached to the front for my keyboard and mouse.  I wish I could say this was an engineered design – in reality I experimented with different approaches before settling on what you see below – but it works like a charm and it’s very stable.  The other benefit is that I now find myself relatively comfortable combing the aisles of Home Depot.

RD700GX-Front

The next challenge was positioning my LCD monitors.   Until recently, anything north of a 20” monitor was fairly heavy.  I began with another Argosy accessory, their “Fly Bridge”, a plank which sits across the left and right rack risers (as shown on the Argosy site).   The Fly Bridge is fine for lighter, smaller monitors but was unable to support the weight of larger screens – but even worse, the viewing distance was causing excessive eye strain so you can bet I wanted those 30” LCDs once they became affordable.   But how to solve the problem of supporting REALLY large monitors while getting them close enough to comfortably view at high resolution?   One more consideration: I live in California and the earth moves from time to time out here…

Thankfully, Ergotron came to the rescue with a semi-custom solution that enables me to float my dual monitors right above my mixer!   Go to virtually any hospital and you’ll likely see Ergotron hardware providing industrial-grade mounting solutions (for computers and the like…).  Ergotron provided me with a massive steel “Command Post” that I surface mounted onto my floor.   The Command Post was essential because wall mounting simply would not have brought the monitors to an ideal viewing distance; beyond that, I have  acoustic treatment directly behind my desk – not suitable for mounting LCDs.  An Ergotron dual monitor arm (HD 45) was mounted onto the Command Post thereby allowing me to precisely adjust the height and distance of my dual 30” HP LP3065 monitors.  If you’re going down this road, I strongly recommend visiting their website and reviewing compatible “VESA” compatible monitors.  Perhaps to no surprise, this solution ended up costing as much as the monitors themselves, but what’s the point of investing in high-resolution monitors if you can’t position them, and hence view them, optimally?

Last, but not least the gluteus control surface, aka chair.   Because of the reach and overall elevation (when you consider the height of the mixer, monitors, etc) and that, as a piano player, you want to sit proportionately correct to the keyboard, the recently introduced Aeron work stool… basically a “taller” version of the iconic Aeron was introduced just in time!  Without the Aeron, all of the above would have literally remained “out of reach” so this was the last piece of the puzzle…

My Solution in a Nutshell:

  1. Argosy Console Dual 15K – a fantastic mix desk specifically designed to support an 88-key controller/keyboard at its center…  Another great supplier is Custom Consoles – particularly for larger-scale environments – I’ll talk more about them shortly because I use their IsoBox technology to house my computers and an assortment of other (non-instrument) rack gear.
  2. Customized solution to frame/recede my Yamaha O2r96 based on the Argosy MPX mix shelf
  3. Customized extension added to the secured Argosy MPX to support keyboard and mouse above my keyboard/master controller
  4. Customized Ergotron solution to “float” dual 30” LCD monitors for optimal viewing distance and height from my mix position



I am a professional hobbyist when it comes to this.   Though my relationship with the piano began at a young age, I only recently pulled off the gloves to rekindle it and haven’t looked back since.   This was partly inspired by huge advancements in music production technology now available to all  – and from the comfort and privacy of your home!   I’ve never subscribed much to job titles so I won’t attempt to label my genre.  Besides, composing music mirrors life in that there are really only two ways to write a song: your way, and the wrong way. 

Thank you for your interest and encouragement.