Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Cut to today and I head to the post office with some international packages. I ask the clerk what the story is and he informs me that international shipping rates have gone up by an average of about $6 per package. My jaw hit the floor. Nearly 60-65% of the merch and CDs I sell online ships to Europe. I already charged a flat rate of $8 for shipping, which covered small orders fine, but I still paid out of pocket for some of the additional shipping expense just in the hopes that offering a flat shipping rate would encourage larger orders. Today, I mailed a copy of my recent vinyl release to Germany. The record retails for about $17. With the increased postal rates, the shipping was an additional $17.50. This is not okay.
I sympathize with the plights of the USPS. I know it's a popular thing to complain about, but in the 15 years or so I've run my online store, they've delivered stuff for pretty damn cheap and did so fairly reliably. A good part of what has hurt the post office is a 2006 law that said they must pre-fund $5.5 billion worth of employee pensions aside. As the post office is not funded by taxes, their rates have to somehow support this huge amount of money, plus enough to run day to day operations, pay their employees, etc. Now consider that less people are using the mail than ever. As less people mail letters and more send emails or texts and as more people pay their bills online versus mailing them, the post office has seen a dramatic drop in volume. So they're fighting an uphill battle. I get that.
But this new policy could prove pretty harmful to small businesses, or indeed anyone who can't ship high-cost products or in bulk. Many of these businesses (especially record labels and musicians) are running on slim profit margins to begin with. So we're now left with the choice of raising shipping costs for our overseas customers and risk losing their business (who wants to buy a CD when the shipping costs as much as the CD itself?), or eating the additional cost and losing around $6 per order in expenses we didn't have before.
Unfortunately, we are a bit over the barrel, as even with the new rates, they're still cheaper than pretty much all other international shipping services when it comes to the shipping of individual items. But I can't help but feel the post office is insuring their own demise here. For the time being, my solution is going to have to be to raise shipping costs a bit and pray it doesn't scare off customers. I can't screw my customers by overnight raising my shipping by $6, but I'll increase it somewhere halfway, so I still absorb some of the cost, but not all of it. Rest assured, I'll be looking for other, cheaper solutions than the USPS for my international shipping. If the folks at FedEx and UPS were smart, they'd come out with a cheap international shipping option pronto and eat the USPS's lunch.
Lest you think I am cheering for the demise of the US Postal Service, I assure you, that's not the case. Aside from my own relatively positive experiences with them over the years, the lower prices the Post Office offered kept the prices of private shippers in check. With them out of the picture, it's hard to avoid the feeling that FedEx and UPS would take advantage of the lessened competition by raising their international prices further. The cable industry has been enjoying the spoils of lessened competition for decades.
I do hope that the USPS will reconsider their new policy. As I said before, I understand the position they are in. Yet, just jacking the rates for international shipping by such a huge amount out of the blue feels like a lazy fix, and one that doesn't solve the USPS's problems. In fact, I'd be willing to bet it only exacerbates them. If you're someone who does a lot of international shipping, I urge you to call and register a complaint with the USPS consumer line at: (253) 214-1800.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
As I said before, Synthmaster is a seriously deep synth with a lot of features, so you'd expect the interface to be complex and overwhelming. Happily, that is not the case and through good use of multiple pages and tabs, KV331 has managed to squeeze everything in in a manner that is nice to look at and easy to navigate. Synthmaster is also skinnable, should the default look not be to your liking.
The top of the interface consists of a series of buttons on the left that control what is displayed in the bulk of the screen. It's here that you can select one of SynthMaster's two layers, controls for the 4 global LFO's, the Global FX section, a patch browser similar in feel to the type Native Instruments tends to favor, and the "Preset" page, where you can categorize, add author information, and comments to patches.
To the right of this is name of the current patch, buttons to scroll through patches one by one, a panic button in case you get stuck notes, and saving options. A parameter display resides beneath this, as do settings for Quality (lower settings help save CPU), Buffer and Polyphony, as well as the velocity curve for the current patch.
Fancy a little Wavetable synthesis? Just switch the Oscillator Type to "Wavetable" and you can build your own scannable wavetables by combining up to 16 different selectable single cycle waves (most of which are actually different than the previous types). Couldn't be easier, and done well, it can sound fantastic. Maybe it won't totally quell your gear lust for a Microwave or PPG, but it's a lot of fun to play with and rewards experimentation with some sounds you could never get out of those classics.
The final mode (there is an AUDIO IN, but this is the last synthesis type) is Vector Synthesis, the style famously championed by the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS. You can select up to 4 waveforms or samples that can be smoothly crossfaded. They can each have their own tuning as well. X and Y indices can be independently modulated.
The Basic, Additive, and Wavetable oscillator modes all offer FM, PM, and AM for further sound-mangling capabilities with 4 dedicated modulators (read: LFOs) that can also be used to control things like pulse width for PWM type sounds. Additionally, in Basic mode, Oscillator 1 can be hard-synced to Oscillator 2.
The right top square houses SynthMaster's twin filters per voice. Lowpass, highpass, bandpass, bandstop, low and high shelves, peaking, multi (allows you to smooth transition from one filter type to the another), and dual (a filter with two sets of peaks) modes are all offered in both Digital and Analog flavors with selectable Slope controls. One of the really nice features here is the display. If you click and drag within it, you can quickly tweak the filter's cutoff and resonance at the same time. A simple distortion can be applied before, inside, or after the filter, and a simple limiter is available to keep those crazy resonant peaks on your next acid jam from getting out of control. The difference between the analog and digital modes is most noticeable in how they handle resonance. The analog ones will go handily into self-resonation, while the digital ones will not. A Comb filter is also available only in Digital mode.
The fourth square holds the settings for SynthMaster's multiple Envelope types, the LFOs, and Keyboard Scaling. The first four envelopes are your standard ADSR affairs with the interesting additions of a Bit Depth control (which sets the 'resolution' of changes in levels), and a Drift parameter, which introduces random fluctuations to the envelope level.
Monday, January 28, 2013
- FREEZE/DUB button: When this function is engaged, it will read the "loop" of the delay until you disengage it. The one and only solution for huge DubDelays. It can also be used to generate all sorts of interesting loops and textures, and allows you to keep playing and improvising over the loop, in Live or improvisation situations
- LOCK DRY/WET LEVEL Button: You can now browse all presets while preserving the Dry/Wet level ratio you have set. This feature is very handy to experiment with the 120+ presets currently available in the factory libary.
- 16 Masks instead of 8: Like in our Oxium synthesizer, you can now benefit of a larger number of Masks, or grid zones. More possibilitites that are especially usefull combined with the new multiSelect and MultiEdit features of the Masks.
- MultiMasks selections: The only way to approach real complex grooves, or to edit in a fast and intuitive way. You can now select several Masks with a combination of different techniques, and move their locations, or change all their locators with a single mouse drag. Three fast buttons to select ALL MASKS, ODD MASKS, or EVEN MASKS. Or the combination CTRL + CLICK to select continuous or discontinuous Masks. MouseOver of a mask will now select it automatically. Background color and shape changes will reflect the status of each Mask ( Selected, Unselected )
- Display of the incoming audio signal inside the Grid Area: Everybody will love this feature, that will drastically improve workflow, speed of use, and represent a giant step in the global ease of use of Masks based instruments. It's so cute you could spend hours just playing and watching it. Its not only cosmetics, it will greatly help you positionning the Masks exactly where you need them while you play a part.
- Revamped management of the Masks locators: When you approach the right locator of a mask with the mouse, it will gradually turn Red, : you can then safely move it ( Green is the color for the right locator). In the V1 version you could move a mask by accident while wanting to only change its length, the V1.5 behaviour completely removes this possible confusion.
- New Level Toggle for the Masks Level Parameter: When this button is on, the delay signal will only be heard if the incoming level is over the Mask Level. It therefore acts like a treshold parameter, and its a great tool for playing and experimenting Live, or to find quickly the best Masks configuration while moving them on the grid..
- New Zoom Function: Zoom x4 the grid area for accurate editing of the position and lenght of the masks.
- New Presets & video tutorials (see below): around 50 new presets have been added to get you started. The focus have been put to add usefull presets like Slap Back Delays, PingPong Delays, Resonators, Pseudo Spring Reverb delays, et etc. The number of presets in the factory library is now over 120
- Installers: You can now choose the format you want to be installed on your system (VST, RTAS, AU)
- Windows: With certain combinations of Daws/Systems, the GUI could become sluggish. Now fixed
- Windows 7 RTAS: now installing fine.
- RTAS version: now alaways in perfect sync with all Protools versions (also decimal tempo is now working )"
Here's the track-listing...
01 “Welcome To My World”
04 “Secret To The End”
05 “My Little Universe”
08 “The Child Inside”
09 “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve”
10 “Should Be Higher”
12 “Soothe My Soul”
Friday, January 25, 2013
GO GET THEM!
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Dave Smith had hinted he'd be introducing an entirely new instrument soon, and managed to do a much better job of keeping it secret than Korg did. Today, that new instrument, called the Prophet-12, was officially announced.
Here is the official statement:
"Dave Smith Instruments today introduced a new polyphonic synthesizer, the Prophet 12, at the 2013 NAMM Show. “After 35 years of creating synths, this is simply my best synth yet,” said Smith. “We sort of started from scratch on this one rather than spinning off another product from our previous designs.”
At twelve voices, the Prophet 12 boasts the greatest polyphony of any instrument designed by Smith. Each voice features four oscillators capable of generating classic and complex waveforms, a sub-oscillator, resonant analog low- and high-pass filters, and analog VCAs. The new Character section adds a variety of wave shaping and sound sculpting options, like Drive, Hack, Decimation, Girth, and Air. Additional features include a tuned feedback path, a four-tap stereo delay per voice, expanded arpeggiator functionality, deep modulation capabilities, and bi-timbral operation. The LFOs, delay, and arpeggiator can all be synced, either to the internal clock or an external MIDI clock. Two programmable position- and pressure-sensitive touch sliders take the performance controls beyond the standard pitch and mod wheels (also included).
“We’re already blown away by the sonic breadth of this synthesizer’s new voice architecture,” Smith continued. “It doesn’t sound like anything else and I’m very excited for people to hear it.”
The Prophet 12 is expected to be available Q2 of 2013 with a projected MAP of $2,999."
Although the rumor mill and an accidental early posting on Korg's German website, we knew that Korg was likely going to be releasing a new version of their seminal MS-20 analog synth. Today, they made it official. The Korg MS-20 Mini is housed in more or less the same controller as the Korg MS-20 Legacy controller than initially shipped with their Legacy Collection. What's inside is pure analog, however. Many have complained about the mini-keys, but if that's what it takes to get me a fully analog MS-20 for $599, I think I can let that slide. Here is the full press statement from Korg:
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Although it's apparently been around for awhile, I first learned about MajorScaledTV's videos yesterday via this post on Gawker. What they do is feed famous minor-key songs such as the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" and REM's "Losing My Religion" and change them to major keys, presumably making use of Celemony's mind-blowing Melodyne software. If you're familiar with the original material, the effect is quite unsettling. And it illustrates very well the difference it makes whether a song is in a minor or major key. It really is integral to how a song is able to manipulate our emotions, especially in conjunction with the mood of the lyrics.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Over the years, many musicians, perhaps unfairly, tended to dub the winter NAMM show as "the boring one". Indeed, it seems as if many manufacturers have chosen to unveil their latest and greatest products at summer NAMM, while leaking out controllers, digital pianos, and (generally) less exciting stuff at the winter show. That certainly doesn't seem to be the case this year, however.
First up is the Moog Sub Phatty, the company's first new synth after Dr. Moog's passing. It'll go for around $1,100. Here's a look at the specs: