There are two new computer keyboards coming out in the next two months,
each costing about $600. One I can't wait for. One makes me yawn. Guess
which one.

In this corner, from America: the FireWire M-Audio Ozonic, announced today. (full specs)

Controller: 37 keys, 8 knobs, 9 faders, 14 buttons, pitch & mod wheel, X-Y joystick; software editor and presets; MIDI I/O

Audio: 4 in, 4 out; 1 XLR mic in with phantom power, 1 unbalanced in, 2 balanced ins; 4 balanced outs; direct monitoring

And in this corner, from the UK: the USB-powered Novation X-Station, 25-keys out now and 49/61 keys announced in the spring but should be shipping soon says the CDM crystal ball.

Controller: 25 keys (also 49-, 61-key versions), 9 knobs, 9
faders, 22 buttons, pitch & mod wheel, X-Y joystick, programmable
X-Y touchpad; software editor and presets including pre-built presets
from Novation; MIDI I/O

Audio: 2 in, 2 out (24-bit; can't get specs on the M-Audio); 2
XLR/TRS Neutrik combo ins with phantom power, analog and digital S/PDIF
stereo outs; direct monitoring

Built-in synth: 8-voice polyphonic analog synth with 200 presets and arpeggiator

Built-in digital effects: Reverb /
Chorus-Phaser / Delay / Compressor / Distortion
and EQ assignable per input

Read on to learn the winner.


M-Audio, I love you, but I have one word for you: yawn. What's so great about FireWire? For roughly the same price — maybe
$100 more depending on what the final street price is — the Novation
is a much more useful musical tool. In nearly every category it
delivers more. (My friend at Musicthing agrees.)

As a control surface, the Novation is better configured out of the box and
includes an X-Y touchpad that doesn't auto-center like the joystick —
perfect for funky synth modulations or Ableton Live filters. And I
think it feels more like a real keyboard than the M-Audio products. As
an audio interface, it's 2×2 instead of 4×4, but you get two mic ins
instead of one, and digital out. (Why did M-Audio squander all that
FireWire bandwidth?)

Most importantly, you get effects for those audio ins without having to
tax your CPU, plus one of the best analog synths on the market so you
can use your keyboard on its own. It's almost worth the price of admission for the Novation analog sounds alone.

The M-Audio for me represents a new trend in mediocrity in keyboard
controllers. I love M-Audio, and I'm a big fan of many of their
products. But who exactly are these keyboards for? As a control surface
and audio interface, this is a fairly limited box, so you'd expect this
is all about portability and having more keys. So why so few keys? And
why no built-in sound? At $300, I understand — but $600? It's 70% of what you need, but why not get 110% of what you need?

The Novation seems to be built for actual music-making. It's a great
balance between hardware and computer software. And finally, I can pick
up a 61-key keyboard — still easily totable on the subway — and play
it as an instrument.

But I didn't tell you that. Go buy the M-Audio, because the word I've
heard suggests the popularity of the Novation could make them in
extreme short supply.

Doesn't that Ozonic look great?

Incidentally, this is NOT a review . . . yet. Expect more details
once these products actually emerge. Hey, forget Christmas, my birthday
is in January, anyway!

[UPDATED — fixed broken link to musicthing story]

  • Guest

    I am also not impressed by the Ozonic in general, but I welcome a move toward Firewire audio/MIDI gear. I have M-Audio's Firewire Audiophile interface, and I'm very happy with it. In general, I have been happier with firewire devices overall than I have with USB devices, but that may be because I'm a Mac user, and Apple embraced Firewire for high-bandwidth audio and video stuff long before they seriously supported USB for more than minimal keyboard and mouse stuff.

    I would say that FW gear is, in general, aimed more toward Apple users and less toward PC users, and USB2 stuff is the opposite.

    But I do agree that the Novation keyboard is more interesting and useful in general. I would like to see it (or something _really_ comparable to it) with Firewire, though…

  • admin

    I agree; my general preference is FireWire. It's interesting, back before anyone but MOTU had done FireWire, a lot said it was 'impossible.' MOTU loved FireWire because they'd used it INTERNALLY on their PCI cards!

    I haven't done a whole lot of [understatement warning!] hardware design and commercial sales, but my guess is that USB is a marketing decision more than cost/performance decision. PC users still have more USB than FireWire.

    But hey, the Novation works fine over USB, and I'm not sure those extra 2 ins and outs really give M-Audio much of an edge.

  • Guest

    fw400= 400mb/s
    usb 2.0= 480mb/s

    so why the problem w/ bandwidth?

    i've owned an m-audio fw410, the pre's decent, not the greatest. owned a motu 896 fw. sounded great, bad latency. bad latency through the m-audio, specially for midi. very choppy fader moves with a controler that worked fine with a motu midi time piece.
    i think usb has a quicker response, regardless of bw.
    most m-audio gear isn't put together very well. haven't seen the build on novation yet, but the soft synth's ive heard are great. the built in synth is a great plus.

  • admin

    Nearly all current audio devices use USB 1.1, not 2.0. That's the reason there are still bandwidth problems.

    I'm surprised by the MIDI problems you're having, though; I haven't encountered that.

    The M-Audio stuff is built reasonably well for the price. I've fiddled with the Novation stuff in person — still need to get it into by studio — but it's quite solid. It's just a higher-grade keyboard, hence added expense. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

    Still watching for them to ship to the US (or UK, for that matter); will post as soon as they do.

    Peter

  • bigovum

    I've seriously gone off of firewire. I've managed to short the firewire socket of two devices (IPOD and a Lacie external drive), by having a cheap Athlon 64 motherboard (Photon). It turns out that if you stick the firewire lead in upside down (which you shouldn't be able to do, but my motherboard has a large firewire socket) it fries the firewire circuit and renders the external machines firewire doomed. You'd think i'd have realised after the first time… USB 1 on my X-Station; never a problem, 5ms latency in Traktion.

  • admin

    Yes, M-Audio has a warning to that effect in their FW audio interface documentation. They claim it's only an issue, though, if things aren't up to spec. With the bar set that low, anything carrying voltage can do some damage.

    I'm with you, though, USB works. It's easier to hotswap. FireWire is great when you need the bandwidth. If not, don't sweat it.

  • Guest

    I'm mainly using Live and Reason and the Ozonic seems to be the perfect choice for me. I already own a Firewire Audiophile which has never let me down so far. The Ozonic gives me ALL in one piece. The 2nd pair of audio outs on the HP and line outs make it the #1 solition for my live setups. I can't wait to get my hand on an actual unit. While Novation still uses the old approch of a typical synth (which might be appealing to some folks) it seems to the that M-Audio has taken the electronic music tool concept to the next step. Perfect for Live! and it's pre-cueing function. Perfect for Reason! While the 25 note solutions are OK for most of what I do the 36 note concept is EXACTLY what I always wanted (I bought an editol piece for that reason). A 49 ot even 61 note would be a downgrade for me since the mobility suffers so much and I don't have a use for the extra keys anyway…

    Carlos

  • Guest

    I found detailed information about the Ozonic at
    http://www.m-audio.de/ozonic.htm

    which is German though. It reveals some more data on the audio I/O. It is 24/96:

    # 4 Ein-/Ausgänge mit bis zu 24bit/96kHz Auflösung.
    # Mic-Eingang mit Phantomspeisung (XLR, Input 1, regelbar)
    # Instrumenten-Eingang (6,3 mm, Input 2, regelbar)
    # Stereo Line-Eingänge (6,3 mm, Input 3+4)
    # 2 Ausgangspaare (6,3 mm, 1+2 symmetrisch, 3+4 unsymmetrisch)
    # Kopfhörerausgang (6,3mm Stereo, 32-600 Ohm)
    # Kopfhörer-Pegelregler und Quellenauswahl (A/B Merge Control)
    # getrennte Volume-Slider für Ausgang 1+2 und Ausgang 3+4
    # Hardware Direct Monitoring mit Pegelkontrolle
    # Flexibles Software-Routing der Eingangs- und Ausgangspaare
    # Dual Gain-Pegelregler mit Signal- und Clipping-Anzeige für Input 1+2
    # ASIO Direct Monitoring über integrieretn DSP-Mixer

  • Guest
  • Guest

    > What's so great about FireWire

    Far greater bandwidth than USB 1.1

    > and includes an X-Y touchpad that doesn't auto-center like the joystick

    Sorry, this is incorrect. The Ozonic joystick is not auto-centering. It stays where you set it. It also gives you instant feedback about position, unlike an X-Y touchpad that can be difficult to use quickly in live situations.

    > can't get specs on the M-Audio

    16 or 24 bit, 44.1, 48, 88.2, or 96 KHz sampling rates
    Specs in English here: http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Ozonic-focu

  • Guest
  • Guest

    What about Ozonic Keys and audio latency (VSTi)? Anybody have experience about it ?

  • Guest

    Ozonic is 24 96, it has 4 ours for Pre-Cueing for software like Live (I use) but also anything that has a cue output. Mic pre is pretty cool, Instrument lets me plug in my guitar, expression pedal in means I can control filters with my foot and after touch on the keyboard, yes AFTERTOUCH means I can modulate with pressure. OZONIC is perfect. X – station is cool. COol synths, more keys would be cool (but I proabably wouldn't use them as I'm not really a keyboardist) but I really need the cue mix function.

  • Guest

    My piano playing girlfriend digs it.

  • Guest

    So why has M-Audio stuck with FireWire? Why does the Ozonic seem to not use all the available FireWire bandwidth? Easy: Daisy-chain your Ozonic and FireWire 410 together and watch what happens! Voila, you now have an 8×14 audio device (4×4 Ozonic + 4×10 FireWire 410). Now that's some forward thinking, M-Audio!

  • Guest

    weighted key MIDI full length items are in the same price range. Why get crappy portable?

  • admin

    I like synth-action keyboards for certain tasks, especially computer-generated synths, and for doubling as a control surface. If I have more pianistic stuff to play, then yes, I'll carry a fully-weighted keyboard. But after years as a pianist only, I've slowly grown to love synth-action stuff. If it's not total crap. We'll have some reviews here soon of this gear (once they finally ship, darnit!!) and believe me, we will NOT go easy on plastic crap. (Don't get me started on my Midiman Keystation 61 . . . it's a disaster. I may take it apart and use the inner bits for something new.)

  • Guest

    > What's so great about FireWire 

    It's bi-directional, meaning it can send and recieve data packets simultaneously. this is a limitation of any flavor of USB. USB is uni-directional, it can either send or recieve packets but not at the same time so the bandwidth is a little higher but it's more prone to bottlenecking with small buffers and large amounts of data. This translates into lower track counts when you have a USB 2.0 drive and interface on the same bus.

  • Guest

    usb2.0 :with low latency cracks & drops. due to unsufficient voltage
    firewire : smooth

  • Guest

    :roll :grin ๐Ÿ˜‰ :roll :roll :roll :p :roll :roll :roll :roll :upset :zzz :sigh ๐Ÿ˜• :cry ๐Ÿ˜ก

  • Guest

    8) 8)

  • mikebc1

    I have the Ozonic wired up to my home built dual core Pentium computer. Works fine with Tracktion 2 . Mapping it out to my Absynth like the aftertouch and the joystick. Can save my midi maps for each VST. Had to completely reinstall XP to get the latest drivers for the Ozonic and my M-audio Delta 1010lt to install. Could have been the .net not sure. The free Enigma Midi Librarian I still can't get that to work. I am a new hobbyist. The X-station looks good but I heard it has driver issues. If they made a 61 Key Ozonic that would be the ultimate.

  • mikebc1

    I replaced the 6 pin firewire cable with a nice shielded one for $10 that seems to be the fix. It is nice and stable now on my pc.

  • FRANK

    MY OZONIC SEEMS TO BE BROKE THE MIDI DATA SCREEN JUST ROLLS AROUND ENDLESSLY, CAN ANYONE HELP.

  • Addison

    Frank, I hope this helps you out. I've owned an Ozonic since they first came out on the market. If I remember correctly I think it might have a RESET routine that I once used to fix a similar problem, a dead screen. I don't recall at the moment how to RESET it, but if you check around you should be able to look find out what it is. Also, and this may sound a bit silly, try different firewire cables, as sometimes I've found that plugging in a different one works more reliably. And, for one it gets me to go through other problem solving routines – like making sure the cables are inserted all the way in at both ends.Like unplugging firewire device powering the computer down, powering back up, and waiting until all of the startup routines have finished doing their thing. I even wait for that process to happen once and then reboot it an additional time before I start plugging in external firewire devices, one at a time, just to see if a combination of devices are affecting not only the Ozonic but other firewire devices I have plugged in, like firewire a set of FW RAID HDs. Again, all I'm doing is trying different combinations before inserting each device into a firewire device, especially if they are chained. Firewire is fairly reliable when everything is plugged in and it's just left that way session after session. However, event that doesn't guarantee that we won't have a problem here and there. Like for 'example' with a firewire device that may not have the correct drivers, especially after an overall system update. Firewire audio devices can be especially problematic when a music sequencing program suddenly freezes. That's when I've noticed nothing seems to get firewire to automatically reset itself, mac or win. Recently I had to turn the purposely power off on several occasion because I had a particular problem with a couple of firewire drives that weren't playing nice with OSX's firewire network feature. Once that was turned off, everything seems to be OK, that one took me about a month of intermittent working and not working before I figured it out. Anyway, firewire devices linked to audio leads to big time freezes when other factors which we may not be aware of are thrown in to the mix. So, try checking that you've downloaded and installed the latest drivers. And, try using Ozonic's power supply instead of relying exclusively on the firewire port supplying the power to your Ozonic. Sometime not enough power is getting to a fw device for one reason or another. It's sometimes quite difficult to pinpoint these problems because one problem may lead to another and yet another, etc. Generally speaking, IF you are using more than one external firewire device the best way to trouble shoot this kind of problem is to get the most basic components working one at a time. Then start plugging in one device after another. And, if possible, by all means make a note of what you're doing when a something stops working like that, especially with firewire. Once a firewire device starts getting goofy it's time to do a bunch of basic maintenance cleanup on you PC or Mac. Try it all, and if none of it cures your Ozonic woes, you may have a serious problem with the Ozonic. However, let me say this, last year I had a problem with my Ozonic's screen and I got really pissed because I thought I was going to have to have it fixed and was out of warranty. Then one night I got some bright eyed problem solving wizardry going and I learned something I didn't know before, sometimes problems are not near as bad as we assume they are. That one I've really got to ponder more than one time in my life. All the best!

  • xaccrocheur

    It’s been 10 years now… My Novation X-Station is the *best* piece of gear I ever bought.

  • xaccrocheur

    It’s been 10 years now… My Novation X-Station is the *best* piece of gear I ever bought.

  • It’s been 10 years now… My Novation X-Station is the *best* piece of gear I ever bought.