Trade shows are a funny thing, in that you tend to learn about stuff you can’t have yet – and that there’s a sudden, overwhelming load of new press releases. So, let’s try to keep things navigable with a walk through some of the most significant stuff coming out at the massive Messe trade show in Frankfurt, Germany this week.

I can’t say this was a mind-blowing week by any stretch – I’ve been perfectly happy to stay here in New York, thanks. (Germany, may I ask, why is that you don’t hold events in Berlin?) But there is some news, so let’s have a look:

Dark Energy is a standalone analog synth from Doepfer. For those of us who have looked enviously at big Doepfer racks, but couldn’t afford / find space for / lift them, this is huge news. It’s a monophonic, standalone synth with USB and MIDI (and, naturally, control voltage), weighing just over a kilogram. Once you get beyond the MIDI interface, everything is analog. VCO (triangle-based, FM, PWM control), VCF (24 dB low pass) with external audio input, VCA, LFO1 and LFO2, ADSR. It’s basically a standalone version of the A-111-5 module. As such, it’s a bit limited compared to what’s out there, but there’s still a lot you can do with it, and at EUR400 it’s a Doepfer you can more easily afford.

Dark Energy Product Page

I actually wish they hadn’t used the vintage-style look, because I like the distinctive, Cyberman-silver look of the Doepfer racks. (Maybe a Light Energy version for those who agree?) But that doesn’t make your credit card any less safe from this drool-inducing monster.


The Miniak is a new synth from Akai that crosses the Alesis Micron synth with an Akai body, adding a boom mic and a 40-band vocoder. There are also some Akai-style features – step and phrase sequencing, and a drum machine/rhythm sequencer. There’s no question this is an attempt by Akai to position the Miniak opposite Korg’s microKORG XL and R3 – and, perhaps, an acknowledgement that the “Alesis” nameplate doesn’t mean much to anyone these days. But given the fact that a lot of people like the sound of the Micron better than the Korg, I think it could be a contender. No pricing yet.

Akai Miniak

In other, if less earth-shaking, Akai news, Akai has added an 88-key MPK, their controllers with MPC pads on them. It also includes MPC Note Repeat and Swing. That’s cool, but for 88-key keyboards, action is everything, so I wonder how the quality may be. I haven’t been blown away with Akai on build quality lately. (As an aside, I think these are all variable — some people love them. You tend to hear positive and negative comments about any lower-cost items. I guess part of my concern is I don’t have much experience with 88-key keybeds from Akai or Alesis, so we’ll see what they use and judge then.) The MPK88 also suffers from the same thing I complained about on the Novation SL: the control layout is exactly the same to save cost, even with the added keys, so you get this oddly-cramped control layout in the center and then big blank spaces on either side. Then again, you have a place to store sheet music, sandwiches, etc.

There’s also the rather sad-looking MPD18, which is a 4×4 MPC pad controller with just one fader. I think most people would rather have the MPD24 or MPD32 which actually have other controls on them.

So, in other words, Akai’s APC40 Ableton controller from NAMM and the Miniak from this show are likely to be the big newsmakers.


Samplitude 11 / Sequoia 11: The beloved (if not terribly widely-known) audio software from Magix is getting a pretty significant update – and best of all, Magix is dropping the dongle in the basic version. (See KVR for some heated debate about the value proposition there.) Samplitude has a new integrated UI, a new effects suite, “artifact-free” timestretching, and a new EQ. Sequoia adds “multisynchronous cut” for easier comparison of takes and visual feedback when timestretching, AAF/OMF support, video export, and new user admin features. There’s also a new guitar amp simulation, though I’m unclear why the world needs another of those. Sadly, details are scant right now and someone had the terrible idea of spending time instead of Flash animations of bird woodcuts (see my caption for the image above), but go enjoy:


I love OpenLabs, in that they seem – kind of crazy. DBeat is the latest in their line of massive hardware-computer hybrids. Interestingly, their capacitive touch screen will be multi-touch capable with Windows 7, which is very cool. Otherwise, well, everything you could put on this, they did – that is indeed an iPod dock on the top and a trackball on the bottom right. It comes preconfigured with Ableton Live and their own Riff virtual instrument host, plus GURU running inside Riff.

DBeat [Open Labs]

What you get is an integrated hardware interface and pre-tuned software configuration – though I do wonder how you get inside for repairs / upgrades. It costs US$3999 – 3499 intro – but make one Geico ad and it should pay for itself, as the NeKo did for these guys:

Euphonix with their MC Transport have created what must be acknowledged as the world’s most beautiful jog wheel. It even has a gorgeous Time Code Display, made … well, quite small, apparently because it’s artier? Those are transport buttons, function keys, navigation controls, and of course a numeric keypad, and it all connects via Ethernet – something I’d love to see more of. The controls work with Euphonix’s own EuCon, plus HUI, MackieControl, and plain keystroke support. For those of you who can’t afford an entire Euphonix setup, get the jog wheel!

MC Transport

The surprise news of the store: PreSonus Studio One, a new DAW. Apparently we don’t have enough of those with Samplitude (see above) and Pro Tools and Logic and DP and Cubase and Tracktion and Live and Reaper and Ardour and … so on. As with Mackie’s Tracktion, the goal appears to be to build a new foundation from the grou
nd-up, for easier ease of use and slicker features. But I’m still scratching my head as to what the real advantage is here. The primary selling point is a new audio engine that can switch between 32-bit and 64-bit floating-point audio processing on the fly. (They note “even with a 32-bit OS,” but that’s true of all 64-bit audio; it’s not directly related to the OS.) Other features seem Ableton-influenced – drag-and-drop, instant timestretching and (again, as with Tracktion) a one-window interface. But all in all, this looks like reinventing the wheel to the extreme. (A new virtual sampler!)

One interesting implementation detail: MIDI mapping is designed to be easier, by moving your hardware control and software control for linking. (That’s the way assignment works, for instance, internally in Kore.) And there’s full Mac and Windows audio interface driver and plug-in support, plus even VST3 support.

But if you’re building a new tool in a crowded marketplace, why not do something really different? Why not support OSC or build in clever new networking features or change the interface paradigm? This entire industry sometimes seems addicted to reinventing proprietary tools to create new “platforms,” without any real thought into why we’re doing it. And I personally can’t describe how little I want another DAW. (I could try breaking down and crying, for effect.)

Maybe it’s fantastic. But even if it is, it certainly didn’t take this opportunity to do something radically new.

PreSonus Studio One

And the oddest photo from Messe (snagged for us at CDM):

Messe Picks

These wound up being the biggest stories of the show for us personally – in part, just in terms of what I’m anticipating.

The synth that stole the show without making a sound (meaning, it had better sound great when it ships):

Teenage Engineering OP-1: Insanely Slick, Pocketable Controller + Synth

Operator-1 Details: The Casio VL-Tone of the 21st Century, Plus the Synth Alarm Clock!

High-Density Screens Due; OP-1’s Gorgeous Display

There was one actually-shipping software program that has made a big splash, naturally.

Ableton Live 8 Released (For Real)

A major announcement:

Garritan Rescues Giga Sampling Technology, Talks Open Standards (to me, the biggest news of this show)

Updated Novation ReMOTE SL Line, and the Controller Keyboard Battle Heats Up (cool, though not the “product of the show” Novation hyped it up to be)

Cakewalk V-Studio 100: Mixer + Recorder + Computer Audio Interface + Controller

And no, nothing I covered this week was an April Fool’s Joke. Jeez.

Did I leave anything of import out of this round-up? Let us know!

Disagree with my take? Say so. (That’s why we have open comments.)

  • I really want the OP-1, quite like the Dark Energy too

    I love the sound of the Micron, wonder if the Miniak makes it any easier to program. (I'm guessing not)

  • Well, right, they seem to have added another wheel controller, but the onboard controls look pretty minimalist.

    It just seems like these days, if you're going to do hardware, you don't want to be navigating menus … if I'm going to do that, I'll use software. 😉

    Bring back the Andromeda, that's what I say.

  • Wow!!! The OpenLabs DBeat looks amazing. This may be the savior that us LivePA folk have been waiting for. I can't even imagine the potential there.

  • Chad

    Revealing my ignorance:

    How do you pronounce Doepfer?

    – c

  • @Chad: The Americanized version I hear sounds kinda like "Dope-fur," but I believe that's technically wrong. I think the 'oe' is substituted for an umlaut over the o, which would mean it'd sound like the oh-umlaut sound.

    Someone German want to give a correct answer, though? 😉

  • Alex

    I think its daep-fair…anyway i want to hear this thing…it is a little expensive for what it offers, but if it has top-notch sound (and not the classic average Doepfer module sound), i could spent 800 euros for two of them…

  • The oe is a substitute for ö and the pf is pronounced just like in Pfizer.

  • Kyle

    The new Presonus Studio One daw looks very interesting.
    I don't think it hurts to try and build something that may be better than the competition. WHo knows, this piece of software may blow the competition out of the water. We'll see!
    Plus, why wouldn't they create this? They sell audio interfaces. It makes total sense to create their own software to integrate with the hardware. And now they won't have to bundle someone else's crappy LE software with the products.
    I can't wait to check this out!!!

  • It *is* a standard Doepfer module, repackaged. But you don't like the way they sound, really? To me, they're distinctive; I'm glad they don't sound like everything else.

    While we're at it:

    Moog rhymes with rogue
    monome = "mah – gnome"
    NI Maschine = "mah -SCHEEN -nuh" — as in German, otherwise it would be spelled Machine. 😉

  • @Kyle: I'm willing to be surprised / proven wrong here.

    I guess my frustration is this: we have a whole lot of attempts to rebuild the DAW. The 32-bit/64-bit thing is potentially nice, as is smarter MIDI mapping. But, especially if you're a hardware manufacturer, why not try something *really* different? As users, we'd love to see some genuine innovation in UI — really different ways of doing things. There could be a chance to push open standards for hardware integration that don't exist now. There are countless things you could do that people might need. I just can't imagine anyone *needing* another DAW.

    If they do have a case, I think they're going to find a way of making it stronger, or perhaps find something with their longer-term plans for this platform that are different.

  • kai

    A friend working for a major retailer in Germany tells me that Euphonix are having a bundle sale: MC Mix and MC Control for 1700 EUR. Maybe it's just that retailer doing it, though, that would be Musik-Produktiv, (.de).

    to give an alternate opinion: I really like the keys and built quality of my Akai MPK49.

  • cebec

    Kyma = "kee-ma"

    is that right about Monome? I've been pronouncing it (in my head, of course, since I have no one to talk to about these things in real life) as "mah-no-me".

  • seems that they (Alesis/Akai, Korg) want us to do all our editing on the PC, if I wanted to do that, I'd just use softsynths!

    The Roland SH-201 has a nice set of controls for a budget synth, the SH-32 packed them into a small package.

    rather like that Doepfer.

    Yesss, Andromeda was awesome!

  • Numark seems like they are milking Alesis and Akai for all they're worth.

    I predict, MPK61 next, amirite?

  • Alex

    Too bad Dark Energy is a standard module.. 🙁 I have played with an A100 but i wasn't impressed at all with the sound and build quality (plastic i/o on modulars is a very bad idea IMO)…I believe that Doepfer's strength is the relatively cheap modules and the big diversity of them..Dark energy could be a lot more desirable if it cost 300 euros.

    The Akai Miniak seems "ugly" to me…i don't know why exactly..looks like a prototype 😀 i think its because of the minimal but not too small interface and the colours. I wonder about the price…i wouldn't pay more than 400 euros for something like this, especially when we can buy great synths like Mopho and Blofeld so cheap.

  • donfuan

    holy goodness.

    The OE from Doepfer is spoken like the 'ea' in "i heard" or like "work", or like the merc-part in "mercenary", or like a sheep does. 😀

    So listen and repeat: "I heard that Doepfer works mercyless" (hehe)

    And b: there are more great cities apart from Berlin in Germany, because we are no centralised country like England or France 😛

  • I'm actually kinda psyched for the MPK-88. I've got a very old main keyboard controller midi'd into an MPD24 now, to control mainstage.

    It's getting to be a pain toting so much gear. I was browsing for a new controller just an hour ago, that would have 88 keys and enogh pads and knobs to replace my MPD24. And here they've created that exact thing.

    I don't mind the blank spots on the end. If they'd only add a clamp or something for your laptop there, it'd be perfect.

    And maybe a cup holder. You never know when you'll need a swig.

  • @plurgid — good point. (Actually, boy would I love to see a clamp for a laptop on a keyboard…) And yes, if they've nailed the key action, this could be fantastic.

    Also, I wouldn't mind an MPK61, now that someone mentions that…

  • Panic

    I wish Presonus had used the R&D money they sunk into Studio One to make the drivers for their interfaces more stable. Junked My FireStudio for an RME because the drivers were so unstable. 3 times the price but 1000 times more stable.

  • Justin

    I know there is that debate raging over on KVR about whether Samplitude or Sequoia are worth the price, but I'd have to say I'm excited for the new versions. I've been a Samplitude user since 9 and I can't wait to get the new version. I love Samplitude for its all in one approach, I can write, mix, master, and author all from within the program. Not only that, but the audio quality and effects are great.

  • Will C

    Peter- Ableton 8 is OUT!


    "seems that they (Alesis/Akai, Korg) want us to do all our editing on the PC"

    I WISH they wanted that!!

    The micron NEVER had a proper editor, and since the Miniak is exactly the same thing (except ugly) they won't have an editor for it either.

    Numark never supports any thing once it is released, editors or accessories.

  • nd

    Studio One looks more evolutionary than revolutionary for sure, however they look to have taken a lot of interface inspiration from Ableton Live and applied it to a more traditional DAW workflow. Combine that with the mastering features and you have a pretty nice take on music making. I know what you mean though Peter… there is space for more forward thinking. That, said… I'm interested in this.

  • @nd: Right, but wasn't that the idea of Tracktion, too? Again, suppose the smarter MIDI assignment and 32/64-bit engine are nice, but… if you just want a simple DAW, you also have choices like Reaper, which has the bonus of a big, supportive community, absurd low price, and built-in scripting.

  • rub

    Numark bought out Alesis, then fired its synth designers. Yay!

    Net lore says Numark = Alesis = Akai.

    Problem is, that MiniAk is right fugly!

    I gotta Micron. If NumAlesAkai actually supported the bugger, I'd buy a decent revamp.

    As it is, one look at that MiniAk and I'm gone.

  • Fractal

    Waouh !!!

    the open labs Dbeat !

    Usine on it with multi touch screen and this all in one: just perfect!

    The price is pretty big…

  • Polite

    yeah, the micron looks like a kids toy, and the miniak just looks… ugh.

    Still if it sounds good… i do quite like the small form factor keyboards, they are nice and transportable.

    who isn't looking forward to the OP-1, i mean, really?

  • Nice round-up. Been checking this stuff out at messe and you hit the nail on the head about Studio 1.

    Dark Energy is disappointing. Not that patchable. You'd be better off with a MFB Kraftzwerg.


  • Peter, don't forget the Oddulator from L.L.Electronics, and ask Kilian about the RozzControl, a physical extension for the Rozzbox. I'm writing a Rozzbox review right now, i love this polyphonic synth.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    polite, it might look like a kid's toy, but it sure as hell doesn't sound like one… Incidentally, the Micron already has step sequencer / phrase sequencer functionality, and very nice it is too. If Numark have done anything, I hope they've added the ability to cue patterns. That, a digital out and a decent offline editor (or a USB port and VST integration) were all the Micron was really missing, and I can already see they've missed the digital out opportunity.

    …But I bet they haven't. One of the problems with losing your entire synth team is that you're not left with anyone capable of actually redesigning a synth – which is only fine if you're intending to endlessly recycle technology forever until the market leaves it behind altogether, or you can fall upon another brilliant company on its downers and drain the soul clean out of it.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Also – since the Micron can be had for £340 new these days, any price tag north of £399 for the Miniak (god, what a horrid name!) should be regarded as taking the piss.

    So, £599 it is then… *sigh*

  • velocipede

    I miss the Micron that I sold. Unless the Miniak has something that is truly different or improved, I would probably get another Micron instead. The Micron's horizontal sliders were a different and nifty approach to realtime control. On the other hand, Miniak has aftertouch. I'm looking forward to a full review.

  • bliss

    Has anybody here noticed DBeat? That looks to be an amazing piece of gear. Especially for live performance — using Live, of course. And the price is reasonable given the hardware functions, if purchased separately; i.e., controllers, software, computer, etc. The portability can't be beat.

  • jp

    are the miniak keys full size?
    does the external audio get routed through the fx section?
    will it cost under $400?
    whatever happened to Dick Cheney?

  • rob dekoch

    I want a sad panda keyboard stand thing.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    velocipede, aftertouch isn't mentioned in the Miniak product page – only velocity. On the Ion and Micron, the second mod wheel / slider transmits aftertouch information; I suspect that's still the case. (I prefer that, to be honest, never having really got to grips with aftertouch anyway.)

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  • HomeTown

    Dark Energy = very cool! nice little box. want one.

    Miniak = cool, I like the Micron sounds, hate the looks and buttons of the micron, sideways pitch bender and sliders suck big time. Like the 3 wheels. I think the Miniak looks good. Hate the mini keys on the Korg gear and the PCM waves so this is a step up if it's $499 or less.

    MPD18 = cool if it's $99. Cheap pads are a good thing.

    MPK88 = I'd rather have an MPK61. 88 is too big for my space.

    Open Labs = $3900? You gotta be kidding me. Someone might buy one but not me. Much cheaper solutions out there.

    Studio One = interested. Used ProTools for ever, am tired of their slow development, forced use of their hardware, pay for things like Digitranslator that should be built in. I hope they offer another solution that is cheaper and works well.

    Panda keyboard = OK but I want it in a 61 note version and with Hello Kitty instead.

  • Well, if you want a simple DAW, there is Reaper. 😉 And, heck, if you want a simplified DAW with a fast workflow and one-screen editing with great plug-in support from a manufacturer that makes hardware interfaces (!), there's Mackie Tracktion, which is far more mature at version 3.

    So I'm utterly stumped as to what niche, precisely, this thing fills. (People who want 64-bit audio? Except that's still contingent on plug-in support — and Cakewalk SONAR does a damned fine job, with the Cakewalk plugs ready, to boot.)

  • Oh yeah, I am more impressed now that it's clear the MPD18 is $99 list. My gripe, though — why is there all that blank space around the edges? If it's basically going to be pads alone, why not reduce the footprint? (even if it increases thickness slightly) Does it need that space for the giant AKAI logo? Did no one learn anything from the Korg nano phenomenon?

    It's an awful lot of blank space just to add one fader (which you may not really need) and buttons for scenes (which could be places above or below). There's not that much to doing the hardware layout for these things; you could put the circuit for the USB jack underneath. It works on the monome, and it's far more complex (i.e., way more touch points)

  • I totally agree with your comments on the MPD18 Peter. It seems like they saw the effectiveness of a minimal design in the monome, then sent it to the design department and it came back looking like every other tank-like box that akai sells these days – with a single fader just to upsell you to the MPD24.

    If only Akai would carry the minimalist idea through to its logical conclusion. That being said – if it does sell for $99 it's not too crazy to think of buying one and transplanting it into a smaller DIY enclosure.

  • rub

    Cool to see some folks actually digging the MiniAk. Different strokes, eh?

    But I still say that Micron owners got a snow job….by the same folks (technically) who are unveiling the MiniAk.

    Long live the Micron sound chip. It's superphat all right. But what's with Korg and Akai's door stop chic? Oh how I love to hole up with my weirdo alien Micron on the bean bag and drop off into synfinity. You get those hexagonal led's winking at you while chugging along on some beasty patch, and it's love.

    Could it be love with a MiniAk? Not with that clawfoot bottom digging into my knees!

    Note to Alesis/Numark/Akai: You should have kept up with the Ion and Micron. Your user base loves these synths! But we hate how you snowed us. Or at least, I do. 🙂

  • gwenhwyfaer

    rub: chips – 8 of these in fact, one per voice. I guess at some point, someone at Alesis must have thought "you know, I bet one of our FX chips would make a swell monosynth…"

    I love mine too 🙂

  • lowlife

    Any info on the L.L. Electronics Oddulator would be appreciated.

  • I fully agree with you on the PreSonus Studio One, Peter. "Erm… okay, we need this why?" Not to mention the potential headache supporting yet another host is going to be for independent developers. Actually, I can't imagine NI is all that thrilled about it either.

    I love the side-jack of Micron respect. I picked up one at a pawn shop and have been nothing but impressed – a really fun and deep VA. I've taken to running it through my evolver which gives it an extra layer of analog-esque synth goodness.

  • About the Doepfer (and the coloring) you could of course buy an A-100 minicase (about $110 powered and empty) and put quite a variety of modules of your choice in it – especially now that they have a narrower MIDI interface module. The only thing you'd lack is the USB to MIDI interface and Emu for instance makes them for around $30.

    Though this is a smart move for Doepfer in that they can place the Dark Energy in more mainstream retailers plus tempt people over to their modular gear for expansion.

    About sound quality, you'll have to be the judge. This is one of the few times they've actually repackaged something, though what they've re-packaged is brand new too. I'm always surprised when people characterize the Doepfer sound because it's coming out of so many different modules that are not the same circuitry. Not that some will or won't meet the sonic needs or someone.

  • @Panic +1 on your thoughts on their drivers. My firebox is a cheap, decent sounding piece of value gear but the drivers are garbage. At least once every two hours it stops making sound and needs to be restarted. At least three times the drivers have become corrupted and I've had to re-install. Presonus knows that a lot of their users are having this problem and has said nothing…guess they were busy writing code for this DAW.

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  • @Peter Kirn: hah, your line about DAW's: "Why not support OSC or build in clever new networking features or change the interface paradigm?" almost exactly describes what I'm working on. 😉