The overview screen, for navigating - some overtones of both Kai's software from the 90s and the better stuff from Apple (Sculpture).

Substance is a new software approach to every kind of bass

There are those desserts that are subtle. And then there are the ones that are layered chocolate and peanut butter and cream that you drench in still more chocolate sauce, but in a way that holds together. You know – layering. Substance, a new soft synth from Output, is all about layering. It’s about making enormous bass things out of other already pretty-large bass things. And it represents a nice latest chapter in what the boutique software developer has been doing with sound design

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The Roland Boutique that wasn’t a 303 or 909 might be the most interesting

808. 909. 303. 330. No, really “330.” VP-330. That last one is also a classic Roland product with a cult following, but suffice to say, it isn’t a household name on the same level. It’s Roland’s 1979 “Vocoder Plus” instrument – the “plus” added because it was not only a vocoder, but also a string and vocal synth. It also got a reboot on Friday’s mega-launch of Roland instruments. Here’s the surprise: it might be the most interesting of the Boutique offerings yet.

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fluXpad is an insanely immediate music drawing tool for iPad

Make an interface simpler, and you might push your musical expression further. That’s the realization you have using fluXpad, a new drawing app. It’s not that it’s a dumbed-down rendition of other tools. It’s that doodling with sounds is a totally different experience than the point-and-click fine editing you might be used to.

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Novation just packed more into small, affordable Circuit box

It’s tiny. It’s battery powered. It costs just over US$300 street. But Novation’s Circuit sample/drum/synth groovebox has been squeezing in a whole lot of functionality that makes it into a really serious tool, great for starting ideas or jamming or playing live. And we’ve been testing the latest build, version 1.3, for some days now. It’s available to everyone free right now, and it adds some significant changes that make this tool more flexible than ever. Let’s have a look.

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Ableton Live 9.7 in beta, with slicing and beatmaking news

Ableton Live 9.7 is right now in public beta – just days after the latest 9.6 release went final. Most of the functionality announced so far is related to Push and beat making; 9.7 brings features that let you play, record, and slice more easily from Ableton’s hardware. But that shouldn’t mean you should despair if you’re not a Push user; as with each Push release so far, there are parallel improvements in the software itself.

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Get a free pack that recreates Prince’s signature drum sounds

With so much to talk about in recent days about Prince’s legacy, it’s possible to overlook just what a deep impact he had on production and sound design. Working with Roger Linn’s classic boxes, the LinnDrum and LM-1, the artist left an indelible mark on the sound of pop. And you don’t have to slavishly copy those contributions: by learning how they’re put together, you can understand what went into them and follow your own sound. Just that sort of education in sound design – something for fans and students – is embodied in a free download for Ableton Live …

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We got our hands on Pioneer’s new SP-16 sampler

Pioneer revealed its Toraiz SP-16 hardware sampler earlier this week, along with the news that analog filters from Dave Smith were baked in. But beyond that, online specs were a bit vague. So we’ve just gotten to meet up with Pioneer (and Dave) and get close to a prototype unit. Firmware isn’t done yet, but we got to learn a lot more – and there’s a lot to like.

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Make music by touching waveforms, sampling, in new Novation app

Creating digital music is all about the business of mucking about with sounds. But somehow, the actual sounds themselves have been tangled up in immense grids and spreadsheets and mixers and things called piano rolls and so on. Blocs Wave is the latest attempt to use mobile apps to get back to basics. Here, whether you’re on an iPhone in your hand or the enormous iPad Pro, the sounds are at the center. Touch your way through the waveforms to make music – whether using soundpacks or adding your own.

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Get a free sampled drum kit made in a spacecraft test facility

Last November, I went armed with some LOM label microphones to the Netherlands to find out what sounds you could discover in a space research facility. That exploration produced a lot of sounds, and one way to play with them was to transform them into percussion. Now you can download the drum kit I made for your own use, or to create your own instruments.

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It's all acoustic technology. But, at last, it's 21st century acoustic technology. Photo: CDM.

Watch Una Corda, a software piano with a difference

The piano has been living with a beautiful legacy, but that legacy can double as tyranny. The Steinway Model D, favorite instrument of mine that it is, has also frozen the technological development of the keyboard instrument. And that’s why the Una Corda is different. Built custom by David Klavins, and associated with that builder’s collaboration with pianist Nils Frahm, this lightweight piano is unlike any you’ve seen or heard before. And now, you can get a taste of playing the real thing with a software instrument.

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