January 13, 2011 at 8:22 am

Finally, a 49-Key Synthesizer Keyboard for the iPad

You know how when you’re creating teenage symphonies on your iPad, like some strange hybrid of Brian Wilson and Damon Albarn, it’s sometimes hard to play the virtual keyboard on the iPad’s touch screen while controlling all of the knobs, pads, and switches that need controlling?

Music-making apps are growing remarkably sophisticated, to the point that Albarn recorded the latest Gorillaz album, “The Fall,” mostly using an iPad — pretty impressive for a musician who told me just last year that he never used computers to make music. However, while the iPad’s screen excels at many sonic functions, it will always lack the tactile feel of a hardware synthesizer.

Enter the Akai SynthStation49, unveiled at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) conference in Anaheim on Thursday, which might be thought of as the world’s most complicated iPad dock. It’s a 49-key velocity-sensitive keyboard with MPC-style drum pads, pitch-bend and modulation wheels, and a transport for handling recording functions that correspond to controls within Akai’s SynthStation app, which mounts into the keyboard, appearing approximately where your sheet music normally would. It’s a sequel to the company’s SynthStation25, a battery-powered, iPhone-accepting version that has been selling briskly, according to the company:

“SynthStation has been out for a little more than five months now, and in that time, we’ve sold tens of thousands of copies,” Akai director of marketing and business development Adam Cohen told Evolver.fm at CES. ”The companion hardware piece, SynthStation 25, is selling very well also.”

Akai’s SynthStation app  Some commenters on the iTunes page for SynthStation take exception to the way the SynthStation app works, some preferring Nanostudio instead. Indeed, in my testing, SynthStation did exhibit a small amount latency (the time it takes an electronic instrument to respond to a command), which is one thing those commenters object to.

However, Akai allows other music app developers to integrate with their hardware, giving SynthStation owners a choice in iPad apps.

“While it obviously was designed for use with SynthStation, we’ve offered the API for free to other music app manufacturers, and many are building support for our hardware into their app as well,” added Cohen. “In fact, three already support SynthStation 25 –  iVoxel, NanoStudio and NLog.”

The SynthStation49 keyboard was clearly designed with the iPad in mind, but it also has a USB port for controlling MIDI instruments on a computer, as well as 1/4-inch stereo outputs for connecting to your speakers — or a club’s P.A., once you get your act together.

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