I picked up a Tama Imperialstar in 2015 because it was a good price and the drum kit I was using at the time had been on several tours and was starting to fall apart. I first got the “Bop” configuration which had the tiny 18″ kick. It sounded really good actually for it’s size, but I wanted something a little boomier, so I picked a 20″ matching kick. So my configuration isn’t exactly like the packaged one above as far as sizes, but the shell construction, hardware, and wood, and finish are all the same.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Imperialstar is it’s sharp attack. This works really well in modern music and makes the drums cut though the mix. The kick drum especially has a really good tone that’s musical, and deep sounding. Shell construction is top notch. If you take the heads off the shells and look inside, you can see the bearing edges are cut with utmost precision. The lugs on the shells are low-mass which gives the wood more room to breath and sustain. The toms have a deep and long sustain.
Mounting hardware is flexible and very sturdy. I can’t see ever having a problem with it. At one point I put a suspension mount on mine, but actually thought it sounded better before, so I set it back to original. The bass drum spurs are exactly how they should be, nothing slides and you have a strong anchor to the carpet when you play.
When you get the drums new, I recommend taking the top tom heads and putting them on the bottoms, then getting new top heads. The snare and kick heads are pretty good stock, but you may want to add a remo falam slam on the kick batter to prolong it’s life.
I knew the unit didn’t sample on its own, but I didn’t know it was iOS only. That’s pretty stupid. They should have at least given you a way to just connect usb to a windows machine. I still think it’s a cool device, but I have no plans of ever getting an Apple product.
The KORG volca sample is a fun-looking sample “sequencer” – it can play back, modify, and mangle pre-recorded samples in a step sequencer. But it requires a dedicated iOS app to do the actual sampling.
That makes for a mixed bag, straight out of the gate. As KORG says:
“The new volca lets you recapture the excitement of the first generation of samplers, in which any sound — vocals, spoken words, ambient sound, or glitches — becomes material for your creations!”
– right, but then it leaves out one of the best things about those hardware samplers, namely – sampling.
With that disappointment out of the way, the volca sample otherwise is full of some cool ideas. Let’s have a look at what it can do.
The heart of the beast is the sound parameters, which you can then map to individual steps:
Sample select, start point, length, hi cut
Pitch: speed, envelope, attack, decay
Amplitude: level, pan, attack, decay
And you can motion-sequence each of these.
There’s also per-sample reverse and reverb, plus overall reverb mix and swing.
The “Analog Isolator” gives you bass and treble controls. (UK-style, that’s “Analogue Isolator” on the front panel.)
With Bitwig, EnergyXT and Ardour3, we are getting closer and closer to having good Linux alternatives to Ableton, Cubase and Pro Tools.
Disclaimer, I do not hate Linux. I want to say before you read the rest of this post that I love Linux and have been using it for a long long time, also I was an avid Linux audio user for much of that time until recently I switched to using windows again for audio work because of wanting to use some commercial software that is not available in Linux. The first several demonic sweaters LPs were all done with Linux in one form or another.
With all of that being said, I feel 100% confident in saying that Jack (Jack Audio Connection Kit) is still a major pain in the ass and is probably one of the quickest ways to break a person’s sanity. I am pretty decent with using it because I have been doing it for so long, but I think the average user will not want to mess with it so much. Most people just want their stuff to work so they can spend time creating, not messing with dependencies and config files.
Since I’m a pretty big nerd, tinkering with the software and messing with all the ins and outs of Jack were kinda fun, but if Linux is ever going become a full replacement for Win/Mac in major studios and on mass stages, it really needs an ASIO equivalent audio driver setup that will install and run simply as well as coexist on a machine with something like Pulseaudio. Especially when more and more cool stuff like Bitwig Studio is making its way into Linux. If there were such a standard in audio for Linux, maybe larger companies like Ableton and Steinberg would actually port their flagship apps to the Penguin.
It’s cool how you can run inputs and outputs of software and MIDI in such advanced ways with Jack, but the configuration hassles and the pure instability of it can be a serious creative roadblock. For instance, does this following scenario sound familiar to you? You decide that you want reverb plugin A from (insert repository name here). Reverb A decides it needs such and such software dependency to work, however, Jack2 hates such and such dependency’s guts and decides to go back to Jack1 during that same install. That’s all well and good until WineASIO says:
“what the fuck Jack1? What did you do with Jack2 and my blabla.so files I need? Now I’m not going to run at all and make it completely impossible for you to uninstall what you just did without you completely removing me and all my friends then starting over and reconfiguring your entire audio system. And oh, by the way, I might have accidentally removed an essential part of your Gnome Desktop, so the next time you reboot you’ll probably just get a command prompt. But that’s okay, you’re going to be working on this shit all day anyway, so you can just fix that too. “
Likewise you can install the wrong thing or update Wine and your audio system is completely fucked then the whole day is spent trying to revert your system to get all the Wine VSTs, Qjackctl, Dbus (that asshole) and all of that crap working again. When it works it’s brilliant, and once you get it working the latency is low and it’s way cool! But so many things can break it that is like balancing an entire city on a toothpick that’s held up with tape. Not duck tape either, just crappy-ass scotch tape that if you sneeze or look at that shit the wrong way your entire city comes tumbling to the ground.
Anyway, I am still an avid Linux user, but have migrated to not doing as much audio in there now. I have another laptop I just did a fresh install of Debian Stable to, which runs perfectly. This should be the standard. Debian Stable is solid as a rock. But it’s not going to run any of that cool audio stuff without modifying repositories, changing config files, etc…etc…. then starts the problem I was just speaking of above.
I am not a developer, so maybe what I am about to suggest isn’t possible with any of the current Linux kernels, but if it were possible, all the old Linux audio drivers need to be completely canned and start with one standard and allow NOTHING ELSE. No Jack, no Alsa, no Pulseaudio, no OSS. None of those work the way they need to work. People will argue that Jack is low latency and it works great without all the others getting involved. But it is still weird. Something like qjackctl should be optional, not required. You should just be able to open Bitwig or LMMS and have them work without fucking around with a bajillion things. Until something like that happens, Win/Mac will always have the upper hand in audio production/performance.
Bitwig does look very cool though, which is what this post is supposed to be about before it turned into a completely insane rant. It really looks very much like Ableton in it’s concept and workflow. I really think that it’s great that there’s something like this for Linux now. Also, they have a demo download of the Linux version. If anyone reading this wants to check it out then please comment here about your experiences. I’m really curious as to it’s performance and ease of use compared to Ableton. I have not personally tried it, though from a lot of these videos I watch it appears very similar.
Anyway, thanks for reading my rant. If you want to hear some of my Linux-made music, check out my video below for the song Daydreaming. I made this one in LMMS on an Acer Chromebook running Ubuntu.
No question Ableton Live is great, but it’s a bit pricey. I made this video to show that EnergyXT can be used as a live performance tool quite easily. Its modular interface, low cpu usage, easy midi programming, and marker jumping features make it a very usable program to perform with.
I got energyXT after switching back to Windows from Linux (I know its sacrilege) but I had a good reason, I wanted to start using Vocaloid, and well… if I was going to spend that kind of money, I wanted it to run and be stable. Anyway, after I switched back I wanted a full fledged DAW to take the place of Ardour. I remembered EnergyXT because it had a Linux version, though I never used it there, but I thought I’d give it a shot. The price tag was right, only about $44! That’s much cheaper than the full version of Cubase or Pro Tools so I thought I’d check it out.
There was a bit of a learning curve, but I started to get the hang of it pretty quickly. I used it to produce several songs and was really happy with the results. Right away I started to notice it seemed to handle loops better than Cubase or Protools did the last time I used those programs. There were a bunch of great loops from Loopmasters that came with it, and you could automatically beatslice, edit loop sections, process and save loops as parts and all kinds of cools stuff. All of that got me thinking about how possible it would be to use it for live performance. I googled it and found a few people doing it already, but not tons of info. One thing I will say though about E-XT is the documentation kinda… well… sucks. More like just non-existent more than sucks. I actually found an unofficial wiki that helped me more than anything that came from E-XT http://energyxt2.wikidot.com/ I think this is one of the main reasons many people don’t really realize its power. But I kept playing with it, and again… much cheaper than Ableton Live!
After a few days, I worked out a good mapping to my Korg nanoKONTROL and worked a few loops together to make a dancey set. This was the first thing I made like this, but overall I had fun and think it came out pretty good! Check it out and feel free to ask me some questions if you have any about using EnergyXT as a live tool. I’ll do my best to answer! Get EnergyXT here and you can get a nanoKONTROL below if you’re interested.
Akai is getting ready to release a new MIDI controller series, Advance, that will allow players to control parameters of any VST plugin from the control surface of the keyboard. Stuffing VSTs into hardware isn’t exactly a new idea since units like the Receptor have been around for some time. The Receptor eliminates the need for a computer, since it is the computer itself that is stuffed into a rack mountable unit with a backlit LCD. That may be cool for touring to avoid the delicacies of a laptop, but I can’t image editing patches this way to be very easy.
Likewise I am a bit skeptical of Akai’s new Advance series. I’ve watched and read all of their promo material on their site, and it is very vague in as far as how much control you will actually get over your VSTs from the knobs and buttons on the surface. From the info available, what I have gained is it also doesn’t eliminate the need for a laptop, but allows you to build virtual libraries that are categorized to access from the keyboard’s surface. This seems okay, but really, how much easier is this going to be? Will I really want to be editing patches on a tiny backlit keyboard screen when I’ll have a laptop sitting right next to me with the same thing on it? How is that going to be better than just clicking the item and changing the parameter you want? Not to mention you can already map any midi control surface to just about any VST parameter and tweak it in real time using even my ancient MIDIsport controller. So controlling soft-synths from a MIDI controller is nothing new either.
It would be nice to have an easy way to setup multiple preset and rummage through them without hassle, so if the Advance will accomplish this task it could be a cool item. But I don’t see much detail on their site as to how exactly it will work. It appears to use it’s own proprietary VST host which makes sense, but would seem to make this controller not at all intended for studio use. Which brings me to another thought- there seems to be this stigma attached to using laptops on stage now from a lot of electronic musicians. The thought is that somehow looking and pushing buttons on a flat surface is somehow more exciting to watch for the spectators than pushing keys and a touchpad on a laptop. Hardly. Both are watching somebody make tiny movements barely noticeable from more than 40 feet away. So what’s the problem? If you want people to be entertained by your movements, you should have become a singer, dancer, or a drummer, not a techie.
Anyway, it could be a cool thing, I’m not saying it can’t be. It definitely looks cool and if it has a nice programming interface to get things setup easily, maybe it will be a great way to express yourself using VST technology. Either way, I’d like to get my hands on one to try it myself. Until then, all I can do is speculate.