A Product is Born: Music Computing rolls out its first line of computer music instruments
MuseWire COLUMN: Yesterday, a new Austin, Texas, start-up opened its virtual and physical doors with a new line of music instruments, Intel-based PCs, and accessories for both Mac and Windows-based notebooks. Music Computing, Inc., headed by former Open Labs guru, Victor Wong, and a bunch of his fellow mad-men, debuted over a creaky, static and feedback troubled “live” webcast, which I chose to give up on, even with my super-broadband FIOS connection. Luckily, later on in the day, the site began to morph into what is clearly a “rev one” online store and information portal.
Apparently there was some kind of freaky Iron Man 2 trailer “take off” with lasers and dancing girls, or something, but it didn’t work for me; so perhaps there will be some redux on that once the MC site is fully happening.
So, what have they come up with to differentiate themselves from Open Labs, and the large music instrument manufacturers? Some pretty clever kit, actually!
First, there is the obvious “keyboard workstation” flavored product line which follows Wong’s former company recipe of putting an Intel PC inside a keyboard, along with various control surfaces and a touch-panel, but unlike his former company, this new gang also offers an 88-key incarnation, which has been a long “where is it?” complaint of potential Open Labs buyers. These shiny new nice-looking music keyboards, with the name StudioBLADE, feature Intel Core i5, or Intel Core Duo based processors, along with 4GB RAM, 500MB hard disks, a minimum of 2 (two) 24-bit/48kHz audio ins/outs (optionally up to 10 ins / 6 outs, for a modest $175 upgrade). The machines all run Windows 7, 64-bit OS, and support up to 8GB of RAM (plenty of RAM for 95% of the music instrument market, frankly).
Pricing starts at $2599 for a Core2 Duo machine, and it’s a gig-friendly setup at just 28-lbs. According to Victor Wong, the goal was to be more price sensitive, and deliver the “most wanted” features, without over-engineering the product. Wong’s former employer was often criticized for the high cost of some of its product line, running into the $7K range (I know, I previously owned a Gen5 NeKo XXL). The StudioBLADE 88-key model starts at $2999, which competes with the 88-key “workstations” offered by the likes of Roland, Korg, Kurzweil, and Yamaha.
If you look at the product image on this page, you’ll see that there is a flip-up 10.1-inch touch panel (there are 2 additional video outs), as well as Music Computing’s ControlDAW MIDI controller, with four banks of 8 (plus one master) channel strips, each with three encoders with LED indicator light rings. An 8×8 grid of lighted pads (64 total) may be used as drum triggers, or for grid-based software apps which are highly popular in the post-MPC hip-hop music biz. All of this is controlled by GeoMIDI mapping software to assign the controls to line-up with DAW on-screen controls.
Other included software, which there are not yet screen shots, or video demos for, are listed as TriggerGrid, a sample player for triggering sampled sounds from the user interface, and SonicSource, a VSTi synth with 8GB of sound presets. According to the company, the hardware will be built entirely in Austin using just-in-time manufacturing methods.
But, there’s more: perhaps more interesting than the above StudioBLADE products, is a sister/brother act, where the touch panel and PC components are removed and instead a perfect nest is provided for either a Windows-based or Mac OS based notebook/laptop — called, the iKeyDOCK. Very resonably priced at $1499 to start, this unit has the same hardware controls, but can fit a Mac Pro 17-inch in its “nest” on the right side (see link: https://www.musiccomputing.com/store/home.php?cat=251). The silver-gray color of the keyboards actually complements a Mac very nicely. This product adroitly answers the complaints from nay-sayers who keep saying “I could just buy a notebook and connect to my keyboard controller.” Sure, but this is way cooler.
Presumably, using one of the new MIDI interface units for the iPad, one could even use the docking keyboard for an iPad system.
Those are the big apples, but deciding to launch on a high note, it looks like the MC team decided to go even further outside the box. This is going to wow folks at the January NAMM show, and I’m sure we’re going to see dozens of kick-ass videos on YouTube before long, but the product that made me go “wow” is actually their MotionCOMMAND ClearView system – which is a giant clear multi-touch panel, for controlling audio, video, DAWs, instruments, and starts at $1499. More than just a simple touch-display, this thing looks like something out of the most recent Star Trek movie, and all those screens being used on CSI: Los Angeles. Perhaps most interesting for musicians, this product is supposedly compatible with the 64-bit default mode of Mac OS Snow Leopard (which the Acer touch panel I have here now, is not). Optionally, a small micro-PC and sound interface can be bundled, which has the software from the StudioBLADE series.
Rather than having a big touch-panel on the keyboards themselves, Music Computing went waaay beyond that and came up with what is almost a performance product, and not just an interface. This is the sort of thing you’d expect Peter Gabriel to be using, if he was still going out “live” on tour.
All in all, this is a pretty impressive first start, first day, first blast, for a brand new company, put together by a bunch of folks who have been doing this stuff for almost a decade now. I expect to have at least one review unit in house in the near future, so look for an in-depth, critical and honest per usual, review here once I’ve cut my teeth on one of these new blades.
Learn more here: http://www.musiccomputing.com .
Article is Copr. © 2010 by Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved. No compensation or payment was made to the author in exchange for his opinions, which are entirely his own.
Oct 22, 2010 @ 1:18 AM PDT
I was scared when I saw this title. I thought it was a computer that was writing music, like an article rewriter only with songs. Phew! 🙂
Oct 22, 2010 @ 5:43 PM PDT
I thought Peter Gabriel was still touring… Anyway, these products do look to be astounding, but imagine what would happen if MC and another Austin company, Infinite Response, got together. Infinite Response makes 76-key lightweight folding controllers…
Nov 9, 2010 @ 6:42 AM PST
Less the delayed start and the oh so cheezy Rat Pack’ish intro, Victor and his gang’s new offering from Music Computing did nothing less than lit the proverbial fire under the current Open Labs brain(strain)trust to get a viable, affordable and sensible Core i5 (at the least) upgrade path rolled out and less we not forget the all coveted 64-bit drivers? Which they seem to think current users haven’t outgrown 32-bit yet? Frankly the days of metering and dictating what OL develops and/or rolls out to their flock of sheeple have been squashed thanks to some friendly good ole’ American Capitalism aka competition!!
And no way could one address Victors new bride without acknowledging his ex-girl and her family. You know those Gen3/4/5 owners admiring the seeming greener pastures Victor’s Music Computing is currently offering: 64-bit, which he mention numerous times during the broadcast, Windows 7 support and of course Core i5, which if no one noticed OL currently has began touting Windows 7 and Core i5 on their “The New” XXL and LXD respectively. Kind of strange to offer it but not provide an upgrade path. Though as of today, 11/8/10 @10pm PST, an official response is forthcoming sometime around 7pm Austin time zone I’m assuming?
Playing the devil’s advocate for a second. If OL opts to play fiscal hardball and dig deeper into current owners’ pockets–some of which are already on the books for $7000> worth of OL goods–just to get them equal to Music Computings’ MiKo/NeKo arch-nemesis, Ebay could eventually become a grave yard for MiKos and NeKos. But if OL does the right thing, they may well leverage themselves back into the public perception as the leader in this now two horse show they find themselves embroiled in!! For now I have to give Vic and MC a slight advantage. I just saw the vid and realized they put volume knob on top even though the FireBox is in the rear!!
Also if anyone from OL reads this. Get yourselves a PR firm to handle announcements. Your techs grinding axes and blaming the old boss(es) on the forum or anywhere on the net isn’t a good look for your “new look”!!!
Nov 9, 2010 @ 4:37 PM PST
I did understand why Open Labs chose to forego 64-bit Windows intitially, as they had just rolled out Pro Tools support a couple of months prior to the current gen, but the dread iLok 64-bit drivers did not yet exist (Logic owners on mac have had same issues, with EWQL Play, etc.). Still, presumably now with Pro Tools 9, and other products being 64-bit, Presonus drivers being 64-bit, there would be no reason not to. I’m not quite sure we can call Music Computing and Open Labs “arch nemesis,” since they are uniquely different products, perhaps not in concept, but in execution. The StudioBLADE is truly portable and fits into any setup for actual keboard players and gigging/touring musicians (try lugging a Neko XXL around… NOT!), and while the OL “experience” circa the Timbaland/TSE era was to have repackaged open source products, OL’s current focus seems to be on exclusive home-brew apps. I think Victor’s new venture, which uses more formidable DAWs like Studio One, and the re-skinned “house brand” synth, as well as control surface utilities, makes a lot of sense in both keeping costs down, providing more value to customers, and provides a nice complement to existing keyboards like a M3 or Motif, without being a direct replacement. Put side by side, I think a lot of folks will admire the simplicity of the user experience with the StudioBLADE. Having owned both a NeKo TSE and NeKo XXL (see my reviews elsewhere on this site), I found good and bad with both. In the end I preferred the sit down and play aspect of the TSE over the battleship of doom approach with the XXL – too much to go wrong, and stalled development, no control surface support for SONAR, etc. I will be doing a review of the StudioBLADE this month here, so keep your eyes peeled, and your ears uncovered – and your mind open. 😉
Dec 3, 2010 @ 11:30 AM PST
C’mon let’s not act like PT is the only DAW? Let OL tell it they’ve been messing around with Studio One since it rolled out. That’s all a moot point now. Come Dec 10th, its gonna be a crawl or ball defining moment for Open Labs. My vote is for the the former. Reason being their doing what I said they may do, “dig deeper into current owners’ pockets”?
I’ve tried to give them benefit of the “drought”. But the current hardware upgrades their offering in my eyes do nothing more than mask the reality they need to restart that revenue stream ASAP. The FY2011 1st QTR cometh.