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Digital Technology and Music (continued)


MIDI Keyboard Controllers


A MIDI Keyboard Controller is a must-have device. MIDI controllers normally do not have their own built-in sounds or speakers. They are specifically designed to “trigger” the sounds in other devices such as your computer’s sound card or external sound module when used with your music software. These keyboards come in a range of sizes (25, 37, 49, 61, 76, and 88 keys) and price ranges. Classical musicians and composers would usually be most interested in the 88 key models. All the controllers below use a USB connection to the computer.

Important issues are the action or "feel" of the board. Weighted action refers to a "piano" action, or the feel of an actual piano keyboard. Controllers with this feature will be a bit more expensive. A "synth" action board allows you to play faster and with less effort, but lacks the piano feel. Other parameters include velocity and aftertouch. Velocity, which makes the sound louder the harder you play is a very desirable feature. Hence, make sure you get a velocity sensitive board. Aftertouch (pressure sensitivity) is a controller that activates when you hold down a key and press it into the keybed. It may be routed to volume, timbre, vibrato, and other functions. Like velocity, aftertouch is a very desirable feature.

Below are several notable examples of popular 61-key controller keyboards. Click on the photos to go to the product page for more details.


Audio Interface

Your computer needs a means by which it can translate audio information into digital information. Most computers have a built-in capability to do this. However, built-in systems are generally of inferior quality for use in real world music recording. Audio interfaces (sometimes called soundcards) perform this function through the use of drivers that come with the interface and built-in digital audio converters (DAC's). In a very real sense, the audio interface is the heart of your digital music system. Many interfaces also have microphone/ instrument inputs that allow one to connect mics and electric instruments to the interface, and these inputs may have mic pre-amps built in to add stength and clarity to the incoming signal from the mic. In addition to these functions, a good audio interface will have a variety of inputs and outputs in various formats which allow flexibility in signal routing, i.e., analog and digital outputs to drive speakers, outboard signal processors, and other equipment.

When considering the purchase of an audio interface, be very careful to check out whether there are drivers available for the particular version of your computer operating system. Windows Vista and Mac OSX can have problems with some interface drivers. Once installed, many functions of the interface can be controlled with bundled software that comes with the device. Once they are set up, these fabulous devices perform beautifully in creating clean, high quality sound for recording and playback. After you work with these devices, you will never be satisfied to go back to the built-in audio cards that come with your computer.

Audio interfaces are of three basic formats:

PCI (soundcards that slot into the inside of your computer).

USB and FireWire types (stand-alone boxes that connect to the USB or FireWire port on the computer). Most people use FireWire devices since the speed of FireWire is much greater than USB.

Here are two articles that describe the basics of audio interfaces:

Choosing a PC Audio Interface: The SOS Guide (from Sound on Sound Magazine).

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Below are some examples of high quality audio interfaces. These are relatively small boxes with a high degree of portability and range in price from around $200 to $500. Click on the photos to go to the product page for more detailed information.











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