On a recent trip to visit Caitlin's family outside of Fort Wayne, we stopped by Sweetwater to have a look around. I had never been there before (though I've purchased from them online) and I was excited to check out the store. It didn't disappoint, and in fact reminded me of the old Woodwind & Brasswind store¹ in its glory days.
I only made it into the section of the store devoted to keyboards, pianos, synthesizers and the like, but even that provided a wonderful experience where I got to try out a bunch of cool stuff (including a DSI Prophet 12, which was just awesome, and a Yamaha NU1 hybrid piano, which was also super impressive). My real purpose in going to Sweetwater, though,² was to check out a few keyboard controllers and feel them under my fingers before purchasing one to use with my computer.
I finally settled on a Nektar Impact iX61, a fairly basic controller that consists of 61 keys³ along with pitch bend and modulation wheels, one volume slider, and a set of transport controls that double as transpose/octave shift controls. There's a jack for a sustain pedal, a USB port which provides both power and computer connectivity, and a power switch on the back. The key action is squishy like most cheaper keyboards (i.e. not hammer-action or weighted) but has a decent feel to it. I liked the keybed feel on the Roland A-800 pro just a bit better, but that controller is significantly more expensive and does not come with PreSonus' Studio One software.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the iX61 is the software that came bundled with it - PreSonus Studio One Artist v2.6 (and later, a free upgrade to Studio One Artist v3). Studio One is a digital audio workstation (DAW) software, designed for recording, arranging, and producing music. I had played with the professional editions of both v2 and v3 in the past as 30-day trials and was very impressed with both versions. I've played with other DAWs in the past and always found them to be intimidating and difficult to pick up at first but Studio One was much more intuitive, and I knew from that experience that I would want to purchase it someday.
Even though I bought the iX61 back in August I only recently got it out and installed Studio One - I had so many other projects going on that I couldn't let myself dive into this until I wrapped some others up, so it made for some good motivation to get everything else completed! Recently, however, I finally did install Studio One and jumped in to give it a try.
Because it had been a while since I used Studio One I got back into it slowly, and my first project was made without the keyboard controller or any of my external equipment - I programmed the parts on the "piano roll" arranger and used mostly-stock sounds on the included virtual instruments. Here's what I came up with as my first sketch:
I'd like to develop the idea further and add more to it, but for right now I feel like I'm more engaged and learning faster by cranking out several small projects or sketches because it reinforces the basic concepts while allowing me to go deeper in a variety of styles. And yes that does mean more are on the way :)
¹RIP WWBW :'(
²well, other than just to gawk at everything
³five octaves starting and ending at C, can be shifted in either direction