M-Audio Axiom AIR 49 Review

axiom_air_49_media
Function: MIDI Controller
Price: $399.99
 
What’s New: For years, the M-Audio Axiom line has set the standard for MIDI controllers with unbeatable quality, flexibility and keyboard feel, and the brand new AIR 49 is no exception.  The AIR 49 is a 49-key, synth-action MIDI controller with an abundance of knobs, faders and pads, and “Hypercontrol” built-in smart mapping software.  With the AIR incarnation of controllers, the Axiom line gets both a physical and internal overhaul that keeps all the great things about the original and adds a few pretty awesome bells and whistles. 
 
Features:  The keys, as expected, feel amazing and the piano-style keys make it ideal for both synths and piano.  The orange backlighting is a nice change from the classic Axiom blue, and the screen is tilted up to make it easier to see the control screen from the front.  The back port features an on/off switch, power supply in, MIDI I/O, USB and inputs for sustain and expression pedals.  Eight knobs, nine faders, nine buttons, (including dedicated playback control), twelve pads, and pitch and mod wheels round out the control surface, which is beautifully laid out and labeled.  Everything on the control surface can be assigned to 3 different MIDI banks, and the colors change depending on which bank is currently selected.  The pads are velocity and pressure-sensitive and feel great for drum programming or sample triggering.  Hypercontrol works just like it claims, mapping everything on the control surface to perfection on almost all the popular DAWs.  One of my favorite features on the AIR 49 is that each rotary knob will light up one at a time when you turn it, making it easy to keep track of which knob you’re currently using.  For example, if you’re using a knob to pan a guitar, then want to turn it up a bit and listen back, you can easily see which knob controls the guitar pan if you want to keep tweaking it during playback. 
 
Build: At just under 11 pounds, the Axiom AIR 49 is extremely light (especially compared to my 16 lb original Axiom 49) but feels rock solid on a stand or desk.  The white and aluminum finish is sleek and modern looking, vaguely reminiscent of the Axiom Pro series but making the statement that the AIR is a different controller entirely.  The back even has a space to run cables under the keyboard to hide cords and prevent tangling.  My favorite feature on the new look is that the faders are thick and flat, making them almost impossible to break off and lose (which happened to all but three of mine on my 8-year old touring Axiom).
 
Software:  Included with the Axiom 49 is a copy of Ignite by Air Music Technology, ProTools Express, and believe it or not, an iLok 2 for Windows or Mac.  Claiming to be a musician-centric recording software, Ignite looked more to me like a mini-fridge covered in multi-colored magnets at first, but after a few minutes, it proved to be a lot deeper than my first impression.  First of all, the sounds are great.  Whether you’re looking for a drum kit or string ensemble, all the sounds load fast, sound fantastic and work perfectly with the AIR 49.  The workflow takes a little more time to get used to (especially if you’re used to working in a more traditional DAW) but makes perfect sense once you get the hang of it.  Gone is the linear graph of ProTools or Logic, and in comes clip recording.  In some ways, similar to Ableton Live, Ignite allows you to record different instruments and ideas without having to worry about tracks or MIDI channels, or bus sends.  You record an idea, see it turn up as a brightly colored bar on your screen, play another idea, put them together and thus make a song by stacking all of these ideas together.  While Ignite might not be a mixing substitute for ProTools 11 and Logic X, its fantastic sounds and intuitive interface makes it a perfect entry-level DAW, MIDI sequencer, or songwriting tool.  More than enough to start making and recording music right away, the software bundle is a great value and a fresh look at organizing and capturing musical ideas.  One note of caution, the software including Hypercontrol only works on Macs running Apple Lion or later, (and on PCs running Windows 7 or later) so Snow Leopard or Vista users will need an update to get the full experience of AIR. 
 
Bottom Line:  It’s the hands down the best we’ve seen.  The AIR 49 is by far the best Axiom yet, and the feel, look, and control surface makes it our new favorite MIDI keyboard controller. 
 
Church Use: If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard that feels great for both synths and pianos, want to trigger loops and tracks, and have control over your entire DAW with a touch of a button, the Axiom AIR is a perfect controller for you.  
 
For more information about the AIR 49 and other products by M-Audio, visit m-audio.com.
 
 

Yamaha HPH-MT220 Review

Yamaha mt220 Headphones
Yamaha HPH-MT220 Headphone Review
Price: $249.99
Function: Studio headphones
What’s New:  There’s nothing more important than accurate sound in the studio, and the new Yamaha HPH-MT220 headphones deliver exactly that. 
 
Sound:  Right off the bat, the HPH-MT220 just sound phenomenal.  They deliver great clarity throughout the frequency spectrum and don’t sound hyped in the low end at all.  The top end is very clear without being “smoothed” or brittle and I can listen to the phones for hours without getting ear fatigue from boosted high mids.  I loved the sound of the HPH-MT220 right away and they make great reference headphones.  I’d describe them as accurate and faithful, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make tone decisions while monitoring on the HPH-MT220s. 
 
Fit:  What impressed me the most about the HPH-MT220 was how comfortable they are.  The cups are large and spacious and can be inverted to monitor with just one ear if necessary.  I wear glasses most of the time, and small headphones can hurt my head after long periods of time if they’re not shaped right, but the HPH-MT220’s sat great on my head and I barely noticed them after a while.  The outer earpads are made of a synthetic leatherette, while the insides are filled with memory foam cushions to mold to your ears for comfort. 
 
Bottom Line:  I’ve owned a lot of headphones over the years, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better-fitting pair of headphones on the market today.  Combined with crystal clear sound quality and a great, simple look, the HPH-MT220’s are definitely a must-have for anyone working extensively on headphones. 
 
Church UseFor monitor engineers, FOH engineers, broadcast and music studios.  

For more information about the HPH-MT220 and other products by Yamaha, visit usa.yamaha.com/products/musical-instruments.

A Custom Guitar for Worship?

1-dnacaster
Interview with Dan Strain, Danocaster Vintage Replicas
For any electric guitar player, owning Danocaster Vintage Replica is a dream come true.   Hand-made and completely unique, Danocasters give you the look, feel, and sound of some of the most sought after vintage guitars with the playability of a brand new instrument.  We had the opportunity to talk to Danocaster owner/operator Dan Strain about his thoughts on guitars, inspiration, and worship.
 
WL mag: Tell us a little about yourself…what is your experience with music, guitars, and church?
 
DS:  Well, first off, I’m a preacher’s kid, so you know I’m trouble right away!  Being the kid of a pastor, I grew up in the church and my first experience seeing “rock bands” was probably seeing The Sons Of Thunder at my dad’s church as a young kid in Washington, DC.  I saw the lead guitarist playing a blonde tele and was like “WHOA”. Sort of like my version of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan!
Not long after that, a woman in the church wanted to get us started and gave my brother a snare drum and gave me a Martin baritone ukulele… I kind of wanted the snare drum but looking back – I scored with the Martin!!  And that started it all off.  I was hooked!  Digging thru friend’s record collections, I soon discovered all the classic late 60’s and 70’s guitar icons and really kind of became obsessed with them all.  I was in several young bands and had a real quest for those classic vintage tones of my guitar heroes.  By tenth grade, I had a ’70 blonde strat and a ’71 50 watt metal front Marshall.
 
WL mag: What inspired you to start Danocaster Vintage Replicas and how long have you been in business? 
 
DS:  Fast-forward 20 years.  My wife and I had a rock band together. We were signed to a major label and we were starting to tour regionally and I didn’t want to take some of my favorite older guitars on the road, so I started experimenting with making some road guitars and wanted them to feel and sound like my older guitars.  I was baking bodies in the oven, leaving them outside in all sorts of weather… just shooting in the dark.  But eventually I started to figure some things out and guys were wanting to buy the guitars I was making for myself. So I would sell it – and keep experimenting.  That was in ’98-99 and it’s just been snow balling since then.
 
WL mag: When you build a guitar for a client, what are the key things you have in mind?
 
DS:  Even though the whole “relic thing” is probably how many people categorize me, it’s really about getting guitars to SOUND and FEEL like nicely worked in old instruments.  That was my goal.  And I have to admit, I really love the look of an old worn instrument, but the look isn’t the MAIN thing I’m shooting for…although it’s certainly part of the appeal.
I really want to deliver a guitar that can immediately feel like an old friend.  One that has a comfortable neck that helps you “connect” to the instrument.  One that has a set-up that feels just right; not sterile, not “new”…but something that just gives you a “yeah…this is MY guitar” kind of feeling.         
Clients can often get off track trying to dream up something crazy – especially with all the possible options out there. But that’s not really what I do.  I really just offer some fairly limited parameters (body wood, finish color, neck profile) and then ask that they trust me to finish the guitar and make some choices myself for this particular guitar based on their own tone preferences of course.  Just working off of somebody’s checklist doesn’t usually ensure the best guitar.  I want to be able to make changes to make the guitar the best I can.  Sometimes just changing saddles or pickups can make a profound difference and sometimes the perfect pickup in one guitar won’t be that great in another nearly identical guitar.  I want to have the freedom to experiment and I want to be able to make changes that will allow me to deliver the best guitar I can.
 
WL mag: Are all your guitars completely custom?  How long does an average guitar take to build?
 
DS:  I have certain models, like my ’55 whiteguard, that are very popular and usually aren’t too “customized” by my clients.  The neck profile may vary as well as the pickup set, but that model, as well as several others are a proven combination of variables and they are really pretty consistent. Occasionally I will get a client with some weird one-off sort of idea – and sometimes it happens and sometimes not.  But I usually keep pretty true to the classic designs of the 50s/ 60s – with a few modern tweaks that improve playability.
I do spend a lot of time on each guitar but I work in batches, doing a bunch necks at a time, or painting a whole bunch of bodies at once, so it’s hard to calculate the actual man-hours into each guitar.  Once the bodies are cut, they need to be grain filled, then sanded, then sealed, then sanded again, then painted, and then they need to sit and cure for a month or two…so there’s a lot of waiting in the process. Same with the necks – there’s a long process with them as well.
 
WL Mag:  How do you feel your products fit into a church/worship setting?
 
DS:  You know, I’m flattered they are consistently being used in a modern worship environment. I’m happy to be part of it. I think they are versatile instruments so that should help them fit in, whether what is called for is a heavier rock sound or a lighter janglier sound…but I mean, really, you should be able to worship with a banjo or an autoharp!  I believe worship is in the heart more than anything, but I’m glad to know that my guitars are being used in a way that can hopefully help people connect with their Creator.  That’s certainly an encouraging thought.
 
WL Mag:  Your guitars really nail the vintage Fender look and sound.  Do you have any plans to build replicas of any other vintage brands or maybe a design of your own? 
 
DS: Maybe in the future.  No plans for that now though.  I really just love “old stuff”.  I love the old classic tones and those classic sounds can so easily be used in just about any genre of music.  I just am very attached to feel and sound of all things “yester year”.  I’m sure I’m a bit of a contradiction because I love so many new young modern bands, but I also ditched all my cds and pretty much only listen to LP records so…I do have running water in my house though.
 
WL Mag:  What’s one of the most fun guitars you’ve built in the past few years? 
 
DS:  Man…that’s a tough one.  I tend to get pretty attached to them all as I’m making them, but then you have to send them off.  So they are all like puppies you are raising in order to send them off to somebody else, you learn not to get too attached.  But I think I have the most fun when I’m trying a new color out, trying to match some cool vibey old 60s guitar that has faded into a quirky odd shade of green or silver, one that is equally super cool and awful at the same time!  If guys are asking: “ What color is THAT ?“ I think that I may have achieved my goal.
 
WL Mag: Do you have a favorite guitar/amp combo at the moment? 
 
DS:  About a year ago, I stumbled into a ’56 Tele – super worn blonde finish, white guard, worn maple neck – and it’s just a killer desert island guitar.  If I had to sell them all but one, the ’56 would be the last man standing.  That guitar into my ’64 Deluxe Reverb (the same amp that I test EVERY guitar I build through) is quite a tone to behold.  I have guys that start throwing $100 bills at me when they hear that combination… I’m lucky to have it.  But then again not every guitar is right for every situation, that’s why everybody needs MORE GUITARS!!
Another favorite combo is my ’65 Jazzmaster into a pair of old 60’s Vox AC-10s. It’s really kind of like “Indie Rock heaven”.
 
WL Mag:  As someone who has been around the church music scene for a few years, do you have any advice for aspiring worship leaders and songwriters? 
 
DS:  I would say BE YOURSELF. Be influenced by your favorites, but don’t try to emulate them too much.  I would say strive to find your “voice” whether that is you playing a guitar or singing into a microphone.  Bob Dylan didn’t have a great voice but influenced generations and some may argue that U2’s Edge isn’t the most technically adept player, but he found his voice and influenced generations as well.
Find what or who inspires you and be inspired.  But don’t “worship” any player or sound so much that you begin chasing after them.  Rather, be led to a new place where you are excited about what you are coming up with and in turn, you may excite those around you and truly be leading others into a new place with you.
 
For more information about Danocaster guitars visit danocaster.com.
 

Casio PX-5S Review

Casio PX-5S
Casio PX-5S Review
Price: $999
Function: Stage Piano
What’s New:  The last time I had a stage piano was probably 10 years ago…and it had a floppy drive, no MIDI capabilities and made helicopter sounds on patch 100.  Needless to say I’ve since become more of a synth player myself, but after spending some time with the PX-5S, I’m thoroughly impressed with the new Casio stage piano. 
 
Features:  The PX-5S sports 88 hammer-action keys with 256 notes of polyphony.   This upgraded sound engine is helpful when using the Hex-layers feature of layering up to 6 samples on one patch.  Four knobs and six sliders can control a variety of internal effects when using the PX-5S as a standalone keyboard, and can be assigned to control almost anything inside the keyboard.  All of the controls, including the pitch and mod-wheel are assignable via MIDI when using the piano as a controller.  The PX-5S also includes a phrase sequencer and an arpeggiator, two features not normally found on stage pianos, but very useful when using the PX-5S as a MIDI controller.  MIDI I/O and USB/MIDI connectors are included on the back panel of the stage piano, and can be used as a controller and a standalone device at the same time.  The entire stage piano weighs in at just 24 pounds, (that’s under half the weight of a Yamaha Motif) and runs off an included power supply or 8 AA batteries.  Last but not least, the PX-5S has a USB port to record your performance as a high quality .WAV file, and can even play back .WAV’s that you’ve previously recorded, or set up as a backing track for yourself. 
 
SoundThe full 88-key, hammer-action keyboard is much more than a stage piano.  Powered by Casio’s proprietary AiR sound engine, the factory sounds are deep, realistic, and very useable in any worship service.  I tend to favor the more mellow piano samples, which the PX-5S nails exceptionally well, in addition to a few electric piano, harpsichord, and clavinet patches.  As a standalone stage piano, the Casio offers plenty of control.  Each knob and slider can be configured to control different parts of each sound, such as effects and EQ, or individual patch volume if you’re using more than one sound at a time.  The PX-5S is divided into four zones, each of which can control a separate sound in the keyboard.  When used as a MIDI controller, the USB to MIDI comes in handy when connecting straight to a computer and the different zones make controlling separate sounds easy and straightforward.  The arpeggiator and phrase sequencer are great when used with MIDI synths to give instant motion to any sound.  Both are easy to use and work at the touch of a button.  The effects section is quite robust, including reverb, delay, EQ, compression, phaser, chorus, tremelo, auto pan, rotary, ring mod, pitch shifter, and many more.  The reverb and delay are quite nice, and the master compressor gives a nice squeeze to the pianos.  One of the nicest features of the PX-5S’s sound engine is the seamless transition when changing from patch to patch, meaning that when you change from say piano to strings, the piano does not stop sustaining until you let the keys go. 
 
Feel:  My favorite part of the keyboard hands down was the feel.  The keys are (for lack of a better term) slightly grooved to give the feel of an old grand piano.  The result is amazing for piano players, both the action and the keys feel like a grand piano.  If you’re not used to the feel of real pianos the feel may feel strange at first, but my guess is you’ll come to love it.  The action is great and my wrists never got tired playing it. 
 
Bottom Line:  The PX-5S is the perfect stage piano for the worship leader.  The PX-5S offers a great solution for a piano-playing worship leader who wants a solid, easy-to-use stage piano and the flexibility to introduce MIDI sounds without using a dedicated controller. For the price, portability, features, and sound quality, you can’t go wrong with the PX-5S.

For more information about the PX-5S and other products by Casio, visit casio-usa.com.

-Andy Toy

Worship Media Creator

worshipmediacreatorSermon Gear
worshipmediacreator.com

In today’s church, rich media is a staple—whether your church is traditional in culture or rather progressive. Churches are gathering the latest cool countdowns, loops for worship backgrounds, and more rich-media elements to incorporate into their services. Thanks to the folks at SermonGear.com, there is a new software called Worship Media Creator that helps churches small and large create rich media with a few simple clicks.

The software taunts that a custom countdown can be made using the software in just 5 minutes.  We took the software for a spin and, after it’s fresh install, were able to create our custom 3-D countdown in just 3:26! The software is more robust than a simple countdown program. Create your own worship background loops, Scripture slides with motion, announcement slides, and more and incorporate them straight into your favorite media presenter, burn them to a DVD, or use the software as your church’s media presenter.

The entire software takes little skill set—meaning you won’t need a graphics art degree to make some great looking media. In fact, there are tons of templates included in the software for your use. You can drag and drop elements and resize with ease and even import your own media library to use with the system. 

Jason Whitehorn