Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Laptop Vs. Keyboard Workstation

In the Beginning, there was a DX7.
For years I used keyboard workstations because that was the only choice available to the keyboard geeks in the 80's. In the early 90's I tried using MIDI with a Yamaha PSR keyboard and my computer, all using software bundled with a Voyetra sound card. This was very cool! Then I found Cakewalk (can't remember if that was the software bundled with my sound card). This was also very cool! Later a college roommate and music major introduced me to Band In A Box and that was fun because I could create a groove and jam with it in almost no time.

But that was all for fun and hobby at home. When it came time to gig, I used workstations and arranger keyboards such as the aforementioned Yamaha PSR 500, a Korg O1/W, an Ensoniq ASR-10, and an Alesis QS8.1 and even the old Yamaha DX7 (love it or hate it - I love it!).

I loved playing on these machines, but hated lugging them around along with my keyboard amp. Good thing I was young and just out of college. Now I'm married with 4 kids and pushing 40 and the idea of lugging a mammoth keyboard or two plus amp does not appeal to me. And having worked in the Information Technology field for over a decade, I felt it was time to investigate using a computer instead of a keyboard. I totally skipped over the era of using rackmount sound modules and samplers! (If keyboard workstation interfaces were not user friendly enough, how in the world could a small rackmount interface be OK?)

Back to Cakewalk for me.
I re-entered the PC based music world again using Home Studio and playing with demo versions of Sonar. I was impressed with Sonar, big time!! I was hooked and ready to make music on my computer. That computer monitor is so much easier to work on than my old workstation's limited LED interfaces (I preferred Korg's O1/W the best interface of all those older keyboards).

Armed with a powerful laptop, a Kurzweil master MIDI keyboard, an M-Audio Ozonic and an amp, I can now gig with a lot less weight and a lot more options / power.

However, for live gigging, Sonar and most other DAWs are not up to the challenge. But Reason, Live and Project5 are up to the challenge. I chose Cakewalk's Project5 because I'm kind of loyal to Cakewalk for being there for me all these years, plus when I purchased P5 it came bundled with many synths which made it the best band for the buck.

However, two years into using this and I'm finding that the keyboard workstations are calling my name again.
Why? I work so much on computers throughout the day and even at home in the evenings (checking email, my RSS reader, posting comments to blogs or writing to blogs) that I'm getting sick of using my computer all the time! I think it would be refreshing for me to take a small 61-key workstation (e.g., Roland Fantom G6) and go off to some other room and sit down and compose on it. Of course, then I'd be limited to the samples on the workstation as well as the effects; I'd be limited by the hard drive or storage media of the workstation and the RAM on the workstation too. All of these limitations are bound to be inferior to the same limitations on a laptop or PC workstation. But for some reason I keep checking the Internet for information about the latest keyboard workstations.

I don't know what's up! I love working with Project5! It is the easiest, most intuitive DAW I've used. It reminds me of how I used to work with patterns on the old Korg, only it is so much easier to do it now. I have so much more power at my fingertips now. But the old ways are calling to me anyway. Perhaps I'm just waxing nostalgic and it's a passing phase.

If it is I need it to pass quickly before I fork over several thousand bucks on a new keyboard workstation!


SpiritTalk said...

I was happy to read your post. I have limited experience with Keyboard workstations (have an old PSR-500), and am primarily an acoustic musician (voice and piano). I've been composing the old fashioned way. I've resisted getting into the DAWs because I too work all day on my computer (graphic design), and don't want to be tied to it for making music. Editing is another matter. I don't mind using it for "work" but not love. I'm currently looking at the PSR-S900 or the MO6. Even if I need to supplement with a rack, I figure that (maybe, almost, sort of) by the time I by a controller, the software (and that can get costly finding the right one), and another laptop & external drive (no way do I want to use my work powerbook or take it to a gig), it could end up costing close to what either of those boards do or more. Plus it feels more like love if I'm not turning on the book to play.
Thanks for posting your thoughts. It's affirming!

everdream said...

My old PSR-500 is what got me into the new DAW age because I used it with my Cakewalk software to do sequencing on my PC, which I loved better than sequencing on my keyboard. I just get tired of being "tethered" to my computer all the time... YET when tethered to my PC I have so much more power and options for making music. It is a tough decision to make for me.

I have to say that the new Roland Fantom G-6/7/8 models are making me drool - they appear to be able to do all that I'd want to do on a keyboard without needing to hook up to my PC. The new Yamaha Motif XS 6/7/8 models also look very promising. I'm afraid if I went to the music shop and played on them, I would be laying down my plastic card and buying one (wife would not be happy with that).

I haven't tried an "arranger" keyboard since those days back in the mid 90's. I wonder if the workflow on those is better/faster/easier than a full-fledged workstation keyboard. I may wish to make a visit the music shop just to try an arranger keyboard like the one you mentioned... but that old "gear lust" is sure a budget smasher!

Also, have you looked that Open Labs keyboards? openlabs.com Those are interesting: combining the best of both worlds a keyboard and PC into one unit.

Lastly, have you checked out the Muse Research "Receptor"? Its not a keyboard, but it looks like a keyboard player's dream come true. museresearch.com

Let me know what you end up buying and how you like it please!

(*±*) said...

Many years since your post and it's time to ask - what was your journey since? Workstation/laptop?
Even now, 2014, they both have pros and cons.
Laptop main cons are the longer setup time (booting, extra cables, audio interface). While workstations are simply too limited in comparison (or if they are full featured, they are damn too expensive and heavy).

I was about to get the new Roland FA-06 before realizing all sort of shortcomings which require me to have a laptop/another sampler with it (lack of outputs, click, clock sync).

everdream said...

Today I spend most of my time gigging live and almost zero time 'in the studio'. For this, I use a Roland RD300 and a Roland Fantom G6 playing through a Roland Cube amp. The Rd is my primary keyboard for piano, clav, and Wurly/Rhodes. The G6 is for everything else, especially organs, but also synths, horns, etc. For gigging, this combo can't be beat.

However, at my home studio ... A new DAW is likely in the works. The power can't be beat! I have virtual instruments and amp modelers that are better than their originals. My virtual Leslie rotary speaker spoiled me to the poor imitations on the Roland G6 (but the G6 is fine for a live setting). Addictive Drums kicks butt over any and every drum kit on any synth. Horns on the G6 expansion pack are OK , bu...

My Music - The Phos

#Google Analytics