Reading between the lines, it seems that the major keyboard manufacturers are worried about falling sales. And while the worldwide recession has undoubtedly helped depress the market, I feel there are one or two other factors to be taken into consideration. Synthesisers still represent the larger part of the keyboard market, and though new models are constantly being released with more memory, more polyphony and more real-time control, I can't help feeling that the available sounds have changed very little since Roland first came up with the concept of LA synthesis and everyone else followed suit with their own interpretation of it. Not that I'm knocking this form of synthesis — far from it — but as far as the average enthusiast is concerned, the available sound palette has changed very little over the past three or four years. The new models may have lot of technical advantages but, as long as the end result is more or less the same, why bother to pay out for a new instrument when your old one will suffice?
Most of my own synths are over four years old now and I certainly haven't had that familiar craving to go after a new model because, in all honesty, I don't feel the new models have anything significantly new to offer me. Indeed, if I might be so bold, I'd hazard that many of the features and control modes offered by the last generation of instruments are rarely used by the vast majority of purchasers and that simply presenting the prospective purchaser with even more complexity is unlikely to stimulate the urge to buy. On top of that, manufacturers are always recounting that the majority of instruments returned for service do so with their factory preset sounds intact. So what can we deduce from that?
Well, I don't know about you — but I know what would make me want to buy: I want a nice simple instrument with lots of good basic sounds and direct access, via real knobs, to the five or six really important parameters of each voice. These needn't be the same parameters for each sound, but there must be a display underneath the knobs to tell me what they are currently doing. Most of the time, all I want to change is the attack and release time, the overall brightness, filter resonance — if I'm lucky enough to have it — and the delay vibrato parameters. If there are two or more oscillators to the voice, I want to be able to detune them easily, and if portamento is relevant, I want to be able to tweak that too. Before you tell me a software editor will allow me to do just that, life's too short — I want real knobs! While I'm at it, I also want separate audio outputs for all the voices, and I really can't be bothered with internal effects units, as their deployment is too limiting and their parameter access too frustrating. If we must have them, then I want an easy way to turn them all off!
Anything more complicated in the way of programming should be hidden away beneath a lockable lid so that I don't have to confront it unless I desperately need it. Maybe then I can finally get down to making some music, rather than using the excuse of programming to put it off yet again. I know that one or two manufacturers are making positive inroads in this direction, but they are still in the minority. Anyone who agrees, disagrees, or simply thinks I am a raving lunatic unfit to be allowed within a mile of a MIDI socket, should address their verbal tirades to Crosstalk...