The Missing Lync
Lync Remote Keyboard Controller
Julian Colbeck looks at one of a rare breed — the Lync LN1000 strap-on remote controller keyboard.
There's no doubt about it: if you're a hardened 'sling-on' man, the moment you strap on one of these babies you feel like you've suddenly grown a large, dead and totally unwieldy third arm. Biff! There go a couple of RAM cards from your U220 as you turn to grab your coffee. Crack! goes the back of the Lync on the table leg as you wheel back around.
Fortunately, the Lync's casing is 'nearly indestructible' according to the manual, a day-glow tome that goes on to advise you to refrain from pouring beer into it or setting it on fire. But dropping it? No problem!
Remote keyboard controllers have not been one of MIDI's great success stories. A year or so after MIDI 1.0, almost all manufacturers had wonderful visions of a whole generation of keyboard players cavorting about on stage, free at last from their scaffolding prisons. And so the first generation of remote keyboards — Yamaha's KX5, Roland's Axis, Casio's AZ1, and Korg's RK1 — came and went. Subsequent secondhand prices said it all. Thanks but no thanks.
In the wilderness years between the mid-80s and the present day, a lone voice has been heard on the subject: Lync Systems, a small but punchy outfit operating out of Albany, New York. To most British customers who have idly wondered if, perhaps, this sling-on business shouldn't be investigated after all, Lync's previous models have all been prohibitively expensive. The LN1000, small but punchy, streamlined yet comprehensive, black yet showy, is quite conceivably the instrument that could turn the whole thing around.
I doubt I need to remind SOS readers that remote keyboard controllers like the LN1000 make no sound in themselves. They are simply controllers that you connect to sound-generating MIDI instruments, or indeed a whole MIDI setup. The LN1000 makes its connection via a single MIDI Out socket located in a small recessed area at the back of the instrument, next to the push-button on/off switch.
You connect. You push. Nothing. Aha! Batteries. The LN1000 requires six AA 1.5v alkaline batteries, which slide into a curious tunnel affair up at the front 'end'. Sunk deeply into the opening of said tunnel is a screw cap that keeps the batteries in place. Undoing it is easy enough, but doing it back up again is well nigh impossible. At least it was. I was mentioning this source of irritation to Lync President John Sgroi at NAMM last week when he whipped out what I can only call a doodah — a length of plastic that grips on to the cap, thereby making it longer and more put back-able. Doodahs, I am told, will be freely available to those who ask.
Powered up and connected, the LN 1000's 2-digit display quickly gives you a battery rating before settling into program mode, specifically calling up the program that you last selected. The basic deal is this: you have 128 master programs in which you can store a single MIDI channel, program change, velocity curve, transpose value, volume, controller code for an assignable wheel, and an aftertouch (sensitivity) value. You can then step through programs in order with the inc/dec buttons, or call them up by number.
Programming really couldn't be easier. There are no tortuous procedures and routines. You simply go into program mode by toggling the play/program button, press the button for whichever parameter you want (they're all named and brightly coloured membrane switches), and then scroll through the available values using the +1/-1 buttons; end of story, it's stored. In five minutes, without any recourse to the manual (which is generally well written, as it happens), anyone with even the slimmest knowledge of things technical can have 10 or 15 programs stored using any or all available parameters. But is this enough?
Previous outings in the remote class have all tended to offer rather more possibilities. Even earlier Lync models offered multi-MIDI setups so you could layer or zone sounds, but perhaps this is where they went wrong. I happen to think Lync have got it about right, when you think about what features you actually need on a remote — remember, this is not designed to function as your only master keyboard.
It's perhaps hard to generalise, but people seem to look towards remote keyboards for one of two jobs: keyboard soloing and keyboard bass playing. In both situations massive MIDI patches miss the point somewhat. If you're going to prance about and perform, then presumably you want your personality to emerge in the sounds, and if vast MIDI patches do little else they'll certainly manage to submerge most of the performer's character.
Relatively pure tones, to which you can impart expression either with modulation of one sort or another or just good old-fashioned musicianship, seem to work best in these out-front situations. In this respect, the LN1000 performs very well. The 40-note keyboard is both velocity and aftertouch sensitive, with a fast but by no means floppy action. The only slightly alarming thing is actually being able to see the PC boards beneath the keys, because of the angle of the keyboard in sling-on playing mode. Whether the gap that lets one see inside in this manner is actually any bigger than on most keyboards is hard to say, but the innards do give the impression of being overly exposed.
Besides aftertouch, you can also introduce a little expression via a dedicated pitch bend wheel and a second assignable wheel, both positioned close together on the stubby left hand 'neck' that sprouts out of the main body. Both wheels are stiff, and centre-detented. Although the pitch wheel defaults to create an upwards bend in one direction and down in the other (don't even try to explain which is which, Colbeck), the assignment can be reversed. The assignable wheel can function as either a continuous or momentary controller, ie. volume or sustain.
Rather too close to the wheels for my liking are a pair of master program inc/dec buttons. You'd get used to it I suppose, but life on stage being what it is (swinging from chaos to comfort to complacency), I think it would be all too easy to trigger an accidental program change.
Playing position, and the position of the left hand controls, is an intensely personal matter. Newcomers to remotes will probably find the whole concept somewhat awkward at first. Most old-timers should find the LN1000 sensibly laid-out, whilst not exactly breaking new ground in the area. From speaking to fellow players, the left hand controller that most seem to want (or miss) is the pitch ribbon, offered to great effect on such as Yamaha's CS80 sometime back in the last century. Perhaps Lync could address that next time around.
The final physical control is the volume knob. Big deal? Well, yes, as it happens. Not only is it handily placed and sized, but it really does work. So often MIDI volume controls either jerk through their allotted range, or fail to reach the bottom. The Lync's volume knob is smooth running, and silent in the off position.
The strap! Unless I'm much mistaken, new ground has been broken here. Lync's trademarked Straplock system does seem quite cunning, with its pin-depressing locking mechanism into the instrument's body. However, Lync go into quite some detail about how to install, check, remove, and generally service the wretched thing, which does lead me to suspect it may not be as foolproof as it seems. 10 out of 10 for the way it wraps around your neck though. One of my personal beefs with sling-on straps is that their configuration invariably means that you're locked into playing one handed.
Not here. By carrying the instrument over one shoulder, you can take your left hand away from the wheels and on to the keyboard for a spot of 2-handed playing without encountering any sections of strap.
I'll admit to being quite taken by the LN1000. I didn't detect any serious flaws (the seven stages of velocity only seem to make substantial changes from the fifth stage onwards but...), and I think it would make a definite improvement to my setup, both for on-stage use (day-glow buttons, yeah!), and generally pottering about in the studio (auditioning patches, lead-line work...).
The price may still, in the current climate, look a bit steep to us Limeys, but the LN1000 is certainly a big step in the right direction.
£599 inc VAT.
Argents, (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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