AKAI Synthstation 25 Application and Keyboard: A Striking Duo

(ShackMan | Posted 2010-08-13)

AKAI Synthstation 25 Application and Keyboard: A Striking Duo

Sure, we've all seen the guitar application, and the loopers and various piano apps that allow you to poke your iPhone in the hopes of hitting the right combination of between 12 and 20 tiny keys. And the people who played on these were almost never actually pianists. Here, however, is where M-Audio came in and saw an opportunity for iPhone users. While the iPhoneís and iPodís touch screens didn't have anywhere near the amount of necessary room to suit a pianist wanting something resembling a keyboard, it's 16 gigabytes of storage left plenty of space for samples and synthesis engines, and Akai Pro took advantage of just that. I got to play one at this yearís Summer NAMM, and Iíll be sharing my thoughts throughout the article.

The idea is to transform the iPhone of iPod touch into a portable music production studio. With a two octave velocity-sensitive synth-action keyboard on the Synthstation 25, and three different three-oscillator synthesizer engines on the Synthstation application, itís powerful enough for a professional. It also contains plenty of drum patches and an arpeggiator with a heaping helping of preset patterns for creating accompaniment parts. The keyboard itself uses the same basic framework as the companyís MINIAK synthesizer (which I should be seeing in my mailbox shortly), so those of you already familiar will have an even easier time getting used to the Synthstation 25 and Synthstation applicationís easily navigated layout.

All of these sounds are contained and controlled mainly through the Synthstation application, which features plenty of easily navigated menus (even though Iím a bigger fan of knobs, this package is far too small to accommodate that), to get to exactly what you need to create the best sounds, quickly. It also features a Kaoss-pad-esque X-Y grid on the main screen which can be set to certain sound parameters for more experimental play and on the fly adjustment of all of the onboard effects and filters.

Itís no surprise that AKAI Pro designed the keyboard and application to be used by themselves as well as together. The application itself features an on-screen keyboard that turns off when docked on the Synthstation 25, and the Synthstation 25 features a USB/MIDI output for use as a controller for other MIDI software on Mac or PC. ďThe package of the Synthstation 25 keyboard and the Synthstation app transform the iPhone into a professional musical instrument,Ē said Adam Cohen, Director of Business Development at AKAI Pro. Very true, but this is only one more giant leap for the recording kind. The Synthstation is a continuation of a trend that has been making recording, production, mastering, and mixing all that much more accessible to the common man, and at $9.99 for the application and only $99.99 for the keyboard, you canít beat building a workstation for that price.

When I played it, I was surprised at the layout. Even on a (relatively) small iPhone screen, the Synthstation app didnít feel cluttered at all. I breezed through and had no trouble creating sounds easily. I dialed in some drumkits and put together a sequenced pattern and began layering without a hitch. One thing I did not like, however, was the lack of ability to go straight from one preset to another instead of scrolling through with the program up and down buttons, but thatís just a minor tedium, and nothing to worry about when it comes to at home production. Overall, Iím very impressed, and I know weíll be seeing more of the same from AKAI as well as other companies looking to keep up in the near future.

James Rushin is a bassist, keyboardist, writer, and composer living and working in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He has studied bass with Jeff Mangone and Andrew Kohn, and has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri. His compositions have been featured at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College. His contest winning essays and short stories have seen publication in and around the Tri-State area.

Feel free to e-mail James with comments, questions, concerns, at james.rushin@musicgearreview.com.

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