PolyChord Vs. SoundPrism: Battle for the Bassist!

While playing with the new Virtual MIDI implementations in Sunrizer and NLog Synth Pro, I got to thinking about how people unfamiliar with music theory would do with PolyChord and SondPrism. How would a musician, like a Bassist or Drummer, that understands rhythm (but not much else) do with one of these? Fortunately I happen to have a Bassist and a Drummer available for experimentation! My husband, Allen, plays both but couldn't fight his way through a chord progression if his life depended on it. Thus I present to you:

PolyChord Vs. Sound Prism: Battle for the Bassist!

PolyChord vs SoundPrism

NLog Synth Pro

Let's get ready to get ready!

To focus strictly on how these two apps play, and not on how they sound, I set them up to control NLog Synth Pro. I routed the audio through my monitors so that I could hear what he came up with. In NLog I put together a Pianoish patch, with some evolving pad sounds. When I got it sounding inspiring and interesting to Allen, I showed him some of what it can sound like when played with a keyboard, for reference. Once I had the patch I set up the individual apps to behave as similarly as possible, with the strum on both in the same octave and the audio engines turned off. I then gave him a brief introduction to each of the apps, to simulate what he would see if he were to watch about 5-10 minutes of each on YouTube videos.



PolyChord presents the user with a series of buttons, labeled with chords, which can be assigned to a specific Major or Minor scale. This is a great to-the-point layout for quickly playing any of the possible chords in a given scale. We started off with this one first and Allen experimented with random button presses. Eventually he tried to find a melody, bouncing around between a few chords he was liking. When he started to play on the strum, a series of small keys off to the right assigned to a bass octave, he had a lot of confusion about the way it was sounding. Without my intervention he discovered that PolyChord was attempting to simulate velocity from his presses. He then went back to the chords and explored this on the chord buttons. Unfortunately he did not seem to be enjoying this and was put-off by the sensitivity of his presses affecting volume. At one point in the test a key got stuck and we had to hit a lot of random stuff to get it to stop sounding. I've had this occur a few times with PolyChord in both NLog and Sunrizer.

SoundPrism Pro


A glowing panel of keys greets users in SoundPrism. The Pro version gives you the option to shut off the sound engine and send MIDI, just like PolyChord. Also like in PolyChord, there is a "strum" section for bass notes on the side. PolyChord's layout has keys in different chord groups, which can be altered to different scales. Allen quickly got to grips with this through experimentation. He did not avail himself of the accelerometer MIDI, which was tied to the Mod Wheel in NLog.

We have a winner!

After some time to play with both I asked him for his thoughts, to which he had this to share, "SoundPrism has a fun interface to play around with if you don't know what you're doing, where as PolyChord seems to want you to know what you're doing." I asked if he'd like to reevaluate PolyChord after playing with SoundPrism, but he declined saying, "I didn't like that one at all... I can see if you were following along with sheet music, but otherwise it was not fun for improv."

SoundPrism is definitely the winner in this contest, proving to be more inviting to musicians without a lot of music theory!

Tabletop for iPad Impressions

A mere thirty minutes after my review of Rhythm Studio went up I got an email from Dan, Co-Founder of Retronyms, regarding my comments on their pricing model for Tabletop. He wanted me to try it out, so he gave me a promo-code with a request for feedback.

This article features all of my impressions; the $5 content is unlocked with the retail price of the promo-code. I have included optional In-Article Purchases offering further consultation, which are not included in the original price, for users who feel they need the additional content.

Tabletop is a sexy App. The navigation is smooth and the interface is well thought out. You can tell they got a real artist in on the project and not the accountant who "knows some Photoshop." Unfortunately the artist missed a trick, which is [Good Idea, In-Article Purchase - $9.99 Consulting Fee]. This is an important facet to any music App, as it should be instantly inspiring.

The included instruments in Tabletop's modular environment offer a fairly good mix. The ability to route audio with a visual wire connection is both intuitive and powerful. There is little that could be asked for here, though I did think the GridLok Pad Sampler would benefit from a [Another Good Idea, In-Article Purchase - $9.99 Consulting Fee], which would greatly extend its capability and fit well in the modular design.

Since I started off on hardware I was immediately comfortable with Tabletop's modus operandi. All of the instruments behave as expected. However, users more familiar with software environments may have a problem with this. I have received a lot of viewer criticism of [Trade Secret, In-Article Purchase - $99.99 Consulting Fee] in technoBox2 and Rhythm Studio, both also slavishly beholden to the hardware they emulate.

Fortunately Tabletop looks like it has the underlying architecture to over-come this present shortfall. With existing assets they could tweak some back-end to add [Great Idea, In-Article Purchase - $99.99 Consulting Fee]!

This core technology could add additional functionality in other areas as well:

As you can see, Tabletop's appeal is obvious with a lot going for it, but to get into the useful stuff you should be prepared to make additional purchases beyond the initial $5 investment.

Retronyms has a lot of passion for the project and are unquestionably dedicated to extending it as a platform. With their commitment to further development it is easy to imagine them patching in [Great Idea, In-Article Purchase - $99.99 Consulting Fee] as a future In-App Purchase. With that achieved, musicians comfortable with both software and hardware will want to make sure that Tabletop is a part of their music making!

NI Maschine playing Rockband 3

Meh... the video is kind of jumpy as the TV is doing 60fps, but my shitty Lifecam only does 15fps. Details below the video, with links.

Hardware used:
Native Instruments Maschine
M-Audio UNO USB-MIDI Adapter (any one will do)
Madcatz MIDI Pro-Adapter (set velocity to max)

MIDI-OX - http://www.midiox.com/

Maschine Config - http://www.mediafire.com/?9kdf3dhpw3ryr3c
(Mirror) -http://fileape.com/dl/MXfTqpDG6pAVbMZQ

First connect your PC's USB-MIDI interface and the Maschine. Launch Native Instruments' Controller Editor and load up the Config file. Download and install MIDI-OX, it's free for non-commercial use. Launch MIDI-OX.

Go to Options - MIDI Devices... 
From the MIDI Inputs menu select the Maschine
From the MIDI Outputs menu select your USB-MIDI interface.
Up at the top type something like RB3 into the Preset name and then hit the disk icon to save. Now all you'll ever have to do is launch MIDI-OX when your interface and Maschine are plugged in and it'll do its thing.

With MIDI-OX set, plug your "To In" MIDI Cable into the Madcatz MIDI In. That's it, you're ready to rock. After your initial setup it only takes about 20 seconds to get going. It's much faster than dragging the old drum kit out!

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