TMI Tim: The Delicious Hand That Feeds

I've lost track of how many developers I've talked to that have some major grievance with the way Apple runs the App Store. From rejecting Apps that include some SDK, to using the rejection process as a means to set new policy, Apple has made a lot of developers very nervous. Some of these guys are trying to make a living selling their apps. They have a deep fear of the often mysterious and cryptic rejections. No one dares speak out though! There has already been one developer who had his app removed for criticizing the App Store. Most sites won't go after Apple either because they want early access, or simply to avoid a life-time ban like Leo Laporte. I'm even a bit hesitant. They could revoke my Linkshare referral account, and the 60% of you that come here on Mac's could label me a "hater", but fuck it... This week's Too Much Information Tim is going to look at a real problem for one dev.

Om nom nom nom!

I've been talking with a guy who, for several reasons, needs to stay anonymous. He's a somewhat-high-profile guy in the tech industry and he had an idea for an app. This app is processor intensive though and he wanted to make sure people wouldn't accidentally buy it on older devices. Being the conscientious geek that he is, he spent a lot of time thinking about how to make sure he didn't screw over customers. Developers can't say, "Don't install on iPhone 3G and earlier, just iPhone 3GS and later."

You have to get tricky!

Many iPad 1 owners will know that the way a lot of people have been blocking iPad 1 installs is to require the front facing camera, available only on iPad 2s and 3s. This gets really complicated on iPhones and even more so with Universal apps. Don't get too fancy with your hardware requirements; you probably won't be able to change them after the app is released!

Artist Rendering of Anonymous Developer.
Shamed and photographed by Apple.

This is a serious challenge for many developers. They want to make great apps that take advantage of the new hardware that Apple is selling, but Apple won't allow devs to prohibit the obsolete devices. In this specific case the dev knows that iPod Touches simply don't have the horsepower. Just to be safe, he wants to keep the iPhone 3GS out as well so that those users won't give him 1 Star reviews on iTunes, if they encounter any performance issues.

This should be as simple as sending Apple a list of hardware saying:


• iPhone 1
• iPhone 2
• iPhone 3
• iPhone 3GS
• iPod Touch (all iterations)

Instead, Apple gives developers a compatiblity matrix of features. It's up to the developer to find some combination of features that only exist on the targeted devices. For this example, all of following are not available on iPod Touches, so let's see if we can use any of these on a Universal app to exclude iPhones prior to iPhone 4:

• Telephony: Would also exclude non-3G iPads.
• SMS: Would also exclude non-3G iPads.
• GPS: Would also exclude non-3G iPads.
• Magnetometer: Works, but you would need something else to exclude iPhone 3GS.
• Gyroscope: Requirement to exclude iPhone 3GS, although this also excludes iPad 1.
• Auto-focus-camera: iPhone 3GS has this, it would also exclude iPad 2.
• Camera-flash: This would exclude 3GS, but would exclude all iPads.
• Bluetooth-le: Would also exclude iPhone 4.

This is crazy, and it will only get worse as more and more iDevices come out. For this case you could go with requiring Magnetometer and Gyroscope. Unfortunately for this developer, he chose the GPS requirement, which completely eliminates iPads that don't have 3G! A fact he didn't realize until after the app went live.

What hoops are developers going to be jumping through, in just a couple of years, when they want to block iPad 3s? I praise apps that can maintain backward compatibility with older devices, but damn it Apple, you're the one that has made a business model out of annual obsolesce! Stop making developers the ones to deal with it.

TMI Tim: An Analogue Analogy

I'm a lefty and often feel I must look at the world upside-down and backwards from the majority. Too Much Information (TMI) Tim will examine issues in music making that deserve a closer look from a different perspective. I've got a great one to start this off!

One of the most common questions I've been getting since I started Everyone Can Play Music, is from people who feel they are ready to stretch their wings and challenge themselves with hardware synths. These guys have read somewhere that hardware is going to sound so much better than software iPad apps, and they ask me if this is true.

Rather than retreading the old Hardware Vs. Software arguments, I want to give you an analogue analogy.

In the world of competitive video games there is a similar lust over keyboards. There are those who will tell you that you simply must own a "mechanical keyboard", with Cherry MX switches. These have a physical component to detect key presses, as apposed to the membranes common to most keyboards. In fact the holy grail for these guys is an ancient bit of IBM technology.

These "vintage keyboards" aren't even compatible with modern computers, but enthusiasts will use adapters to get them working. Musicians lust for a unique sound advantage in old gear, and gamers are looking at these archaic devices for a competitive advantage. Both are just marketing and hipster hype.

Hardware manufacturers play on the idea of mechanical (analog) keyboards being so much better than the convenient conventional keyboard that came with your computer. These mechanical keyboards are a premium, priced 5-10 times the amount of regular keyboard! The manufacturers want you to feel like the keyboard you have in front of you is shameful, but if you pony up for the premium you're going to be so much better in competitive games. Hipsters perpetuate this by bragging about their status symbols. They've bought and paid for the right to snobbishly say, "Oh you have a Dell, well... I guess that's fine for playing Farmville."

The truth is that the real Professionals in competitive gaming use cheap $30 keyboards! No shit, watch a game of the Global Star League in Korea. The guys making serious cash, playing for $100,000+ prize pools, are using $30 keyboards that are like any other (digital) membrane keyboard.

Pictured here, to the right, is the keyboard used by the guy who has made the most money from professional gaming. It's a $35 Qsenn DT-35. His team is sponsored by SteelSeries, makers of a keyboard that has "18K gold-plated mechanical switches" and retails for $150! SteelSeries would gladly give him one for free, just so it shows up on TV when he's playing, but none of these guys give a damn about mechanical switches.

This whole notion of some advantage to analog switches is complete bullshit. We have the same competitive advantage silliness in the music realm, from manufactures that release new synth models annually. Members of the community who fall for the marketing will then try to justify their investment on forums. This is a never ending cycle of nonsense, as more people buy into the hype and perpetuate it themselves to brag about their gear.

Ignore the hype. It doesn't matter which is better. It doesn't matter which is cheaper. Just learn to use what you have in front of you.

Is iDesignSound really a secret cover for Palm Sounds?

I don't like to report on rumors, but it's a very slow day. I've also recently been brushing up on Libel & Slander laws in Illinois, so I'd like to explore those!

Two of the biggest iOS music sites have been iDesignSound and Palm Sounds, but are they really run by the same person? It was on January 2nd, 2012 that Ashley Elsdon announced Palm Sounds would shut down, but it has returned in a series of posts exploring contemporary mobile music making. On the same exact day "Alex" has stopped updating iDesignSound. Coincidence or cover-up?

What do we really know about the "alleged" men behind these sites? They both claim to be living in the UK, but where were they born? Neither have released their birth certificate, even after all of these years!

Let's look at the facts:
• iDesignSound's last post was the Arctic Keys update on May 25th.
• Palm Sounds celebrates its 6th Birthday with a post also on May 25th.

The only known
picture of Ashley
What is he hiding?

No Photo Available
Artist Rendering

Immediatly following the events of May 25th, iDesignSound stops regular updates, while Palm Sounds has seen a new post everyday!

• May 26th - Hold on, have we just replicated the desktop on mobile devices?
• May 27th - The journey from music consumption, to creation (and beyond)
• May 28th - Platforms, Subscriptions, Models
• May 29th - Mobile Music, Community and Social Media

Trust no one! Not even me! Everyone involved in iOS music making has been touched by these sites. Palm Sounds was the first site to regularly feature my Everyone Can Play Music videos. If something were to happen to "Alex", and iDesignSound was finished, discchord would become the leading iOS Music App site.

I contacted Ashley to get to the bottom of this! He adamantly denies everything, almost as if he had something to hide!

I do know Alex and we both live in the UK, but we're not the same person.
- Ashley via Twitter

I hope it is painfully obvious that this post is a joke. I just wanted to link over to Ashley's new stuff and couldn't think of a good way to frame it. His posting of my videos on his site was how I got started, so finally I can post something of his on mine! I also hope Alex is okay! The Internet would be a poorer place without iDesignSound.

Free Acid Samples

Reader Alice, from TianJin FengShengSiHai Chemicals Co.,Ltd., wrote in to tell me about all of the exciting acid samples they have:

"We are pleased to have visited your website. We are specialized chemical factory for Acids many years. Our main products as follows:

•Formic Acid
•Glacial Acetic Acid
•Hexanedioic Acid
•Oxalic Acid
•Stearic Acid etc.

Have specific inquiries or need our sample or products, please don't hesitate to contact us."

Thanks, Alice! I'm glad you were pleased to have visited my website. I'm half-tempted to avail myself of their samples offer, but I suspect having acids in 500L drums shipped to me from China would bring some undesired government scrutiny.


Fortunately Dan Weatherall, over at Voltage-Controlled has his acid samples in audio formats! He's got a massive 1GB collection of royalty free drum and synth samples that is definitely worth checking out. Dan is better known as Dan303, so you know he is an acid factory you can trust!

Buyer's Guide to building your own SynthStation setup

Despite the goofiness of my video for the SynthStation 61, it really has been a game changer for me. I am playing way more now that it is so easy to just flip on the iPad and play. That is really one of the most important factors in playing music; reducing the barrier from thinking about playing to actually playing.

I've received a lot of feedback and questions from people looking at setting up their own, so I thought I'd do the thing right and make a complete post out of it. This article will cover all of your options for keyboards, speaker monitors, and headphones at various price points. I want to make three things clear though:

  1. Despite popular opinion, my daddy doesn't work for Akai. I have no relationship with Akai; in fact I'm kind of pissed with them, since they don't even deign to reply to my emails. They make good gear though.
  2. I am not an Amazon Affiliate, I can't because of political nonsense between them an Illinois, so I get nothing from any of the links here. Amazon just offers good prices, so that is my first stop. You should shop around though! Half my gear is used from Craigslist, but always double check that deals on Craigslist are truly deals.
  3. Many of the deals on Amazon will be honored by Guitar Center. Keep in mind the golden rule at any musician store:
    Everyone in there is an asshole, and that includes you.
    Musicians are all assholes; we have to be. Who else would think that other people want to hear us making noises? If you go in there with that in mind you'll get along much better with everyone.

This is really long, so if you're short on time just scroll down to whatever you're interested in (in your price range) or scroll the whole way down for my ultimate recommendation.

MIDI Keyboards

I spent a lot of time auditioning keyboards before deciding on the Akai MPK61. It is pricey, and I did go into debt to get it, but I love it. Picking out a keyboard is a fairly personal thing, based on your expectations and experiences. If you have a Guitar Center or something near you, bug them to play with everything they have; even if it isn't on display!

If you have a background with pianos, for instance, you absolutely want a hammer-action keyboard (not covered in this guide), which will play and feel like piano keys. If, as I, you learned to play piano on a Yamaha rompler, then a synth-action keybed will suit you. I can't think of anyone who would benefit from any of the "semi-weighted" options like the Axiom/Pro; pianists will be teased and unsatisfied, and synthisists will just be annoyed. There are also some keyboards with "micro keys" which should be avoided unless you have small-child hands.

The amount of keys is also an important factor. All keyboards have octave shifting so that you can play the whole range, but it will ruin your flow to have to switch while playing. At the very minimum I recommend getting 49 keys, you'll still be switching octaves, but a hell of a lot less than on 25 keys. 61 keys almost completely eliminate this. 88 keys will completely eliminate this, but those keyboards take up a lot of space and will exceed the surface area of most desks.

With all of these options, in order to plug them into the iPad, you will need a Camera Connection Kit (The official one ranges from $23-40, but there are alternatives as low as $3). All of them except for the rockband controller and Q49 will need external power like a powered USB Hub or wall-socket!

Under $50

Madkatz Rockband Keytar - $30 on Amazon 

Rockband 3 is fun, but the keyboard implementation is not. It isn't even remotely instructive since you don't see note/chord names, just colors. I have this keyboard and was using it for the longest time as my iPad keyboard. You can octave shift with this in MIDI mode, which is essential with only 25-keys. This is battery powered, for a very mobile solution. You will need a USB-MIDI interface though!

Under $100

Alesis Q49 - $82 on Amazon

(Updated, thanks to Pierre for pointing this one out in the comments!) This 49 Key keyboard has only one MIDI control slider, and no knobs, but it does have pitch and mod wheels. Having those wheels will be worthwhile! The keyboard will draw power from the iPad, so it won't need a powered HUB. Also a very sleek form factor and black finish make it more appealing than the M-Audio Keyrig49 ($89 on Amazon).

Under $200

M-Audio Oxygen 61 - $170 on Amazon

For a little less than twice the price of the KeyRig 49 you get 61-keys and a bunch of knobs and sliders. There aren't a lot of apps with MIDI learn, see the list on iOS Musician, but these can come in handy when you want finer control over your knob movements rather than relying on the sensitivity of the on-screen controls. If you think there is any chance you'll start to use computer-based Digital Audio Workstations (Reason or Ableton Live)  then these knobs are essential.

Under $300

No recommendation.

If you are feeling adventurous and have the space there is the $220 76 Key Yamaha Portable Grand, but I have no experience with this or any similar "Graded Soft-Touch" keybed. It sounds like it just pisses off pianists though, like any of the semi-weighteds.

Under $400

Akai MPK61 - $380 on Amazon

Oddly the MPK61 is priced $20 lower, on Amazon, than the MPK49! This is a highly configurable, and truly pro-level keyboard. The PC/Mac software that comes with this allows you to map the 8 sliders, 8 faders and 16 pads to anything on any MIDI channel. There are 3 banks to make that virtually 24 sliders and knobs, or 4 banks on the pads for 64 of those. In apps that take MIDI Control Change messages, but do not let you "Learn" new controls, this lets you map the keys in the hardware firmware. There is both USB-MIDI as well as standard MIDI In Out ports so you can do a lot of different configurations. I have the USB going into my PC for playing in Ableton, and I have the MIDI going out to a M-Audio USB Uno into the iPad. I cannot understate how much I love this keyboard, it just feels right to me.


Don't even fucking think about picking up a pair of Dre Beats or anything from Bose. I would also discourage you from considering Sony's as they tend to "bass boost"; even in their reference headphones. You want to hear the sound as it is, so you can shape it to sound good everywhere, anything that is "boosting" or doing other weirdness is not helpful. Sony's also pinch the hell out of my head.

In all cases you should consider comfort! Many places, like Guitar Center, will let you try them on. Bring an mp3 player with some FLAC (or AAC Lossless) tunes from different genres and try them all!

Fortunately I have spent a lot of time researching this so I can name specific recommendations.

Under $50

Any of the Sennheiser headphones below $50 will be the best headphones you can buy for under $50. I have a pair of old PX-100s that are really nice, comfy on my bald head, and match the white iPad 2/3s. 

Under $100

KRK KNS-6400 - $79 on Amazon

My husband has a pair of these and they are some of the best sounding studio reference headphones of any price. I would recommend these for music listening as well. They are comfy, but their finishes on the pads are not as comfy as their bigger brother. This is a real shame, because the only other difference between the 8400s and the 6400s is a meaningless 5hz at the low-end of the Frequency Response. The 6400s "leatherette" versus the 8400s "Premium leatherette" is night and day though; the "leatherette" is itchy/scratchy. 

Under $150

KRK KNS-8400 - $130 on Amazon

I've got a pair of these. They go down to 5hz, the 6400s go down to 10hz, but the iPad only goes down to 20hz and just barely. These are not worth the extra $50 for the frequency response. They are worth the extra $50 for the comfort though! I can wear these forever. After having spent about an hour and a half in Guitar Center trying on every pair of headphones out there I can assure you these are the most comfy headphones available. Bonus: They sound amazing too. I recommend these over everything else out there under $1000. 

Monitor Speakers

I have not explored any of these. I got lucky and got my monitors for 1/10th their price from a friend, so I never had to do any serious research. All of these recommendations are based on reviews and hearsay.

Monitors are expensive, and often priced individually, but they are different from cheap Computer Speakers in that they are trying to accurately reproduce sound, instead of coloring or "bass boosting" or someshit. This is often referred to as "flat response", and the degree to which they succeed in this will determine their utility and usefulness.

If you're just looking for something to jam around with and have fun, you don't need to stress to hard on that. Any one of those options will be fine for just playing around in your favorite apps, and you will probably hear things in your MP3 collection that you've never noticed before. 

Keep in mind how you're planning on routing your audio. This is critical, if you have a cheap audio interface then you won't get the most out of the best. If you're just looking for speakers to plug straight into the headset jack of your iPad then just get the RPM3s or M1 520s below and forget the rest, as they will need preamps to be audible. This article is already crazy long, so I'm not getting into routing, interfaces or preamps. Do note, however, that the iPad's preamp is shit and noisy, so for truly high-fidelity situations you will need an interface plugged in via USB. 

In all cases you should just avoid the cheap M-Audio and Behringer monitors, as they have terrible reputations for build quality and will most likely fail you.  

Under $100

Akai RPM3 - $71 on Amazon (Price is for a Pair)

These little monsters are actually designed to work as an iPad audio interface, providing not only audio through USB, but also recording! I discovered these this morning while researching this article and if I had the cash to blow I'd be grabbing a pair. Since the audio is coming via USB it will avoid the issues with the iPad headphone jack. Speaking of headphones, these have their own higher-quality headphone output! You can even use it for recording two mono or one stereo source. You will want a powered USB hub so you can plug these into the iPad with your MIDI keyboard at the same time!

Under $200

Alesis M1 520 - $195 on Amazon (Price is for a Pair)

Like the Akai RPM3s, these have their own built in USB interface for plugging directly into the iPad. These are larger than the RPM3s, with a 5 inch woofer. They also have a headphone output for when you don't want to wake up the neighbors. Unlike the RPM3s though, you can only record 1 mono source. You will want a powered USB hub so you can plug these into the iPad with your MIDI keyboard at the same time! 

Samson MediaOne  - 5A $200 / 4A $150 / 3A $100 (Prices are for a Pair)

The difference between these 3 is the size of the woofer; the number indicates their size in inches. While I have no experience with Samson at all, the reviews on these seem pretty positive. They aren't truly flat, but they are worth recommending over some Bose shit that costs 3 times as much. These will require a proper audio interface, so if you already have one they are a good option.

Under $400

Yamaha H50s - $175 on Amazon (Price is for Each)

I've heard good things about these and the bigger H80s ($255 each). Of everything listed here, these are the closest to being truly professional studio reference monitors. To get the most out of them you'll want to pair them with an equally professional interface with excellent preamps; I like the Focusrite Scarlet series.

Ultimate Recommendation

I can only recommend what I personally like. If I was just starting out, and I was thinking long-term, this is what I would personally buy and the order I'd buy them.

I'd start off with the keyboard, and that would be an Akai MPK61 ($380). The versatility and quality will make this investment worthwhile. If you get serious about your music making and want to shift into the world of computer DAWs, this will function great for working with both your iPad and DAW simultaneously.

Next I'd get a pair of KRK KNS-8400s ($130), because when you're playing music it is vital that you enjoy the sounds you're making. This is the cheapest and most comfortable way to go about that, and you can plug them straight into the iPad without a powered pre-amp.

Finally I'd get the Alesis M1 520s ($195), or maybe the Akai RPM3s ($71) for the extra recording input, but I'd prefer the larger woofer on the M1 520s. They might not be truly professional studio reference monitors, but they will be great for playing around on. I'd plug the KNS-8400s into these instead of the iPad headphone jack. They can also be used with a computer as an audio interface, so it should be another long-term investment.

For those of you playing along at home, that's a total of $705. Which is probably more than most of you'd like to spend, but all of these are considered with an eye towards the future. I always feel better off investing in the gear I'll still use in 5+ years, rather than half-ass it with cheap gear I'll out-grow.

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