The beauty of the digital-music production era stems in its accessibility for producers of all kinds. It seems like an entirely different timeline, in a completely different universe, that producing music was an exclusive art unobtainable to those without big bucks or industry connections. Now, do-it-yourself and home studios are not only encouraged, but often times required, for those passionate about audio production.
As time has gone on, the quality and coat of professionalism MIDI controllers and similar interfaces embody has gone strikingly up. In more recent years, there has been a burst in the way sound designers, music producers and composers have gone about their audio business in a home-studio atmosphere. Keyboard Workstations, as they’ve become known amongst those in the production community, have exploded with the ever-increasing demand for professional work done remotely. Because of their versatility and commitment to larger-than-life sound, these workstations are cherished by the pros. They may look like a synthesizer, they may respond like a synthesizer, they may even do synthesizer things. But I can assure you they can do even more than what your wildest imagination says a normal synth can do…
Constructing an ethereal soundscape with tones and textures from another world? Scoring the piano sequence and accompanying strings to a documentary raising tough questions about climate change? Producing an epic 808-laden trip-hop piece with tons of unique sound design? No matter your intent, the modern-day workstation is designed to let creativity flow without limitations or subpar sound. You can even tackle all three of these musical tasks, and more, in one session. Because such a premium has been put on versatility, the modern-day workstation is an absolute juggernaut in its ability to achieve results with any genre or project.
Korg’s pedigree in the synthesizer world needs no explanation. The fact that the brand appears multiple times on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as they’ve been a trailblazing synth-powerhouse for what feels like an eternity. The Kross 2-61 maintains that classic degree of Korg excellence we almost take for granted as musicians, while implementing some new concepts and a modern polish.
Creative producers will be salivating at the thought of using this workstation’s 1,075 programmed presets and 120 voices. Savory synths, pulsing pads, ominous orchestras, voluptuous vocoders – this is hardly scratching the surface of the amazing sounds readily available at the touch of a button. Be it live performance or extensive studio sessions, this seemingly infinite array of sounds caters to any genre or style. One of the big issues we’ve seen from keyboardists over the years is their live-limitations to mimic certain tones from either a song they recorded or a popular, existing piece of music. The Kross 2-61 combats that issue by demonstrating a sea of sounds that can be done in the studio, and then recalled for a live show without any second-guessing or “alright, I guess this sound is close enough”. It’s quite a crafty tool for music-producers-by-day, gigging-maestros-by-night. With elite tone recall technology and real-time audio access, Korg can put yet another model in its Hall of Fame.
Don’t get it twisted, now; Roland is no scrub when it comes to synths. As a matter of fact, Roland has historically been a trailblazer for music production, keyboards and synths over the years. Coming in with a knockout punch is the Roland FA-08, jam-packed with SuperNATURAL synth sounds/tones/drums and integrated with an elite-level INTEGRA-7 sound module. This arsenal of audio technology makes for a melting pot of 2,000 instrument sounds, an onboard sampler, Sound Modify knobs, COMP+EQ processors for drums, DAW-configuration software and much more.
Keyboard players and pianists coming from an organic piano background will be relieved at the FA-08’s full 88-key spread, with an Ivory-feel keyboard and escapement technology. This natural authenticity and genuine piano feel result in a performance experience astonishingly similar to the “real thing”. With that kind of realism at your fingertips, every sound you craft and manipulate will be met with a truly human approach.
One of the most consistent demands from producers and composers in the digital era is the proper technology for making “lifeless” MIDI piano come to life. A fake piano can lack sonic depth, human response and dynamic range, often times resulting in a spurious timbre unpleasant for composing and causal listening. The Korg KRONOS V3, however, squashes this notion of fraudulent piano sounds and brings human expression back into the fold. With an SGX-2 Grand Piano Sound Engine, users can play and perform with a mind-numbingly accurate Berlin Grand sound, in addition to a beautiful German Grand and dynamic Japanese Grand. Each is demonstrated with Sympathetic String Resonance, RH3 Graded Hammer-Action and Natural Touch semi-weighted action for an authentic piano experience.
Pianists and film scorers – this may be the solution you’ve been waiting for. Say goodbye to emotionless, tinny piano samples. With that being said, this workstation isn’t just a piano player’s paradise. The KRONOS V3 features a Drum Tracks section for anything from the skeleton of a rhythmic pattern to an entire percussive explosion for your production. Capture the feel and energy of a professional drummer with built-in tracks and performances for a genuine-sounding recording with tons of groove. This may be the best option on the list for musicians looking to achieve the most life-like sounding organic instruments behind a digital interface.
Look ma, no studio! Well, at least not in the traditional sense. The Roland Fantom-8 essentially becomes a studio in and of itself, without the sweaty engineers and shag carpet. This workstation embodies the natural essentials of a production catalyst in the new millennium: big, bold, powerful, intuitive. What makes this unit particularly special is its expanded workflow catering to the laptop legends out there. Sure, your dive-bar delight of an uncle may tell you about the “good ol’ days” where people didn’t make music with computers, but you can turn right around and show him the importance and legitimacy of using a laptop to produce professional music in the digital age.
With deep computer integration and fluid composition tools, it’s possible to construct an entire musical masterpiece with the Roland Fantom-8 without breaking a sweat. A smooth workflow eliminates confusing modes, frustrating technical limits and so-so audio quality. Regardless of what DAW you prefer to work, this workstation is not only compatible of, but eager to, crank out your wildest audio imaginations. Onboard analog filters, diverse sound engines and sampling technologies give this creative hub a new layer of innovation in a Renaissance of sound experimentation. Oh, before we forget! This workstation comes with a free pair of Samson SR950 Professional Studio Reference headphones.
It’s important not to assume that every workstation on the market is just a smorgasbord of sounds and instruments to noodle around on. You’ll typically find that to be the case with many units; this is particularly helpful for those producing music for TV or advertisements. But sometimes, it can be just as useful to have a myriad of effects and editing option as well. The Kurzweil Forte fits that bill, supplying users with an entire arsenal of sound manipulation techniques. The Forte FX bank features reverbs, delays, choruses, flangers, phasers, distortions, rotary amplifiers, compressors and much more. A 3-Band EQ with bass, treble and sweepable midrange lets you get deep into mixing practices, and a master compressor could bode well for giving your recordings that radio-ready polish.
Of course, you do get to mess around with some instruments and funky tones, as well. KB3 ToneReal Organs are modeled after classic Hammond, Vox and Farfisa organs for a genuine sense of expression and flavor. Authenticity is not only preserved, but celebrated, with each virtual instrument you choose to perform or record with. Composers with an engineering background may benefit tremendously from having the Kurzweil Forte as a part of their rig. Many music gigs these days, say, as a composer for a television network, require you to wear multiple audio hats. If you know that you’ll be mixing and mastering your creations after you finish the composition process, this is a tool we’d highly recommend.
Remember that scene at the end of Deep Impact, where the tsunami comes crashing onto the shore and engulfs the old dude and his daughter, who can do nothing but watch? Imagine that you’re one of those two actors, and the tidal wave of epic proportions is actually just an enlightenment of creativity you’ve never experienced before. The Yamaha Genos sits atop the totem pole for Yamaha digital workstations, and arguably for other brands as well.
One of the defining characteristics of the Genos’ greatness stems from its uncanny accuracy as far as sound reproduction is concerned. Articulation Element Modeling simulates the subtle nuances and performance characteristics of various musical instruments, generating authentic samples in real-time. Anything you desire sonically will translate perfectly to the 76-keys, meaning that you can bring sounds from Hollywood orchestras to stadium synths, and anything in between, to life. MIDI keyboards of yesteryear are trembling in fear at the sheer veracity demonstrated from the Yamaha’s Genos’ 1,710 instrument voices, 550 accompaniment styles, 216 arpeggios, Revo!Drums, Synth Vocoder and brand-new C7 Grand Piano voice. This is the ultimate production and performance tool for songwriters, composers and music producers alike.
Surprise, surprise; Korg is back! We weren’t kidding about their dominance and pedigree in the synthesizer world, as you can see. If you still aren’t convinced, the Korg Krome EX88 may change your music production habits for the rest of your life. Catering to the contemporary EDM producer, this workstation stands out for its destructive drum machines, powerful pads and luscious lead sounds that define the genre as we know it today. Larger-than-life sounds are also demonstrated through various world instruments like the kalimba and kokyu, in addition to Hollywood-style sound patches that would get your blood pumping in a film trailer or video game battle scene.
One highlight of the Krome EX88, playing into its role as EDM juggernaut, is its massive collection of drum samples. Producers will have more than 2,500 drum samples and 48 preloaded kits to build percussive masterpieces with. You can even adjust the mix settings for a specific kit; direct mic, ambient mic, placement of these mics, it’s all doable. One could make the case that this robust workstation is the flagship model for percussive production in just about any genre or audio atmosphere. In addition to dual polyphonic arpeggiators designed to bring guitar/bass riffs and drum patterns to life, this may be a great choice for producers and composers lacking organic instrumentation but looking to bring those elements into their production workflow. We can’t all rip a crazy guitar riff, so why not let this unit do it for you?
Time to crank your studio workflow up a notch. Let the team at SamAsh.com help you determine what workstation is best suited for your production preferences.