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VAX77 - Mac Mini - Mainstage


Brad Kaenel

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After more than 18 months of searching for my own Holy Grail sound source for my VAX77, I'm finally starting to pull things together. Done with the V-Machine; done with romplers and synths with non-conventional bank/patch arrangements. Done with power-cords and patch cables and wall-warts and rack modules strewn like autumn leaves at my feet.

 

I can finally see my technological light at the end of the tunnel, so I thought I'd begin documenting the final stages here. The rig is not quite giggable (waiting for some firmware updates) but it's very close.

 

Original wish list:

1) VAX77 MIDI controller

 

2) VST or rompler sound source small enough to sit on the VAX's 6"-wide shelf; NOT a laptop

 

3) No external power-supplies; minimal cabling

 

4) Compact, lightweight rig; everything fits in one case

 

 

Roadblocks:

1) Although they were clearly the right hardware platform, I resisted gigging with a traditional laptop because of the inherent fragility of the screen and case, external power supplies, and of course laptop's and tablet's tendency to grow legs and "walk-off" during breaks.

 

2) V-Machine underpowered and buggy; Receptor too expensive and bulky

 

3) Tiny romplers like Ketron Orchestral Wizard and Klavipro, not upgradeable or tweakable; NanoPiano, Sound Canvas et.al. romplers dated, aging hardware and sounds

 

4) Cables, cables, cables! MIDI, power, audio! Aaarrgh!

 

 

When the latest Mac Mini appeared, with its sturdy aluminum chassis, solid-state storage, and internal power supply, I thought 'This is the platform, but without a screen, keyboard, and mouse, what do I do on a gig if something hiccups and it doesn't boot straight into Mainstage? If I can solve those "emergency" worries, we could be in business...'

 

So, after a few more months of research, here's where I am tonight:

 

VAX77 (internal power supply)

Radial ProAV1 dbox (passive; XLR to FOH, headphone monitor)

Mac Mini (latest gen, internal power supply)

MIMO 720S 7" LCD monitor (USB powered)

Apple Mighty Mouse (battery powered)

No keyboard (using the on-screen keyboard, for now)

Mainstage 2

2x AC cables, 2x 8" USB cables, 1x 1/8" stereo audio cable, 1x XLR cable, 1x in-ear phones

All fits into one Infinite Response wheeled suitcase; total weight: 42 lbs.

 

 

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Still to do:

1) Waiting for Lion-compatible driver to enable MIMO touchscreen features

 

2) Upgrade VAX firmware to fix Mainstage MIDI issues

 

3) Replace Mighty Mouse with integrated bluetooth keyboard/trackpack (for emergency use only, as the touchscreen and on-screen keyboard will handle most input tasks). Probably this one: FAVI Bluetooth Keyboard/Trackpad

 

4) Replace the traditional harddisk with a solid-state drive; faster, more reliable, sturdier; way more expensive per GB!

 

 

Limitations:

1) Because the screen dimensions are small, Mainstage and the VST editors don't fit well (as you can see in the pic). This just means that I'll need to setup everything as presets ahead of time, rather than navigating Mainstage during a live gig; and this is what it's designed for, anyway.

 

2) VAX77 firmware supports Mainstage explicitly, and remotes the "Patch Select" list to the VAX's local touchscreen. You can't edit or rearrange anything, but it may eliminate even the need for the MIMO monitor onstage (except for emergencies).

 

3) Latest Mini doesn't have a "Kensington"-style security bolt, but it should be easier to lock to a keyboard stand or rack than a traditional laptop. I'm still considering the best approach.

 

 

I'll continue to update this post as I progress. Please add your comments, or questions about the various pieces of the rig and/or their integration.

 

I know we have a few VAX77 owners; anybody using similar peripherals?

 

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet...! :thu:

 

I've been wondering why more people weren't using the new Mac Mini as a sound source. Especially if your needs are simple, bread-and-butter (think Ivory/Pianoteq, VB3). It's *much* more similar in form to a hardware module - definitely much more stage-worthy.

 

IMO, having to interact with a sound module is more of a design flaw than a feature. I find that playing with the laptop lid closed helps the suspension of disbelief - that I'm playing a keyboard based instrument, and not clutzing around with a computer. Yes, there are contexts which need visual feedback from complex patch changes - a 7" screen might do the trick.

 

I seriously do not get the clamour for iPad-based instruments (VB3, in particular), when such an elegant, professional alternative already exists.

Brad, so if I understand correctly, you don't connect the screen /mouse at all during a gig, but plug them in only if there's an emergency - correct? Also, I can't recall where, but I'm sure I've seen pics of perfectly-resized 7" screens for Mac Mini - I think it was for a car computer project. You should be able to fit Mainstage within the entire screen.

 

I notice that you aren't using an interface :thu: . Would like to hear your reports on latency/noise, etc.

 

BTW, have you checked out the RackMac mini? It's an elegant rackount option for the Mac Mini; came across it while researching the same option. You might be able to pre-wire the D.I. box, and perhaps the screen and the keyboard also (to be pulled out in cases of emergency). Would save setup time, not to mention added stageworthiness.

 

I will be watching this thread with interest.

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I will also be watching this with interest. I also use a VAX77. Live, I use a Receptor, and for sessions I use a macbook pro with Mainstage. I have the same concerns about bringing a Laptop around to clubs. The Receptor is quite robust, but it is sometimes frustrating having more up-to-date software on the laptop than on the Receptor. (Not THAT huge of a deal). I have long been considering something similar to what you are doing....good luck and keep us all posted!!!!!

Moog The One, VV 64 EP, Wurlies 200A 140 7300, Forte 7, Mojo 61, OB-6, Prophet 6, Polaris, Hammond A100, Farfisa VIP, ,Young Chang 6', Voyager, E7 Clav, Midiboard, Linnstrument, Seaboard
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I seriously do not get the clamour for iPad-based instruments...when such an elegant, professional alternative already exists.

The relatively limited OS functionality and horsepower of the iPad means it's not going to compete with a Mac Mini yet, but in theory, the advantages would be... it's even flatter and lighter than the Mini; you can access a screen without plugging in a monitor, and it, too, lies flat; controls can be operated directly by touching the screen instead of plugging in a mouse; no need to plug in a hardware keyboard for anything. It would be more elegant, if it worked.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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That is really cool. I had no idea some of the computer-based items such as the 7" USB-powered LCD existed. Too bad the Mac drivers are an additional $30, but that's not terrible and they are up front about it.

 

I could see using a similar set up with another controller such as the PX-3. The advantage the Mac mini has over a MacBook is it has four USB ports, so you can have controller, monitor, iLok, and one to spare. I mean, if you have a little 7" monitor, that could look like it's part of the keyboard.

 

Please keep us posted!

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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That setup looks great, Brad! I would probably still toss an extra keyboard on top of the VAX, maybe a little Korg Microstation, just to have *something* that would work as backup at all times, in case the Mac or VAX started acting flakey, or you need to reboot the Mac, etc.. Plus (as discussed in another thread here not too long ago), there's something that can sometimes just be pleasantly simpler about just being able to toss your hand up to another board to grab another sound without having to worry about a split. What I like about the Microstation here is that I think you could fit it up there without having to worry about a two-tier stand, though other boards might fit too. (The Microstation could also probably be set so that its assignable knobs and preset recall buttons could be programmed to do things you'd like within the Mainstage setup as well.)

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Interesting setup but at least for me, I'll stick with the laptop. First, I keep it in a Studio Flyer case so I'm not moving it really at all. I just open the case and turn it on as everything is pre-wired in the case. I don't have it locked, but that's certainly an option if I was concerned about theft. You have three separate items, Mini, screen and mouse which are all one in with the laptop plus a real keyboard. And, if power goes out the laptop will run on batteries while the Mini will be screwed.

 

While Apple's laptops are OK for durability, there are Windows-based options like the Panasonic Toughbooks which are more durable than "pro" MI gear. Still normal laptops are designed to be banged a fair amount without issue.

 

Busch.

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Sweet...! :thu:

Brad, so if I understand correctly, you don't connect the screen /mouse at all during a gig, but plug them in only if there's an emergency - correct? ... You should be able to fit Mainstage within the entire screen.

True for the monitor (or I should say, it *will* be true), false for the mouse because it's wireless. As far as I can tell, the only time OSX *automatically* scans for bluetooth devices is at bootup; if it doesn't see the mouse then, you can't add it later on because you have no way to invoke the bluetooth applet to tell it to rescan -- it's a chicken-and-egg problem. I could, of course use a USB-wired mouse, which is recognized the moment I plug it in. But once the touchscreen is working, the need for a separate mouse goes away entirely.

 

I notice that you aren't using an interface :thu: . Would like to hear your reports on latency/noise, etc.

Lots of different opinions on that, of course. Right now, I can't point to any problem or limitation that a dedicated audio interface would solve or improve. I don't hear any hum or fan flutter from the Mac; the Radial gives me plenty of INs (1/4", 1/8", RCA, all stereo) that all sum down nicely to a mono XLR, and there's a THRU tap where I can plug in headphones or a powered monitor. And adding an interface would mean adding -- arggghh -- more cables!

 

BTW, have you checked out the RackMac mini? It's an elegant rackount option for the Mac Mini; came across it while researching the same option. You might be able to pre-wire the D.I. box, and perhaps the screen and the keyboard also (to be pulled out in cases of emergency). Would save setup time, not to mention added stageworthiness.

I like it, but so far I don't need/have a racked rig. But I can see the advantage of placing the Mini, the Radial, and the peripherals in a tray like this and pre-wiring everything. I have a nice Gator 1U rack bag that would work nicely; I'll definitely think about this once I'm confident I've configured the Mini to bootup "in the dark" and always do what it needs to do. (This has been harder to achieve than I thought it would have been -- always some nuisance dialog telling you something you already know, and demanding an acknowledgement.)

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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That setup looks great, Brad! I would probably still toss an extra keyboard on top of the VAX, maybe a little Korg Microstation, just to have *something* that would work as backup at all times, in case the Mac or VAX started acting flakey, or you need to reboot the Mac, etc.. Plus (as discussed in another thread here not too long ago), there's something that can sometimes just be pleasantly simpler about just being able to toss your hand up to another board to grab another sound without having to worry about a split.

Amen to that, and I actually do. You can't tell from the pics, but my Z-stand is two-tier and I always have my trusty Alesis QS synth up there (I know, I know; in my OP I was critical of aging and dated romplers, but I've always loved Alesis boards -- it's my party and I'll play if I want to. ;) And, of course, the QS has -- an internal power supply! :cool::thu:)

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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That is really cool. I had no idea some of the computer-based items such as the 7" USB-powered LCD existed. Too bad the Mac drivers are an additional $30, but that's not terrible and they are up front about it.

I should clarify that the additional $30 is only to get the touchscreen functionality; as just a monitor it works fine right out-of-the-box on either OSX or Windows. I decided to test that practicality first, along with the OSX on-screen keyboard, since the necessity of actually having to type something in at a gig would be quite rare. If it doesn't work well in real life, I'll go to the FAVI.

 

I could see using a similar set up with another controller such as the PX-3. The advantage the Mac mini has over a MacBook is it has four USB ports, so you can have controller, monitor, iLok, and one to spare. I mean, if you have a little 7" monitor, that could look like it's part of the keyboard.

Yah, you could get all Korg OASYS-y and make the monitor the centerpiece of the Casio -- add a little velcro to the base and you can even fold it down with one hand. I like it! :laugh:

 

 

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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Nice rig, man!

Have you considered an iOS or Android device as a wireless touch screen monitor for the computer (on Windows there's remote access app built-in, and it works nicely, sure there's something for mac). You could lose the monitor, mouse, and stash the mac away from thief's eyes!

 

My solution is an old IBM/lenovo laptop. It's pretty tough, and as mentioned before, runs on batteries - don't even need AC power on if I use a bus-powered controller!

Still, I use a old lightweight synth as a controller. First, it's the lightest kb I have, and second, it has passable piano/wurly/synths to back me up. So my rig is:

 

Laptop in a backpack

Kb in a gig bag

2 PSU's

Midi-usb cable

Audio cable

Sustain pedal

 

Total weight 20 lbs. Set up time under a minute.

 

What sucks is that a keyboard stand will double the rig weight :@

 

I also don't risk running amplex splits and layers on this thing. Have only some 6 or 7 patches set up. The visual feedback is simple - I set up patches with same numbers and names on the synth, and also same sounds.

 

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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That is really cool. I had no idea some of the computer-based items such as the 7" USB-powered LCD existed. Too bad the Mac drivers are an additional $30, but that's not terrible and they are up front about it.

I should clarify that the additional $30 is only to get the touchscreen functionality; as just a monitor it works fine right out-of-the-box on either OSX or Windows. I decided to test that practicality first, along with the OSX on-screen keyboard, since the necessity of actually having to type something in at a gig would be quite rare. If it doesn't work well in real life, I'll go to the FAVI.

Ah, thank you for the additional info.

 

I could see using a similar set up with another controller such as the PX-3. The advantage the Mac mini has over a MacBook is it has four USB ports, so you can have controller, monitor, iLok, and one to spare. I mean, if you have a little 7" monitor, that could look like it's part of the keyboard.

Yah, you could get all Kork OASYS-y and make the monitor the centerpiece of the Casio -- add a little velcro to the base and you can even fold it down with one hand. I like it! :laugh:

 

Yeah, you're getting it. :thu:

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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I know; in my OP I was critical of aging and dated romplers, but I've always loved Alesis boards -- it's my party and I'll play if I want to. ;) And, of course, the QS has -- an internal power supply! :cool::thu:)

I like the QSR as a module... only 4.5 lbs, only 6" deep... external power supply, though!

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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What sucks is that a keyboard stand will double the rig weight

I don't know if it's the lightest, but the K&M 18880 is only about 6.5 lbs, and not flimsy.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Nice rig, man!

Have you considered an iOS or Android device as a wireless touch screen monitor for the computer

Actually, I did; looked at several iOS "remote" apps for controlling the Mini, but unless I missed something, none of them worked over Bluetooth -- they all needed a WiFi connection, which I could never count on being available at gigs. Have you used one of these apps point-to-point?

 

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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My solution is an old IBM/lenovo laptop. It's pretty tough, and as mentioned before, runs on batteries - don't even need AC power on if I use a bus-powered controller!

You have three separate items, Mini, screen and mouse which are all one in with the laptop plus a real keyboard. And, if power goes out the laptop will run on batteries while the Mini will be screwed.

True and True. Unfortunately, the VAX doesn't run on batteries, so there would be no real advantage to having only the laptop survive a power outage -- can I learn to play Blues on a QWERTY keyboard? :wink:

 

 

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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I know; in my OP I was critical of aging and dated romplers, but I've always loved Alesis boards -- it's my party and I'll play if I want to. ;) And, of course, the QS has -- an internal power supply! :cool::thu:)

I like the QSR as a module... only 4.5 lbs, only 6" deep... external power supply, though!

Loved the Quadrasynth S4 module, too; did that precede or succeed the QSR? Hated that power supply -- a big ugly, heavy toad. (Actually, I had two of them -- one for home, one for gigs; an absolutely heinous appendage...)

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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they all needed a WiFi connection, which I could never count on being available at gigs. Have you used one of these apps point-to-point?

I haven't tried it, but as I understand it, it should work just fine using VNC. You don't need to "have" wifi at the venue, that would only be needed if you wanted to get onto the internet.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Nice rig, man!

Have you considered an iOS or Android device as a wireless touch screen monitor for the computer

Actually, I did; looked at several iOS "remote" apps for controlling the Mini, but unless I missed something, none of them worked over Bluetooth -- they all needed a WiFi connection, which I could never count on being available at gigs. Have you used one of these apps point-to-point?

 

I do something similar with my Receptor. I keep a small wireless router in my rack, and use a VPN app on my iPad (or phone) top control the Receptor GUI for emergencies. It does not require any network connection as it is its own little wireless network. I am pretty sure this would be easy to accomplish on a mac mini as well.

Moog The One, VV 64 EP, Wurlies 200A 140 7300, Forte 7, Mojo 61, OB-6, Prophet 6, Polaris, Hammond A100, Farfisa VIP, ,Young Chang 6', Voyager, E7 Clav, Midiboard, Linnstrument, Seaboard
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Great thread. I'm plunging into the VST-only for live world too.

Did you get VB3 1.4 up and running on the V-Machine for your MoeJoe? I had some limited success with that, but I found the VST just too difficult to interact with from the VAX, which has no physical real-time knobs or controllers (virtual drawbars, yes, but -- meh.)

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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I do something similar with my Receptor. I keep a small wireless router in my rack, and use a VPN app on my iPad (or phone) top control the Receptor GUI for emergencies. It does not require any network connection as it is its own little wireless network. I am pretty sure this would be easy to accomplish on a mac mini as well.

I think it should be even easier, in that I think the iPad and Mini can create their own wireless network even without a router.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Nice rig, man!

Have you considered an iOS or Android device as a wireless touch screen monitor for the computer

Actually, I did; looked at several iOS "remote" apps for controlling the Mini, but unless I missed something, none of them worked over Bluetooth -- they all needed a WiFi connection, which I could never count on being available at gigs. Have you used one of these apps point-to-point?

 

I do something similar with my Receptor. I keep a small wireless router in my rack

Doesn't that require a --- cable? :eek:

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Mojo Suitcase

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes, a short Cat5 cable - but prewired. However - I think the mini's built in wireless would negate that. Not sure...
Moog The One, VV 64 EP, Wurlies 200A 140 7300, Forte 7, Mojo 61, OB-6, Prophet 6, Polaris, Hammond A100, Farfisa VIP, ,Young Chang 6', Voyager, E7 Clav, Midiboard, Linnstrument, Seaboard
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Great thread. I'm plunging into the VST-only for live world too.

Did you get VB3 1.4 up and running on the V-Machine for your MoeJoe? I had some limited success with that, but I found the VST just too difficult to interact with from the VAX, which has no physical real-time knobs or controllers (virtual drawbars, yes, but -- meh.)

 

I have a Voce V5 mapped to all the corresponding contols of VB3, drawbars and other functions. Works great.

 

Another GREAT piece of kit to seek out is an old Peavey 1600x. I have one - it has 16 sliders, 16 knobs, and you can change "pages" so that they are all doing something different. It is HIGHLY programmable and it also fits on top of the VAX very cleanly.

 

Moog The One, VV 64 EP, Wurlies 200A 140 7300, Forte 7, Mojo 61, OB-6, Prophet 6, Polaris, Hammond A100, Farfisa VIP, ,Young Chang 6', Voyager, E7 Clav, Midiboard, Linnstrument, Seaboard
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Did you get VB3 1.4 up and running on the V-Machine for your MoeJoe?

 

Yes, I did. It worked great as long as I didn't play more than 4 notes. :facepalm:

 

When I mashed a forearm smear, it was entertaining watching the CPU meter try to bust out of the display and embed itself into the wall, accompanied by the soundtrack of digital crackling doodoo.

 

The V-Machine went back.

Moe

---

"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker

http://www.hotrodmotm.com

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I've been obsessively fantasizing for several hours about that RackMac - fully loaded one could play some nice virtual instruments!

 

http://www.sonnettech.com/product/images/hdr_rackmacmini.jpg

Moe

---

"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker

http://www.hotrodmotm.com

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I've been obsessively fantasizing for several hours about that RackMac - fully loaded one could play some nice virtual instruments!

 

For some strange reason, I thought of the MoeJoe when I came across this a few months ago (perhaps because of your posts reg. the V-machine...?). Had a feeling you might like this solution... :wave: shoulda given you a heads up, in hindsight. Note to self: listen to gut more...

 

...OTOH, Busch has a point, specially about batteries. My gigs typically are of 90 minutes - 2 hours tops, and I've run entire gigs on my 9-cell battery (4-6 hours backup). One less power brick to mess around with. Plus, I fire up Ableton at home, do a thorough check, and close the laptop lid-> put it to sleep. At the venue, open the laptop lid, connect USB-Midi, audio outs, and it's good to go - zero boot up time. Completely eliminates scares of booting/loading-related errors. Plus, if you need to switch between multiple patches often, visual feedback is a boon. Each patch has a separate colour-coded audio track in my Ableton setup, and it's very reassuring to see those bright VU-meter displays responding to patch changes. And for troubleshooting, keyboard and trackpad are there at arms reach...

 

Serious pros and cons to each approach, it would seem.

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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