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Is "Keyboard" really "Keyboard Sounds"?


Hugo H

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I'm torn about renewing my subscription. My personal pet peeve is the lack of attention to playability in the reviews. I'm referring to the actual feel of the keyboard, whatever it's type. There's a whole lot of text about sounds and settings and the like, but seldom is there a mention about the keys themselves.

 

You know, we all use them all the time. Why not mention that the latest, greatest synth workstation feels like a toy? Or that a particular cheap synth has great touch? Or how this synth feels compared to that one? For that matter, how about the overall layout of the controls? Are they awkward, invisible on a stage, or just plain great? There's hardly any attention paid to playing!

 

I, for one, like to play, not just listen. I'd like reviews to be about playing, too, not just tweaking sounds.

 

Am I alone? Do I need another mag?

Kawai GS-40 grand & other keys
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Originally posted by hiho:

Am I alone? Do I need another mag?

You're not alone, but I honestly don't think any of the current batch of magazines (EM & SOS come to mind) seem to cover that highly subjective topic either... so I don't think you have an alternative out there waiting for you. :(

 

Welcome to the Forum, and excellent first post! :thu:

 

Cheers,

SG

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I think if you're reading thoroughly you'll find that we do cover that, but you're right, we don't go into multi-paragraph detail about it. Only when something has a really exceptional feel do we praise it and only when it's particularly crummy do we bash it.

 

The truth is that most of the keys are made in one of two or three factories in the world, so there's not that much variation, except when a MFR springs for a custom-designed part.

 

Back in the day this was really an issue, but it's become far less so these days.

 

Bottom line, hiho? We're not lab technicians. We're players. Every last one of us. So if we feel that a particular keyboard's action is important enough to single out for praise or patooey-ing, it comes up naturally.

 

And here's the rub: You may love what we hate and vice-versa. We can't tell you what you're going to love - it would be arrogant and presumptuous for us to think so and carry on as if we do. We can't make your buying decisions for you, nor have we ever claimed to perform that function. It's your money, you have to add your own preferences to the information in our reviews and go from there.

 

I wish there were a meaningful way for us to grade keyboard actions, but there just isn't. Personal preference and playing style play too big a part.

Technical Editor

Keyboard Magazine

 

More people pay for Keyboard than any other music-tech magazine. Period.

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I wish there were a meaningful way for us to grade keyboard actions, but there just isn't. Personal preference and playing style play too big a part.
Let's forget electric keyboards for the moment.

 

If we had a group of professional players in a room with 15 Steinway pianos - all the same model, there would be more agreement than disagreement about which pianos sounded better and\or responded better. You would also have a general consensus of which pianos no one in that group of 15 would want to own. The Steinways would be placed in three general groups - I'd own this one or that one, these 11 are OK and forget those two ... or something like that.

 

See my point? I realize that keyboard actions are a personal preference, but if a group of 15 professional players pretty much agreed that the action on electric keyboard 'X' sucked, would that be included in the review, or would you state that 'this is a matter of preference - you might like it, you might not'? A review really should cover the keyboard action; that is not as subjective as you might think. Try this with a group of 15 pros and see if they more or less agree with each other on what is excellent, mediocre and bad. If the majority of players consistently shares the same opinions, that should indicate that keyboard actions are more than just personal preference - there are qualities that are agreed upon.

 

The more opinions the better.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Let's forget electric keyboards for the moment.

Convenient premise for your argument, Dave, but we can't. That's what we review. Keyboard doesn't review acoustic pianos.

 

The more opinions the better.
Exactly my point. Ours is one of many.

 

We can and do describe the feel of keyboard actions in almost every case.

Technical Editor

Keyboard Magazine

 

More people pay for Keyboard than any other music-tech magazine. Period.

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IMO, it would be relatively easy to do the scientific measurements necessary to evaluate each keyboard action fully and give it a rating based on the numbers obtained.

 

Relevant mechanical parameters that could be measured are (non-exhaustive list, just what I could come up with off the top of my head):

 

1. Key down force required

2. Key down distance till note plays

3. Aftertouch pressure vs. midi value

4. Key release time

5. Key inertia (maybe this is covered by 1 and 4?)

6. Lateral (sideways) movement

7. Longditudinal (front/back) movement

8. Coplanarity (key height variation)

9. Key type (simple observation)

10. Key profile

11. Key width

12. Key length

13. Key noise

 

I'm sure that given a bit of time, I could come up with a set of measurement jigs/critera that would be able to generate an adequately scientific set of measurements for any keyboard.

 

Robustness would be harder to measure - you'd need to have a life-test setup that continuously played/hit/squabbled/etc. the keys and see when one breaks. Of course, you'd need to do it for several of the same type of keyboard for the results to be statistically significant. Not financially practical IMO.

 

The question becomes one of resource vs. reward. Since there are so few keyboard manufacturers left in the world, is it worth spending the time and effort needed to set up such a suite of tests? I don't feel qualified to answer that one.

 

Cheers,

:DTR

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As Ken pointed out, the black-n-whites in most keyboards are made by a tiny handful of manufacturers - two or three. So to do all those quantitative measurements for a bunch of different digital pianos, workstations, virtual analog synths, etc, you'd be commenting on the quality control and manufacturing consistency of the folks who made the action, more than anything else. I suppose some variation could be a factor of the chassis the action is sitting in.

 

Ken, I think what Dave Horne meant by "forget electric keyboards" was not that we should in fact do so, but that a similar panel of experts to what he describes could be used to judge electric keyboards. Who knows... that could even be fun at some future date... we could call it "Gimme Some Action" or something, uh, clever. :P:D

Stephen Fortner

Principal, Fortner Media

Senior Editor, Music Player Network

Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Digital Piano Consultant, Piano Buyer Magazine

 

Industry affiliations: Antares, Arturia, Giles Communications, MS Media, Polyverse

 

 

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Brilliant, Rave, truly. You must be an engineer. (My dad's one and this is the way he thinks! ;) ) But ohmigod. . . . Would you really wanna read that? We're not a scientific mag. It's not a very musical approach, is it? Coplanarity? I'm trying not to laugh because I know your suggestion is offered in the right spirit and I sincerely don't want to belittle it. We'd scare away everyone, EVERYONE, thinking about getting into keyboards and electronic musicmaking. I'd resign before I did that.

 

Just being honest, y'all. Honestly, if anyone here harbors the hope that we'll go THERE, I apologize, but I wish you happiness in a relationship with another magazine. We're not the mag for you.

 

Having said that, this might make for a small part of an interesting standalone article.

Technical Editor

Keyboard Magazine

 

More people pay for Keyboard than any other music-tech magazine. Period.

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He-he! I should'a put a ;) or a :D on my posting Ken!

 

I am an engineer through and through, but really I'm not serious about anyone doing all that measurement work! My point, which I see I didn't clearly make, was that at the end of the analysis, what would you have? Just a bunch of incomprehensible numbers, right? You'd still be none the wiser as to how the 'board felt to you and if you considered it "playable" (whatever that means).

 

A panel of well known/respected players giving their subjective opinions could be fun, and useful though. I'd like to see that.

 

Cheers m'dears,

:DTR

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Originally posted by Ken Hughes:

 

The truth is that most of the keys are made in one of two or three factories in the world, so there's not that much variation, except when a MFR springs for a custom-designed part.

Why not identify who makes the keybed for a reviewed keyboard. With so few factories making them, people would know their preferences if they knew where the keybed came from.

 

Also, does anyone know who makes the keybeds for the following -

 

Nord Electro

Moog Voyager

Yamaha S90....

 

Thanks,

bp

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The Voyager keyboard is a Fatar action.

 

I had a chance to discuss the action with Dr. Moog at a NAMM show before the Voyager's release, and asked why they chose a Fatar action. He said that one, Pratt-Reed was no longer in business (as a classical organist I loved the old Minimoog action), and two, Fatar had international distribution. I assumed that that meant the Japanese companies were unwilling or unable to provide custom actions.

 

While I've gotten used to the Voyager's action and find it quite playable, I believe it's a little lighter and a little shallower than the original Minimoog. Maybe someone who owns both can verify this. It may just be my ever-fading memory.

 

BTW, maybe it's me, but it seems that while weighted actions have gotten worlds better in the last few years, organ/synth actions have gotten cheesier. Hammond actions notwithstanding, classical organ actions required a fair amount of effort to play, particularly trackers. I always had greater control of an instrument that had a stiffer action as opposed to the shallow, featherlight actions that appear so often these days.

 

A modern synth/workstation/clonewheel with a decent action would be a joyous thing.

 

k.

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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Here's one for you:

 

The Alesis Micron has the worst playing keyboard I have ever owned. I can't stand it.

 

Now, before you say, "Oh...it's a pricepoint thing," consider this:

 

The Alesis Photon X25 has a GREAT feel and action...and it's even less expensive! Go figure.

My band Thousand Houses: www.thousandhouses.com
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Originally posted by TinderArts:

Originally posted by Ken Hughes:

The truth is that most of the keys are made in one of two or three factories in the world, so there's not that much variation, except when a MFR springs for a custom-designed part.

Why not identify who makes the keybed for a reviewed keyboard. With so few factories making them, people would know their preferences if they knew where the keybed came from.
If a writer were to mention something like, "the keyboard under review in this article has the same keybed as w, x, y, and z synths" it would provide an instant frame of reference for many readers. :thu:

 

Best,

 

Geoff

My Blue Someday appears on Apple Music | Spotify | YouTube | Amazon

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Several things - when I said 'let's forget electric keyboards for the moment', I said that then to illustrate the selective process involved when a handful of pros is asked to evaluate a room full of acoustic Steinways. I was asking you to stand back and apply the same thinking that is used to evaluate acoustic pianos on electric pianos. (Guys, was my writing that obtuse?)

 

If we substitute golf clubs for electric keyboards, I would trust a pro's opinion especially if we listened to a handful of pros giving their opinions. Of course, we all have our preferences, but that's why there are pros ... and that's why we read reviews. If the reviewer states that the action is a matter of preference and the sound is a matter of preference, why don't I just stop reading reviews, cancel my subscription to Keyboard and spend my time doing the research myself.

 

It's a cop out to let a reviewer simply state, it's a matter of personal preference. If the reviewer feels uncomfortable slamming a keyboard's action (or sounds), invite a bunch of well known pros in for their opinion and let them take the heat.

 

Getting back to those Steinway's - haven't we all heard those stories where a few folks audition a room full of Steinway's. The pros can easily separate the better sounding pianos or more responsive actions from the others.

 

Next topic - manufacturer of electric keyboards. It's been stated that there is a small number of keyboard action manufacturers.

 

I _don't know if that's true_. Where does that information come from? I'm not impugning anyone's veracity, just where does that information come?

 

Yamaha makes their own, right? I assume that Roland makes their own. Korg? We have Nord made in Scandinavia - who makes their actions? Promega's actions are made by Fatar, at least some of their actions are. Those keyboards from China - one was reviewed this year in Keyboard. I'm certain the Chinese make their own. There are more brands in Italy than Promega \ GeneralMusic, who make those actions? Are there any electric keyboards coming out of the US (or have all of those jobs been exported as well)?

 

Maybe this would be a good article for Keyboard. Just how many companies make the actions we all play on. We left out the companies that make organ actions - Allen and Rodgers - who makes their actions? I see ads in Keyboard for Hammond - Susuki, who makes those actions?

 

I'd bet money at this point that there are more companies that make keyboard actions than we realize.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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In some respects keyboard action is subjective. Consider the threads here in which people choose between the RD700SX and the Yamaha S90 ES. One has a bit heaver action. Some like it better and some do not. But almost no one will choose the action of a Fatar SL990 over the RD700SX or S90 ES. The general consensus here is that the Korg Karma has a horrible feel while the synth action Motifs and Fantoms feel great. The action on my Korg Kontrol 49 feels better than my Karma. There is something going on that can be perceived by players. Here are a few things that I notice when playing various keyboards.

 

* Sloppy action. (Sideways movement or keys that move down a short distance before seeming to come in contact with the hammer action mechanism.)

* Gritty, sandpaper type rubbing when the keys move up and down.

* Uneven response up and down the keyboard.

* Black keys that dont have the same response as white keys. (This is much too common.)

* Slow action.

* A jump in velocity response as you gradually increase the speed at which you press the keys.

* After touch that is on and off rather than a controllable amount.

 

Im sure there are more, but you get the point. It would be easy for a reviewer to make note of these points. If nothing else, it would be interesting to have some members here go out to their local stores and compare a few keyboards, then report back. A gathering of information that could be compiled in a single thread on the forum.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Well, the feel is VERY personal thing. for example, almost every internet comment on Korg Karma action (by Fatar) says it sucks, but I love the action on my Karma. There are people who are in love with Roland actions (fatar, I think) on XP series - I can't stand it.

 

I can't say that Yamaha FS action (DX7, tritons, motifs) is outstanding, but there is a consensus that it's the best synth action ever.

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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Interesting thread. It goes to the heart of whether we think keyboards are performance instrumens, or input/output devices.

 

I am generally grateful for any description of the keybed. I like Geoff's comment and where I have seen comparisons with other synths, it's been helpful to me too.

 

While we are at it, I also find other tactile information useful. There was a thread here last week, about the Roland joystick, were the user aparently didn't realize that the actions on Roland synths within the same family can differ. Some information about the tactile usefulness of the various controls can be helpful. Channel aftertouch in particular, is extremely variable between keybeds, and is rarely addressed. The potential internet buyer has no way to test this, and the potential store buyer may not have the time/ability to set up a test.

 

Personally I find the subjectivity argument less persuasive. Value added information is created from judgement, insight and imagination. If you take the subjectivity out, you get data. The best source for data is the manufacturer.

 

My $0.02. Clearly, space is at a premium, and only keyboard can decide how to best utilize the space. However the evolution of the keyboard as a performance instrument will not be possible without critical, expert analysis on the part of players and reviewers. Cheers,

 

Jerry

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The electro is a Fatar action custom designed/modded for Clavia. It was guilty of the

"* Black keys that dont have the same response as white keys. (This is much too common.)" problem, noticed most playing the acoustic piano patches. Commented on at length in online forums. Not one comment in any magazine review I've ever come across.

 

I don't see what the complaints are about the Ion's action. I found it quite playable. Definitely better than a Nord Lead 3.

 

Most keyboards are either Fatar or Yamaha. I think Roland produces their own keyboards but I don't believe they provide them to other manufacturers. Ditto Kawai. Presumably the third big manufacturer is the Chinese company that has just begun releasing keyboards under its own name.

 

Anyway, I think some sort of shootout - more comparative comments than a rating system - would be great. And for weighted actions comparative comments along the lines of "plays like a rhodes in need of attention", "force required as for a Kawai grand", "reminiscent of a full-size Yamaha upright", "key return noticeably slower than an acoustic piano (e.g. my Kawai MP9500)", would be helpful. From reading reviews on the net I believe that the Kawai K5000 is generally regarded as the benchmark for synth actions. The DX7 is probably a useful common reference. How is the action for playing clav parts with a key off trigger sample? How is it for expressive romantic piano? Baroque ornamentation (related to key-up speed)?

 

Look forward to something coming out of this topic.

 

Then of course there's the key to sound connection ...

Keys: Hammond SK2, Hammond SK1, Hammond SKpro, Korg Vox Continental, Waldorf STVC

Amplification: Line6 L3T, Yamaha DBR-10, Presonus Air 10, Leslie 122V

 

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Thanks for all your input, everyone. I think we can add more comparative information on keyboard actions in the future. The more things we can provide to help give readers a clearer frame of reference would definitely be good.

 

That said, I can't think of a review where we did *not* have a description of the action, and its playability, in any synth or keyboard review. That's generally an integral part of our reviews. Same goes for the ergonomics of the controls. I can't think of any reviews where all we said was, "play it yourself, it's a matter of personal preference." That would be a cop out indeed. But as I say, I can't think of a single review we've published that leaves readers on their own like that.

 

Feel free to correct me on that, Dave Hiho, and anyone else. Seriously, if you've read a review in Keyboard that leaves that information out, let us know. That's the only way we can make tangible improvements: from specifics, not generalizations that may not in fact be all that accurate.

 

And we often do bring in pros to give us feedback on keyboards, especially when the instruments are significant new products. I'd love for us to be able to do it more.

 

The source for the fact that keyboard actions come from a limited number of sources comes from our discussions with manufacturers, Dave. You'd be surprised at how many instruments have Fatar actions.

 

That said, I think it'd be very interesting to research the state of the keyboard action market to see who is currently using what actions, and what have the main action makers done to improve their various models.

 

And since Steve came up with the "Gimme Some Action" title, I'd say he's the most likely candidate for the assignment! :D

 

And maybe we can finance the production of the next KC Compilation with the proceeds of Dave's "Keyboard Action Betting Pool." :D

 

I think what we need is probably a little bit of relevant tech info about the keyboard action when we can get it, some fairly well-known benchmark comparisons with instruments we are likely to have in common, and then as musical yet objective a description of the action as we can muster.

Ernie Rideout, Private Citizen

Gee, that was quick.

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Originally posted by Stephen Fortner:

Who knows... that could even be fun at some future date... we could call it "Gimme Some Action" or something, uh, clever. :P:D

Hah! :D I had a similar thought not too long ago.. I'll look up the thread and post a link.

 

My interest at the time was not a general consensus of what action the "pros" might prefer. I was curious about the variables in actual construction. ...prompted by endless rumbles with Dave Horne. :D

 

You make an interesting point regarding the chassis. I've often wondered if particle board is chosen over metal by some manufacturers for reasons other than cost.

 

And my other thought, is the importance of the stand. We walk into stores and audition keyboards under some of the worst conditions. Nice if they could be placed on counters, or something that absolutely does not move.

 

Show me some action :love::D

"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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I would just like to say that I think it's great that the editors take the time to respond here ... and that they listen to the 'readers'.

 

I will probably never be completely happy with a review but it's great that the input here has some influence.

 

Whenever I've been 100 percent happy about anything it makes me very uncomfortable ... I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. :cool:

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I would just like to say that I think it's great that the editors take the time to respond here ... and that they listen to the 'readers'.

 

...

And I hope they understand that when we bitch about something, it is because we care. Yes, I know it sounds cliché, but many of us here (including me) have been readers and subscribers for over 25 years. For us this is not just casual reading. If I don't like something about a model railroad magazine I will move on to another magazine about model railroads. If I don't like something about Keyboard Magazine don't expect me to move on. I've been around to long and really there is nothing else out there that I like this well. So, expect me to complain instead. ;)

 

Robert

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Robert, our feedback... well YOUR feedback is important to these guys or else they wouldn't have redesigned the forums. I've been thinking a LOT about that lately; why they did it and what everybody thinks about it now that we've had time to live with it.

 

But, I won't be asking THAT question. It falls into the same category as other things momma said not to talk about in polite company (religion, politics, and whether a fat girl is really pregnant or just fat). :freak:

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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Originally posted by Ernie Rideout:

That said, I can't think of a review where we did *not* have a description of the action, and its playability, in any synth or keyboard review. That's generally an integral part of our reviews. Same goes for the ergonomics of the controls. I can't think of any reviews where all we said was, "play it yourself, it's a matter of personal preference." That would be a cop out indeed. But as I say, I can't think of a single review we've published that leaves readers on their own like that.

 

Feel free to correct me on that, Dave Hiho, and anyone else. Seriously, if you've read a review in Keyboard that leaves that information out, let us know. That's the only way we can make tangible improvements: from specifics, not generalizations that may not in fact be all that accurate.

From the M-Audio ProKeys88 review, July 2005, author Ken Hughes:

The keyboard on the ProKeys88 is the same as that on M-Audio's KeyStation 88; that's good news for some of you, horrible news for others, who are even now turning the page to find the E-mu Proteus X Audition. As I've said in every review of a weighted-action 'board I've ever written, keyboard feel is the most subjective evaluation keyboardists face. It's as personal as your style preference in underpants. You like what you like, and there's no "wrong" preference.

Sorry, Ernie, but if you honestly believe that qualifies as "a description of the action, and its playability" then I'll change my style of underpants. ;)

 

For me, having actually laid hands on a KeyStation 88, I was able to make a value judgement (in this case, 2 thumbs down) because of the reference. To anyone that has NOT seen either of these first-hand, this information is in no way helpful. At the very least, a pointer to the previous review would have been a step in the right direction (although I haven't read that review, so I have no idea what was written about the earlier product, or by whom).

 

Cheers,

SG

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Originally posted by Sven Golly:

Sorry, Ernie, but if you honestly believe that qualifies as "a description of the action, and its playability" then I'll change my style of underpants. ;)

 

Cheers,

SG

Hmmmmmm, wonder what style that would be?

 

1. Changing from ladie's to men's :eek:

 

or

 

2. Clean ones :rolleyes:

 

:D

 

Just kidding. :P

 

Hi Sven :wave:

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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Originally posted by Sven Golly:

Either way, they have to have at least 50% wool content... ;)

 

How's life, Tom? :D

 

Cheers,

SG

I'm feeling kinda sheepish for asking that question. :rolleyes: Great comeback though.

 

Life is good, SG. Thanks for your reply.

 

Tom

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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You think you feel sheepish, wait til you read this: I'm feeling a little odd that Stephen Fortner isn't talking to me. I'm talking to him. So, what's up? Is there bad history between Keyboard Mag and Generalmusic?
"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Thanks for the specific reference, Sven. That's very helpful. Speaking for myself, and delicately for Ken (he'll chime in soon himself on this, I'm out of the office so he and I aren't conferring before posting), I think we felt that the reference to the other M-Audio board did the trick. In hindsight, I think we could've done with a little more objective description.

 

Good thing I didn't offer to change *my* style of underpants. It's hard to get these Spiderman things in my size.

Ernie Rideout, Private Citizen

Gee, that was quick.

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