Gadgets & Goodies(2)



From controllers to effects to plug-ins, “little brother” products can provide significant value for those on a budget. Need proof? Keep reading. . . .

Akai Professional APC20 ($399 MSRP, $199 street; The APC20 controller for Ableton Live 7/8 is the APC40’s little brother. Compared to the APC40 there’s no crossfader, footswitch inputs, or the 16 dedicated rotary controls for sends and devices, but some clever workarounds give more than you might expect. A Shift option allows the nine faders (which default to volume) to control pan, three banks of sends, or three banks of user-defined options; you also get something the APC40 doesn’t have—a Note mode for playing instruments from the clip buttons.


The button aspect is almost identical to the APC40. There’s a 5 x 8 matrix for clip launching and project overview, clip stop row, scene launch buttons, navigation buttons that double for track selection, and rows of buttons for channel activation, solo/cue, and arm record. You can shift the focus up, down, and sideways to zero in on any 5 x 8 group of cells, and there’s serious ease of use: Just plug the class-compliant APC20 into a USB port, and tell Live’s preferences to recognize it. I could even figure out everything without the manual.

You can mix and match up to six APC40s and APC20s. So if you like the APC40 but wish it had 16 faders, just add an APC20; or use two APC20s and expand your setup as the bucks roll in.

If you play Ableton Live but don’t think you need a physical controller, the APC20 will change your mind—without breaking your budget.

If you play Ableton Live but don’t think you need a physical controller, the APC20 will change your mind—without breaking your budget.

BIAS PitchCraft EZ ($99 MSRP, $79 street; This cross-platform plug-in does pitch correction, but BIAS also touts the special effects aspects—gender transformation, transposition, “hard” correction, etc. Compared to PitchCraft, the EZ version has four scale presets instead of 20, and no tuning presets; it also lacks global detune, a formant slider, and the cool tuning history graph. Aside from that, you’re not giving up much.


A couple tips: PitchCraft EZ didn’t respond to MIDI until I told the host to treat it like a soft synth—problem solved. Also, although the program is pretty non-critical, I was surprised at how much performance improves if you choose the correct pitch range for incoming signals.

For pitch correction, simply set the right key and scale; do the “robovoice” thing by setting the Pitch Correction slider to “More” (“Less” gives more natural correction). You can also set up custom scales, and ignore certain notes. But don’t overlook unchecking correction, transposing 0 semitones, and editing the formant size—bigger deepens the voice, smaller thins it. This is a great feature, as is transposition in general.

Sure, PitchCraft EZ lacks features of more expensive programs, like vibrato or the pinpoint graphic editing of something like Roland’s V-Vocal. But when you want the most common and popular pitch correction functions, you can’t beat the price and ease of use.

Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy ($133 MSRP, $99 street; Yes, this is a stomp box and no, you didn’t open Guitar Player by mistake. But the cognoscenti will tell you no delay sounds like bucket brigade-based analog delay, and the delays in your studio are likely all digital. While classic analog delay chips such as the Panasonic MN3007 and Reticon SAD1024 are no longer made, E-H has resurrected the BBD chip in China for their lower-cost delay models.


Memory Toy is basic: Controls are Delay (I measured 33 – 588ms), Feedback, and Blend (dry/wet mix). Unlike the Deluxe Memory Man, there’s no modulation control but instead, a modulation on/off switch. I considered this a major drawback, but took the unit apart and noticed trimpot TRIM8 is labeled Mod Depth. Yes! It’s not as good as a dedicated control, but I found the right amount of modulation for my tastes.

While hardcore analog fans might quibble about any discrepancies between the new chips and the “vintage” ones, the difference between analog and digital units dwarfs any minor differences among analog devices. Memory Toy does indeed give the classic sound of yesterday, but with some improvements, like a 1M input impedance to avoid loading down passive guitar pickups and true bypass switching.

With more DAWs offering the ability to treat outboard gear like plug-ins, Memory Toy represents a very costeffective way to get “that” warm, endearing sound.