Monthly Archives: March 2012

Thomas Dolby at World Cafe Live -3/24/2012

Ever have the experience of hearing an artist’s new album, disliking it, and then finding that it grows on you?
“Map of the Floating Cities”, Thomas Dolby’s first album since 1992’s “Astronauts and Heretics”, is one of those. I had previously heard the “Amerikana” and “Oceanea” EPs, and wasn’t terribly impressed. The first seemed too forced – “Hey! Look at me! I’m a Brit relating the American Experience!” and the second, too mellow and bland.

On further reflection, though, it’s all good music, just different. Which after twenty years is probably to be expected. I find it amusing that the WikiPedia entry for the album lists it as “New Wave” – apart from stylistic issues, can that even really be considered a genre any more?

This was the third time I’ve seen Dolby at World Cafe in Philly, and the third or fourth time eating there as well.  I’ve found the food to be surprisingly good.  Dinner was roasted salmon with lentils, parsnips, and butternut squash. The only minor disappointment was that the peanut butter pie I’d had previously wasn’t on the dessert menu.

The opening act was the bluegrass duo of Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher. During the main part of the show, Lewis came back on stage and played several numbers with Dolby.

Set list:

Commercial Breakup
One of Our Submarines
The Flat Earth
Evil Twin Brother
Road to Reno
The Toad Lickers
I Love You Goodbye
Love is a Loaded Pistol
My Brain Is Like a Sieve
Europa and the Pirate Twins
Airhead
Hyperactive
She Blinded Me With Science
Encore:
Spice Train
Silk Pyjamas

Although this crowd in particular would not have been overly disappointed to have “Science” omitted – and replaced with “Windpower”  – he still played it with enthusiasm, noting that it had been very good to him.

Missing…missing…missing…

All of the arrangements of the older songs were very well done, in that they were different enough to make them interesting to hear (and probably perform, as well) yet similar enough for the hardcore fans.  Even with sampled drums and guitar synthesis, having those sounds played by live musicians  made a big difference.

He seems to have largely evolved away from the mad scientist persona adopted earlier in his career, into a sort of retro-futuristic visionary. His Time Capsule (a very cool Steampunk-esqe trailer) allowed up to three people to record a thirty-second Message to the Future, which were compiled and added to his YouTube channel (It is to be hoped that there will be people around to view them someday.) Our group did wait while one of our friends recorded a message, but the rest of us declined.

In talking about it afterwards, we realized that even though we’re huge fans, at this point we’ve seem him three times in the same venue in four years, so it’ll be  a while before we have a compelling need to see him again. This was driven home after the show – one friend had gotten an autograph and mentioned that there weren’t a lot of people waiting; the rest of us decided not to bother going back in. Since I already have several signed items, adding to my little shrine seemed egregious.

All in all, a great show, and well worth the time.

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Roland JV-80

A much more recent synth – at least for me – and another sleeper.  Still twenty years old (released in 1992), but I’d really rather not think about that. There’s simply no way the nineties were that long ago.

26 voices, 8-part multi-timbral. Sound quality is excellent. The pianos and strings are gorgeous, the basses thumpy and resonating, the brass brassy, and the percussion…percussive. The guitar patches are also standouts.

Those looking for traditional analog-style synthesizer patches should probably look elsewhere. There are a few, along with the obligatory sound effects, but the focus is definitely on more traditional acoustic instruments. That said, there are at least a dozen add-on cards out there, so if you want vintage keyboards or dance sounds, they are available.

Ooooo...shiny!

This particular unit was another rescue. Despite my previous unpleasant experience with purchasing a keyboard in untested, as-is condition, it was inexpensive enough to be worth taking a chance on. Several keys were missing and the original ad indicated it wouldn’t power on. It’s far more likely that the owner didn’t have the requisite Roland power cord, because it powered right up for me. The interior was filthy, and half the keys didn’t work at all. I cleaned it, replaced the missing keys, checked the battery, cleaned all the key contacts, sliders, and buttons, and thoroughly tested it. The only thing I didn’t do was replace the stupid Roland 2-prong power jack with a standard IEC connector – I was out of them.

As a side note, I find working on all of the Roland keyboards from the early to mid-nineties to be quite painful. First, they need to be opened from the bottom, and I usually forget about the pitchbend lever until a nanosecond after I’ve turned it over. It’s amazing I’ve never broken one. Second, it’s difficult to remove the keyboard assembly, which is particularly annoying as bad key contacts are the most common problem. Finally, the circuit boards tend to be stacked on top of each other. Which means, of course, that the one you need to access is always on the bottom.

I spent far more time playing it than I normally would because even after cleanings some of the buttons were a still  little sticky. They did eventually all started responding correctly.  I really had second thoughts about selling it – the sounds are just that good. The keyboard, although having somewhat lighter action, was very responsive, and as always I found the aftertouch to be so much more intuitive to use than the mod wheel for introducing modulation effects.

Both the velocity and aftertouch features are used to great effect on several of the performance patches. Hitting the keys faster triggers a different sample, so for instance a slow attack will play strings, but slightly faster will add a piano note on top. There were also a couple where the aftertouch introduced another completely different patch.

Patches can be comprised of up to eight tones. The eight sliders and associated  buttons allow the relative volume of each tone to be adjusted or disabled entirely. This makes changing the character of a given patch immediate and fun – everything is in real time. There is a brightness slider and an additional slider whose function changes depending on the patch. The excellent built-in reverb and chorus can be easily switched on and off.

For more specific changes to envelope and filter settings, diving into the menu system is necessary. The buttons and sliders do make it a little easier, but without the manual locating any particular parameter would be difficult.

Even with the manual, it took me a good five minutes to figure out how to change the polarity of the sustain pedal. This is required when using a non-Roland pedal. Commiting all the settings and options to memory would have required too much brain space, which is another reason I ultimately decided to part with it.

For the sounds themselves, I can always avail myself of a JV-1080 module.

Pros: Great sounds. Aftertouch. Well-built. Many available add-on cards.

Cons: Very deep menus. Historically unreliable keyboard mechanism. Some patches sound dated. Few analog-style patches.

Roland JV-80 Manual

Demo songs. These nicely demonstrate the range of sounds this beastie can produce, and its multi-timbral capabilities. I have to admit, though, that either the arrangements or the patches themselves sound a bit “nineties”.

JV-80 Demo

Perseverance

New Listening

Korg DW-6000

Another fun one.

I’m a huge fan of under-rated, unappreciated keyboards. And this is certainly a sterling example of that group.

This was Korg’s first digitally controlled hybrid synth, released in 1984. It uses 8 sampled wave forms as a sound source, along with analog filters and envelopes. 6 voices, 64 patches, unison, polyphonic (!) portamento, joystick, noise source, chorus, and Korg’s ADBSSR envelope generators.The keyboard is neither velocity or aftertouch sensitive.

The back panel has jacks for MIDI In/Out/Thru, the tape controls, program up, portamento, headphones, and stereo outs. The program up is a welcome feature; it would be nice if this were available on modern keyboards. It simply allows you to advance the programs by just hitting a footswitch.

It’s essentially a Poly 800, with six more waveforms. Construction is solid, and the design is logical and well thought-out. Most of the panel real estate consists of a list of the presets, all the parameters, and graphic diagrams of the waves. At this point all of Korg’s new offerings utilized digital access controls instead of knobs and switches. Their implementation is, at worst, a little tedious, but by no means difficult to either understand or use.

Any discussion of this synth invariably starts by saying that the DW-8000 is a much-improved version, by virtue of additional waveforms, digital delay, aftertouch and velocity, and an arpeggiator. This, to me, is actually a philosophical argument. The additional features on the 8000 don’t negate the fact that the 6000 is a perfectly usable instrument.

Most of the presets are good, but as usual most can stand a little tweaking to make them excellent. Basses and strings are great, along with the strident digital organs at which all Korgs of this vintage excel. It takes little time to set up any number of luscious, swirling pads. Piano? Not so much. Which is fine, considering the lack of a velocity sensitive keyboard. Actually, considering the small pool of waveforms it’s remarkable that such a wide variety of sounds can be achieved.

My complaints are small. User programs will overwrite the presets, and there’s no restore feature. So to reset an instrument, you either need to dump from tape or reprogram everything by hand. It’d be nice to have a little more control over the chorus, and the keyboard action is really light. Considering it sells for two-thirds to one-half the price of it’s more advanced cousin, these complaints seem tetchy.

Pros: Solidly built. Good presets. Program up, MIDI Thru, and Portamento jacks.

Cons: Non-velocity sensitive keyboard. No dedicated user program locations. Heavy.

No demo for this one, I’m afraid. My last unit was a rescue; it was bought and sold rather quickly.

Korg DW-6000 Manual

 

 

 

Synth Price List – February 2012

As indicated – the full list. Since the list has grown quite a bit, I may just post this from here on out, instead of dedicated posts for each section.

Synth Prices – February 2012

Synth Prices February 2012 – Moog, ARP, & SCI

The price displayed is the average selling price for that particular model for the month of February. The percentage is the difference between the current and year-to-date average, which is an indicator of the direction the price is going. As per the last column, that direction is either “-” for down, “+” for up, and “0” for staying (relatively) the same.

Model Price Chng Dir
Moog
MemoryMoog $3,875.00 0% 0
MG-1 $515.10 5% +
MicroMoog $668.05 -5%
MiniMoog $3,581.67 2% +
MultiMoog $661.00 -21%
Opus 3 $860.00 40% +
Prodigy $835.30 7% +
Rogue $875.00 34% +
Sonic 6 $2,199.00 0% 0
Source  $            – NA
ARP
2600 $5,100.00 0% 0
Avatar $1,528.00 0% 0
AXXE $857.00 0% 0
Odyssey $2,228.80 14% +
Quartet $485.33 0% 0
Solus $1,087.50 0% 0
Sequential Circuits
Drumtraks  $422.50 2% +
MAX  $            – NA
Prophet 5  $3,679.67 2% +
Prophet 600  $841.25 -9%
Prophet VS  $1,560.99 -20%
Six Trak  $496.67 -9%
Split 8  $405.00 0% 0
T8  $3,500.00 0% 0
TOM  $150.00 -37%

All of the “classic” synths have much lower sales volume, so the direction and percentages may not be as accurate. There were no sales of the Moog Source and the SCI MAX during February.

The Prophet 600 and SixTrak are still pretty good deals, if you have to have a piece of genuine vintage kit. The MicroMoog, surprisingly, is also quite reasonable. I’d take it over the MG-1 if only for the pitch ribbon.

Synth Prices February 2012 – Korg & Yamaha

The price displayed is the average selling price for that particular model for the month of February. The percentage is the difference between the current and year-to-date average, which is an indicator of the direction the price is going. As per the last column, that direction is either “-” for down, “+” for up, and “0” for staying (relatively) the same.

Model Price Chng Dir
Korg
DW-6000 $161.83 1% +
DW-8000 $273.24 8% +
Karma $533.36 0% 0
M1 $527.32 9% +
Microkorg $242.88 0% 0
Mono/Poly $1,299.00 -12%
MS-10 $831.33 11% +
MS-20 $1,768.80 0% 0
MS-2000 $512.86 4% +
MS-2000R $358.81 1% +
Poly 61 $200.00 0% 0
Poly 61M $320.58 -5%
Poly 800 $240.82 5% +
Polysix $827.80 15% +
Prophecy $385.00 6% +
Wavestation $237.50 6% +
X5/X5D $374.65 4% +
X50 $407.76 -1%
Yamaha
AN1X $504.33 9% +
CS1X $230.33 8% +
DX-21 $118.79 8% +
DX-27 $174.88 8% +
DX-7 $261.35 -3%
FB-01 $55.71 5% +
MM6 $374.22 5% +
PSS-120 $4.25 -61%
PSS-130 $26.37 3% +
PSS-140 $27.00 21% +
PSS-170 $16.80 -28%
PSS-470 $64.25 11% +
PSS-80 $14.50 -3%
RX-11 $54.14 -4%
SHS-101 $207.00 3% +
TYU-40 $22.99 8% +

No major surprises for Korg. The Micorkorg is still has the highest sales volume of any instrument, and the Poly 800 has gone up quite a bit in the last few months. Like the Roland SH-101, the MS-20 would seem to be more of a collector’s item than a utility instrument, based on the current price.

I’m in the process of changing some of the Yamaha models. At the moment, I have too many mini keyboards and not enough synths.

Synth Prices February 2012 – Roland

The price displayed is the average selling price for that particular model for the month of February. The percentage is the difference between the current and year-to-date average, which is an indicator of the direction the price is going. As per the last column, that direction is either “-” for down, “+” for up, and “0” for staying (relatively) the same.

Alpha Juno 1 $246.43 -3%
Alpha Juno 2 $285.00 0% 0
D-50 $467.50 8% +
JD-800 $738.44 10% +
JP-8000 $570.89 6% +
JP-8080 $587.63 -6%
Juno 106 $601.96 1% +
Juno 6 $558.83 0% 0
Juno 60 $896.59 -4%
 Jupiter 6 $2,199.50 9% +
Jupiter 8 $5,840.00 0% 0
JV-1010 $167.06 0% 0
JV-1080 $198.13 3% +
JV-80 $179.83 -12%
JX-10 $391.44 -4%
JX-3P $295.21 -9%
JX-8P $360.33 -2%
MC-50 $78.99 6% +
PG-200 $262.50 -17%
PG-300 $376.00 23% +
PG-800 $421.20 5% +
R-8 $170.91 6% +
RS-09 $389.24 21% +
RS-5 $228.58 -1%
SC-155 $108.33 0% 0
SC-55 $80.67 2% +
SC-55 Mk II $119.74 9% +
SC-88 $162.49 6% +
SC-88Pro $286.00 1% +
SH-101 $797.18 -1%
TR-707 $262.96 -5%
XP-50 $403.82 0% 0
XP-60 $735.00 0% 0

A couple of comments. I’m amazed – as always – by the high prices commanded by the PG programmer units. In the case of the Alpha series and the JX-8P, the programmers sell for more than the synths. What makes that particularly odd is that those models are relatively easy to program, especially compared to the JX3P.

There are still some really good deals out there on non-vintage gear, particularly the RS-5 and JV-80 synths, the R-8 drum machine, and the JV-1010 module.

Finally, I really don’t understand the continued stratospheric price for the SH-101. The highest recorded price in February was over $1500, for a mono synth that sold for $495 new. I’ve played them…from a musical standpoint there’s really no justification for it. However, at this point it appears to be more of a status/collectibility issue than anything else.

Synth Pricing – New Format

After fiddling around with this for a while, I’ve decided to change the way I post prices. Instead of a handful of units every two weeks, the new list will be much larger but only posted once a month. In addition to average prices for the month, the list will also indicate the percentage difference between the current month and the overall average, which will show the direction of the current pricing.

How valid are these prices?

I use eBay as my main source, along with a smattering of other auction sites. Here’s why. There is at least one other website dedicated to used gear pricing. Based on their methodology, I’m not convinced it’s accurate or even useful. As I understand it, they use bots to scour not just eBay, but newsgroups, craigslist, and message board postings for listings. Then these are compiled and posted.

The major issue that I have with that is apart from eBay, these are all ASKING prices, not what the item actually sold for. In addition, I don’t know how things like multiple re-posts from the same seller or broken equipment is handled. In my case, however, what you are seeing is an accurate average of working items that have actually sold during the time period in question.

What counts?

U.S. only auctions. I do not take into account any additional items that may be included in the sale. For example, one price may be for a pristine unit in a hard shell case with all the original accessories, the other may be a beater in a cardboard box with a couple of missing knobs and not even a power cord.  Hence, average price.

For the most part, I do NOT include broken or as-is units. There are a couple of exceptions. First, if the listing indicates that the unit just has a bad or low battery, I’ll count that. Based on my experience repairing synths, if something appears to have a minor issue from the description it will be included. The other thing I will count is a unit with either broken or missing keys where it is indicated that that is the only flaw, AND if I know the replacement keys are readily available.

Generally speaking, I will also lump in items that have been upgraded, such as the Jupiter Europa mod or the DX-7 E! update. Items that have been substantially modified, like circuit-bent Casios, are not counted.

How are the synths chosen?

My list, my interests. Most of these I either own now, have owned, or would like to own. Any that don’t fall into that group are typically what I’d consider “classic” synths. Additionally, if there are no recorded sales for two consecutive months I’ll remove the model from the list. This doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t continue to track it, but if there’s no volume I have to question how valid the prices would be anyway.

What’s the point of the list?

The question of how much something is worth is asked often, and it’s a valid question. What something is worth is what someone is willing to pay. Here, you can see what people paid. If I want to get rid of a Korg M1, and I price it at $900, the odds are good that it’s not going to sell. By the same token, selling it for $150 is plain stupid (unless you’re selling it to me – then it’s genius on your part). Knowing that the average selling price for the last month is $525 is useful to both buyers and sellers.

Since the list is much longer, I’ll post it in sections and once they’re all up it’ll also be available as a PDF download. The first section – Roland – should be up shortly.