Friday, November 20, 2009

Korg Nanos, Two Months Later

In September I bought the three "Korg Nano" MIDI controllers -- the NanoPAD, NanoKEY, and NanoKONTROL -- and I wrote about my attempts to integrate them with my Logic Studio software. Some of the annoying problems I was having -- in particular the loss of configured settings when changing the order of my MIDI devices -- I placed squarely on the shoulders of Logic's annoying Controller Assignments dialog.

How do I feel two months later?

First, I still love the Nanos. I use the NanoKEY the most; it's an extremely convenient way to work out a melody or a chord without messing around with a bulky synthesizer. The two-octave range IS limiting, and the lack of a true pitch bend IS annoying, but as an exploratory tool the NanoKEY is phenomenal.

To be honest I haven't used the NanoPAD much. The X-Y surface is great for glitching up your stuff (and your drums, which is what you're supposed to use it for), but as a replacement pitch bend/modulator for the NanoKEY it fails simply due to a lack of an identifiable "center position." It's a small quibble, though, because that's not what it's for.

Oddly, the controller I was most excited about -- the NanoKONTROL -- is the one I use the least. This is partly because I haven't gotten around to any real mastering lately, but mainly because of its obvious limitations: no shuttle/jog, no LCD information about control assignments, and no motorized controls. Even the transport controls remain unused these days; it's easier to just use the keyboard.

I'm sure I'll find more uses for both the NanoPAD and NanoKONTROL, but for now they're gathering a bit of dust.

That's my impression of the devices themselves. How about their integration with Logic Studio? Well, the real question is: how often do they actual WORK with Logic Studio?

The Nanos are totally unpredictable whenever you wake your computer up from sleep; sometimes they get recognized, sometimes they don't. Here's what happens:

I have the following devices attached to my iMac:
  • A PreSonus FIREBOX, attached via Firewire, which is always on.
  • A Lexicon MX300 effects processor, attached via USB, which I only turn on before I launch Logic Studio.
  • The three Korg Nanos, all attached to an unpowered USB hub that is dedicated only to them.
When I wake up my iMac, the Lexicon is never recognized (because it's off)...but neither are the Nanos, though their lights go on. When I turn on the Lexicon it is automatically recognized, but the Nanos stay unavailable.

When I then unplug the USB hub and plug it back in, two out of the three Nanos are suddenly recognized...but one random Nano never is. I need to unplug the stubborn Nano and plug it back in again, and USUALLY that works...I've never had to do it twice in one sitting.

Once all three Nanos are online they stay that way until I shut down my iMac or put it to sleep...then I have to go through the whole process again. I keep the Audio MIDI Setup application in my dock these days to make everything a little less painful.

Now, due to the way Logic Studio stores its controller assignments, ANY shuffling of MIDI devices is bound to invalidate your carefully-crafted assignments. This whole "unplug hub, unplug recalcitrant Nano" procedure turns the assignments into digital stew. So even if I were using my NanoKONTROLLER, I'd probably need to reconfigure it almost every time I wanted to use it.

Logic Studio deserves a bit of blame here, but as far as I can tell the REAL culprit is Korg's custom USB driver. The Lexicon switches on and off like a charm...why not the Nanos?

So with all that in mind, are they still worth it? Yes, absolutely, as long as you don't need rock-solid stability as soon as you turn on your computer, and as long as you don't need to retain your Logic Studio assignments. I don't need either of those things and the NanoKEY alone is a charmer.

If you have any Nano experiences, post a comment! Heck, maybe somebody knows a fix or a workaround. It would make my life a bit easier...

No comments: