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EWI USB style

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
Apparently these things are going for just $299 online. Tempting... if I hadn't just dropped a bundle on Rock Band and the new, neato Rock band drums now with cymbals and guitar.



Their copy:

"We've certainly seen no shortage USB-friendly MIDI devices lately, whether they be instruments or hacks, but it's been a long, long time since one caught our eye that brought your breath into the equation. Akai's latest, the EWI (that's "eee-whee" if you can dig it) USB is now shipping for $499, enabling you to simulate anything from a flute to a trumpet at a price about $200 less than the company's other electronic wind instruments.

It even comes with a complete software recording suite, meaning getting this EWI installed should be easier than playing a chromatic scale on a slide flute. Mastering the sweet, soulful strains of "Silhouette," however, might be a little more complicated."
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
You can get the $299 price at http://www.musiciansbuy.com/Akai-EWI-USB-Wind-Instrument.html?source=google&gclid=CILm_9He-JYCFQOaFQodACZcYA

From what I've read, the Akai is the best sax-like EWI out there. Yes, the Yamahas are nice, but these are supposed to be better.

I'd want to look a bit more at the specs, tho. If it's USB-only, it may be that your only tone-generator is the computer. This might not be a good thing if you have a junk sound card.

Now, I've not played with electronic instruments in years. Is there any tone generator out there that just uses USB and not MIDI?
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I'd not want it so much for the tonal abilities as I would for the input facility that it would offer. I've never had any keyboard training, and picking out a tune on one is agony for me indeed.

At that price point, I just might buy my first Christmas present in thirty odd years...
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
The input ability is actually a good thing.

I used to use a wonderful (and wonderfully complex) program that's called Finale. One of the things you could do is either realtime capture performances, which would be then converted into notes (which you'd then have to edit because your playing wasn't precise enough and you'd have 128th note rests 'n' stuff), have a metronome beat you could play to or stomp the beat on a synth's "sustain" pedal and play.

The last kind of input is really, really kewl. Especially if you aren't a good keyboard player. Like me.

However, I did have a little better luck with my Yamaha WX11 than with my various keyboards for realtime input.T o capture things exactly, tho, you want a keyboard and simple note entry (e.g. press a C on the keyboard and a 4 on your computer's keyboard to enter a quarter note C).

In other words, a wind controller can make life better, but it's not perfect.

Desktop keyboard controllers (49 key or less; sometimes with a built-in computer keyboard) aren't incredibly expensive. Or buy something used, like a Kurzweil Or a cheap, new Yamaha.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
About a year ago I tried one at one of the big music stores in Vancouver. I thought it might be a good alternative for me, because at the time I was still unable to play for more than 10 minutes at a time due to extreme neurological fatigue.

I wasn't sold on it. I played with it for over 2 hours, so I really had a good chance to get to know it. The sounds weren't authentic, at least to my ears. The rollers are super sensitive as well, and it takes quite a bit of getting used to.

If you have the chance, go play one in a brick and mortar store before ordering one on line. This will give you a better idea if you will like it. I'm glad I did.

Oh, and don't forget, you will also need a keyboard amp if you don't already have one.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
About a year ago I tried one at one of the big music stores in Vancouver. I thought it might be a good alternative for me, because at the time I was still unable to play for more than 10 minutes at a time due to extreme neurological fatigue.

I wasn't sold on it. I played with it for over 2 hours, so I really had a good chance to get to know it. The sounds weren't authentic, at least to my ears. The rollers are super sensitive as well, and it takes quite a bit of getting used to.

If you have the chance, go play one in a brick and mortar store before ordering one on line. This will give you a better idea if you will like it. I'm glad I did.

Oh, and don't forget, you will also need a keyboard amp if you don't already have one.
Remember: the USB one's not the same as the big-daddy $700 model (edit: called the EWI400S). You won't need the amp, because it uses your computer's sound card. Get some speakers for your computer.

Looks like this USB one is the same as the higher-end, minus MIDI and tone generator. I think. Again, I haven't gone really in depth on the specs.

The sound is only gonna be as good as your tone generator. And I haven't found a "great" one. Evar. If you want breath control, you need to make your own patches or use the tone generator that comes with/is built for your EWI. If you don't care about breath control and/or map the breath control to a different MIDI channel -- which I've done in the past -- then there are some decent tone modules out there, but they almost uniformly suck on their sax patches. Roland samplers have the best sax sound, but they're still ... not the same as the tone I'd get on even a Bundy II.

+1 on the idea to try 'em out in the store, if you can. The Akais have removeable and cleanable mouthpieces, so there shouldn't be an issue there. However, the touch on any EWI is very, very light and takes a lot of getting used to. It can be overcome, but then you start thinking that your sax/clarinet/flute/whatever has got its keywork way too tight.

FWIW, I think EWIs feel more like a clarinet, no matter how they look.
 
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Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Oh, I didn't realize the difference...I was wondering how they fell so much in price in only 12 months...Makes sense to me now. Yes, the one I tried was the $700 one.
 

Merlin

Content Expert/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
If you have the chance, go play one in a brick and mortar store before ordering one on line. This will give you a better idea if you will like it. I'm glad I did.
I've got a bit of trouble with that. If I tried out the unit at a store, I'd at least give them the opportunity to match the online price.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I've never heard a consistent set of sound patches for the synth world, regardless of price. They get close with some, but others just sound "generated", no matter how highly touted they may be by a non-sax or non-clarinet (or non-anything else) person.

The best of the lot are some of the "Strings" patches. There, the spread on the various voices involved helps a lot, along the lines of "one violin, very good; two violins, tolerable; three violins, pretty bad; …five violins, heaven" theory no doubt. I also like the "Orchestra hit" patch.

But, one clarinet voice or one sax voice on a synth equals something less than worth listening to.

In my opinion, at least…
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
I've got a bit of trouble with that. If I tried out the unit at a store, I'd at least give them the opportunity to match the online price.
I guess that didn't come out right when I wrote it. I left that part out of my reply. Sorry 'bout that. That is certainly what I've done. I give the local store the chance. Because let's face it, besides supporting your local economy, wouldn't you rather have something without the shipping hassles?
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I've never heard a consistent set of sound patches for the synth world, regardless of price. They get close with some, but others just sound "generated", no matter how highly touted they may be by a non-sax or non-clarinet (or non-anything else) person.

The best of the lot are some of the "Strings" patches. There, the spread on the various voices involved helps a lot, along the lines of "one violin, very good; two violins, tolerable; three violins, pretty bad; …five violins, heaven" theory no doubt. I also like the "Orchestra hit" patch.

But, one clarinet voice or one sax voice on a synth equals something less than worth listening to.

In my opinion, at least…
I think you're generally right: string sections sound like string sections on a synth. Solo strings don't. Actually, most "sections" sound pretty decent (the orchestral sample here is very nice, but they should use a bit more randomization in their quantizing: the note durations sound a bit too crisp). They sound better on synths that incorporate sample playback modules or are sample playback modules.

I think that the synthesized piano on the Kurzweil is quite good, for instance. On the Roland stuff -- minus their sample units -- it's ... average.

Electric and electronic instruments are also quite good on sample playback modules. Percussion is ... OK. (Yamaha's method of synthesis is actually very good for percussion.)

I'm still trying to find a sample playback module or synthesizer that is significantly better sounding than my old Roland D50 or U110 from almost 20 years ago (yes, there are the original demo songs at those links). I was unimpressed when I recently played with the keyboards at the local music store: 20 years is enough time for really, really kewl stuff.
 

Heckelphone

Double Reed CE
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I don't have one of these myself (at least, not yet...), but the USB version comes with a Garritan sample library set up to work with the EWI. The people on the Garritan forum seem pretty pleased with it.

Enjoy,

Grant
 
EWI or sax clone ?

A small 2 ct from a guy who, barely able to decently play on a faithful bari, bought, decades ago (and still have), a genuine EWI 1000, with its EWI 2000 tone generator. Useless to say that I've always been very far from mastering the beast. However, I'm interested enough in these gears to be convinced one should stop trying to figure out if these instruments emulate sax better than string or Nepalese 73-string koto. They are instruments of their own, to be used with good synths and tone generators, to produce attractive sounds; a good (or extreme ?) example of this approach by Mike B http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOEF7f2HGoE

Nevertheless, if a derated version allows an easier approach to the instrument why not give it a try ?
J
 
I think you're generally right: string sections sound like string sections on a synth. Solo strings don't.
It depends on the sound generator and the method of input. I have an Alesis QSR sound module with a Classical Instruments V-card. Its solo violin samples are acceptably realistic when played with keyboard input. It emulates all the violin family of instruments depending on the register in which you play the notes.

Here's an example in which both instruments are played on a keyboard and synthesized:

http://www.alstevens.com/alstevens/tunes/mp3s/heartsandflowers.mp3

Okay, so it ain't Heifitz. Listen to the arco bass at the beginning of this tune.

http://www.alstevens.com/alstevens/tunes/mp3s/londonderry.mp3

The EWI, USB or MIDI, is fascinating. Given all the sample libraries on computers, it enables someone who knows sax fingering to use, for example, muted trumpet, oboe, etc., sounds in recording projects. Things are getting more portable. All you need to schlep to the studio are your whistle and your laptop.

I have yet, however, to find a workable saxophone sample library, although I haven't needed one, being a sax player. Some--mostly wind--instruments don't sound good with only keyboard input. Perhaps with a breath controller.

I never understood why Brecker played an EWI...
 
My Kurzweil has some pretty convincing string section sounds, and a few 'solo' string sounds.

I plan on midi'ing it to my EWI (that I bought from Frank B) when I get sufficient time...probably this summer. I'll report back then.
 

Heckelphone

Double Reed CE
Staff member
CE/Moderator
EWI

I have yet, however, to find a workable saxophone sample library, although I haven't needed one, being a sax player. Some--mostly wind--instruments don't sound good with only keyboard input. Perhaps with a breath controller.

I never understood why Brecker played an EWI...
Hey Al,

Have you listened to the Garritan Jazz & Big Band sample library? It includes saxes from sopranino to contrabass (plus the Bb subcontrabass tubax), even F mezzo and C melody (along with scream trumpets, trombones, rhythm section, etc.). The Garritan sample libraries can be played with one hand on the keys and the other hand on the modulation wheel for expression: it takes a fairly short period of time for this to feel natural and intuitive, and makes for a pretty realistic simulation. Here's a demo (not mine).

I've always been interested in EWIs more for synthesizer-like timbres, prefer to play the real thing for acoustic timbres.

Enjoy,

Grant
 
Is this as good as it gets?

I bought an EWI-USB. I've been a horn/woodwind player for 30 (okay - pushing 40) years. I have to be honest here, I'm really close to putting this up on Ebay or giving it to my kids. The unit feels good, nice balance, the fingerings are more than functional but the sound drives me away from playing it.

5 Computers, 3 different sound cards from cheap to expensive. Little speakers, big speakers, sub-woofers and all I can say is ouch! No problems with glitches or lag (after tweeking the heck out of the software settings).

I can find a couple of string voices that work for backup if I bury them enough with a ton of reverb. I've reduced myself to turning off the "bite" function completely. The pitch shift is artificial and embarrassing. Without it it's less painful to hear.

Emails to Akai corporate, Akai Pro, and Garritan. Emails that started out nice, progressed through "literal" and ended with what I describe as poison pen letters. No responses, zero, nada, zip, ziltch.

I am starting to believe I was just ripped off.

Help me out guys/girls.... do I just expect too much? I play from my heart (yes I can read music), and this thing has no heart.

My violin with a chorus pedal may just be a better idea. I just don't want to carry 6 instruments to gigs anymore.

Sincerely,

R.J. Fear
 
<...>From what I've read, the Akai is the best sax-like EWI out there. Yes, the Yamahas are nice, but these are supposed to be better.<...>
I respectfully disagree. Although I've never owned an EWI, I've been on a number of wind controller forums for years and this is what I've learned.

1) The bite sensor on the EWI is controlled by a capacitor. So you bite to change pitch but the return to zero pitch bend depends on the capacitor. You have no control over the speed of the vibrato unless you are using the bending plates which is much more awkward. The Yamaha uses a reed and pitch bend and return to zero are completely under the player's control.

2) The discreet octave keys on the Yamaha are much more user-friendly than the octave rollers on the EWI.

3) Judging from the number of posts, the Yamaha WX5 is more reliable than the EWI, of course this could be a false reading if there are many more EWI players on the forums.

As far as the sounds are concerned, since neither the USB/EWI nor the Yamaha WX5 come with a sound modules, the sounds are dependent on the synth module you use.

To hear a couple of short clips of the Yamaha VL70m tone module (Physical Modeling Synthesis) go to http://www.nortonmusic.com/clips.html

Actually rather than use the WX/VL for a substitute sax, I use it for what the sax cannot do. A little like a pianist reaching for a Rhodes instead of the baby grand because the song is more suited to that sound.

Plus I can get an 80-90% emulation of instruments I cannot play, like trumpet, trombone, chromatic harmonica, etc.

BTW, trying the WX out in the store isn't going to be any more satisfying than trying an EWI. Since you are playing the patch and not the controller, you have to get into the patch and tweak it to suit your playing. Since most tone modules are 'all purpose', there are various continuous controllers that may or may not be set up for your instrument. These controllers can add things like emulated throat growl, flutter tongue and even the different 'vowel' sounds a saxophonist gets by changing the shape of his/her oral cavity.

When I got my first WX7 way back in the 80s (I think) it took a few weeks to learn how to get the best sounds out of the tone module. It's like learning a new instrument. Being similar to our other woodwinds, the fingering isn't difficult, so it isn't a huge learning curve, but each synth patch has it's own assets and limitations. You have to learn how to exploit the assets and avoid the limitations.

For emulating other instruments, IMHO the Yamaha VL70m is the best synth. While the tone isn't as good as a sampler or ROMpler, the ability to recreate the nuances of the instrument you are emulating more than make up for any lack of tone. Unfortunately for the USB/EWI the VL takes a MIDI input or the direct output of the WX line of controllers.

I also use the WX for inputting passages in a sequencer when writing aftermarket styles for Band-in-a-Box. For some parts the keyboard is the best input device, for others the wind controller works best. It's about having more than one tool in your toolbox.

I hope this helps.

Notes ♫
 
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