Yamaha MSP5 Studio Monitor Review


The MSP5 studio monitor from Yamaha has been around forever and we still think it's an excellent studio monitor that holds it own against current offerings. You can still buy the MSP5 on Amazon and B&H for $279 each and if you track the price over time you can snag them on sale for $199 each. At $199 you can't beat these for value.

Yamaha initially rolled it's MSP line of studio monitors out over 10 years ago. The MSP 5 and MSP 7 were essentially the successors to the ubiquitous NS10s. The MSP5 are powered 5inch design that sit in in that sweet spot of not too big and too small for the personal home studio or video editing suite.

The Yamaha MSP5 is really clean and precise monitor with almost no coloration. Mixes take more effort to dial in and sound good. The class A amps have great transient response and punchiness to them. We actually prefer these over the Genelec 8030s in that regard. You really notice when tracking instruments of with drum machines. The titanium tweeters are slightly bright but Yamaha provides a couple db of eq via switches on the back to boost or cut the high and low frequencies.

The MSP5 is extremely well made and feels like a professional piece of gear. We love the fact that the low frequency driver has a heavy duty metal grille to protect it. The tweeter is also protected. The stereo image is beautiful and transparent. The class A amps to give off some heat but Yamaha designed a really elegant heat sink for the MSP5. We like the subtle green light in front that lets us know they're powered on and the volume control on the front is useful for slight adjustments when necessary. Generally we leave them at the nominal level.

These monitors are perfect for a video editing suite. They're shielded and just the right size to place on a small platform next to your video monitor or mount on the wall. We really like these for editing dialog and even final mixdown for documentary and story telling where critical low frequency mixing is less of a factor.

We found the noise floor whisper quiet, similar to the Genelecs and better than many class D offerings that sometimes have a significant noise floor when powered on such as the JBL 306MKIIs we reviewed a while back. We'd buy this decade old design over the brand new JBL any day. The MSP5 looks better, feels better and most importantly sounds more accurate. Notice we didn't say better. It takes more work on the MSP5 but the mixes translate well.

For many years we preferred using our passive JBLs and Hafler amp in a studio setting and sort of scoffed at powered monitors. All that changed with our first encounter with Genelecs. But quality is all over the map with powered monitors. The pro grade stuff from Genelec, KRK, JBL and Yamaha are all pretty good. We like the simple setup of going directly from the mixer to the monitor.

Genelec remains one of our favorites with a beautiful design and excellent power management. The class D amps give off very little heat and you never have to think about toggling them on and off. The automatic power of/off feature when audio signal is present works flawlessly. You can't go wrong with Genelecs. However, Genelecs cost significantly more than comparable monitors at any given size. Typically 2 to 3 times as much per monitor. Apples and Oranges to be sure but when budget matters the Genelec is a harder sell.

We would love to see Yamaha rethink it's studio monitor lineup and update the studio series with better power management, maybe class D amps. The HS series just looks and feels cheap like the JBL MKII series. We've been hearing that Yamaha has stopped making the MSP5, yet we still see plenty of stock at Amazon and B&H. We feel these monitors never got their moment in the in the sun and maybe a post Covid remix and relaunch is in order.  We hope we see another pro offering from Yamaha and the HS series is not a harbinger of the product roadmap.

If you're in the market for studio monitors for your home studio, the MSP5 still offers outstanding value and we recommend getting a pair while you still can. Give them a few days in your studio and give your ears a chance to get used to them. You may just like what you hear and enjoy a classic before we're surrounded by a sea of lightweight, cheap feeling and less accurate nosense that looks and sounds like plastic.

Learn more about the MSP5 studio mointor

Ashun Sound Machines Hydrasynth Review and Roger Austli aka 'the sun god RA' Hydrasynth Bank


The Hydrasynth is a powerful new digital synth from the folks at Ashun Sound Machines, ASM. It's really good at making dreamy pads as well as aggressive, dirty sounds and classic poly sounds.  It also can make sounds you simply have never heard before and may not be able to imagine without experimentation.  It's that powerful. The Hydrasynth would pair perfectly with a powerful analog bass/lead oriented synth like the Moog Subsequent 37. You could make nearly any sound you could dream of with that combo. It's like ASM took the building blocks from the Roland D-50, Yamaha DX-7, EMU Proteus and a Prophet and added more oscillators, filters, LFOs, built-in effects and endless ways to modulate the sound and then modulate that even further. Not to mention you can process external audio from other instruments or playback devices as well. It's kinda nuts. The Hydrasynth sounds very clean and ASM added a 'warm' option that you can toggle on and off with any patches to indeed warm them up a bit.  With all this power it's pretty easy to dial in interesting and new sounds that broach the digital and analog realms.  Sure the Hydrasynth leans to the digital side of things but you'd be hard pressed to identify it in a mix with a carefully crafted patch.  It's a synth that is begging to be programmed and experimented with. 

Everything is readily accessible but we're still getting familiar with all the capabilities of this synth. It's not that it's hard to program, it's just that there are endless options and modulations and it's really deep, so you can go down the rabbit hole of just one little element of sound design. Luckily there are some amazing free patch banks being released that serve to show off the capabilities of the Hydrasynth but also act as a starting point for creating new sounds. The Hydrasynth also includes a 'Random" button which will create random patches. These can range from chaos and noise to really musical and interesting sonic detours. This is a great discovery tool and every electronic instrument should have some kind of random button. If you've ever said, "if only I could do X" with your current synth, odds are you can do X with the Hydrasynth. Hitting 'random' will both delight and baffle you as the machine does it's thing. Really watch your levels when playing with this feature as you can varying levels of output that may suprise you and we'd recommed not using this feature while using headphones to protect your ears. 

The Hydraynth features a Polytouch keybed that offers polyphonic aftertouch over each note. This is really great for expressive playing and works as advertised. It also features a 4 octave ribbon controller which is fun to experiment with too. The pitch and mod wheels aren't great with the goofy handle on top. We'd prefer the classic Moog style with the indent. However, we imagine less funky Moog style pitchen bending  on this unit anyway. So not that big a deal but really don't get that choice. The Hydrasynth keybed is just ok and if you already have a master controller you love, we'd recommend getting the synth option without the keys, unless the ribbon and polytough is important to you. We always prefer a full synth versus just the brain but if you're on the fence just get the brain.

The Hydrasynth is built like a tank. It's heavy with lots of metal. However we're baffled by the use of a wall wart for power and the cheap feeling buttons. Wall warts are just a hard stop. We lose them, we break them, they cause a tangled mess and Ashun bundles a unit with a really short cord. Please no. I see this getting yanked out on gigs. It's cool that the buttons light up so you know what's in use..etc, but they're a bit wobbly and mushy and instill no confidence during use. The encoder knobs are much hardier and have a good feel. It's like two completely different levels of quality. Perhaps ASM is still dialing in their design language, fit and finish and bill of materials strategy and there's an opportunity for big improvements here in future product release, similar to how Elektron updated it's Analog Rytm MKII with a much better feel/buttons than the original. They layout is great but wobbly, noisy buttons need improvement. Steel the feel of the MPC Live transport controls.

Overall, the Hydrasynth is a good value. We wouldn't call the experience of making new sounds immediate. It's too deep for that. You couldn't make enough knobs and buttons. However, the flow is well laid out and by using some existing patches as a jumping off point you can quickly lose yourself in sound design for hours; like hurt your neck looking down at the knobs and buttons as you tweak away. The Hydrasynth comes with 5 banks of storage, each holding 128 patches. Doesn't seem like enough. Between downloading patch banks, the factory presets and making our own patches, 5 banks will get eaten up fast. 10 banks would have been great. With so many great sounds why force me to delete patches? The patch manager runs on Windows and Mac OS and is an easy way to manage patches. So, once we settle on our favorites we can make that work.

ASM has been rolling out updates and we used the firmware update tool on Windows and it was a seamless udpate. We'd like to see more videos on sound design and a breakdown of how to create a specific patch and what that process is for someone of the top sound designers in the synth world. That would be really cool. Even if you're familiar with synthesis and sound design ASM is coming at this with some new capabilities and you'll need a deep dive to truly appreciate all if offers.

It's a pretty impressive initial product from ASM and we're looking forward to future updates as this synth evolves. Expect to hear this beauty on a lot of records this year. Well done dudes, well done.

Get uploads and free patches for the Hydrasynth here.

SampleTank 4 Max Review


SampleTank 4 Max is packed with instruments and effects wrapped in a workflow that is simple to understand and inspiring at every turn. Reviewing SampleTank 4 Max was like a serendipitous journey of discovery versus a methodical approach of dissecting features. We simply wanted to know if SampleTank 4 would inspire us to make music and how easy it would be to drop into our creative flow. The more we tried to do the more SampleTank responded. This is simply a beautiful product that will give you an endless sonic palette.

We used SampleTank 4 Max by itself and with other VSTs but for our review we focused on making compositions where ST4 Max was the only instrument source. There are so many ways to get inspired with ST4 Max. Sometimes we'd start with drums and bass, build a foundation and lay some instruments over the top. Other times, we'd start with more exotic instruments and create some phrases to get started. We generally prefer to play and create riffs live but ST4 has some incredibly useful loops and phrases that are ready to be sequenced into a track. This was a great way to create something interesting quickly, especially with more exotic/ethnic/world sounds for example.

Discovering the Billy Cobham and the Neil Pert drums was an F-yeah moment, especially when assigned across multiple channels. The acoustic stuff is solid. The quality of the bases, keys, horns, strings and ethnic instruments just makes you want to keep exploring. We really enjoyed exploring the variety of basses. From vintage upright to fretless, gritty, clean and everything in between. We got lost in bassland for hours. Need something gritty from the 60s, you got it. Want it clean and chorused, easy. Fret noise, string vibration, intonations. It's clear a lot of love went into sampling these instruments and making them expressive even when triggered from the most basic of MIDI controllers. We banged out these sample tracks entirely with the MPK225 and we're happy with the dynamics and playability of the instruments.

MISSION DISCOVERY all SampleTank 4 instruments

MISSION CHASE all SampleTank 4 instruments


The ability to customize sounds using analog style controls and built-in effects and filters gives you exponential creative freedom to dial in a sound just the way you like it. It takes a little time to figure out how to do things in ST4 Max. At first we couldn't figure out how to get to the effects rack for each channel. But sans manual we were able to figure it out. That's kind of how it went for the entire review. We'd keep clicking around until we worked out the flow and the best way to navigate ST4. Most of the time that worked.

We still don't have a great feel for the strummer or apreggiator. We know how to use them but navigating in and out of that experience was less intuitive for us. Especially the strummer. We'd add a guitar to a channel and sort of stumble on the strummer but for some reason it's just not intuitive for us to get in and out of that experience. We managed to create some very realistic acoustic guitar phrases that would have been very time consuming to create on a keyboard. IK has an in-depth 165 page manual that goes into more details of the various capabilties ST4 and we'll need read up a bit more on the strummer.  

st4 ethnic

ST4 Max also has a good variety of electronic and synth sounds and icons for all the instruments to help you recognize the kinds of timbre it's capable of. So you can quickly dial up a more digital or analog sound. There are plenty of parameters that can be tweaked for every sound in synth land. So if you have some experience with programming synths you'll appreciate the options.

There is plenty to work with from pads to dynamic leads but you won't be replacing your vintage synths anytime soon.

The ST4 Max UI is attractive. It's a bit dark, but we got used to it. Not sure if there are shades available for the UI but could be worth exploring options for a light, medium and dark setting. Overall, it took us a little time to get familiar with how to do things but mostly was easy to figure out. This is a deep instrument with lots of capabilities so it really requires a deep dive to appreciate all that it can do. Even though we've had it a couple of months, we feel we won't master it for quite some time.

st4 loops

After experimenting with the different ways to play instruments in SampleTank 4 we decided our favorite way was to simply create a multitrack project in our DAW and play instruments in real time versus building loops and phrases or using the strummer. In other words, we like to use it as an instrument or multitimbral instrument across MIDI channels. We could also see using ST4 for sound design in real time for animation or other post production projects.

In terms of overall value, we'd say we were most impressed by the sampled acoustic instruments. This would be our primary use for SampleTank 4 Max. The synths amd electronic instruments we were less impressed with and feel like we're already pretty well covered with our existing VSTs and standalone analog synths. Even if ST4 Max shipped without all the synths it would still be a good value for all that acoustic sampling love and tweakability.

In terms of performance and stability. It's been pretty solid. We've been primarily using SampleTank 4 as a plug in with our MPC Live DAW. The initial installation was crash city. But after subsequent updates it's been very solid and a joy to use.

For music, sound design and post, SampleTank 4 is a very powerful instrument to have in your arsenal and worth taking the time to learn how to use.

Visit IK Multimedia for more information.

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