Bits Gone By

Logic

Last week I had a some fun putting together a list of all the different music making hardware I’ve owned over the years, so I thought I’d try and do the same thing with the different software I’ve used over the years.  There’s a lot more overlap in the software realm than the hardware side of things for me, but I’ll do my best to keep it as chronological as possible.  So, here goes:

– Cakewalk for DOS (I have no idea, it was barely a GUI is about all I can remember).  A guy I used to work with got this free with some computer magazine or something, so he thought I might want to mess with it.  I spent about 3 days trying to figure it out, and eventually it made a “ping” sound that might have been a 3 bit piano.

– Cubase 5 VST.  Years later while attempting to rebuild my studio after having to sell a lot of it off, I decided to build my own PC (my first ever) and get into music software.  Went to a lot of seminars checking different ones out, but it was Cubase that seemed the most intuitive to me.  Used it until about the SX3 days.

– Reason 3.  Shortly after I got into making music on the computer, a lot of my friends did too.  They all liked Reason and were always asking me for help with the program, so eventually I got it too.  It provided the intro and hook for the very first track I ever got signed, so I’ll always have fond memories of Reason.  Bit too tiny and cluttered for me now though  🙁

wavelab3

– Wavelab 3.  At the Cubase demo they also showed the latest version of Wavelab, and it was that app more than Cubase that got me excited.  Hmmm, it’s for mastering you say….?

– GRM Tools.  I got talked into getting these by a friend who really didn’t know what he was talking about.  Very wild for weird sound effects and what not, but never stable at all for me and ultimately a lot of wasted time.

– Cakewalk Z3ta+.  I think this was my first softsynth.  Such a spartan UI, it felt like the perfect computer synth at the time.  Still a great sounding and really flexible synth though.

– Waves Linear Mastering plug ins.  I bought these when I started getting people coming to me asking me to “master” their work for them.  In those days there was very much a “linear is better” mindset, so they seemed like the best package for my needs.  Oh boy did I like to go overboard with those in hindsight, though I guess we all need to learn one way or another.

– UAD Plug ins.  In many ways I think my Cubase and UAD set up was one of the easiest to use and offered the greatest range of tones.  I wrote a lot of tracks using these plug ins, and only sold them when I decided to switch to a laptop and UAD didn’t have any options for those yet.  I still plan on getting an Apollo one day….

spektraldelayscreen

– NI Spektral Delay, Absynth 2, Akoustik Piano.  My first disastrous foray into NI plug ins, all of these were nothing but buggy and crash prone.  I loved the Alien looking GUI of Absynth, though the tiny text boxes you used for actually programming it were less liked.  This is one of those synths I find myself often considering repurchasing.

– Ableton Live 3.  I had been watching Live since version 1 came out, but it wasn’t until around version 3 when I started to see that I could use one program for writing, DJing, and playing live.  I didn’t have any hardware for playing live at the time, and I missed doing that.  Enter Live…

– Battery 3.  So much potential, and so much wasted time lost to buggy errors and crashes.  I swore I’d never buy another NI product after this.  I didn’t listen to myself though.

– Elemental Audio Inspector XL.  Got this on some sale, excellent set of tools, too bad they got dropped when EAS was bought by RND (short-lived as it was).

– Logic 7.  I finally got curious enough about Logic after being a Mac user for awhile that I had to get it.  Seemed needlessly complicated at first, though over time I’ve grown to get more accustomed to it’s little peculiarities.  I’m still amazed at how little it’s changed over the years.

sv517eq

– Sonalksis SV-517 EQ.  The first digital EQ that made me go “wow, this sounds as good or better than analogue.”  Debate amongst yourselves.

– Audiofile Engineering Wave Editor.  Switching to an OSX based set up also meant leaving my beloved Wavelab behind.  I used it for awhile in Parallels, but eventually got sick of the Windows-ness of it and looked for a native OSX solution.  Audiofile Engineering seemed new and full of good ideas, so I jumped onboard with Wave Editor pretty early on.

– Sonic Charge MicroTonic.  Best drum synth period.

– u-He Zebra2.  Huge potential and amazing customer support and interaction on his forums, and it sounds as good as you’d expect.  Ultimately I just found the UI uninspiring and sold it though.  The new version due out soon is making me rethink this one as well.

– Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Stylus RMX.  For years these were my go to plug ins for synth and drums.  Incredible sound and flexibility, easy to program yet capable of a lot of variations.  Only because I’ve been looking at them for so long am I starting to check out other options.

– DMG Audio Equality.  If you love the SV-517 EQ, this one will blow you away.  Sounds amazing.

sonic_charge-synplant

– Sonic Charge Synplant.  I bought this one on principle alone.  A weirdly unique way of programing a synth from the creator of MicroTonic?  I was first in line.  Drives me crazy that this one still is not 64bit compatible, it’s the only one of my plug ins I miss that is not.  🙁

– Voxengo Elephant 2 and Polysquasher.  Serious mastering tools in the right hands, frustration and distortion if you don’t know what you’re doing.  A little complex to set up, but still what I reach for when I need a really clean and cool sounding master.

– PSP Xenon.  Bought this on a whim after hearing so much about it, but I rarely use it.  I like it for softer more dynamic music, something where you don’t want a really transparent limiter, but you don’t want too much color either.  Has a way to reacting to transients that feels different to me from anything else.  Not often used here, but I know exactly when I need it with some projects.

– NI Traktor 2.  After using Live to DJ for years and years, it was time for a break.  Checked out Traktor and was hooked immediately.  Combined with the S4, it’s most tightly integrated laptop/controller set up I’ve ever used.  Works great, never gives me any issues, and is a ton of fun to use.

– u-He Uhbiks.  Bought these on a deal when they first came out, and loved the sound of them.  Sadly, I hated the interface, weird tempo multiple for delays times and what not.  As a result, for two years I never used them and eventually sold them.

– Presonus Studio One.   Presonus heard I was interested in Studio One and invited me to join the beta team.  So I’ve used Studio One quite a bit since it was released, and it’s still my go to for client mixdowns and audio editing.

Pro-l

– Fabfilter Pro-L.  Best sounding limiter ever, very easy to make things weak sounding though.  Powerful when you can really hear what you’re doing through

– Audiofile Engineering Triumph.  The update to Wave Editor took me awhile to get used to, and this is with daily use as part of my mastering business.  For every user request they added, it felt like 2 steps back in the usability of some other function.  I’m used to it now and rely on it daily to earn a living, but it still feels needlessly complicated at times.

– Jam Origin MIDI Guitar.  Finally, an audio to MIDI program for guitar that works with my playing style. I love this app, it’s amazing how well it works.

– DMG Equilibrium.  The best EQ ever.   This does everything, and expects you know what you’re doing when it comes to EQ.  If you do, welcome to the most amazing EQ ever designed.

 

I’m sure there’s quite a few smaller plug ins I’m forgetting about, but I think this covers most of what I’ve purchased over the years.  Quite the list again in hindsight!

“Sway” Tech-House DJ Set

Sway300

Sway
Tech-House DJ Mix 06-13-2013

With the weather getting nicer out, I felt like putting together a new tech house DJ set.  And as always, you can expect a bit of the weird and unexpected.

Start Time – Artist – Track Title – Label
00:00 – Chantola – Make It Happen (Matan Caspi Rmx) – AU
06:44 – Miguel Cid – Thermostat – Cray1 Digital
11:45 – Nikki Noek – Enough – Nopassport
16:32 – Tarekith – TH1
20:03 – Groove D’Vision – The Black Fraud Optimized Speech – Dish Of The Day
25:03 – Juan Ddd – Jukebox – ONOFF
30:07 – Junior Legh – Sun Is Shining – SL Records
35:58 – Daniel Lyons – Riggle – BR Selections
41:06 – Jorge – Pedruscada – Trippy
47:26 – Gruw Frequency – Big Bag Show – High Contrast

Windows down, go faster.  🙂

No Valleys In This Sky – Downtempo Mix

No Valleys In This Sky  <- Click to download

I wanted to do one more darker and slightly weirder (ok, really weird in places) DJ mix before the cloudy days of winter leave us for good.  Starts out a little more chill, but ramps up into some energetic midtempo towards the end.  Recorded live with NI’s Traktor and the Kontrol S4.

Time – Artist – Track – Label
00:00 – Merge Of Equals – Clear Blue Sky – Highscore
04:50 – Puff Dragon – Spacefunk – Dakini
10:33 – Spiral System – Elephant – Pschent
15:53 – Puff Dragon – Chinese Radio – Ultima
22:06 – STS9 – Spectacle (Ott Rmx) – 1320 Records
26:26 – Asian Chill Art – Haryana (EPhase Rmx) – Cartoon Fresh
31:24 – Freeq Sense – Tek_n_Spice – KTS
35:16 – Aes Dana – 101 Clouds – Ultimae
41:23 – Chris Zippel – Space Dock – Waveform
45:10 – Tarekith – The Focused Mist
49:15 – Afefe Iku – The Blues – Tarifa
54:34 – Freeq Sense – Tribal Spirit (Den Kozlov Rmx) – KTS
59:49 – Youandewan – 1988 – Tarifa

As always, hope you enjoy!

My DJ Dilemma

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DJing. Lately for me this has been a thorny issue, not for what it is, but because I haven’t been able to make up my mind how I want to do it for the foreseeable future. For the last 7-8 years I’ve been using Ableton Live to DJ, and it’s been working out great. I’ve gotten a lot of exposure for some of the DJ EFX Racks I made for Live (some of which will be included with Live 9 btw!), and it’s been a very stable platform for me.

But, I get bored.

Live hasn’t changed it’s look since…. well, never.  And after years of looking at it for writing and performing live as well, I just needed to stare at something new for a change 🙂

A little over a couple of years ago I decided to look at Traktor based on all the feedback I was hearing on the AbletonLive DJ.com forums. I purchased a Traktor Audio 4 DJ soundcard, which came with a free copy of Traktor Pro. I also decided to go with the Kontrol X1 as a controller, and it was something I was very impressed with. Good build quality, and nice layout and mapping scheme by default. In fact, I was pretty impressed with the soundcard and Traktor too.

Right at this time the Kontrol S4 came out, so I sold the X1 and Audio4 soundcard and bought one right away and set about getting more into using Traktor for DJing. For the most part I liked the S4 and Traktor combo, it felt more like traditional DJing to me, and it was great having a controller so well integrated with the software that you could largely ignore the laptop. It was nice not having to press into duty the APC40 like I’d used for Ableton too. It worked, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve just never preferred a generic controller to a dedicated one like the S4.

Eventually however I decided to go back to using Live for the reasons I outlined in more detail here:

http://tarekith.com/traktor-s4-thoughts-after-some-more-use/

The simplest explanation was that while I liked using Traktor, it lacked the EQ I preferred and some other functions that I felt could be better served by my hardware mixer (an A&H Xone62). Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m mostly what people call an “A to B DJ”. I mainly just play tracks as they were written, I don’t really want to remix them on the fly and do all sorts of crazy edits to the tracks I play. So a lot of the functions on the S4 felt like they were not getting used, and so I sold it.

For awhile I was fine using Live and the APC40 again, it was comfortable and more than capable for me, so I was once again DJing as I always had. But then Traktor started getting updates that addressed a lot of the issues I had with it. A 4-band EQ, increased headroom, resizable mapping editor, better beat mapping, etc.

I decided to try and pair the APC40 with Traktor, and had a bit of fun doing that for a few months. I was using some interesting templates I found for the APC40 online, and eventually I started getting into mapping my own custom templates. As I got more into the mapping editor in Traktor, I began to see how powerful and configurable it was. I was pretty impressed to be honest, NI did a really good job here.

But, I was still using the APC40, and while it worked, I just didn’t like it as much as the X1 I had been using before. So, once again I bought a Traktor Audio 6 soundcard with a free copy of Traktor Pro, and an X1 to control it with (still using the Xone62 for the mixing and cueing though).

Life was good. 🙂

I was happy DJing again, and Traktor was working out very well for how I like to mix. I had a nice little custom layout on my X1, the Xone62 of course sounds very good already, and the Audio 6 soundcard was working out nice too.

Actually, let me stop here because that last part isn’t totally true. For awhile the Traktor Audio 6 was having an issue with the audio quality slowly degrading over time, almost like you were applying more and more sample rate reduction on it. NI eventually told me that I had to buy a $30 power supply for it, which pissed me off since I bought it because it was supposed to be buss powered. Anyway, the power supply fixed the issue, and THEN the soundcard was working out nicely too.

So, I had a set up that worked, and things were great now, right? Well, not exactly. I’m a minimalist when it comes to gear, I like just the core fundamentals that I need to get a job done. So while the DJ set up was working, I began to miss the one to one integration that I had with the S4. That and having all your controls all right there on one panel in front of you was a nice way to work, I liked having that sort of workstation or groovebox feel the S4 had to it.

Once again I began to look at the S4, thinking about if I really wanted to put away the Xone62 in favor of it. I’m a huge fan of that mixer, but it is getting a LITTLE bit long in the tooth. And like I said, there was a lot to be said for the all in one aspect of the S4 too. Eventually I caved and bought the S4 again when I saw a really good deal thanks to a Christmas sale, and so far I’ve been really glad I did.

To my surprise, the faders on the newer S4’s feel nicer than they did on my 1st gen. one. It’s not a huge difference, but they definitely feel a lot smoother and more solid. That was a huge complaint of mine about the S4 the first go around, so I was pretty happy about that. I didn’t even have to install Traktor again or anything, I could use my current library and just install the S4 driver. Simple.

(registration and simple are two words I typically would never associate with Native Instruments!)

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Where the S4 has really come into it’s own is with the way I’ve been able to custom map the controls I’d normally not use. The jog wheels for instance are the filter controls now, which is useful since I use the normal filter knob as the low EQ band in Traktor’s 4 Band EQ set up. The EQ controls for decks C and D are my controls for Effects 3 and 4, both of which are Delay T3 units. This gives me direct control over separate delays for both tracks.

I like delay.

So far the whole experience with the S4 and the latest version of Traktor has been a really positive one. Mapping your own controls is easier than ever, the hardware feels better than I remembered it, and I’ve got a lot more controls at my disposal mapped the way I see fit. NI even added some new effects, which (to my surprise) modeled the way I had set up my Ableton Live DJ EFX Racks. The effect is off when you have the knob dead center, and increasingly adds more and more of the effect as you turn it left, or a different flavor of that effect if you turn it right. Sounds familiar!

I still have a couple small complaints though. Namely the metering is still pretty vague for accurately setting your levels, even a cheapo Vestax hardware mixer is way better in this regard. Also, the black knobs on the black background are impossible to see in a night club type setting. So I’ll probably end up buying some replacements from the DJ Tech Tools store eventually (late xmas present anyone?).

But other than that, I think it will be a really good set up for me over the next few years, or until I get bored again. Now if I could just kick this cold so I could record that new Tech House set I’ve been dying to get to all week….

“Not All Futures Fade” – Downtempo DJ Mix

Not All Futures Fade
Downtempo DJ Set 12-19-2012

Well, it’s been far too long since I had the time to put together a new DJ set, but now that the year is starting to wind down a little I finally got to shop for some new tracks.  Here’s a new downtempo set, the tracks were selected for this one with the winter months in mind.  Tracklist:

Start Time – Artist – Track – Label

00:00 – Stay Under Construction – Hyperunactive – Everlasting Sensation
06:16 – Dhamika – Whispers – Uxmal
10:39 – Kayla Scintilla – Break Belief Bounce (Whitebear Rmx) – Merkerba
15:09 – CJ Art – Levitation – Mistique
18:42 – Incolumis – Cloudcage – JOOF
24:24 – Chronos – Sequenced Remix Limiter – Uxmal
26:23 – Beauty, The Breakdown – Forever (Loopsy Dazy Rmx) – Everlasting Sensation
33:10 – Sayr – Thru It – Muti
37:18 – Aes Dana – Horizontal Rain – Ultimae
41:24 – Okapi – Stay Home – Loony Moon Experiment
45:57 – Nikosf – Sensual Colours – Etoka
51:41 – Aes Dana – Low Tide Explorations – Ultimae

Speaking of DJing, my next gig will likely be January 3rd or 4th for the opening of the Beer Authority’s new location (right next door, much bigger space now).   I’ll post the details ont he blog once they are all finalized.

Strings & Theories DJ Mix

It’s been awhile since I did a DJ mix, and with summer coming along nicely now, I figured it was time for some fun, groovy music.  This one was done in Traktor 2.5 with the Kontrol X1 and my Xone62.  A Traktor Audio 6 DJ was used for all IO.  I have to say, the new tempo and beat detection NI added in version 2.5 was more or less spot on in all my tracks. Nice.

Strings & Theories
Downtempo DJ Mix 06-28-2012

Start Time – Artist – Track Title – Label
00:00 – Carmen Rizzo – Take Me Over – Electrofone
04:14 – Boot Cut Rockers – Instant Lightflow – Elvissabeat
09:39 – CJ RcM – Forest Rain – Easy Summer
12:41 – Pae – Pacific Interlude – GR8 AL
16:25 – Ekala – Blue Promises – Celestial
20:08 – Immaculate Ibiza – Drum & Drum – Immaculate Ibiza
23:21 – Elvizzards – Blue Rose – Manifold
28:13 – Dive Deep Corp – Dub Up – Elvissabeat
32:19 – Kogyo – Waves – Kindred
36:59 – Ovnimoon – Fab My Sun – Psybertribe
43:08 – Stefwell – Is This Love (OBE Chill Rmx) – Clubstar

————-

Just a couple more quick tidbits.  Just found out yesterday I’m going to be playing a downtempo live set at Chillography in Seattle on August 4th.  Also, I’ll be doing a more uptempo live set at the Sequential Circuits club night in Vancouver, BC on August 20th.  All this in addition to my live sets at Photosynthesis July 20th in Neah Bay, WA.  Going to be a busy summer!

Details on the new gigs coming soon, just waiting for some artwork and my time slots.  Hope to meet some of you at one of these!

Blue Dream DJ Set

 

Blue Dreams Downtempo DJ Set

What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately I guess.  🙂 Here’s a new downtempo DJ set, recorded live on Feb 13, 2012 using Ableton Live 8, Allen & Heath Xone62, Akai APC40, and NI Traktor Audio 6.

Tracklist:

Time – Artist – Track – Label
00:00 – Culture Cruisers – La Piscine – Ajnavision
07:12 – Deep Fried Dub – Submerged – Iboga
11:29 – Consciousness Federation – Causes And Effects – Uxmal
20:36 – Mooryc – All Those Moments – Freude Am Tanzen
24:51 – Ephemeral Mists – Looming – Sa Trincha
28:31 – BlueBliss – Splashed – Ovnimoon
33:25 – Flict – Orientation
36:22 – Consciousness Federation – You’re Not Your Memory – Uxmal
40:57 – Tripswitch – Roll Your Own – Section
46:49 – Banco De Gaia – Shanti – Disco Gecko
52:26 – Amber Long – Foresight – FineGrind Audio
56:23 – Fastus – Hero – Independant
59:43 – Tarekith – Slope Lifter
65:56 – Carmen Rizzo – Morning Glory – Electrofone
70:07 – Screw Bus – Brazzaville Beach – Time Tools
75:42 – Bobby Benninger – Moments – Independant
80:34 – Tomas Dvorak – The Bottom – Minority

Traktor S4 – Long term use

Well, I’m not totally sure I’m going to sell it yet, but it’s definitely something I’m considering.  I have a feeling we’ll see an update around Winter NAMM, so I’m waiting to see how responsive NI is to user requests before I make up my mind.  If I do sell, likely somewhere around $799.
As for it being a love affair, well, sort of.  I’ve always said that my main reason for going to Traktor was just to see what the competition was up to, and not because I was leaving Live for DJing per se (just used it two nights ago in fact).  Yes the S4 is pretty, and it’s new, and there’s a lot of hype around it, but it has some flaws too.  After quite a bit more time with it, here’s my updated thoughts on the S4 as a DJ package:
The Good:
– Track browsing and crate organization is excellent, lots of options and ways to customize your playlists, and the way NI implemented the push encoder for previewing is one of the nicest things I’ve seen in awhile.
– Overall build quality is very good, especially the knobs and the jog wheels.
– Easy set up.  One usb cable, one power cable, done.  Does not draw a lot of power either, I often use it with my laptop running on battery power when I’m too lazy to move the laptop powercord from my studio to dj set up, lasts for hours like this.
– The loop recorder is really nice, grabbing recordings of audio as you tweak it via the filters, EQ, and effects is really convenient, and you can even move recordings from the loop recorder to a sample slot fairly easily with the hardware.
– Some really useful DJ features for when things go bad.  IE, the main volume knob is seperate from the software volume knob, so you can always kill the sound instantly if you need to.  The fact that you can hook up an MP3 player to the hardware and that it’s hardwired to the main outs is useful too if you need to reboot.  The USB socket deserves a mention too, it’s SUPER snug so there’s no worries about the USB Cable coming unplugged.
– I like the layout of the Traktor software, they do a really nice job of letting you configure what you want to see.  Having a dedicated button to switch the browser to full screen is nice too.  Dual waveform view is nice too, though the waveforms are a little small IMO.
– No denying the usefulness of being able to manually beatmatch tracks if you need to, or if you don’t want to prep (grid) your tracks.
– Overall sound quality is good, as long as you really pay attention to your gain structure (see below for caveats).
– On the fly looping is implemented really well, though I wish loops could be longer than 8 bars when set on the fly with the loop encoders.
The Bad:
– The EQs are really not that good IMO.  Not even counting the lack of the Traktor Pro 4-band EQ, the current three options are just not that good sounding IMO. Very phasey sounding, not that transparent.  This is probably my biggest complaint with the S4.  They’re still useable of course, but hard to be subtle with them.  I’ve had more than a few people point out that it was pretty audible when I was EQing tracks, and I barely cut that much when using EQ for DJing.
– The metering on the hardware is next to useless.  I don’t find that the signal is really represented well, does not seem to be accurate at all.  Personally I think it’s reacting too fast and possibly the tiny bit of latency could be throwing things off.  Basically it’s hard to accurately know your levels looking at the meters on the S4, I tend to look at the software meters instead, which is the opposite of how it should be.
– The faders and gain knobs are so so feeling.  Not the worst I’ve used, but not up to the same quality as the knobs and jog wheels.  The gain knobs have a potentially useful feature in that if you push them, they reset to 0dB.  Unfortunately in order to keep the soundcard in the S4 from clipping, I often need to keep the channel gains closer to -6 or -7dB.  This means accidentally pressing the gain encoder causes the volume to jump drastically and distort. Bad when this happens mid-mix.  Also the gain knobs are detented, which can sometimes make narrowing in on an exact value impossible.
– Auto-levelling and the output limiter in the software are not that good.  For some reason Traktor always BOOSTS the signal of tracks to level them, which means you need to crank the channel gains down a lot to keep from clipping.  It also means it’s next to impossible to keep from hitting the limiter as well, which sounds not that good IMO (granted I’m really picky about this doing mastering for a living).  I disable both of these functions and manage gain myself.
– The Sample Decks are not key-locked or timestretched, which means if you assign a sample to them from a track that’s not playing exactly at it’s original tempo, it will be out of sync or out of tune with the audio currently playing.  As a result, I almost never use these unless I grab a loop with the loop recorder first, and then assign it to a sample deck.
– Effects are so so.  They make it very easy to assign the effects you want to the effects knobs, but honestly I find most of them to be pretty bland.  Also things like the delay do not show the delay time in musical values (i.e. 1/8th, 1/4, etc), unlike how it is done in Traktor Pro.  All values are 1-127.  Effects are prefader too, which is not how I prefer them.
– Very hard to see the hardware controls in low light.  Too much black, and too small of text in most cases.  Also the glossy area around the EQs and volume faders is super prone to collecting fingerprints, which makes your shiny new toy look very messy in no time.
– Not very easy to remap controls with the default S4 configuration.  For instance, if you wanted to reassign the loop length knob to global tempo, there’s really no simple way to do this currently.  So you either use the S4 hardware as NI intended, or switch to MIDI mode and lose a lot of funtionality that can’t be accessed via midi mapping.
It might seem like I have a lot of complaints about the S4 system, but in all honesty most of these are just minor annoyances.  I think the main thing I’ve learned is that the S4 system has enough flaws that it’s not an obvious winner over my previous Live set up for DJing.  It does a lot of things very well, but in some ways it feels like it’s not yet done or was rushed to market on the software side of things.  Stability has not been a concern, which is the main thing, but I think NI still has a ways to go with making things a little more customizeable for power users.  Most of my wishes are things that can be addressed by a software update, as well as being things that many other users have been asking for as well.  That’s one reason I’m waiting until NI releases the next update, to see what (if anything) they address.  Better sounding EQs, more accurate metering, and key-locking of the sample decks would definitely win me over.