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Arturia AstroLab Review: World-Class Synths in a Keyboard

Arturia AstroLab Review: World-Class Synths in a Keyboard

But perhaps AstroLab’s best trick for finding what you need is playlists and songs. These are grouped presets that you’re able to bounce between with the push of a button. So if you need a quiet pad from an Ensoniq SQ-80 for the verse and a razor-sharp lead from an MS-20 for the chorus, you can group them into a song, which turns the instrument type buttons into direct shortcuts to specific presets. Songs are then further organized into playlists. You just press the arrow buttons below the screen encoder to jump to the next track in your set and load up another batch of presets.

If you can’t find what you need among the factory sounds or any of the countless sound packs available from Arturia, you can always design a patch from scratch in one of the instruments as part of the V Collection. Then you can save it as a preset and load it on the keyboard. Granted, this requires shelling out for V Collection, but it frequently goes on sale, and if you already own Analog Lab Pro, which is included with AstroLab, you get an even steeper discount.

World-Class Soft Synths

I’m halfway into this review, and I haven’t talked about the sound at all. This is partly because, well, it’s Analog Lab. It’s an industry staple and sounds fantastic. If you’re not familiar though, rest assured you’re getting some of the finest emulations of vintage instruments available. When you compare the price to even one of the iconic keyboards it’s recreating, the value is undeniable.

The Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Hammond B3 compare favorably with what you’d find on a Nord stage keyboard, but for almost half the price. It convincingly delivers that percussive dizzying effect you’d get from an organ running through a Leslie and the smooth chime of a Fender Rhodes.

In addition, you get rather faithful versions of basically unobtainable synth gems like a Moog Modular, a Yamaha CS-80, or a Fairlight CMI II. Not to mention mass-market classics like the Yamaha DX7 and Casio CZ-101. Plus Arturia’s Pigments and Augmented lineup, which marry orchestral, piano, and vocal samples with a robust synth engine. You’ve got access to everything from crunchy lo-fi piano and EDM bass wubs to soaring string pads perfect for scoring a sci-fi thriller.

The only real weak spot is the acoustic pianos. They’re not terrible and have definitely improved over the years, but they still feel a touch thin and flat compared to the real thing. The chances that anyone would complain about them at your next gig, though, are slim to none.

It’s worth noting that this is currently the only way to get Arturia’s Pigments in hardware form. That’s something that gets me personally really excited. I think it’s the best softsynth on the market, and it can easily go toe-to-toe with other giants in the space like Massive and Serum.

Some will speak of things being a VST but built into a MIDI controller derisively. But that feels reductive here. For one thing, this isn’t just some bare-bones digital synth. And the hardware it’s crammed into is luxurious. The semi-weighted keys feel incredible, and they have aftertouch (though sadly not polyphonic). The pitch and mod wheels are solid pieces of aluminum, and the screen, while small, is bright and colorful. There are even some handsome wooden cheeks on the side. This looks and feels like a high-quality piece of gear.

6 Best MagSafe Power Banks for iPhones (2024): High Capacity, Slim, Kickstands

6 Best MagSafe Power Banks for iPhones (2024): High Capacity, Slim, Kickstands

Here’s the low-down on the MagSafe standard and MagSafe power banks.

What is MagSafe?

MagSafe is the name of Apple’s accessory system that’s integrated into the iPhone 12, iPhone 13, iPhone 14, and iPhone 15 range. A ring of magnets on the back of the phone (and in MagSafe-enabled cases) lets you attach various magnetic accessories, like a battery pack that recharges the iPhone wirelessly, so you don’t need to hold it or carry a cable.

Does MagSafe reduce battery life?

There isn’t much evidence that MagSafe charging negatively impacts battery health, but it is less efficient than wired charging and can sometimes generate heat, which may degrade your battery faster. But other factors are more important if you want to preserve battery health (such as never fully draining your battery).

What rate can MagSafe power banks charge at?

Most MagSafe power banks we have tested wirelessly charge at a rate of up to 7.5 watts, but Anker’s Qi2 power bank can charge at up to 15 watts.

Is USB-C better than MagSafe?

Wired charging is faster and more efficient than wireless charging, so if you plug your phone in via cable to any of the power banks above, you can expect to get more power more quickly than you will using MagSafe or Qi2. MagSafe is simply more convenient.

What are the downsides of MagSafe?

Only some of Apple’s iPhones (12, 13, 14, and 15 series) support MagSafe, and it’s not officially compatible with Android phones. MagSafe is also less efficient than wired charging. Lost energy during wireless charging generates heat, which can have a negative impact on battery health.

Why do MagSafe power banks get hot?

MagSafe is not as efficient as wired charging, and power lost during wireless charging generates heat. MagSafe’s magnets reduce this problem, compared to Qi wireless charging, by ensuring the charging coils are aligned.

Cherry MX2A Review: A Revamped Classic

Cherry MX2A Review: A Revamped Classic

The Cherry MX switch is, arguably, one of the most important mechanical keyboard switches of all time. Some might argue it’s one of the best mechanical switches ever. No other switch has quite the same legacy. It’s been around for decades and is one of the few switches that run the whole gamut of keyboards. You can find it in everything from point-of-sale systems, office cubicles, and police cars to gaming setups and even premium, limited-run custom keyboards.

Until recently, nearly every mechanical gaming keyboard shipped with MX Reds, Browns, or Blues. For a long time, Cherry’s switches were the best option—mechanical switch or otherwise—for building a keyboard, and they had a reputation for their outstanding typing feel and longevity when compared to their rubber dome and scissor-switch contemporaries.

I have a love for the original Cherry MX switches. They still have a personality and charm no other switch has been able to replicate. I type on them regularly, almost every day, and always find them a treat to use, despite their shortcomings. So it came as a surprise when Cherry announced a successor with the MX2A. How could one of the most beloved and long-lasting mechanical switches suddenly change so drastically? Could these changes make the MX better?

Closeup view of computer keyboard missing a button with black keys and gold color trim

Photograph: Henri Robbins

Cherry’s Legacy

The Cherry MX Black is the mechanical switch. It’s a fairly heavy linear switch made entirely of Cherry’s proprietary blend of plastics and has been in production since 1983 with only minimal changes until now. Cherry rates its MX switches for 100 million keypresses, and it’s not unheard of for MX Blacks to be in operation even after two decades of near-constant use. They eventually became a signifier of quality: If you saw a keyboard with MX switches, you could be pretty sure that it would be both reliable and enjoyable to type on.

As the custom keyboard scene started to form in the early 2000s, people realized something interesting—the longer you used MX switches, the smoother they were to type on. This was true for all of them but most noticeably for MX Blacks. They were the most common in high-use office and point-of-sale systems and had a heavier spring that required more force to be pushed down, resulting in the plastics seeing large amounts of wear.

These “vintage” MX Blacks—which had to be desoldered from older keyboards—became incredibly sought out by enthusiasts for their smoothness, and their scarcity increased demand even further. At the time, Vintage MX Blacks were the best switches possible for a custom-built keyboard kit.

It’s worth noting that these worn-in switches are fairly scratchy by today’s standards. Modern switches, made from higher-end materials and lubed from the factory, are leagues ahead of MX switches in smoothness. However, many keyboard hobbyists today see the MX Black as having a “good” scratch compared to the scratchiness of other switches. It’s consistent, subtle, and rather charming as long as you don’t expect perfection. There are no sudden bumps or catches, but instead a consistent friction that feels more “real” and satisfying than something engineered for perfect smoothness.

Open clear plastic box with mechanical pieces from keyboard keys spilling out

Photograph: Henri Robbins

The 10 Best Travel Adapters (2024): Plug and Universal Adapters

The 10 Best Travel Adapters (2024): Plug and Universal Adapters

With a familiar sliding pin design, this adapter also covers more than 200 countries. Taller and heavier than our top pick, this is OneAdaptr’s most powerful release to date, and it employs gallium nitride technology to deliver up to 100 watts. Aside from the universal AC outlet, you will find two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports on the bottom. Both USB-C ports offer 100-watt charging, and both USB-A ports are 18 watts, but 100 watts is the maximum in total, so when you plug in multiple devices, it divides between them.

Almost every charging standard you can think of is supported, including PD 3.0, QC 4+, FCP, SCP, AFC, PPS, and more, so there’s a good chance you can charge your phone at the fastest rate possible. There is no grounding, so don’t plug in any gadget with a third metal pin. But there is a 10-amp fuse with a spare included, and this adapter conforms to IEC 60884, CE, and FCC standards. If you want more power or feel you can make do with less, we also tested and liked the OneWorld135 ($109) and the OneWorld30 ($39).

Note: We have tested OneAdaptr’s range extensively and found they work well, but the company has had issues fulfilling orders, and we are concerned about the volume of negative reviews online. The company assured us that it has recently taken steps to improve fulfilment and customer service, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

Qi2 Wireless Charging: Everything You Need to Know

Qi2 Wireless Charging: Everything You Need to Know

It’s ironic, but we here at WIRED have long been fans of wireless charging. Not having to fumble with cables is nice! Most wireless charging devices these days follow the Qi (pronounced chee) standard, which has taken its time reaching ubiquity (the user experience has not always been great). The Wireless Power Consortium, which manages the charging protocol, announced the next-generation version called Qi2 in early 2023, and we’re finally starting to see devices supporting it. It promises perfect alignment, with the potential for accessories to bridge the Android and iPhone divide.

What Is Qi2?

Qi2 is the new open wireless charging standard from the Wireless Power Consortium, and it brings important upgrades over the original Qi standard. The headline is the Magnetic Power Profile (MPP), which is based on Apple’s MagSafe technology. (Apple was involved in developing the Qi2 standard.) This allows Qi2-branded devices to add a ring of magnets to ensure perfect alignment with chargers and allow for faster charging speeds.

The existing, non-magnetic wireless charging Extended Power Profile (EPP) has also been updated to comply with Qi2. This means that devices without magnets will be branded Qi and will still work with Qi2 chargers. Qi2 is also fully backward compatible, so you can charge an older Qi Android phone or MagSafe iPhone on a Qi2 charger. You can also use any Qi chargers to charge Qi2 devices, though they will charge at slower speeds.

Benefits of Qi2

Wireless charging with Qi2 brings several improvements over the original Qi standard.

Greater efficiency: Wireless charging relies on electromagnetic coils. One or more induction coils in the charging base create a magnetic field and transmit energy. A smaller coil in your phone or other device harvests it. The coils must be aligned for energy to flow between them and the magnets in the new Magnetic Power Profile ensure perfect alignment so less power is lost. When coils are misaligned, energy is often lost as heat, which is also not good for battery health.

Faster charging: The Qi standard was originally limited to 5-watt charging speeds, but Qi2 allows certified phones to charge at 15 watts (just like MagSafe). We expect this charging rate to increase as the Wireless Power Consortium works to improve the Qi2 standard, but probably not until 2025. Some manufacturers already offer speedier wireless charging, such as OnePlus and Xiaomi, but you have to use a specific wireless charger to see those gains.

Wider compatibility for accessories: Any Qi2 charger can charge any Qi2 device, so you can buy a single charger capable of juicing up an iPhone or Android phone. For Qi-supporting phones that lack magnets, you will likely soon be able to buy a case with a magnetic ring that works with Qi2 (as you can currently with MagSafe).

Other improvements Qi2 brings over Qi include wider device compatibility (from tablets to wearables), adaptive charging so chargers can talk to devices to supply the power they need instead of having a fixed power output, and enhanced safety with better heat management and foreign object detection.

Expect a Wave of Qi2 Devices

Before a device can bear the Qi2 logo, the Wireless Power Consortium must certify it in its independent labs. The Qi2 specification includes charging rate, magnet strength, and device compatibility. The Qi2 logo promises that the device meets the WPC’s exacting standards. It is likely that, as with the original Qi standard, there will soon be devices available that have not passed through the official Qi2 certification process.

Apple’s iPhone 15 range supports Qi2, and accessory makers like Anker, Belkin, Nomad, and Mophie have all announced Qi2 chargers. You can expect a much wider range of Qi2 accessories to land soon, and we expect most Android manufacturers to jump on board in 2024. The WPC hopes that Qi2 will unify wireless charging and finally provide the universal global standard we have been waiting for.