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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.

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

14 Best PlayStation VR2 Games to Play Right Now (2024)

14 Best PlayStation VR2 Games to Play Right Now (2024)

Six years after Sony released its first virtual reality headset, we finally got our hands on the PS VR2. If you can wrap your head around spending more for an accessory than for the console itself, the headset is worth the wait. Sony got rid of the external processor boxes, upped the resolution, and added features like HDR support and advanced eye tracking. It’s also really, really comfortable—almost comfortable enough to make you forget that it’s still wired.

Now that you have the headset, what do you play? We’ve spent months working our way through some of the newest titles. Here are our top picks. Don’t see anything you like? We’re continuing to test games, and don’t forget to check out our guide to the Best PlayStation Accessories and the Best PlayStation Plus Games.

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Santa Cruz Skitch Review: A Light, Versatile, and Expensive Electric Bike

Santa Cruz Skitch Review: A Light, Versatile, and Expensive Electric Bike

I stopped monitoring the range after about 30 miles, but the battery indicator on the top tube said that I still had about 30 percent of the battery left. (I weigh 115 pounds, so your mileage may vary.) You can also select drop handlebars if you plan on doing more bike commuting, or add suspension to a setup with flat bars if you want to ride more rocks and bumps. My tester also had a dropper seat post, which lets me raise or drop the seat as I come to stoplights or go up hills. I am pretty sure every bike (commuter, mountain, everything) should have one.

Too Hot to Handle

Person holding onto the Santa Cruz Skitch Electric Bicycle

Photograph: Will Matsuda

There is one major drawback to having a gorgeous, expensive bike that can go anywhere and do anything. When your bike is your primary mode of transportation, you do things like leaving it locked up in front of the Grocery Outlet (known locally as “the Gross Out”) to run errands. Even with all the best security measures, I really cannot make myself do that with a $7,000 bike. If you’re going to use it as a bike commuter, you are probably biking 12 miles to an office with a locked, indoor bike garage, then straight home to your own garage. You are not taking it as a car substitute to karaoke night at the dive bar.

I have also read on Reddit that people have concerns about the Fazua system, as it’s much less common here in the United States and harder to fix. You could go with a Bosch or a Shimano, but it won’t be as light. I have decided not to care about this. In general, you’re probably going to have to go directly to the manufacturer or dealer to get an electric bike fixed, anyway.

The app is just meh. It’s not pleasant to look at or navigate, and it’s always telling me to update, urgently, in a process that’s much less intuitive than Specialized’s Mission Control. Mission Control is also a little more useful, as it will automatically adjust the power output to help you make it home. However, the Skitch is light enough that it doesn’t really matter if you run out of battery. The app may also improve dramatically in the upcoming years, as Santa Cruz has direct and continuing input on the app’s development.

Beachwaver B1 Review: Easy-to-Use Rotating Curling Iron

Beachwaver B1 Review: Easy-to-Use Rotating Curling Iron

As for that “no-kink” clamp, I realized it was because of how I was clamping my hair. Thanks to yet another TikTok tutorial, I learned that you’re supposed to clamp it around the curve of the hair in the direction you’re curling your hair. Whenever I’m cognizant of how I’m clamping it, I never experience any creases.

Type Cast

As with any hair tool, it’s important to talk about my specific hair type. I have a mix of wavy, naturally curly hair that has a coarse feel to it. It typically requires a lot of heat, not only to reduce frizziness and puffiness but for the curls to hold. If your hair texture is similar to mine, I recommend going over it with a flat iron before curling it. It helps make for smoother curls and keeps the volume at a minimum (I’m not trying to achieve that ’80s big hair look).

I’ve only ever used the B1 on the highest heat setting (410 degrees). It holds the curl super well, but it loosens as time goes on—which I prefer. If you want to keep the tighter curl throughout the day, for a more dramatic look, I suggest using hairspray after curling each strand and then also after you’re done. Although 410 degrees is certainly hot, it might not be enough heat, depending on how thick or coarse your hair is. I would prefer the ability to make it slightly hotter for more defined curls.

I’d also recommend applying a heat protectant to your hair before going in with the curling iron. Since I’ve been using the Dyson Airstrait for almost a year now (which doesn’t have heat plates), my hair isn’t used to that much direct heat. Sometimes, a burnt-hair smell reminds me that I need a barrier to protect it from heat damage. It’s become less strong the more I use the B1 (eight months in, and it’s barely noticeable now), however, it’s still slightly there. I have yet to find a heat protectant that doesn’t leave my hair feeling greasy and sticky, but this has expedited my search.

When I first started using the B1 curling iron last summer, I had just cut several inches off my hair, bringing it to just above my shoulders. The 1-inch barrel size was perfect for that length because I had shorter hair, which took less time to style. But my hair has grown past my boobs since then, and using such a thin barrel takes forever to get through my now longer hair. I’ll usually block out 30 minutes to get through all of it.

If your hair is on the longer side, and you simply don’t have that much time for curling it each day, I would recommend opting for the bigger barrel, which is the 1.25 version. It likely won’t give you those tighter, corkscrew curls that you’d get with the smaller barrel, but you’ll be able to curl larger chunks of hair, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to curl your entire head. I’ve attempted to do this with the 1-inch barrel (multiple times) when I’ve been in a rush, and it leaves my hair looking messy and uneven.