Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D effects unit

(Note 2019-12-02 — Just so you might be able to save time reading this…I posted it in 2010 and since then have been through a lot of other gear. For my current favorite piece of outboard see my page on the Zoom R8.)

Checking in 2012, it appears that this device had been discontinued, but the replacement (the Pandora Mini) looks excellent and sells for only USD100.

Korg Pandora PX5D

My new favorite toy…

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D

Processor, tuner, phrase trainer and USB interface for electric guitar and bass players.

Executive overview

Pros:

  • great sound
  • great guitar effects including difficult-to-model crunchy/heavy distortion varieties
  • numerous drum/bass patterns for practicing with
  • rugged (metal case)
  • very compact (the fingers in the photo above are average size)
  • runs (up to 7 hours) on 2 AA batteries (YAY)
  • USB computer interface to edit patches, or record from device
  • aux input
  • switchable display backlight
  • good features for bass as well as guitar
  • other useful features like a tuner, transposing of input audio signals, and audio interface mode

Cons:

  • small size (!) buttons and knobs can be a bit fiddly to manipulate
  • no included A/C p/s
  • not dirt cheap (list is USD330, but most places sell it for less than USD200)
  • support software is for WinXP. No problem for me but many musicians do use Macs

Introduction

I felt the urge to replace my 10-year-old DigiTech RP100 pedal. As nice a device as it was, it wasn’t the most convenient for me, mainly because I don’t play live. I was tired of having to stick the pedal up on the table to edit things. And I thought I had got all the best sounds out of it I could get.

So my plan was to get a new efx processor for my guitar, but also soup up the axe by replacing the old pickup set with EMG active pickups.

Before I did any of that however, I paid the local guitar experts to set up and intonate the guitar. This was long overdue and made the instrument 100 times more enjoyable to play.

After a fair amount of research on guitar effects, I decided on the Korg. One of the things I particularly liked was the design for electric bass as well as electric guitar. Since I play both this was a plus. The smaller and less expensive PX4 model looked interesting, but for its additional features the PX5D was relatively not that much more in price–so that’s what I ordered. (I read somewhere that the “D” part of the name meant “dual”; i.e., guitar and bass.)

The Korg can be used live which I’ll talk about later but that is not the way I use it, so this review will be mostly aimed at the studionaut.

Effects use and editing

The simplest way to begin, once you tear it out of its box (batteries included!) is to plug in your instrument, connect your amp to its output and just start hitting presets. There are 100 presets and 100 user patch slots. The last 30 presets have names that begin with “B ” and are particularly optimized for bass.

There are 4 dedicated buttons A-D for your absolute favorite patches. The other way to access a group of your favorite patches quickly is to copy them into adjacent user slots. For instance, I liked patches P00, P02, P04, P09, P17, etc., so I copied them to user memory locations U00, U01, U02, U03, etc. You can then tweak those Unn patches, match their output levels, etc.

The tweakability of the effects is great. The effects structure is a chain of 7 blocks (plus a noise reduction block). The blocks are:

  • dynamics/pickup modeling (including octave, ring modulator, compressors, limiters, distortion, etc.)
  • amplifier models (15 guitar amps, 10 bass amps, guitar and bass synths)
  • cabinet models (11 types of guitar cabinets and 12 types of bass cabinets)
  • modulation and filtering effects (chorus, flanger, pager, pitch shifter)
  • delay effects (slap, echo, pingpong, reverse, with adjustable delay times)
  • reverb models (11 types)
  • noise reduction

The coolest thing is to hook up the USB connection and install the Pandora patch editor. This makes it simple to try patches, which you can then also save from and load to the device. If you for some reason find the 100 user patches too few, you can create your own banks and download them when you need them.

As is often the case in these type of devices, in a lot of cases they can only hint at the amp models they are intending to emulate. It’s fun to try to guess which models they are intending to refer to.

For instance “BTQ CLN” (“Boutique Clean”) is described as “clean channel of a high-end 100W hand-made amp.” Some of the other models you can choose from are (just listing the guitar ones):

  • BTQ OD
  • TWD1x12 (“Tweed 1×2”)
  • TWD4x10
  • BLK2x12 (Fender Twin  series?)
  • AC15/AC15B – they actually use the name VOX AC15 in the description
  • AC30/AC30TB
  • UKBLUES (“UK-manufactured vintage stack guitar amp head”) Orange, Marshall, Hiwatt?
  • UK 70s/UK 80s/UK 90s (UK-manufactured guitar heads from 1969, 1983 and the 90s)

Rhythm section

The next feature you need to play with is the Rhythm section. This consists of 120 rhythm patterns, including a number in non-4/4 rhythms, and 8 metronome patterns. The cool thing is that most rhythm patterns have 4 bass options: off, basic pattern, variation 1 (major key) and variation 2 (minor key) for your selected root note.

You can string up to 16 patterns in a Chain. Up to 20 Chains can be stored.

The rhythm set sounds OK but you can tell just one sample is used for the snare which becomes a little mechanical after a while.

Phrase trainer

This is a very powerful and handy feature. You select a phrase buffer length of 20, 40 or 80 seconds, and you can either record your instrument, and audio source or even load a loop into the device via your computer. Then you can play it back in a loop and work out your leads or rhythm parts with it. A cool feature is the speed adjustment where you can set the playback speed to one of 6 values from 50% to 100% of original. It’s not a high fidelity adjustment but useful for practice.

Summary

In a nutshell, this is an extremely feature rich, well designed, compact and useful device. The criticisms I have of it are so minor as to be negligible. I think for around USD200 or even less it represents and excellent value. Korg may not be the first name you think of when it comes to guitar effect but it’s well worth checking this out.

I just ran across a very detailed review of the PX5D on Harmony Central, and I hope they won’t mind if I throw the link here: Review of PX5D by Jon Chappell (April 2010)

Last edited 20110109

Life is like that…

I had really wanted to release another “on-line album” by the end of 2010, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it. I hate to disappoint all the tim p scott fans of the world, but there’s no help for it.
Meanwhile, this gives me a chance to consider the whole concept of an “album” in the 21st Century. It’s been pointed out that the model of mainstream pop music consumption has returned to the “pre-album” days of the 1950s and 1960s, when the unit of music purchase was the 45 RPM record with the “hit” on one side and the “B-side” on the other. Today, people still have their pop music favorites, but they are more interested in the individual song or track than in an album. Part of the problem was (once again) the “industry” where record companies (and even artists, I’m sorry to say) released their hit song on an album where the rest of the tracks were little more than filler. Or released what looked like and album with 5 or 6 remixes of the same one song. In combination with the artificially high price of records (and CDs), consumers got fed up with this and embraced the a la carte world that the internet age brought.
I hope I don’t get kicked out of ASCAP for talking this way, but it was the RIAA and its constituent company members that were primarily responsible for that boondoggle.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of individual tracks I’ve produced since 2008, and those are mostly available easily for listening. Go to http://wp.me/PnrSR-nY to check them out.
Meanwhile I’m going to have some good new stuff out I promise, but my other work committments are weird and require travel and other strange scheduling stuff…

Crow Caw gets BFD 2!

Update 2019

This is way out of date. I upgraded to BFD3 a couple of years ago and still love the product. Very well designed software; it adheres to one of my basic software interface design rules: it should be easy to do easy things, and not to difficult to do complicated things. On top of that, I think it sounds great, there are literally thousands of grooves and fills to choose from, the filter function that allows you to choose drum pieces and drum patterns is logical and thorough, the tools for assigning grooves and drum hits to notes is great.

I haven’t really explored other drum software to this level, and for all I know they all do as much as BFD… but for my workflow and style I haven’t found anything I wished it did better.

I have an electronic kit and can play some drums, but why not let the experts do what they do best?

(Here’s the original discussion of our adoption of the BFD drum plug in)

We have used various versions of fxpansion’s BFD drum plugin product for a couple of years. Having played drums in a previous life, nothing I programmed ever quite did it for me. BFD is one of those plugins that basically is a sample playback engine with 10s of gigabytes of drum hit and drum loop and groove recordings.

The first time we tried this it was a free demo version that came in the software disc included with a copy of Computer Music magazine from a few years ago. It was a special version of BFD 1.5 but still had an amazing amount of functionality and a ton of grooves. I always wanted to buy the full version, both to support fxpansion and of course to get more!. So finally in July of 2010 I burned a candle to the gods of debt and ordered it.

[Note to software developers; yes people do steal software, but for me being able to try a well-working demo has led to a lot of purchases of good products like this one.]

It took a while to install. Depending on how impatient you are, the available space on your hard drive, or just how many velocity layers you want, the installer gives you three installation options: small, medium and large. Having just plumped for a 500GB drive I went ahead and installed the large version which takes up about 55GB.

One of the interesting features in BFD 2.1 is “load on demand”. This allows you to quickly create a part with only a few basic layers and articulations loaded, and then when you are editing the track or rendering it, the entire kit is loaded.

Overall, the sound quality and programmability of the software is superb. You can program many articulations of the more complex parts of a drum kit such as snare rim shots and various strikes on a hi hat. The internal mixer lets you select microphone locations and contributions from room, overhead, and close mics, along with plenty of signal processing and routing options.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the GUI is awful hard to see and read due to the tiny font and dark color choices. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the GUI can be customized, and a post on the FXpansion support forum indicates the company is not excited about creating that possibiity. But with the use of the Magnifier accessory and a little experience, so far I’m a happy camper.

Somewhere along the line in 2010 they released 2.2 (I think 2.2.0.48 is the full number; in late 2011 they appear to be beta-ing a 2.3 version) It’s been stable enough for me that I haven’t seen much of a difference but it gives me a warm feeling. After spending actual money for it I might as well upgrade…

last modified 2011 dec

Remixing myself…

For some reason I’ve been resurrecting ancient song data files and seeing if I can still recreate them. I started with the data from Jack of Shadows, which was essentially based on MIDI files run through the Roland SC-88 and the Emu Proformance+. The sequencer used was “Metro” which was Macintosh only.
For this track (“Eaterrock”) I re-recorded the MIDI from a Roland SC-880, using it as well for the piano part. The main change is a layer on the bass organ part of a bass patch designed on an RGC Triangle II synth. This is mixed fairly low and essentially just to give a little attack to the bass part.
All the parts were soloed and then recorded as audio in Sonar 8.5.3 and mixed in the box. The other big change is instead of using the Alesis Quadraverb (which provided the reverb in the original) I used my current favorite reverb plug in, the Cakewalk Perfect Space device. (Which is basically a convolution reverb.) A company named Bricasti provided a whole bunch of free impulse responses which work fine in that device.

Below are players of the original version and the newly recorded version.

“Eaterrock” (original)
(6:09) from “Jack of Shadows”
©1995 tim p scott
https://ccmw.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/tim_p_scott-0103-eaterrock_192k.mp3%20
(click (triangle) to play)
“Eaterrock” (2010 version)
(6:11) from “Songs in Work”
©2010 tim p scott
https://ccmw.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/tim_p_scott-2103-eaterrock_192k.mp3%20
(click (triangle) to play)

Hmm.. on laptop speakers or earbuds, you probably won’t hear a lot of difference, especially if you listen to it in a less than perfect environment. For a limited time, then, I’m going to give links to the underlying audio tracks (192Kbps MP3s) for you to download if you like. (Depending on your browser, you should be able to just right click on the following links.)

Original Eaterrock version 2010 remixed version

Last updated 20100606

Some notes on software guitar processors

updated 2019-07-29

This is one of those posts that was halfway in the middle of being modified when I got interrupted and abandoned it. So let’s see if there’s anything salvageable in it:

sometime in 2015

Well, this is already 5 or 6 years old and there has been much progress in this field….the last version of the below was dated dec 2010.

Introduction

I’m not much of a guitar player, and the guitar I have is of equal quality. So, can using VST guitar plugins make the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Yes and no.

Here are some notes about a few demo and freeware versions I’ve used. Your mileage will certainly vary, but at the least it may be something for you to consider.

Also remember that many of these are continually being worked on and improved, so the versions I’m writing about are probably already obsolete as you read this.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

My collaborator pointed me at this; the best part being that the demo version (5) sounds great even though it is very limited in the number of components you can select. Somewhere along the line I found an offer for this for $99. It’s still (in 2019) my best software guitar processor.

Amplitube (version 3 or 4?)

This may have changed but this was a real ripoff because for your $200 you got one or two amp models, one cabinet, and a handful of distortion and other processors. The NI product have nearly a complete library of models and processors.

To be fair, the few modules I was able to experiment with in Amplitube did sound great.

Line 6 (www.line6.com)

I liked the POD but ultimately I couldn’t get the sounds out of it I wanted. Maybe my problem. In any case they now have a software only version, the demo is worth checking out.

Studio Devil BVC (www.studiodevil.com)

+ VST

+ Free version  for eval! (BVC variant)

+ Cheap

Pretty nasty distortion tool which can border on shrill. A little of this goes a long way.

ReValver (www.alienconnections.com)

Free versions of this commercial product can be found that have a subset of its entire feature set. This is the ultimate tweaker tool. You have a tool box full of preamp and amp models and processors you can wire together into a virtual rack, sort of like the Reason model. In each device you can actually get in and edit it as though you were actually modifying the device’s electronics. Very powerful and capable of great sounds.

Not using it so much now in 2015 since the NI Guitar Rig 5 does everything it does.

♥ Dirthead 0.80

My favorite single processor. May require a little EQ to tame the “honkiness” you can get from a cheap guitar.

  • FREE!
  • Three levels of distortion
  • “Cabinet” switch is useful and adds good sound
  • Simple to use, stable, extremely light CPU footprint
  • Did I mention FREE?!

Voxengo Tube Amp

Voxengo BoogeX

After tinkering with these a lot, it became clear that they often had one or two great characteristics, but alone didn’t do the trick. This is where Ableton’s Rack paradigm comes in handy. It’s simple to create a Rack which is a layer of several of these tools. I have Racks that parallel three or four of them, usually Dirthead, Studio Devil and Boogex. Another channel with a Live Utility device allows you to add some clean signal.

Then you can map Macro controls to easily tweak the amount of contribution to the entire sound from each device.

Then I got a job…

Hallelujah and amen. Once I managed to get an income again (not through music…that’s not ever been anything in my life)–after some research I splurged on my guitar. First I paid an expert (Moze Guitars) to set up and intonate (is that a real word?) it. I replaced the pickups with EMG active pickups at great expense…the idea was it would be much more hum resistant. Not so sure about all that.

In any case, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to play now.

I decided my trusty DigiTech RP100 was due for retirement, so after some research I ended up with the Korg Pandora PX5D. That was OK for a while. It was cool how small it was – like pocket sized. Finally I replaced it with a Line 6 Pod XT.

As of 2019 that’s gone too. I have Ableton Live and NI Guitar Rig set up for short enough latency I can actually play guitar parts in real time. But if there’s ever any problem, I bounce the arrangement without guitar to a WAV file, move that to the Zoom R8 and play through that unit’s guitar modelers. That way I don’t even need to turn on the computer to work out guitar parts.

The short story is that it’s a great little unit but since this page is supposed about software I’ll write about these things elsewhere.

Last updated 3 Dec 2010

Google AdWords and the “New Marketing”

2019-07-29 update

I’m going to make a valiant effort to update a lot of content on here. Like decluttering your house, it’s hard for me to part with my old writings even thought they might be antiquated or worse.

I looked into AdWords for WordPress. I don’t think this blog is so beautiful, but the concept of crapping it up with ads is difficult to swallow. WP is honest; they tell you unless you have 1000s of pageviews/month you’re going to make little or nothing by doing AdWords. But on the other hand having anything but the most minimal WP site costs money per year.

(originally written in 2010; it seems strange I used the term “New Marketing”) I don’t know. There’s a big part of retro me that really resents the New Marketing. This is where you scramble, lie, cheat, and do whatever’s necessary to drive traffic to your site and sell stuff.* Yes, we want to sell tracks and CDs. But I just hate the concept that New Marketing is the way to do it.

I got a voucher recently for a $100 credit for Google AdWords. Just as an experiment, I decided to go ahead and set up an account and see what would happen.

Amazingly, it worked. Even with the clumsy choice of trigger names, it actually did drive traffic to this site.

Results of AdWords campaign

Here’s the number of visitors to this site over the period the AdWords campaign was running.

It didn’t really result in any sales that I can tell, but there’s probably other reasons for that.

*The King of Self-Promoters (no point in giving him yet more publicity by adding his name here) wrote a book which he titled “The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman“. In an interview he said that he crowdsourced the title; that is, he put a bunch of adwords keywords out there and scientifically distilled the results to get a title that would be most likely to sell. Basically the content is irrelevant. Once you’ve sold a physical book, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a return. Part of me admires his approach, part of me is disgusted by it.

last updated 2019-07-29

Snapshots from around the studio

Crow Caw Music Works International Headquarters

Gimme that comfy country vibe!

Guitar department - 2010

Guitar department - 2010

There’s a wealth of interesting detail here (depending on your personal understanding of the word “interesting”…) Notice the high quality $20 First Act guitar amplifier you can just see the top of under the desk. I’ve since relocated it a little bit and covered it and its mic with a heavy blanket. This seems to give me better guitar sounds…possibly because I can run it louder.

The photo below is from last fall, when I was still working on my piano lessons and the Novation Remote SL was still on the right hand side of the production desk. It’s sort of dark but you can make out one of the official CCMW Studio Cats on the task chair. When that happens I have to drag a wooden chair in to work on.

Last fall with Lucy

Welcome to the Crow Caw Music Works International Operations Center

Studio front door

Is this nondescript enough?

This rather forbidding looking entrance is the front door to the CCMW IOC.The loading docks and executive towers are on the other side of the building.

Another view of the front door

As mentioned elsewhere in this site, the hardware components are inexorably being taken over by software. The main production is handled by a big computer named Colossus with lots of software editors, synths, DAWs and processors on it. A few years ago Colossus would have been state of the art (it’s based on an Intel quad-core Q6600 CPU) but now it’s “venerable.” However, it still has the juice to do what it needs to.

This is what the main production desk looked like from the rear. It’s been cleaned up and improved since this photo. The rack mounted Intel box is visible at the lower left. The light gray box in the middle is the retired Macintosh G3. It’s still there since once in a while we need to resurrect old project files that run in Metro or Opcode Vision that are Mac only.

From mid-2009.

Last edited 20100605

New tracks: “Whispers of Doom” and “Robot Monster 3” – technical details.

Updated 2010 02 22

I’ve just finished “mastering” two new tracks that have been in the laboratory for a few weeks.

“Whispers of Doom: is pretty much like everything else I’ve been doing lately.

“Robot Monster 3” is more fun as it uses extensive dialog samples from the 1953 grade-Z science fiction movie “Robot Monster” – see page 43 in the “Listen” section: https://crow-caw.com/40-listen/43-some-newer-tracks/

These were produced once again in Ableton Live (currently v8.1.1.) They make extensive use of the fantastic sounding Zebra2 synth — you can hear it in the bass parts and some of the leads, The venerable soft synths Triangle II and Crystal were also used, along with a weird patch from Arturia’s Analog Factory.

NWEAMO festival in San Diego – Oct 2009

Experimental Music Concert at San Diego State University

College students going tribal

College students going tribal

Joshua Fried intensely focusing on some strange thing

Joshua Fried intensely focusing on some strange thing

Joshua Fried grabbing more input from his FM boombox

Joshua Fried grabbing more input from his FM boombox

Tristan Shone's DUb Brutaliser waiting to be inflicted on the audience

Tristan Shone's Dub Brutaliser waiting to be inflicted on the audience

IMG_1703

NWEAMO is a cool organization now in its 11th year (as I understand it). Its mission is to maintain the connection between classical music and avant garde and popular. It makes sense the way they explain it. They support performances in Europe, the US and elsewhere as far as I know.

Anyway, last night was the first of two of these concerts they stage yearly in the US. Fortunately they are held at SDSU which is not far from my house.

The program was very excellent and fascinating and the only complaint I have was that it was too short! It lasted a bit under 90 minutes. In any case it was well worth it. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a bit more tonight.

There doesn’t seem to be anything recent on youtube, but do a search for NWEAMO and you can see videos from last year of previous performances in NYC and San Diego.

NWEAMO concert night; view east over the SDSU pedestrian bridge

NWEAMO concert night; view east over the SDSU pedestrian bridge

Update 4 October: I’ll go ahead and upload the snapshots I took last night. Amazing and intriguing work and a lot different than Friday’s performances.

I just wish I had some video and audio to contribute. As it was, it appears that I wasn’t really supposed to even take pictures, although I had the flash off and was careful to mute the camera.

Tristan Shone's Dub Machinery

Tristan Shone's Dub Machinery

Joshua Fried's shoes, steering wheel and electronics

Joshua Fried's shoes, steering wheel and electronics

Boogieing down to Joshua's mashup

Boogieing down to Joshua's mashup

IMG_1713