I've had a day (a full one at that) to play with this magical device, And yes it's lived up to all my expectations. Now if I can simply stop playing it to actually finish this review.
At $1499 US (current retailers price) This is by no means cheap. Still when one considers all the features the alternative midi controller has to offer it's hard to resist. I purchased mine through Ebay from Perfect Circuit.
In The Box
One 10ft USB cable
A nice letter from Roger Linn.
Registration is online (via email using the units serial number) as is the manual and the firmware updater.
Dimensions: 22.4" (570 mm) x 8.22" (209 mm) x 1" (25.4 mm)
Weighing in at 5lbs (2.26799) With a metal top, aluminium chassis and cherry wood sides. It's a very solid feel whether you are resting the linnstrument on a keyboard stand or using the straps and playing it in "the guitar position"
The inputs and outputs are along the right side of the instrument. Power Input jack, Midi I/O USB and TRS. A separate power supply is not provided. As RL states on his website:
Because LinnStrument is nearly always USB bus-powered, even from any Lightning iPad or iPhone, and when using the MIDI jacks any USB power adaptor can be used. For those rare cases where a power supply might be preferred, we sell a power supply separately. Or any power supply can be used that has a standard 5.5mm outside diameter / 2.1mm inside diameter round connector, 7.5 to 12 volts, either AC, DC center-positive or DC center-negative.
Here's my experience. Though the unit does have a low power setting which lowers the light output. When using the usb power supply from the usb with high power sometimes the unit "falls asleep" The lights still work but the signal stops. Fortunately I've kept every power supply I've ever received and the power supply for my ztar works just fine. This may have nothing to do with the linnstrument itself. I have an aging Windows Vista computer which has had intermittent issues with power being supplied via usb on other devices. I'm really glad that they did include the power supply input.
In regards to the TRS it serves as both a sustain and a volume pedal port. So if you want to use both in a footswitch you need a Y cable. I have such a Y cable somewhere in a dark corner tangled amongst my other unused cables in a milk crate. I'm just to lazy for all that digging. And it's too damn fun to play for me too walk away. On the top panel there are SWITCH 1 AND SWITCH 2. Which can serve as sustain buttons along with other functions.
Along the left side of the unit are 8 rubberized buttons for accessing feature.
The Playing Surface
From RLD website
Playing Surface: 476 mm (18.75") x 153 mm (6"), Translucent silicone rubber (2mm thick)
> 200 note pads arranged as 8 rows of 25 columns, spaced 19 mm apart
> Each note pad is 17 mm square with 2 mm of space between pads
Thank god it's not glass. To describe the "keys" as pads seems a misnomer. Tiles would be a more accurate description. Rubberized tiles but tiles nonetheless. The surface has a porous feel to it. Meaning it grips your finger. You can still slide to your hearts content but that solid feel means you won't have notes slipping away from you. Part of me wishes the tiles were smaller, the other part is glad they arent (when it comes to the expressive powers) It's a solid feeling surface with some resistance to it. Which means there is a physical feedback "feel" as you hammer on to the tiles with your finger. It's still a short throw. While I could spend days explaining the settings (which are actually quite easy to understand and program) I'd rather focus on the playing experience with a few other nuggets thrown in for good measure. All I have to say is... It's a joy to play the surface of this controller with it's 5 way expression control. Left/right pitch shift up/down modulation (Or other) Pressure. It's important to note Velocity (which is the initial attack of the note and Pressure which is the subsequent pressure applied to the note after the attack are separate. This is true after-pressure and when using Note per channel it becomes fully independent polyphonic after pressure. Also as the left/right and front/back (or up/down if the instrument is in a standing position) react independently per note. I can't sing the praises loud enough in regards to expressive playing attainable via the Linnstrument
Experiences / Testing
Computer Setup is a snap. Plugged the usb in. Windows installed the drivers and all my hosts/daws immediately recognized the linnstrument as a midi device. Open the host find the midi settings and off to the races we go. I tested it in several daws including Studio 1, Samplitude, Mixcraft, RealBand but mostly in my tried and true https://www.cantabilesoftware.com/
It's important to note if you are going to use "note per channel" or row per channel it's best to set your midi channel input to Omni. Note per channel works like it reads. Each note is assigned it's own channel as you play it. This is how polyphonic aftertouch is achieved even on instruments (virtual or hardware) which may not be able to attain the independent aftertouch. By default the linnstrument is setup in this manner. However you can specify one or more channels per split via the per-split settings button on the top left of the unit.
So I'm all set and ready to go. I find a nice string patch in my KLC M1 and it's off to the races. Amazing and weird. It sounds like one of the notes is out of tune... How could this be? Well I wasn't targeting the tile center enough and the bend/slide as well as the modulation were being excited. A quick adjustment of my technique and a review of the pitch / timbre controls via the Per-Split was all that was required. It should be noted that Velocity and Pressure settings are available via the global settings. I for myself am finding that high sensitivity (light touch) and medium pressure are working out to be the best for me. YMMV Something odd was happening for a combi patch I couldn't put my finger on. (well actually putting my finger on was the problem) Pressure is assigned to CC 74 which was designated for cutoff in the M1 A simple adjustment to the pressure sensitivity or simply using a different setting for cutoff.
How does it sound? Amazing. Breathtaking, Humbling and Addictive. If you can appreciate the value of a high priced fully realized keybed/keyboard over a cheap walmart thowaway keybed then you'll appriciate what the linnstrument brings to the table. Only more so. It's truely addicting. I look at the screen, see myself typing then look back at the board and want to stop typing immediately and play. The Linnstrument is exerting mind control over me.
Even before I acquired it I'd already made up my mind that F# was not going to be my lowest note.
C was (and is now) the lowest note on my Linnstrument. I wanted the full five octaves to start on C. This was amazingly easy to setup using the Octave/Transpose settings. While the lowest row also has the power to operate as a sequencer control It's not something I see myself using for the time being.
Playing the Linnstrument
There are no how to play the linnstrument books video's or other sources. We linnstrumentalists are left to our own devices. Fortunately for many of us we come from a multi-instrumentalist background playing guitar/keys is a real plus. It is an embarrassment of riches. one need look no further than a primary chord. A primary chord (major/minor/diminished) consists of three notes. C Major for example C-E-G. On a linnstrument there are three basic shapes for each primary chord type. Once you have the "shape" down you can transpose the same shape. It's important to note that more then one note can be played per row (string) on a linnstrument.
Here we can see Cmajor (C-E-G) laid out in "Shape1" as I like to call it.
Whats not specified is which fingers to use. Take Shape one...with the right hand you could use... Thumb, Index, Ring. or Thumb, Middle Pinky, or Index, Middle, Pinky or Index ring pinky or if you like to stretch middle ring pinky. Using your left hand or combinations of both to produce the same "Shape1" of a primary major chord produces more options. The perplexities / fingering options only increase as you expand to larger chord voicings. As for melody (scales etc) There are more options then hours in a day to explain..
As a guitarist I found the left hand fingering to be what they are when playing a linnstrument in the desktop position. Upside down and backwards. I'm adapting much better then I originally expected. It's still practice. As a tapper and even more so a ztarist tapper the right hand has adapted amazingly well to this new approach.
For years now I've been a ztar evangelist. I have two and they've allowed me to play in ways I could only dream about before acquiring them. I loved my ztars, They are going to be collecting a lot of dust from here on out. My guitars may as well. I've become a linnstrument evangelist overnight.