Recording - January 2017 - 40

Bluetooth seems to be everywhere these days when looking at audio
gear. Bluetooth mics, speakers, controllers, keyboards, even guitar pedals... all promising the delights of fast and reliable connectivity with no
pesky wires. Has the cable-free studio finally arrived? Not quite, but
there are wonderful prospects on the horizon.
In this little overview, I'll sketch out some basics for beginners,
so you can make a guess as to what works well and what's more
iffy before spending money. Further, I've asked three colleagues of
mine to weigh in on their experiences with a variety of Bluetooth
music devices by CME, Quicco Sound, Yamaha, and Livid
Instruments.
Bluetooth basics
Bluetooth is a wireless data connection spec that's been through
multiple revisions over the years; version 4 is common as of press
time and version 5 was announced last summer. It now handles a
variety of dense high-speed data types, and is considered by many
to be a practical alternative to the nest of cables on your desk.
Common uses include wireless computer keyboards and mice, headphones and headsets for smartphone or computer use, data input
devices, and portable audio speakers.
Bluetooth devices don't share a common network like Wi-Fi; each
device must discover and pair with another, establishing a one-toone communication. This can be done with a single button press, or
even automatically in some cases. A master device like a computer
can have up to seven peripherals at a time; anecdotally, if you're
pushing a lot of data through one or more of them, it's best to limit
your connections to two or three devices. The hallmark of Bluetooth
is simplicity; these connections are less capable than Wi-Fi (at least
for now) but much less fussy to set up.

By Mike Metlay with Mark Mosher,
Joe Wall, and Robert Dorschel

CME Xkey Air, Xkey Air 37, and WIDI BUD

CME's Xkey and Xkey 37 (reviewed April 2014 and June
2015) are now well-established USB control keyboards, with fans
all over the world. They're light, sturdy, very expressive to play
with their nearly full-sized keys, pressure-sensitive bend and modulation buttons, and polyphonic aftertouch capability, and surprisingly affordable. With their emphasis on grab-and-go, it's not surprising that Bluetooth versions would follow.
The Xkey Air is available in 25-key and 37-key versions. They're
identical to their wired cousins with only a few tiny changes: in
40

RECORDING JANUARY 2017

In the pro audio world, Bluetooth primarily pops up in
three places: wireless remote control, audio input for live
mixers and portable PA systems, and data transfer to certain Bluetooth-enabled hardware. We'll tackle these in
reverse order, and in the process, we'll cover areas of
potential risk.
First is data transfer to audio gear. There are a growing
number of digital effects processors and stomp boxes
whose memory can be overwritten via Bluetooth. You call
up a computer program or smartphone app, select the program you want, push a button, and the data is sent wirelessly to the pedal. This is relatively reliable-usually the
user is standing over his guitar pedal with his smartphone
(short range) and the data packets are collected and then
analyzed all at once rather than in a steady stream (so a
slow or interrupted connection doesn't affect the outcome).
Second is audio transmission to PA systems or mixers.
This lets you broadcast between-set music from a smartphone, for example. Latency can be very high, though...
tens or hundreds of milliseconds. Advances in Bluetooth
may get us to the point where live audio streaming works
as well as it does over wired or Wi-Fi networks, but we're
not there yet.
Third, and most relevant to this article, is remote control.
Control messages, like button presses or MIDI data, eat up
much less bandwidth than audio, and so are much more
reliable for realtime use. A well-made Bluetooth controller
can give a user the speed of a wired connection with no
wire to trip over. Here's a selection of some of the coolest
new Bluetooth control tools out there.

place of the single red USB connection LED on the rear panel,
there's now a power button with three LEDs in red, green, and
blue, to show Bluetooth connection status, power/charge, and
data transmission. They're mainly for troubleshooting, as
they're not visible while playing the Xkey Air. Also, the Xkey
Air 37 doesn't have the wired version's breakout cable for
MIDI output and sustain and expression pedals.
The Xkey Air is a real treat to use: it plays exactly the same
as the Xkey, and once charged it provides hours of reliable
communication with no wire to trip over. This is especially
handy because like its predecessor, it charges (or connects via
USB for wired use) with a special thin-profile cable that's easy
to damage and not swappable with conventional cables.
Being able to unplug it before performing is a real plus. CME
even makes an accessory called the Xclip, which lets you wear
an Xkey around your neck and play it standing up. I'm not
really a keytar-dance type, but I found it surprisingly handy at
a recent festival where setup space was limited and I needed a
way to use a keyboard in a tight spot.
About the only caveat I found in my tests on iOS and
Mac was that the device's power-saving mode is quite
aggressive; if you don't play anything for a few minutes, it
turns itself off. Fortunately that's only a default setting that
can be changed or turned off in the free Xkey Plus app.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - January 2017

Contents
Recording - January 2017 - Intro
Recording - January 2017 - Cover1
Recording - January 2017 - Cover2
Recording - January 2017 - 1
Recording - January 2017 - 2
Recording - January 2017 - 3
Recording - January 2017 - 4
Recording - January 2017 - 5
Recording - January 2017 - Contents
Recording - January 2017 - 7
Recording - January 2017 - 8
Recording - January 2017 - 9
Recording - January 2017 - 10
Recording - January 2017 - 11
Recording - January 2017 - 12
Recording - January 2017 - 13
Recording - January 2017 - 14
Recording - January 2017 - 15
Recording - January 2017 - 16
Recording - January 2017 - 17
Recording - January 2017 - 18
Recording - January 2017 - 19
Recording - January 2017 - 20
Recording - January 2017 - 21
Recording - January 2017 - 22
Recording - January 2017 - 23
Recording - January 2017 - 24
Recording - January 2017 - 25
Recording - January 2017 - 26
Recording - January 2017 - 27
Recording - January 2017 - 28
Recording - January 2017 - 29
Recording - January 2017 - 30
Recording - January 2017 - 31
Recording - January 2017 - 32
Recording - January 2017 - 33
Recording - January 2017 - 34
Recording - January 2017 - 35
Recording - January 2017 - 36
Recording - January 2017 - 37
Recording - January 2017 - 38
Recording - January 2017 - 39
Recording - January 2017 - 40
Recording - January 2017 - 41
Recording - January 2017 - 42
Recording - January 2017 - 43
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Recording - January 2017 - 45
Recording - January 2017 - 46
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Recording - January 2017 - Cover3
Recording - January 2017 - Cover4
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