If you’re thinking that this next review is about the same old controller, wait and see that there can be something amazing to read before skipping to the next one.
In my opinion, Eigenharp is the best project about hardware-software controller on the market at the moment. Judging by an overall point of view, it could be considered as a new musical instrument or at least a new way of meaning it: it has a fingering of its own, proprietary sounds, distinctive features.
The three-dimensional keys are incredibly sensitive and they can be assigned very easily via software. Born english, it starts its journey in 2001 as a challenge by the Eingelabs software development team which produced for the mass market the first Eigenharps towards the end of 2009.
There are three available models, Alpha, Tau and Pico, each one based on the same concept:
- catchy design
- key sensitivity to horizontal and vertical motion and to pressure
- programmable breath pipe within several parameters
- a EigenD proprietary software which we’ll talk about later
- multifunctional slide bar
- USB connection
The lead model Alpha also features a phantom-powered microphone.
In this article we’ll write in detail about the smallest model of the series, the Pico:
- 18 keys
- breath pipe
- slide bar
- 4 mode keys
- neck strap
- USB power
As soon as you install the software on Windows 7 or Apple computer via the supplied 8gb memory-stick and connect the Eigenharp via usb you get access to the basic sounds: bass, piano, clarinet, cello and synth sounds. In addition, in the drum section, there are the first rhythms included in a well-stocked list. At once, the most striking thing while playing it for the first time is the key sensitivity: 10 bit resolution and 2000 samples/second per key, I had never tried something as sensitive as such, in other words, it responds to the slightest touch.
The slide bar has several functions depending on the chosen instrument. It can be a pitch modulation bar for the bass/synth or a controller to bow the cello, turning a virtual instrument into a real model one. The breath controller is multifunctional as well: from the sustain for the piano to the attack for the clarinet – as in a real one – to the cutoff for the synth. It seems to be a complete product in the aggregate, including the most part of the features within the available controllers, turning itself into a string-wind-keyboard instrument when it’s needed.
Fingering and scales
It is possible to use many fingerings also depending on the scale we are playing. Eigenharp allows to choose among a considerable amount of scales, from chromatic, to blues, indiana… Personally, I use the left hand for the first 8 notes of the chosen scale and the right one for the remaining 8 notes. The last remaining two notes (in all, there are 18) have special functions and are usually used to scroll within the software. It is usually played standing using a strap. The bigger models have a floor spike like a cello. The 4 mode switches are used as transposers (the two lower ones) and to enable the metronome/drums and to access to functions and instruments of the controller (the two upper ones).
EigenD – the software
Eigenharp is not a stand-alone controller, it needs its EigenD software to get to all its numerous functions. Indeed the software is necessary in order to set up the controller but it is also the gateway to proprietary sounds, -some of them are very high quality- and external vst. Eigenharp is a midi controller all the same and therefore it can be used to play vst instruments or external midi devices (via software anyway). Once the Eigenharp is configured with a set of instruments, drum loops and scales, you can control it directly through the mode switches on the controller. An interesting feature is the possibility to load external soundfonts and have full access to thousands of existing libraries. EigenD has also a proprietary language, Eigen Commander, which allows a quick access to some functions.
As much as it is possible to use the software right through the controller real time, it is very unlikely that it could happen during a performance, it’s much easier and safer to use a mouse. It’s better to set up everything properly for the song before starting to play. Obviously any setting can be saved and reloaded when required. Recently a module (“Stage”) that allows you to control the loaded instruments and scales parameters has been added and it’s promising for an Iphone/Ipad connection.
Eigend is compatible with VST so it is possible to use the both within and outside the software via midi and virtual midi port (downloadable separately)
Moreover, it is possible to add effects on every instrument, with a full access to the VST ones even for this feature.
One of the most interesting functions of the Eigenharp is the possibility to use an internal loop-station for sound recording. Due to the restricted number of key, it’s a little bit complicated to reach it on the Pico, but it gets easier on bigger models. As soon as you choose the instruments to record and the number of bars, it’s ready to go. The loop recording is not audio but they keep their note-by-note structure. So, when you change the instrument involved, the sound of the loop changes as well.
Drum loops are an exception for they are audio samples. This is a little bit puzzling feature because if you increase the metronome speed the audio sample gets affected by this variation in getting extended or shortened. You can insert any instrument within the loop, be it internal or external to the software, controlled via midi.
I must confess i have been having some love and hate moments with this product. Born to run on OS platform where it best performs still today. I’ve been waiting patiently for the first stable Windows version before purchasing it and that’s when the trouble got in! Stability was in fact just an idea and the bugs were too many to even think about working it seriously. I’ve been cooperating with the kind and willing – I have to admit it- Eigenlabs software developers for months in order to solicit some modifications and corrections. Then at least came some sort of peace brought by the “testing” release softwares which are not yet complete but useful for fixing bugs. Windows users are still waiting anyway for a stable version that has been announced but not yet released. As much as I must disagree with this policy in using improperly the word “stability” for clear marketing strategy, I have to thank as well the Eigenlabs developers for their efforts about it and for not abandoning those who believed and invested in it like I did. Therefore I waited until the most of the bugs had been fixed before writing this review. The Pico is the only one in the series to run on Windows 7, as for the products Tau and Alpha they are currently experimenting.
o8o8 – photo by Michael Deusinger
EigenHarp, due to its realtime sound control (though recorder via loop-station), is too much of a resource hog, increasing in CPU power. Therefore it’s better to have at least an Intel i3 processor. We have been testing it with a Core Duo 8400 (doing is good job when used with Cubase and VST) but the CPU easily went overload. On a Mac it hogs a smaller amount of resources and a 2Ghz/2gb ram is enough.
• it is not a stand-alone controller, you need a computer in order to make it work, but those who purchase it already know about that.
• it’s rather high priced and the newer versions are even more expensive.
• it does work on Windows platform but it’s still at the “testing” release version.
• the CPU works too much if compared to “heavy” VSTs like Omnisphere, Trilogy, Stylus. I’ve been explained from one of the software developers that the number of informations shared is considerably higher in comparison to standard controllers’ one.
• considering its price, I would have liked to get a carry-case too(the box is some sort of a hard-shell case but it’s cumbersome).
o8o8 – photo by Miroslaw Majewski
• it’s very flexible, suitable to any demands
• enjoyable to play and the keyboard is very nimble
• it’s a controller that combines the capabilities of an advanced keyboard to the ones of a breath controller.
• the software is very powerful and enough intuitive.
• valuable video documentation
• opens up wide development perspectives, both for the sound libraries and for the playability of the instrument.
Eigenharp Pico – Specifications
• Producer: Eigenlabs www.eigenlabs.com
• EigenD software version tested: “testing release 1.3.26″ on Microsoft Windows 7 platform
There is no italian distributor appointed yet but it can be purchased directly from the producer via internet. The model Pico can be purchased in Italy at luckymusic.com.
price 459,00 pounds (about 500 euros)
Just for the sake of completeness here are also the prices for the higher models:
price 1995,00 pounds (about 2200,00 euros) prezzo 1995,00 sterline (circa 2200,00 euro)
price 4080,00 pounds (about 4500,00 euros) prezzo 4080,00 sterline (circa 4500,00 euro)
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice