Reimagining the IoT music-verse with the Artiphon Instrument One

TLDR;

The Artiphon Instrument One (i1), is fret-board MIDI controller with a built in speaker. A lack of an internal sound generator and a near-miss on guitar like playing, gives it a poor out-of-the-box experience.  However, for the tech-savvy musician willing to invest some time, it offers a world of possibility and is about as much fun as you can pack into a beautifully designed, digital musical instrument.  If the Artiphon Instrument 1 is a hint of what the future holds, the future will be very cool indeed.

A Quick Overview

Here’s what it looks like and here’s a quick video walk through and watch Stairway to Heaven and Star Wars by Will’s INSTRUMENT 1 Videos.

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You can place it on your lap or on a table play it like a keyboard or hold it like a guitar.  Gee-whiz promotion videos show people playing like a violin, but I have a hard time imaging that will catch on.  The “strumming bridge” can be used to sound the fret board or as arbitrary midi buttons.

The stereo speakers offer good sound quality and give it a sound depth that is very pleasing.

Capo buttons will retune the instrument up (or capo down!), by a semi-tone or octave. The volume button (often rendered useless in MIDI mode) can also be pressed to rotate through 4 fixed configurations (guitar, violin, piano and drums) and 4 user defined configurations.

The “Love It’s”

Here’s what I LOVE about the Artiphon Instrument One.

The Price

Big kudos to the engineers that managed to deliver this innovative product with a consumer price of $399 USD. The Artiphon team probably had to work very hard and make many tough decisions to deliver Artiphon at this price point.

The Versatility

The different options like fret or fretless, strummed or tapped, infinite tuning settings, sensitivity controls, after touch controls makes it the most versatile musical instrument ever.

The Ergonomic Design

The designers really got it right.  The balance, feel and look is an achievement not to be over looked.

The Originality

Gotta love great new inventions.

The “Almost There”s

Here are some areas where, in my opinion, the i1 disappoints.

Guitar Playing Action – A Near Miss

I’m a bass player, not a guitar player, so take these comments with a large grain of salt.

The first few chords are a real wow moment, and, generally strumming chords works fairly well. But, when you realize it doesn’t do pull-offs and it isn’t responsive to things like dampening the strings with a light steady touch, disappointment in the  guitar mode grows.  (Dampening the bridge does work –sort of. Needs practice I suppose.)

Furthermore, the sensitivity of the strumming bridge is poor.

If you are expecting it to be just like a guitar, you will be disappointed.

However, with time and dedication, a guitar player will be able to adjust, but it’s appeal will be narrowed to the digital enthusiasts until some significant improvements are made.

Not a Keyboard

It’s appeal to keyboard players is likely low. The out-of-box tuning (octaves between “strings”, chromatic board) is learnable (I guess), but why?

Alternate tunings have a lot potential and could free keyboard players from the always thinking in key structures. For example, columns as chords open up a lot of easy improvisation options.

i1’s versatility will allow adventurous tech-savvy keyboardists, a creative outlet to generate music in new ways. But, keyboard it isn’t.

Slide

I haven’t really played with this yet.  My first attempts were glitchy. And just attaching it to Steinberg’s Halion 2 Symphonic Orchestral Cello or Violin didn’t work due to some MIDI related incompatibility, presumably.

Bass – Full of Potential

Its failings as a guitar, made me search for alternative play modes, and I found one that I really like!  I might do a separate post and video on this in the future (let me know by commenting if you want it).  Basically, I configured the fretboard as a 6 string bass in tap mode (used in “piano” mode) and made the first fret the “open” key.  I can riff out using familiar patterns. Knowing how to play a song on a real bass guitar, doesn’t mean it will spill out naturally in this mode, but after a bit of concentration it transferred reasonably well.  And I love the ease of speed.  Setting this up was a bit painful, though.

Early Software

Kudos to the Artiphon team for reliability. Not a single crash and I was able to make a custom pattern and put it on a user channel easily!  Here’s my initial wish list:

  • Android app
  • iPhone app kills my battery even when not in use
  • Instrument Editor
    • Need ability to adjust all notes on a “string” at once. In tap mode, the set up is really painful if all you want to do is make this in the “A string”.  Even if I could “ctrl-click” to make many changes at once,  that would have saved me a lot of hassle. To do the 6 string bass pattern in tap mode, I had to change 6 x 12 keys individually.
    • Make the fret board light up when you press the corresponding key. When you’re exploring the use of a new layout it’s easy to get lost.  Having a light up display would really help.
    • Be able to program the bridge buttons to do more than just notes. For example, deadening strings, sustain peddle on or off, access a new preset, or octave capo changes (so capo can do semi-tones and select bridge buttons can do octaves)

No Expansion Slots

As far as I know, there are no plugins modules supported.  This design feature would have gone a long way to addressing the lack of tone generation. I would have loved to be able to purchase a sound generation model, especially one that let me upload my own samples.

The “What Were They Thinking?”s

Here some aspects of the i1 that have me scratching my head.

No Built-in Sound Generator

The i1 is so close to having great general appeal.  However, without a built in tone generator,  you to physically connect an iPhone or iPad with an awkward USB cable.  Seems like Android isn’t coming anytime soon.  You can also use it with a DAW like Garage Band, Ableton or Cubase on a Mac or PC.  The waiting, downloading and configuring entirely destroys the out-of-the-box experience.

No Standard Guitar Strap Buttons

Let’s take a beautiful instrument and make people do this to it:

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Conclusion

Not techy?  Want something that plays just like a guitar? Wait for Instrument 2 – if there will be such a thing.

Want something way cool, interesting and are willing to learn? For $399USD, you can’t go wrong.

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2 thoughts on “Reimagining the IoT music-verse with the Artiphon Instrument One

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