Orba 2: Anyone Can Make Cool Music With This Palm-Size Synth

As an informal musician, I prefer to document unique music in my very own little house workplace/studio for my very own private use, and I take pleasure in experimenting with alternative ways to create attention-grabbing, generally unconventional musical compositions. Artiphon’s Orba 2 makes it straightforward to do precisely that. I’ve had a variety of enjoyable with the tiny synth, and I can envision tons of how I am going to be capable to incorporate it into my studio, as a result of it isn’t only a gimmick.

I spoke to Mike Butera, a musician who holds a Ph.D in Sound Research, and the founder and CEO of Artiphon, a Nashville-based firm that designs sensible digital devices. These are “multisensory devices anybody can play,” in response to the corporate’s web site. Butera tells me he desires to make digital music extra embodied and tactile, and extra accessible to on a regular basis customers.

The Orba 2 is one in all these multisensory devices: An ergonomically formed synthesizer you possibly can maintain within the palm of your hand. Artiphon despatched me an Orba 2, and once I picked it up and began taking part in round with it for the primary time, I could not put it down for hours. I began out by pairing the gadget with the Orba 2 app on my cellphone and experimenting with all of the devices and sounds preloaded into the app. Fairly quickly I had a sweet-sounding loop organized with a droning bass and a few killer ambient leads over a easy 4/4 rock beat.

The Orba 2 prices $150 and is on the market to buy on-line straight from Artiphon, by way of Reverb or at retailers like Guitar Heart and Sam Ash. It is simple to choose up and play proper out of the field and requires no musical data to start out making some actually cool-sounding music. This unassuming little instrument is astonishingly versatile and so easy to make use of, it could actually make a musician out of anybody — and may make for a singular little reward.

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What’s the Orba 2?

The Orba 2 is the successor to Artiphon’s unique Orba gadget, which launched in 2019. It is a compact synth, looper and MIDI controller that is in regards to the measurement and form of your common orange, lower in half. The Orba 2 has primarily the identical design and interface as the unique — with eight multifunctional pads radiating throughout the highest of the gadget — however with enhanced performance all through. 

Maybe essentially the most notable enhancement with the Orba 2 is that you could document actually any sound on this planet onto the app and play it on the gadget. Strum a chord in your guitar, hum a tune, document the sound of a prepare whistle, snap your fingers — heck, you possibly can dive into the ocean and document whale sounds to pattern in your Orba 2. (But when that is one thing you are really going to do, please simply be sure you use a recording gadget that is waterproof).

The Orba 2 additionally provides an “automated quantize” operate which helps mechanically line up your musical creation with the beat when looping music. Computerized quantize is a lifesaver if you do not have excellent rhythm as a result of you do not have to fret about being exactly in time — the software program takes care of that for you. 

It additionally provides you drastically extra looping time than its predecessor. The unique Orba solely allowed for eight-bar loops (as much as 30 seconds of looping), whereas the Orba 2 ups that restrict to 128 bars, or as much as 5 minutes of looping time. That provides you loads of time to create and loop an elaborate, complete musical composition consisting of drums, bass, chords (rhythm) and lead.

The gadget consists of a regular 1/8-inch headphone stereo jack and a USB-C port for charging and connecting to your pc or different gadget (however you may as well join by way of Bluetooth). It is geared up with a 3-watt speaker on the underside, which is ample if you happen to’re simply casually taking part in round with it in your lounge, however you may wish to plug your headphones into it to get the total impact. 

The Orba 2 is appropriate with iOS 11 and later, Android 9 and later, MacOS 10.12 and later, and Microsoft 10 (64-bit) and later. 

What are you able to do with the Orba 2?

For such a simple-looking gadget, the Orba 2 delivers fairly a bit greater than what you could anticipate, with sure limitations.

It is maybe greatest used as a musical sketchpad that can assist you develop and save your musical concepts. That is the place the Orba 2’s portability and expanded looping performance actually turn out to be useful. It can save you your looped songs utilizing the accompanying app and construct on them later or simply play them again. And it is sufficiently small that you could have it in your desk or simply tuck it away in your jacket pocket and play it on the bus or within the park — each time and wherever inspiration hits.

Orba 2’s greater than 100 presets run the gamut of musical types, together with something from conventional synths, bass guitars, piano, violins and acoustic drums to online game sounds, beatboxing, hand drums, vinyl scratches and meditative, ambient sounds. Some presets throughout modes share the identical in-app art work, that means that they sound good when performed collectively. Considered one of my favourite presets throughout modes is known as 1981, which may ship some very nice Stranger Issues vibes. One other preset I like is known as Ambeeant, which is ideal if you wish to create a composition that is supremely chilled-out and enjoyable — like a clean late-night groove, or one thing you’d anticipate to listen to in a dimly lit shisha lounge.

Orba 2 chord presets screenshot

Orba 2 chord presets.

Attila Tomaschek/CNET

You possibly can even create your individual presets by recording a sound or growing an instrument from scratch utilizing the separate OrbaSynth app, which you’ll be able to obtain from Artiphon. Recording a sound is simple utilizing the cell or desktop apps, however exporting the sound to make use of in your Orba 2 requires you to attach the Orba to your cellphone or pc with a USB cable — which is not a very handy answer if you happen to’re out and about and wish to document one thing and instantly play it on the Orba. Nonetheless, it can save you your recordings to export later if you happen to document a sound in your cellphone and you do not have your Orba or a cable with you.

One of many issues I like essentially the most in regards to the Orba 2 is its responsive gesture controls. The pads on prime are touch-sensitive and reply properly to how laborious you faucet them. You may also maintain your finger on a pad to let a observe or crash cymbal to ring out, for instance. Or radiate your finger inward or outward so as to add a little bit of vibrato or management issues like pitch or quantity. Different gestures embrace spin, bump, transfer, shake and tilt — all of which might help you increase the notes you are taking part in and make some actually cool sounds. 

I additionally like how Artiphon actually does a great job of creating the Orba 2 extra accessible to nonmusicians by programming the lead presets to play the pentatonic scale. This makes it straightforward to create lead elements that match melodically together with your music it doesn’t matter what observe you hit.

“The explanation we did that’s so you possibly can construct up somewhat beat after which take a solo on prime, and no matter you press, it may sound good,” Adam McHeffey, Artiphon’s chief advertising and marketing officer, advised me in an interview. “It is all about immediacy and simply having enjoyable as you play. It isn’t about dumbing something down. It is nearly approachability and simply actually taking your thoughts off of it and simply having enjoyable.” 

If you wish to get essentially the most out of the Orba 2, you need to use it as a MIDI controller and hook it as much as a digital audio workstation like GarageBand, Ableton Reside, Logic Professional, Professional Instruments and Cubase. I linked my Orba 2 as much as GarageBand and that is the place the total potential of this little gadget actually opened up for me when it comes to the completely different sorts of sounds and compositions you possibly can create. I used to be in a position to export songs from my Orba 2 into GarageBand, however solely as a single monitor. There would not appear to be a solution to export particular person tracks. So one of the simplest ways to leverage GarageBand or another DAW software program with Orba 2 is to start out from scratch and create straight inside your DAW. 

Enjoyable, however not with out flaws

Artiphon has an excellent factor going with the Orba 2, however there are a couple of inherent drawbacks in addition to some room for enchancment. For one, whereas altering octaves is straightforward and may be carried out on the Orba 2 itself, there are solely eight keys to play with, which makes accessing a broader vary of notes significantly much less seamless than if you happen to have been taking part in a standard synthesizer. It is a mandatory however unlucky tradeoff for the Orba 2’s compact measurement.

I additionally discovered the primary Orba 2 app to be quite buggy general on each cell and desktop. It crashed usually, particularly once I was saving songs and attempting to load saved songs onto the Orba, which was irritating. The apps additionally misplaced reference to my Orba at random intervals, so I discovered myself having to reconnect or re-pair it with my cellphone and MacBook extra usually than I might have appreciated. One other factor I discovered irritating was that I usually could not modify the quantity of particular person devices in my loops, regardless of the app displaying me the choice to take action. At instances I wanted that I might decrease the quantity a bit on a booming drum beat I created to let the subtler components of my composition shine — alas, more often than not, the quantity would not budge from 78% it doesn’t matter what I attempted. This put an actual damper on my efforts to combine my compositions into one thing that sounded the best way I wished them to sound. The software program has a ton of potential, so hopefully these little quirks get resolved in future updates.

Orba 2 desktop app screenshot

The app’s easy, easy navigation and funky visuals are satisfying, however the bugs must be ironed out.

Attila Tomaschek/CNET

The Orba 2 has added some wonderful and helpful options that give it a significant leg up over the unique Orba, however one function I hope could also be obtainable in future firmware updates is the flexibility to layer a number of completely different presets from every particular person mode on prime of each other. For instance, it will be useful to have the ability to layer a number of completely different lead presets on prime of each other in a single looped composition — say, if you happen to wished to have a lead guitar half, but additionally a piano lead or violin lead. That will provide the capacity so as to add some cool dynamics to your songs. At the moment, if you have already got a lead half looped and also you wish to change the lead instrument to one thing else, the initially looped half will change to another preset you choose. Positive, you possibly can work round this by working your Orba 2 by way of your DAW, however it will be good to have the performance by way of the app as properly. 

Is the Orba 2 value it?

General, I believe the Orba 2 is a superb little instrument if you happen to’re an informal musician (and even when you have no musical background in any respect) and simply need a simple solution to create cool-sounding music at anywhere or any time. However skilled musicians will most likely need one thing with somewhat extra depth and vary. 

The Orba 2 is exclusive, and it is nice for experimentation with a just about limitless scope of sonic potentialities within the palm of your hand. It is a worthy addition to your house studio and might help add some spectacular dynamics to your music. It is an superior device for arising with new musical concepts on the fly, wherever you might be. And it is simply plain enjoyable. If any of that sounds good to you, then sure, Orba 2 is value it and it’s best to give it a shot. 

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