Nearly 3 years ago, Japan's CyberStep Communications revealed a prototype all-in-one synth, sequencer and multitrack audio editor called the KDJ-ONE that could be held in the palm of the hand, had built-in storage and offered Wi-Fi connectivity. Then, after well-received demonstrations at trade shows like NAMM and Musikmesse, all went quiet. Now the company says that a redesigned portable music studio is finally ready for release and has launched two simultaneous crowdfunding efforts to bring the device to market.
CyberStep's Ryota Takahashi told us that there are three main changes from the version on show at NAMM 2011. The first is a processor and battery life double act. "I didn't separate these changes to two since overall, it's about the battery life," he told us. "CPU has been changed to the ARM instead of Intel Meego. There is no big change with the performance itself. The biggest difference is the battery life. We added a larger lithium ion battery than before, while the last version only lasted for 2 hours (which was a huge problem for us which let us decide to start out all over again from the scratch), now it lasts for 10 hours which follows the catalog spec."
The next update is the inclusion of 16 velocity sensitive keypads. "This is one of the comparable characteristics KDJ-ONE has to other portable music devices," said Takahashi. "Strike the keypads, which has a layout of a piano keys, in a certain strength, and just like if you were playing on the piano it output/input the note at that strength."
Lastly, the overall design has been refreshed. "This is the most apparent change we've made to the device," he continued. "The last version looked more like a gigantic Game Boy with many spaces in between the buttons making it look more empty at a glance, but this version is more like a musical instrument. We were able to add more buttons for intuitive controls, and the nice metal jog dial which works smoothly. It fits right in to your palm, and the touchscreen is at the best place of where your fingers can reach."
So what we have with the new KDJ-ONE is a 174.2 x 115.5 x 29.5 mm (6.86 x 4.55 x 1.16 in), 480 g (17 oz) portable audio workstation with a 5-inch, 800 x 480 resolution touchscreen display that dominates the upper face, a D-pad controller, jog dial, analog joystick and three transport buttons, with that array of keys running along the bottom. The device is powered by a 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor with support from 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of solid state storage. Its 7.4 V/3,000 mAh Li-ion battery is reported to be good for over 10 hours of continuous use.
The handheld DAW boasts a 64 voice synthesizer with multi-layered waveforms, seven filter types, four modulators and two oscillators. There's a six track sequencer with piano roll editing and loop, step or auto recording modes, and the musician gets 200 synth presets, 100 drum kits, 100 audio clips and 20 effect types to play with out of the box. It also comes pre-loaded with over 100 song patterns from artists such Shinji Hosoe, Hiroki Kikuta and Slipknot's Sid Wilson. Some artist samples have been posted to SoundCloud as a taste of what's to come.
Connectivity and playback options shape up as integrated 2 W stereo speakers with a 250 Hz - 20 kHz frequency response, line in and out ports, a headphone jack, one full-sized USB 2.0 port and one micro-USB port. There's Wi-Fi connectivity via an optional USB dongle. MIDI over USB input allows musicians to control the KDJ-ONE using a favored device (no MIDI out capability as yet), and the portable audio workstation can accommodate USB instrument interfaces to add guitar or vocal sounds to the mix.
The development team has authored a Windows/Mac app to act as a computer optimized interface for the KDJ-ONE, which features its own editing mode. It also works as a plugin for other DAWs such as ProTools, Cubase or Logic. There's an SDK to allow for custom apps to be developed, and a live performance mode for as-it-happens music creation is currently being worked on.
As mentioned earlier, the company has taken the unusual step of launching on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo simultaneously. "We went for both Kickstarter and Indiegogo assuming that there will be more non-referral traffic from both sides, especially when we saw a huge project going on on Indiegogo," Takahashi explained. "The main reason why we did this is because we are based in Japan. As the KDJ-ONE team is mostly based in Japan at the moment, most of the marketing efforts were done towards an audience in Japan. Kickstarter (as a matter of fact, crowdfunding in general) is still a very small market in Japan."
There are US$395 pledge levels available on both crowdfunding platforms, representing a considerable saving on the estimated retail price of $799. "You may wonder how we managed to offer the unit at $395, but we have removed all and every fee, margin or profit out of the project; we are just asking for the fee for creating the product (component cost, fabrication cost, assembling cost)," said Takahashi. "Shipping will start July 2015, and we are talking with several major players in the industry for distribution and retail management. If everything goes well, we should be able to put our products on storefronts shortly after shipping out the Kickstarter/Indiegogo units."
"At the last minute, we are trying out a new touchscreen we found recently that might fit the architecture with little modification in order to upgrade the performance and save any cost that we can, but besides that, our prototype is finished", he revealed. "We are more focused on finishing up the product on time than to keep doing R&D, as we have already started the crowdfunding projects, and that we have a financial pressure. Software is the only part that we will continue to develop until next May."
The Kickstarter campaign has already reached its funding target and a stretch goal of an X-Y Pad Mode has been added. The Indiegogo campaign, meanwhile, is only 4 percent funded at the time of writing with 30 days left to run. If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in July 2015.
The pitch video below shows DJ Starscream (Sid Wilson) introducing the KDJ-ONE.