Noted rock vocalist and bass player Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and more recently Black Country Communion) has often been quoted as saying that, for him, much of the 1980s was just a blur. It's probably just as well, or he might have had a hard time dealing with the emergence of the keytar - a strap-on keyboard that has a little neck with a number of parameter-changing buttons on it. Okay, I admit it, I'm not a great fan of the Jan Hammers and Jean-Michel Jarres of this world, but those who want to emulate these digital music innovators without digging deep for a Korg, Roland or Moog original can now rejoice with the release of the world's first USB/MIDI keytar - the Vortex from Alesis.

Debuted at NAMM, the Vortex features a playing area made up of 37 pressure-sensitive keys, above which are velocity-sensitive pads and transport and patch select controls. There's a volume slider and pitch bend placed for thumb control on the neck, with nine front-facing controls to occupy the fingers, including a touchstrip, and buttons for octave selection and sustain. Alesis told us that users can re-assign any of the controls to any function or parameter, if the default setup doesn't suit the performance need.

The neck of the new keytar also has a built-in, MIDI-assignable accelerometer that allows players to increase the instrument's volume by body movement, control the modulation or filter cut off, or change the pitch with dive-bomb antics - something that iPhone and iPad gamers should take to immediately.

"Today's keyboard player has no limitations of sounds because you have your traditional synths, your sound modules, you have software on your Mac and PC, you might even use your iPad for sounds," Alesis told us at the NAMM show. "So we've created a control instrument for all the sounds you already have."

The Vortex features both traditional MIDI and USB MIDI connectivity for maximum device compatibility, and comes automapped for popular software synths and digital audio workstations (DAW), but a user can of course custom-create their own.

When connected to a Mac or PC, the 2.2 x 35.1 x 10.6-inch (55.88 x 891.54 x 269.24 mm), 6.5 pound (2.9 kg) Vortex is bus-powered, but can also get its juice from four AA-type batteries when hooked up to a MIDI module or iOS devices like the iPad, or via a DC adapter (not supplied). The unit comes with an adjustable strap, which attaches to standard pegs on the neck and body, and a standard USB cable (a 32-pin Apple cable will need to be purchased separately if connecting to an iPad).

Alesis is suggesting a retail price of US$399 when the Vortex is made available during Q2 2012, but says that the street price is likely to run at around US$249.

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