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General Discussion: Eigenlabs announcement of new Alpha build.

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written by: john

Dear All

I'm very pleased to announce that we're now ready to build a new batch of Eigenharp Alpha's. Wayne has been quietly working away resolving all the thorny issues involved in making a new set of these instruments, and just before Christmas he solved the last significant problem with the appointment of a new electronics supplier. These are a hard thing to make, combining as they do a lot of electronics, serious mechanical engineering and a lot of personal craftsmanship, and I take my hat off to Wayne for getting everything ready.

All of you who signed up on our Alpha build notification list should have received an email on Monday giving you advance notice of this announcement. If you didn't and think you should have, please let me know and I'll check that you are on the list - there may be further announcements regarding the Alpha build and you will probably get earlier notification if you have the correct email address registered.

Here is the official announcement:



Ordering is now open for the next batch of Eigenharp Alpha's. You can see this at the main Alpha webpage at our website at

http://www.eigenlabs.com/product/alpha/ .

Ordering will be open for the next two months, until the 28th of February 2014. Once we reach 30 orders we will begin the build, and the total build for this batch is limited to 40 instruments, so early ordering is advised.

Please note that since these instruments are built to order, we debit your card at the time of ordering for the full value of the instrument. If we do not begin the build by the 30th of March 2014 (if for example we do not reach a sufficient number of confirmed orders by that date), your payment will be returned in full. The build is estimated to take around six months from beginning to first shipping but may take longer, we will keep you posted as to progress through the course of the build. Instruments will be shipped in the order in which they are ordered, so the earlier you order the sooner you will receive your instrument.



Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope 2014 is a prosperous, creative and musical year for you all...

John



FAQ:

Why are you asking for all the money up front? Why isn't a deposit sufficient?

We would like to have been able to take a lower deposit for these instruments in order to help people arrange their finances more easily but unfortunately we simply can't afford to do that. The parts alone for an Alpha cost us more than half the retail price of the instrument, never mind the labour, transport and other costs we incur in making them. We have to pay for all this long before we finish your instrument. This makes building a batch a very expensive proposition if they are not sold in advance, and it's unaffordable for a company of our size.

We have also had quite a few experiences in the past where people have placed deposits and then taken a very long time to find the balance before we could ship their instrument (though thankfully everyone managed it in the end, so things always ended well). By 'long time' I mean lots of months, not a few days, so it's not something we can finance here ourselves - any cash used up in that process has to come from somewhere and it wouldn't be fair on the rest of the community and Eigenlabs staff if other things suffered for this reason.

What happens if you don't get enough orders by March?

Then we will cancel the build and refund everyone's money.

Is there any possibility that that deadline could be pushed back?

There is a possibility of this, but it's complicated and depends on quite a few things not in our control, such as the expiry of quotes from subcontractors etc. If we do get close to the needed number by March but not past it then we will investigate the possibility, but it involves a lot of work and is far from certain. If we do decide to try and extend the deadline for any reason, we will write to all those who have ordered and ask them if they wish to retain their order with the delay, and if they don't want to wait we will refund their money and take them off the list.

Did a lot of people sign up for the Alpha build list?

Yes, easily enough to encourage us to do all the work to prepare for the build, which was considerable. It is hard to judge how serious people are, but if they indicated their degree of interest correctly on the form then this batch should sell out.

If that's the case, why don't you make more?

Because they are really hard to make, and we have limited supplies of a couple of key parts. We can replace these in the future as there are alternatives (we have to commission some new tooling, it's not too expensive), but its quite a lot of work to do this as every time a new part or supplier is used it must be tested extensively. Testing is key but it's very time consuming and and we don't have the resources to do that work for this build, hence the limitation on numbers.

Can I cancel my order once I have made it?

No. If we cannot make your instrument for some reason we will refund your money to you in full, but these are made to order for you and cannot be cancelled after ordering as a result.

How long will the build take?

It should take about six months from the start at the beginning of March to shipping the first instruments. The electronics takes around five months and the rest is dependent on several suppliers, including a couple of craftsmen who tend to work at their own pace. If all goes well we will have shipped all of them by the end of 2014, and during the build we will keep you posted as to progress.





written by: john

Wed, 8 Jan 2014 12:27:27 +0000 GMT

Dear All

I'm very pleased to announce that we're now ready to build a new batch of Eigenharp Alpha's. Wayne has been quietly working away resolving all the thorny issues involved in making a new set of these instruments, and just before Christmas he solved the last significant problem with the appointment of a new electronics supplier. These are a hard thing to make, combining as they do a lot of electronics, serious mechanical engineering and a lot of personal craftsmanship, and I take my hat off to Wayne for getting everything ready.

All of you who signed up on our Alpha build notification list should have received an email on Monday giving you advance notice of this announcement. If you didn't and think you should have, please let me know and I'll check that you are on the list - there may be further announcements regarding the Alpha build and you will probably get earlier notification if you have the correct email address registered.

Here is the official announcement:



Ordering is now open for the next batch of Eigenharp Alpha's. You can see this at the main Alpha webpage at our website at

http://www.eigenlabs.com/product/alpha/ .

Ordering will be open for the next two months, until the 28th of February 2014. Once we reach 30 orders we will begin the build, and the total build for this batch is limited to 40 instruments, so early ordering is advised.

Please note that since these instruments are built to order, we debit your card at the time of ordering for the full value of the instrument. If we do not begin the build by the 30th of March 2014 (if for example we do not reach a sufficient number of confirmed orders by that date), your payment will be returned in full. The build is estimated to take around six months from beginning to first shipping but may take longer, we will keep you posted as to progress through the course of the build. Instruments will be shipped in the order in which they are ordered, so the earlier you order the sooner you will receive your instrument.



Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope 2014 is a prosperous, creative and musical year for you all...

John



FAQ:

Why are you asking for all the money up front? Why isn't a deposit sufficient?

We would like to have been able to take a lower deposit for these instruments in order to help people arrange their finances more easily but unfortunately we simply can't afford to do that. The parts alone for an Alpha cost us more than half the retail price of the instrument, never mind the labour, transport and other costs we incur in making them. We have to pay for all this long before we finish your instrument. This makes building a batch a very expensive proposition if they are not sold in advance, and it's unaffordable for a company of our size.

We have also had quite a few experiences in the past where people have placed deposits and then taken a very long time to find the balance before we could ship their instrument (though thankfully everyone managed it in the end, so things always ended well). By 'long time' I mean lots of months, not a few days, so it's not something we can finance here ourselves - any cash used up in that process has to come from somewhere and it wouldn't be fair on the rest of the community and Eigenlabs staff if other things suffered for this reason.

What happens if you don't get enough orders by March?

Then we will cancel the build and refund everyone's money.

Is there any possibility that that deadline could be pushed back?

There is a possibility of this, but it's complicated and depends on quite a few things not in our control, such as the expiry of quotes from subcontractors etc. If we do get close to the needed number by March but not past it then we will investigate the possibility, but it involves a lot of work and is far from certain. If we do decide to try and extend the deadline for any reason, we will write to all those who have ordered and ask them if they wish to retain their order with the delay, and if they don't want to wait we will refund their money and take them off the list.

Did a lot of people sign up for the Alpha build list?

Yes, easily enough to encourage us to do all the work to prepare for the build, which was considerable. It is hard to judge how serious people are, but if they indicated their degree of interest correctly on the form then this batch should sell out.

If that's the case, why don't you make more?

Because they are really hard to make, and we have limited supplies of a couple of key parts. We can replace these in the future as there are alternatives (we have to commission some new tooling, it's not too expensive), but its quite a lot of work to do this as every time a new part or supplier is used it must be tested extensively. Testing is key but it's very time consuming and and we don't have the resources to do that work for this build, hence the limitation on numbers.

Can I cancel my order once I have made it?

No. If we cannot make your instrument for some reason we will refund your money to you in full, but these are made to order for you and cannot be cancelled after ordering as a result.

How long will the build take?

It should take about six months from the start at the beginning of March to shipping the first instruments. The electronics takes around five months and the rest is dependent on several suppliers, including a couple of craftsmen who tend to work at their own pace. If all goes well we will have shipped all of them by the end of 2014, and during the build we will keep you posted as to progress.






written by: wergythu

Thu, 9 Jan 2014 12:57:27 +0000 GMT

John,

I have some questions about the Alpha and Eigenharps in general - I really like the idea, want to buy one, and have the funds (I've been an electronic wind instrument player for years, and it seems like the next logical step).

I am concerned, however, about the long-term viability of the instrument, given that Eigenlabs seems to be backing away from long term software support/development and that the instrument is (as far as I know) totally dependent on software to do anything.

The EWI, at least, is fairly cheap, and a midi controller by itself, so if it fails and the company goes out of business I'm not out too much money, and if software support ceases I can still use it as a hardware MIDI controller.

Is that true for the alpha? If it doesn't physically stand up to thousands of hours of practice or software updates cease and it doesn't work on operating systems 5-10 years in the future, will I have any recourse for repairs or basic operation?

Thanks,
sb


written by: john

Thu, 9 Jan 2014 16:06:34 +0000 GMT

Hi

The question of the long term viability of any electronic instrument is a thorny one. By comparison to something like a violin, they all require a much higher degree of ongoing technical maintenance, as anyone who owns vintage synths will tell you. Having a software element doesn't change that much really, it just moves the skills needed around a little. Think of the progression from traditional luthier, who needs fine woodworking skills, to analogue synth maintainer, who needs good electronics skills, to modern instrument maker, who needs software skills. This is not that big a deal - software skills are becoming a common currency in today's world, and things that seem magical today will seem commonplace tomorrow, just as being able to build or fix a VCO seemed in 1970 but today kids do in basic electronics lab.

Modern instruments all contain a high degree of software of some sort. The difference between the Eigenharps and your example, the EWI, is that the EWI uses other software to do it's sound generation, so you can use MIDI as a protocol direct from the instrument to send to third party sound generators. This option was simply not there for the Eigenharps, the data rates were far too high and the endless configuration options too broad to make this viable. Lots of people have wanted the Eigenharos to be simple MIDI controllers, but everyone who wants this doesn't really grasp the sad reality of MIDI as it exists today, which is that its really an 8 bit protocol from the 1980's and now very unsuited to the demands we place on it, so much so that there is no way you really have an Eigenharp talk it directly without the Eigenharp being seriously diminished in ability. This wasn't a design decision we took lightly.

The issue that you have, that of the long term viability of any instrument that depends on a software component, is a real one and one that bothered me from the very beginning of the Eigenharp project in 2001.

Our solution to your issue was to open source the main operating software under the GPL, so it can have a viable long term life beyond Eigenlabs. This so seems to be working out so far, several players (Mark, Duncan and Geert) just updated it for the latest Mac release, Mavericks, and checked the code in yesterday, so we'll hopefully do a new release shortly incorporating their changes. We at Eigenlabs did not do this work, it was entirely a community effort and that is very promising for the future.

Beyond open sourcing the software, there is little I can do to reassure you to be honest. Making the software freely available is about as far as we can go, and is a lot further than most companies do. You will also note the intention is to move the software into a foundation in time (though this is stalled at present, awaiting me engaging with paperwork), which is not essential for this to have a future but may well help.

The only other thing I'd probably say is that the EWI and the Eigenharps aren't really comparable in this way. I have an EWI, and by comparison its pretty much a toy, the ability to express yourself is just not there. They're kind of fun, and if all you want is a traditional MIDI controller they're great, but as a means of expression for a wind player you are just so much better off with an actual reed. The Eigenharp isn't a wind controller, it's a whole new instrument and should really be thought of in that way, so if you're thinking of an EWI versus an Alpha then you're probably making the wrong kind of comparison.

The last point I'd probably make is that if you want the equivalent to a contained instrument, which gives the appearance of not using software, then this is quite possible. Buy a Mac Mini and glue it to the base station. Set it up with the sounds you want then never connect it to a network and just leave it alone, it'll likely last for years and will be just as serviceable as the embedded software in an EWI, more so in fact as the code is open source and you can back it up. We (as in all of us) don't normally do this as the extra flexibility and ease of use provided by a rich software system is beguiling, but it's always there as an option and if all you want to do is play music, a very viable one.

I hope that helps to answer your questions.


John


written by: wergythu

Thu, 9 Jan 2014 16:27:58 +0000 GMT

John,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest reply. That alone means a lot.

I probably should have been clearer - before I played the EWI I played the sax for 15 years (and also have background in piano). I have a great appreciation for instruments that are tied to the breath, and I keenly feel the limitations of the EWI; it simply doesn't have enough parameters to produce what I consider a sufficiently expressive result, and one of the things that excites me about the eigenharp is the combination of breath with multiple other expressive parameters (key velocity/pressure, tilt/yaw, control strips, etc).

If the eigenharp also had a bite sensor in the mouthpiece I think it would be even better for those of us who have spent a lot of time training as wind musicians. While I'm totally open to accepting it as a new instrument with a unique combination of controls which has to be approached on its own terms, I think the fastest way for me to get it 'singing' will be to approach it from perspectives that I'm familiar with and expand from there.

Thanks,
sb


written by: john

Thu, 9 Jan 2014 17:24:12 +0000 GMT

We did look at adding a lip pressure sensor to the breath pipe for embouchure, but this was just too difficult in the system we have. The breath sensor is something that went through quite a number of complete redesigns (four I think) - breath sensors in general are a difficult design challenge, and at some point in the future I'd like to have another round as we've learnt a lot over the last five years in the field. If I were doing it again I'd probably approach it slightly differently, though it's hard to second guess oneself. The biggest challenge in breath systems is actually corrosion and spit, and this problem never goes away. I'd ideally like the system to sense embouchure and to be more adjustable in terms of position, but both of these requirements are really difficult to mix with reliability and sensor speed.

You will find that the breath sensor is excellent for general 'envelope control' (it's very quick, a lot quicker than an EWI), though once you try playing with keys that sense pressure, roll and yaw you will find yourself with more than enough expressive potential I suspect. The main thing with that is then learning to control it. Experienced players often set the pitch range on key roll to an octave, which is amazing for expression but hard to keep in tune. Lots of practice, as ever, is needed.

John


written by: mikemilton

Fri, 10 Jan 2014 16:28:51 +0000 GMT

SB / Wergythu

I came to this topic nearly the same way from a WX7 to a WX5 (tried an EWI, did not like the bite sensor or capacitive keys, gave it away) to a Pico then an Alpha.

I expected to upgrade from the WX5 to the Pico and carry on. I *do* play my VL1, Voyager, and accumulated soft synths for the WX with the Alpha (my son borrowed / snagged my pico, but it works fine as well).

If your goal is to carry on from the EWI, (or any other goal that just feeds the data from an Eigenharp to other SW) I doubt that the SW will ever be an issue for you. There are a number of people who have built ways to do this that seem to be quite simple.

I have to say, however, that I much prefer to use the Alpha as the centre of things by loading soft synths into EigenD and using my multi-channel interface to bring HW synth sounds back into EigenD.

Also, it is clear that Eigenlabs is committed to the open source SW and will keep that moving along. The creation of the foundation would add a lot more certainty. That said, Having watched the interplay between owners and Eigenlabs over the years I've really come to trust them and to see them as quite different (in a good way) than other musical companies. I've spent much more money with, for example, Yamaha only to have them abandon products almost as soon as they hit the streets. I won't but from them any more.

HW is HW and things do break but my own Eigenharps have stood up wonderfully for quite a few years (I play a lot - they are essentially new) and I've had the privilege to use one of the prototypes for a job recently and it had clearly seen longer and more challenging times than mine but it was just fine in use. Other than cosmetically, I could not tell a difference.

So, the most likely outcome is actually that your HW will survive and have a good resale value. Indeed, my Alpha is the only instrument I've ever bought that I could likely sell at no loss (and potentially some gain). On top of that, it has already nearly paid for itself anyway.

Well, that is my take. It is a lot of money but it is not out of line with other fine instruments (indeed, it is lower than if Eigenlabs wanted the normal markups) and I'm certain that I'll get my "use value" out of my investment. Indeed, I already have. I'd be devastated to lose it at this point, but I could not say it was anything other than worthwhile even if it ended today.

mike


written by: TheTechnobear

Fri, 10 Jan 2014 17:53:17 +0000 GMT

Beyond open sourcing the software, there is little I can do to reassure you to be honest. Making the software freely available is about as far as we can go,


This is a big thing!
Im sure Eigenlabs will continue to develop EigenD, and some of us are able to help.
But also Ive been able to develop a Max/Msp interface that talks to the Alpha directly (ie. without EigenD).

This is great, it gives me the choice of using EigenD (as I do most of the time for performance) , but I can also slip into Max to experiment with all sorts of crazy ideas.

so I would not worry about software development, or dependency , we have all we need to be able to ensure the eigenharp is future proof of OS developments


written by: dhjdhj

Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:56:15 +0000 GMT

I don't think I've ever seen a company so eager to piss off its customers, particularly when they have such a great product to sell.

My Alpha, running through Max and controlling numerous external synths and internal VSTs, provides for incredibly expressive performance. Doesn't mean we're not aware of MIDI limitations, it means we're able to deal with them and still get great results.

I'll be on tour with Security Project for three weeks starting next month, disappointing many fans with the sad reality of MIDI. I hope they don't get too upset.

Sigh


------
everyone who wants this doesn't really grasp the sad reality of MIDI as it exists today


written by: dhjdhj

Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:57:39 +0000 GMT

@technobear, I'd love to test your direct interface. Is it available yet?


written by: TheTechnobear

Sat, 11 Jan 2014 16:24:38 +0000 GMT

No, not available yet... I've been spending less time programming, and more playing recently...
the external is done and is working well, and I've a basic setup in max which does keyboard mappings and lights and basic mapping to VST/midi.

But I want to get a full setup in place with splits and multiple instruments ... then I will be able to do thorough testing by using it daily for practice.
This all needs a bit of time, as Im still building my Max skills, but its something Im going to focus on, as I do enjoy it, and what Ive done so far is really promising.

once Ive got it to this stage, I will probably release some kind of demo, and decide in what form I will release it... perhaps if enough interest, I might ask for small contributions towards development, but will only know once Ive got it into a more concrete form.


written by: TheTechnobear

Sat, 11 Jan 2014 16:46:07 +0000 GMT

Midi - I don't think the point is that you don't want to interface to midi, midi is the defacto and EigenD does a really great job of allowing flexible midi mappings. But midi would not be suitable as the low level interface ... you simply could not do 132 keys with roll/yaw in midi, you would have to map this somehow (as eigenD does), and this is better to do in software so we can be creative how we do this.

Also, whilst I love the fact I can use my HW synth with eigenD, and loads of VSTS and DAW (via Midi)
Im really excited about the idea of building a 'synth engine' in Max which directly interfaces to the Eigenharp, at full resolution, with 3D keys... this I think will be something very special.
(and one of the key reasons I wrote the max interface, as Max has great support for this kind of thing)

just my 2cent, I love the fact that with the eigenharp I can have both, so a non-issue for me :o)


written by: wergythu

Sat, 11 Jan 2014 19:15:36 +0000 GMT

FTR, just placed an order for an alpha and a pico :)

I'm in...can't wait to get started.


written by: TheTechnobear

Sat, 11 Jan 2014 19:37:04 +0000 GMT

Congratulations!
I'm sure you have a fun journey ahead of you.

I got my pico first and added an alpha later… it gave me a good opportunity to learn about eigenD… and still love my pico, just so light and fun :)

any questions, community will try to help you out, either here… or on the google+ community:
https://plus.google.com/s/eigenharp/communities

Mark


written by: wergythu

Sun, 12 Jan 2014 03:29:44 +0000 GMT

Thanks! I look forward to it. I probably have enough of a programming background myself to help out here and there if I can find the time.

Now I just have to wait and see if there are 29 others willing to take the plunge :)


written by: wergythu

Tue, 21 Jan 2014 18:55:16 +0000 GMT

Any update on the Alpha situation?

I have a certain amount of personal interest in how orders are tracking against the minimum number required to start the build :).

sb



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