Ebay’s Global Shipping versus USPS with the Nord Lead 3

Nord Lead 3 Synthesizer

Nord Lead 3 Synthesizer

Over the past month I’ve had two Nord Lead 3 synthesizers shipped to my door in Nagano-city, JAPAN from the United States. I founded it interesting the differences between USPS and Ebay’s Global Shipping Program. To put it bluntly, the Global Shipping Program is an absolute bad deal for all parties involved and I highly do not recommend it for shipping large items overseas. Here are the facts in my two cases.

Important prelude here is that both Nord Lead 3 synthesizers were shipped from the West coast and were purchased for the exact same price.

My first Nord Lead 3 was shipped via USPS priority mail for $90. The Nord Lead 3 took exactly five days to reach my door in Japan from the US and duty was $35.00. I had full complete tracking on the item both in the United States and later in Japan where it was handed off. Tracking was implemented immediately with about a 6-12 hour delay on all notices. This I thought was absolutely fantastic service. USPS was amazing both with the cost of shipping and tracking. Duty was minimal. Plus there was minimal if any package transfers in the United States or Japan.

The second Nord Lead 3 was shipped via Ebay’s Global Shipping Program. In that case shipping was determined by Ebay which was $137 for the exact same Nord Lead 3. Duty was also paid before shipment which in total was $110.00. Compared to USPS that is $125 versus $247. I had to pay $122 extra for the Global Shipping Program which makes you wonder who pockets the money over there. That’s a pretty big difference.

In addition, it took two weeks with the Global Shipping Program to get the Nord Lead 3. It was transferred numerous times in the United States before it even left the country. That’s too many opportunities to damage a package. In addition, I found the tracking delays often took one day or more to update. Tracking was also often inaccurate because of the delays as well. When the Nord Lead 3 finally arrived I didn’t have to pay extra duty thank goodness because I’ve heard others had to even with the Global Shipping Program.

If you are an Ebay seller shipping overseas, I can’t imagine any reason to do so. It puts the package at risk with all the transfers and costs more for everyone. It puts a much larger price on the item which quite frankly you, the seller, could pocket yourself. I would rather have put the extra $122 I gave Ebay’s Global Shipping to the seller because they ended up taking a cut by accepting my best offer.

In the end, I found USPS to be much better in price, tracking, shipping time, and overall professionalism than Ebay’s Global Shipping System. Why sellers are using the Global shipping Program I don’t really know. Perhaps someone can comment and help me understand that. I sell overseas on Ebay and always opt out of the Global Shipping Program. I use a company called EMS that works with the Japan Postal System. Buyers always tell me it’s fast and very reliable. I feel USPS is very similar to EMS. I also have found through chatter on the web that more and more people are not even buying or bidding on items from buyers who use the Global Shipping Program. Sometimes I consider contacting sellers to ask about mailing direct, but I’m always afraid I’ll look like a shady buyer or something. Or perhaps the seller will get upset by me asking, not to mention I believe it is against Ebay policy. Not sure.

I should also mention another shipping solution, FedEx. I absolutely hate FedEx when shipping or receiving items to Japan. The FedEx company does not have routes in Japan obviously so they usually have no idea how to get around to the destinations. I once had a guy from FedEx spend the entire day driving around looking for my house. I finally spotted him on a street down from my house camped out studying a map. He was so relieved that I came out looking for him! So with FedEx, I usually have to look for the delivery guys themselves. Also, FedEx shipping costs are always higher and the duty is much more as well. I also find FedEx is not faster than USPS but rather the same. Tracking on FedEx is a bit more delayed as well.

USPS is the way to for International Ebay transactions at least to Japan. Is it this way in Europe or other areas, I’m not sure but I’d guess it’s similar. Ebay’s Global Shipping program is a mess and I try to avoid it at all costs. My Nord Lead 3 was an exception and dare I say that Ebay’s Global Shipping System will likely continue because buyers like myself make exceptions. I need to stop right now. It’s USPS all way from now on.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the Global Shipping Program can and does use USPS as one of it’s multiple carriers. I noticed on my second Nord Lead 3 it was diverted to USPS under the Global Shipping Program. However, it appears that the kind of USPS service allocated to Global Shipping is different than the more direct “USPS Priority Mail” used with the first Nord Lead 3. So while USPS is a good carrier they seem to be using a different service, route, or system for the Global Shipping Program than a customer shipping direct. I’ll have to look into that. In addition, on Ebay, the buyer is issued two tracking numbers. The first one is delayed and doesn’t give accurate info. You need to click the “Ask a question” button for the item, click the sub tab “shipping” and scroll down to the real USPS tracking number. Just FYI as I understand better the Global Shipping Program.

Which Nord Lead Synthesizer do I like the best? Nord Lead 1, 2, 2x, 3 or Nord Lead 4?

Nord Lead Synthesizers

Nord Lead Synthesizers

The very first Nord Lead I bought was the Nord Lead 1. Outstanding!! I love the Nord Lead 1 and it is probably the best sounding of all the Nord Leads, however, there are TWO MAJOR problems that ultimately lead me to the Nord Lead 2x. One problem was no split keyboard. I needed this for my live shows in order to minimize the number of synths on stage while getting access to more playable sounds. The second biggest problem was no Arp hold. I sing, play guitar, and work with synthesizers so I can’t be having my foot stuck on the sustain pedal or worry about missing the beat when making the arp changes. I need Arp hold and the Nord Lead 1 doesn’t have it. Some might say the lack of on board memory for programs and performances is a drawback which it is, but that didn’t bother me as much as having no split keyboard of Arp hold.

So, I was on to the Nord Lead 2x which is a beautiful synth and it had all the bells and whistles that the Nord Lead 1 lacked. I now had plenty of memory, a split keyboard, and Arp hold. I should have been satisfied and I was for about a year but then realized that I really liked the Sound of the Nord Lead 1. If I wanted that RAW LEAD sound, I needed to have the Nord Lead 1 because the 2x just didn’t have that warm grit that the first generation had. I’m a big fan of the Prophet V and the Nord Lead didn’t really sound like one, but it had the dynamics of one which allowed me to play music that often had a Prophet V in the mix. I then heard that the Nord Lead 2 was similar in sound to the Nord Lead 1. Thus I moved on and bought the Nord Lead 2.

Now, the Nord Lead 2 in my opinion is definitely the best between the Nord Lead 1 and 2x. It has the sound of the Nord Lead 1 ( close enough ) along with the Split Keyboard, Arp Hold, and the memory card for storing programs and performances. It pretty much has most of what the 2x has and everything the Nord Lead 1 had. When I first played the Nord Lead 2, I ended up playing it virtually all night. It was finally the right combination of functionality and sound. It was THE BEST Nord Lead I had played to date and I was very happy, until I got my hands on the mighty Nord Lead 3 ….crap!!

Everyone knows the interface of the Nord Lead 3 is better than any Nord Lead produced both past and present. In fact, many will argue it’s one of the best synth programming interfaces of all time. Of course there are other synths that are right up there with the Nord, but with those rotary encoders and the LCD showing the precise values of each and every turn, it’s hard to argue why anyone would settle for less. Unless…. unless the sound was not up to your standards. That has generally been the problem with the Nord Lead 3, the tinny sound most people say it has. I actually found it to be an amazing sound primarily because as an 80’s kid, the FM sound was huge during that decade of music. Of course analogs were popular in the early 80’s, but with the release of the Yamaha DX-7 and later the D-50, digital was king and I feel for that reason, the FM aspect in the Nord Lead 3 is essential “for me” in playing 80’s style music. YES, you can get sweet analog sounding patches out of the Nord Lead 3 but you need to create them. They are there, perhaps not the Nord Lead 3 strongest suit, but there is ample programming power and creative combinations to get the 80’s analog”ish” sound. You just need to really dive in and program it.

I thus found over the past two months more and more interested in the Nord Lead 3. I wasn’t playing the Nord Lead 1 or 2x hardly at all. I pretty much had confined myself to the Nord Lead 2 and 3 versions because in combination they covered the FM and Analog sounds perfectly for the 80 synthpop music I liked to play. I was doing fine when a nice shiny new Nord Lead 4 fell out of the sky and landed on my lap. I good friend at a local music shop in Japan gave me a deal I couldn’t pass up on a B Grade model. Whatever B grade meant, I had practically a brand new Nord Lead 4 in my studio. I quickly dove in and “almost” fell in love with it. I say almost because at the end of the day, I kept going back to the Nord Lead 3. Was it the FM sound? Or the awesome encoders? Maybe it was the that the sound was different than the other Nords that I felt it was better in the mix. At the end of the day, I think it was just that. The Nord Lead 3 fit better in the mix with pretty much every sound I created with it. The Nord Lead 4 while SUPERB SUPERB SUPERB, it just wasn’t quite grabbing my attention enough to pull me away from the Nord Lead 3. It did well to distract me from the Nord Lead 2, but not the Nord Lead 3.

Thus to finally answer the question in my title. Which Nord Lead Synthesizer do I like the best?

THE NORD LEAD 3 SYNTHESIZER!!

Note: I have not tried the Nord Lead A1 yet, but it’s on my radar. In Japan the Nord Lead A1 is the most expensive of all the Leads right now. I actually think it’s too expensive and will waiting until next year to check on out. Until then, I think the Nord Lead 4 should fill in nicely.

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

With success replacing the LCD screen on my Akai S900, I thought I would try to do the same for my two Roland D-550 sound modules that both are legible, but with no back light. I could get a foil backlight for the LCD, but to me they seem rather expensive. I was able to get the LCD screen for about $10 and if successfully installed could prove better for me than having a foil. The screen on my Akai S900 is amazing now and if I could get the same look for the D-550 that would be fantastic. Right now with what I’ve learned in my research, the actual LCD installation is not the probably, electrically, rather it’s whether the size will fit well or not. Indeed the thickness of the original is about 9mm and the one I purchases is a bit thicker at 13mm. The big hang up will be whether I can fit this into the D-550 or not and if not, whether I could make room for it with some modifications. If so, then the installation should be pretty straight forward. I should get the LCD sometime next week and should then be able to install shortly thereafter. Stay tune for updates and hopefully I’ll have some good results to post. I know a few people are looking to do the same. Thanks!

Roland D-550 LCD Replacement

Roland D-550 LCD Replacement

Akai S900 Replacement LCD Display and OS Version 4

Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair

Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair

This afternoon I was able to successfully replace the LCD Display on my newly acquired Akai S900. There are already a few replacement LCD kits available on Ebay but I found them to be rather expensive ranging from $55 to $65 not including airmail to Japan. So instead I elected to find the sources of the LCD displays which I found from buydisplay.com. On Ebay I believe I payed $20 including shipment to Japan for the LCD display that most were providing in their kits.

Akai S900 Cool Blue Display

Akai S900 Cool Blue Display

Installation was not too difficult. After removing the front plate of the Akai S900 I was able to easily remove the old LCD Display. I then clipped the right side two wires going to the Inverter and removed that as well which you can see in the photo below. With the replacement of the new LCD display, the Inverter was no longer needed. On the left side you then have to remove the 14 pin angle connector from the old display so that you can then re-solder it to the new one. This was the only difficult part but with patience and careful desoldering, I was able to remove the pin connector just fine. I then cut the two P-401 wires connected to the inverter so that I could solder them to pins 15 and 16 to power the backlight LCD of the display. The 5V wire is the one soldered near the resistor on the Inverter board for those who know what I’m talking about.

Akai S900 Inverter

Akai S900 Inverter

Finally, you solder the 14 pin connector on to the new display along with the P-401 wires to pins 15 and 16. Then you screw the LCD back into the front panel frame using small nuts to secure the LCD. Note that the LCD is a tad thicker so you have to screw the LCD behind the frame and not in front. That is why you need nuts to secure the LCD. You should know exactly what I mean once you see how your LCD is connected. Then you just power it on and all should work well. IF you should get a faded or partial lit LCD, then look for possible shorts connected to your soldering and the screws. The upper left hand screw is VERY close to the pin 15/16 solder joints. If you don’t solder that properly you may get a short.

Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk

Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk

In addition I was able to locate and make a copy of the Akai OS 4.0 software that pretty much brings the Akai S900 specs alongside that of the S950. I used an old Windows 98 PC along with Teledisk to make the copy to a DD floppy. It worked great.

I now have a pretty cool Akai S900 that both looks and works very well. If you are having LCD issues, I strongly recommend picking up some LCD screens from the seller mentioned above on Ebay. You’ll save a lot of money from the kits that are being sold if you can do it yourself. I basically figured out how to do this from my experience with changing my Yamaha SY-77 display. It was pretty much the same concept.

Please feel free to post questions if you like. Thanks!

Roland Juno-106 Beyond Effective Range

Roland Juno-106 – “Beyond Effective Range” Vocal – Retro 80’s Groove.

Had a lot of fun working with the AKai S3000XL this evening. I used Propellerhead’s Recycle to slice up a vocal phrase and send it directly via SCSI to the S3000XL. I have an old Windows 98 computer that that is connected to the AKAI S3000XL which is also connected to an MO drive. The Roland Fantom XF is controlling the S3000XL which I’m playing on the lower part of they keyboard. Everything in the video is improvised including the sequenced parts and drums which were put together this evening.

In the video I’m playing live:
Roland Juno-106 – Synth Lead ( Right Hand )
AKAI S3000XL Sampler ( Left Hand )

Roland MC-909 Sequenced:
Synth 1 – Roland D-550
Synth 2 – Roland MKS-50
Synth 3 – Roland SH-101

Drums were loop recorded with the Boss RC-300 Loop Station.

Akai S3000XL Sampler

Akai S3000XL Sampler

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler Review

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler

Today I picked up a great little sampler called the Akai S612. I actually had seen this sampler tucked away at a nearby used music store about a month ago but didn’t think much of it. I took a snapshot with my iPhone and later did a bit of research. My initial findings were that the Sampler wasn’t worth the effort. It had 1 to 8 seconds of sample memory depending on the sampling frequency. You also couldn’t save any samples unless you had the MD280 quick disk drive addon. As I searched for more info though, the tone seemed to change among the Sampler gurus that the S612 was in fact a rather hidden gem. In fact many said if you saw one to grab it quickly, so that I did…laugh. I ran down to the store and bought it from the guy who actually thought I was nuts. He said it didn’t work. He stuck his guitar cord into the line out jack and connected the input jack to the amp. He again said it didn’t work. I chuckled to myself and said not to worry.

After working with the Sampler this evening I found out some rather interesting things about it.

First I seem to have OS version 1.0 inside the box. This is potentially a problem because I can send wav samples to the S612 using Sample Wrench or the Atari based S612 editor using Steam. However, in all cases I couldn’t receive a sample dump via midi. The end result was a frozen connection. My thinking is that it’s possible OS v1.0 of the S612 is not working properly for sample dumps. The good news is that I can definitely send samples to the Akai S612 via midi and it takes just 50 seconds to do so. I know all the young sample musicians out there with the latest sampler gear will likely call that insanely long, but honestly that’s pretty quick and stable to get a sample into the machine. Due to the possible OS v1.0 glitch, I won’t be able to save sounds I sample just yet. I’ll need to find an OS Eprom update OR acquire an MD280 quick disk module. For a single sample machine, the time it takes to get a sample in there and ready to go is pretty good.

For live performance, I think the Akai S612 is going to be fantastic. I can easily load samples into the S612 using my Macbook Air running Windows 7 Bootcamp and Sample Wrench. As I mentioned it takes less than a minute to transfer a sample. I can then play the sample using a controller keyboard and tweak the LFO, Time, Decay, and Filter with the S612 knobs. I can also adjust the beginning and end points of the sample with the on board sliders. The results are awesome and it’s really a lot of fun to teak in real time. I also found that in Sample Wrench I can reduce the Sample Rate which effectively lengthens the sample when transferred to the S612. It’s particularly effective when using dialog or vocal phrases. You can then use the loop sliders to isolate the words in the phrase. Pretty cool!

Among other things you can overdub after your initial sample recording. You can adjust the sample rate that you sample from Sampling 4 kHz to 8 kHz to 16 kHz and finally to 32 kHz. Sampling time is 1 second at 32 kHz on up to 8 seconds when sampling at the lowly 4 kHz frequency. I have found 8 kHz to be quite good, especially when transferring samples from Sample Wrench to the S612. 4 kHz is not bad but it’s definitely got that Lo-Fi sound. It’s going to take some experimenting to determine which samples work best at what rates, but for now 8 kHz is best for balancing quality and sample time. 8 kHz would give you about 4 seconds of sampling time. In a live song where you stutter, glitch, or adjust the tempo of the sample it works very well.

Basically I view the Akai S612 as a single instrument sampler or synthesizer. It’s absolutely not a workstation nor is it a multi-sample instrument like the later Akai models. Rather it’s a single “Oscillator” kind of sampler where it’s best to find that one great sample and incorporate that into your song as if it’s a regular instrument in the mix. That’s pretty much how I plan to use it and I think for that sort of thing, it is a very unique piece of “hands on” sampling gear.

It’s pretty neat what the Akai S612 can do and I feel if one thinks outside the box a little, it can even have more interesting uses. The analog filter inside could also be used to warm up a sound as well. More and more I’m finding these ancient samplers to be very useful for creating additional INSTRUMENTS in the mix. If you’re into looping, I think the modern day sampler offerings are still probably the best choice, including software.

I haven’t found any decent Akai S612 videos on Youtube that are what I call musical, but I did find this one that was pretty good in showing some of the features. Enjoy!

Roland Varios Open System Module

Roland Varios Open System Module

Roland Varios Open System Module

Last weekend I picked up a used Roland Varios Open System Module from a used music store way out in the countryside in Nagano-city, Japan. I bought it for $180 which included the Roland VC-1 D-50 expansion card. I already have the Roland V-Synth 2.0 along with the VC-2 Vocal Designer Card, so I was pretty excited about scoring a mint condition Roland Varios. I have heard that the Varios is no longer supported by Roland and it’s not as popular as the V-Synth, but I was eager to get it due to the VC-1 card being included.

Roland Varios Sample Editor

Roland Varios Sample Editor

Inside the Roland Varios can house 20MB worth of samples that you can import either via USB or PC Card Slot. This might not seem like much space for samples, but actually I found it to be plenty when creating instruments. There is a rather nice Sampling Editor which installed and loaded just fine under Windows 7. If you use Mac OSX, I believe you’ll run into driver troubles. I’ve tested quite a bit with Windows 7 and thus far have experienced zero issues, so I basically use my Windows 7 desktop or a Macbook pro running Bootcamp. Both work great.

Roland Varios Sequencer

Roland Varios Sequencer

You can also slice the samples and sequence them or arrange them differently on a time line. It works rather well and found that you could really come up with some interesting results from mangling your samples. You can vary the speed at different times or pitch. You can also copy segments and repeat them to create excellent stutter or glitch results. It’s really quite powerful and fun to experiment with. It has the Varisynth technology aboard which is the same as the VP-9000 and what you find on the V-Synth. If correct, the Varios is the same as the V-Synth 1 version.

Roland VariOS-8

Roland VariOS-8

In addition, you get a full blown synth inside called the Roland VariOS-8 which apparently is an emulation of the Roland Jupiter 8. In all actuality this is totally false and probably shouldn’t be advertised as such. However, the synth is very powerful and quite frankly worth the price of a used Roland Varios alone. Yes, you have to boot into the Varios-8, but you do get a nice editor and the sounds are only 30 patches in total. However, you can of course create your own and hold up to 128 sounds. The Varios-8 synth simply rocks and it really sounds great for an Analog emulation. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Roland Varios 303

Roland Varios 303

You also get an emulation of the Roland TB-303, but I honestly haven’t tested this feature yet. If it’s anything like the Jupiter 8 / Varios-8 emulation then it’s NOT a TB-303 rather just another synth that should be treated on it’s own merits and not a TB-303 emulation. I’ll add some additional comments once I get a chance to play around with it. Like the Varios-8 you get a rather nice software editor to tweak and create patches with.

Roland D-50 V-Card

Roland D-50 V-Card

The Roland D-50 VC-1 card is a HUGE score with finding this particular Roland Varios in Japan. It can also be used with the Roland V-Synth 2.0 and it simply sounds fantastic. I already have a couple of D-50 synths and the D-550. I can honestly say it’s the real deal. What I like best is that it contains all of the Roland released preset cards on it plus several additional banks for your own patches. You can import or export D-50 patches and swap them with your original D-50 with ease. It’s simply a fantastic card although I would never spend $500 on Ebay for one. Be patient and they will turn up for around $200 which is much more reasonable. Yes, you can buy an original D-550, but I like the extra patch banks with the VC-1. Plus a PC card is much smaller than a D-550 and much more reliable.

UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50

UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50

Along with the Roland VC-1 card there is the Uniquest VC-1 Editor which is pretty cool. This is very hard to find supposedly. It uses the Soundquest MidiQuest technology for the editor and is supposedly custom made for the VC-1 card. It works well and covers pretty much all of the parameters on the VC-1 D-50 card.

All in all, the Roland Varios was an excellent find. Once you get it loaded and set, you can easily disconnect it from the computer and use it in your live rig. I have a Roland A-800 Pro connected to it and have created a preset that works great for the Varios. There’s just so much you can do with the Roland Varios. With how cheap they are going for I highly recommend grabbing one if you can. Enjoy!