Accessories (or, the smaller stuff)
I’ve been working with CME’s Xkey 25-Key MIDI keyboard since reviewing it in April of this year, and I’ve been very pleased with it. Its super-slim profile and full-size keys make it an ideal note-entry companion to notation software. It had decent velocity sensitivity for such a slim keyboard, supports polyphonic aftertouch, and is easily configurable via its free software. Downsides are no visual indication of whether, or which octave is currently active as a transposition, and a custom USB cable that can’t easily be replaced with an off-the-shelf model. Still, it has earned a welcome spot on my desk.
At about the same time that I started using the XKey, I also switched from a mouse to the Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball. My only regret is that I didn’t switch sooner. It has the form factor of a regular mouse, but because it’s a trackball, it’s stationary, so wrist fatigue is alleviated. The thumb operates the trackball, and there are four configurable buttons plus a click wheel. Unfortunately, that click-wheel has notches and doesn’t support side-to-side scrolling, so I’ve learned to hold down the Shift key when flying horizontally through scores. The other major drawback is that there is only a right-handed version; many other trackballs can be used ambidextrously. It gets great battery life and connects to Logitech’s “unifying” wireless USB receiver.
The Logitech K750 wireless solar keyboard nicely complements the trackball and XKey. Apple doesn’t make a wireless keyboard with a numeric keypad, which is essential for working with Sibelius and Finale. The Logitech model is solar-powered, and while the solar panels take up a bit of space, it’s nice to never have to re-charge it or use batteries. The keyboard connects via the same unifying receiver as the trackball, so only one USB port is taken for the two devices.
Price: $50 for the Mac version; $45 for the PC version.
If you’re on a Mac and would rather add a numeric keypad instead of an entire keyboard, take a look at the NewerTech Wireless Aluminum Keypad. It’s a dead ringer for an Apple product in terms of its look and feel, and is designed to match Apple’s wireless keyboard, and also connects via Bluetooth. However, as I noted in this review from a couple of months ago, you’ll need a bit of a software hack to make it play nicely with Sibelius and Finale. As long as you’re up for that (I provide detailed instructions), it works nicely.
I have a new “trash can” Mac Pro with 1 TB of internal storage but I still want to keep some sample libraries on an external drive. I’ve been very happy with the Crucial m500 line of SSDs — I have a pair of 480 GB ones — and they keep dropping in price. If you are still relying on spinning platter drives for your desktop or laptop, if you do nothing else this year, make a move to SSD in your near future.
Price: $75 for 120 GB; $105 for 240 GB; $215 for 480 GB; $404 for 960 GB.
I connect those drives in two ways: one way is the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 to 2.5″ SATA hard drive docking station. It features a built-in 3-port USB 3.0 hub, includes the USB 3.0 cable in the box, and has its own power source. It was easy to set up with no tools, and my sample libraries (described above) run fast and quiet.
The other way I connect the drives is through enclosure case made by Inateck for a second SSD to use as a backup to the storage on the Mac Pro. This enclosure draws power directly from the USB port; it doesn’t have its own power supply but it does have a power switch, to avoid unintended mounting of the drive. It also includes a short USB 3.0 cable.
On the subject of USB 3.0, if you don’t have one already, a hub will be a necessity – the new Mac Pro only includes a paltry four ports. I have two 9-port hubs by Anker. If you get a USB hub, be sure to get one with its own power source, like this one does. This hub has a built-in surge protector, and it also features a tenth port, which is intended purely for charging devices and doesn’t connect to the computer. 1 of the 2 hubs I originally bought was faulty, but the company quickly replaced the item for free, and I’ve not encountered any further problems.