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Phonicbloom Wing Drum

This looks familiar. (With user-definable scales though.)

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Hmm. I think they were clearly inspired by Orba. They added a couple of nice features, but failed in some important ones. Let's start (and end) with the price - $289.00 + VAT (Value Added Tax) and of course shipping to the U.S. Wow! Is this thing more than three times as powerful as the Orba?

Let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good. 

  • 9 tap zones. The tap zones are the Wing Drum are laid out sort of like a handpan with a central "Ding." Orba's "A" button is the Wing Drum's "Ding." It's nice having that extra note. Often on handpans, the Ding is either the 7th degree of the scale just below the root, or the 5th below the root, or the root.
  • Sounds generated with three different synth engines, including a type of sampler. So, the handpan, steel tongue drum, xylophone, and glockenspiel sound pretty good. So far, I've only seen these four sounds + a tweaked version of one of them demoed. In theory of course, they could allow users to program their own synth sounds, but it doesn't look like they are going to expose that. They are planning to have up to four "wood" sounds and four "metal" sounds, but so far they've only shown these four sounds.
  • You can easily switch between the sounds WITHOUT AN APP.
  • Easily selectable scales which can be tweaked and saved. You can select them WITHOUT AN APP. It comes with B Celtic Minor, D Akebono Pentatonic, C Major, G Major, G Pygmy, and C# Annaziska. These are very popular handpan and steel tongue drum scales. It's interesting that for D Akebono Pentatonic, C Major, and G Major, there doesn't appear to be a Ding, so the center tap zone is simply inactive. Odd. 
The Bad 

  • No octave controls. The 9, or 8 notes for some scales, is all you get - just like with a hand pan or steel tongue drum. The Orba only gives you 8 tone producing touch zones, but you can select two octaves up or two octaves down as well. If only Artiphon made it easy to switch between those octaves while playing live. My idea, which I'm going to submit to Artiphon, is to allow switching between octaves through a gesture like tilting or radiating. 
  • Only four sounds. Apparently they are using some very powerful synth engines, but they will not be exposing them to users. To be fair, Artiphon has not exposed the API for this to the users, but we can easily see in the preset files that they can do this easily and it allows for Artiphon to easily release new presets. Phonicbloom has already announced that they will not be providing regular updates or adding presets. What you see is what you get when you buy it. 
  • You can tweak the built-in scales and save them, but It's not clear whether the saved scale occupies a new save slot or if it replaces the one that you tweak which implies that you might only have six save slots total. That might be very bad because it implies that if you want to have a D major scale and a C major scale, they will occupy two different slots. You don't get the option of specifying a "Major Scale" and the root separately. This might be a very bad implementation decision. The Orba lets you select between a major or minor scale and then the root, so you basically have 24 scales available for each song. Orba needs to give us an easy way to transpose without the app, but that's another topic
  • Not rechargeable. You can choose between a confusing 3 slot or 4 slot option depending on what types of batteries you'll be using in the Wing Drum, but they are not internally rechargeable. Not good.
  • Larger squared off enclosure. One of the most beautiful things about the Orba is the ergonomics, and an important part of that is the size and shape. The Orba fits beautifully in your hand. It's a joy to hold, handle, and manipulate. This boxy thing just seems awkward. Of course I haven't held one, but you can easily see that it's much bigger and smaller hands might actually have trouble gripping it all the way across the bottom. The Orba was designed to be played in the palm of your hand. This looks like it might only work properly on a table top. 
  • No haptics. That is, no vibrational feedback. That's one of those things that you don't realize how important it is and how you'll miss it until it's gone.
  • No Bluetooth. Seriously? Almost 300 bucks and no Bluetooth?
  • No sequencing. Seriously? Almost 300 bucks and no sequencing?
  • No percussion sounds. Seriously? Almost 300 bucks and no percussion sounds on an electronic "drum?" Since the Wing Drum uses sampling technology, they have the opportunity here to excel in the percussion area, but no. And, this leads to the next "bad."
  • No modes. The Orba gives you Drum, Bass, Chord, and Lead modes so that you can layer them and come up with complete loops. The Wing drum has no percussion sounds, so no Drum mode, no bass sounds, no chording capabilities except by playing them yourself. No fun.
  • Weak MIDI implementation. The Orba is a suprisingly, almost shockingly, powerful fully compliant MPE (!) USB or Bluetooth (!) MIDI controller. The Wing Drum is does not support MPE MIDI and uses a standard micro MIDI connector. That standard MIDI connector might actually be good for some older pure MIDI only devices, but all of the important DAWs support wireless MIDI.
  • Much fewer gestures. The Wing Drum senses the area that your finger is covering on the pad, so in theory they should be able to support pressure sensitivity and the location of your finger, but they only mention velocity and tilt. The Orba senses and supports tapping, pressing, radiating, spinning, moving, tilting, shaking, sliding, vibrato, and bumping. 
The Ugly

  • I don't like the placement of the control buttons right on the playing surface. One of the nicest things about the Orba is the way that you just "swoosh" all the way around the sensors and "shake" back and for between them. The control buttons on the Wing Drum right in one of the most strategic places on the controller might get in the way.
  • Choice of "colors." Black, white, with wood. Orba at least has some silicone sleeve options that look pretty good. The wood exterior and finish is bleh. 
  • The construction. The screw heads sticking out on top? The bottom with one of those plastic battery covers where the clip breaks off and you have to tape the batteries in with electricians tape. The square section cut out on top where you make the connections.
  • The demos. The TWO demos available are both terrible. It seems difficult to make a bad sounding Orba demo.
  • The manual. Oh wait. There is no manual yet.
  • The protective pouch. To be fair, you get nothing with the Orba, but the optional Travel Case or Protective Sleeves look a lot better and are reasonably priced. 
  • Support for rechargeable batteries is YOU disassemble the thing and install your own rechargeable battery holder. Yuk.
  • The price! Almost $300 U.S. Really? I wonder how many of these they're going to sell.
In Summary 

A couple of the features, selectable scales and timbres without an app, are nice for live performances. I might pay 60 bucks for something like this, but $300? Nope. No thanks. I don't think Artiphon has anything to worry about in the near future. This is their game to lose right now, if they don't smartly implement some of the most requested features within the next few months.

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