Fishman Triple Play review
Here's my review of the Fishman Triple Play.
My test set up:
Macbook Pro (mid 2010), 2.66 GHz Core i7, 8GB RAM, Mac OS X 10.6.8
Presonus Firestudio Project audio interface
MOTU Fastlane MIDI interface
Motu Digital Performer 8.04, Logic Pro 9.1.8
I have used a MIDI guitar for years, so I'm comparing the Triple Play directly to a Casio MG-500. This is a MIDI guitar from the mid 80s, with an on board guitar to MIDI converter, an 8 pin output for a regular MIDI cable, and a regular guitar output for the (HSS) pick-ups.
Hardware & Installation:
My first choice of guitar to install the Triple Play pickup on was an Ibanez AM-60 semi: not enough space between the bridge pickup and the bridge, the Triple Play pick-up and mounting kit are too wide.
Second choice: 20 year old japanese Squire Strat: strings too close to the scratch plate, not enough clearance to fit in the MIDI pick up, the Triple Play pick up is too tall.
Third choice: old japanese no name guitar, neck through body construction, looks like one of the Roland synthesizer guitars, Tune-o-matic bridge. I was able to install the Fishman pick up on this one, but the pole pieces did not align on the low E string (string spacing on this japanese Tune-o-matic bridge is significantly narrower than on the Fishman pick up). I experimented with setting the string sensitivity on the E to maximum, still not usable, too many notes were simply not recognized.
The fourth guitar I tried is a 40 year old Gibson SG. This kind of worked. The MIDI pick up can be installed, the strings align correctly. But the pin cut out for the strap pin on the bracket is not deep enough, so the bracket does not rest on the guitar top as it's supposed to. And the bracket tail is too long, so it extends over the back of the guitar. Here's a picture:
A Gibson SG is not really an unusual guitar. Bottom line: not enough thought was put into the design of the Triple Play guitar hardware.
Here's a picture of the on board controls of the Casio MIDI guitar. Try to figure out which control does what:
Now here's a picture of the Triple Play controller.
Can you figure out what the round button does, even which parts of it are 'buttons' (can you press the middle piece?). Me neither. More on that later..
The cable on the Triple Play controller is too short for mounting the controller on a guitar strap, and no strap brackets are included.
The controller can be charged via USB.
There is no way to replace the rechargeable battery (!).
There is no battery indicator on the controller.
On the computer side, there is a USB dongle with the wireless receiver. It is too wide to comfortably plug in another USB device next to it on the Macbook Pro. If you gently tap on it, you can hear the parts inside rattling around, so my guess is that the casing could have been made a little narrower without much effort.
Again, not enough testing was done, this looks like a prototype, not like a finished, shipping product.
Wireless range: I was not able to move away (in the room and outside) far enough to make the connection drop, so this is pretty good.
There are 3 'parts' to the software: the firmware on the USB dongle, the Triple Play software, and the 3rd party software that's included (via download).
The manual states that the 3rd party software should be installed first, so that the Triple Play software can find the presets. First sign of poor software design.
All software is authorized via serial numbers.
This is ok, not too much hassle, but it's an outdated authorization scheme. The more modern (and more secure) way to do things is to download software via the Mac App Store, no serial required, and the software is automatically bound to your email address on all your computers.
This also centralizes the software updates, no need to search manually in 4 different places for the different pieces of software…
Reality is: firmware, and all software, required immediate updates after the first download/install from the Fishman website. With the expected crashes of the NI Service Center (more on that later..).
This is really bizarre: the software is available for download on the Fishman website, but the software versions are outdated. It's a website, providing download links to the current versions is the main advantage over shipping software on a CD. And it should be easy enough to keep the website up to date…
Triple Play Software
Opening the Triple Play software was the next WTF moment: this is Windows software, ported to the Mac without modification.
On the Mac, there is always a menu bar on top of the screen. This means, there is always a menu bar, even when no app is open, the menu items are always in the same place, so you can build motor memory for opening the 'File menu' (for example), you can always see all menus regardless of the window size.
The menu on the Triple Play software is just one item named Triple Play. Then there is a second menu bar at the top of the Triple Play window.
This becomes extremely bizarre when the Triple Play software is open in a DAW; you have two different menu bars on top of each other:
The Triple Play window menu bar has 'Preferences' in the 'Options' menu (instead of the Triple Play menu), and the 'cmd-,' shortcut for opening application preferences does not work.
Cmd-s does not work for saving unsaved patches, you have to click on the save button (with a floppy disk symbol) for saving the first time.
The software is 32 bit only. Weird.
Here's a screenshot:
The 'mixing board' portion has one audio channel, which is fed from your audio interface, and 4 'synth' channels fed by the Triple Play. So Fishman's idea is to feed the guitar to an interface, into the Triple Play software, and use the Guitar Rig LE as an amp sim. Then feed the MIDI output of the Triple Play pick up into one of the synth channels for the soft synths and samplers.
Every DAW automatically scans for new Audio Unit plug ins on launch. When you first open the plug in window in the audio channel of the Triple Play software, there are no plug ins. You have to manually scan for them. OK. Then, after scanning, you open the plug in window of the first 'synth' channel. Even after the first scan, no synths found here. So you have to scan again on this channel for the virtual instruments.
This kind of finds some instruments:
- it does not find any 64 bit plug ins
- it's VST only, the Triple Play software does not recognize any Audio Units
This is bad. Audio Units have been the default plug in format on OS X for way over 10 years. The idea behind it is that you have one plug in format for all apps and DAWs, that you have one centralized location for all audio plug ins.
VST is a proprietary format owned by Steinberg, and VST plug ins are not supported in Garageband, Logic, Digital Performer 7 and earlier, etc.
You can load the Triple Play software into a DAW as an Audio Unit. Which then hosts VST instruments. So it's an AU plug in that hosts a VST plug in. More weirdness.
Configuring string sensitivity is easy and straightforward, nothing to report.
Double clicking on a synth plug in in the Triple Play mixer opens a new window with the synth, with some Triple Play controls attached to the side of the synth:
When this window is open, the main Triple Play window becomes unresponsive. If you want to save a patch, you have to close the synth window first, save, and open it again to create new sounds.
So you cannot create a sound, save on the fly, and create the next one.
Cmd-w does not work for closing the synth window.
The patch browser has 140 factory patches. Around 125 of those patches are absolutely awful, unusable. The other 15 are usable after some editing. Not a single patch is really good, and shows off what you can actually do with a MIDI guitar and synths.
Patch browsing is awkward. You cannot drag multiple patches from the factory presets to the user area, one at a time only.
When you want to rename a patch, you double click it, right? No. Double clicking throws you out of the patch browser, back into the mixer window. To rename in the patch browser, you click the patch, it takes several seconds to load (no moving or renaming patches without actually loading the sound…), then you click the 'Rename' button, and start typing. Nothing happens. Because the cursor focus is gone. You have to manually click into the naming field to bring the cursor back, then you can type to rename the patch.
The rename window looks like this:
Compared to a similar window in another app:
The difference: the cancel button is on the right side, in all other apps in OS X it's on the left side. There is no highlight of the default button, so you don't know if hitting return means 'save' or 'cancel'.
You can browse patches by using the 'up' and 'down' buttons on the controller. So the only way to switch patches is one up or one down.
Compared to the Casio controller: you can go into a 'program change' mode, which assigns a program change command to each note on each string. So you can map 'Vibraphone' to 5th fret of the e-string. You can jump to any other sound by flipping the switch to 'program change', playing a note, and flipping the switch back to 'play'.
In the Triple Play software, you can create patch folders ('songs'), with a selection of patches, and save those selections. Looks like this:
The folder with the Windows 95 -style '+' sign is always closed by default when you first open the window.
Navigation is awkward. Why did they not just copy Column View from the Finder? The 'Patches' list in the middle shows the content of the folder 'mod' on the right. Like a messed up, reverse column view.
There is no option for 'Favorites' in the patches.
There is no 'search' in the patch browser.
You cannot see which synth a patch uses in the browser.
You cannot display factory patches, user patches and songs in one window.
There is no Panic button.
There is no BIG patch name readout option for actual stage use.
When you open a synth window, move it to a 2nd monitor, close it, and open it again, Triple Play places it back on the first monitor, it forgets the window position. This, again, is something that works correctly in all other apps.
If you open the Triple Play software once without your audio hardware attached, it forgets all hardware settings, you have to re-configure everything (selected interface, latency etc).
Most users will not consciously notice all the things that are off, but will feel that everything is kind of awkward, slow, and stops you in your tracks.
The Triple play controller has two additional 'left' and 'right; switches. This brings you into a menu tree in the software. Again, not a column view type display, so it's hard to see where you actually are in the tree.
You can navigate to patches, and to things like Split options, string sensitivity, etc.
So the engineers at Fishman think that it's not really important to be able to jump between sounds when you play live, but it's really important to be able to go into a menu that lets you edit string split areas remotely, while you're on stage…
The 'synth-guitar-both' switch on the controller is a remote control for the mute buttons on the Triple Play software only, it obviously has no effect whatsoever on the actual guitar signal. It's completely superfluous, because your patches save the 'mute' settings anyway.
Trying to find a good thing to say about the Triple Play software:
the Dock icon looks really nice:
3rd party software that comes with Triple Play:
These are all 'light', stripped down versions of software, designed to encourage you to purchase the 'full' versions.
Presonus Studio One 2:
DAW, not really necessary, as each Mac comes with Garageband, can't say much, as I haven't used it in depth, loading Triple Play as an AU plug in worked, performance was good, first impression was that it's a little awkward to use, but this can easily be attributed to me being used to DP and Logic.
Studio One does not have a Notation view.
NI Guitar Rig:
In the past, I have only used the virtual amps included in Logic, which were surprisingly good, definitely usable.
The sounds in Guitar Rig are awful beyond description. Not even remotely usable. Some of the distorted sounds have an extremely loud hiss. All distorted sounds remind me of an electric razor. Not even remotely guitar-like. There are no dynamics. No touch responsiveness.
I created one clean sound from scratch, to make sure that it's not just bad presets. I used it for practice for two evenings. Depressing.
Good sampler with a horrible user interface. Some good samples included. None of the sounds and samples are optimized for use with a guitar. The Kontakt AU plug in is the single most common source of crashes when used in a DAW.
Kontakt is definitely usable, if you create your own sounds.
(I own the full version of Kontakt, so I can't provide any info on the limitations of the 'light' version…).
The only synth included, and a really poor choice, because you cannot program your own synths in the LE version. Creating your own synths is the core strength of Reaktor, providing a 'player' version really misses the point, IMHO.
NI Service Center
is used to authorize and update NI apps, and crashes at least once each time you use it.
is yet another sampler. Why?? Kontakt is more powerful. Sample Tank is old software, the UI is not great. Some good sounds included.
is music notation software. When using Triple Play or the Casio MIDI guitar, tracking is so poor that you really cannot play anything in time, some notes get lost even when playing very slowly (with audio buffer size set to 64 samples..). You can use the software to manually create scores with a mouse, but not via Triple Play.
(Music notation via Triple Play works without issue in DP8).
Triple Play and DAWs
You can use the Triple Play software as a AU plug-in, or just use the Triple Play hardware as a MIDI device to control a softsynth (create a MIDI track that routes to the VI track, easy…)
To use the Triple Play software as a plug-in, the DAW has to run in 32 bit mode.
The main advantage of 64bit is that an app can access more than 4GB of RAM. This is, obviously, not necessary for small footprint apps like the Triple Play software, but can be very useful for samplers (like Kontakt) with huge instruments, or for large projects in a DAW.
So the fact that the Triple Play app is 32bit not only means that it's technically outdated when it's first released, it's also nonsensical.
I tried both options (Triple Play plug-in and MIDI track/VI) in Logic 9 and Digital Performer 8. Mostly without issue.
For some specific instruments and sounds, communication between the Triple Play and the plug-in just broke down, loud crackling noises, no sound from the synth. This is regardless of how latency is set, whether the Triple Play plug-in is used or not, or how much load there is on the CPU (almost none in my testing).
No issue whatsoever when using the Casio MIDI guitar with the exact same synths, sounds, projects. So there seems to be an issue with the Triple Play firmware.
Using multiple instances of the Triple Play plug in kind of works (you have to open the plug-in window and select that you want to use TP on this track), when it works (in my testing, the connection between the controller and the DAW got lost repeatedly, came back after quitting and relaunching the DAW).
When the Triple Play plug-in window is open, DP hangs on quit.
In Logic, Triple Play worked on empty projects.
I also tried adding a MIDI track to a full blown finished project. I/O buffer size was set to 64 samples. CPU around half full when the project was playing. Latency was around half a second. No joke. I played a note, it came out half a second later. I'm not sure if the issue is with Logic or Triple Play.
Adding a MIDI track to a full blown project in DP8 worked without issue, Triple Play was responsive, no noticeable latency.
Last edited by stratology; 06-10-2013 at 09:54 PM.
Triple Play and Softsynths
Meaning, synths that are not included in the software package.
This is where the fun starts. Even with free synths, like Automat or Zebralette, you can find great sound right away, and tweak them for MIDI guitar usage.
MIDI is a very old protocol, designed for very slow communication of computers many years ago. So volume information, for example, is limited to 128 discrete steps. So to make sounds more expressive and touch responsive, you can map volume information not only to volume, but to Filter Resonance, Filter Frequency, or any other parameter.
Using good sounding synths like Sylenth1 or Diva is so much more satisfying than any of the included synths, or the crappy patches. Any of the u-he synths is also a good example of what a great user interface can look like…
Triple Play and Hardware Synths
You have to use a DAW for the routing. There is a 'synth' patch called 'Hardware' in the Triple Play software. You can open the Triple Play plug in on another track, and manually send program change messages to the external hardware by clicking the arrow keys next to Pgm change:
Whenever you send a program change message, the volume slider below goes back to a low setting (rather than full volume), then you have to turn up the volume manually again before you can play.
In my testing, the overall volume of the sounds in the hardware was reduced as well, regardless of the volume settings in the Triple Play window. Switching the D-110 off and on again brought the volume back to normal.
Using the up-down button on the controller does not send a program change message to the hardware, it throws you out of the hardware window, and loads a new patch.
Tracking is great (when it works), especially compared to the old Casio MIDI guitar. I tried the Jamorigin software not too long ago, playing chords with three or more notes always meant dropping at least one of the notes. The Fishman pick-up tracks significantly better than that.
All other functionality that may be useful live, like switching between sounds, sending program change messages, etc is extremely poor, the Triple Play controller is no match for the functionality of the Casio MIDI guitar.
Switching between patches in the Triple Play software (via the button on the controller) is so slow that it's also unusable for live applications (unless you have one sound per song, and can go back to the computer between songs - no way to see which patch is selected from the distance).
Poor design through and through. Poor execution. The software is so bad, it borders on being unusable. Definitely not usable live. Poor choice of bundled software. So many missed opportunities...
Last edited by stratology; 06-11-2013 at 07:40 AM.
Guitar rig sounds "awful beyond description"?
Kontakt has a "horrible user interface" and is only usable if you make your own sounds?
IMO you have very little credibility as a reviewer.
Well my experience is somewhat different. I'm pleased with it.
The tracking is fantastic. In my experience (gr30, gr33, gr55, Vg99, Yamaha g50), its easily the best out of any Pitch To Midi options out there, unless you count non-realtime solutions such as Melodyne. For me, this is the main question, how well does it track (speed and accuracy). Gets an 'A' on this front.
The Wireless works flawlessly. 'A' grade.
It also holds a charge for quite some time.
I don't understand your criticism of Kontakt.
The Software FTP applet I give a 'C'. Its not perfect. I agree it needs a 64bit version. I would also prefer that you could customize what the buttons do on the FTP unit (ie the 'left right' buttons could be assigned specific CC's).
Ultimately for my uses however, the prepackaged software is completely unnecessary. I don't particularly like it and it could use some tweaks, but you don't need it. Just plugging in the receiver gets you all really need in many cases. Your DAW/Host should see the FTP without running its app. Theres also an upcoming firmware which adds more to the 'hardware mode.'
I have found that using the FTP live is fine.
If you are experiencing slow patch changes, that may be your system (Slow Hard drive where samples are stored/not enough ram). Patch changes aren't as quick as my gr55, but my gr55 isn't loading ANYWHERE near the complexity/size samples that I have set up for the FTP (Large Kontakt samples).
I have a dedicated setup running off a pretty old laptop with 4 gigs ram. Using Cantabile as the main VST host, and im able to run Kontakt, M-Tron Pro, and Ez Keys all simultaneously without hiccups. Im using a Roland FC-300 to send CC's to change Volume, Hold, Synth Muting, Panic all notes off, and Patch/song change info. Much of this is due to Cantabiles flexibility, but it plays nicely with the FTP with or without running the FTP vst applet.
I've also used the FTP with Sonar X2 Producer Edition without significant problems.
I agree theres room for improvement, especially in regards to how the Hardware mode sends different CC commands, but that should be improved soon.
A better approach would have been to state that you hear no noise on any of the amp types in Guitar Rig (do you?), and thus think the sounds work.
Or maybe even ask why I think that Kontakt is a "Good sampler with a horrible user interface", to use the wording of the review.
So here are a few examples:
- Kontakt's UI is written for Windows, with Windows conventions, and ported to the Mac without adapting to the differences (so the UI is actually ok if you're a Windows user..)
- even with setting fonts to 'large' in Options, type is small and pixellated, hard to read
- the screenshot in the review shows patch selection in the 'Elements Selection' Library. The topmost item is called 'Pad', and is not a patch, but a way to navigate to the next higher level in the organizational hierarchy (> bad UI design) by a double click rather than a single clich (> bad UI design)
- navigation in the Files section is based on the look and functionality of Windows 95, with folder symbols with '+' signs to expand, rather that column view, or the flippy triangles of list view
- two finger scrolling does not work for changing parameters in the instruments
- double clicking a new patch does not replace the previously selected patch by default, but creates a multi
I don't want to turn this into a Kontakt review, but you can probably see where I'm coming from. Again, the standard for great UI design is set by apps like the synths from u-he, so feel free to compare the UIs.
BTW, deanesque, I just edited out an awful, inexcusable, very embarrassing technical mistake I made in the original review. Had you spotted it, that would have been an excellent choice to discredit me...
Last edited by stratology; 06-11-2013 at 10:26 AM. Reason: typo
A Mac with 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 7200RPM hard disk is pretty standard, not a performance challenged config by any means.
I'm comparing it with the Casio MIDI guitar sending program change messages to the d-110, which switched sounds instantaneously.
I agree with many things in your post, good suggestions etc.,...
Part of me is disappointed that it's not a home run, and part of me is happy to just keep on trucking with my GR-20.
I agree wholeheartedly about the Kontakt UI too, what a nightmare!!
Sorry I got off topic a bit. Overall I thought your review of the Fishman Triple Play was excellent, and very thorough. Thank you!
The Gr55 does a ton of things that the fishman doesn't do, but the FTP does Pitch to Midi better.
The gr55 is a self contained stage ready floor unit that has several integrated functions. It does Pitch To Midi conversion, has 2 PCM synth modules, FX modeling, Amp modeling, Guitar modeling, and alternate tuning processing. Its an extremely versatile device, and can be tweaked quite a bit.
The FTP does Pitch To Midi conversion and requires a substantial amount of additional gear. It does not do FX, Amp, or Guitar Modeling (at least it doesn't do it with the hardware supplied). It requires a computer (or a hardware USB to MIDI adapter) in order to use.
The FTP is better at Pitch To Midi conversion. Its tracking is faster and more accurate, especially on the lower pitched strings (E and A). The gr55 isn't exactly BAD at this, but you are more limited in terms of playing faster parts on the lower pitched strings. ALL pitch to midi requires the player to adapt! You have to have a much cleaner playing technique with Pitch to MIDI. You can tweak the gr55 a fair amount (the Low Velocity Cut setting is absolutely critical), but ultimately the FTP uses a superior method and the difference between the two is noticeable.
If you want live Pitch To Midi, the gr55 allows one to easily jump in, and it has everything you need integrated into a small tough floor unit. The FTP can also be used Live, but as stated above requires a Laptop, suitable low latency audio interface for computer, and midi foot pedal (not needed but useful). Even with all these things, the FTP wont do what the gr55 does (fx, amp, and guitar modeling). The FTP comes with a trial version of Guitar rig which will do fx and amp modeling, but the audio is not sent from the FTP to the computer and you don't get any guitar modeling or alternate tunings as the FTP doesn't do Hexaphonic audio processing like the gr55 does.
FWIW I used to use a JTV/HD500 combo with a gr55 to handle the midi stuff live. Im currently testing out a laptop rack setup with the FTP to replace the gr55 side of things. The FTP's superior Pitch to Midi performance allows you to drive Midi sound sources that are better than the internal gr55 synths. The question is whether having those sounds is worth the hassle of a lot more gear on stage. To be fair, the gr55 can also drive external Midi sound sources, but it doesn't perform as well when driving external sources (roland units have always seemed to be this way in my experience).
If you want the best possible realtime Pitch to Midi for recording, get the FTP, but be prepared to rely on other items.
If you don't need realtime, the best Pitch to Midi is Melodyne.
If you don't need Pitch To midi and just want Midi Guitar, you can get a Guitar Shaped Keyboard like the You Rock Gen 2 or a Ztar.
Last edited by germanicus; 06-11-2013 at 04:52 PM.
My first hand observations:
I bought the Triple Play.
Live playing application in a 3 piece band w/ lead vocalist not interested in recording.
Have used the Roland 20, 30, 33, and 55 units as well as the Axon system.
Really didn't like dealing with the 13 pin cable.
Not being tech oriented the Triple Play was a hassle to get up and running.
Tracking is the best I have tried
Love the Wireless !
The sounds were as disappointing as the Axon system sounds.
Tried taking my computer to gigs and running the Triple Play, didn't work out very well.
Bought a Kenton Midi Host to run my keyboard synth sounds....workable but far from what I hoped for.
IMHO If Fishman had this in a Roland self with contained synth module that had useable sounds they would have a great product....If Roland had a wireless guitar synth system they would rule.
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That many audio channels (at least 7 - one for each string plus one for your magnetic pickups) over wireless isn't practical anytime soon.
The FTP actually processes Pitch to Midi before being sent over the wireless.
Great review, thanks. If it wasn't so well written and thorough I probably would have stopped reading right about here;
Some of what you've stated regarding the included software indicates to me that you may not be as much of a music software connoisseur as you might have me think you are.
I do appreciate your lengthy, & obvious efforts here, but I've actually been making a decent living using Logic, Kontakt, Guitar Rig, etc etc (along with too many other music software synths/programs to mention - including Zebra 2) for well over 20 years now.
On a mac.
I just put together a new/used mac pro rig last October. I can count them number of crashes I've had due to Kontakt on zero fingers. In fact, I've had zero crashes, period. This is 40+ hours per week usage - full time. Part of this is probably because I really know my stuff when it comes to computer based studios in general. The point being, my experience with Kontakt is not at all like yours. While it's fine for you to relay your experience on your rig, I have problems with the notion that because it doesn't work well for you, it probably won't work for anyone. That's simply incorrect.
I've been using Kontakt since it came out. I've also used a variety of hardware, and software samplers including the EXS24 in conjunction with all the Redmatica stuff. For many, many years. Kontakt still does quite a few things no other sampler can even come close to doing. Period. It's not the only cool, sample based tool in my arsenal, but it is my go to sampler. It simply never crashes my rig.
I could continue to split hairs over your feelings about GR too, but like all tools, they're only as good as what you can get out of them.