I am considering buying either a Soundplane or a Continuum. I love the Soundplane's hardware: its simplicity, the beautiful wood, the grid of keys. The hardware is exactly what I would want in an instrument and I love the sustainability and thoughtfulness in the manufacturing process. The Soundplane's grid seems to offer more layout options than the Continuum's hardware, which is important to me (sometimes I like to stack different notes in a column).
However, based on the YouTubes videos I have watched (which is not a completely fair comparison because there are much more Continuum videos than Soundplane ones), I much prefer the sound of the Continuum. The internal synthesizer in the Continuum can produce very beautiful, haunting sounds, which sound so accurate to real instruments.
I am wondering if the Soundplane works smoothly with other synths, would it even be possible to use the same Synths employed by the Continuum? Does anyone have or know of any videos of the Soundplane controlling other synths? I would like to hear this to get a more fair comparison between the instruments.
I own a Soundplane (and an Eigenharp Alpha) but not a Continuum, however I was recently lucky enough have an opportunity to play with a Continuum for a few hours , and explore it... (so some of this may not be 100% accurate, and consider as an 'initial' impression)
First Id say... they are completely different instruments, each has its own merits, both are fantastically made by people who are passionate about what they do.
because of this its 'dangerous' to compare, by 'specs' alone, the feel and the way you play with each is quite each is different, and because both are so expressive, this will come across in the music.
the most obvious difference is the feel, the Soundplane has a wooden easy gliding surface, which gives a little bit... the Continuum a very soft surface which you can really dig into. (the newest models are very sensitive on the surface too).
Neither is better or worst, just different...
Id say I preferred the Soundplane BUT I believe that was due to familiarity - Ive really no idea, if after a month it would still be the case... I think, probably Id end up thinking both have there merits. (my friend who owns the continuum, really liked the soundplane too)
one thing, that is very surprising, is the surface area of the Soundplane is close to the size of the (half size) continuum ... yes the continuum has 44 notes, and the Soundplane 30 cells, BUT the cells on the Soundplane are quite a bit wider. In fact, I was quite surprised how narrow the stripes were on the continuum.
(again no issues either way, but was a surprise to all, when we put them side by side)
and yes, I do love the grid nature of the Soundplane, to give you a bigger note range... or you can use it as 30 'long' keys like a continuum, best of both worlds :)
Next big difference - the continuum is completely standalone, no computer required (assuming you are talking a newer one, which includes the DSP), as well as MIDI output (unfortunately only MIDI DIN, oh it also has CV output)
the Soundplane requires a computer (currently Mac), initially might seem a disadvantage, but it does have the advantage of 'flexibility' which I like (its also open source software)
both Soundplane and Continuum have good midi options, so called 'voice per channel' midi, done in the same way... and yes you can connect to any synth.
additionally the Soundplane has OSC which has many advantages (resolution/speed) , but is not frequently supported.
assuming its a newer continuum, then it has a built in sound generator, which produces some 'native' sounds, and also the Eagan Matrix.
You almost certainly have been hearing the EaganMatrix, which frankly, is fantastic!
The reason for this, is Edmund Eagan has produced (100+ ?) presets which are built explicitly for the continuum, and make use of its x/y/z very intricately, its his skill in building these presets which is amazing, they aren't built as normal synths sounds and then added expression... the expression is the starting point!
( It does seem though, that the Eagan Matrix seems pretty complex to program yourself, and even seasoned Continuum players are over the moon when Edmund releases new presets)
Is this possible with the Soundplane?
the short answer is yes, but you will have to build the presets yourself.
there is no lack of synths to do this with, and you can connect anything...
the obvious choice are Madrona Labs Aaalto and Kaivo (Aalto you get with a Soundplane),
also I can recommend most of U-HE synths (Bazille/Ace are really fun), also Reaktor is great fun too and something I'm using more recently.
the only 'drawback' is we don't seem to have many people sharing Soundplane specific presets, and it takes a bit of learning, to come up with ones that are good... let alone to the level of detail that Edmund Eagan has put into his.
Im actually seeing this as a challenge, and have started working hard on building some more complex patches, trying to use Edmunds approach of using expression as the corner stone... lots to learn, but its a fun journey into sound design!
So fundamentally the Soundplane can 'sound' as good as the Continuum, but the Continuum has an built-in sound engine which shows it off really well.
(BTW, you can actually plug a Soundplane into a Continuum and play the EagenMatrix synth... we didn't get around to trying this, but my friend has plugged his Eigenharp into it, and it worked well)
a parting thought...
the soundplane is connected by a single USB cable to my computer, and is compact (and slim), this means it permanently lives in front of me on my desk. which means I use it all the time... I think sometimes just its look makes me want to touch and play it.
Ive been very surprised how often I just start noodling with it unconsciously... my Eigenharp has been getting jealous :)
I doubt that would be the case with the continuum (due to its depth/connections etc), which Id probably put on a stand like my other synth...
anyway back to the beginning... seriously they are really different, each with its merits, each having a different approach... if you can try both that would be ideal
I would be happy with either/both... in the same way as my Soundplane and Eigenharp complement each other rather then compete.
(sorry for long essay :))
(p.s. of course I've not mentioned the price difference which is quite large... but you know that already :))
Thanks for that detailed response @thetechnobear, it's really special to hear from someone who has had a chance to compare the two instruments.
I would say it's more a question of feel than sound. These instruments can both play many different synthesizers, and a Continuum and Soundplane playing a given synth sound will sound the same, but they will feel different, have different limitations, and that will probably cause the playing to be different too.
It will be a little while before the next batch of Soundplanes is available. I'll make sure to get some more Soundplane-specific patches and videos out into the world by then.
It really makes sense what you say about the Eagen Matrix presets. I imagine with some time and development in the Soundplane community we will see some similar presets for the Soundplane, or hopefully even presets that are easily used on either instrument. Really funny that you can actually plug the Soundplane into the Continuum too. I'd try that solution if not for, as you mentioned, the cost :)
I also agree with you about the look and slim profile of the Soundplane. The portability and ability to leave it on my desk would be major pluses and I love the wood. I also see what you and Randy mean about the feel. Smooth and wooden with a short bounce vs. soft and rubbery with a deeper compression. I'll have to think about which would be better for my playing technique.
Randy, when do you anticipate the next batch of Soundplanes being available?
I hesitate to even mention a date because I'm in research mode now, working on some changes. But I would like to get started on a new run soon, later this summer I hope.
I would also add: depending on whether or not you play an acoustic/electric instrument, everything changes.
I come from a bass/guitar background, hence the fretboard layout of the Soundplane just makes total sense to me.
On the other hand, I am not a keyboard player and I really struggle to play piano, so I'm not even considering the Continuum as a choice: on the one hand the Soundplane is an instrument I can improvise on and can literally play with my eyes closed, on the other hand the Continuum is... well, a keyboard.
If you are a piano or keyboard player of course it'll be the complete opposite for you.
Not taking away anything from any of the two instruments, just throwing it out there.