Friday, March 12, 2010

Sound Controller by Jim Kleefeld

Howdy, everyone!

Just (literally) got back home after being out near NYC for the last few days. Slammed with shows - what recession???

I'll skip the housekeeping for now as this entry is already going to be long and I have to re-pack as I'm only home one day before hittin' the road again.

Today's review is Sound Controller by Jim Kleefeld. You can buy it at Hocus Pocus for $106.95. Here's the link:

WHAT IT IS: Essentially, this is a device that allows you to control your music while you are performing from the stage. You can skip tracks, rise volume or down, pause, etc.

MY HISTORY: Before getting into this, I'll tell you where I'm coming from so you understand my point of view, as my viewpoint may not apply to you.

Years ago (too many) when I started adding music to my shows, I had a cassette tape set up and I'd walk over to it and press "play" or pause as needed, trying to have the individual songs timed out. Klunky and not very professional. Then I switched to a CD player, but still had to walk over and forward to the right track, etc. NOT professional.

I should point out that in my magic shows, I will have anywhere from 6 to 10 music cues, so it's not a ton, but I also do Stage Hypnosis shows, and in those shows, I'll have up to 25 music/effect cues, so the demand is higher.

Then I bought a used Virtual Soundman. Fantastic! I bought it for $400 (and it retailed, at the time, for $800.) It was finicky - I could never get the auto-fade and track advance down reliably...the buttons just wouldn't cooperate. So I would just go from track to track and inside of fading, I would stop the music while the audience was applauding to cover the abrupt stoppage of the music. It worked GREAT for about 4 years.

My only issue with Virtual Soundman is that they don't make them anymore, so I've been looking for a new device that I can buy a "spare" of. That's when I heard about sound Controller.

That's my music background in a nutshelll...Oh, and I'm NOT a "techie." I'm clueless - I want EASY.:)

WHAT YOU GET: You get the Sound Control unit, the specially gimmicked remote, a CD with PDF instructions, two silent tracks, a ton of sound effects, JPEG graphics, routine ideas and so much more.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Jim has taken a device "off the shelf" intended for use with an iPod (Apple Product) and adapted it for people like us. Jim did not build this thing, but boy, has he done a fantastic job of making it accessible to boneheads like me.

INSTRUCTIONS: Jim's PDF instructions are well-written, clear, concise and packed with the details to walk someone through the process of using iTunes and using the Sound Controller, including what you'll need in addition to the Sound Controller. (Essentially, you'll need an 1/8" cord, your own PA system, access to iTunes on your computer and you'll need a iPod.

Be forewarned - Sound Controller will NOT work with every iPod. For instance, it won't work with my iPod Touch. I don't see this as a big deal, though. Let's say you have an iPod and you order this device and you discover it won't work with your particular iPod - you'll need to get an appropriate model, for say, $80-$120. You're STILL saving HUNDREDS of dollars off of a Virtual Soundman or the (still available, I think) Showtech.

I'm not going to list all the iPods this is compatible with as I'm sure I'll get it wrong, but the Hocus Pocus support team should be able to help you out.

From a dollar standpoint, it's a bargain.

Jim's included JPEG files enable you to have color-coded track and/or "plylist" displays on your iPod's creen so you can tell at a glance what track you're on. He includes clipart for different theme shows and some of the sound effects are cool.

He's also included a 15min silent track and a 60minute silent track that keeps the iPod from "sleeping" between your songs - a great solution to that energy-saving quirk of the iPod.

All in all, Jim has taken an OK device and made it nearly perfect for stage performers.

THE DEVICE: The main device includes a "dock" thingie that plugs into your iPod that enables it to receive a remote signal from the included remote, allowing you to control your music from a distance. Jim claims a distance of 150 feet. I've tried it up to 50 or so feet, so for me, it works great.

Interestingly, while the radio aspect of the device enables you to use it WITHOUT pointing the remote directly at your iPod (as with a TV remote) I did notice while testing the device outdoors that when I had my porch between me and the device, the signal would not go through, so if you're onstage and you need to be plugged into a sound booth that is walled off from you, well, better test it thoroughly.

Personally, I always have my sound system (or if I'm flying, the client's sound system) near me, so it's not a bother. The signal will go through cloth just fine (I threw my coat on it during testing) so if your sound system is behind a cloth backdrop, you should be OK.

THE REMOTE: Jim took the little remote and affixed different sized beads or "jewels" to each remote button so users can tell by feel which button they are looking for.

(Quick Note: Jim covers most of these features, including the 'tactile' nature of the buttons on his own youtube video promoting the product so I'm not "exposing" anything.)

I love the find-the-button-by-touch method, as that's how the Virtual Soundman works too. Here's the big issue with this device: the darn buttons are so close together that it can be easy to press the wrong button IF YOU PRESS THE BUTTONS THROUGH YOUR PANTS POCKET.

This is the problem I ran into with this device.

So far, I've tested it at four school shows. Jim makes a big deal of sneakily pressing the buttons of the remote through your pants pockets so your audience 'has no idea who's controlling the music.'

When I did it, the music did not work at ALL in the first two shows. This was after repeated practice at home. Quite frankly, I was ready to smash this device and stomp on it til it died...but then I realized it was really my fault...:)

You see, I wear pleated pants, so feeling around for the little buttons (which are awfully close together on the remote) I was pressing the wrong buttons over and over.

The next day, I tossed the idea of being "covert" about controlling my music out the window. I placed the remote in my right pants pocket and when I needed to control the music, I would reach into my pocket, hold the remote securely with my thumb and third finger, and use my first finger to press the correct button. This "adjustment" of how I used the remote took me about 10 minutes worth of practice in my hotel room between gigs.

I'm happy to say that once I made this adjustment, the next day, both shows were FLAWLESS with Jim's device.

I only tell readers the story so that, if you try to be "covert" and use Jim's "through the pants" method of controlling the device, you may run into problems. It's certainly not a big deal to me and it shouldn't be to you, either. Jim makes a big deal of this on his youtube video, but in my professional work, I've had some people ask me how I control my music and others are impressed with the fact that I CAN control my own music. In other words, trying to be "covert" with controlling your music is not a big concern for clients, unless you're in Vegas or on a cruise ship and in both cases you'll have techs with you ayway.

The Virtual Soundman had a beltclip, so I'm used to having the remote accessible out in the open - I may glue a belt clip o the Sound Controller, I haven't decided.

You may also simply put the remote on your table, in a drawer, out in the open, etc. You could have a second person control it, but then, why have it? (LOL) You could velcro it to your roll-on table...the possibilities are limitless.

Again, I only went into that much detail to warn you of that admittedly minor problem. I personally don't feel that going through the pants to keep the remote as Jim does is a bad thing. I'm glad it's working well for him and it may for you, too. I had to make a very minor adjustment with it and now I'm happy.:)

OTHER DETAILS: If you're familiar with iTunes, then you know how great it is to have a big honkin' library of songs at your disposal. When I had to create a new playlist using my Virtual Soundman, since the VS was designed to work with a minidisk player, I had to have separate little tapes with individual shows. It worked, but with an iPod, I'm able to have SEVERAL different playlists ready at my fingertips. Since I have different versions of every show I do (based on group age levels) I now have in my iPod about 16 different playists...all ina thingie smaller than a cassette tape.

THAT's handy...and I wish I had "discovered" iTunes earlier. I'm slow to embrace or try new technology.:)

The only other consideration is when I used Jim's silent tracks, I needed to have Jim's CD actually IN my laptop or iTunes would not allow me to drag the silent tracks out of my library and into a chosen playlist. It's an odd thing, but simply be ready to have that CD handly when creating a new playlist - no big deal.

POSSIBLE CRITICISMS: I've read some disparaging remarks about this product on the Cafe, saying that it's a commercially available device that Jim has re-packaged. To them I say...


Yes, I censored myself.:) Paul Gross won't like it if I swear on his blog.:)

Jim has added a TON of value to this, from the 'tactile' feature of the remote to the silent tracks, sound effects, specific routine ideas, and the JPEG graphics... but the BIGGEST benefit to this is the fact that Jim has included a very user-friendly instructional manual for guys like me - working pros who don't have either the time or desire to fiddle around with a piece of technology. I'm on the road a LOT and far too busy to worry about saving a few bucks and growing frustrated with trying to figure something out for myself.

OVERALL RATING: Although this device has a few minor quirks, with the low price tag, this little bugger will do everything and MORE that a Virtual Soundman will do...for a fraction of the cost.:)

Highly recommended - 10 out 0f 10.

As always, I welcome all comments. Email me at

Next week I'll be reviewing another product by Jim as well as another magic product. Stay tuned...



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