So, how do I get my hands on one of these?

The AlphaSphere nexus is currently available directly through our website if you are based in UK/Europe/Australia, or for those of you in the US/Canada/Japan you can buy these through local retailers – a full list is available here. If you live elsewhere and want to buy an AlphaSphere nexus please get in touch! The AlphaSphere elite series is now sold out, but we are taking pre-orders for the next batch which will be available again in Autumn 2014.

And how much does it cost?

AlphaSphere nexus retails for £678.90, €799 and $899. AlphaSphere elite is £1000 without tax.

What is the difference between the AlphaSphere nexus and the elite series?

The nexus is our primary model and features the 48 pressure-sensitive touchpads, our MIDI mapping software AlphaLive, and is a bus-powered USB device. The elite series includes a hardware MIDI-out port, so you can connect to external MIDI hardware, a series of assignable buttons and dials on the base, and a soft-touch finish on the body.

So is this an instrument, or a controller?

The AlphaSphere is designed to be a musical instrument and offer a new playing style to modern musicians, sound designers, composers and producers. Technically it works as a hybrid MIDI controller, sampler and sequencer which can be programmed when connected to a computer.

How is this different to an existing MIDI controller?

There are a number of features of the AlphaSphere that differentiate it from your standard MIDI keyboard or controller:

  • It has a completely different playing style; the AlphaSphere has been designed to be not restricted to the western classical tradition but to be open to a myriad of different musical languages. Featuring a series of different logical notational arrangements, which can be mapped to the spherical hexagonal lattice.
  • Each of the 48 pads feature a pressure sensitive interaction design. The pads of the AlphaSphere give you a lot more physical depth in terms of applying pressure than a standard MIDI controller, and are soft to touch allowing the capacity for a lot more expression than a normal MIDI controller. The instrument is fully compatible with polyphonic aftertouch. This allows each note or sound to be modulated individually, as opposed to channel aftertouch – a feature found more commonly on controllers which doesn’t interpret input for each key played.
  • It is a multichannel MIDI instrument, allowing you to play multiple MIDI instruments and sounds at the same time using different sets of pads, making it a perfect tool for live performance.
  • It is infinitely programmable, allowing any MIDI note and channel to be applied to any of the pads, as well as enabling you to set each pad’s pressure data to either poly aftertouch, channel aftertouch, CC messages, or pitch bend. The accompanying software, AlphaLive is open source, so any feature you would like to program yourself is a line of code away.
  • It is a spherical (see below).

Why is it spherical?

The design of the AlphaSphere takes ergonomic concerns into account, your hands are naturally curved and a ball is a natural playable shape. The form allow you to explore notation cyclically and explore a playing style which is not only fresh but is also as familiar as some of the most ancient musical instruments on the planet.

Do the pads break?

Yes, after heavy usage the pads will begin to break. It is for this reason we provide replacement rubber and caps that are very easy to replace.  This is the same concept as having to replace guitar strings or drum skins. To prolong the life of the pads we recommended not playing the AlphaSphere with long fingernails, as they are more likely to break the pads.

Can I remove the sphere from its base?

No, it is not possible to remove the the AlphaSphere from its base. The instrument has been designed to played on a flat surface. However, it is fairly lightweight and can be mounted on a stand.

How can I connect it to my computer?

The AlphaSphere connects to the computer via USB 2.0.

What software will it work with?

The AlphaSphere comes with its own software, AlphaLive, which enables the instrument to act as a MIDI controller, sampler, step-sequencer, and OSC (Open Sound Control) controller. Beyond that it will work with any software that supports MIDI or OSC. MIDI integration allows the AlphaSphere to connect to the majority of available DAWs (digital audio workstations) and software synthesizers, with OSC extending the instruments connectivity to various general multimedia applications as well as a wide range of programming environments and languages.

How can I connect the AlphaSphere with my DAW?

When connected to a computer the AlphaSphere device will simply be recognised as a standard MIDI device. Therefore you can connect it to your DAW like you would connect any other MIDI keyboard or controller. However please note that you must have AlphaLive running to produce any kind of MIDI messages.

Is AlphaLive a plugin?

No. AlphaLive is a standalone application. 

An audio plugin found within a DAW typically does either one of two things:

  1. Takes in an audio input, modifies the sound, and outputs the modified audio.
  2. Takes in a MIDI input, generates sound based on the MIDI messages, and outputs the audio.

AlphaLive can output audio however it has neither of the capabilities of inputting audio or MIDI note data. AlphaLive is an application that you run alongside any MIDI software, and in regards to integrating the AlphaSphere with your MIDI software AlphaLive is responsible for simply mapping MIDI note, channel, and pressure data over the set of pads as desired, as well as actually producing the MIDI messages that are then forwarded on to your MIDI software.

Can I send MIDI data from AlphaLive to my DAW without an AlphaSphere connected?

Yes. On Mac OS X, when launching AlphaLive without the AlphaSphere connected it will create a virtual MIDI device. This will allow you to send MIDI messages directly from AlphaLive to your MIDI sequencing software without the need of the AlphaSphere device.

On Windows, virtual MIDI devices are not supported directly within the operation system. However when launching AlphaLive without the AlphaSphere connected it will provide you with the option to connect AlphaLive to a MIDI output device. You can then use virtual MIDI port software (such as loopMIDI) to route the output of AlphaLive to the input of your MIDI sequencing software.

This is a useful feature for when you want to create and test MIDI-based AlphaLive projects when you don’t have an actual AlphaSphere available. You can emulate pad presses on AlphaLive by performing alt-click-drag on the virtual pads.

How are the virtual pads on the AlphaLive interface mapped to the layout of the pads on the AlphaSphere?

The central circular section on the AlphaLive interface is the Pad Layout section that represents a 2D version of the pad layout on the AlphaSphere arranged in rows as if you are viewing the device from top down and the pads have been laid out flat. To match this layout with that on the hardware, orientate your AlphaSphere so that the USB port is facing directly away from you (if you have an AlphaSphere elite this will result in the dials and button being directly in front of you).

How are the pads numbered on the Pad Layout section of the interface?

The pads are numbered from 1 to 48, starting at the base and spiralling up clockwise to the pads at the top of the ‘Sphere.

Does AlphaLive come with an audio library?

AlphaLive comes with a 1GB audio sample library provided by the likes of 5Pin Media, Zero-G, and Loopmasters, containing drum beats and melodic loops, as well as a set of drum construction kits. This library is provided on a DVD that is packaged with the instrument. You can access the sample library from within AlphaLive using the Toolbox section at the top-right hand side of it’s interface.

Where can I learn how to use AlphaLive?

There are a number of available tutorial videos available at here that will teach you all aspects of using AlphaLive and the AlphaSphere as well as guides on connecting our products with other applications. We will be regularly adding new tutorials, so keep an eye out for new videos and guides. Also AlphaLive comes with an extensive reference manual that you can open by going to Help -> Reference Manual from the applications menu bar, or view online here. AlphaLive also contains an Info box at the bottom of its interface that tells you what each control does.

What languages does AlphaLive support?

AlphaLive currently supports English, Japanese and Chinese, with support for further languages coming soon.

What operating systems can AlphaLive run on?

AlphaLive can run on Mac OS X 10.5 and above and on Windows XP Service Pack 3 and above.

Is AlphaLive available for iOS or Android?

No, though we would love to get the AlphaSphere running on these platforms in the future.

What sound drivers does AlphaLive support?

AlphaLive supports Core Audio on OS X, and ASIO, WASAPI/Windows Audio and Direct Sound on Windows. We recommend using ASIO on Windows for low-latency audio playback. If your sound card does not have native ASIO support you can try out ASIO4ALL: The Universal ASIO Driver For Windows Driver Model Audio. The Windows WASAPI/Windows Audio can also produce an acceptable latency.

Is AlphaLive free to download and use?

Yes, it is completely free to download and use by anyone. However the supplied audio library is only available to AlphaSphere customers, and is provided on a DVD that is packaged with the instrument.

AlphaLive is open source – What does this mean?

AlphaLive is an open source application, allowing you to access and hack the source code, with the AlphaSphere’s firmware also being open source. 

You can access and download the AlphaLive source code from Github here. It was developed in C++ using the JUCE cross-platform library, and it comes with an Xcode project for building on Mac OS X, a Visual Studio 2010 project for building on Windows, and a makefile for building on Linux. For more details about the source code see here. The source code hasn’t been properly documented yet, though as most of the code is based on the JUCE library you may be able to just use the JUCE documentation and forum for help with understanding the code. 

You can access and download the firmware source code from Github here. It was developed in C using LUFA USB framework. For more details about the source code see here. The source code hasn’t been properly documented yet, though as most of the code is based on the LUFA framework you may be able to just use the LUFA documentation and forum for help with understanding the code.