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Hello everyone,

I hope what I wrote below isn't written in a too confusing manner. I tried to keep it short, but had trouble doing so.

Short background info:

- I passed ABRSM Grade 6 a decade ago before stopping playing the piano completely, now want to start again in my 30s.
- I want to slowly (I know it will take years) regain my skill and prepare for Grade 7 and 8.
- I will have a teacher who will provide feedback once or twice per week and where I will be able to play on an acoustic piano.
- I would prefer to always practice on an acoustic piano, but moving between to houses often because of work and leisure makes an expensive acoustic piano not an attractive investment at the moment.

So, for the next 6 months to one year, I will have to resort to playing on a digital piano. Although digital will never compare to acoustic, I'd like to at least get close enough that my practice will translate somewhat well to acoustic pianos whenever I will have the chance to play them.

I own an ES-100 I bought years ago but never used. I think for the price it is a nice instrument, however, there are three complaints I have:

1. It is way too quiet, and it's hard to hear any change in dynamics when I play forte, piano, etc. No matter whether I used the integrated speakers at max volume, or headphones (Sennheiser HD560s), I have to set the touch sensitivity to High, which is still fairly quiet, and also changes the dynamic range. I am not certain of the dynamics are only so difficult to make out because of the low volume, or if it's the piano in general.
2. The touch isn't as close to an acoustic piano as I'd hope.
3. I'm not fully sold on the sound, but at this price point I prefer it over the usual competitors from Yamaha and Roland.

What I want is a digital piano:
- whose action feels at least somewhat close to a real piano and allows me to play classical well (fast repeated presses of the same keys, etc.)
- which responds to my playing similarly to a real piano and allows me to make songs sound musical (proper dynamics, etc.)
- sounds good (talking about actual quality, not tone/timbre which is subjective), and not just ok.

Now here is where I need help.

I know a lot of people simply use their piano as a MIDI controller because they can get a better sound. I am therefore wondering if that's the approach I should take too, and if I should get a different piano than the ES-100.

Question 1: Can a decent MIDI setup ALWAYS outdo the actual digital piano sound with proper configuration, or only if the piano isn't that great?
Question 2: Does it matter at all which piano you use as a MIDI controller besides how it feels to play? Does the dynamic response I don't like about the ES-100 matter if the sound is produced by software?

Core question of this thread: Can/should I use my ES-100 as a MIDI controller, OR should I get a better piano for normal use (not as a MIDI controller), OR should I get another piano tailored for use as a MIDI controller and use it that way?

What's most important to me is whether or not there is a product/solution which would improve things significantly without costing as much as an acoustic piano, ideally below 2000 euros.

Thanks a lot!

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Do you have local music instrument stores so that you can personally go to ----- for trying out various instruments? Test driving at the local music store is the best bet.

It can also be handy to do a lot of information gathering online - eg. youtube, and reviews about what are the latest instruments. And then go to the music store to see if the ones that might meet your requirements are there for trying out. Also - read the various threads online for recommendations, such as to wind the volume down to zero - and push and release keys abruptly to see if there are clicks and/or overly-loud clunking/thumping noises, ratchety sounds etc. And then - of course - play all the keys to see if the behaviour is fine for you, as well as listen to the sounds when you play ----- think of some basic tests you want to try out before heading to the music store.

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Well, I've already tried a lot a stage pianos in the past, but I'm not trying to find out which is a good digital piano, I'm trying to find out if there is a reason to even buy one considering I frequently read online (including in this forum) that people get much better sound with software using their piano as a MIDI controller.

What I'm trying to figure out is above all the final question in my initial post: whether software solutions are universally better if set up properly, or if a really good digital piano will be better. That's what it will depend upon if I will replace my current piano, and with what.

Maybe if the ES-100 were louder that would solve the dynamics issue as well and I'd be happy with it, but the only options seem to be external speakers (I have a pair of kali lp 6 second wave), but that wouldn't solve the low volume when using headphones. Not sure if using an amp would make sense, and which one I'd need considering the phone alone should already provide a lot of power.

Last edited by Ciferz; 07/03/22 09:52 PM.
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I think that ----- in the end, it's pretty much necessary (unless there is no other choice) to even test midi-controller keyboards at a music store ----- that's if you have music stores there, or can get to one later with some instruments for trying ----- including midi-controllers. This is because it will be down to the features that you're looking for ----- including the touch/behaviour/responsiveness etc, which can only be better understood by personal testing.

You mentioned that head-phones weren't adequately getting what you need. Is that due to inadequate power into the head-phones? Or there is adequate power ----- but you're after more loudness and/or more change in timbre with the quickness (speed) that you strike the keys? Heading to a music store to chat to the staff there can help ----- at a store with highly experienced staff that is. Like - if one mentions head-phone too soft, then they might even suggest recommendations, such as headphone amp, and/or multi-band equaliser modules etc ...... that's if the required dynamics are actually there (but some extra configuration or hardware can make things really shine).

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Originally Posted by Ciferz
What I'm trying to figure out is above all the final question in my initial post: whether software solutions are universally better if set up properly, or if a really good digital piano will be better. That's what it will depend upon if I will replace my current piano, and with what.

Software solutions (quality ones that cost money) are universally better. The ES100 you own is a decent average action but not up to the level you would need to get closer to an acoustic feel. You can get something that will satisfy you for under $2K Euro. Try the better models from Kawai, Yamaha and Roland to see which one is closest to what you like.

Given your background, I would look for a digital with an action that's as close to the acoustic feel you prefer, ignoring the sound engine it comes with, and then buy software like Pianoteq, Synthogy, Garritan, etc to get the sound you want. Most have demo downloads so you can try them out without spending any money upfront. There are tons of threads where people discuss their favorite software, that would help you zero in. Depending what digital you buy, you may also need to buy a set of speakers to get the sound you like.


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since you already own this thing, it'd be a waste to buy a new one. digital pianos have changed little in this decade.

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If you have a computer available, get the free-trial version of Pianoteq Stage, and install it. Also install ASIO4ALL (a fast soundcard driver, that will save you from some trouble with delayed sound).

Connect the ES-100 MIDI-over-USB jack to a USB jack on the PC, plug headphones into the PC. On the ES-100, set "Local Control" to OFF.

Get Pianoteq playing, and experiment with the ES-100's "Touch" setting, and with the "MIDI Velocity" map, and "Dynamic Range" control, in Pianoteq. (There's a lot of information about this process on this forum, and on the Pianoteq User Forum.)

You should be able to get a good dynamic range out of Pianoteq, and something fairly close to an acoustic piano's dynamic response.

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but you can make a really nice leather purse, if you work at it a bit.

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Originally Posted by Ciferz
Hello everyone,

I hope what I wrote below isn't written in a too confusing manner. I tried to keep it short, but had trouble doing so.

Short background info:

- I passed ABRSM Grade 6 a decade ago before stopping playing the piano completely, now want to start again in my 30s.
- I want to slowly (I know it will take years) regain my skill and prepare for Grade 7 and 8.
- I will have a teacher who will provide feedback once or twice per week and where I will be able to play on an acoustic piano.
- I would prefer to always practice on an acoustic piano, but moving between to houses often because of work and leisure makes an expensive acoustic piano not an attractive investment at the moment.

So, for the next 6 months to one year, I will have to resort to playing on a digital piano. Although digital will never compare to acoustic, I'd like to at least get close enough that my practice will translate somewhat well to acoustic pianos whenever I will have the chance to play them.

I own an ES-100 I bought years ago but never used. I think for the price it is a nice instrument, however, there are three complaints I have:

1. It is way too quiet, and it's hard to hear any change in dynamics when I play forte, piano, etc. No matter whether I used the integrated speakers at max volume, or headphones (Sennheiser HD560s), I have to set the touch sensitivity to High, which is still fairly quiet, and also changes the dynamic range. I am not certain of the dynamics are only so difficult to make out because of the low volume, or if it's the piano in general.
2. The touch isn't as close to an acoustic piano as I'd hope.
3. I'm not fully sold on the sound, but at this price point I prefer it over the usual competitors from Yamaha and Roland.

What I want is a digital piano:
- whose action feels at least somewhat close to a real piano and allows me to play classical well (fast repeated presses of the same keys, etc.)
- which responds to my playing similarly to a real piano and allows me to make songs sound musical (proper dynamics, etc.)
- sounds good (talking about actual quality, not tone/timbre which is subjective), and not just ok.

Now here is where I need help.

I know a lot of people simply use their piano as a MIDI controller because they can get a better sound. I am therefore wondering if that's the approach I should take too, and if I should get a different piano than the ES-100.

Question 1: Can a decent MIDI setup ALWAYS outdo the actual digital piano sound with proper configuration, or only if the piano isn't that great?
Question 2: Does it matter at all which piano you use as a MIDI controller besides how it feels to play? Does the dynamic response I don't like about the ES-100 matter if the sound is produced by software?

Core question of this thread: Can/should I use my ES-100 as a MIDI controller, OR should I get a better piano for normal use (not as a MIDI controller), OR should I get another piano tailored for use as a MIDI controller and use it that way?

What's most important to me is whether or not there is a product/solution which would improve things significantly without costing as much as an acoustic piano, ideally below 2000 euros.

Thanks a lot!

IMO, the ES100 action lacks a bit going into Grade 6 and beyond...

The following options are good from Grade 6--8

Stage Piano options (requires external monitors if desiring speakers)

Used Kawai MP11SE
Kawai MP7SE


Piano Controller
Kawai VPC1 + VSTi (Pianoteq, Garritan CFX, VSL D-274 etc) +Laptop/PC and Audio-interface


Portable pianos (have built in speakers/amp)

Kawai ES920

Roland FP90X + VSTi (Pianoteq, Garritan CFX, VSL D-274 etc) +Laptop/PC and Audio-interface

Yamaha P515

--------
Any of these options work for your above requirements and would represent a worthy upgrade for your current level.

*VPC1 is a piano controller with excellent action but no sounds
*FP90X has a nice action with sounds, but awful acoustic piano that needs a VST to sound decent----but has inbuilt speakers (unlike the VPC1)

Last edited by Doug M.; 07/04/22 04:50 AM.

Instruments......Kawai MP7SE.............................................(Past - Kawai MP7, Yamaha PSR7000)
Software..........Sibelius 7; Neuratron Photoscore Pro 8
Stand...............K&M 18953 Table-style Stage Piano Stand
Piano stool.......K&M 14093 Piano stool
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Thank you everyone for the answers!

Originally Posted by SouthPark
I You mentioned that head-phones weren't adequately getting what you need. Is that due to inadequate power into the head-phones? Or there is adequate power ----- but you're after more loudness and/or more change in timbre with the quickness (speed) that you strike the keys?
The HD 560S are very low impedance headphones and can be powered properly by absolutely everything. It is definitely not a power issue. The ES-100 is known to be very quiet compared to most other digital pianos, even when at max volume. Through the internal speakers it is barely loud enough, and with headphones (no matter which ones) it is too quiet for my standards.

As mentioned, I do not know if the lack of dynamics is because it's so quiet, but I get the feeling it is. I have good studio monitors to solve this issue when playing with speakers, but if I were to use external speakers I would rather buy a better stage piano to fully exploit their potential, or use software sound. To solve the issue when using headphones, an amp might work. But I've tried a fairly powerful Atom Labs amp and it doesn't really make it louder either.

So I'm both after more loudness and more change in timbre with speed, but I think the latter will improve with the former under these specific circumstances.

Originally Posted by MarkL
Software solutions (quality ones that cost money) are universally better. The ES100 you own is a decent average action but not up to the level you would need to get closer to an acoustic feel. You can get something that will satisfy you for under $2K Euro. Try the better models from Kawai, Yamaha and Roland to see which one is closest to what you like.

Given your background, I would look for a digital with an action that's as close to the acoustic feel you prefer, ignoring the sound engine it comes with, and then buy software like Pianoteq, Synthogy, Garritan, etc to get the sound you want. Most have demo downloads so you can try them out without spending any money upfront. There are tons of threads where people discuss their favorite software, that would help you zero in. Depending what digital you buy, you may also need to buy a set of speakers to get the sound you like.
Thank you, that is exactly what I wanted to know!
So this means that the feel and responsiveness of the piano is also translated by the software, correct?

Before I make another thread to ask: Do you happen to know what I need to connect the ES-100 to a laptop without a sound card as a MIDI controller and try out Pianoteq? I wouldn't need an audio interface I presume, since the piano has a DAC included, but I would need a MIDI interface? And would I need additional software or drivers? Asio4all was mentioned above, but is there anything I need when the laptop doesn't have a sound card?

It would be great if you could list what I need as well as what I should ideally get. For example maybe a MIDI controller would be enough, but buying an audio interface instead would be better.

Thanks a lot!

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You can play excellent classical music with the onboard sounds of any Kawai or Yamaha from the past 12 years. If your goal is to learn to play piano, time spent fiddling with VSTs is wasted. Spend your time practicing using the onboard sounds.

More recent Kawais have better keyboards than the ES100, but you won’t know whether that matters until you try them in a store.

If it needs to be louder, you want better speakers. As I recall, the ES100 doesn’t have line outs. Try the ES520 or 920 and see if you can control the dynamics better. I’ve been playing professionally on Kawai slab pianos since the ES4, and you can make the, all very musical.


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external speakers are always better. for example, the amp is pretty well designed in the es520, 920, but after taking my 520 apart and looking up the parts it's basically a hair above dollar store chipset + speaker components. crazy

I want to believe they're better in higher end pianos. but I highly doubt it since it goes on the inside and people usually don't look, so they try to get away with alot, if you think the 520 and 920 are $1300 and $1800 now, kind of a bummer that we're not getting premium chips.

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Originally Posted by ColoRodney
You can play excellent classical music with the onboard sounds of any Kawai or Yamaha from the past 12 years. If your goal is to learn to play piano, time spent fiddling with VSTs is wasted. Spend your time practicing using the onboard sounds.

More recent Kawais have better keyboards than the ES100, but you won’t know whether that matters until you try them in a store.

If it needs to be louder, you want better speakers. As I recall, the ES100 doesn’t have line outs. Try the ES520 or 920 and see if you can control the dynamics better. I’ve been playing professionally on Kawai slab pianos since the ES4, and you can make the, all very musical.
Originally Posted by KawaFanboi
external speakers are always better. for example, the amp is pretty well designed in the es520, 920, but after taking my 520 apart and looking up the parts it's basically a hair above dollar store chipset + speaker components. crazy

I want to believe they're better in higher end pianos. but I highly doubt it since it goes on the inside and people usually don't look, so they try to get away with alot, if you think the 520 and 920 are $1300 and $1800 now, kind of a bummer that we're not getting premium chips.

I do have adequate speakers. The Kali LP-6 second wave are entry level, but currently the objectively best product below 1000 euros by all standards. It's not worth upgrading them only for use as stage piano speakers, they are perfect for that.

My main issue is the headphone volume. As pointed out, even a more powerful amp did not really improve things. The base volume this keyboard produces (and others have pointed this out too) is simply too low. Thats why I thought using midi instead of the keyboard sound would at least solve this issue.

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external solves your volume problem, and if needed you can add another amp.

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I don't know any laptop that "doesn't have a soundcard".

If it has a loudspeaker, or a headphone ouput jack, there's a soundcard inside.

Laptops generally have poor loudspeakers, but IMHO their headphone amps are usually adequate.

Install Pianoteq, plug headphones into the laptop jack, run a USB "printer cable" from DP to laptop. That should give you a working system.

If there's no headphone jack, any computer shop should have a "USB-to-audio adapter" for $10 or so. That's a low-end soundcard, and Pianoteq should recognize it as an audio output device.

We can walk you through the Pianoteq configuration, or you can find Youtube tutorials.


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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
I don't know any laptop that "doesn't have a soundcard".

If it has a loudspeaker, or a headphone ouput jack, there's a soundcard inside.

Laptops generally have poor loudspeakers, but IMHO their headphone amps are usually adequate.

Install Pianoteq, plug headphones into the laptop jack, run a USB "printer cable" from DP to laptop. That should give you a working system.

If there's no headphone jack, any computer shop should have a "USB-to-audio adapter" for $10 or so. That's a low-end soundcard, and Pianoteq should recognize it as an audio output device.

We can walk you through the Pianoteq configuration, or you can find Youtube tutorials.

As far as I know, no laptop has a sound card. Maybe there are some exceptions, but at least 99% of them have on-board sound (essentially a chip) and for many things you need an audio interface, DAC, and so on. This is why I am asking about this specific case.

I've also read that the ES-100 can not be directly plugged into the laptop under these circumstances. As far as I've seen, there are two ways to connect it: Through the headphone jack, but this would not provide a MIDI signal but only the sound for recording. Or through a MIDI-to-USB converter cable since the piano doesn't support a direct USB connection. If done this way it appears that a MIDI interface would be needed as well.

Can anyone confirm or deny this? I would like to know what I actually need before purchasing it.

Thank you!

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Originally Posted by Ciferz
I've also read that the ES-100 can not be directly plugged into the laptop under these circumstances. As far as I've seen, there are two ways to connect it: Through the headphone jack, but this would not provide a MIDI signal but only the sound for recording. Or through a MIDI-to-USB converter cable since the piano doesn't support a direct USB connection. If done this way it appears that a MIDI interface would be needed as well.


Look at page 49 in your user's manual to see what the midi in/out connections look like on your piano.

Page 42 will show you how to turn off local control so the piano can control a midi device.

Buy this midi to usb cable from amazon. Plug the two midi connectors into your piano and the usb connector into your laptop.
Plug your headphones into your laptop.
Install the demo pianoteq software Charles suggested, or whatever software you'd like to try. Follow the directions to configure pianoteq and you should be able to play your piano through the pianoteq software on your laptop and hear it on the headphones.
You can send a midi file back to the piano to use the speakers on your piano for output. Or, depending on whether the headphone jack on your laptop is just a headphone jack or also a line out jack, you can send the audio output to speakers/amplifier. I don't see that the ES100 has any line in to support audio input from the laptop, kind of surprising but that's life.


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Originally Posted by Ciferz
. . .I've also read that the ES-100 can not be directly plugged into the laptop under these circumstances. As far as I've seen, there are two ways to connect it: Through the headphone jack, but this would not provide a MIDI signal but only the sound for recording. Or through a MIDI-to-USB converter cable since the piano doesn't support a direct USB connection. If done this way it appears that a MIDI interface would be needed as well.

Oops! MarkL is correct -- you need a MIDI-to-USB adapter to link the ES100 MIDI data stream into Pianoteq. (I should have checked the ES100 specs, before offering advice . . . I suppose the ES100 was designed before the near-universal use of MIDI-over-USB, rather than MIDI-over-5-pin-DIN.)

I use an M-Audio "Uno" for that job -- here on Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/M-Audio-UNO/dp/B00007JRBM

Mark's is way cheaper, and certainly worth trying.

I may be playing fast-and-loose, using "soundcard" to mean "something that converts a digital audio data to analog audio data". Functionally, it's a DAC + ADC, with some surrounding circuitry (mic preamp, headphone amplifier). If you put it in a larger case, and give it some knobs and jacks, it changes to an "USB audio interface", and becomes much more expensive.


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Originally Posted by MarkL
Originally Posted by Ciferz
I've also read that the ES-100 can not be directly plugged into the laptop under these circumstances. As far as I've seen, there are two ways to connect it: Through the headphone jack, but this would not provide a MIDI signal but only the sound for recording. Or through a MIDI-to-USB converter cable since the piano doesn't support a direct USB connection. If done this way it appears that a MIDI interface would be needed as well.


Look at page 49 in your user's manual to see what the midi in/out connections look like on your piano.

Page 42 will show you how to turn off local control so the piano can control a midi device.

Buy this midi to usb cable from amazon. Plug the two midi connectors into your piano and the usb connector into your laptop.
Plug your headphones into your laptop.
Install the demo pianoteq software Charles suggested, or whatever software you'd like to try. Follow the directions to configure pianoteq and you should be able to play your piano through the pianoteq software on your laptop and hear it on the headphones.
You can send a midi file back to the piano to use the speakers on your piano for output. Or, depending on whether the headphone jack on your laptop is just a headphone jack or also a line out jack, you can send the audio output to speakers/amplifier. I don't see that the ES100 has any line in to support audio input from the laptop, kind of surprising but that's life.
Thanks a lot!
As mentioned, I've read on other forums before that it's not this simple with the ES-100 and a laptop without a sound card, but I'll trust this information over the other one. I'll give it a try. What I'm worried about is that the sound quality will suffer because on-board audio chips are much less capable than a good sound card, but wr will see. I also hope I won't need to tweak and play around with pianoteq too much to achieve a satisfying result. After all, I don't want to mix or record anything, just an OK louder sound.

Sadly the link you posted is from Amazon.com, and the cable isn't available anymore on the Amazon Germany website. I would be fine with ordering from the US and paying the 8 dollars shipping, but would there be a cable you recommend on Amazon.de? It shouldn't matter for the sound quality unless it's really bad, but opinions are still welcome.

Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by Ciferz
. . .I've also read that the ES-100 can not be directly plugged into the laptop under these circumstances. As far as I've seen, there are two ways to connect it: Through the headphone jack, but this would not provide a MIDI signal but only the sound for recording. Or through a MIDI-to-USB converter cable since the piano doesn't support a direct USB connection. If done this way it appears that a MIDI interface would be needed as well.

Oops! MarkL is correct -- you need a MIDI-to-USB adapter to link the ES100 MIDI data stream into Pianoteq. (I should have checked the ES100 specs, before offering advice . . . I suppose the ES100 was designed before the near-universal use of MIDI-over-USB, rather than MIDI-over-5-pin-DIN.)

I use an M-Audio "Uno" for that job -- here on Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/M-Audio-UNO/dp/B00007JRBM

Mark's is way cheaper, and certainly worth trying.

I may be playing fast-and-loose, using "soundcard" to mean "something that converts a digital audio data to analog audio data". Functionally, it's a DAC + ADC, with some surrounding circuitry (mic preamp, headphone amplifier). If you put it in a larger case, and give it some knobs and jacks, it changes to an "USB audio interface", and becomes much more expensive.
It definitely does make a big difference in many use cases whether or not it's a sound chip or a sound card, and in most cases on-board sound chips will sound much worse even if they work. I'll see how well it works for me wink

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Oh and another question I forgot to ask: Is there anything I can/should generally do to minimize delay when playing through a laptop? That's the thing which worries me the most, especially since I won't be using a decent soundcard but on-board sound, and I don't know how much CPU matters either. It's a pretty powerful laptop, but still a laptop.

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Originally Posted by Ciferz
Oh and another question I forgot to ask: Is there anything I can/should generally do to minimize delay when playing through a laptop? That's the thing which worries me the most, especially since I won't be using a decent soundcard but on-board sound, and I don't know how much CPU matters either. It's a pretty powerful laptop, but still a laptop.
Charles mentioned earlier you will need to install ASIO4ALL to address the latency issue. If it were me, I'd try it first to see how it sounds.


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