Playing live with just a laptop

I really would like to take just a laptop, an interface for MIDI and microphone, an amp, and my MIDI accordion to gigs and stop with the MIDI module racks and hardware compression and DSP for vocals. So far I’ve not been able to leave the racks at home and just play through Cantabile Performer. I’m just not satisfied with my feeble soft synths.

First, I’ve been using my hardware module patches for a long time. I’d really like to have those patches in soft synths, but they’re not available, and I’m not having any fun trying to layer instruments to achieve similar patches. Recommendations on soft synths that have decent layered patches, such as pads and digital keys with strings, etc.

Second, I have quite a few channel strip plugins [and individual effects plugins], but I have yet to set one up for live performance that sounds as good as my vocal hardware.

I know I can control my hardware with Cantabile, but I’ve been lugging that gear for decades and I want to scale back. Am I wasting my time? Should I just stick with the hardware?

More importantly, should I just leave the hardware at home so I can’t fall back on it, and play a gig so I can get a real feel for what needs to be changed?



Hi Thom,

hope I have understood your question correctly and try to give you some gide. First off: you seem to use rack expanders with workstation engines inside, I imagine something like triton, motif, fantom,… To be serious: it will be difficult to get proper substitutes for this. I call some plugs coming to my mind here: korg M1 (no brainer, x64, stable, but of course only sounds from korg m1, Proteus VX (freeware but outdated, unstable and only x86), GSi Keyoerformer (never used it so no clue what it would be able to do, I think there’s a demo available).

Of course there are also romplers like Roland Sound Canvas VA or Halion Sonic that apply to MIDI GM/GS but this doesn’t seem to be the things you’re seeking as you again have to layer sounds to get your patches.

My conclusion: if you really want to go the laptop route you should think about doing layersounds and patches by using all the great possibilities cantabile offers. I think of the possibilities racks offer f.e.:

put any combinatin of sound-engines and effects inside a rack and make it a patch. Change settings inside an existing rack and create lots of patches.

Realize channel-strips of your need per song if you like. Store everything inside cantabile and make it reusable for other songs later on and call up patches in a second.

Use sound engines you couldn’t imagine to be available. Update your system at any time: there is no point forcing you to kick away your outdated soundmodule - simpy put a new vst inside and you’re up to date again.

Substitute a damaged or outdated laptop by a new one and use all your created sounds, patches, songs and setlists.

All this isn’t free of course. You have to pay by doing some hard work inside cantabile and make yourself familiar with all the possibilities. I don’t think there’s a “kings-way” to get this managed. If all this is far too much it is absolutely o.k. and you’re probably better off to stick to your existing setup. Otherwise there’s a great community here who will help you to get a good start. :sunglasses:

Kind regards, humphrey

Hey Thom,

leaving all the hardware behind and working only with a laptop is exactly what I’ve been doing since Cantabile 3 came out. It’s been an intensive process and quite a bit of work, but to me totally worth it.

For me, the sound I’m getting with my laptop setup is actually better than the stuff I’ve been getting from my workstations I used to carry around - I have great VST instruments that specialize on specific instruments like piano, hammond or analog synth sounds - these actually beat most of the sounds that I could get out of my hardware compromises (not everyone gets a grand piano or a real Hammond or a 10-keyboard monster setup carried around by roadies…).

The key point in this setup is setting priorities: what are the key sounds that need to be as good as it gets? For these, you need to really invest in the right VST instruments - and invest the time to tweak them; same as for any hardware synth. For the rest, I’d recommend a combination of the VST version of the Korg M1 and Xpand!2 - both are good “bread-and-butter” choices.

You’ll find long threads on this forum on the merits of one or the other organ, piano or e-piano plugin - I won’t duplicate what they say here, but there are really good options in this field. Same for any virtual analog synths - broad offerings of really professional-sounding stuff available.

The only thing that I would consider keeping outside the laptop would be voice processing. For me, the round-trip-latency involved in getting the signal into the box and back out is too distracting as a singer (funny enough, as a guitarist, I can live with it for my guitar amp plugins). And if you use any voice processing effects like the VoiceLive series by TC Helicon line offer (harmony etc), you won’t currently find a reasonable software alternative for live use - trust me, I’ve searched high and low…

So for the moment, my minimal setup contains a laptop, audio/midi interface and a master keyboard plus a VoiceLive Touch for vocals. I’ll even leave the master keyboard at home and bring only a controller box (Novation LaunchControl), some pedals and a MidiExpression when there’s a trust-worthy keyboard on-site.

On leaving the hardware at home: I’ve personally taken the plunge - I don’t even wire up the audio out of my Kurzweil PC3 (which I use as a master keyboard) - but I always have a backup laptop setup (complete with audio interface) with me - easy to carry and can be a life-saver if something goes seriously wrong with your main rig. Try this with a classic hardware setup :wink:




I will have to 2nd the process Torsten has laid out for you. I also use M1 and Xpand!2 (thanx to suggestions by Torsten, Terry Britton, and Neil Durant), they will get the sound you want quicker, and with very little load on your processor. Depending on what band I am with, I also use a TC Helicon. I Did however have very little latency with the Sound Toy plugs for vocals, and they worked very well with C3. I rarely use them anymore since I went to a digital mixer though. As far as not using hardware, I have been fully VST since 2008, and never looked back.


1 Like

I am not a profikeyboarder but my experience has shown me that plugins are currently for me no alternative to harwareinstruments.

Ok I mostly use my instruments at home and so there is no transport problem…

but as far as the sound quality is concerned I have to determine for myself that my hardware sounds better than my plugins. Single-cell sounds sound just as good as from the synth

… but in the sum as a song sounds the hardware simply better … in my feeling

I think it is connected with the fact that 2 different sound generators work

That may well be but remember in reality your hardware synth (unless it’s 35 years old at least) is still probably just a dedicated little computer running software. I’d be shocked if you couldn’t get any sound from any modern workstation out of, say Omnishpere. It’s just going to take the time to go through all those sounds and find and layer them. For myself, I could NEVER go back now. Especially when, now that I have my hardware in place, I can upgrade sounds to literally anything I can imagine- new pianos, organs strings, drums, synths (analog, classic, digital, modern, and things that don’t readily exist in the hardware world, like granular synthesis) for a couple hundred bucks a pop, if that. YMMV of course!


so in the end is a workstation also nothing more than a computer with vst’s on it…

but there is all at the right place

layerd sounds you directly can play because other people have made the most work for me😉

iam very happy with my pa4x and montage…

how long do you need to create an instrument like the new genos with software instruments and does the arranger functions work as good as the real instrument?

…ok, if you need the key in a band the plugin based working is cheaper and does the same then hardware…to built a piano or some leads or good sounding pads

but allone playing (with styles and not playback/midi)? and no arranger?..
i think it makes no sense
as additional tool it is ok.

A workstation is an expensive computer with sound samples and wave forms on it, that may, or may not be adjusted through filters and such. One vst may have everything a workstation may have, and more. Hardware is limited by the manufacturer, even with updates. The sky is the limit with vsts. I don’t know your experience with hardware or soft synths, so I respect your view, but I know my experience, and must tell you, I will take the VB3 VST over any organ preset of any workstation or sound module. I have a room full of workstations, and sound modules, and will sell them all to you for the price of Omnisphere or Keyscape. Performers and studios have all mostly gone to VSTs in some manner. Why? Because, as you say, they are all in the right place. One computer holds all the worlds best sounds. Don’t believe it? Google how film scoring is done now. Apparently the pros think hardware is no alternative for them. Even at my age, I have no desire to reside in the past. I welcome new doors to open.




This can all be done on a laptop. If you are more comfortable on a workstation, then you need to stay on it.

We were just responding to the OP about our experiences just using a laptop. And, it seems we are pretty satisfied with that. I feel you have little if any experience with VSTs or you would understand.

…then please show me one arranger vst that will do the same than my key

not in 2017 :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:… maybe in 2020

vArranger is the beginning but its not the same than hardware

…please one arranger-VST that does the same than the new genos from yamaha :wink:

“Playing live with just a laptop” is the title of this thread. I told you that you could do everything you suggested on a laptop. Said nothing about a VST arranger, but a good DAW would do it much better, and I have used DAWs in the past playing live. Now then, I am not going to continue to feed your ridiculous need to argue. This site is much above that. Good luck to you and your Yamaha.

@Juergen :

The original poster said nothing about an arranger keyboard - his issue was the sound quality of the VST instruments he currently has. And I believe it has been demonstrated that regarding sound quality, a VST live setup with the right plugins can be definitely equal, if not superior, to a workstation - with the added flexibility of picking just the right piano, organ or epiano plugin.

And we also did say that this doesn‘t come for free, neither money-wise nor effort-wise.

So if you‘re happy with the sound you are getting pre-packaged from your workstation or arranger keyboard, then good for you - but that has nothing to do with the original poster‘s intent of getting rid of his hardware setup. So I get the feeling you‘re arguing for argument‘s sake and not to help the OP…

Regarding arranger keyboards with their automatic style playing, these are highly specialized beasts, built with the one-man-band in mind. While I personally wouldn‘t want to be caught dead with one of these, I‘m not going to start this discussion here :wink: . But I‘d agree that there isn‘t currently an equally mature software solution to this - let alone with the usability of these devices, that has been optimized over decades by now. So if you‘re after an auto-accompaniment one-man-band setup, then a current arranger keyboard would probably be the better solution.

But the original poster never said anything about autoplay styles - even MIDI accordionists have been known to really play live, without a computer doing the work for them :wink: . Not everyone who plays alone needs an “entertainer keyboard”,

So let‘s maybe leave it at that and not have a discussion about arranger keyboards here that the OP didn‘t ask about.



1 Like

One thing about the Montage, and most Yamaha synths in general, is that they tend to specialise in reproducing “real” instruments. You get hundreds of sounds that are pretty close to real guitars, flutes, electric pianos, trumpets etc. There are the more synthy sounds too, but Yamaha gear tends to have a bias towards the “real” instruments. This is even more the case with arranger keyboards. And actually I would say it’s possibly not easy to replicate that huge range of real instruments easily with VSTs. There are dedicated VSTs that will give you much better pianos, organs, Rhodes, strings etc. For everything else, probably the best route would be a big sample library like Kontakt, and a “jack of all trades” plugin like XPand!2, which has a good range of real instrument sounds, but might not be quite up to the Montage in all categories.

But that aside, if you’re looking for “arranger” functionality, I don’t think you’re going to find that with VSTs and a host.



Thanks Humphrey,

I think this is good advice. I’ll just start building racks. I have Xpand!2 and I’ll pick up the Korg M1 VSTi and get started. I have to do this. The older I get [I’m 61] the less I want to lug all the gear around. I guess I just need to get started. :slight_smile:

I appreciate your response and the time it took to write. Thanks.


Thanks Torsten,

I’ll give Xpand!2 and M1 a try. I like the bread and butter sounds. Most of my audiences and material are older so I’ll try that.

I’ve got many good channel strips so I’m hoping one of them will work for vocals. iZotope Neutron advanced and Alloy2, Eventide’s UltraChannel, etc, etc. I could also create a vocal rack using individual compressor, reverb, gate, etc VSTs. I really would like to make that work but I won’t sacrifice the vocal component if I can’t get something that satisfies me. I’ll keep the hardware.

I appreciate your help. Thank you. I guess I better get started in earnest! :slight_smile:


Thanks Torsten,

Actually, yes, I do play the accordion, top to bottom. And most of my audiences prefer that because otherwise if they don’t hear their preconceived idea of what an accordion sounds like, and see my fingers on the keys, they don’t think I’m really playing when they hear backing tracks. Horizontal keyboard guys don’t go through that scrutiny in my impression. But I also use backing tracks too, depending on where and what I’m playing. I also use a Korg i5m arranger at times because it follows me forever until I stop, not me following a backing track. I’d be very happy if there was a VST version of something that would do that!!

Anyway, I’ve got to get this thing going. Thanks very much.


Thanks everyone. I’m off now to go looking for VSTi synths that you guys recommended.

I’ll get this going one way or the other!

Many thanks.


Hi Thom,

only as a hint: in case you purchase M1 you should install it offline. More information can be found here: Some Information about KORG KLC plugins

Good luck and regards, humphrey

1 Like

Seriously? I just bought it and it’s downloading now. I hate flaky installs like that. I’ll go offline for the install at your advice but I hope there isn’t a problem.

Thanks for the tip. I’ll report back if it wigs out on me.