Generally any type of equipment and/or workspace set up for specific sets of tasks. The term often refers to a general-purpose computer designed to be used by one person at a time and which offers higher performance than normally found in a personal computer, especially with respect to graphics, processing power and the ability to carry out several tasks at the same time.
In music workstations are sometimes built around keyboard type products as well. Generally the idea is to give a keyboard “all-in-one” capabilities for composition, recording, sound design and performance. This is distinct from a synthesizer, which might only contain a sound-generating engine with a keyboard controller attached, and an Arranger, which usually has limited sound design abilities but often has built-in musical sequences that “automatically” generate introductions, accompaniments, and fills.
The general requirements for a keyboard workstation are that it include:
- Controller(s) – the keyboard itself, plus additional knobs, faders, switches, ribbons, etc.
- Synthesizer Engine – capable of creating, editing, playing back and storing sounds
- Drum Sounds – whether part of the Synthesizer Engine or separately accessible
- Sequencer – MIDI, and increasingly, audio
- Effects Processing – which can range from simple global effects to complex channel-specific processing
Some well-known workstations include the Korg Triton, Kurzweil K2600, Roland Fantom, and Yamaha Motif, all available in different configurations. Some of these workstations go farther to include CD burners, computer interfaces and expansion cards to add new sounds or effects.
Songwriters often like workstations because they can compose, arrange and mix without disturbing their creative flow – they never need to leave the keyboard to deal with computers, hard disk recorders or other equipment. All workstations allow multitimbral playback and MIDI sequencing on multiple channels.
In live performance, keyboard players can create massive stacks of sounds (often called Combinations, Performances, Multis or Setups) to play across the entire keyboard, or they can divide the keyboard into zones, each of which will play different sounds. Players can also load and play sequenced material to enhance their live playing, use the workstation’s controllers to modulate the sounds they are playing live and make effects changes on the fly without having to rely on an outboard processor or mixing board.
With the advent of hard disk recording and computer-based audio systems, another definition of workstation has arisen: the Digital Audio Workstation. See the Word for the Day definition of DAW to learn more.