Akai's EWI 5000 was announced as a new model at NAMM in January 2014, and finally became available for purchase in late August 2014.
Advance publicity for the 5000 promised several key upgrades over the previous model (the EWI 4000s). As Akai's press release put it,
Akai Professional, creators of the original EWI, announce the EWI 5000, the most expressive and versatile wind instrument in the world. EWI 5000 includes an array of advanced features, including digital 2.4GHz ultra-low-latency wireless connectivity, a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts up to 12 hours, and more than 3GB of built-in traditional and progressive sounds from SONiVOX, a leading creator of premium virtual instruments and software synthesis technologies. [...]
EWI 5000 comes loaded with more than 3GB of top-quality sounds, including traditional horn, brass, woodwind, and string sounds, plus progressive synths, leads, and other non-traditional sounds. [...]
The promise here is enormous: In theory, the new EWI requires absolutely no other gear but its own wireless receiver and an amplifier or powered speaker. All the sounds one might want to play would be available directly from the built-in synthesizer.
Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat less exciting. The EWI 5000 isn't a horrible instrument, but it suffers greatly by comparison to what it could have been. Here are some of its deficiencies, from the point of view of a serious amateur player:
...which isn't a deal-breaker, because part of loving the EWI is learning to deal with a cryptic user interface; that's been true since the original EWI model, back in the mists of prehistory.
But when there are only two digits available to choose a voice number, by definition only 100 voices can be selected. The MIDI standard allows 128 voices per bank, but like the 4000s before it, the 5000 can't handle more than 100 (both in terms of what its internal synthesizer provides, and what voices it's able to select directly on an external synthesizer).
The editor provides absolutely no way to save any of the changes it makes other than on the EWI itself; in particular, there's no way to save your changes on your computer or even on a USB memory stick – so if you ever need to perform a factory reset on the EWI 5000, any changes you made will be permanently lost. This is an almost inconceivable oversight, but it's an oversight which still hasn't been rectified as of January 2018, almost four years since the 5000 was introduced.
But some of us really do want to have the EWI sound like a real clarinet, sax, trumpet, or other acoustic instrument – but despite Akai's promises, there are two separate ways in which the 5000 fails to accomplish this:
First, the set of provided instruments is incomplete. While there are 16 saxophone voices (four each of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone), there's only one unmuted trumpet; the cornet, flugelhorn, euphonium, bass trombone, tuba and piccolo are among those instruments which are missing altogether, as are all of the promised strings. (The complete voice list, in PDF format, is available here.)
Worse, most of the emulated voices don't sound convincing. I play the EWI regularly as the fourth member of a trumpet quartet. I have several emulated trumpet sounds (primarily on the Yamaha VL70-m, as well as Sample Modeling's trumpet family) which sound enough like a real trumpet to blend well with the quartet, in the opinion of the other three members. By contrast, when I tried the single trumpet voice provided by the EWI 5000's internal synthesizer, after they stopped wincing they politely asked me to go back to the sounds I'd been using previously.
...but that's not a problem, because the 5000 is also a MIDI controller, right?
Well, yes, it is, and in many respects it's a better MIDI controller than the 4000s which preceded it. ...but the 5000 is clearly designed with the internal voices in mind, with MIDI as an afterthought.
This is a small thing, but it means that the voice number shown on your external synthesizer differs depending on which EWI model is being used (for example, if you select voice number 15 on the EWI 5000, Yamaha's VL70-m will use what it calls voice number 16; if you use voice number 15 on the EWI 4000s, the VL70-m will use what it calls voice number 15).
...but when you have more than one bank, you need to have a way to select which bank will be used, so the 5000 provides a bank select button. That in itself isn't a problem; it's a necessary feature.
The problem arises because the 5000 transmits a MIDI bank select message every time it's powered on, every time it's reconnected to an external synthesizer, and even occasionally when transmitting a voice change – but since the 5000 has only two banks, the only bank numbers it can transmit are zero and one.
...which is a problem if you'd carefully selected bank two or bank three on your external synthesizer, only to have the EWI override your choice. This one issue is the biggest single reason why I've stopped using the EWI 5000 altogether.
That's because, as trivial as this seems, with the EWI 5000 I could never count on being able to play the sounds I'd selected; far too often I'd start playing and find out the hard way that I was playing a concertina instead of a trumpet, or a pure synth sound instead of a trombone, because the 5000 ever so helpfully sent an unwanted bank change message to my VL70-m. In case you're wondering, when this happens in a public performance it's every bit as embarrassing as it sounds. :-/
The good news is that most if not all of these problems can be fixed in firmware updates. The bad news is that (as of January 2018) no firmware updates have been issued since version 1545, which was made available in September 2014.
[ SMW, January 2018 ]