Blogs all over the Internet may have shown you the best possible ways to set up your MIDI keyboard controller.
Quick to follow instructions that deliver exceptional results saves you time.
Something goes wrong, and it’s difficult to find the root of the problem.
Every device has its own advantages and…
…Disadvantages such as having a template for your existing DAW making it easier to just plug and play.
A great library of samples and synths or its ergonomic design is so stellar workflow in creating new instrument sounds could be done on the fly during a performance.
Each device below manufacturers has crafted to be great at what they do.
They might seem intimidating at first with all the knobs and tweakers you could see upstairs but once you get the hang of it, you’ll unlock their full potential and effective contribution to your performance!
The Midi Keyboard Guide Infographic for Beginners
Arturia Keylab 61
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Analog Labs’ Arturia Keylab 61 is one of the least-intimidating synthesizers around.
Partly due to its white color, traditional pitch/mod wheels, two rows of knobs and 4×4 matrix of rubberized velocity pads.
With full-sized and weighted keys in addition to being a buss-powered device.
The endless features of this device does many of what you expect it to do.
The thing with these devices is that their primary assigned function isn’t final.
You could reassign them through your computer. If you have a DAW and you’re using a VST, the device could use that as its output.
The sliders you see here aren’t just for basic ADSR functions, you could program them how so you want them to be.
Analog Labs’ latest offering has nine of these sliders I was talking about. You also have ten rotary dials, each of which you could also assign other functions.
The fun thing is, Analog Labs planned to give the device more functionality. Using a Bank 2 button, users can move from the factory-assigned functions to another set of controls they assign for themselves. The first bank can be overwritten too.
Remember those rubberized pads I was talking about? That 4×4 matrix of buttons are velocity-sensitive triggers for your samples.
Plenty of synth musicians would normally use pads for drum patterns as accompaniment for their instruments. Analog labs again helps you do more. Using its specialized software, you can trigger chords and your own samples crafted from your handy DAW.
It also comes with an LCD screen showing you which modules are turned on and the recent edits you’ve made through your keyboard controller.
Selecting sound banks are easier using the knob function so you won’t have to go through the list using arrow keys or even your own mouse pointer.
You’ll have to say, the Analog Lab’s instrument selection has a CG-rendered Studio View monitor. Select an instrument and you can display its sounds.
You could see who created the presets. The lower part of the interface shows the assignments on your knobs, sliders and your pads. Also, a snapshot feature allows you to save entire preset banks so you could recall them immediately on the go
Maybe Analog Labs’ offering excels in its sound banks more than its functionality. You have 5,000 pre-sets that you could filter and envelope to your own heart’s content.
You also get some vintage synths including the ARP 2,600, CS-80V, Oberheim SEM V and more. If you’re a preset-type of person, this fits your bill completely.
But if you want to expand your sound more, this isn’t the device you’re looking for.
Another downside; you might not enjoy it if you love acoustic pianos. Analog Labs’ pride and joy only focuses on your future instruments. But then again, you can always host virtual instruments using a DAW and manipulate it using the device for full accuracy.
You might say this is a bit too advanced for your skill level. So we’ve got this for you.
Nektar Panorama P6
You’re probably familiar with the DAW/VST Reason and its wild quantities of samples, instruments and end-user-made sample packs out for sale nowadays.
If you program your stuff, you’ve probably used the software in your early pre-programmed arrangements.
You’d have wished a device that integrates in to the DAW/VST quickly exists.
The Nektar Panorama P6 is your answer.
At first glance, it might seem like a nightmare for some, but for others, it’s not really a problem. The Nektar Panorama P6 has plenty of nightmarish rotators, 4×4 matrix pads and a set of faders.
Knobs even extend beyond the full color LCD. Why did I suggest this as something fitting for beginners?
Well, if you’ve used Propellerhead’s lovely software of already-eight iterations, you just have to plug it directly into your audio-interface and you’re all set. As quick as that. From here, you could use its Mixer, Instrument and Transport modes through a push of a button.
The LCD shows you where you are and using its keys, you can navigate your parameters including EQ, Dynamic, Insert and Sending. This makes for a faster workflow.
Like I said, if you grew up with the Propellerhead flagship product making musical arrangements instead of using a device to adjust your notes then you’re going to love the mixing feature I mentioned above. Those scary knobs looking to mob you?
Those are motorized faders. each of them have their own mute and solo buttons that follow the selected track or unless you use the Lock function in the Fader Menu.
Adjust your track level, panning and solo functions while using the device. That’s great workflow precision to be honest. In fact, it saves you an entire 15 seconds during a performance based on my live experience.
The ability to solo your tracks without using your mouse or memorizing computer shortcuts is invaluable.
The positive side for Nektar Panorama P6? It’s useful. Very, very useful and perfect for beginners. Just plug and play, and use Reason. But if you’re not fond of being committed to just one DAW/VST, just look away and look at other controllers
Novation Remote SL MKII 61
If there’s anything that looks professional, it’s the Novation Remote SL MKII 61.
That is, if you could maximize its features.
A slick grayscale color, some two rows of eight knobs and precision faders makes the Novation Remote SL MKII 61 less confusing than other advanced devices.
Novation dubs it as the all-in-one solution.
SL stands for Soft Label technology that allows your computer and musical device mapped efficiently to your software. Thanks to the Automap feature, it is quickly achievable. Keys are semi-weighted.
The hardware can stand alone in non-computer environments too where you just need to play a quick gig with less samples and functionality then move on through its own power supply.
Buss powered, you could integrate it as simple as possible with your computer software.
In contrast to the Panorama P6 and Analog Labs’ Keylab, the SL MKII chooses some DAWs int intends to work with, namely Propellerhead’s flagship software, Logic and Cubase/Nuendo. Again, with Propellerhead’s DAW/VST, it’s easy to integrate everything.
With the other two, it would take a bit of patience on your part to setup, but the payoff is amazing. It integrates similar to how efficient you’ve used it with the other VSTs
But if you’re not too sure, there’s always templates that you could edit in full to assign the ReMOTE’s sets of pads, buttons and rotators to where you want them in your DAW or synth instruments.
If you have some killer synths with multiple hordes of functions, you could use multiple templates, which you could switch with just the push of a button.
It’s a great cross-breed for beginners using synth devices. Automap makes it easy to set up, allowing creative genius rather than technical understanding to proceed. If technical knowledge is required by the user more than they really need to, then simple template programming helps teach lots about synthesizers.
Testing this with my own Reaper DAW, template mapping is quite easy. Sure, it took a bit of a while. Beginners may have cried while trying to find the right template and fixes needed to make sure all the functions of the device were correct, but once I had fully set it up, my DAW and synth was impartial.
My workflow had even improved significantly with the ability to user faders to my advantage without much trouble.
Simply put, the downside of this Novation prime product is its cost. It’s a bit on the expensive side to be honest. But beginners and advanced users will definitely love it. A great product to grow your skills. But if you’re looking for something more…
AKAI Advance 49
Colorful is what I’d call this little device. Colorful isn’t necessarily a design compliment;
it’s a useful system for memorizing sounds and banks all over.
While it may not be a DAW precision device, the AKAI Advance 49 can play synths and samples as they should be.
It would also seem AKAI closely designed it to be an adopted brother of Native Instrument’s line of Kontakt devices.
For beginners, the thousands of presets available is a great option. What’s the best way to learn new sounds if not how to know their application during performance?
And sure, AKAI may have designed it to work for Kontakt, but it hasn’t forgotten other developers and third-party developers.
Using a host software called VIP, the software allows your device to integrate all your VST plugins into one host software. It is also in the VIP software you could assign new controls. The fun side?
That small LCD you’re seeing right now allows you to work with only your device and not lift up your eyes to your computer interface.
The ability to host everything Kontakt with your other plugins is a miracle and genius at the same time. Maybe that’s where AKAI is pointing at. Well, I was one of the people complaining about Kontakt being too self-centered.
Beginners would find it great that the controls feel stiff and sturdy. Well, for a $600 device it better be. The design looks somewhere between a Native Instruments and Roland device.
I might have to complain though, it has some large and sensitive pads, which could prove a curse or blessing for some who want a tighter feel for their velocity hits. Meanwhile, the keybed is way too stiff. Maybe we should trade one for the other.
But then again, if you have more time to focus on your playing than fiddling with a mouse or pressing shortcut keys during a performance , then you’d have enough strength to hit your notes. I just imagined it to be an old Steinway piano.
But of course, you’re going to need more endurance to play some heavy-hitting synth solos.
The device also works flawlessly with Logic, Reason, ProTools, Cubase/Nuendo and even my own Reaper device. Wow. Add the VIP host software to run your Kontakt and VST plugins the same time and voila, you’ve got a perfect machine in your hands.
Also, trigger sounds from zones too. Exceptional work I must say for AKAI.
The price is a little steep, to be honest. But if you’re getting this kind of quality worksmanship, functionality and a good aid to any electronic performance, you’ve got the stuff of legends right there. If you’re not too satisfied though, there are other options, including…
One could have trust issues with Alesis because they make exemplary mixers and audio hardware.
To be honest, this wouldn’t be the next best thing for Alesis. But maybe I was underestimating things because the VI61.
So you’ve got semi-weighted keys, after-touch, modulation and pitch bend wheels, a USB Out, Up/Down, Transport Buttons and internal clock synth.
But I have trust issues with Alesis when it comes to these devices, and so I was right.
They might come cheap at $250 but I don’t’ trust the materials.
Simply put, I’d place the Alesis VI61 as something you’d use in the studio, but not in some rugged, outside gig where you need something that performs for more than average.
But again, for $250, it’s something worth considering especially with a modern, up-to-date design against modern devices.
The VI61 has a 4×4 matrix for velocity hits. The 16 pads have different LED lights that respond to velocity depending on the playing pressure. Transport buttons make DAW navigation and recording seamless for any new or veteran musician.
Alesis has bundled its in-house built editor allowing you to configure each section with menus. This also allows you to configure your Channel, Controller Number and toggle switches’ functions.
The device runs on buss power through its computer connector for interfacing.
But really, this device feels like it’s better off as a starter device for the mixer and devices. I’ve gigged once with it and I found it to be cool, if it works that is.
At 5.5 kg, it’s very light, easy to bring around and throw in a bag. Buss power allows you to do more while you’re outside with your laptop.
Beginners can take advantage of the straightforward approach of the device. However, for professionals looking for something to expand their stuff, this isn’t the right one. Convenience is crucial for the Alesis VI61 with its plug-and-play capabilities.
During performance, it’s quick, responsive and immediate. Drop down some buttons and assign some parts with a quick visit to the Alesis dedicated editor and you’re already all set.
Performance problems might find you having miss-measured the response. Semi-weighted means you could play some aggressive synth solos but you might miss the synth sensitivity and all else might fail at this point.
It’s definitely a point to consider this especially if you’re someone who likes accuracy in both attacks and hits.
Oh yes, forgot to mention that it’s fully map-able. But I’ve found that you’re going to need some externally-developed software to do this.
Hopefully Alesis provides something similar in the near future. But if that can’t wait for you…
Korg Triton Taktile
Here, you get the KORG Triton original program sounds.
The legendary PCM synth comes in its 25, 49 and 61 versions, but this time with more expand-ability.
The Triton is now a DAW manipulation device.
However, it couldn’t be buss powered.
Unlike the original PCM synthesizer, this one has velocity-sensitive trigger pads that allow you to program them for beats or use them for one-finger chord playing.
The Korg Triton Taktile, being a DAW, has a great range of templates making integration with DAWs quicker, well, if you’re using any of the DAW templates provided.
You’ve got a Mini Kaoss Pad 2-style touchpad and ribbon selector. Sending digital signals is a breeze with this little thing. If you need to switch tracks in your DAW, you’re all you need is a little fiddling with your faders, or maybe use the Kaoss Pad as a mouse trackpad. Nice!
During performances, the Kaoss Pad 2 style touchpad is invaluable. Performance workflow is enhanced effectively as you save time fixing automations, tracks and plugin parameters among other things.
You want to know that getting the 512 bank is already golden, but the trackpad has helped me lots performance-wise.
Of course, it was not easy to use with Cockos Reaper. If you’re a tinkering nut like me, this would go smoothly. But if not, well, you’re not to blame either. The Triton Taktile works smoothly with DAWs only built for it, but not to expand to other ones.
Yup, that’s monetization DAW style for you.
But then, you could always just use the Triton Taktile as the original Triton with the 512 awesome sounds from pianos to FMs. That’s already way more bang for my buck.
But maybe I don’t want a synth, maybe I want something else. Something capable of being an expansive synthesizer/DAW device powerful enough for other DAWs to integrate effectively and not just something that came from history.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series
If you loved Maschine, you’re going to love the S-series.
The platic and metal combination that comes with every Native Instruments product is present.
However, the small number of knobs, sliders and pads offsets it.
Disappointing? I don’t think so.
The S-Series features a light guide that allows you to play without having to look at your computer.
See those funky colors?
They’re telling you where you need to press next on your device. One color may show you the manual controls. The other ones may show you different patches and target notes.
Komplete Kontrol is the software you need. It allows you to define the knobs and touch strips and the color-coded keybed splits for your personal use.
The software is also considered a single instance of an instrument plugin. Really sounds great.
Perhaps the only downside I see here is expensiveness. To be honest, these things are quite expensive. Despite their innovative features and gorgeous design, the S-series costs quite lots. But then, the payoff is amazing.
I was playing once in a venue. Playing different patches all at the same time was just seamless with the interface.
Maybe it was just me, but those white keys really felt premium; they held enough resistance that I could feel enough tension to clarify that it was indeed a well-made product.
Perhaps all Maschine users would recognize NI has made an effort to arrange everything categorized seamlessly and perfectly. Komplete Kontrol is amazing because you don’t have to wait for so long to hear every patch possible.
But if you hate Komplete Kontrol, then the S-series is completely useless for you because without the software, the entire interface is kaput.
But who could say no to some awesome mod and pitch touchstrips that use LEDs, enabling you to jump from one pitch to the next and fix modulation in a jiff when you need some wubs while you play an awesome riff?
Yup. That’s as good as this interface gets!
The Roland A-800 Pro
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What do you get when Roland attempts to re-invigorate public interest in its wares? Simple!
A product of awesome quality.
You might say quality is subjective.
I say that quality depends on the manufacturer’s experience listening to their users and dedicated consumers.
The Roland A-800 has sixty-one keys, all velocity-sensitive each with aftertouch control.
Semi-weighted, playability is surely a must for veteran players and a difficult but necessary learning curve for new piano players. Meanwhile, A 2×4 matrix gives you the option of creating beats or playing entire chords.
Almost everything on top of the Roland A-800 Pro directs itself to being a DAW manipulator from the looks of faders, knobs, transport controls and other buttons.
With the Roland A-800 Pro you get a Cakewalk Production Plus Pack. Sonar’s 8.5 LE recording software along with Rapture LE, Cakewalk Sound Center and Studio Instrument Drums are included with the starting package.
If you’re just a starting artist or you haven’t an arsenal of plugins for your home studio, this starter should walk you through the basics. Thereafter, you could just research some free useful VSTi and you’re on your way to produce something.
It surely is generous of Roland compared to others. Novation’s Impulse provides only a ‘lite’ version of the Ableton Live. You also only get two VST plugins.
Well, what did we expect from a price range of $200-400 anyway (still is a great device for the price to be honest).
Loading it up on a Macbook Pro, you get directed to the setup window to choose your audio device.
Oh, and you still get the original Pitch/Modulation stick.
Unlike most Native Instruments Kontakt/Komplete/Reaktor equipment, Roland wants to focus their hardware to have a balance between stage and studio. For NI, it’s all about smooth hardware/software integration.
For Roland, it’s about achieving balance between the capability of laptops to help your studio performance and to allow its equipment to function as a standard device/instrument while in performance.
The upside with Roland’s design is you don’t have to keep your eyes on your computer monitor and tap everything with your trackpad/mouse and issue commands using the device.
The downside is that with that small amount of DAW controls, it’s near impossible to maximize your performance and tweaking with lacking controls.
But still, in my honest opinion, a device worth considering. Or maybe you’d rather go with these kinds of features but with something as cheap as this.
Behringer Motör 61
There are two things I have always wanted to see with digital-interface instruments and that would be sexiness and a cheap price.
Behringer hasn’t been the bringer of great price-to-equipment quality ratio.
I mean, I loved the BCF when it came out; bang for your buck went to the next level with that one.
But Motör is something special.
What do you get with the Motör? A surface with 61 semi-weighted keys perfect for synth solos and well, light playing.
Something from the X32, the motorized faders, have shown themselves with the Motör. These 60mm faders are touch-sensitive; we all have that trouble of having to move the fader at least a notch to identify our parameter value.
Now, with just one touch, you see your parameter assignment and value. The bright LCD that shows your settings is definitely helpful during performances.
The original BCF and X32 had motorized faders, but they were most noisy during operation, making them a no-no during performances. The Motör stands out with silent faders that feel sturdy and secure compared to the floppiness of its predecessors.
All of these three units are precise and smooth during transitions.
An eight 2×4 matrix velocity trigger pads allow for chord triggers or beat-making. These velocity pads have backlights and are sensitive enough to give you what you need.
But I feel they’re a bit too sensitive; they have not much resistance to trigger a full-velocity sound. Transport controls allow you to work with most DAWs (most Behringer equipment are compatible with any DAWs in the market, including Cockos Reaper).
Setting up the device does not take so much time. Load the drivers for both Windows and Mac (yep, you have to load ’em Mac drivers too but it’s quick so…). However, with your favorite DAW, you’re going to need to re-map some things to your VST.
It takes some time because it’s not as hotly-intuitive as other DAW manipulating devices with high price tags want to do.
But once you finish, everything’s so worth it. You get precise activity with motorized faders.
However, Behringer may have oriented the design against DAWs more than the actual software it might ship with within the year.
But still, those motorized faders for a price this low. It’s gotta be something amazing! The wrinkle-free approach to audio integration is so flawless that I forgave it for some of its flaws. To be honest, think pricetag, pricetag…
You might still want to consider something else, well, how about…
Semi-weighted. With Aftertouch. Four zones for different piano and digital samples. A 4×4 matrix of drum pads illuminated upon touch.
That’s the new M-Audio Code for you.
Aside from what I mentioned, the device has eight encoders and nine faders.
You also get a transport control and something amazing, both pitch/mod wheels and an XY pad. It’s a full-sized behemoth that weighs like one at 11.5 lbs.
The six-digit LED display is probably the first thing one would probably want to see with M-Audio‘s new offering. Seamless is the keyword here. With an LED screen, you won’t have to look at your computer to see your settings.
The 4×4 matrix is also astounding for beat making or chord/sample triggering. Pretty neat for a device of this caliber.
With all this functionality, the Code is buss powered. Power on your laptop anywhere and use the Code as your recording or songwriting interface.
For performances, that buss function would prove useful especially with your DAW controls.
Speaking of which, you get nine assignable faders with one master fader. With every fader is a mute/solo button. Pretty useful for sampling, among others. Rotary encoders allow you volume and plugin assignments for maximum optimization. That is, if you’re using their DAW.
The Code works with virtually any DAW, as attested by M-Audio. But in reality, any audio engineer will tell you how that works out. It means you have to map some things if you don’t have the DAW.
The hottest ones in the market right now? That’s Ableton, Apple GarageBand, Apple Logic, Pro Tools and Steinberg Cubase.
Now, if you’re like me and you’re using Cockos Reaper, you can always do a re-map. If it does not work for you, try lurking in forums for solutions or ask about your problem there.
The Code ships with Ableton Live Lite, which again restricts some of the most useful features of the DAW to be honest. However, it does a great job showcasing the DAW’s capabilities and expansion.
Given the unique workflow of the DAW (it does take some adjusting to the workflow if you’re used to traditional DAWs), composition and arrangement is easier and faster.
The bundled Loom is an Additive Synthesizer. It doesn’t rely on filters and LFOs. Using its acclaimed Morph Pad technology, you create rich, swirling and captivating sounds, at least that’s what it says on the promotional banter from airmusictech.com.
Hybrid 3 is a hybrid analog synthesizer having a broad range of applications that involve warm instrument sounds from the past with some modern applications, including some wubs, polysynths, basses, leads and more.
Those two free instruments included with the DAW makes this device gig-ready already. But if you’ve got other applications for the device,
I suggest you buy the full Ableton version. But those two software, coupled with some powerful faders and controls, you’re already all set for making some fine compositions!
Or there’s still one last item we haven’t discussed. That’s…
Keith McMillen Instruments QuNexus
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Keith McMillen Instruments is probably owned by the person of the same name. With innovation and creativity its primary objectives, it gives us the QuNexus.
And upon first sight, my reaction was like what the H was that little thing I just saw…
Picture this, you’ve got something with two octaves of piano rolls. These keys are not just velocity-sensitive. They’re tilt and pressure sensitive too.
Yup, now’s the time to say “wait, what?”
It’s an innovative little pad from KMI, but maybe they went a little full-throttle with this one. While beginners would appreciate something lightweight, easy to understand and carry around, this device means trouble for players looking for advanced options.
First, you have no rotary encoders/pots, faders and you could only use a microUSB to attach it to your computer. It’s barely the size of a smartphone.
You get a pitch/mod pad that doesn’t function too nice. Dude! The physical appearance of the device is beautiful, but it looks like a chocolate bar that’s a child’s little toy.
But it has its upsides. Remember that pitch/mod wheel I blasted this little thing about? Well, you could actually tilt your finger backward and create a pitchbend or modulation.
Pressure sensitivity allows you to do the same thing. You could assign different functions for each gesture, a must for performances.
For the price though, it looks like an expensive array of velocity pads arranged like a piano, wouldn’t you say?
Hooking it up on my computer, it was a breeze to map with Cockos Reaper. I don’t know much about other DAWs but I hooked it up on my Mac and you still have to re-map it. I guess that’s the price of innovation.
Anyway, the velocity pads are definitely of good make. Buttons are great as well. Meanwhile, I’m having difficulty with this little thing moving around. Look, it’s light at about 345g. Those rubber feet don’t help either. This is probably the only problem I’ve encountered.
It works perfectly with my VSTi with black keys responding to blue key presses and white keys responding to white ones.
It’s easy to switch octaves when needed too. Just push the button and you’re there. It’s quick to respond with velocity and note triggers.
However, if you’re like me and you’re playing some multiple patches, the KMI QuNexus wouldn’t give you an easy time. But don’t give up. Improve your skills and this one can reward you with definite, positive results.
Piano for Players. MIDI for artists
Which device did you prefer to have?
Did you like the KORG Triton Taktile because of its traditional approach coupled with modern DAW and artist nuances or did you prefer the QuNexus’ unique capabilities immediately revolutionizing the electronic artist’s capabilities? By now you would understand each device has its advantages and drawbacks.
Which one would work for you?
That’s a hard question. Take into consideration your setup during a performance. How do you know your setup is okay? That would be to take your performance straight away without any forethought and see which works and which doesn’t.
You have that Roland A-800 with you and you blast away with your device.
However, you have a solo and you need to have some accompaniment while band members rest. Well, if you blundered here, you need a device with next-level efficiency.
If not, well, your hands and fingers probably tangled at some point. See what you could do about this and find which device will do just that for you.
Another factor would be which DAW you’re using.
Ableton is the choice DAW for many manufacturers because of its popularity and unique way to create compositions. If you’re using a DAW that’s lesser known, your device might be a bit difficult or time-consuming to set up. If you’re using a well-known DAW, you might find it a bit expensive. Sometimes, these convenient DAWs can limit your creative capabilities.
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