First purchases for a DAWless set-up / old sound module with new MIDI keyboard

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First purchases for a DAWless set-up / old sound module with new MIDI keyboard

Post by Blues92 » Fri Sep 04, 2020 12:13 am

Hi all,

To be super quick, here is my question :
Is it possible de hook a dumb cheap MIDI keyboard from todays standards to a quite "vintage" sound module and tell that sound module that the keyboard's knobs are now controlling its sound parameters ?
What kind of specs do I need to look for to be sure that a keyboard can be hooked-up to a sound module ? Is it universal ? Or very specific ? Or are these knobs typically only made for controlling things on a DAW ?

Here is the kind of set-up that I am thinking about as of today :

I think this would make for a quite reasonably priced DAWless first set-up.
Roland MC500mkII --> Alesis Vi25 --> Roland U220


If you have some spare time, here are more informations :

I have been trying to discover the synth-world from scratch. I am far far away from even scratching the surface of these instruments knowledge but I really want to improve.

My friend has a Korg Minilogue. I have discovered I can spend HOURS just twisting knobs. I now want to be able to do the same at home. I am starting from complete scratch and am looking for a more modular set-up than a Minilogue. I would like to have a keyboard in front of me with knobs to change the sound. I LOVE Minilogue's LFO, Enveloppes knobs…
I would like to be able to hook a keyboard to a rack-mounted sound module.

Here comes my need for help :
- I do not want to use a computer.
- From what I have understood, I should be able to purchase a MIDI controller (just a keyboard with MIDI outputs and inputs) to plug it into a "box" that translates MIDI into sounds.
- This "box" is where I am getting lost

I am thinking about things like a Roland-U220 / Yamaha TX802… "Synths in a rack unit" from what I understand ( a"Sound module" ?) But I am not sure to understand everything, hence my post.

I would really love to have something that has a user interface like the Minilogue’s but that is not Minilogue. As I would love to separate the keyboard from the sound module.


Some background if you have some spare time :

I come from the guitar side and have spent the last 10 years discovering and making my way through the gear. I am now -almost- perfectly satisfied with what I have.
I now want to be able to create some music to play guitar over or just to drench me in 80s sound late at night .

My goal is to have some gear to play ambiant and soundscapes without using a computer. I spend my daily life facing a laptop, I do not want to open it when playing for myself. Yet. Maybe this will change later (never say never…) but I doubt it.
I want to be able to spend time twisting physical knobs.

I also happen to really like rack-mounted units for some reasons. Especially for deskspace reasons and also because I can sometime score these for a relatively "cheap" price and this is a massive argument. I do not really know what I really want yet. Then, I do not want to invest hundreds in a single unit until I am sure that I will really enjoy it.
As real-estate is awfully expensive, I can not afford to have a massive 61 notes masterkeyboard. Starting-up with a little MIDI keyboard that can fit in a rack drawer would be very good to me. If one day I feel limited by a keyboard that's too small, I'll think about changing it.

I am particularly enjoying 80s cliche sounds. Do not judge me please. This is a very good thing to me as all 80s stuffs are not yet labelled as "vintage", then prices can still be fair sometimes.

Thanks all for your time and further help

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Re: First purchases for a DAWless set-up / old sound module with new MIDI keyboard

Post by Ashe37 » Fri Sep 04, 2020 12:22 am

your keyboard controller will need to be able to operate standalone (some don't) and have multiple midi ports. generally, if it doesnt have a power supply or batteries, it can't.

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Re: First purchases for a DAWless set-up / old sound module with new MIDI keyboard

Post by meatballfulton » Fri Sep 04, 2020 2:00 pm

The ability of the keyboard to control the mosule depends on the module's MIDI implementation. Most modern controllers can be edited to support a range of MIDI messages from all the knobs, sliders and buttons, anything from CCs and NRPNs to program changes and even notes. Not many controllers will send sysex messages, though.

You need to download and read manuals to understand what the controller can transmit and what the module can receive.

I can tell you that the older the module, the less you can control. The U-220 and TX-802 offer almost zero MIDI control beyond the basics...pitch bend, mod wheel (often hard mapped to vibrato), velocity (limited mapping), aftertouch (limited mapping), sustain pedal (CC#64), expression pedal (CC#11), master volume (CC#7) and pan (CC#10). Even the keyboard versions had limited real time control options. The ability to reach much of the synth engine with real time control didn't start arriving until well into the mid 1990s and finally became commonplace in the 21st century. Programming units over MIDI has traditionally been done using sysex messages, which almost never support real time control.

I'd suggest you skip modules from the 1980s if you want real time control.
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