Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

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Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Sun Feb 01, 2015 5:42 pm

Are there any "pro" quality MIDI master keyboards available today?

I ask because I'm an "old school" type (using hardware synths from the 80s/90s) but having been away from the music scene for the past 10-15 years I need some help getting updated. I need something to play my hardware MIDI modules but am also ready to get into the world of DAWs, first and foremost used as a digital multitrack studio. I'm not so sure about using softsynths though I'm ready to explore soft-samplers instead of relying on old floppy-disk based hardware samplers.

So, back in the days you had your Yamaha KX-88/KX-76/KX-1/KX-5, Roland MKB-100/MKB-300/MKB-100/Axis etc. I have no personal experience with either, but would like to replace two of my 80s MIDI keyboard synths with a quality master keyboard controller. Looking at what's available today it seems they're all cheap looking, flimsy, plasticky music toys, but from what I understand they have USB and more upto date controller features than what was available in that other time period. What those features exactly are and if I need them is another question...
So, should I go for a second hand master keyboard from that period or bite the bullet and get one of those cheapo looking keyboards readily available? The features I know I need are:
  • 61 keys (76 or 88 would do as well though 61 should suffice
  • Synth action (I'm not used to playing pianos)
  • Quality keybed, nice firm action, quiet mechanically
  • Velocity
  • Aftertouch
  • Preferrably with an AC input (I hate those AC adapter wall-warts which suck power all the time)

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by vicd » Sun Feb 01, 2015 6:58 pm

(just thinking out loud)
1. Anything with a FATAR keybed inside (Novation Remote series, Studiologic)
2.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by BluMunk » Thu Feb 05, 2015 7:14 am

Maybe find a used Kurzweil pc361? More expensive than just a controller, but it'll certainly control anything you want, plus have the added benefit of being a powerful instrument in its own right.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by meatballfulton » Thu Feb 05, 2015 1:00 pm

Fatar's Studiologic brand still offers controllers with quality keybeds, but the days of master controllers with lots of faders and switches are long gone.
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Tue Feb 10, 2015 12:03 pm

What are the main differences between old and currently available master keyboard controllers?
I see the ones for sale today usually come with a USB interface (or USB and MIDI) which I suppose means you can connect it directly to a computer for using DAW software and softsynths (for those who don't have any MIDI gear to control), but since I have lots of MIDI gear I'd need a MIDI output.

I've also noticed that the current ones often have drum machine style rubber pads (nice for programming drums I suppose, instead of using the keyboard) and dedicated DAW control buttons (play, rec, FF/rew, stop), both features I suppose an "ancient" master keyboard controller can't do.
I also notice that both old and new keyboards often have a lot of buttons, faders and knobs (meatballfusion: not sure why you say this is long gone) -are these for sending MIDI program changes and sysex controls, much like my Roland PG-800 programmer which allows me to program my JX-8P synth in realtime?

The older master keyboards (Roland A-50, A-30, A-70 and a bunch of others) just seem much more aimed at the pro market than the newer ones, which remind me more of consumer-aimed toys. Is there any truth to this or am I just having a hard time moving on with the times? ;)

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by madtheory » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:44 pm

Welcome back! :)

The Akai MPK88 is probably better than most of the old ones you mentioned. Excellent action, very solid build and plenty of controllers.

So ya, there are consumer aimed toys- the MPK88 is not one of those though! I agree with you, a lot of modern keyboards have terrible plasticky action. But I find even Akai's non weighted controller keyboards feel very good (I prefer weighted myself) defo better than the old non-weighted Rolands.

All those buttons, faders etc. are for sending MIDI control change (cc) messages. Your PG-800 sends MIDI sysex, so check out if the Akai can be configured to send sysex. But quite a few of your hardware synths will probably respond to the cc's from the keyboard to give you basic tweaking of attack time, cut off frequency etc.

Don't forget to give us a list of your hardware synths, we like to drool around here! ;)

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by synthRodriguez » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:02 pm

vicd wrote:(just thinking out loud)
2.
I pledged for a 6-octave unit on the KickStarter site.

Wanted a VAX77 but it was just too pricey. Sounds like they learned some lessons along the way as well.

This one should be a winner, decided to take the leap of faith and give them the support.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Thu Feb 12, 2015 2:05 am

Good suggestions, but they're both weighted keyboards which isn't for me (reading closer the Roland A-30 and A-50 also have this). In fact I'm pretty happy with the keyboard action of my DX-7 (mark I) -it's way better than my JX-8P anyway, but both of them are quite (mechanically) noisy which is irritating if you play with headphones and share a room with someone.

As for controls (buttons/faders) -can the current controllers do a lot more than older (80s/90s) controllers, or can the older ones do more or less the same only that their controls need to be reconfigured? I suppose USB is nice if you only want to play soft-synths in a DAW and don't need audio recording, but I'll be using it with a MIDI setup and a DAW for recording, so I'll need a MIDI/audio interface anyway.
How about features I'll be missing if I buy an up-to-date MIDI controller? Apart from the more professional looking/build and AC power inputs (instead of AC wall wart adapters), do they have everything the older controllers had plus more?

Madtheory: you asked about my gear. I haven't used it for a while as I haven't had the space, but here goes:

Yamaha DX-7 (considering selling)
Yamaha TX-802
Yamaha TX-16W
Yamaha TX-81Z
Roland JX-8P w/PG-800 programmer (considering selling apart from the PG-800)
Roland MKS-70
Roland MKS-50 w/PG-300 programmer
Roland SH-101
Roland TR-808
Roland D-110 w/PG-10 programmer
Alesis Quadrasynth S4
Oberheim DMX w/MIDI
Studio Electronics SE-1

Roland A-880 MIDI patchbay
Roland M-240 mixer
Alesis 3630 compressor
Alesis Quadraverb
ART SGE-Mach II effects processor
Behringer DSP-1000 effects processor
Behringer PX-2000 audio patchbay
Kenton electronics Pro-2 MIDI to CV/Gate and DIN-sync converter

I might have missed a few bits and pieces, but I believe I've covered the most important stuff IMHO ;)
It's a pity I haven't gotten it out of storage yet, but I'm working on it.

As for a DAW -I haven't gotten into that yet but the idea is to use my MacBook Pro more or less like a multitrack recorder (I'll have to buy an audio/MIDI interface and am considering the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 so I can record multiple tracks at once -handy for say my Roland TR-808), possibly with a soft-sampler (I can see the advantages of not having to load my Yamaha TX-16W with floppy disks etc.) and mixing, adding reverb, delay etc. within the DAW but otherwise relying on my "vintage" MIDI gear for everything else. I prefer more "hands on" gear than software and a mouse :D

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by sequentialsoftshock » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:55 am

You seem to be very hung up on the notion that newer stuff is somehow inferior. MIDI is MIDI. The standards haven't changed. A new keyboard with sliders and knobs will act much the same as a twenty year old bored.

And having USB is a good thing in your case. You can use the regular midi outs to go to your hardware and use the USB to run the soft sampler. It is one less midi cable and input you need.

The Akai MPK series are pretty much standard as far as current midi keyboards go.
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by madtheory » Thu Feb 12, 2015 11:55 am

Ya that's a drool worthy collection.

OK so you don't like weighted keyboards. Well the Akai non weighted boards are easily as good feeling as the DX-7, which IMO is among the best (Casio VZ-1 and Korg M1 were also nice). The big problem with the DX-7 though is that it doesn't transmit the full range of velocity. It works great with the onboard sounds, but I always found myself playing harder over MIDI. I would go for the Akai- I don't remember if it's mechanically noisy though. Check it out.

A keyboard with USB is still transmitting MIDI, and will work with any DAW.

I can second the Scarlett range, the best boxes this side of $1000. I have a 6i6. You get Focusrite Red2 EQ and Red3 compressor plugins for free as well. They're easily among the best eq and comp plugins available.

I've been getting back in to the TX16W actually! Did you ever use the Typhoon OS? Yamaha OS was awful, whereas Typhoon was one of the best sampler OS's ever I think. There's a virtual version now, which will load images of your floppy discs. Load in a bunch of floppies (which takes the same time as a real TX) and save them all in one preset so they load instantly from then on. As long as you know your way around Typhoon OS it's cool.
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by baz99 » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:09 pm

I have yet to see a current Akai product that isn't overpriced consumer junk...

Roland makes some decent synth action keyboards, have a look at the A800-Pro.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by Z » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:24 pm

Roland MKB-200

I've got a couple for sale ;)
youtube.com/zibbybone facebook.com/ZsFlippinGear

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by madtheory » Fri Feb 13, 2015 7:23 am

baz99 wrote:I have yet to see a current Akai product that isn't overpriced consumer junk...

Roland makes some decent synth action keyboards, have a look at the A800-Pro.
Is that an opinion, or do you have some evidence? What would you suggest as an alternative?

Yesterday I compared 61 note Novation and Akai current offerings. Akai is semi weighted with good feel and excellent build quality. Novation has no weighting so very hard to get good dynamics. Hence the price diff of +100ish over the Novation. Faders are solid, drum pads have a nice feel, as I said all better than Novation, although pitch bend is equal to Novation. Akai has DIN and USB MIDI.

I would also look at CME they're an OEM keyboard manufacturer. I liked the action on the older models (when they came out first, haven't tried a newer one) but faders and dials were not as good as Akai, about equal to Novation.
Last edited by madtheory on Fri Feb 13, 2015 10:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by Mino » Fri Feb 13, 2015 8:22 am

Roland A series might fit the bill. Old ones too, (like A33, A70, A37 etc.) 76 is a good number for a synth controller imo.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by adamstan » Fri Feb 13, 2015 8:51 am

@madtheory - I've touched CME keyboard in music store few years ago, and it's action felt quite similar to DX7 :-) But the best semi-weighted synth keyboards for me are old Ensoniq ones - VFX, SQ2 etc. And they're contact-less, which adds to the reliability.
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