Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

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madtheory
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by madtheory » Fri Feb 13, 2015 10:39 am

adamstan wrote:@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.
I haven't had the pleasure of any Ensoniq keyboards (just racks), except for the Mirage. That keyboard obviously wasn't in the same league, eugh! :)

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Fri Feb 13, 2015 10:43 am

sequentialsoftshock wrote: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.


I'm perfectly aware of MIDI being MIDI, but I didn't know if current keyboard controllers' knobs/faders sent MIDI signals or something propriatory via USB to control DAW software. Yes, I do get the impression that newer stuff is made as cheaply as possible, look like Christmas trees and are more aimed at the consumer market than for pros. And did I mention how much I hate those pesky AC adapters?

So in conclusion, am I understanding correctly that apart from the USB interface it doesn't matter if I choose an old or current controller as they can both do the same things (including controlling a DAW from their switches, sliders, and knobs)?
Last edited by logix on Fri Feb 13, 2015 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Fri Feb 13, 2015 11:11 am

madtheory wrote:Ya that's a drool worthy collection.
Thanks. And of course there's some stuff I've had and regret selling like my Linndrum and a Roland TB-303 (which at the time I practically gave away!) :x
My Minimoog on the other hand was good riddance -not because of its sound of course, but I never got it to interface properly via MIDI (keyboard tracking was impossible to do, so when played via MIDI I could just as well have sampled it). The SE-1 is a much better solution (for me) as it has the same sound (more or less), memory, full MIDI specs and being a rack its more practical. Less housekeeping and more making music! Time permitting I'm going to perform the hardware modification which allows for faster attacks (the Minimoog is much better in that respect).
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.
I'll definitely have to check them out first hand and not just order one online. Apart from the VZ-1 and M1 synths, what would you suggest I look into for older master keyboards if I decide to go that route?
Yes, I remember the velocity issue with the DX-7. It only goes up to 100 as far as I remember, not 128.
A keyboard with USB is still transmitting MIDI, and will work with any DAW.
So as sequentialsoftshock seemed to imply earlier, you're also confirming that master keyboards use MIDI to control a DAW and not something proprietory via USB?
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
Thanks for confirming. I've done quite a bit of research and the above seems to "have it all". Do people here (with all their vintage gear) usually prefer multiple line inputs for a DAW, or is it more common just to mix externally, sequence everything and feed a stereo output to the DAW?

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.
http://soniccharge.com/forum/index.php? ... clone-faq/
Yeah, I do have Typhoon and it's a nice sampler but there was a lot of "housekeeping" to do all the time. That's why I'll be looking into a soft-sampler when I get into DAW software (soft-synths on the other hand don't appeal much to me though). I don't get the nostalgia around samplers (as opposed to vintage synths) unless they have some special filters or something. Magnus Lidström (the guy who wrote Typhoon) says he released it to commemorate its 20 year anniversary, so obviously not because it sounds so special compared to other samplers.

But being free I'm definitely going to try it out. There's also TX16Wx which is also free.
Would you consider the TX-16W as having a "vintage sound" or something that can easily be replaced by any modern soft-sampler? And even though I do like physical hardware, sampling/sample playback is one area where I can see the computer excel in comparison to buying a second-hand "top of the line" (many years ago) Akai -S1100 or whatever rack sampler.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by madtheory » Fri Feb 13, 2015 3:43 pm

logix wrote:what would you suggest I look into for older master keyboards if I decide to go that route?
Nothing. The Akai action is lovely and gives you a lot more controllers than any older keyboard. You'll just have to get used to AC adaptors, it's the modern way! It's effective for reducing noise in the box. But ya, it's annoying to have to turn the power off twice. External PSUs sitting there generating heat bother me. A waste of energy IMO.
So as sequentialsoftshock seemed to imply earlier, you're also confirming that master keyboards use MIDI to control a DAW and not something proprietory via USB?
Yes. Think of it as a free MIDI USB interface. Your DAW just sees a MIDI pipeline.
Do people here (with all their vintage gear) usually prefer multiple line inputs for a DAW, or is it more common just to mix externally, sequence everything and feed a stereo output to the DAW?
When I had a lot of hardware, I did both, but mainly multitrack record to DAW and mix ITB. Now I just have a patchbay to use the i/o on the Scarlett with the small amount of outboard I have.
Would you consider the TX-16W as having a "vintage sound" or something that can easily be replaced by any modern soft-sampler?
Yes and no. It's a grotbox and lends itself to certain things, and being in a plugin is very cool. I have a Casio SK-5 too. Kontakt is my main sampler though. They all transpose with different quality so it's nice to have them all, but Kontakt can do grungy transposing too (Akai MPC and Emu SP12 modelling) and timestretching so I use that the most. And you're right, a lot less housekeeping with Kontakt compared to any hardware.
Last edited by madtheory on Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by sequentialsoftshock » Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:13 am

Yes, old MIDI keyboards will still work with modern DAW's if you have a MIDI interface. The advantage of newer ones is being able to use the USB for computer MIDI and having freed up the actual MIDI ports for hardware. Also newer keyboards do tend to support more protocols such as CC's and NMR (or w/e they're called) more fully than older gear. I'm a big fan of the Akai MPK series. For $200 you can't beat a used MPK49.
madtheory wrote:I can second the Scarlett range, the best boxes this side of $1000.
I hear an Echo, echo, echo in here... ;)

I swear, they must be the "cult following" of audio interfaces.
bonne chance

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by vicd » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:05 am

If I were you, I'd start with a BIG checklist like below:
  • My gear item #1 accepts external MIDI control as:
    • MIDI CC: yes (about 40% of the synth's editable parameters can be controlled through CCs')
    • SYSX: yes (about 75% can be controlled)
    • NRPN:yes (about 95% can be controlled)
  • My gear item #2...
  • ...
  • The controller I'm planning to purchase allows me to program/emit the following MIDI control:
    • MIDI CC: yes, every possible
    • SYSX: only some limited patterns
    • NRPN: just none
Assuming the basics are properly covered (velocity, aftertouch, pitchbend/modwheel, program/bank changes, MMC commands) - which may not be the case as well...

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by sequentialsoftshock » Sat Feb 14, 2015 11:12 pm

That ^ is the best advice on here. Figure out what you need to control / can control on each device, then use those parameters to decide which MIDI board you will buy.
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Mon Feb 23, 2015 1:13 am

I've had a look at some of my gear's MIDI implementation charts, but they don't really get into that sort of detail. Most of them are pretty basic.
Actually I haven't been spoilt by choices in the past, so with my MIDI hardware gear I'd be happy if I could just switch banks/patches/MIDI channels ;)

DAW is another matter entirely as it's new territory for me and I wouldn't know what would be useful to have in a MIDI controller keyboard. I hadn't even heard of MIDI NRPN before and assume this is something only newer keyboard controllers have and needed for soft-synths.

Some features I can think of that would be useful to me right now would be dedicated start/stop/record buttons. Likewise, when using software synth-editors for my hardware synths it would be great to have physical sliders/knobs/switches instead of just the mouse. Obviously not one knob for each synth parameter but perhaps a few knobs for some parameters, and a knob or switch to change over to some other parameters. I assume the keyboard controller has to be able to assign the knob/fader/switch as MIDI sysex for this sort of control.
I can also see how useful Akai MPC-style drum pads would be instead of just using the keyboard.
Are there other features (which are obvious to all those familiar using DAWs) I should keep in mind when getting a MIDI master keyboard controller? Less housekeeping, more music making is a high priority on my list.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by Ashe37 » Mon Feb 23, 2015 3:34 am

yes, you have to assign the knobs and faders to NRPNs or sysex for a lot of older gear. and some modern controllers just can't do it, or can't do *enough*... the best i have seen at this are Novation controllers.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:33 pm

I've just tried out the Akai MPK-261 and it seems very nice! I haven't actually used it though (it wasn't attached to anything), just a "hands on" touch and feel for now. I like the drum pads and see how much more fun than the keyboard as I've always done.
The Roland A-800 Pro seems worth looking into as well, but the store didn't have them. Has anyone here used both the Akai MPK-261 and Roland A-800 Pro for comparison?

So, can I use these keyboards to play my MIDI hardware synth modules without having to use a computer? In other words: do they have some built-in intelligence (like a regular old-school MIDI master keyboard) or do they fully rely on the computer/software to work at all?

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by AndrewB » Thu Mar 19, 2015 10:15 am

Feel-wise I think nothing comes even close to my Korg Wavestation - all its other querky attributes aside, its the most beautiful thing to play

I have an A-37 controller which I've been struggling to program to simply change patches in my other hardware - the content of Roland's user manual is as sparse as a pair of knickers in a brothel, and I just can't seem to get the thing to talk to the others - strangely, when ProTools is booted up the thing works provided you select the appropriate channels etc but as a stand-alone function for just playing around, it won't work

Now, I know it must work somehow because lots of threads out there all say how good the A-37 is but I'm obviously missing something...

As another soul desperately clinging onto the 80s I'd dearly appreciate a pointer and if someone could be so kind as to actually take me through step-by-step how to program the damn thing I'd be eternally grateful

Thanks...


Andrew

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Thu Mar 19, 2015 10:34 am

AndrewB: nice to see others still clinging on to 80s hardware ;)
How do you feel about those new keyboard controllers, such as the Akai MPK-261 I'm considering? It appears Roland just hasn't got it any more unfortunately, based on your comments on the A-37 and others' comments on the A-800 pro with similar issues, and despite preferring the more "built like a tank" style and "professional design" of older master keyboards I can't help thinking what I'll be missing out on when using it with DAW software.

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by AndrewB » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:19 am

Funny you mention the MPK-261, it actually is something I'm mulling over - I've been toying with changing from the A-37 because of the problems I've always had - I thought it might have just been an age thing (the unit, not me...!) or even faulty so I'd considered the A-800 Pro but am wary that the same "Roland problems" might follow with it and you do see a lot of complaints out there about how fiddly the Rolands are to set up so in the interests of avoiding unnecessary headaches I've been looking elsewhere

but while the keyboard controllers now do all seem to incorporate all manner of knobs & sliders & pads for the DAWs, many seem to focus on Ableton or Logic and I want to avoid shelling out for something that should work with ProTools only to find later that it doesn't

my original preference was for separates (like my HiFi, I always worked on the premise that you don't want something that does more than one thing in case it has to be replaced) and looked at the Mackie Control Pro to work alongside the A-37 but having not yet invested in that I am keeping open minded about these new "combined" controller keyboards as an alternative - the thing is though, will they actually work properly with ProTools, how tricky is the mapping (the Mackie is just plug & play - apparently) what limitations would they have, how do they feel (the A-37 does actually feel good unless you're playing piano sounds, as it doesn't have a full weighted hammer action), and what is the build quality like - ironically the Roland is certainly solid but what use is that if it doesn't work properly...?

so I think there's probably a narrow choice of combined controllers which don't feel plasticky, cheap or nasty, and I think the feel is important, even if you're just messing with ideas or jamming - so given Akai's reputation etc the MPKs are definitely on my investigative short-list, and lots of people sing the praises of the Novation units too - I'm yet to try them out & learn more re their interaction with the DAWs but I'm open to suggestions/recommendations from anyone about other units

will post up as soon as I've had a chance to try out the MPK and/or Novation

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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by meatballfulton » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:05 pm

One of the reasons for the so-called "hardware resurgence" we are seeing is that DAWs and softsynths are so difficult to control in real time. Other than dedicated controllers like Push, APC, Launchpad, Panorama, Maschine, etc. the user has to do a lot of setup work and make a lot of compromises to get it to work. I'm not sure what the solution is except for more dedicated controllers.

I've worked with a variety of generic controllers over the last five years and all of them have severe drawbacks. What would really help is DAW designers getting away from skeumorphism and create interfaces that map well to existing controllers.

A good example is Racks in Ableton Live. A rack can contain multiple instruments and effects along with eight macro knobs, the user defines what those knobs control. Eight knobs isn't much...but you choose which controls to expose and map to the eight knobs on your typical controller.

For those who have never used Live here's an example:

Image

Now imagine expanding those eight knobs into larger matrices...64 knobs or more that can be easily paged. That still requires someone to decide how the knobs are mapped. Now imagine some software mfrs actually came up with a standard mapping, like there is for MIDI CCs so that common controls would always be on the same knob. Now we are starting to see the immensity of the problem.
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Re: Quality MIDI keyboard controllers still available?

Post by logix » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:50 pm

AndrewB wrote:so I think there's probably a narrow choice of combined controllers which don't feel plasticky, cheap or nasty, and I think the feel is important, even if you're just messing with ideas or jamming
I agree that the feel is important. If you don't like the gear you're working with and thus don't relax and enjoy yourself you're ultimately not going to make music to your full potential IMHO. I've been told that nowadays the pros use those cheapo "consumer grade" USB keyboard controllers just like all the amateur bedroom musicians but in addition also rely on professional stage pianos for a more pro feel (especially for piano players) while doing live shows.
Seems the master keyboard era with Yamaha's KX-88 and other similarly well built and professional looking (not plastic Christmas tree decorations) units are long gone.

I never got to try out the A-800 pro so I'm interested in hearing what you find out.

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