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Thread: Selecting a Midi Keyboard

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    Question Selecting a Midi Keyboard

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    Hi everyone, I'm new to all of this and setting up a little home studio to start dabbling with. I've been watching lots of videos of all of the different Midi keyboards and I've pretty much narrowed it down to the following ones but what I need help with is understanding the pros and cons with each of them.

    Akai MPK249
    Native Instruments S49 MK2
    Alesis Ai49

    I want the ability for this keyboard to grow with me. I have Logic Pro X. I know you can use the keyboard for drums but I'm not sure if most prefer to use the the drumming pads, so I was looking at the Native Instruments Maschine as well. Is this overkill?

    The videos I've watched with the Native Instruments I really like how you can find all the sounds on the keyboard and not having to click around through the software to find them or make adjustments. As for the Alesis and Akai, I assume they will do the same thing but you will have to select your sounds manually in Logic for each track?

    Quality, for any of you that have any of these, how do you find the quality of them? I'm afraid to buy something cheaper because I'm afraid I will outgrow its capabilities and/or durability. Can anyone offer some advice on these or if there is another model to look at?

    Thanks,
    Brian

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    Hi Brian and welcome.
    Now, I am NOT a keyboards man! But I am all you are likely to get at this hour of a Sunday morn so....

    Those three keyboards are "controllers" that is to say they do not of themselves contain any "sounds" but merely trigger (afaict) instruments in software.
    Now, some kbs are surely better at finding an organizing such instruments but I would not know which but, owning an NI interface I would put my money there. Also, it seems none of the kbds have audio outputs? That means they are not, of themselves Audio Interfaces and thus you would be reliant on the quality of the computer's soundcard for low noise, low distortion and low latency. You are using a mac? I understand they are very good for latency but the other two parameters are surely compromised? What will you be listening on? Hooking up any form of monitor speakers will be tricky from a 1/8" stereo jack.

    You mentioned "future proofing" as it were? One thing, make sure whatever keyboard you get has DIN MIDI output AND input ports. That goes for any AI you get as well.

    Now, do not BY ANY MEANS want to lose you but do have a shufty at Sound On Sound | The World's Premier Music Recording Technology Magazine forum. They have synths/controllers/MIDI kit every months on test and their reviews are among the most respected in the world.

    Dave.

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    Those three are broadly similar in terms of how they function. Plenty of questions for you. Are you a self-taught keyboard person or did you have piano lessons? On REAL piano. Weighted and piano realistic actions are NOT the strong point of those keyboards but they do work brilliantly with sample based stuff. If you use Kontakt, as I do - the ability to see ranges and keyswitches makes the Kontakt branded one very useful. On mine, which is a full size 88 note controller, I have to remember where they are, and having little LEDs would be useful. I personally don't use the pads, others love pads. I do use loads of the faders to control parameters, but I dont use the knobs. What I don't find easy is playing very quietly on the plastic synth like keyboards. So if I need a piano, I use a weighted keyboard, for synths and other stuff, I play the controller. I'm actually using a Swissonic 88 note controller from Thomann in germany and I really like it - good value too, but I never remember how to reprogram it, like all controller keyboards, the fiddly stuff isn't the easiest to remember as a sequence of button prods!
    Do you need one or two handed playing? 49 notes is too small if you do - add an extra octave and you can do two hands with keyswitches better. 88 could be too big? Do you need feedback from the computer lights, LED guides etc? Price? Important or not. Kontakt and the kontakt controller go together well - that, I miss, maybe a little?

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    Cool Re: Selecting a Midi Keyboard

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you very much for your response. I'm so new to this I really didn't explain my question because I wasn't sure how to ask it. LOL. I do understand these are controllers (I am terrible at using generic phrases) and they don't make any sound, they only output a command to the software to play whatever note etc. From what I have seen most people on the YouTube videos are just plugging them into the USB port of the computer and I've heard some controllers are worse than others on the latency. Also, yes I'm on a Mac computer.

    As for Monitors, I haven't even gotten there yet, those seem to be an easier solution than picking out a midi controller for some reason. I have plans to purchase a Scarlett 2i2 for my audio interface for mic vocals. Short of that, I haven't researched how monitors are hooked up to the computer.

    What would I use the Midi in/out for on the controller if I'm plugging it in to the computer via USB? (yep, I'm that green LOL).

    I haven't seen or heard of Sound on Sound. Thank you for the resource and I will certainly go take a look at the site.

    Thank you,
    Brian

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    Hi Rob,

    Thank you for responding. I've taken 8 years of piano lessons and have played for about 25 year now. I have a Yamaha Grand Piano and a Yamaha DGX-640. The semi weighted keys are just about right for me on a midi controller, I don't like the full weighted feel when I'm not playing a true piano, my brain just tells me if it's not a really piano, it's synthetic and the keys should feel the same. I am also looking at the 61 key size as well vs the 49, I really don't need 2 handed play for what I "think" I'm wanting to do. I was wanting something smaller that would fit on my desk to create some tracks with. I don't plan on actually playing a full piece in one sitting like I would on a the piano if that makes sense.

    I appreciate your feedback on the pads, I have never done anything like that so I'm not sure if that would be easier for me to play the drums patterns with vs tapping or not. I suppose it is just experimentation.

    When you mention feedback from the computer, are you meaning like say an LED over the note you just played lights up on the controller, something like 2 way communication between the controller and computer? I really wouldn't have a clue. What would be nice is the ability to load up a MIDI file of a song I'm having trouble playing and use some software to help teach how to play it on the midi controller if that is even possible by lighting chords etc on the controller.

    Price is always important, I am wanting to stay below $700 US.

    Thank you so much for your input!
    Brian

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    Quote Originally Posted by massageman69 View Post
    Hi Dave,

    Thank you very much for your response. I'm so new to this I really didn't explain my question because I wasn't sure how to ask it. LOL. I do understand these are controllers (I am terrible at using generic phrases) and they don't make any sound, they only output a command to the software to play whatever note etc. From what I have seen most people on the YouTube videos are just plugging them into the USB port of the computer and I've heard some controllers are worse than others on the latency. Also, yes I'm on a Mac computer.

    As for Monitors, I haven't even gotten there yet, those seem to be an easier solution than picking out a midi controller for some reason. I have plans to purchase a Scarlett 2i2 for my audio interface for mic vocals. Short of that, I haven't researched how monitors are hooked up to the computer.

    What would I use the Midi in/out for on the controller if I'm plugging it in to the computer via USB? (yep, I'm that green LOL).

    I haven't seen or heard of Sound on Sound. Thank you for the resource and I will certainly go take a look at the site.

    Thank you,
    Brian
    The MIDI ports allow you to connect other MIDI devices, you never know what might come available cheap! The 2i2 is a very well thought of interface but lacks MIDI. The next one up, the 2i4 is only a few pounds more. Better in my view to HAVE the possibilities and never use them than get a bit of kit and be frustrated?

    That said, if you do go for the Native Instruments controller it makes sense to me to get an NI interface? The very excellent KA6 is now discontinued from a lot of stores but stocks can still be found, you might find a second hand one. Built like a BSH so unlikely to be a bother. They work very well on macs and deliver very low latency. The KA2 is still current.

    Dave.

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    The LEDs are not a play along thing, but a way to poimt out where things are. Keyswutches on say a string patch to switch from staccato to legato, they light up where they are and the actual keys that will play are illuminated - showing where you go out of range. That would be nice but mines doesn't have it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by massageman69 View Post
    From what I have seen most people on the YouTube videos are just plugging them into the USB port of the computer and I've heard some controllers are worse than others on the latency.
    Latency is more likely to be a function of sound generation rather than an attribute of the keyboard. Transmitting Midi data from keyboard to computer is a not an intensive computing task. But generating a sound from that data within the computer can be, and that's where the gap between pressing a key and hearing a sound is most likely to come from.

    Quote Originally Posted by massageman69 View Post
    I have plans to purchase a Scarlett 2i2 for my audio interface for mic vocals. Short of that, I haven't researched how monitors are hooked up to the computer.
    The first sentence above answers the second. In other words, you hook up monitors to the interface. The interface takes the place of the on-board sound of your computer, so it is both an input and output device.

    Quote Originally Posted by massageman69 View Post
    What would I use the Midi in/out for on the controller if I'm plugging it in to the computer via USB?
    Two reasons:

    1 To allow a number of other midi devices to be connected. This was mentioned earlier.

    2 To provide redundancy. I have a keyboard with USB and DIN. At one stage, I was not getting signal via USB, but I was able to get signal via midi cable and its DIN output. It turns out, after I had a poke inside, that a solder jint had become unstuck (which I was able to fix).

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    I don't use the USB connections of most keyboards I have, but I have the Swissonic connected via USB, and there's no practical difference. The days of nasty MIDI interfaces going into a games port in a card have thankfully gone!

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    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone View Post
    I don't use the USB connections of most keyboards I have, but I have the Swissonic connected via USB, and there's no practical difference. The days of nasty MIDI interfaces going into a games port in a card have thankfully gone!
    We did that with a Terratek soundcard! I actually came across one of the stupidly stiff, chunky cables in the loft the other week (free to anyone that wants it!)

    Yes, everything MIDI has gone USB but also "everything" also only has MIDI OUT on DIN if it has DIN at all. Thus, if you come across some tasty old bit of kit there is no MIDI input.

    "Once Upon a Time" all AIs included MIDI ports (if only via the gameport) Now, cost cutting means it is often left off much of the gear. I can see the logic for VERY small devices with crowded panels but there has been a move to 3.5mm TRS and, whilst I am not THAT happy about it, it does at least keep MIDI I/O going.

    Dave.

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