midi keyboard/ virtual instruments recomendation

swelborn

New member
greetings. I'm a guitarist songwriter home recorder and a noobie to midi/keyboard. I want to lay down tracks of instruments I don't play using midi keyboard. Guitar Center rep brought the Akai advance49 to my attention. Native S49 another option.
I liked the look of the Akai ( a little cheaper) with the larger colored lit touch pads. Wasn't able to plug in and listen to sounds but was told the current Akai units are comparable for quality natural sounding instruments. And I think the guy mentioned native software can be used with the Akai. Anyway I'm starting from clueless and appreciate any advice/recommendations. Thanks

Cubase 6/PC
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
You have to remember that the device is totally reliant on the other stuff you have for the sounds - it can play vst instruments, and apparently this is pretty transparent. Playing VSTi plugins is great live, but if you are going to produce songs at home, then you need a sequencer to record what the keyboard outputs (the MIDI data) so you may as well use the plugins in that, and that would be my preference.

In terms of controller keyboards, then you need to choose a keyboard that works for you. A real pianist probably learned to play on a real piano, so having weighted keys will be a real must. Somebody who learned to play on a plastic keyboard synth, will be happy with plastic keys and light pressure.

I have a very nice weighted keyboard - BUT - it does not have pitchbend and modulation - or aftertouch. My Korg Triton has them, but has a pretty horrid keyboard, but it does have aftertouch - so I use both. Pitchbend is essential if you want to produce realistic sounds on some instruments. Like trombone. Real trombones do not go from one note to another cleanly without a short gap, they do very quick pitch bends. String instruments slide about all over the place.

What sequencer are you buying/already have? Some are MIDI friendly, while some are not. I use Cubase which is pretty versatile with MIDI.
 

garww

New member
You might get a beater 25-key 'til you get your MIDI bearings. If it's got MIDI DIN ports, you won't be tied to USB. Anyway, my Casio xw-p1 synth was in this price range & and my used Ultranova was $420
 

SeaGtGruff

Member
Some brands of keyboard controllers come with free licenses to download a soft synth, sample library, or virtual instrument-- not to mention a free license to download a lite DAW-- so you might want to take that into consideration when shopping around and trying to choose between two or more controllers. Usually any freebies will be advertised on the box to encourage you to buy. Of course, if you've already got some virtual instruments or a DAW that you like, then the freebies might not be a consideration for you. And you're generally better off getting a controller that has a keybed and controls that you like, as opposed to settling for something that's not really what you're looking for just because it comes with some freebies.
 

garww

New member
.." with the larger colored lit touch pads".

Who uses those : )

Anyway, I tested my Trigger Finger Pro for velocity and aftertouch when I got it and felt it was better than many of my keyboards for doing crazy synth patches and choir vocals.
SOS;
.." and the pressure-sensitive aftertouch is really smooth"..

Now, I don't think it is wise to think your going to like a keyboard's feel without some experience. And, I don't think everybody uses all those controller functions, either. That VST/i mapping in the Akai could be real handy. I have something like that with the Trigger Finger

Ya, the VST/i thing can be compelling, but many sounds are all ready in workstations - like mx49
Something like the $99 M-Audio Axiom AIR Mini 32 can let you play with those controller things
 

swelborn

New member
ok... spoke with another GC rep and he said the Akai and Native midi keyboards suited more towards electronic sounds and a Roland (Juno ds61 for example), Yamaha or Korg would be better suited for natural conventional instrument sounds (upright bass, orchestral instruments, mandolins, etc. with the Roland having the best quality sound. The Roland juno ds61 with built in sequencer and includes probably all the VSTi's I would ever need.
If I want authentic sounding instruments I guess I'll have to move to the higher price @ $700 or around $500 used. Unless someone suggests otherwise...??
 

SeaGtGruff

Member
I'm not sure whether you understand the difference between a keyboard controller and a keyboard instrument yet (you did say that you're "starting from clueless").

Keyboard controllers-- such as the Akai Pro Advance 49 and the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-49-- can't make sounds by themselves, because they don't have any built-in tone generators. They're used to control software such as virtual instruments, as well as other hardware such as keyboard instruments or sound modules.

Keyboard instruments, on the other hand, can make sounds by themselves.

Both types of keyboard can be a good purchase, but one is usually better than the other depending on what you're planning to do with it.

If you're looking for a keyboard that you can take on the road and play in gigs, then you'll probably want a keyboard instrument. That way, you won't need to worry about taking a tablet, laptop, computer, or separate sound module with you. Of course, some keyboardists do use keyboard controllers for live gigs, so it can be a personal choice based on whether or not you mind having to take a tablet, laptop, computer, or separate sound module onstage with you.

But if you're looking for a keyboard that you plan to leave set up in a studio and use for recording music with a DAW, then you might want to get a keyboard controller. Note that most (but not all) electronic keyboard instruments can also be used as keyboard controllers, although they usually don't have as many of the miscellaneous controls-- buttons, knobs, sliders, pads, etc.-- that most of the nicer keyboard controllers do.

There's no reason a keyboard controller such as the Akai Pro Advance 49 or the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-49 can't be used to play symphonic instrument sounds, because the type of sounds are determined by the virtual instruments you're playing with the controller. There are some really nice virtual instruments for playing symphonic instrument sounds.

One factor to consider is that when you buy a keyboard instrument, you can expect to have to pay more for it because it contains tone generators and built-in sound samples for producing its own sounds. A keyboard controller doesn't contain any tone generators and built-in sound samples, so you can expect to be able to pay less for it (compared to a keyboard instrument)-- but unless you already have a DAW with a nice collection of virtual instruments and plug-ins, you'll also need to buy one or more virtual instruments separately. In the end you may possibly wind up spending the same amount of money on a keyboard instrument versus a keyboard controller plus virtual instruments.
 

garww

New member
.."If I want authentic sounding instruments I guess I'll have to move to the higher price @ $700 or around $500 used. Unless someone suggests otherwise"...??

Well, I'm not really spending money on authentic. That will be more your ability at the controller. Like; "I've played violin for 20 years and I know how it works and sounds" will get you further than good sounds
 

swelborn

New member
Excellent clarification SeaGTCruff thank you. No I'm not looking for a keyboard instrument. I'm a guitarist wanting only to lay down tracks in a home studio of conventional instruments which I don't play, hence the desire to do so with VSTi software using a keyboard controller. So
maybe the GC guys are complicating my quest.

I have a DAW-- PC/Cubase/fader port/ interface/ etc.

I'd like to keep it as simple and cost effective as possible and be able to produce realistic natural sounding instruments. So it sounds like what I need is a keyboard controller with at least 4 octaves, a sequencer and VSTi's to load into the PC/Cubase correct?

stupid question: Correct me if I'm wrong, I understand now that a sequencer is in affect a recording/storage device which in turn will load into the DAW in the designated track correct?

So... since the instrument sounds themselves is all about the VSTi's you load into the PC/DAW and all that's necessary is a controller/sequencer to trigger, which seems obvious and simple, what was this GC guy talking about?? (No answer necessary)

Back to square one....
 

SeaGtGruff

Member
A typical DAW is a multi-purpose program that combines an audio recorder, MIDI recorder, MIDI router, plug-in host, mixer, etc. In short, if you've got Cubase, then you've already got a sequencer that's part of Cubase, so there's probably no need to buy a separate hardware sequencer. If you want to create a sequence in Cubase or another DAW, you can use the piano roll editor to add notes to the sequence with your mouse, or you can record the notes that you're playing on a keyboard controller to a MIDI track.

Cubase should have come with at least a few virtual instruments, although the number of virtual instruments that are included will vary depending on the version and edition-- for instance, I have Cubase Elements, which doesn't include everything that's in Cubase Artist or Cubase Pro.

You can find a lot of free virtual instrument plug-ins on the internet, although their quality can be unpredictable, so you just have to try them and see how they sound and perform. There are also some excellent virtual instruments for sale from various companies, ranging in price from under $100 to over $500. The nice thing about going the controller route, versus the keyboard instrument route, is that you can buy a nice controller for a few hundred dollars and use it to play some free or inexpensive plug-ins for a while, then buy some nicer (and more expensive) plug-ins later when you've saved up some more money-- that is, instead of one big purchase, you can split it up into several smaller purchases, and spread them out over a period of weeks or months in accordance with your finances.

EDIT -- By the way, not all DAWs can use all plug-ins, so check your version of Cubase to see what kinds of plug-ins it can use-- that is, VST2 or VST3, AU, etc., not to mention 32-bit versus 64-bit. You wouldn't want to spend a lot of money on an expensive virtual instrument that you can't return for a refund, only to discover that you can't use it with Cubase! Cubase is from Steinberg, so it should be able to use anything that's in a VST format, and a lot of virtual instruments are available in multiple formats so they'll be usable by just about any potential customer-- so you probably won't have any problems with compatibility, but it's still a good idea to check out any possible issues before you spend your money.
 

garww

New member
In a lot of setups, you can be doing MIDI without any keyboard purchase. You might take a moment to explore MIDI. Specialized controllers - like a breath controller, will help one go beyond basic note on, note off. It is a performance interface, but you can do MIDI with your typing keyboard and mouse clicks in the MIDI editor
 

Chili

Site Moderator
Cubase is your sequencer. Connect your newly bought keyboard controller, load in some VSTi and go.

In purchasing the controller, you might find the 'aftertouch' function useful. SeaGT might have hit on that already (skimming thread :o)

I have a small 25 key controller and a large 76 key synth. I prefer the larger key format. I don't recommend getting a 25 key controller and maybe not even the 49 key controller.
 

SeaGtGruff

Member
In purchasing the controller, you might find the 'aftertouch' function useful. SeaGT might have hit on that already (skimming thread :o)

No, I didn't mention that, so it's good that you did. I don't have aftertouch on any of my keyboards, but I wish I did!

I have a small 25 key controller and a large 76 key synth. I prefer the larger key format. I don't recommend getting a 25 key controller and maybe not even the 49 key controller.

I think 49 keys is okay, since it covers the notes shown below-- and more, if you use the octave-shifting buttons. That's an adequate range for playing with both hands. Mind you, I prefer no fewer than 61 keys myself, but smaller keyboards can be a better choice if you've got space issues in your studio. I can't see myself playing anything with just 25 keys, but I can see entering notes into a piano roll editor with a 25-key controller. :)

49notes.gif
 

garww

New member
All that stuff is useful and they are doing tricks with velocity, too. I'm not a keyboard player and can't say I dance around the keyboard beyond the three 61 keys I have. I'm usually working with smaller keybeds. My 25 key has full size keys and while I don't prefer it for anything, it has been very, very useful. That was its purpose when I bought it. At this computer, its 4-inches from my leg, leaning against the table leg ready to go.

I think I got 23 virtual instruments with my last Magix DAW., plus I got for free Independence 8 gig one year (2014? )

As far as authentic goes, MIDI can, certainly, be effective. But it's pretty easy to spot even from the accomplished major studios - movies, etc.. The Virtual thing is here and part of everyday, so it is part of the deal for many, many people. What comes close to Authentic is often from tedious editing. You can ask a violinist, or, drummer if MIDI sounds Authentic : )
 

ashcat_lt

Well-known member
Wait!

Did you really just say that you want to play instruments that you don't play on an instrument that you don't play?!? ;)

I think you're much better off looking for a guitar-to-MIDI option. Then you can play instruments you don't play on an instrument that you do play, and I promise you the results will be better faster. You will still have to adapt your style to play more like the things people who can play those instruments might. For example, keyboardists tend to voice their chords a bit differently and obviously a wind instrument can't play chords at all. I personally find that aspect an interesting challenge and I think it makes me a better guitarist overall. But you won't have to relearn where to find the notes or how to move your hands to get the dynamics and rhythm that you want. You already know how to manipulate those things on guitar. I guess I'm not sure where your budget lies, but it's very much worth saving up a bit.

In the meantime, every DAW has a piano roll MIDI editor. Just draw in the instruments you can't play and be done.
 

swelborn

New member
"Did you really just say that you want to play instruments that you don't play on an instrument that you don't play?"

Ha! I certainly did. That's funny. You might have a point here. I play guitar, electric bass and pedal steel. I'll check out the guitar-to-midi option and see what kind of financial damage this entails. If said equipment could be applied to pedal steel too that could have some very useful applications.

Re sequencer, I mentioned I had Cubase in the initial post. I thought there was something redundant here about needing a separate piece of sequencer hardware. Good to affirm that. The less stuff needed to buy the better ;)
 

Chili

Site Moderator
I'll disagree with Ashcat's observation. It doesn't take too much to learn the notes on a keyboard. If you already know the notes and where to play them on the guitar, it isn't a far stretch to learn them on a keyboard. Playing simple melodies and even chords won't take long to master. What does take a while is the two handed playing where each part is totally different. Leave that to the pro's, thank you very much.

90% of what you want to do can be done with one hand playing melodies or simple chords, emulating other instruments. As an example, when I want to add an organ or a string part, I find that playing full chords tends to muddy up the mix. I usually just play one note or two notes of a chord; the 1st and 5th.

That's not to say getting a guitar to midi interface isn't a bad idea. They can open up a new world of possibilities and inspire songs. Just don't discount the keyboard controller just because you don't know how to play it..... yet.
 

ashcat_lt

Well-known member
IDK. It made a huge difference for me. I used to try to bang things out on a keyboard. Just play all white keys and transpose it to whatever key you want. ;)

I tried all kinds of things for drums. Those little pad things. Actual drum triggers. Banging on a keyboard. It never really worked. Put it on my guitar? Got it!

I can dig the idea of wanting to be more "cosmopolitan", and if you actually relish the challenge of learning a new instrument, that's great.
 

garww

New member
They've also have had audio to MIDI converters for 10-plus years. Record clean and crisp on your guitar. Supposedly, they are much more sophisticated now days
 

garww

New member
here's a MIDI (from the web) for Classical guitar to try out.

Opps, no MIDI files. You can find variations on line; tarrega_malaguena.mid
 
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