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What's the best midi keyboard controller?
Last post Thu, May 20 2010 by inwinterhesleeps, 12 replies.
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Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 12:55
by crutkowski
Joined on Thu, May 01 2008, Posts 11

Greetings all,

Being a new user, I'm discovering how much editing I have to do to an imported part from a Finale score.  Things like a standard midi file of a cello part generating individual tracks in Logic for each part in the score the part was extracted from.  And having to move volume data generated by cresc. and dim. wedges in the score to the expression controller which then controls the volume crossfade in VI.

It seems that people like to enter parts by playing them into the sequencer, and letting the expression data and patch changes in the matrix be generated that way.

So the question becomes, what midi keyboards do people like best?  I'd also like to play VI live, so that's a consideration.  How about the M Audio Axion 61-key (c. $600).  Is it that much better than the much cheaper M Audio 61-key Oxygen (c. $200)?


Chris R.

Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 14:33
by rpmusic
Joined on Sun, Sep 04 2005, USA, Posts 205

My consideration is always feel. I use the "old" Roland A80 controller. IMO it has the best feel of any controller that I have played. I've actually had mine since 1989 and have always been happy with it. It doesn't have as many switch and slider controls as the more modern controllers but until I find one that feels as close to a piano as this one does, I'll stay with it!


Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 15:03
by crutkowski
Joined on Thu, May 01 2008, Posts 11

Thanks, Rob.  At first I was going to reply that I wanted the switches and sliders, so as to control as many parameters in both the DAW and the VI Matrix as possible, but after checking out your website and seeing the level of work you're doing, I need to think about the simplicity of your suggestion.  I do have a Yamaha CP33 digital piano that I could use for the feel, but I'm thinking that a lighter kybd might be easier to work with in my (rapidly evolving) personal studio.  As I work in notation when writing orchestrally, my workflow would probably work out with a simpler note entry device and then I can edit in the DAW.  (Also, I hate carry heavy keyboards, especially as I have lots of access to real pianos....)

Many thanks for your thoughts-I'll spend a lot more time at your website!

Best wishes,


Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 15:25
by rpmusic
Joined on Sun, Sep 04 2005, USA, Posts 205

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the compliments. Yeah, the only drawback of the A80 is the minimum of onboard controllers (comparative by todays standards) but using little things like the Alpha Track really helps my work flow. There always seems to be "workarounds."

Now, as far as "heavy keyboards"...this thing is probable one of the heaviest controllers out there!!!! OMG! I think they put bricks in it just so you would think that you're getting more for your money!

Thanks for visiting the website and glad you enjoy it. I'll be "Twittering" and "Ustreaming" during my next film scoring in about 3 weeks. I figured there's not enough pressure to JUST score a film so I'd add this on top of it! :-) We'll see how long I keep that up!!!


Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 19:28
by zentrumsounds
Joined on Sat, Jan 03 2009, Posts 152
Hi Chris,

Rob's A80 is the real deal all right! My own experience having worked for many years as a piano technician (before finally making money from composition) was that despite size and weight very few master keyboard managed to really feel like the real thing. The closest I ever came to it was the Kawai MP 9000/9500 series which unbelievably weigh even more then the venerable A80... 32kg versus 29kg. They have a real action inside and have wooden keys. The drawback is that because of the natural tendency for keys to warp, aftertouch is not possible as the tolerances are quite tight. However it is unlikely you'll want to move either of these beasts and I've regretted bringing my MP 9000 out every time I've played live.

However if you are going down the route of seeking out the ultimate controller I know of a couple of composers who have the real deal... an upright Yamaha disklavier set to MUTE and only used as a MIDI controller. That way you even get the two stage feel of action (something that even the best digital options don't replicate). And having recently bought such a secondhand disklavier for one of our university studios I've been surprised how cheap they are (used Japanese import). Of course no controllers on this option.
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Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 19:52
by crutkowski
Joined on Thu, May 01 2008, Posts 11


Thanks for the fascinating comments!  

One thing I find interesting in both of your responses is the sense that live performance with as many subtleties of touch as possible is the preferred way of working with VI.  I'm also very interested in the university program you mention.  I also have a substantial footprint in academia, and would very much like to learn more about your program.  Could send me an email contact if you'd prefer not to discuss it on line?



Posted on Tue, Aug 04 2009 21:23
by dayadon
Joined on Fri, Aug 03 2007, Posts 172

I, too, can validate the Roland A80 as a very nice piano keyboard.  I've used that, as well as the Kurzweil PC88, which I have now in my own home studio.  It has a lot of 'controller' faders and buttons you can setup in your DAW.  I've also used Yamaha weighted keyboards, and they were all very passable for studio and live playing.

Right now, for home playing, and some live performance, I got this relatively inexpensive ($1,195 retail)  Yamaha P-155 keyboard...not for the studio, but for in the house, in addition to my real piano.  The keyboard feel on this instrument, is very good.  You can use it through MIDI or USB.  This piano feel technology is very quiet, not like the clunk from the PC88.  I don't think it will work well as a controller for much except playing and inputting your MIDI tracks.  I like the USB slot, too, becuase I can record a piano piece on the Yamaha, then save it to a USB dongle, and put it in the computer to transfer to logic, or whatever one uses.  The keyboard is nice!

I also used to have a Roland Rhodes keyboard, which had bad sounds, and was way too heavy!  However, the weighted keys were pretty darned good!  It's gone now, but the PC88 has been good for the studio setup.


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Posted on Wed, Aug 05 2009 00:52
by Mahlon
Joined on Sun, Jan 08 2006, The decadent South, Posts 441

 For what it's worth, I use the Roland A90. Strange that all old school Roland users are replying. The A90 has absolutely fantastic touch, but the best thing to me is the extensive velocity curve adjustments. You can make it exactly how you like it.

Heavy? Yes. Old? Yes. Paid for and great action..... priceless.


Posted on Wed, Aug 05 2009 15:06
by didger
Joined on Sat, Oct 27 2007, Salt Lake City, Posts 68

Everybody's right on the piano feel issue, but... you do say specifically that you're looking for something simpler and lighter, and you are talking about simple note entry or editing imports from scores rather than playing whole parts in. So I do endorse the Axiom 61 that you mentioned. Since I'm not a pianist, but have played keyboards my whole life (almost literally - I must have been 4 or 5 when my family got the little white Casio thing with the calculator keys - VTB-1, was it?), I'm happy with the Axiom as my main controller. I do wish they offered it with one more octave, but I do fine.

There's a row of 9 buttons right above the keyboard that I've got programmed to send the keyswitches - one program with it in the low octave, one in the high octave for bass and such. I actually find that way more intuitive than using the keyboard. One slider right above that is for velocity x-fade, one slider for volume, so I feel like I can get expressive performances on the fly very comfortably. I've used the 8 pads for percussion and even staccato string parts. I haven't yet used the other 7 sliders or the rotary knobs for VIs but you could probably figure out a way!

Posted on Tue, May 04 2010 17:25
by mpritr1
Joined on Tue, May 04 2010, Posts 1
I think you first need to know how they work(http://audiomidicontroller.com/), than you can dece what kind of midi controller is the best for yourself! =)
Posted on Thu, May 06 2010 20:57
by stevesolum
Joined on Sat, Jan 09 2010, Posts 30
Hi Chris,
Experienced piano players really miss not having a great feel to their controllers, and choose accordingly. I have a slightly different perspective. My instrument was not the piano, and I'm a long-time hacker on it; probably spent more time with digital keyboards than the real thing, although I too teach at the college level. Plastic semi-weighted keyboards work OK for me. I do some live note entry, but much more live controller entry, and thus like the knobs and sliders. I've had good luck with the CME UF 70 keyboard, with semi-weighted action and a bunch of controllers on-board. I think I would now be lost without them. : ) The UF70 is relatively inexpensive, light, and, from what I hear from some students, quite roadworthy. I would have purchased the fully weighted UF80 w/ 88 keys, but it wouldn't fit well in my space. That's my 2 cents.

Steve Solum
Steve Solum, http://www.soundlablearning
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Posted on Thu, May 20 2010 07:37
by inwinterhesleeps
Joined on Sat, Dec 03 2005, Posts 67

I personally would stay away from CME. I had the UF8 (weighted action 88 note) and never liked it. It had problems with controller data being stuck in a certain range. This was promised to be fixed for years but was never fixed. The action was not consistent either and way too bouncy.

It is chinese cheap stuff with appropriate quality and pretty much no tech support. I would stick with a reputable company.

These days I use a Kurzweil SP2X and an Axiom 49. Having both synth and piano action is the best of both worlds.

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