The excellent transportable (and cheap) USB MIDI controllers
However sooner than we fetch to the nitty-gritty, let’s be clear about what we’re taking a peek at right here. For one, we’re simplest thinking about keyboard-model controllers. While pads are a bonus, we’ll be ignoring pad-simplest controllers love the Novation Launchpad. (They are a special beast.) We’re also centered on USB-MIDI controllers. My reasoning: I rep most of that you simply can per chance moreover be working with a laptop to some extent anyway, significantly while traveling. So while having diversified connections is ideal, it’s no longer important. However no longer having USB is a dealbreaker.
When that you simply can per chance moreover hang watched any synth movies on YouTube, that you simply can per chance moreover hang most likely considered an Arturia KeyStep. We sang its praises right here on Engadget. Its keyboard feels mighty of a tool two or three instances the value. Plus it has a constructed-in arpeggiator, a sequencer and more connectivity choices than that you simply can per chance be in a position to factor in. Generally, if there is a a part of substances accessible, the KeyStep can potentially map conclude an eye on it with out the need for a middleman. It be reasonably priced too, at simplest $129.
However the KeyStep has a first-rate hassle: It weighs a ton. All precise, it simplest weighs three kilos, nonetheless that is serene plenty, quite talking. Basically the simplest diversified keyboard I thought to be including that weighs more is the mighty loved Arturia MiniLab, which comes in at 3.3 kilos. However frankly, it’s no longer nearly tiny or light ample to map conclude around comfortably. The KeyStep is also the longest controller I checked out. At 19 inches it’s quite no longer easy to stuff into most backpacks. Except you fully need the CV and MIDI ports and form no longer concept to drag it with you in most cases, you are potentially higher off taking a peek at Arturia’s newest offering, the MicroLab.
The MicroLab has the identical keybed because the KeyStep and MiniLab — which is to inform, by a long way my well-liked keybed of the bunch. It also weighs no longer as much as two kilos, and while it’s larger than many of the competition at about 16.5 inches lengthy, it serene suits in most bags meant for 15-journey laptops. However what makes the MicroLab special is the considerate invent. There is a skinny rubber case around the general thing that must support provide protection to it against light bumps. It also doubles as a holster for the cable, which wraps securely around the keyboard so it’s no longer floating around your fetch. Oh, and that wire sits flush with the facet of the controller, so that you simply form no longer wish to fear about it going within the system of your diversified gear.
The MicroLab is kind of bare bones even supposing. There isn’t any longer any map conclude pedal input, no arpeggiator, no knobs, no pads or transport controls, and simplest USB for connectivity. However it absolutely’s the most cost-efficient keyboard on this listing at $89, and it comes with a high-notch tool bundle, including Arturia’s Analog Lab Lite and Bitwig Studio 8-Observe. When you correct need so that it’s essential to to per chance play the keys wherever you plod and form no longer want a ton of bells and whistles, the MicroLab is perchance your excellent guess.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32
Native Instruments’ (NI) controllers are the simplest ones that are even within the identical league as Arturia’s with regards to the quality of the keybed. Earlier this 365 days the firm launched its most transportable mannequin but, the Komplete Kontrol M32. It be the most costly of the lot at $139, nonetheless it absolutely’s also the most solidly constructed (assign for the KeyStep). It feels love something that belongs in a legitimate studio. The buttons hang a comely click, and the eight contact-lovely knobs are by a long way the actual on any controller on this roundup. And the navigation encoder is satisfyingly clicky. If your important bid is the quality of the keyboard nonetheless the MicroLab is simply too minimal for you, the M32 is rate thinking about.
On the opposite hand, there are some drawbacks. For one, love the KeyStep, it’s barely transportable. At 18.7 inches lengthy and 2.3 kilos it’s amongst the larger and heavier controllers I thought to be. It simply doesn’t slot in my backpack, which is designed to map conclude a 15.6-journey laptop laptop. It also gave me the most anxiety one day of setup. In fact, it did no longer work with my Dwelling windows 10 PC out of the sphere and required a firmware change. Getting the transport controls to work with Ableton also took quite unbiased a puny of troubleshooting. However it absolutely does integrate seamlessly with NI’s very ideal Komplete Kontrol tool. In fact, in most cases all of Native Instrument’s tool is kind of large. Big, Kontakt and Reactor are industry requirements, historic by countless specialists. So while it’s good to a controller constructed with these instruments in mind, M32 is your excellent guess.
Akai MPK Mini MkII
The one thing the M32 lacks, even supposing, are pads. If these are important for you, the Akai MPK Mini MkII must serene be conclude to the discontinue of your short listing. It be been my controller of varied for the past loads of years because of its excellent-in-class pads, constructed-in arpeggiator and a appropriate assortment of controls. It has eight knobs and eight pads (the latter of which could be in most cases ripped straight from the firm’s loved MPC series), a map conclude pedal port, impart repeat and a dedicated, customizable MIDI CC mapping mode for the pads. That final fragment helps carry out up for the indisputable truth that there must no longer any transport controls to be stumbled on on the MPK.
The joystick is also a outlandish and fun approach to map conclude an eye on pitch bends and modulation effects. It be no longer quite as unswerving as dedicated pitch and mod wheels, nonetheless it absolutely’s serene fun to make spend of. The largest hassle to the MPK, even supposing, is map quality. While the pads are 2d to none, the keybed and knobs are flimsy feeling and unsatisfying. They fetch the job carried out, nonetheless you are never going to mistake it for a premium a part of song-making gear.
One swiftly impart: Lift out no longer confuse the MPK Mini MkII with the MPK Mini Play. The Play has a speaker and constructed-in sounds and could per chance even be powered by AA batteries. That you just must moreover think this sounds love a clear winner. However if truth be told it sounds love a busted Colossal Nintendo (and I form no longer imply that in a fun chiptune system). Nearly the general “devices” within the Mini Play are ineffective, and it sacrifices four map conclude an eye on knobs so that it’s essential to to per chance add an interface for attempting them. Skip it.
Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3
To be crawl that you simply the general controls that the M32 and MPK Mini provide and higher DAW integration, take into account the Launchkey Mini Mk3 from Novation. Frankly, right here is perchance the controller I plod to be carrying around most in most cases to any extent extra. However that is kind of fully down to 1 thing: its seamless integration with my DAW of varied, Ableton Dwell. As properly as to being in a position to dwelling off scenes and clips, there are at hand shortcuts for controlling most of Dwell’s interface precise from the Launchkey. The front panel has eight knobs, 16 pads and a sturdy assortment of transport controls. Plus you fetch a appropriate tool bundle. It even has a TRS-MIDI jack, must you wish to make spend of it to map conclude an eye on hardware synths. (That talked about, that you simply can per chance moreover want a five-pin MIDI adapter to connect with older gear.)
The Launchkey has also stolen the arpeggiator crown from the MPK Mini. It presents a bunch of superior controls that can let you map conclude an eye on the rhythm and gate, plus outlandish parts called “mutate” and “deviate” that introduce controlled bursts of randomization to tweak your pattern.
However as I warned on the discontinue of this narrative, there isn’t one of these thing as a ultimate controller. The Launchkey feels unbiased a puny more sturdy than the MPK, nonetheless no longer mighty. Its keyboard is the least enjoyable to play. And while its knobs hang a enjoyable amount of resistance, they’re awkwardly tiny. Plus, the pads listed below are mighty higher suited to triggering clips in Ableton than finger drumming.
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