MIDI controller
February 15, 2012 7:17 PM   Subscribe

M-Audio Keystation 88ES Midi Controller -- a good choice at a reasonable price? I got GREAT advice here a little while ago re: KWK speakers and this is the next piece to be purchased for my son at college (includes a Macbook & a DUET interface). Is this a good choice at the price? I like the fact that it has 88 keys.
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a smaller size of the same controller, and have been happy with it. It's basically a bare bones controller, nothing fancy, it just works. 88 keys are not really necessary, tho, unless your son is playing extended piano pieces that require all those keys. Especially if he is at college, in a room with limited space, you might want to consider stepping down a size.

The only possible downside to these models is they don't have weighted keys, not sure if that matters to your son...
posted by grog at 7:35 PM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: They say that the keys are "semi-weighted." I'm not sure if it matters either. He's taking piano lessons there, but I don't think he'd be practicing his Chopin on this thing. Maybe a little smaller controller is a good idea.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:42 PM on February 15, 2012

It really depends what kind of production and recording your son is doing. I don't think anyone who's not a pianist needs an 88-key controller.

If I was buying a student a MIDI keyboard without knowing anything about what they're doing, I'd probably get them a Novation Impulse 25 or 49-key. That way they have the keys, but they also have faders, rotary controllers and drum pads. It's a few more dollars, but it's a much, much, much more robust controller.
posted by Jairus at 7:44 PM on February 15, 2012

(I meant to link to the Novation Impulse product page.)
posted by Jairus at 7:45 PM on February 15, 2012

I have a smaller version of this controller (which I got for 50 bucks off woot.com) and in my opinion I would have been pretty upset if I had paid any more than that.
posted by cyphill at 7:49 PM on February 15, 2012

I had one. It felt fine, since I'm used to synth-action keys, but impractically large -- had to be angled to fit in the backseat of a car. 25 keys is too small, though, even for one-handed playing. I would recommend starting with a 61 key controller and trading up/down from there as needed.
posted by modernserf at 9:03 PM on February 15, 2012

I guess I should point out that I purchased this model and that it appears on woot.com at a steep discount relatively frequently (at least 4 or 5 times last year).
posted by cyphill at 9:22 PM on February 15, 2012

I've used the 61key version of that controller, no issues with it. My piano teacher recommends a minimum of 76 keys, for serious piano learning.

Down the road I intend to get a Yamaha NP31, 76 keys, and for my midi controller, I'd like an Axiom 25, so best of both worlds, a relatively light, affordable piano type keyboard for piano learning, and a nice compact midi keyboard with aftertouch, transport controls, faders, mod wheel etc.

At the moment I'm using an Oxygen 49, which is great for my midi purposes, but I'm running out of keys when playing some piano pieces....
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:44 AM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: Jairus, you say:

"If I was buying a student a MIDI keyboard without knowing anything about what they're doing, I'd probably get them a Novation Impulse 25 or 49-key. That way they have the keys, but they also have faders, rotary controllers and drum pads. "

Question (for anyone): why would he need those things when he is using software (Reason and Record and he has Ableton, too) that can do those things?

Drum pads on a synth-type object always look like a Fisher-Price toy to me - would a college student (music major, excellent rock guitar player) not feel that way?

(I understand that we don't know exactly what he's producing -- he doesn't yet either -- he wants basic equipment to get started, so for various milestones (this keyboard will be a birthday present) we give him various elements of a system.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:47 AM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: TrinsicWS,

Your piano teacher recommends learning piano technique with non-weighted keys?

I assume my son will continue to practice the piano on actual pianos in the music building, and this keyboard will be for more casual jamming around/composing in his room.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:52 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: why would he need those things when he is using software (Reason and Record and he has Ableton, too) that can do those things?

That's exactly why he would want it - a physical interface linked straight to those functions is invaluable. It moves the computer out of the way to a degree. The mouse and keyboard are not necessarily ideal interfaces for music making - but they're ideal interfaces for computer usage. In theory, you could take this statement further and not buy him a MIDI keyboard at all, as he can easily program notes in with his keyboard and mouse - it will simply greatly impair his creativity and reduce opportunities for him to interact with the software in a meaningful manner.

One of the wonderful things about something like Ableton Live is that you can very easily map a knob or fader to do completely new and previously counter-intuitive things. One turn of a knob can, say, simultaneously increase the wet-dry ratio on one effect, reduce the frequency range of a second effect, and detune the midi notes, and all of the above can be across different ranges. Having the hardware to do that whilst playing is incredibly freeing IMO, and I personally place high value on it.

I would highly recommend asking him what he wants in terms of numbers of keys. If he prioritises having a long keyboard over having more buttons, faders and knobs, then that's one direction. If he wants more discrete interactions with his software, that's another way to go.

From my point of view (amateur enthusiast), M-Audio's range of MIDI controllers is cheaply made but pretty decent for a low budget. I would definitely recommend checking gear out in person if at all possible. On a personal note, I have a Keystation 49e and an Axiom 61, and while they're both useful, I probably wouldn't buy them again.
posted by Magnakai at 6:15 AM on February 16, 2012

I have the 49e and I like it a lot. 88 keys is really unwieldy and unnecessary (and you can shift octaves on it with a button press if necessary.)

Also, the extra buttons and stuff are essential if you're making music with a soft synth/sequencers. It's so much more natural than trying to do everything with a mouse.
posted by empath at 6:54 AM on February 16, 2012

Pianist and software synth user here. Hated the feel and response of the Keystation for piano work - like playing a sponge - and 88 keys is unneeded for anything else (and semi-weighted keys feel funny for electric piano/organ work to boot). So it fell plumb between two stools for me. It is cheap, though.
posted by cromagnon at 11:03 AM on February 16, 2012

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