Help me pick a keyboard!
October 14, 2020 8:05 AM   Subscribe

We're looking for a keyboard that will allow recording, connection to computer, and multitrack recording. Help?

So I've been given feedback that I should be looking for something called MIDI... or MLDL? I'm not totally sure... MlDl? I'm way out of my element! Looking for something in the 150-250 price range that would allow recoding your own songs and doing electronic music. Just googling keyboards has left me really lost. We managed to get one of the few keyboards that doesn't have this ability, so I don't want to mess up again. I'd like it to be large enough that you can sit at it and it feels kind of like being at a piano, which is the size we have now.

If you have some experience with a keyboard that is fun to play around with making electronic music and being able to record yourself playing all the parts of the song, let me know!
posted by xarnop to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is just a little info about MIDI, I don't know that much about keyboards specifically.

Musical Instrument Digital Interface is a way to connect musical instruments to computers (can be via cable or bluetooth) that allows the computer to know what you're playing on the keyboard, so in addition to recording the SOUND you can record the actual notes/keys/buttons that you're pressing.

Example of MIDI use: the iPhone/iPad app Simply Piano (for leaning to play piano) has support for MIDI, so if you connect your iPad to a piano keyboard the app can tell if you're pressing the correct keys (or not). WIthout MIDI it just uses the mic, which is not as accurate, and requires you to turn the sound on on the piano. With MIDI you can practice with headphones and get a much more accurate picture of whether you're hitting the right keys or not.

Here's an article about How to use a MIDI keyboard with Garage Band, which gives some info about how the setup works and what you can accomplish with it.
posted by tiamat at 8:28 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

You need the Roland A-49! But they're backordered everywhere, so if you're in a hurry, the M-Audio Keystation would work just fine. It's cheaper (for a reason), but it would probably be absolutely sufficient for you to learn on.

If you're interested in having little drum pads to make beats on (some people like them...I'm a pianist, so I just use the keyboard keys) and/or having more physical controls available to you (these can be really fun, because you can map them to things in your software and control parameters that let you change the sound in real time), you should check out the M-Audio Oxygen 49.

Of all three, the Roland will feel the most like a piano (but still not like a piano!), and the Oxygen will give you the most flexibility in your software, but will feel least like a piano.

These are all going to give you 4 octaves, but if you want to go lower or higher on the keyboard, there are easy switches on the hardware to move the keys down or up by octaves.

Basically, you'll just plug any of these into your computer via USB, install some music software that gives you access to virtual instruments (a WORLD of fun!), and play away! There are plenty of free options out there, so I'd start with that.

Have fun!!!
posted by nosila at 8:39 AM on October 14

Some clarifying questions:

Do you want a keyboard that feels like a piano, and simulates the resistance curve of the hammer mechanism in a physical piano ("piano-weighted action" / "hammer action") or a keyboard with linear resistance ("synth action")? For $200 you're probably looking at synth weighted because good keybeds tend to be more complex and therefore more expensive, but it would be useful to know what you're after. If you really want piano-weight, you may have to pay more or accept other compromises, like fewer keys.

Do you want a keyboard with built-in synths/sound-banks, or are you okay with something that must be connected to a computer running software that generates the sound? If you want to record MIDI for editing later in a digital audio workstation (DAW) like ProTools, Ableton, etc, you'll be doing the latter anyway, but some people want the ability to play unplugged too.

Do you want a full 88-key keyboard or are you open to 61-key? Smaller keyboards are less expensive (within a given product range).

M-Audio is sort of considered bottom of the barrel as music hardware goes, but you can get an 88-key synth-weighted USB controller (it does MIDI over USB, and does not have any hardware to generate sound on its own without a computer) in the KeyStation 88 Mk3 for less than $250.

A friend of mine swears by their Casio CTK-3500 keyboard, which has synths built in and a USB connection. I am not a Casio fan but hey, 61 keys and a synth for $160, I guess that's a reasonable compromise if that's what you want.
posted by Alterscape at 8:44 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

These days for electronic music you generally don't buy a keyboard with onboard sounds that you then record on your computer, you buy a keyboard that sends signals (via MIDI) that trigger sounds in your computer. So just having a keyboard isn't enough, you need a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Garageband or Logic or Ableton. Here is a list of free DAWs; make sure to get one that is MIDI-enabled.

As for the keyboard, the main things to consider are what bells and whistles you want. Do you want a full 88 keys or are you happy with a one or two octave range? Do you want weighted keys that simulate the feel of playing a piano, or are you happy with basic keys that you press to trigger sounds? Do you want some little pads for playing drum patterns or not? Your ultimate choice depends on which of these are important to you. Here's a list of MIDI keyboards in your price range from a reputable distributor. I have a larger version of the Akai MPK that is first on the list and it's awesome, but really any of them will work just fine.
posted by googly at 8:44 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]

Here's a link to a search w/ everything at Sweetwater (my personal favorite online music store) that might meet your needs. I didn't include 88-key (full piano sized) keyboards, as you really don't want one of those that fits in your budget. I'm usually not bothered by a 49-key MIDI controller, because it's pretty rare I want to record individual parts that span more than 4 octaves, but YMMV.

And a clarifying edit, after reading the other comments: my suggestions all assume that you want a keyboard that doesn't generate any sounds of its own, and that you will be plugging it into a computer, which will provide the sounds.
posted by nosila at 8:45 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

This is really helpful, since we already have a keyboard, I was looking at the Akai MPK so hearing some good feedback about that is helpful. I appreciate the other info too because we will also likely upgrade the keyboard in the coming year. Thank ya'll so much!!
posted by xarnop at 9:24 AM on October 14

What keyboard do you have now? It's possible that there's a non-obvious way to get MIDI out of it that someone here may be able to help you with, if we know what you have.
posted by Alterscape at 9:28 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

Strong counter recommendation against Sweetwater as their CEO donated big bucks to Trump; his defense was that he donated it to Pence when Pence was governor and it got rerouted to Trump when Pence joined the ticket; left unexplained is how supporting a shitbag like Pence was any better.

Also if you buy literally anything from Sweetwater they will hound you with sales calls for the rest of your life. Yes, thank you, the $30 MIDI controller continues to work, really exciting, I'm not buying anything else from you, please stop calling me.

A quick search turned up people supporting a shop called Perfect Circuit for synth stuff.
posted by sinfony at 9:54 AM on October 14 [6 favorites] is a good place to buy used gear if you decide you like something that's out of your price range if purchased new. Craigslist too, if you live in a place with a decent population size.
posted by Beardman at 11:20 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]

« Older Dust on the desk, best way to clean   |   Are old vinyl records better off in a landfill? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments