MIDI Matters: Things To Consider When Choosing A Keyboard Controller
Obviously your budget is going to have a lot of weight when it comes to your purchase and luckily there’s a diverse range of affordability when it comes to keyboard controllers.
Digital Work Station (DAW)
A digital audio workstation or DAW, is a fancy way of saying “music production software”, including programs like AVID Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Apple Logic, Propellerhead Reason, FL Studio, and more. Lucky for us, most controllers aren’t built with a specific DAW in mind; unless purposely designed for a single DAW and specialized out-of-the-box functionality like in the case of Ableton’s Push controller modelled for LIVE.
Knobs, Faders, and Buttons
Many modern keyboard controllers come with knobs, faders, and buttons. But here’s some key questions to keep in mind: Are they laid out in a way that is going to be comfortable for you? Are you going to be able to map them to the software that you are using? The more is not necessarily the merrier in the case of controllers. Ultimately, you want your controls to make your life easier, not harder.
Keyboard Action Type
This is an often overlooked, but crucial detail when first starting out. The action can either be synth, semi-weighted, or a weighted hammer action – and the width of the keys is also something to keep your eyes peeled for. Weighted keys can feel a lot better to some, but it really boils down to your personal preference on a keyboard that can keep up with you.
Aftertouch sends MIDI messages when you hold and press harder on the keys to generate more expression in your sounds. It is usually found on the pricier and more advanced keyboard controllers. Even seasoned vets need time to dive deep into these contemporary approaches and formats. But for beginners, this is more than likely not going to be a deal breaker for you. The two types of aftertouch include monophonic (channel aftertouch) and polyphonic. Polyphonic is the rarer of the two and keyboards like the ROLI Seaboard take it to another level of multi-dimensional expression. This is something that you might not need when starting out, but once you get a taste of it, it’s usually hard to go back to controllers that don’t have it.
What’s the connectivity of your device like? CV and Gate outputs will allow you to modulate synth, and 5-pin MIDI DIN jacks allow you to control external MIDI instruments. All MIDI controllers of the 21st century use MIDI to USB, so be sure to check what your prospects allow for. Controllers are getting more and more sophisticated using wireless and bluetooth capabilities.
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