Although it’s always nice to use a real Piano, for most people it’s not practical to have a real full sized grand in their small one bedroom flat. Enter the controller Keyboards. When hooked up to your computer the possibilities and sounds are endless, even the likes of Hans Zimmer uses a controller and soft synths to demo his famous movie scores.
This guide has been put together to give you an insight into some of our favourite controllers on the market, from budget to the very top of the range.
If you want a controller that provides unparalleled integration with its software counterpart, the NI Komplete Kontrol series could be perfect for you. Its works seamlessly with the popular native instruments virtual instruments and drums giving you ultimate control over every minute detail.
The controller comes in four different sizes to suit your specific needs from the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S25 Controller Keyboard, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Controller Keyboard, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Controller Keyboard to the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Controller Keyboard.
The controller also features a Fatar made keybed giving you a precise and light feel and with a perfectly weighted touch.
There are eight built-in screens showing you what each individual knob is controlling and these parameters will change depending on which synth is selected from the Komplete software.
If you’re a complete beginner the ‘Light guide key illumination’ is a feature that will get you playing keys in no time. You can set it to use the unique chord and arpeggiator modes, set it to illuminate certain scales and many other functions. It’s an interesting concept that throws up many fantastic and unique ideas.
The controller’s keybed is made by Fatar so the feel is precise, light and definitely ‘synthesizer’ but sturdy with a smoothly weighted touch allowing fast playing and accurate dynamics. After five minutes we loved it.
The mod and pitch wheels have been replaced with LED touch-strips which is something we haven’t seen on any other controllers out there, this lets you tap at different points and toggle between extreme settings in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a wheel controller.
With so many unique features, the Kontrol S-Series is the ideal controller for producers using the Native Instrument Komplete series. If that’s not you, then we suggest you check it out as it’s one of the best software packages on the market.
The MPK is our pick from AKAI’s range of midi controllers. Available in a choice of Akai MPK Mini MK2 White Ltd Edition, Akai MPK225 Controller Keyboard, Akai MPK249 Controller Keyboard and Akai MPK261 Controller Keyboard semi-weighted, full-size keys and featuring genuine MPC pads (for when you want to bang out those drums,) the MPK is a real heavyweight in the controller market!
On the unit you’ll find the ‘sequencing generating’ modules, allowing you to create truly unique arpeggiator patterns which can be sequenced through the internal clock or through midi. You’ll also find the impressive Note Repeat button on the unit (perfect for those trap snares that you’ve always craved.)
The knobs and faders on the unit offer a smooth touch and feel and it’s very easy to assign them to specific synth functions. The knobs on the controller are split into three different sets and using the Control Bank button you can quickly shuffle between them. This allows you to assign 3 times as many controls than would normally be possible As you’d expect from an AKAI product the pads are second to none, taking their design from the famous MPC’s.
Akai have created a whole selection of presets for use with specific DAW’s or synth software. Regardless of whether you are using Cubase, Ableton, Logic or any other software, these presets will make setup and use of the MPK a lot simpler and smoother.
The MPK is a truly unique controller, providing the user with many exclusive features. If you’ve previously used an MPC, then you’ll know about their legendary pads and their inclusion is definitely a big bonus for the MPK.
If you’re bored of playing a regular keyboard the Seaboard Rise from ROLI could be a good option for you. With its unique high-quality non-toxic silicone rubber keys, it gives you a brand new experience. If however you’re an accomplished pianist, the design may complete throw you off.
It has a low profile and tough design which makes it perfect if being used as a portable device.
One of the key features of the Rise are its five ‘dimensions’ which give it its specific character. These are; Strike which is the velocity of the MIDI, the Press which is aftertouch can be set to send channel or poly messages, to affect all or each note in a chord individually, Glide which can be achieved by finger movement from left to right affecting the vibrato and glissando, Slide triggered by vertical movement up/down the keys and Lift achieved by lifting your fingers of the ‘keywaves.’
The Rise can be powered either via USB, an external power adaptor or with the built in rechargeable battery which charges via USB. If you download ROLI’s ‘Noise’ app it’s now possible to use the controller wirelessly with an iPhone/iPad for gigs or your own personal use.
ROLI’s Seaboard range is truly one of the most exciting and innovative controllers to have ever hit the market. It’s a fun, new way to approach playing keys and really pushes you to experiment. Third-party connectivity isn’t great, so it might not be the best option as your main controller, but if you want a new user experience it comes highly recommended.
Now in its third generation, the M-Audio Oxygen controller Keyboard looks to improve on what is already an established range. The MK3 is available with M-Audio Oxygen 25 Controller Keyboard, M-Audio Oxygen 49 Controller Keyboard and M-Audio Oxygen 61 velocity sensitive keys. The older models also include an M-Audio Oxygen 88 Key USB Midi Controller version of the controller.
The keyboard contains an array of assignable knobs, pads and faders which enable you to gain full control of synths and software. The pads are also velocity sensitive, perfect for triggering samples or for finger drumming. You’ll also find transport controls, play, stop and record buttons which can be set up to help you control your DAW from the controller.
The controller comes with a free copy of Ableton Live lite which gives you the opportunity to test Ableton’s popular software with fantastic integration to the Oxygen controller. If you use other software however, don’t worry as the controller works just as well with other DAW’s such as Logic, Cubase and Pro Tools. The Oxygen 49 has built-in customizable mapping presets that quickly interface Oxygen 49 with your favourite effect plugins and virtual instruments.
The Oxygen range of keyboards provides you with everything you need if you’re looking for a first controller that is affordable. It’s easy to set up, easy to use and doesn’t take too much getting use too. If you haven’t got the big budget that might be required for some of the other controllers, you should look no further than an Oxygen keyboard.
Available in a choice of Novation Launchkey 25 MK2 Controller Keyboard with RGB Pads, Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 Controller Keyboard with RGB Pads and Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 Controller Keyboard with RGB Pads (and a Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 Controller Keyboard version)
the Launch Key from Novation is another impressive controller on the market. There are three key features that Novation have included to elevate themselves from the crowd. These are; the inclusion of the popular Launchpad pad’s, the InControl auto-mapping system and direct control of Novation’s two purpose built iPad apps.
The controller features eight rotary encoders, sliders and Launchpad pads. The keys on the unit are semi-weighted to give the user a realistic playing feel. All of the faders and pads on the unit are great quality and are also very durable. There are also transport buttons that correspond perfectly to their functions in the DAW.
The previously mentioned iPad apps are where the Novation controller really sets itself apart from the competition. Both the Launchpad and Launchkey apps are available free on the App Store. Although both can be used standalone, using them with the controller is where you really start to reap the benefits.
The Launch Key is a very affordable controller and at its current price point could be seen as a great alternative to the Oxygen keyboards. A very hands on controller, it’s capable of doing everything required of a centerpiece of a production setup. If you’re looking to upgrade from a more basic unit the Launch Key could be ideal to give you more functionality.