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Quality of Controller Keybeds


Moon Zero Two

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Stopped at GC yesterday. I was a bit suprised that Midi/USB controllers took up so much of the keyboard department, sign of things to come I suppose. As I said in a prior post I am thinking of adding a small synth action keyboard to my gig rig so I tried out the various controllers.

 

I was a bit suprised at how crummy the majority of the synth action keybeds felt - sloppy, bouncy, cheap. The Novation was the only exception - the rest (M audio, Auturia, iRig etc) felt terrible.

 

So I tried out the Yamaha stuff - the MX49 and 61 and Moxf61 0 What happened?? The new keybed is terrible! I had a Motif XS7 and I loved that synth action - these new ones were awful. The shop had an ancient Roland D50 and the keybed on that was better than everything in the shop.

 

 

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That is what everybody wants..... Lightweight pieces of stuff or they don't want to spend $2500+ for a quality instrument.

 

I think my new D-50 cost my around $1700-1800 new in 1987. Adjust that for inflation and that is what an instrument cost. Quality aint cheap.

 

Price points on quality boards aint that bad. Right now I am in the process of buying a new Euphonium for my daughter...... A Kronos, Kurz's latestest PC-3 or Nord Stage is not isn't that expensive after all . LOL.

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I was a bit surprised at how crummy the majority of the synth action keybeds felt - sloppy, bouncy, cheap. The Novation was the only exception - the rest (M audio, Auturia, iRig etc) felt terrible.

I was just at GC over the holidays and played the Novation Launchkey as well. I found its keybed the same as the others, cheap feeling.

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I was a bit suprised at how crummy the majority of the synth action keybeds felt - sloppy, bouncy, cheap. The Novation was the only exception - the rest (M audio, Auturia, iRig etc) felt terrible.

 

So I tried out the Yamaha stuff - the MX49 and 61 and Moxf61 0 What happened?? The new keybed is terrible! I had a Motif XS7 and I loved that synth action - these new ones were awful. The shop had an ancient Roland D50 and the keybed on that was better than everything in the shop.

 

You can still get the XS action, it's on the XF. But no, basically as others have said, you generally are not going to get high end actions on low cost boards. (For a cheap board, though, I think the Samson Graphite 49 feels pretty decent.)

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I recently picked up a M-Audio Keystation 49es. Been using a 88es for a few months now. I got the 49es for $50 at GC on sale. It is cheap and I keep feeling I'm gonna snap a key every time I play it. The 88es is not so bad so long as you aren't expecting a graded hammer action. I wanted it mainly as an 88-note controller for my Kronos 61. It serves that purpose well for me. At some point I'll replace the 88es with a better action bottom board. For now, it serves its purpose.

 

I thought the Arturia stuff felt pretty solid (and heavy - as in built like a tank). I believe the older controllers felt a little more "solid synth" feeling than the newer KeyLab models do. I agree with your assessment of the Novation controllers. They feel more like a real synth than anything else did.

 

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Those controllers are really not designed for what most of us would want them for. They're for home hobbyist or electronic music type folks. It's a way to trigger the bleeps and swooshes rather than clicking something on the screen or using a QWERTY keyboard for people who are not primarily keyboard players, or for somebody who is a keyboard player but needs something compact at home for doing production work.

 

There ARE good solid controllers out there, you just won't find them at GC. There are a whole lot more tinkerers out there wanting cheap compact "input devices" for garage band than serious performing keyboard players.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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For serious performing KB players, best way to have the greatest build quality for the money is to buy USED 2nd-or-3rd-generation-ago workstations & synths... use that as your controller (it has built-in sounds too, a bonus)... and for newer sounds, MIDI up to laptop/module/whatever. You will have better key action and a board rugged enough for the road. Only downside is the heavier weight of older workstations/synths... but remember, the weight is where the keybed quality is.
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You will find good guitars at Guitar Center.

 

I have yet to find good keyboards at Guitar Center. When I complained to a salesman on a board I was looking to buy and their store didn't carry it, he said the only stores that stock them are those near major music centers - NYC, Nashville, LA, SF, KC, Austin, Chicago... I found what I wanted at a local store.

 

They're called GUITAR Center for a reason.

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When I complained to a salesman on a board I was looking to buy and their store didn't carry it, he said the only stores that stock them are those near major music centers - NYC, Nashville, LA, SF, KC, Austin, Chicago...

 

I had to drive to Chicago to by my Kronos. The local GCs eventually got some, but by then everybody in St. Louis I know who has one had already gotten one. They say the sales levels of keyboards like that in St. Louis don't justify it. Yeah, well when you don't carry them, what do you expect?

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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The keyboard feel is the reason I still keep my Novation X-Station 61 as a controller. I really don't like the feel of the newer controllers. The VAX77 was too rich for my blood. I am interested in the possibility of their new controller with polyAT (http://www.infiniteresponse.com/). Still expensive at a proposed target of $1200 for something that doesn't make sound on its own, but I know people who still use their Yamaha KX-88s to this day just for the feel. When I find a good controller that has a good keyboard feel, I tend to stick with it.
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(For a cheap board, though, I think the Samson Graphite 49 feels pretty decent.)

 

I'll second AnotherScott. I was in GC the other day and was impressed with the Samson. I wouldn't perform with it, but for the money it's decent. Pretty much everything else felt like the quality level of a toy out of a gumball machine. The Novation SL MkII felt pretty good and was by far the best - only one that made the cut (Launchkey was awful). Of course, nothing was hooked up to anything so how much can you tell when you can't make sound?

 

I'd love a controller for the home studio. I've got a M-Audio Axiom, but it's kind of clunky. It just feels weird and I like it less every time I play it. I know that quality keybeds cost money, but I don't think a quality keybed should cost me $2,500. Can't someone take a MOTIF, pull out the synth engine, and just include the controls from the screen to the left end? (A boy can dream...)

Live rig: Roland FA-08, Yamaha MOTIF ES 6, laptop for supplemental sounds.
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Again, personal preference. I loved the semi-weighted feel of the Novation Impulse 61, but a lot of guys say it feels cheap. I'm itching to get my hands on an Axiom Air 61 to try out the key bed. I hear it's pretty decent and an upgrade from the standard Axiom pro, which I wasn't a huge fan of.

http://m-audio.com/products/en_us/AxiomAIR61New.html

 

A lot of guys will only start to get satisfied with the feel of controller keyboards when you move up into the £1000+ range. But if you're going to spend that much on a controller, you'd be as well buying a decent board with internal sounds that could double as one, unless you do the kind of thing where you absolutely need a dedicated controller.

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A while back I broke a couple of keys on my EX5 and needed something for a gig the next weekend, I went to my nearest GC for a replacement. Roland had just released the JP-80, but they didn't have it in stock yet. So looking around the sales floor, there was nary a 76'er to be seen. The manager promptly advised me that "Only 61's and 88's sell in his place and a 73 or 76 keybed is a waste of time." The only thing he had that came close to what I needed was a Kurzy SP, but it was a bit too limited and the weighted keys were way heavy for my organ/synth stamina. Left empty handed.

 

Wound up popping open the EX5 and moving the busted keys to the top of the keybed and and made the gig with no problems. Found replacement keys online and it plays like a dream again. I'm so glad that I did NOT knowingly buy something I wouldn't have been happy with.

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My .02:

 

We're comparing different synth keyboard actions, not just bitching about how inferior these keyboards are to a weighted-action board right? I used to carry my KX88 everywhere (in a Calzone case!), even flew it to Europe for several tours back in the 80s. Then I moved to a 3rd-floor walkup and the era of weighted boards ended for me. It's the same 1-to-127 velocity values, you just have to adjust your technique to deal with the reality of springs instead of "hammers", lol.

 

I'm gonna try to not make this sound like some over-hyped sales pitch, but in terms of the ~$300 controller market the Roland A800 Pro was the one I felt had the best keybed. The others I tried were "clacky", or I could detect a "looseness" in the travel. The A800 feels more solid, with decent resistance in the spring, quick "return" and no lateral movement. Of course this is all IMHO. There are things I don't like about the A800 but the keybed is not one of them it's the main reason I bought it. I've never seen one on display at a Sam Ash or GC though. Only Arturia, Novation, Alesis, Samson, M-Audio and the Korg minis. I thought the Samson was OK but they only make a 49-key model, so that won't work for me.

 

Unlike the general perception of these boards being for "home use", the A800 is my main and only axe. Actually I hardly ever use it at home! It gets knocked around a lot in a (too-big) SKB case originally made for my old XP50. I've flown with it a few times. My previous board, an Edirol PCR-M80, worked for six years. Several notes went out I could have fixed them with new membrane switches but I wanted more buttons, sliders and pads so I moved on.

 

IMO with these controllers, you weigh your options, look around at what's out there, decide what compromises you can live with, then hope for the best. They're not really that much money, compared to a real synth or workstation. With the A800 coupled to my laptop, I have an almost-Kronos-like workstation in terms of features and sound quality. And it's a breeze to carry.

 

On edit: I see this thread is not specifically about cheap controllers but synth keybeds in general. Sorry if this post is not much use to anyone!

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I have never seen an a800 in a store.

 

The novation was the only decent key feel, I was just surprised at just how cheap these things were.

 

I had a virus TI 61 great keybed. My motif xs7 was one of the best synth scut ins I have ever played, the korg Kronos had a really good key bed, but the five hundred and under controller crowd are pretty bad. Oh my old poly evolver had a gret keybed too.

 

But for yamaha to put thos crappys keys on the great motif engine is a crime.

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For serious performing KB players, best way to have the greatest build quality for the money is to buy USED 2nd-or-3rd-generation-ago workstations & synths... use that as your controller

 

Unfortunately, this is what you have to do. I do quite a few gigs where the JP-8000 is just a dumb controller, because the action is brilliant. I want to retire it and get something less fragile and less valuable personally, but I've yet to find a new board that feels as good - I'm seriously considering building my own.

 

I want a clear "thunk" when the key bottoms out at 127 (and preferably then a little more travel for the AT to kick in!), everything today feels like playing sponge.

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I have never seen an a800 in a store.

 

I wouldn't have picked an A500 up if I hadn't stumbled on it at B&H. I'll second Reeze (not that he needs that). The Roland A series action is well built, if a little bit on the springy side.

 

The graphite actions are also pretty good to my taste. A little bit lighter and smoother.

 

Either of these would work very well as the second keyboard for those of us who need a piano action as the primary, and a synth action for the other sounds.

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I have to offer a dissenting opinion (surprise!) of the Roland controllers. My friend has a Roland GAIA (same action) and I hate playing those short keys, especially the curved black ones. If Roland had a clue, they'd make controllers using the great Fantom/V-Synth action. I think a lot of us would be willing to pay more for it.
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Interesting take on the Roland actions. Since I hardly ever play an acoustic piano or weighted keyboard, I'm not bugged by the shorter keys (actually I didn't notice them!). Probably because synth keyboards are the only ones I play. Before my A800 I had the Edirol PCR-M80 which I think has the same keyboard, minus aftertouch (at least it felt the same). before that I used an XP50, which had a noticeably lighter and spongier feel. I would not want to go back to that now, but I remember being annoyed with the stiffer feel of the PCR-M80 when I first got it.

 

Now I'm completely used to the A800. On road gigs where I get a rental Motif, I find the keyboard has less resistance and travel. I set the sensitivity to "hard" but even when I make a conscious effort to not play too hard I hit the upper end of the velocity range. In this respect I find the A800's twelve settings superior: four curves x three sensitivity levels (soft, medium, hard). When I get a rental Fantom, IIRC it also gives me only "soft/medium/hard" velocity response options, no curves.

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I have an M-Audio 88es. Horrid, horrid action. But, for $199, it's about what I expected. I have a korg nano-control and Mini keys 37 velcro'd to the top. I power it through USB on my laptop, running Mainstage, so, one less power chord to worry about. Another plus, it's crazy light and can be carried under one arm. But yes, the action would likely be considered offensive by many here.

 

For synth action, I really liked the action on the JP 80. I don't know if it's the same as used by the Fantom, but it had a great feel to it.

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I agree that most of the controller actions currently available feel like crap. However I also agree that the reason is that they're made for people who want to spend less than $300 for a controller.

 

Some assume that if the manufacturers just got rid of the "expensive" synth guts that they'd be able to provide just the action and case cheap. That assumption is clearly wrong. Mike Martin and others who work for manufacturers can clarify this but I suspect that the biggest share of the manufacturing cost of a keyboard is the action, controllers and case. That's opposed to the development cost of a board which includes the sound programming.

 

I've been looking for a good solid 73 key controller for years. I've never found one better than my old JV-90 which even has aftertouch. My advice for anyone looking for a solid controller is to find a solid used synth.

Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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