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Compact all-in-one boards, 2021 edition


Josh Paxton
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I'm officially in the market for a replacement for my VR-09 as a compact, lightweight 61-note board to cover all my bases when one board is all I can bring. Those bases include:

 

⢠Better-than-decent organ/Leslie. How much better than decent? Let's just say better than the YC61. I had high hopes for that one, but alas, that Leslie sim just makes my teeth hurt.

 

⢠Good AP, Wurli, Rhodes and Clav. How good? Better than the VR-09.

 

⢠Decent mono lead synths and basses with portamento.

 

⢠Pitch and mod wheels (or paddle, whatever).

 

⢠Workable selection of polysynths and pads, hopefully with a few basic realtime controls like filter cutoff and rez.

 

That pretty much covers it. I"m not interested in anything that would be great with one extra add-on, like a Vent or an iPad; I"m looking strictly for a one-board solution here.

 

The Hammond SK Pro is the current front runner. None of the Nord options meet my requirements; the Electro doesn"t have portamento leads (I don"t think), and the Stage 3 doesn"t come in a 61-key version. The Korg Vox Continental is a possibility, though the lack of a mod wheel is an issue (even with the touch-strip workaround). I"m wondering if there are other options I"m missing out on, as I haven"t really been keeping up with what"s out there lately. Are there others I"m missing?

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It seems like it's either a top notch organ with latest leslie sim, or a top notch poly synth. I guess hammond or mojo sees no value in giving you a great and versatile poly synth. And roland, korg and all the rest see no value in putting a full clonewheel in a lightweight gig ready polysynth.
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Since there appears to be at least three organ/leslies that are modules (Crumar, Viscount and HX3) as well as the VB3m that you can run on your phone if you focus on your other components (A/P, EP, Clav) maybe the Seven fits the bill and just add the VB3m for organ/leslie. Hammond SKPro might be a great choice as well except I'm not enamored with the acoustic piano. All in one is difficult because it is usually something that doesn't meet the specs, be it a weak sound or a keybed. Nord might be the best all-around, not great at any one thing but not poor at any one either, and because the Electro and Stage are similar from a sounds perspective you might find a keybed between those two models that you might like as well.

57 Hammond B3; 69 Hammond L100P; 68 Leslie 122; Kurzweil PC3; M-Audio Code 61; Voce V5+; Neo Vent; EV ELX112P; GSI Gemini & Burn

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Like you said, the Nord Stage 3 Compact checks every box, except it's 73 keys. Wonderful all-in-one keyboard, but not cheap. That extra octave comes in mighty handy though.

That"s the one apart from the YC61 but as you say you want a better organ. Limiting yourself to a 61 is tough. You don"t mention layers/splits but I suppose the minimum is 2.

 

I would be recommending the Gemini with a quality 61 controller but for the acoustic pianos. Ruling out an iPad limits your options and you are missing out some great apps like the Model D, Module etc. But that"s a whole extra layer of complexity you just don"t need. My one board rig is an Electro 6D 61 running Model D on the iPad. But it"s not simple to setup. However, it was a lot easier with E5 but you couldn"t run the iPad audio into the E5 unless you were happy using the headphone out. There"s always something!

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If you are bargain hunting ... somebody told me Kurzweil is discontinuing the Artis-7. You will want to seek further validation if interested. I like that board"s layout. But if you want something that is a clone first maybe it"s not the right board. But I think it"s a good Swiss Army board.

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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Kronos 61, anyone? I think it makes a dandy one-board. The only low point is the CX3 engine, but with some careful editing it can be brought close enough to today's standards.

 

I wonder if Kurzweil will be coming out with a PC4-6.

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Kronos 61, anyone? I think it makes a dandy one-board. The only low point is the CX3 engine, but with some careful editing it can be brought close enough to today's standards.

 

I wonder if Kurzweil will be coming out with a PC4-6.

 

And in the meantime, a used PC3K6, PC3A6, or PC361 all might fit the bill.

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I recall a recent post where a forumite posted about how well a Vox Konti did as a single board in a gig that covered many bases. (Not sure about portamento, and as you say no modwheel).

 

Otherwise Hammond SK Pro looks nice if the AP is good enough for you. Plus it's a nice top board above a stage piano like a CP4, or a ROMpler/workstation.

 

My Nord Stage 2 Compact has romped through more of these "lightweight, quick setup/teardown" gigs than I can count. Unfortunately it is expensive as an alternative/additional board (even secondhand). I bought it as the heart of my rig, and it's powered every single gig I've done since I bought it. What about it doesn't meet your requirements?

 

EDIT: It's the fact that Nord Stages don't come in size 61. Ignore me.

 

Cheers, Mike.

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Made the same evaluation last summer/fall and bought a Nord Stage 3 Compact. But I knew I would before I started looking for an alternative because I wasn't going to find one.

Yamaha U1 Upright, Roland Fantom 8, Yamaha YC88, Nord Stage 3C, Nord Wave 2, Viscount Legend Live, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2, Arturia V Collection 8, Komplete 13 Ultimate

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Josh, I have a YC61 and it covers everything you're looking for. I agree that the Leslie sim sucks and I'm hopeful that they will fix it ( how could they not? ) but in the meantime I have used both the B3X on ipad and the VB3m on Android with the YC61 and they both work great. One USB cable and the audio comes out of the YC61 along with its own sounds. Something to consider......
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It seems like it's either a top notch organ with latest leslie sim, or a top notch poly synth. I guess hammond or mojo sees no value in giving you a great and versatile poly synth. And roland, korg and all the rest see no value in putting a full clonewheel in a lightweight gig ready polysynth.

 

Exactly. This is generally why you need to gig with two boards, annoyingly.

 

The Nord Hammond engine just doesn't cut it for me (it's fine for pop, but lacks the heft for jazz/gospel). So I switched my gig rig from a Nord Electro 6D to a Yamaha MODX6 - it's like a Kronos that weight 7kg, it's killer. The organs in the MODX aren't great, but nor were the Nords - if it's serious Hammond gig I just bring the Hammond SK2. The Viscount organ module is worth a look, which has the engine of the Viscount Legend in it (which is very good), with drawbars etc, and isn't that expensive.

The iPad/laptop route is intriguing, but how does one work the drawbars on a little touchscreen without knocking the iPad off the stand?

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⢠Better-than-decent organ/Leslie. How much better than decent? Let's just say better than the YC61. I had high hopes for that one, but alas, that Leslie sim just makes my teeth hurt.

 

⢠Good AP, Wurli, Rhodes and Clav. How good? Better than the VR-09.

 

⢠Decent mono lead synths and basses with portamento.

 

⢠Pitch and mod wheels (or paddle, whatever).

I'd say the only boards that have a chance of meeting your requirements of better-than-VR/YC organ/Leslie, AP, EP, and clav, with pitch/mod controls and mono/portamento synth, are Hammond SK Pro and Nord Stage 3, that was easy. The only one that is available in a 61 is the Hammond, but as MoI alluded to, the Nord put the wheels above the keys meaning it's not much bigger/heavier than the Hammond. But if you must have 61--for example if the organist in you really wants your high note to be a C--then, yup, the Hammond would appear to be the only game in town. Vox will lag the VR in organ, Dexibell doesn't have the portamento... it's always something.

 

The Nord adds the front panel poly-synth controls you'd like to have, but since you said that was a "hopefully" and not a requirement, that still left the Hammond in the running. And the menu shortcut system of the Hammond might mean it wouldn't be hard to get to someplace from where you could easily make the filter adjustments you mebtioned.

 

the Electro doesn"t have portamento leads (I don"t think)

Correct.

 

I"m not interested in anything that would be great with one extra add-on, like a Vent or an iPad

I'm repeating that because so many seem to be missing it. ;-)

 

Here's my ever-in-progress chart of multi-function clonewheel features, in case it might help...

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Fr9cObRaep37A9Y1PZtRkVWxKKDsXUGPk9ubfhYgoSk/edit?usp=sharing

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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The forever elusive Swiss Army Knife board that pleases piano players, organ players and synth/keyboard players.

 

I give Josh some credit for tempering his expectations (a bit). His description in the OP demonstrates he understands there are some tradeoffs to be made for his use case. He wants a lot, but he isn't so brash as to "want it all."

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If you would be happy with a 76 I'd say a PC4-7 would be close. Otherwise, the Hammond SK Pro seems to be the only thing.

Yamaha: Motif XF8, MODX7, YS200, MX61, CVP-305, CLP-130, YPG-235, PSR-295, PSS-470 | Roland: Fantom 7, JV-1000

Kurzweil: PC3-76, PC4 (88) | Korg: N1R, X5DR | Emu: Proteus/1 | Casio: CT-370 | Novation: Launchkey 37 MK3

Former: Emu Proformance Plus & Mo'Phatt, Korg Krome 61, Roland Fantom XR & JV-1010, Behringer CAT

Yamaha Pacifica 112V & APX600 | Washburn WI64 | Ibanez BTB-675 | Alesis SamplePad Pro | Assorted organs, accordions, other instruments

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Continuing my comments on the SK Pro and NS3 possibilities, for the things you asked about, though these impressions are also based on not having played an SK Pro myself yet (though I've played the SK1):

 

Organ: SK Pro over Nord, but Nord's organ itself is a bit divisive, some people just don't care for it and might even prefer the Roland.

 

AP: Nord would presumably have the edge, even if for no other reason than having so many different high quality pianos to choose from.

 

Rhodes/Wurli/Clav: I would take Hammond or Nord over Roland... not sure yet about Hammond vs. Nord here.

 

Mono VA synth with portamento: all should do reasonably well, though Hammond and Nord don't require an external editor. All have pitch/mod controls.

 

Poly synths/pads: All should be fine. Hammond and Nord don't require an external editor. Only Roland and Nord have dedicated front panel filter controls for poly sounds.

 

Bottom line, there's probably no reason to pay the premium for the Nord over the Hammond for the specific things you asked about, especially when it means giving up your preference for 61 keys, too. You'd have to really be tempted by its pianos, its poly synth filter knobs, or some other aspect beyond the specific things you asked about. (Aftertouch? Loading custom samples? Front panel effects controls?)

 

I think you're lucky the SK Pro has just come out, because probably nothing could have answered your needs as well as this before.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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⢠Better-than-decent organ/Leslie. How much better than decent? Let's just say better than the YC61. I had high hopes for that one, but alas, that Leslie sim just makes my teeth hurt.

 

⢠Good AP, Wurli, Rhodes and Clav. How good? Better than the VR-09.

 

⢠Decent mono lead synths and basses with portamento.

 

⢠Pitch and mod wheels (or paddle, whatever).

I'd say the only boards that have a chance of meeting your requirements of better-than-VR/YC organ/Leslie, AP, EP, and clav, with pitch/mod controls and mono/portamento synth, are Hammond SK Pro and Nord Stage 3, that was easy. The only one that is available in a 61 is the Hammond, but as MoI alluded to, the Nord put the wheels above the keys meaning it's not much bigger/heavier than the Hammond. But if you must have 61--for example if the organist in you really wants your high note to be a C--then, yup, the Hammond would appear to be the only game in town. Vox will lag the VR in organ, Dexibell doesn't have the portamento... it's always something.

 

The Nord adds the front panel poly-synth controls you'd like to have, but since you said that was a "hopefully" and not a requirement, that still left the Hammond in the running. And the menu shortcut system of the Hammond might mean it wouldn't be hard to get to someplace from where you could easily make the filter adjustments you mebtioned.

 

the Electro doesn"t have portamento leads (I don"t think)

Correct.

 

I"m not interested in anything that would be great with one extra add-on, like a Vent or an iPad

I'm repeating that because so many seem to be missing it. ;-)

 

Here's my ever-in-progress chart of multi-function clonewheel features, in case it might help...

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Fr9cObRaep37A9Y1PZtRkVWxKKDsXUGPk9ubfhYgoSk/edit?usp=sharing

@ AS: Huh! So a bit of an answer of how you are consistently able to compare features between so many different boards! I thought you either spent all day researching, or had a photographic memory.

 

As someone who's graduating from a VR-09, the Hammond SK Pro must look like a dream come true. And it's cheaper than the NSC3, $1k cheaper! I'd love a board like that, the 73, to complement my piano action board.

 

Or as someone else mentioned, the MODX6 punches way above its class, has oodles of capability for a cheap price, and having not only an audio interface built-in, but also a freakin' knob to control the incoming volume?!!! Sweet, almost hassle free iPad setup, and the weight is way down there. But, the MODX6 is known to have a poor keybed, you'd need to step up to the MODX7.

Kawai ES110 & ES920 /// Casio CT-X5000

Yamaha Melodica and Alto Recorder

QSC K8.2 // JBL Eon One Compact // Klipsch KMC 3 // Win10 laptop i7 8GB // iPad Pro 9.7" 32GB

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As someone who has also asked a few times on this forum for my ideal keyboard, ideally one keyboard, my main realization was I had major restrictions on weight and cost. And as I looked and looked, I saw I had to choose my priorities.

 

Now that I've got the Kawai ES920, most of the must-haves were accomplished

- under 40 pounds

- quality built-in speakers

- great keybed and quality sounds.

 

But of course, there are things lacking, which I'm making up for with iPad expansion. 38 voices total and 2 voices for splits and layers is not enough!

Kawai ES110 & ES920 /// Casio CT-X5000

Yamaha Melodica and Alto Recorder

QSC K8.2 // JBL Eon One Compact // Klipsch KMC 3 // Win10 laptop i7 8GB // iPad Pro 9.7" 32GB

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@ AS: Huh! So a bit of an answer of how you are consistently able to compare features between so many different boards! I thought you either spent all day researching, or had a photographic memory.

I was doing well with just memory for a while (and being quick with PDF searches, since I have manuals for all the boards I've ever been interested in on my drive), but yeah, the clonewheel chart has come in handy!

 

the MODX6 is known to have a poor keybed, you'd need to step up to the MODX7.

Those two have the same action. I really don't mind it. Not top tier, but not bad either.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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