This is a great topic…and one of my biggest equipment frustrations as a gigging musician. I will admit that I have not really investigated any 88 key controllers, so can’t comment on that. I use a Yamaha CP300 as my bottom keyboard, so already have a great 88 weighted key controller. I need a pro level 49 or 61 key controller to sit on top of the CP300 for live performance. Unfortunately, it seems to me that all controllers are designed primarily with the semi pro home recordist in mind. Like others above, I have even considered buying a full blown (redundant) synth just to get what I needed.
I was so excited when Arturia brought out the Keylab. Theoretically, that was great… a really solidly built pro keyboard for the road, with those faux wood ends and the white or black design that looked great on stage. And it seemed to be designed more for live work and controlling vsts rather than DAWS (and great two way integration with their V-Collection). Unfortunately the keybed and build quality were just horrendous (again this may not apply to the 88)… and there was some real poor implementation of some of the features… aftertouch was unusable, not only way too sensitive with no way to adjust, and requiring an extremely light touch to avoid setting it off accidentally…and when you actually did want to make use of it, it would take 1/2 a second of pressure before it actually kicked in! And silly things like the leds on the buttons only lit up up when you pressed them and went out when released, no matter what mode they were…which of course made no sense and was unhelpful in toggle mode. I could go on…
I haven’t bothered yet checking out the new Keylab MkII after seeing on first inspection that the knobs, and faders and buttons are all way over on the far right side of the controller…again a design choice that would seem to be far more beneficial to the home recordist than the gigging musician. Furthermore the faders are way too spread out to be effective as B3 drawbar control… and there is still this holdover from Mk I… the transpose buttons are directly right above the pitch and mod wheels and are easily hit mistakenly when using the wheels.
Right now I am using a Novation SL MkII, which I actually like a real lot, EXCEPT for the fact that they only have 8 faders!! Another design choice that blows my mind. Yeah, I get not everyone is using the faders as drawbars, but to put just 8 faders on there??? Hey if you’re already putting 8 faders on there, you should have the awareness of the keyboard player market to know how important that one little additional fader is. But other than that, I’m happy with the Novation… and love the automap… when I change programs the LEDs on all the buttons and the 8 endless rotary encoders on the controller change to the new appropriate setting.
I think one of the coolest keyboards out there right now is the Roland RD2000,…man is that made for the stage! LEDs show the position of all the controls on there including the faders. So not only does that make it easy to see on stage, as with the Novation, the actual proper settings will update and display correctly when you change patches/programs… for all your faders, buttons knobs. The Behringer Motor controllers are also very interesting, with the motorized faders in that case actually moving to the correct setting. But it’s Behringer??? I wish I could have more confidence, particularly in those motorized faders. In the manual it says to be gentle with them and not move more than 4 at a time, so probably not great for real time B3 drawbar kind of work.
So for me I’m sticking with the Novation SL MkII…while vaguely interested in the Nektar Panorama, only because of the 8 faders on the Novation. My ideal controller would be solidly built and road worthy… nice looking for stage (Arturia Keylab MkI), plenty of controls (Nektar Panorama, Novation SL MkII), ideally 9 faders, 16 endless rotary encoders, 16 buttons, all with LEDs (Roland RD2000). Obviously it goes without saying a high quality keybed, but what often gets overlooked, FULL SIZE KEYS!!! Something else lacking on my Novation, but adequate enough, I guess.