Looking for feedback: MIDI Controller keyboards

Hi All…

Apologies in advance for the long post. I was just wondering what you guys are using for gigging keyboard MIDI controllers that play nicely with GigPerformer and that you’ve had good experiences with in general. I’ve been a little distraught with what’s out there now. Seems like in only a few years, decent feeling, decent size for gigging controllers have evaporated. I have an Arturia Keylab 88 and 61. I’m pretty happy with the 88, as it feels decent and is only 25 pounds for fully weighted keys, though I’ve run into some wonky behavior with GigPerformer, that I’m 99% sure is the Keylab, not GigPerformer. The keylab 61 is abysmal. Just lightly tapping the keys, not even playing it, caused them to pop up out of the keybed. Controllers like the old CMEs that were built like tanks seem to be history. The older Novation Remote series I thought felt nice, but the new ones…not so much. It seems like Drum pads and Live launch buttons are the focus and the keyed is an afterthought now.

I actually ended up getting the new Roland VR-730, which is 4 times the price of most controllers, just for the 73 waterfall keys. It seemed to check all the boxes, until I found out it has some strange or non-existent MIDI implementation. For instance, it will TRANSMIT Prog Change, but won’t receive it. The drawbars and buttons send SysEx, not standard CC data, so I can’t easily use them for faders either. Bummer.

So I keep looking for my top synth or organ feel non-weighted keyboard. I need minimum 61 keys (73/76 is better, but seem to no longer exist). The ability to control changing rackspaces, and mapping a few faders / buttons / knobs to control a few parameters is really all I need. Oh, and build quality that won’t completely fall apart if I look at it sideways!! :slight_smile:

I’ve been eyeing the Nectar Panorama P6, but no music stores around me in Orlando have them to check out.

Sorry if I sound a bit negative, I’m just a bit frustrated. Any feedback or ideas would be HIGHLY appreciated!

Thank you!

Hi Mark.
Sorry for being over a half year late… but maybe it is still of interest for you or it may be for others.
I own a “Code 61” from M-Audio and i’m quite happy with it. The build could be more stable, but the keys feel good and there are lots of faders, pads and encoders (it even has a X/Y pad).
EDIT: Unfortunately, i can’t recommend this keyboard anymore, since it has massive electronical issues, which cause stuck notes or complete dropouts. It seems to be a general problem with the Code models… there are many people complaining in the M-Audio forums. What a pitty, because the keybed and the features are really cool.

And i also can’t believe that there is not a single masterkeyboard on the market, that has 73/76 light weightetd keys (maybe from Fatar), free configurable faders/buttons/encoders and (what’s really important to me) has aftertouch… if there was such a keyboard for about 500€ i would buy it instantly.

BTW @david: Since we have now a category for Plug Ins in the new forum, why not make a corner for “Hardware”? (Just thinking)

Great idea — I’ve created a hardware category and moved this topic into it.

These days I’m using an SL88 Studio and three Roland A800 controllers. The latter are adequate, I don’t love the feel of the aftertouch. While the SL88 is light enough for me to carry, it doesn’t have much in the way of controls. I’m thinking of adding a MIDI Fighter Twister to the system.

Thanks, schamass. Yea, I tried so many and got so disgusted with the clacky keys, I ended up getting a Virus TI2 just for a controller. A bit overkill I know, but I’ve had them before and I use it for recording too. I agree 100% on the 76 key synth-feel. If Roland came out with a modern A90 buss-powered, or anyone for that matter, I’d be very happy, as well!

Thanks for the A800 feedback, David…they were backordered for months when I was looking for my 61-key. A hardware category is a very welcome addition, so thank you!

I REALLY miss the older CME controllers. It’s funny, there was so much out for playing live on laptops when it really wasn’t ready, and now that it is, there’s a bit of a glut in what’s available. In the end, with GP, my Arturia 88 and my Virus, I can’t complain at all. This is the best rig I’ve had, and I’ve had many :slight_smile:

My favorite light-weight keyboard was the one that came on a Yahama AN1x synth. I used to tour with that keyboard, solely for the use of the keyboard, I didn’t use the synth at all. The 61 key Korg Kronos also feels great to me — but obviously too expensive if you only want the keyboard. I wish someone would make a keyboard controller like one of those.

I am using S88 from Native Intruments and I am total happy with it.

With the help of David I implemented bidirectional Midi.
So a knob is assigned to a widget and when the widget is moved the value is send back to the knob of the S88.
This way I always see the actual widget value on my S88.

Similar to @dhj my favourite is on the Technics SX-WSA1, its “delicious” to play on this thing, on its own right is a master keyboard so, two MIDI OUT, 3 wheels, 2 joysticks (besides it can do Virtual modelling)
On the 88 side I still have the Peavey DPM-C8 and love the Yamaha CP300.

I’m also chasing bidirectional MIDI like @pianopaul, so I have a Kenton Killamix mini setup and planning to introduce a Clavia Nord G2 (120 parameters - 8 encoders/buttons-)

I won’t go into the esoteric MPE controllers.

YES! I agree with both those…Kronos has an awesome keybed, but they were still a bit high when I was looking to get mine. Also has USB MIDI, which my virus does as well, so it saves me a bit of rack space and wiring. I almost broke down and got something old, because the keybeds on the older controllers were much better than what’s out today. I hope the manufacturers go back to those days, at least as an option.

My rig has been based on a controller master keyboard since the early 90’s. My first “master controller” believe it or not, was the original Yamaha DX-7, which I added the Grey Matter Response “E! Update” board and chips. Really gave that keyboard Master Controller capabilities that even some of today’s controllers lack.

I then moved to the Peavey DPM C8 and really liked the versatility and customization of all the sliders wheels and buttons, plus 8 midi zones. I’m a little heavy on keybeds and had to replace the C8 keybed twice.

I then moved to a DPM C8X, which was a lighter version of the C8 (which was 85 pounds without a case!!). Same great programability, and lighter weight. Went through 2 of those.

I then moved to the Roland A-90ex. Cool keyboard, though not nearly as programmable. I like this keyboard, as I can replace any broken individual hammers myself, instead of the whole keybed. I have 2 of those.

I currently have 2 AKAI MPK 88 that I gig with one, and have the other set up at a rehearsal studio. I really like the control versatility, but am not crazy about the feel of the keybed. The action is not that fast.
I also had an issue with some broken parts of the keybed. Akai wanted $330 to replace the whole keybed, over a small plastic part that cost maybe 12 cents. I put on my thinking cap, and had a buddy of mine create a 3D model of the part in Autocad. We went to a medical device manufacturer and had them 3D print the part. I have maybe a dozen of them now (have replaced 2 so far). I still have the 3D cad file, so I can have more “printed” if needed.

My future rig will probably be the NI S-88 I have. Really like the keybed feel but wish some of it’s programming was more “Master Controller” friendly. I don’t like that if you are in standard midi mode, and not using Komplete, that you really have no way to accurately make program changes to other standard midi hardware (other than assign a knob to turn for program changes, really, a knob?) It has buttons that could be activated when in midi mode, but NI has made them “dead” unless using their software.

Almost went with the Arturia 88, but they were new to 88 keyboards, so I waited to see how they worked out. I’ve heard a lot of things about the M-Audio keyboards not being consistent on feel, so I stayed away from those.

Wow…we almost have the same 88 key lineage :slight_smile: I had a DPM C8 (the BIG one), and got the C8x as soon as it came out (my back STILL remembers it well). I actually still have the C8x in storage. I’m torn because the programmability is awesome, but the weight sucks. I’ve tried to sell it, but few even know what it is or how great it actually is. I had the Akai MPK88 for years as my studio controller. Now I have the NI S-88 and the Arturia for gigging. I bought it before the wheel version of the NI came out, because I find the ribbons to be a “no go” especially live.

I agree with a lot of your comments on the keybed feel. As I wrote before somewhere, I’m SUPER dissappointed with the new 61 keys that are out there. I went through several and couldn’t find one that didn’t feel like clacky plastic garbage. I actually ended up with a Virus TI2 that I’m not even using any sounds on…just a controller. I have to say, the best 61 key feel I ever had was an Ensoniq TS-10. Felt great, and never broke a key on it. They just don’t make 'em like that anymore…

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I am partial to the Nektar LX61+ and I am considering getting the LX88+ as well. Very versatile controller, extremely portable, and price is quite nice. The only feature I miss is aftertouch, but I can live without it. Also, no volume pedal jack, but I can live without that as well.

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Also, the Korg nanoKontrol 2 is a great addition to a rig if you need additional faders, knobs, buttons. $60 and very portable


I was looking at the Nektar LX88 before I purchased the NI S88. I discovered last week one of my Akai MPK88’s was sending out erroneous pitchbend messages, and thought maybe time to retire it and go with the Nektar. Thanks for reminding me why I didn’t get it. I use aftertouch to control the Leslie effect so I can keep both hands on the keyboard. Something I’ve done since I used a Quadraverb for my leslie effect 20+ years ago!

Not sure it’s a control source I want to do away with, for that. But the price is great, and so is the weight! :wink:

Yeah, I had a BIG RED DPM C8. You could actually see me on stage with that Big Shiny Lacquer Red Wood housing!
I really did like the feel of those C8 and C8x keybeds (they were Fatar). I bought a replacement keybed for the Peavey C8x for $300, but after they discontinued the C8x, the keybeds went up to $900, for a keyboard that cost $1100 new!! Therefore, they are retired. I have both in cases, and doubt any one would buy them.

Unfortunately my S88 is the ribbon controller pitch and modulation type, so it stays at home, but I like the keybed feel.
I’m curious about what you think about the Arturia you have (Keylab 88, right?)

I would say the best “feel” I’ve run across for weighted controllers are Roland keyboards (digital pianos), but their pricing is prohibitive for me, and they do have some heft to them. Looks like they have discontinued their 88 key “controllers” (not digital pianos), at least here in the US :frowning:

Oh yes, I remember the big RED! Mine was the black wood lacquer, but I remember Paul Taylor had the red one with Steve Perry on the “For the love of strange medicine” tour. I used to bring out the DPM C8, TS-10 on top, T3 and O1/W on my left, and a rack with other assorted modules…LOL…

The Keylab 88 is decent…isn’t the best or the worst feel, kinda middle of the road. It’s only 26 lbs for fully weighted, so that’s a plus, but I imagine there are less weights, which is why it’s on the light side for feel. As many keybeds as you’ve said you’ve broken, might be too light for you, but you’d have to try it out. As for control, it’s a bit squirrely. Some things work well with GP, others not so much. Even with the software to assign things, it seems to send strange messages that can’t be changed. Even trying to use the pads to switch effects on/off works about 50/50. I only have a few buttons for changing rackspaces, a MIDI panic assigned, and the rest I use my damper and expression pedals for. Crossfading between sounds, adding in layers, etc. It’s not crazy control but it works for me. The sliders are placed a bit back, so with my Virus on top, they are a bit hard to get to or see on a dark stage, so it’s all good.

I agree about Roland feel…I like them too…but they always seem to do 80% of what I want all the way around. Why have a System 8 that is ONLY 4 octaves? Why have only tiny 88 key controllers with connector on the side, or huge digi pianos that are too heavy and pricey? Why no 76 key synth controllers? They drive me nuts, sometimes :slight_smile: HAHA.


There is a new S88 from Native Instruments.
They announced it yesterday.

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.

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I actually just received a Keylab MkII yesterday — I’m testing it as a replacement for the Roland A800. Problem is, I use three of those on stage (along with an SL88 weighted controller) and the MkII is significantly heavier than the A800. On the plus side, the keybed feels nicer and aftertouch feels better.

You’re right about the sliders/knobs being on the right but that’s less of a problem for me because I use an iPad running Lemur to control Gig Performer so I rarely need physical sliders during a show.

Yes, the original Keylab was quite heavy as well, but I kind of liked that… it just felt rock solid and road worthy, although unfortunately there were some quality control issues. I hope you have way better luck with your MkII! Sounds like they definitely upped their game with the keybed and aftertouch!