Recommendations for 88 note synth action controller keyboard

I’m currently setting up a rig using a Nektar LX88+ controller paired with a StudioLogic SL88. The action on the LX88 is OK, but not stellar. I am moving to it from a Roland Fantom 7 which has a very comfortable feeling action. Just in case I have missed any, what other 88 note synth action controllers would you suggest are worth looking at?

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I possibly didn’t word my question well enough. I am aware of most controllers out there, but I’m specifically after recommendations of 88 note synth action controllers only that have an action that people like and doesn’t feel a bit cheap.

Perhaps you could test this one, its keybed is semi-weighted:

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Thank you @David-san, I wasn’t aware that one was semi-weighted. I’d assumed all the Arturia 88 key units were weighted. It could indeed be a contender. Mind you, I had a 61-note KeyLab Mk1 and had a torrid time with keys that kept breaking and swore I’d never have another one and swapped it for an NI keyboard. I will have a Google, but does anyone know off the top of their head if these ones have new keybeds or the same as in the Mk1 models?

I cannot tell you exactly, but like many other brands they use Fatar keybeds. Some controllers from different brands share the same keybed. However even with the same keybed and different proprietary curves, the feeling when playing can be different. And of course, using the curves in GP you can accommodate the curve to your own taste.

I’ve just done some Googling of the features and, unfortunately, the KeyLab Essential range don’t have aftertouch.

I currently use the Kurzweil Forte and the ROLI Rise 49. The Forte has after touch and has the Fatar TP40-L keyboard. The Rise 49 is a multi-dimensional key wave system and has multi-dimensional expression. I use the Forte for playing piano sounds from Forte and/or Piano and Synth sounds from GigPerformer hosting various plugins. I use the Rise 49 for a few songs where I want to do some level of expression on synth sounds for pitch modulation and amplitude modulation. Very nice. The Forte provides backup in the event that the MacBook Pro overheats (which happened to me during an outdoor gig in June 2019)… Anyway, if I were to focus on using only controllers, I would use the Studio Logic SL88 GRAND which has the same TP40 keyboard as the Forte but with wooden keys so it is slightly more like piano but then I would no longer have a backup sound source. As for second keyboard, I would choose the Prophet REV2 or other alternative 61 key synthesizer that has after touch and can be used as a USB MIDI controller. The REV2 can be purchased for around $1700. Although I don’t know the specifications and have not played the REV2 myself, I understand from popular opinion that it is a great keyboard to play for synth lead parts. From my point of view, the MIDI flexibility of GigPerformer allows you to map the right keys of your plugins to the available 61 keys. You can create Rack Spaces in GigPerformer that would use the 88 keys of the piano action and select the right octave range for any lead performances. And if you are really clever, you can take advantage of the sounds of the Prophet REV2 which sounds great. And the other really positive point about the REV2 is that has a built in power supply. You simply need an IEC cord and does not require a wall-wart power supply.

I believe that David from GigPerformer uses multiple Roland A800PRO synth action keyboards which have after touch as well. And an SL88 for piano sounds. And I am sure this is also an option. I think the A800 gets its power via USB and doesn’t even require a power supply but I am not sure. And that keyboard is pretty inexpensive as well but I am not sure how good are the keys. I have never played that one.

From my point of view, you need to spend money on the right keyboard. Most of the other MIDI controllers that are less than $1000 simply play poorly. I have tried USB keyboards from Novation, Akai and even the latest NI Mk2 61 key USB controller. They work but have really spongy spring like action that is horrible to play. Nothing like the Roland, Yamaha or Korg synths. Anyway, that is my opinion!

Yes, the A800Pros and the SL88 are bus powered – I just plug them into a powered hub.

For what it’s worth, I don’t love the A800s. They get the job done but the aftertouch is pretty awful — it doesn’t have much smoothness to it so when you push, the touch values jump from low values to high values pretty quickly.

I’ve made something of a rod for my own back with the number of splits I currently run to accurately cover the songs we play, so that I need to have 88 keys on both tiers to give me all the space I need for certain songs. I’ve chosen the SL88 Studio as a trade off between weight and quality. Obviously I’d prefer the action of the SL88 Grand, but if I was OK with the weight of that, I’d simply continue using the Kronos 73 I’m using right now… weight reduction has been the primary driver of me moving over to GP4 from workstation synths.

I’m also rather miffed to discover the Nektar LX88+ I have bought doesn’t have aftertouch when I had been pretty sure it did! The keyboard controller I need may not exist: 88 keys, quality (or at least smooth and quiet) synth action with aftertouch, 8 or 9 sliders, 4 or more rotary encoders/potentiometers, 1 sustain pedal input, 8 pads, less than 12Kgs in weight and USB powered. I could probably live with the lack of aftertouch on the LX88+ of the action was a bit better, currently it is quite noisy, rather “clacky” especially when playing glissandi with B3 emulations. The final thing my perfect controller would have would be the option of shallow-triggering to help with glissandi on a B3… my current Fantom 7 introduced shallow triggering when using the new Virtual Tonewheel Organ feature and it works incredibly well.

Eventually I will get to see you in person but after having seen some of the videos, I was able to see what you are playing. So my progression from lowest cost going positive, there are these categories:

  1. USB Powered Synth action Keyboards with very mushy keys. Hard to play. Some have after touch, most do not.
  2. Low cost synth models from Roland(FA-06), Korg Krome/Nautilus, Yamaha MODX6/7. Each of these has sounds but none have after touch
  3. Prophet Rev2 and similar HW synths that some have after touch.

My friend also just purchased the SL73 and it has after touch with lighter weighted keys that I think is easier to play than the SL88 Grand which I think is nice to play.

Got it. Sorry about that! I think the NI S88 might have most of what you are looking to use have. I suspect that if you needed some additional sliders and pads you could add the Akai USB pad controller and Novation Launchpad USB controller might get you the additional sliders and knobs.

Another choice is the Kurzweil PC4 but I think that is probably a little heavy for you at 13kg. But it has after touch, 88 keys and has an action that I am told it is a good combination between Organ style and Piano style. Check out these videos on the product. You can probably look up the presenter of the video and they can help you understand if your playing style and the PC4 are a good match.

Maybe the Numa Compact 2x could be a candidate to fit your needs, it has a light weighted Fatar keybed with aftertouch, drawbars that can be used as faders, but it lacks buttons and pads and it only has some tiny joysticks instead of a proper set of mod-and pitchwheels.
I used a Behringer X-touch Mini to get some additional knobs and buttons… you can find more info and some pictures in this thread:

Unfortunately, those are weighted action keyboards, I have that covered with the StudioLogic SL88 Studio, it’s the synth-action unweighted one I can’t find the perfect candidate for.

Hello Dave, Sounds like you have exhausted most of the available options for this and already went through the progression in your prioritization of features that are important to you. Obviously the companies building products around 88 Key offerings target piano weighted action in some form as that would be one of the top 1-3 requirements for most consumers of an 88 key keyboard. And anything that would not be weighted keys are likely lower end “feature-less” products that don’t cater to the full set of priorities that you have for your rig. So you probably will have to solve the problem using more than one product. I know someone also mentioned considering the Nektar Impact GXP 88 which says that it is semi-weighted keys with aftertouch but does not have the pads, sliders or encoders. So maybe try that and any of the Akai controllers to get the pads and sliders.

It does seem to be the case, yes. I’ll have the chance to go to a reasonably big music shop next week, so will hopefully try out some keybeds there… I might consider swapping to the Arturia Keylab Essential 88 if it has a better action than the Nektar LX88+ and can find if build quality & reliability has been improved on the newer models (obviously forgoing the aftertouch feature as the LX88+ doesn’t have it either)

There does seem to be a gap for mid-level 88 note synth-action controllers… how I wish Roland made an 88-key synth action variant of the A800Pro.

It seems that the Arturia KeyLab MkII 61 has a different and improved keybed compared to the MkI. (I receive mine Thursday. :))

Unfortunately, they used the same name (KeyLab MkII) for their 88-key version, which has a piano, rather than synth, feel. I can see the need for a large synth for splits as well as small (hammer) pianos for portability. The only alternative solution that I can think of is a good pedal controller to change sounds, rather than having the splits always available. That’s tough if you’re already using a sustain and expression pedal. Maybe a knee switch? :wink:

Heh heh, yeah, I do prefer having splits instead of extra button or footswitch presses to alternate sounds within a single song. I’m quite open to the idea of making my own MIDI button & knob controllers (indeed, I already do), but an actual keyboard is a step too far for my DIY aspirations.

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Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that you should start a keyboard company. :slight_smile: But if you can make your own MIDI controls, there are opportunities for elbow switches, butt switches, and with facial recognition, you could make an expression pedal based on how far you open your left eye. Hey, I’ve already got a breath and bite controller. After we run out of body parts, we can move to brain scans - then we don’t need any keys at all. :slight_smile:

But back to reality, have you considered side by side 49-key boards (or 61+25, etc.) Not great for long, sweeping scales and arpeggios, but those are typically done on piano anyway. I could see the break being in the wrong place for some songs, but I would think that one could work around it in most cases.

Now, back to my brain scan lab…


Ok, preferences are very individual … I use a StudioLogic SL88 and really love it. Like the heavier touch, similar to an old grand I used to get to play. I like the simple interface because I use an outboard piece of gear for MIDI control. That said, I love the joystick that the SL88 has. Those are hard to find on keyboards and I’m a nut for the Korg Wavestation which requires a joystick (or some suitable alternative, which I wasn’t able to find) to get the most out of it. Good luck on your search, Dave!

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