The keys to success
NAMM 2016: While it would be easy to assume that there's not a great deal of innovation left in the MIDI controller market - how much can you really break the mould when you're putting together a device containing keys, buttons, pads, faders and the like? - the NAMM Show demonstrated that there is still scope for change.
We're seeing more controllers that are designed to work with both digital and analogue gear; Bluetooth MIDI is starting to come to the fore; and manufacturers continue to offer us new ways of interacting with our sounds.
Here, then, are the controllers that caught our eye in Anaheim, ranging from the conventional and affordable to the esoteric and expensive.
Arturia has both the BeatStep step sequencers and several MIDI keyboard controllers in its range, so it was probably inevitable that a 'keyboard step sequencer' would emerge at some point. That point, it turns out, is now, for we now know that the KeyStep is on the way.
This, in a nutshell, is a 32-note USB keyboard with a polyphonic step sequencer, CV and MIDI connectivity, an arpeggiator and a chord mode. So, if you're looking for a compact, feature-packed controller that will work with both digital and analogue gear, the KeyStep could represent a winning combination. Look out for it in the Spring.
Expressive E Touch
The prize for most unusual-looking controller at NAMM 2016 definitely goes to Expressive E's Touché.
This features a wood surface that's said to respond to the smallest of vibrations, and is pressure-sensitive. The companion software enables you to configure Touché as you like, and MIDI, CV and USB connectivity options mean that you can hook it up to any digital or analogue synth and use it with or without a computer,
Korg nanoKontrol Studio series
Korg is beefing up its nanoSeries range of controllers with the launch of two 'Studio' models.
The nanoKey Studio has 25 backlit pad-style keys, plus trigger pads and knobs. There are also various features that make it easier for non keyboard players to hit the right notes in a given scale and to trigger chords.
The nanoKontrol Studio, meanwhile, offers eight channels of faders, knobs and buttons. Transport controls and a jog wheel are part of the package, too.
Both controllers work with PC, Mac and iOS over USB or Bluetooth MIDI (if your OS supports it).
ROLI Seaboard RISE 49
ROLI's Seaboard RISE 25 is an impressive controller, certainly, but if you're going to have such a high level of expression at your fingertips, surely it would be nice to have more octaves, too?
Well, now you can: the new Seaboard RISE 49 offers 49 keys (or Keywaves, as ROLI calls them) rather than 25. It ships with an 8-track version of Bitwig Studio and a copy of ROLI's Equator synth, which now contains more than 100 new presets. A soft case is also part of the package.
The A-01 takes its design cues from Roland's Boutique range (indeed, it's compatible with the K-25m keyboard) and can be used to control MIDI and CV/Gate equipped analogue gear. It also comes with its own 16-step sequencer, and contains an 8-bit CPU sound generator and a built-in speaker.
Connectivity-wise you get standard MIDI I/O, USB MIDI (so you can use the A-01 with a computer) and a wireless MIDI option via Bluetooth LE. There's also that CV/Gate out.
Look out for the A-01 in February.
M-Audio CTRL 49
M-Audio's name is synonymous with controller keyboards, and its latest release is pitched at those who want a “premier” MIDI device.
This is powered by the Virtual Instrument Player Software, which is used to host plugins and assign controls to the hardware. The CTRL 49 gives you a high-res 4.3-inch screen, 49 semi-weighted keys and a range of additional controllers (faders, buttons and drum pads etc) to work with.
Expect to see CTRL in stores in the Spring.
Alesis V Mini
If you're looking for a compact controller at the affordable end of the market, you might consider the V Mini.
As well as the 25 mini keys - which have a synth action and are velocity sensitive - there are four backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads and the same number of assignable knobs, plus buttons for octave shifting, pitchbend, modulation and sustain.
The V Mini will be available in Q2 of 2016.
Yamaha Bluetooth wireless MIDI adaptors
OK, they're not strictly new controllers, but the BT01, which connects via a USB port, and the MD-BT01, which plugs into standard MIDI ports, can add Bluetooth-powered wireless connectivity to your existing MIDI hardware.
The adapters are compatible with iOS 9.2 or later and Mac OS X Yosemite. Just select them as MIDI devices in your applications and you should be good to go.