GEAR EXPO SUMMER 2022: It's time to take control of your music in 2022. Don't just make do with an old synth or look like you're reading your email next time you're on stage. Treat yourself to a new look and a new way of working.
Modern MIDI keyboards not only offer the keys you need but often include drum pads, too, plus plenty of assignable knobs and sliders to tweak the parameters you use most often. Make sounds your own and work faster and smarter than ever before.
And why not leave the mouse at home and put some real performance into your gigs with controllers tailor made to work with for your favourite software? Once you've geared up you'll never go back. Here's our pick of the best.
Novation Launchkey 88
Given how many MIDI keyboards it’s released down the years, it seems remarkable that the new Launchkey 88 is the first piano-sized controller that Novation has ever, um, launched.
This new model takes the best features of the smaller Launchkeys (Mini, 25, 37, 49 and 61) and marries them to a “premium” semi-weighted keyboard that sets it apart from the rest of the range. In fact, it promises Novation’s best-feeling key mechanism to date, which is said to be the result of meticulous refinement and testing.
Other features include 16 velocity-sensitive pads, an arpeggiator, a Scale mode (to keep your playing in key) and three Chord modes that enable you to trigger complex chords with a single finger.
Launchkey 88 also promises deep integration with various DAWs - Ableton Live, Logic Pro and Cubase to name just three. For others - the likes of Studio One, Pro Tools and Reaper - you get mixer, transport and navigation controls via the HUI protocol.
The Launchkey 88 is available now priced at $400/£380. Find out more on the Novation website.
Roli Seaboard RISE 2
Launched in 2015, the Rise was a more affordable version of ROLI’s full-size Seaboard MPE controller, but has been off the market for two years. The new version is said to be easier to play, more durable, and to come with a better bundle of software.
The most significant improvement over the original Rise might well be the Keywave2 silicone playing surface, which provides ‘frets’ that enable players to more accurately judge the position of their fingers on each key. This new surface is said to make the Rise 2 more playable than its predecessor, and easier for players of standard keyboards to get to grips with.
Rise 2 also offers a new platinum blue anodised aluminium chassis, giving it a more contemporary look. Build quality is also said to have been improved, and you now get both standard MIDI and USB-C ports to ensure maximum compatibility with your software and hardware instruments.
Features inherited from the original Rise include the Touch Fader controls, integrated battery and Bluetooth MIDI support for wireless operation.
Rise 2 is bundled with the Equator2 synth, Ableton Live Lite, the ROLI Studio production suite and a new version of ROLI Dashboard, which features 5D visualisers for customising your settings.
A limited number of Rise 2s are available for pre-order now from the ROLI (opens in new tab) website priced at $1,399/£1,099/€1,299.
We’re used to seeing Behringer taking inspiration from other manufacturers, but other manufacturers taking inspiration from Behringer? That’s not something you hear about so often.
CME, though, is making no bones about the fact that its SWIDI keyboard is “inspired by Behringer”... but that’s not quite the whole story.
Initially launched as a joke (we're not kidding), the product that SWIDI resembles - Behringer’s SWING - is itself very similar to Arturia’s KeyStep, so you could almost call this a ‘clone of a clone’. What Arturia will make of this remains to be seen, as it’s fair to say that it wasn’t particularly happy when SWING broke cover.
Anyway, SWIDI combines a 32-note MIDI keyboard with a 64-step sequencer. It trumps both SWING and KeyStep by offering Bluetooth MIDI, and its compatibility with CME’s WIDI technology means that SWIDI can be used to control up to four peripherals wirelessly. You can also create up to four MIDI configurations.
SWIDI comes with a wireless charging pad and can be juiced up in two hours. It then offers up to eight hours of operation.
Find out more on the CME (opens in new tab) website. SWIDI can be pre-ordered for $79.
Squarp Instruments Hapax
Squarp Instruments is up to its hardware sequencing tricks once again with the launch of Hapax, which promises “every tool needed to compose songs in the studio and perform them on stage”.
To be honest, calling this a ‘hardware sequencer’ is actually a little unfair: it’s also an MPE-compatible isomorphic keyboard and chord generator that offers a built-in piano roll and automation editing. It can handle two projects simultaneously, so you can load a second while one is playing, with each offering 16 tracks and eight patterns per track. Each track has access to eight real-time MIDI effects, too.
There’s plenty of connectivity - MIDI I/O, CV and Gate Out and USB - meaning that Hapax should be capable of controlling pretty much all the gear in your studio, while projects can be saved to SD card.
Hapax is out of stock right now, but is available on backorder for $979/€864, with delivery expected in September 2022. Find out more on the Squarp Instruments website.
Novation has introduced the FLkey Mini and FLkey 37, its first dedicated MIDI keyboards for FL Studio. These integrate fully with Image-Line’s DAW, and promise “seamless music production and an intuitive workflow”.
FLKey offers direct access to the mixer and step sequencer, along with channel rack playability from the pads. You can also control instruments and automation, browse presets from Image-Line plugins and assign custom controls.
As you might expect, FLkey Mini is the more portable of the two keyboards. This features 25 mini-keys in a compact package, while the FLkey 37 has a 37-note full-size keyboard. It also offers more features, including Channel rack control, Fixed Chord mode and User Chord mode, which enables producers to play custom chords with one finger. Scale Chord mode, meanwhile, makes it possible to play pre-made chords in eight different scales straight from FLkey’s pads.
FLKey and FLKey Mini cost $200 and $110 respectively, and you can find out more on the Novation website.
Nektar Impact LX Mini
More mini key goodness, and with the Impact LX Mini, Nektar has managed to create a more fully-featured controller than most while still fitting inside that backpack.
The LX Mini manages to pack in 25 mini keys, eight drum pads, eight knobs, a large volume knob, two onboard hardware arpeggiators (one for the keys, one for the pads), a joystick for pitch/modulation control, and even a sustain pedal input.
It even comes pre-mapped for Live, Logic, Cubase, Studio One, Bitwig, FL Studio or Reason so you can take control in no time.
The LX Mini has knobs labelled for popular parameters (Cutoff, Resonance, etc) on the Default page and by switching o the User page you have a second set of eight knobs at your disposal. All assignments can be easily edited and stored.
Most notable is the Part 2 performance feature. Part 2 is designed for momentary setup changes, controlled by two dedicated buttons that can be used to instantly transpose the keyboard up or down, switch to another MIDI channel or layer another sound - just let the button go and you’ll return to your original setup.
The Arpeggiators are great fun, too, with the eight knobs providing realtime access to all parameters such as Rate, Arp Mode, Swing and more. As you have one engine for the keys and one for the pads, you can run two different arpeggiators at the same time, either on the same MIDI channel or for different instruments. So it's really easy to come up with inspiring and new lines that go beyond cliche.
Find out more on the Nektar (opens in new tab) website.