Behringer U-Control UMA25S
If you’ve decided to start making music on a laptop, there’s a good chance that you want to keep your setup as portable as possible. If this is the case, you’ll most likely want to invest in a portable controller keyboard. We’ve picked out eight of the most popular models, starting with a little red devil from Behringer.
On the plus side, the UMA25S is slim, striking, comes with a decent range of controllers and has a built-in audio interface. There are a few minus points too, however - the keys don’t have much travel and the knobs on the back are a bit fiddly. All told, though, it’s a decent proposition, and even comes with a strap so that you can wear it like a keytar (you know you want to).
Novation 25 SL Mk II
The second version of the acclaimed SL features a semi-weighted Fatar keyboard, better drum pads and LED-encircled rotaries. Sliders and pots are now touch-sensitive, and the support for Novation’s Automap 3 software eases the setting up process considerably. It’s not cheap, but if you want a keyboard that gives you more, look no further.
E-MU Xboard 25
Designed, seemingly, with function rather than fashion in mind, the Xboard is a light and reasonably sturdy controller keyboard. The keys feel good, too, as do the 16 rotaries, but these are rather too close together for comfort. What’s more, the 12 editing keys are a little too flimsy and loose for our liking. On the plus side, the Proteus X LE virtual sound module, which features more than 2,500 sounds, comes in the box too.
Easily the coolest-looking controller here (Imogen Heap takes a couple on stage with her), the microKontrol also benefits from having a 3-octave, 37-note keyboard. There is a caveat, though: the keys are mini, restricting playability somewhat. However, with 16 pads, eight rotaries, eight sliders and a joystick being in the mix too, this is a classy and comprehensive solution.
Arturia Analog Factory Experience
Whereas some controllers ship with a software bundle as a ‘bonus’, here, the Analog Factory application is very much a headliner. It comes with over 2,000 classic synth presets, and you get a very well-built 32-note controller keyboard (this integrates tightly with the software) to play them with. This is made for Arturia by CME and, of course, can also be used as a standard MIDI keyboard.
The MPK25 is most notable not for its keys (of which there are 25), but for its MPC-style pads, which feel great (MPC Note Repeat and Swing features are included, too). Other assignable controllers include 12 knobs and four buttons, and you even get an arpeggiator. The whole package feels well-thought-out and performs superbly.
Edirol has been making controller keyboards for longer than most, and the PCR-300 feels like the culmination of years of hard work. There’s just so much to it: pads, rotaries, sliders, DAW controls - even a crossfader. We like the side-panel positioning of the connections, and to top it all off, the 32 keys are extremely playable.
M-Audio Axiom 25
Having played a massive role in popularising the 25-note keyboard concept with its Oxygen series, M-Audio released this enhanced controller in 2007. Extra features include eight drum pads, endless rotaries and semi-weighted keys. It remains an excellent little keyboard and, if you want an even more advanced model, you can check out the Axiom Pro 25.