ninjastealth

Help with MIDI Keyboards

11 posts in this topic

I've been dabbling in music production on and off for a few years and I'm looking around for a MIDI keyboard but I have a few questions.

1) Is there any good gear out there that functions both as a good keyboard (with semi-weighted keys at the least) and as a decent MIDI controller for $300-$500? Or would I be better off buying them as two separate things? I'm not looking for many bells and whistles on the controller part of it but at minimum I want to have MIDI/USB connectivity if I get a combined deal.

2) Is it possible to hook up a guitar pedal (say, a looper) to a keyboard with an aux input/output? How would that work?

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1) What do you mean by keyboard here? Something you can play on to send MIDI note data to your computer? Something with its own built-in sounds? You're not going to find anything in your price range that's semi-weighted or weighted and also has more than a few built-in sounds. Semi-weighted is rare for keyboards with built-in sounds, except for a few models that go for thousands new. There probably are a few semi-weighted MIDI controllers in your price range, but they won't have built in sounds. You may find weighted, though not in your price range if they're any good or have built-in sounds. Most likely, your budget is limiting you to synth-action keyboards. There's also a bunch more important questions to ask, like how many keys you need, whether you need pedal connections and how many, etc.

I'd suggest going to a website like sweetwater.com and getting a better idea of what's out there, and then coming back with more specific questions about which keyboards may or may not be good choices, and explain what you need it fore in a bit more detail too.

 

2) It definitely is. Keyboards are line-level instruments while guitars are instrument-level, so there's a big difference in the volumes coming in. Some brands of pedals can handle line-level signals, while others only can if you turn the instrument down a lot. That may or may not be good for what you want. If you get the levels right, though, it's no different than using a guitar: connect your keyboard to the pedal with a 1/4" cable, and then connect the pedal to something else (your audio interface, a mixer, amp/speaker, etc.). I have a stack of pedals I run my keyboards through, but they're all brands that work well with line-level signals (Strymon, Earthquaker Devices, Neo Instruments for their Leslie speaker pedal, and Moog). If you can only swing $500 on a keyboard, all of those will be out of your price range.

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Sweet! After looking around on Sweetwater I think what I'm looking for is just a keyboard and not a MIDI controller--for now, anyway. I've been looking for a good keyboard for a while--something with 88 keys, hammer action, 1-2 pedal connections.

I don't want to delve into built-in sounds yet I don't think--currently I'm looking for something I can play on to send MIDI note data to my computer. My priority right now is to get a quality keyboard that feels like a real piano but also has some sort of MIDI capabilities, and a lot of keyboards I saw had MIDI/USB connectivity. So I'm probably going to stick with a normal keyboard over a MIDI controller (something like this or this). Are those wise choices? Would there be an advantage to getting a MIDI controller instead? Would it be wise to get a MIDI controller down the road? And what DAWs are best for working with MIDI?

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Those two are digital pianos, that is midi keyboards with built-in piano sounds. 

 

Probably better to start with a pure usb midi keyboard and some cheap/free soft synths. You can get a usable midi keyboard for like 100 bucks.

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Ok, your post reads like you're misunderstanding MIDI controllers. A MIDI controller is any device (not necessarily one that has keys! Things like the Korg nano series don't!) that sends MIDI data. In today's market, virtually every keyboard of any kind sends MIDI data, except perhaps super-cheap entry-level Casios or something. Obviously, check if any keyboard that you're interested in sends MIDI (through a standard 5-pin MIDI cable or over USB), but probably that won't be an issue. Something billed as a MIDI Controller will *only* send MIDI data, and may have a lot of other knobs, faders, and buttons that send various MIDI messages, while with keyboards, it can vary quite a bit. The two weighted keyboards you showed will probably send note and pedal information, but the buttons they have are likely more for controlling the built-in sounds rather than sending MIDI messages.

 

Should you get a MIDI controller or something with built-in sounds? That depends entirely on where you want to play. If you're only ever going to use the keyboard in front of your computer, than built-in sounds don't matter; if the keyboard you buy happens to have them, great, but to actually *record* them, you need additional hardware anyway. If you're going to play anywhere else with the keyboard (and also use it as a controller), then built-in sounds matter much more. Then again, $500 or so is going to get you a keyboard with pretty crappy built-in sounds, and the same money spent on software sounds will get you much better quality. Or, if you really want to be playing away from your computer as well as recording things, I'd look at something like the Roland FA-08 or Yamaha MX-8 or MOXF-8 for a moderately-priced workstation keyboard that will have a large quantity of good-quality sounds and also work just fine as a MIDI controller. Yes, it's more money, but it's worth saving for unless the ONLY thing you can EVER afford in the next few years is a lower-budget keyboard.

So, before you go looking at keyboards, you need to decide: weighted, semi-weighted, synth-action, or don't care? (Sounds like you only want weighted). Built-in sounds or not? (If so, will you be recording them? And do you have an audio interface to do that? If not, you'll need to get one. If you don't want built-in sounds, do you have, or will you buy/find free sounds/find sounds bundled with your DAW, the sounds you need?) There might be cheaper weighted MIDI controllers than the ones you linked. I'd figure out why you think you need a keyboard vs. a MIDI controller, and what you want to do with sounds.

Also, unless you're in a rural area and you really can't get to a local store, I wouldn't recommend buying a keyboard based on what you see online, especially a keyboard with built-in sounds.

 

Given this, I don't understand your questions about getting a MIDI controller down the road. Buy any keyboard, with sounds or not, that has MIDI capability and you're set, and if you want some extra knobs and faders, you can look to a second, small, device (the Korg nanoKontrol is great, for one example).

 

The DAW that you should use is the DAW that you feel most comfortable with. All major DAWs support MIDI. Some are a bit better or worse than the majority, but pick your DAW based on what makes sense for you, and you'll find that the MIDI support is good enough.

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I would just go with a $100 MIDI keyboard except I've been wanting to get my own piano/keyboard for a long time now, and a synth-action keyboard just won't cut it for practicing.

Yes, you're right, I was definitely unclear about MIDI controllers vs. keyboards. That clears things up.

I won't be doing much, if any, live recording. And if I do play it elsewhere, the only thing I care about is that the built-in piano sound sounds good. So I don't think I'd have much of a need for built-in sounds--at least, not on a keyboard. But I do want a keyboard since, like I said, I've been wanting to have something to practice on for a while now, and my preference is definitely going to lean toward weighted ones (or semi-weighted, at the absolute least).

I like the idea of buying a keyboard and a separate MIDI controller a lot. That's likely what I'll end up doing. I'm trying to get my feet wet with production by getting a keyboard I'd wanted to buy anyway, and I can't see a reason for getting the $1500+ keyboards since I won't really be needing the built-in sounds and bells & whistles, not at that level. It'd be nice even at a non-professional level but I can't justify spending that much yet haha. But having a MIDI controller like the Korg would be nice for some extra stuff. And if I do end up needing more sounds, I'll probably just end up buying something like Komplete at some point (another thing to save for...oh well :-P).

Would that purchase make sense for my situation? I just want to make sure I'm headed in the right direction before making a major purchase like this.

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Middle-of-the-road options are a bit on the scarce side, in my experience.

The trouble is that finding a good rompler/workstation/e-piano keyboard that can also double as a MIDI controller for a low price is tricky.

Getting a cheap MIDI keyboard with semi-weighted keys, but no built in sounds is relatively easy as most people these days only require this.

Can you clarify what you mean by "live recording", though? Do you mean recording of audio, or playing in MIDI data "live"? That is also a factor consider in regards to # of keys and such.

Personally, I'd just look at getting some sort of workstation keyboard or electronic piano that has MIDI output and use it for both live playing and MIDI recording. It will likely cost a bit more than what you'd hope, but there's not much sense in buying both if one will give you sounds and MIDI output. 

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I think he meant "live performance?"

Based on what you're saying, I'd get a weighted keyboard of some sort. If it's basic and only has a few (or even no) sounds, that's probably all you need. I'd hold off on any kind of MIDI controller until you find a need for it in your workflow (e.g. "I wish I didn't have to use the mouse to automate this..."

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I'd meant audio recording. All things considered, I'll probably stick with a basic weighted keyboard, though I'll definitely take a look at workstation keyboards during a visit to the music store and start saving up for one if it catches my eye. Thanks for the help!

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Might be worth mentioning that cheap weighted keys are sometimes worse than decent semi-wighted. So preferrably you'll want to try out a few contenders in da flesh. 

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I'd buy MIDI-Controller and VSTIs/synthesizer separately.

If the expensive keyboard with the expensive synthesizers crashes (and it might be just a glass of spilled water that kills your ultimate all-in-one-solution in a second) you can't use anything of it.
No working keyboard - no working synths - no happy composer.

If just your MIDI-Controller is broken you can still use all the collected VSTIs, synthesizers and plugins in your DAW and just buy a new MIDI-Controller if you can't repair it.
And maybe your preferences change over the time - maybe you want drum pads directly on your MIDI keyboard oder weighted keys with hammer mechanisms.
Would be pretty expensive if you buy those hardware improvements along the line of new keyboards with integrated synthesizers.

I've got a pretty nice MIDI keyboard all-in-one solution with my M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK IV >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee8bzs3fYbE

It has just synth action keys (I actually really like 'em since I got used to them) and no aftertouch function - but I really get along with it. If I need some aftertouch I can do it with an automation by overdubbing the track with my MIDI controller and the MIDI learn function on the VSTIs and synthesizers in my DAW pretty easily.
You can program and edit lots of functions of this keyboard - for example the sensitivity of the keys and drum pads or the functions of transport console, buttons and controllers.
And you have lots of buttons, controllers and modulators there.

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