Our Favourite MIDI Keyboards for Virtual Instruments

MIDI keyboards today are chalk full of specs and features that help producers create vibrant music with a truly human quality to them. Whether you need to lay down a groove like a session drummer or orchestrate a 90-person orchestra, MIDI will get you there.

What’s imperative about the MIDI workstation you decide to use is that the response of either the keys or drum pads fully represents the feel of the real deal. A composer on a grand piano has a totally different experience if trying to orchestrate on a 49 key MIDI controller with only semi-weighted keys.

For large orchestral arrangements, many composers choose working on a large keyboard workstation like the Yamaha MOXF8 88-key Synthesizer seen here:

Yamaha MOXF8 88-key Synthesizer Workstation

Yamaha MOXF8 88-key Synthesizer Workstation

Such workstations incorporate all of the parameters of classic synthesizers and incredibly realistic pianos. These are often found in the studios and on the stages of big name session players that need a complete combination of synths, pianos, strings, and pads that can be synced to other devices and programmed on the fly.

For more contemporary productions that incorporate drum programming and sampling, we like more compact but versatile models like the Akai Professional MPK261 Keyboard Controller:

Akai Professional MPK261 Keyboard Controller

Akai Professional MPK261 Keyboard Controller

As you can see, the wide selection of sliders, dials and drum pads make for a much more contemporary production, where artists are often performing, looping, and sampling on the fly. Import drum and vocal samples and sync up with your DAW and have a wildly diverse performance covering all rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic aspect of the song from one machine.

What’s more about these types of MIDI keyboard controllers is that they are relatively cheap. Compared to the workstation, they get their sounds from within the DAW instead from being stored inside on an internal disc or drive. This means there is less computing going on internally, and instead more conversation or transferring of data. This also keeps them light in weight; great for touring.

Moving on down the line we get rid of the keys completely but keep the philosophy of the MIDI keyboard controller with the Akai Professional APC40 MKII Pad Controller. This acts like popular MPC (music production centre) which were heavily popularized by Akai in the 80s. This is when sampling other peoples records become huge in pop culture and much of this was thanks to the MPC. The idea continues today but with much more options.

Akai Professional APC40 MKII Pad Controller

Akai Professional APC40 MKII Pad Controller

Chords are often sampled and imported where they can be pitched up and down. So though it lacks keys, the artist can still create a heavily harmonic performance. Types of music associated with pad controllers typically focus on new ways of looking at the overall production but have a major lack in the craftsmanship of songwriting. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. New style of music like this typically focus on beat and rhythm with sonic textures rather than harmony and melody. This introduces new sounds that are typically adopted in other genres of music.

So we hope you got some good tips here. If you want to learn more about MIDI keyboard controllers, visit Hollagully for a complete buyers guide and list of top models perfectly fit for the home studio and on the road.


Seaboard Grand by ROLI

New musical instruments are hard to market and sell. Especially instruments that are a variation of or play on a classic. So when we heard about the Seaboard by ROLI we were a bit skeptical and unsure of whether there would be much of a market for such an ambitious instrument. But with a little investigation you’ll quickly find that some of the features of the ROLI Seaboard are so mesmerizing that we’ve certainly begun to think twice.

ROLI is a design-led technology start-up based in Dalston, London that started in 2009. Their objective is to make new musical products that transform the way that people and technology interact. They’re out to make products that are intuitive and feel like a natural and intuitive extension of the body.

Where the Seaboard stands out and differentiates itself from a regular keyboard is that keyboards of the past took their velocity from the pressure at the point of contact which would fade out over time. The Seaboard acts on gestures such as presses, bends and slides opening new avenues to musical expression.
Key expressions are:
Continuous Touch – enables you to sound a note and then modulate its volume and timbre through one continuous motion. Keywaves offer precise tactile feedback, making it easy to sense the slight changes in pressure, resulting in a far more organic experience than traditional aftertouch found on common electronic keyboards.

Intuitive Pitch Control – This adjusts the pitch in a glissando fashion, allowing the keyboard to function similar to a stringed instrument. Add vibrato to this performance and you have a mighty orchestral sound station at your fingertips.

You’ll notice that despite the sheer versatility of the Seaboard, there is only one button. This SoundDial is the only control you need to adjust the sound. Shift between sound presets using the continuous rotary control, while the subtle LED ring shows you exactly which preset is currently being played.

The Seaboard Grand ships with Equator, ROLI’s proprietary full-featured audio engine that provides multidimensional control over your performance.

ROLI has developed many intuitive products beyond just the Seaboard. To discover more, check out their Youtube channel or follow them on Facebook.