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Tim Smith

Best 88 Key Controller

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"If" you had a recent version of Komplete and a bunch of Kontakt libraries , HOWEVER you also used several other similar programs on occasion such as The Spitfire sample program, UVI, Sampletank, ENGINE, would you still think the 88key NI controller was the best choice?

-Thanks

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If you are doing concert piano stuff 88 key weighted is a must. If you are doing instruments, strings and synth a smaller unweighted would be best. 

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16 hours ago, Tim Smith said:

"If" you had a recent version of Komplete and a bunch of Kontakt libraries , HOWEVER you also used several other similar programs on occasion such as The Spitfire sample program, UVI, Sampletank, ENGINE, would you still think the 88key NI controller was the best choice?

-Thanks

There are a lot of variables in "best".

My first MIDI keyboard/controller was a Nektar Panorama P6 (61 keys). I was very happy with the feel of the keys, but never got their proprietary interface software to work properly (there were demonstrable bugs in the sysex file they provided (I provided steps to reproduce and even the line numbers of the faulty section of code in the sysex file). They refused to even recognize that there were errors ("works fine in our testing"). Then the color display started failing, so I sent the P6 to the local landfill and bought an NI S61 Mk2, which I am very happy with. Love the feel of the semi-weighted keys. I use it with Kontakt, UVI Workstation (the excellent VI Labs pianos), Spitfire LABS and many other VIs with no problems.

I would like to eventually add an NI S88 to my home studio (no 92 key controllers to support the full keybed of the 92 key Börsendorfer), but would like to have a fully weighted hammer action controller for piano playing.

NI's S88 is as good or better than anything else in its price range, but the question comes down the what you want for a control surface. The S series controllers have NO faders, but do have a fairly complete set of DAW control buttons and some control knobs. If I ever need a control surface, I'll buy a PreSonus FaderPort; I don't need or want that on my MIDI keyboard. But that's just me.

My $0.02.

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Well I most often prefer either a semi weighted controller for the ability to play faster runs, at least that's what seems to work best for me even though I have several 88 key weighted controllers because for bass runs I'm often down in those lower ranges.

I know I can play something and then transpose it, so I could probably get away with using a 76 key controller.  Given that most NI libraries have the articulations at the far left is another reason to like an 88 key controller. I know there are work arounds to it, but it's nice to be able to grab the pre programmed settings and run with it in the piano roll.

I would say that what appears to be the primary difference between myself and most who use controllers is I PLAY the keyboard  like an instrument as opposed to using one for programming purposes. It isn't a midi input device to me so much as an instrument.

My last several controllers have been 88 keys with onboard sound because I was going back and forth between using the sounds live and then using the keyboard as a midi controller in the studio. In fact, a dedicated controller feels odd now to me as a result. Since most of my work is now only in a studio, I'm beginning to see a dedicated controller as an option.

I don't understand why NI didn't put more tactile midi control on their boards? It seems like the Tesla of keyboards to me, but I'm not into driverless music.

Does anyone have any alternatives that would make a decent all rounder' for multiple sample library configurations? I might be ok with 76 keys but 61 are probably not going to work for me.

@John Maar

Thanks for your feedback on the NI 61. I'm thinking if there's really nothing better than the NI88 I could use one if I complimented it with some other control options. I could still play fast on an NI 88 weighted but probably not as fast. Could always tweak the midi bpm later.

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One possibility @Tim Smith is to split the keyboard. Put just enough keys in the lower split to handle the articulation keys and use the majority of keys mapped to the range you're playing in. You might be able to get away with a 61 key controller that way.

And take a look at Gig Performer to handle all of those keyboards. It is mostly used for live work, but I'm studio-only and use it daily. It blows Cantabile and Forte (no longer developed) out of the water. Created by two musicians (one who tours; keyboard player) who both worked for IBM Research in upstate NY. The Rig Manager is super useful for someone like you.

Gig Performer website

Gig Performer YouTube channel

 

Edited by John Maar
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Thanks for the suggestions @John Maar

I had Cantabile, the pro version of it and I knew that some players built mini computers to use it with on stage. Most of my playing is church related and they usually only needed a piano, an organ or maybe a nice electric piano. Occasionally I would throw a pad in the background. Big difference between that and a guy who is in a show run off of computer backing tracks. He can program his changes into Cantabile or a DAW, have things change up automatically. Play multi layered huge sounds etc. All of that was too " high tech" for what I needed to do so I didn't end up using Cantabile much.

When in the studio, I use more variety in terms of sounds. Big difference between the two and why I guess something made for the studio is best for the studio ;)

You have me now thinking about the 61 key though. Maybe it is worth consideration.

 

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Update- After some deliberation I decided to initially go with an Arturia Keyscape MKII 61. It may seem I reneged on my last comments. Let me explain-

I realized that what I was mainly after was basic DAW control and since I already have a bunch of 88 key controllers, I can always hook one up in tandem with the MKII if necessary. My workflow is usually inputting tracks first and them mixing later.  I like having mixing faders and controls in close proximity to my playing position. I looked at dedicated DAW controllers Like the Mackie and the Studio One controller. Since I will be using my controller with Cakewalk, Cubase and others I decided against it because some reported issues with it in Cubase. The Mackie is probably more than I really need at this point and the placing of any such controller would be a difficulty given my space right now ( a large kitchen table).

While I love NI's controller it is severely lacking in tactile DAW controls. I will probably get one in the near future when I get my studio moved over and have more room because the NI universe is where I often find myself. For now though, I don't want such a dedicated controller because I use all sorts of libraries. The 49 key version would probably do me fine just for manipulation of a VSTi AFTER I play the track. That would be my main intent with that controller. To work with automation in Kontakt. So far as meta data, I can find what I want to find well enough to get by for now.

The less expensive version of the Arturia line might have been ok too, but I didn't want the possibility I might need a function I didn't have. Plus I have seem what happens to other brands of cheaper controllers and keyboards after they sit for a long time. I have a small Oxygen controller, like 49 Keys and the knobs on it feel like someone coated them with jelly even though it sat in a conditioned space. The rubber has gone mushy over time.

The only problem I might have with the Arturia is one I made for myself. I ordered an open box because it was much less. Hopefully someone else didn't register the keyboard software. I have a feeling they probably did. I hope I'm wrong about that. If this is the case, then I'll need to chase them for another authorization and my less expensive keyboard might be more expensive than I planned.

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7 hours ago, Tim Smith said:

The only problem I might have with the Arturia is one I made for myself. I ordered an open box because it was much less. Hopefully someone else didn't register the keyboard software. I have a feeling they probably did.

IME, as long as you have a receipt from an official retailer hardware companies will honor the bundling deal. Open box or not. But here's hoping the the previous buyer didn't get around to registering it.

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1 hour ago, Starship Krupa said:

IME, as long as you have a receipt from an official retailer hardware companies will honor the bundling deal. Open box or not. But here's hoping the the previous buyer didn't get around to registering it.

Thanks Erik. 

I should know soon. I have run into similar things with open box in the past, but I still mostly go that route. It's a gamble and so far I've been very lucky.

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I received the Arturia Keyscape MKII 61.

It appears from the packaging the controller was never opened completely, so for whatever reason I got a great deal on a controller.

The keyboard registered with Arturia ok.  I downloaded the software and was blown away by the quality of the Arturia synths and V piano. MY interface was set at 192 and there was no noticeable lag in playing it. The key bed on the 61 key version is zippy and lightening fast. I would say more of a synth action which is what I prefer for faster playing. It's a well designed and sturdily built controller. Updating the firmware was no problem.

Since my main reason for getting it was DAW control I tried using it in different configurations. There are templates for Logic, Studio One, Ableton, Reaper, MUI control and Cubase. Unfortunately no Cakewalk template.

Documentation on specifics is sparse with Arturia relying mostly on web pages and video for instruction on YouTube. If the instructions they give you work for what you want to do it's fine. I have usually found web help pages to be lacking. This was no exception. Their forum might be more helpful.

As with any tech, none of it always goes off without a hitch. Usually we have to figure out how to make things that don't work function, sometimes without any instructions. Here is how things have shaped up after one evening with the MKII.

I tried the DAW functions with the DAWS I own that are covered.

Ableton- This was a no brainer since I think they must somehow be in cahoots with Arturia. The programming for DAW control worked right out of the box. No surprise since a lite version of Ableton is included. If this is your DAW no worries.

Studio One- I added the MKII as a controller which SO seen. The keys worked on a soft synth in SO. I set DAW control to SO in the MKII....nothing. I tried it in MUI mode. Nothing. 

Cubase-   MKII set to Cubase control. Again all keyboard controller related functions worked fine. DAW functions play a note whenever ANY key is pressed. Several others had this issue over on Reddit and claim the problem is the midi port settings, some suggested using Mackie mode instead. I need to track this down more tonight. MCU mode made no difference.

Cakewalk- I didn't get that far yet. I'll let you know. It looks like Creative Sauce had no issue getting his 88 key version to work in Cakewalk.

At least with Cubase 12 there are several ways to approach a solution. I could opt to build a script for it from scratch. Unfortunately Cubase has the Arturia essentials scripts but lacks the MKII ones.

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10 hours ago, Tim Smith said:

At least with Cubase 12 there are several ways to approach a solution. I could opt to build a script for it from scratch. Unfortunately Cubase has the Arturia essentials scripts but lacks the MKII ones.

Do Steinberg have a forum where you might ask if someone else has already worked it out, built the script or whatever?

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10 hours ago, Starship Krupa said:

Do Steinberg have a forum where you might ask if someone else has already worked it out, built the script or whatever?

Good suggestion. I usually come here and forget they have a forum .  

This controller has three main function buttons. One for  Arturia VSTi, one for DAW control, and a user programmable function.

I was building a script for it last evening in the user programming mode. I had about 15 of the most used functions in the DAW mapped to it, but stopped when I had trouble programming the sliders and pan knobs. The things I mapped worked well.

I am having issues with random midi notes now. This isn't something that happened before. Could be as simple as a bad usb cable. This was one issue another user experienced when this happened. A pinched ribbon cable was another problem noted on this controller.

At this point I can't recommend the controller. This hasn't been the kind of a process they lead you to believe it will be. Things haven't just 'clicked'.  I bought it to solve a problem, not create three more. 

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If at all possible, you need to play the controller... so you can feel the key-bed.

The NI controllers are pretty decent quality... especially when compared to other MIDI controller keyboards.

If you compare the S88 to something like a Korg Kronos, to me the Kronos keyboard feels significantly better.

Of course, the Korg is far more expensive and heavier.

I'd also check out the Arturia KeyLab 88 mkII.

 

 

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Thanks Jim,

While I like the heavier piano type keys I like synth keys for fast playing. I see the Korg as somewhere in between those two. It definitely has a better build than most typical synth controllers in addition to all of those amazing sounds (Kronos). If I had come across the right deal on one I would have snagged it. If you don't know already I tend to be a bargain hunter even if I could buy new.

I managed to make some more headway with this controller. Managed to get it to work in Cubase. The problem was me. I tried it in Cakewalk last evening and didn't get a template completely made in ACT. It seems ACT will work nicely for this. Being a lefty I like the way the faders and knobs on the MKII are laid out which is odd because I like having my right hand free to the faders and having the pads on the left in case I wanted to make a drum beat. The pads can be programmed to do anything else in user mode. There are lots of options to tie to in Cubase. For a pianist I would probably recommend the 88 key version for anyone who likes a weighted piano key action. I think in my situation being transitional and not having a lot of room , the 61 is best for now. As I type this I am looking at 4 88 key controllers, so if I get the urge for an 88 I can grab one of those. I am hoping that temporarily I can make this thing work for DAW control. Once I get octave shifting down it shouldn't be a problem.

In Cakewalk, with it in MUI mode all of my F keys went to many important cakewalk functions. It's going to take some effort to get a template completely made for it.

 

 

 

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