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Hi all. I'm looking for a new controller to have a go at composing, play around with synths, improve my timing and learn more theory. I can read up on all the features, but feel of the keys is rarely discussed. Unfortunately I seem to be indefinitely stuck in lockdown and therefore have to buy or rent sight unseen. Sorry to create another of these "help me" threads, any informed opinions appreciated.

My main concern is how the keys feel (are they fun to play) and how well they respond (e.g. can they reliably trigger velocity ~10, and reliably trigger velocity ~120). I'm new to piano but build my own guitars, so, I'm not a total newbie :-) I'm not keen on joysticks and am therefore ignoring e.g. Roland. After-touch seems interesting, but I'm guessing e.g. an expression pedal gives more control. I'd prefer smaller/lighter, so no 80s synths. I've searched, but pretty much all I have so far is (roughly in order of price):

Arturia Keylab Essential - seems to be a safe choice, affordable.

Novation Launchkey MkIII - they seem to get used live, but haven't seen any real comments on the keybed.

Nektar T4 / T6 - seems to be the "I can't put my finger on why but this one feels good" controller. It's pretty old, and looks really ugly to me, but that could be forgiven if it's really that good.

Novation Impulse - again really old, but seems to be liked for the "semi-weighted" keybed (whatever that means these days).

Arturia Keylab MKII - seems to be liked, a bit excessive since I won't use e.g. the cv inputs, but reviews suggest it feels a little better than the Essential (not sure it makes sense for me at over double the price however).

Alesis V or VI - I'm not keen on the layout.

Native Instruments Kontrol - every model is out of stock near me. Not sure they're better than anything else.

Yamaha MODX6 - I like the feature set, I could do a lot without the PC, but reviews suggest the keybed is no better than most affordable controllers. And its big, for use as a controller.

Yamaha YC61 - total overkill price wise, but the waterfall keyboard is really intriguing. Ditto the pitch/modulation "sticks". No reviews though, so again as far as I know it might not play any better than a $500 controller.

One of the previous threads (different goals to me):
http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2973697/61-key-midi-controller-recommendation.html

Thank you all.

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I have the Yamaha Moxf 6, the keybed totally sucks the grand wazoo. I don't know if the one on yours is any better.

Why 61? I have the 88 key, 15 pound Numa Compact 2x, which has a GREAT lightweight keybed.

For 61, I have an older Nextar Impact. It's quite playable (just a controller), 6 pounds, I also use it as a keytar with a homemade strap.

Novation has good keybeds for the genre. So does Axiom (or at least they used to).


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It all depends. On one one hand, every synth action sucks big time when compared to a proper hammer action. On the other hand, if you accept that a synth action is a synth action, there are ones that are not bad at all. Many people seem to bash the keyboard of MODX6 and I really can't understand why. IMO it's very good for a synth action and I can play pianos and Rhodes very comfortably and consistently without sudden velocity jumps or missed notes, etc. As a matter of fact, it made me forget about bringing heavy hammer action keyboards at rehearsals.

But we are all different, so it's only you that can make the decision.


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Originally Posted by MartF
After-touch seems interesting, but I'm guessing e.g. an expression pedal gives more control.
One issue there is how many pedals your controller supports (and how many you want to have to connect). If you've got just one expression pedal, and you want to use it in lieu of aftertouch for some function (say, introducing modulation of some sort), you now don't have that pedal available for something else (maybe opening a filter or adjusting a volume).

Also, it's a different experience. Since you're a guitarist, I'll make this analogy... To me, introducing vibrato with aftertouch is kind of like creating vibrato with your finger on the fret, whereas using a foot or a left hand control feels more like using a whammy bar, I find it not quite as organic/integral feeling to the playing of the note.

Of course pedals have their own advantages... as you say, more precise control, and they can also be left in place at a certain setting. The two really work best for different purposes.

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A lot of MIDI controllers have rubbish actions.

Professional workstations tend to have the premium 88 key actions, but they are expensive and big. Gently used saves money but not size. Workstations with fewer than 88 keys may have different, less expensive, actions. Even if they are not specced differently by the manufacturer, you might notice a difference among a 88, 76 and 61 keybed (which could be haphazard differences).

MODX8 has the GHS Keyboard which feels significantly better to me than the MODX7 & MOD6 keybeds. It is also much bigger and more expensive.

Aftertouch provides some extra synth expression for some sounds but it is not as useful as I expected (there are a ton of alternative pedals, breath controllers, hand controllers, including the nifty Touche). From a mechanical perspective, aftertouch can encourage some unwanted tension in the hand-arm. And as anotherscott notes, you might not find aftertouch so natural.

In the end, you really need to try to decide what you like.

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I looked for a portable instrument. To me the biggest issue was the keys always being smaller then a real piano.

I ended up getting a Roland:go piano. Full size keys, OK action. Feels nothing like a piano.(None of them synths do.

If I had to buy on again I would probably go with the Casio Casiotone, 61-Key Portable Keyboard.(Double check the size of the keys, I think they are piano size)

Does the same as the Roland for a lot less $$.


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In synth world, most mid-end to premium synths/controllers (from manufacturers that don't make their own keybeds) use Fatar keybeds.
I doubt that any of the cheaper ones in your list do but I know that the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-series do though.

Novation have the SL MkIII as well, not sure what kind of keybed it uses, but it's supposed to be the same that is used in their Summit synth.

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Originally Posted by newer player
And as anotherscott notes, you might not find aftertouch so natural.

I understood the other way round, using expression pedal as a workaround to AT is not as natural, and he used the parallel with the ways one can do vibrato on an electric guitar.


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Right... personally I find aftertouch a very natural feeling way to add expression to a note.

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MartF Offline OP
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Sorry I need to clarify, I am absolutely not looking for a piano. This is for everything else - orchestral libraries, synths, organs etc. By "pianist's choice" I mean, what would someone choose if their main focus is the keybed rather than all the other features.

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I suggest you take a look at Skyscrapersax suggestion, Studiologic Numa Compact 2x. I remember seeing many positive reviews about its keybed and on top of all that, you would have the built-in sounds as a bonus. Per specs it has controller functionality. Others that know it first hand could provide more information.

Last edited by EVC2017; 10/14/20 06:17 PM.

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Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
I have the Yamaha Moxf 6, the keybed totally sucks the grand wazoo.

Right, the comments I've seen suggest the MODX is better.

Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
Why 61?

Space, portability. I might go less. Sorry I had to clarify, I'm not after a piano. I just mean what keyboard would a picky pianist choose if they wanted to play synths, organs, program drums etc.

Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
I have the 88 key, 15 pound Numa Compact 2x, which has a GREAT lightweight keybed.

Yes, most of the SL lineup look good, just not what I'm after. The numa organ 2 looks (dated and too big but) interesting.

Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
For 61, I have an older Nextar Impact. It's quite playable (just a controller), 6 pounds

Yes this is more what I'm after. Most comments about the Impact seem to be positive... but that's also the case for most controllers. Hence I'm wondering if anyone has tried a few of them, and can offer some comparison.

The Nektar T4 / T6 seem to be the top of their line-up hence I mentioned it. I've seen comments saying they're better feeling than the old P series. I'm presuming it feels better than the Impact(s).

Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
Novation has good keybeds for the genre.

Yes, they seem like the safest choice, and they're almost always in stock everywhere. I'm leaning towards trying the 37 key first as it's a smaller initial investment, and I like how they crammed everything into a smaller footprint (it's not much bigger than the 25 key).

Originally Posted by Skyscrapersax
So does Axiom (or at least they used to).

Yes, I never see them for sale here in Australia. There's the Oxygen and Code sometimes for sale. I'm not keen on the drumpads stuck on the end, but would get one if they're the best keybed for the price (not sure they are though).

Originally Posted by CyberGene
if you accept that a synth action is a synth action

I do, I do :-)

Originally Posted by CyberGene
Many people seem to bash the keyboard of MODX6 and I really can't understand why. IMO it's very good for a synth action and I can play pianos and Rhodes very comfortably and consistently without sudden velocity jumps or missed notes, etc. As a matter of fact, it made me forget about bringing heavy hammer action keyboards at rehearsals.

Yes I almost wish I bought one months ago as the price has gone up now. I think after the honeymoon period I would end up mostly using it as a controller though which might be a waste.

Originally Posted by anotherscott
One issue there is how many pedals your controller supports

Yes. I might end up getting a guitar foot controller thing one day anyway, and it's not top priority right now.

Originally Posted by anotherscott
Also, it's a different experience. Since you're a guitarist, I'll make this analogy... To me, introducing vibrato with aftertouch is kind of like creating vibrato with your finger on the fret, whereas using a foot or a left hand control feels more like using a whammy bar, I find it not quite as organic/integral feeling to the playing of the note.

Yes that's a good point. I won't really know until I get something and start playing with it. If it feels like a big thing I might look into e.g. a ContinuuMini or LinnStrument later. But that's not what I'm after right now.

Originally Posted by newer player
MODX8 has the GHS Keyboard which feels significantly better to me than the MODX7 & MOD6 keybeds.

I've seen comments the other way round too :-) I'm not a fan of the GH and GHS actions (I have an old Yamaha P140S and my neighbour has one with GHS). I'm renting a Kawai CA58 which I like and I'm in the process of deciding whether to keep it or upgrade/downgrade. But that's a whole'nother discussion.

Originally Posted by newer player
Aftertouch ... is not as useful as I expected

Yes that's what I'm expecting to find. I'm interested in trying it but I'm not going to spend more on a controller just to get that feature.

Originally Posted by newer player
In the end, you really need to try to decide what you like.

Yes I will have to, I'm just hoping someone can help narrow my choices :-)

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Originally Posted by Learux
I looked for a portable instrument. To me the biggest issue was the keys always being smaller then a real piano.

Yes, I don't know if that's going to bother me until I try. I believe the MODX 6/7 keys are slimmer than the 8 too.

Originally Posted by Learux
If I had to buy on again I would probably go with the Casio Casiotone, 61-Key Portable Keyboard.(Double check the size of the keys, I think they are piano size)

Yes looks ok for a standalone portable unit, I think I'm better off getting a dedicated controller though.

Originally Posted by Fripp
In synth world, most mid-end to premium synths/controllers (from manufacturers that don't make their own keybeds) use Fatar keybeds. I doubt that any of the cheaper ones in your list do but I know that the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-series do though.

Yes. It's really not clear from reviews whether the Fatar ones are worth paying the extra for, hence this thread :-) I probably won't make use of the extra features the higher end controllers offer, so it's a lot to pay if the keybeds are only slightly better.

Originally Posted by Fripp
Novation have the SL MkIII as well, not sure what kind of keybed it uses, but it's supposed to be the same that is used in their Summit synth.

Yes, the SL is significantly more expensive than the Launchkey though, and reviewers just say "the keys feel a bit better" so it's hard to justify without trying first. And the price of the SL isn't that far off the MODX.

Summit looks great. If it happens to turn out that I'm a great musician, everyone loves my music and I can quit my day job, I might be able to justify it!

Originally Posted by EVC2017
I suggest you take a look at Skyscrapersax suggestion, Studiologic Numa Compact 2x.

Yes as noted above, I think it looks great. If I needed one keyboard for everything including piano, a Numa might be it. It's just not what I'm after though.

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Just a couple opinions. I know you don't like joysticks, but for me at least the Roland A500 pro was the nicest set of non-piano keys I've ever laid fingers on. Only had it for a little while before I decided it just wasn't enough keys. A800 was sold out at the time, and I looked just about everywhere. Assuming the A800 is the same, that would afford 61 keys. On the other hand, Roland AT is reputed to be very tough to control.

Anyway, currently own a Komplete Kontrol Mk I. Keys are fine. Not cheap, but not as nice as the Roland. Much better than almost everything I played on a trip to Guitar Center one time. Aftertouch is fun. My 8 year old and I love it. Having grown up on the violin, having the extra control is a bit of an addiction. It's not something I use all the time, but when you want it, there's nothing like digging into the keyboard and hearing your synth go into overdrive. Yes, a pedal is more practical, but it's just not the same... Komplete Kontrol Mk II is reputed to have one of the best feeling keybeds, no joystick. Would have bought it, but I'm too cheap. May be worth a look.

2 cents.


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Originally Posted by Melving
for me at least the Roland A500 pro was the nicest set of non-piano keys I've ever laid fingers on

It surprises me they are still current product. They were originally branded by Cakewalk, and date back to at least 2010. I asked the Woody Piano Shack guy once, I think he had the A49, A500PRO, NI A series and a MODX, and he thought they were all very similar. I'm not sure how discerning he is though.

But yes, maybe I should still consider one. Though, I'm trying to reduce the options, not increase them :-)

Originally Posted by Melving
Roland AT is reputed to be very tough to control.

Yes, I think I remember reading it could be improved with some DIY.

Originally Posted by Melving
currently own a Komplete Kontrol Mk I. Keys are fine. Not cheap, but not as nice as the Roland. Much better than almost everything I played on a trip to Guitar Center one time.... Komplete Kontrol Mk II is reputed to have one of the best feeling keybeds

It's more affordable than the Novation SL, but still at a price I'd really need to try first. I think I'll setup some eBay filters and see what comes up second hand (though it seems quiet right now), and maybe buy some of the shorter more affordable versions. I'm not sure the software licenses can be transferred if I sell them, so I'll check that.


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