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I am interested in composing electronic music using a program like Ableton Live.

The array of choices in terms of midi interfaces and audio interfaces is overwhelming.

Here is what I would like to get:

  • A full size keyboard with MIDI input that has weighted keys (close to what a real piano feels like).
  • Good quality midi sounds and effects (not the cheesy sounding stuff I remember from my sound blaster 16).
  • Ability to record in electric guitar tracks and voice.

My question is what gear (make/model) will fit these requirements at the best value. I may be buying some of this stuff off Craigslist to save. What about USB vs Firewire?

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In reading more, turns out I want a software based synth. That should save some money on the keyboard. Does Ableton Live do that part? –  NW Architect Feb 11 '12 at 15:50
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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

You seem to be confusing MIDI with Audio.

MIDI is only for control data. It is for messages such as note on/off, pitch bend, patch change, etc. No sound goes over MIDI. When you mention "good quality MIDI sounds and effects", what you are really looking for is a synthesizer with a good set of patches, that also supports MIDI.

With that out of the way, I recommend you buy two pieces of equipment:

  • 88-key Weighted Keyboard
  • USB or Firewire Audio Interface

You have many choices on both. I actually recommend you look at some of the "workstation" keyboards. These tend to have a very wide variety of patches, and are extremely cheap if you get an older model. My Roland Fantom was a beast when I bought it in 2001, and is still a beast today, but you can pick it up for ~$300 used, which is a lot cheaper than the $1900 it cost new. You'll see similar pricing on keyboards from Korg and Yamaha, if you are patient and look around.

As far as the audio interface, if you only want to plug a guitar in, then you don't need anything with a lot of channels. M-Audio's Fast Track fits your bill, and I've seen these in music stores for around $50.

For the whole Firewire vs USB argument, that has already been covered here: FireWire or USB

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So Ableton will then play back the MIDI sequence through the sythensizer, as opposed to the PC sound card? –  NW Architect Feb 11 '12 at 15:35
    
@NWArchitect, Listen, MIDI doesn't ever get played back as audio directly. MIDI is not audio. MIDI actually doesn't have to have anything to do with audio. It's just a control protocol. So yes, Ableton will send MIDI commands to your synth, and your synth will produce the audio. –  Brad Feb 11 '12 at 15:37
    
That makes sense now, so what are my options for software based synth? –  NW Architect Feb 11 '12 at 16:49
    
@NWArchitect, You can use any ASIO software synth in Ableton Live. –  Brad Feb 11 '12 at 16:50
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for equipment i would look at M-audio Axiom midi keyboard. They are pretty good and cheaper. For interface, look into focusrite 2i2, again its pretty cheap and has te same high end internals as their expensive models, just less features, but very reliable firmware and hardware itself.

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