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I've recently purchased Kontakt 5, and I'm exited to start using it, but I'm thinking that my current MIDI controller (an 88 weighted key digital piano) will probably be difficult to play on for non-piano instruments. So, I'm in the market for a MIDI controller, and I'm surprised by the lack of affordable options out there. Here's what I'm looking for:

  • 61 keys (more would be fine, but not required)
  • Non-weighted keys
  • Sends aftertouch data (preferably polyphonic, but channel will do)
  • Expression and sustain pedal inputs
  • Has pitch and modulation wheels
  • Cheap: under $400 would be awesome

After quite a bit of Googling, the only things I can find that fit the bill are some vintage synths (Yamaha SY99, Kurzweil MIDIboard, GEM S3, Ensoniq TS-10) that are incredibly expensive on the second hand market because of their old school sound and scarcity.

Am I missing something here? It seems odd to me, that this product doesn't exist.

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2 Answers 2

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Unfortunately, pure-controller keyboards often have low-quality keybeds. The good news is that there are a lot of great synths with good keybeds on the used market. Just look for the high-end synths of yesterday that have since fallen out of fashion.

Instead of a SY99, look for the Yamaha EX5. The SY99 is Yamaha's best FM-engine keyboard, so that's why it commands a premium. The EX5 was a flop, and has a fairly limited (but dedicated) fanbase. I paid less than USD$500 for mine, though they can go for as much as $600. (More recently, I picked up a TG77, which is most of the synth engine from the SY99 in rackmount form. Only missing a few minor things which I can make up for with other gear)

Polyphonic aftertouch is incredibly rare. The VAX77 is just about your only choice for a new poly-AT keyboard. If you are open to something less conventional. Madrona Labs' Soundplane is much less expensive, but not at all a conventional keyboard. As far as I can tell, poly-AT has been a market failure because the inexpensive technologies for producing them are covered by patents and because few keyboardists have mastered the ability to modulate the pressure of individual fingers. Interestingly, Roland has eliminated channel aftertouch from their flagship piano-rompler, the RD-700NX. You have to go back to the RD-700GFX to get aftertouch at all. But then you'd have a fully-weighted keyboard that is probably well outside your budget.

Update: One more thing to consider is that many of the Kontakt libraries are limited to the actual performance range of the sampled instrument. Unless you are playing grand pianos, you will rarely need more than 61 keys. So you could grab an old Yamaha S80 or S90 for your piano needs, and some random 61-key keyboard for everything else.

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That's some great info, thanks. I checked into the synths that you mentioned, and unfortunately, most of them are way out of my price range (found an EX5 on eBay for over $800). :( I would love to spend under $400 if at all possible. As for the pianos, I'm pretty much set with my Yamaha P-85 (which I love). What do you think of the Edirol PCR-800? It's a bit pricy and that joystick pitch-bend/mod wheel looks awkward to me. But, maybe? –  Dominic P Jul 7 '12 at 4:10
    
I haven't used the PC-800, so I can't tell you much about it. I've also never seen one in person. You've got to be careful with eBay buy-it-now prices. An EX5 for $800 is a pipedream, and that seller even refuses to ship it without returning the shipping case. Watch eBay for a few weeks, and you will see actual auctions and buy-it-nows with more reasonable prices. –  ObscureRobot Jul 7 '12 at 7:45
    
I see that the EX5 in question has the sought-after SCSI board installed. Often that is listed for $300+ on eBay. Despite the fact that it is the same card included in the A3000 sampler, which regularly sells for well under $200. –  ObscureRobot Jul 7 '12 at 7:48
    
Thanks again. I'm still pretty new to whole MIDI controller/snyth world. It seems like there are a lot of intricacies to be aware of. I'll keep my eye out for a reasonable MX5. Have any other ideas for affordable options that fit the bill? –  Dominic P Jul 7 '12 at 8:20
    
There are a ton of options. Just do a daily search for "synth*" in the music section of your local craigslist. Then do some research on the keyboards that come up in your price list until something with the features you want arrives. I wouldn't suggest that you focus too much on the EX5, I bought mine because it was a cheap way to get at VL synthesis. And I ended up with an excellent 76-key keyboard for free. –  ObscureRobot Jul 8 '12 at 4:43

You probably want an M-Audio Keystation 88es.

They are very basic pieces of equipment with all the essentials: aftertouch, of course, pitch bend, mod wheel, and volume control. Pedal inputs for sustain and expression. MIDI out and MIDI over USB. No tone module; it's a straight controller.

They are marketed as "semi-weighted," which just means they've got a bit more resistance in the key than something like a pure synth keyboard or organ manual. No hammers, just some heavier springs.

If you must have something completely unweighted, you are likely going to have to go down to 61-key territory. The reason for this is that no one really uses 88-key unweighted controllers--if they're going with that large of a keyboard, the only reason is that they're going to be playing piano music, and thus the extra weight will be welcome. Synth or organ playing that makes more sense with unweighted keys doesn't need more than 61.

You can find what you need here in this category, but of course unweighted keyboards are less likely to have the expression pedal input you require. That said, they do exist.

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Thanks for the quick and in-depth answer. At first I thought the 88es was the answer too, but sadly it doesn't have [aftertouch]( forums.m-audio.com/…) and after trying it out at a local music shop, I'm not a huge fan of the keys. I'll narrow my search to the 61 key category. Your explanation makes sense as to why I can't really find what I think should be out there. –  Dominic P Jul 6 '12 at 7:49
    
The Keystation is velocity-sensetive. (I own a Keystation 61es.) I was under the impression that one can categorize that as aftertouch. What's the difference? –  NReilingh Jul 6 '12 at 12:51
1  
Yeah, they're 2 different things. Aftertouch is information about the pressure on keys after they have been initially hit. Here's a good explanation of aftertouch –  Dominic P Jul 6 '12 at 18:48
    
Hmm, yeah. That sounds expensive, and is probably going to further limit your choices to 61-key or fewer keyboards. –  NReilingh Jul 7 '12 at 4:28

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