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New Roland A-88mk2 is ALMOST perfect

Michael Antrum

Only the good die young....
Since I work in keyboards in a retail store I have had the benefit of playing everything. Nord Grand and Piano 4 are lovely on their own but surprisingly not great as master controllers (the velocity curves aren't well suited to orchestral composing in my experience).

Komplete Kontrol S88mk2 is nice but very heavy weighting. Moreso than my Kurzweil PC3x. Same Fatar bed is found in the Arturia Keylab 88mk2. I used a Keylab 49 mk2 over the holidays and loved the weighted synth action by the way. Perfect for orchestral composing. Same bed found on their MatrixBrute.

Yamaha CP88 and CP73 are both very good as stand alone and master controllers. They also transmit MIDI and audio over USB. Yamaha P515 (with speakers) is also nice. A bit cheaper than the CP series.

Our store carries Dexibell and their S9 controller is a beast thanks to wood keys, motorized faders, unlimited polyphony and the ability to download sounds from their website. But it's very expensive (I dare say over priced given the competition at the $5000 price point).

Recently got in a Fantom 8 and the RD2000 key action is nice but heavy. I dig it however. Thinking an RD series might be my next purchase or else the A88mk2 (I don't care about aftertouch and I could put a NanoKontrol on top of the board for sliders).

I'm not particularly warm to the RH3 keyboard found on Korg's Kronos 73/88 as well as their GS-173/188 but I like it on their SV series. Not tried the D1 but I know a few people who bought them just as controllers.

Honestly, I haven't played a Nectar that I didn't want to chuck into a landfill. The action is horrible. No weight and cheap. The new Keystation 61mk3 have a nice semi weighted action. Build quality is another thing however.

M Audio Hammer 88 for the budget conscious is honestly the best bet. Simple layout, but really good action. Also leans on the heavier side but for $499 CAD, it's a steal. I think Mark Isham replaced his old KS88 PRO with it. It's solid.

As I said above, I'm waiting on the Roland A88 since I like its footprint (I have a small desk) but I'm not sure about the PHA-4 action. If its exactly the same as found on the FP10, I'm going to pass and probably get the NI S88mk2 since we get it for a ridiculous staff discount. Or if funds are low, the Hammer 88. I would prefer a more nimble weighted action like my current PC3x but that is more in the Dexibell/Nord price point.

I'm definitely with you on Nectar, I bought a Panorama 61 key when they launched and the key action was so noisy, you could class it as a musical instrument without even plugging it in, and the black keys felt like they were from a different keyboard than the white. Hated it.

I then bought a NI Kontrol S61, and it was just about acceptable. Lightguide excellent, keybed a bit spongy, ambivalent about the mod sliders, and really, with all that space, why no faders ! If I used it more I'd probably upgrade to the MKII with the proper mod wheels, but I don't so I probably won't.

My main keybed is a Nord Stage 2 EX which is a good compromise. It's not the best piano keyboard (take a bow Kawai MPII SE), but its compact and I use it in it's own right as a keyboard too. For composing I have some Pallet Gear faders sitting nicely (with velcro) near the mod wheel. I think the keybed on it is a happy compromise for playing piano & VI's. You have enough a a decent piano action that isn't too heavy for VI's most of the time.

However, despite its compact size and low weight, I don't like carrying the NS 2EX around when I travel, especially as my daughter uses it too, so I bought a Nord Electro 6 73 key for travel, and I love it. The waterfall keybed is a fab - it's only a shade larger than the NI S61, but those extra keys make all the difference. (No mod wheel - but I use the palette gear & velcro again). The Nord organs and EP's are to die for, and the one drawback is that when I fire it up, I can't help going into 'Ray Charles Blues Brothers mode' for half an hour, rather than getting down to some work.

I know you are thinking - that's damned expensive for a controller setup, but they are used as instruments in their own right quite a lot of the time too.

I used to have a Roland XP80 (really regret selling it) and perhaps it's rose tinted spectacles, but I remember the keybed and build quality being way superior to most modern offerings.

I went and tried the Nord Grand, which was nice but big, and the Kronos - which I found frankly to be awful for such a premium keyboard. If I were Korg I'd be embarrassed.

I think it's odd that most synths back in the 80's & early 90's were way better made than they are now, but it might just be me, as I think most things in the 80's were better, except perhaps some of the haircuts.

So I'll stick with what I have for now, in fact I think my next purchase might be a couple of those new analogue Behringer Synths that they keep popping out. By all accounts they are unfeasibly good for the money, and I think they will be tremendous fun. I have an irrational urge to buy an Behringer RD-8 drum machine too - but I'm resisting for now....
 
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whinecellar

Jim Daneker
...I think it's odd that most synths back in the 80's & early 90's were way better made than they are now, but it might just be me, as I think most things in the 80's were better...

Nope, not just you. With a few exceptions, they just don’t make them like they used to. Metal bodies, great keybeds, etc. I’ve been on a vintage buying spree and I still think Yamaha’s DX action was one of the best ever made. The higher end Montages are a refined quieter version which is great, and the new keybed Roland designed for the new Fantom/Jupiter line is absolutely stellar - I couldn’t pull myself away from those at NAMM...
 

dcoscina

Senior Member
Nope, not just you. With a few exceptions, they just don’t make them like they used to. Metal bodies, great keybeds, etc. I’ve been on a vintage buying spree and I still think Yamaha’s DX action was one of the best ever made. The higher end Montages are a refined quieter version which is great, and the new keybed Roland designed for the new Fantom/Jupiter line is absolutely stellar - I couldn’t pull myself away from those at NAMM...
I know a lot of guys come in the store and dig the new Roland synth weighted board but damn it's loud. I love the Fantom 8 action but that's because it's weighted.

Someone earlier mentioned the Numa Compact. THey are actually great boards but with some build quality issues. I've seen so many come back since we started carrying them. But the key action is nice and nimble but not noisy. I had thought of going that route with the Compact 2X with the organ sliders that also double as control sliders too. Still might but part of me is so used to a weighted keybed, I need to wait to try out both Roland A88ii and the RD88 before I commit.
 

Geoff Grace

Senior Member
On the upside, the pitch and model wheels are in the right place. Bonkers that other mfrs don’t get this right!!!
Keep in mind that the "right place" for one isn't necessarily the right place for all. There are gigging keyboardists who have to regularly stuff their 'boards, stands, amps, etc. into sedans, and many of them don't want their 88s to be any wider than 88 keys. They vote with their wallets—just like people who like pitch and mod to the left of their keys—and manufacturers try to meet the needs of both camps.

Best,

Geoff
 

Alex Fraser

Requires ☕️
I think the key is being honest about what you do in front of the computer.
Blocking out parts, programming, fussing with CC curves, using the mod wheel for dynamics...none of this requires 88 hammers in front of you getting in the way.

Like Jim, I've done the long working hours on weighted keys and it's romantic, but wearing. For me, cheapo semi-weighted for the daily stuff is just fine. The hammers can be off to one side for when they're actually needed. That way, size and ergonomics aren't a concern.

For live performance, that's another thing of course.

My 2c.
 
A while ago I moved past the rather antiquated idea that a traditional keybed is required for MIDI note input. Bought a Roli Seaboard and Lightpad M. The Seaboard acts as the master controller while the Lightpad handles ancillary CC/expression duties. But the Lightpad is a very capable and playable controller in its own right, especially for the size.

You can switch the Seaboard from MPE to basic MIDI functionality (though why would you want to). It is the best controller for synths and most sample playback that I've tried, and feels like a real instrument rather than a cheap interface.

For "piano" and mechanical keys I have an M-Audio Hammer 88 set up on a keyboard rack. It is ok. The action still isn't comparable to a standard digital piano from Yamaha or whatever.
 

Pietro

Senior Member
This one is an instabuy for me!

(except it doesn't exist :D)

- Piotr
 

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bill5

Senior Member
Honestly, I haven't played a Nectar that I didn't want to chuck into a landfill. The action is horrible. No weight and cheap. The new Keystation 61mk3 have a nice semi weighted action. Build quality is another thing however.

M Audio Hammer 88 for the budget conscious is honestly the best bet. Simple layout, but really good action. Also leans on the heavier side but for $499 CAD, it's a steal. I think Mark Isham replaced his old KS88 PRO with it. It's solid.
Interesting, I usually hear just the opposite of these two. Is that even true of the newer LX88+?
 

dcoscina

Senior Member
I think the key is being honest about what you do in front of the computer.
Blocking out parts, programming, fussing with CC curves, using the mod wheel for dynamics...none of this requires 88 hammers in front of you getting in the way.

Like Jim, I've done the long working hours on weighted keys and it's romantic, but wearing. For me, cheapo semi-weighted for the daily stuff is just fine. The hammers can be off to one side for when they're actually needed. That way, size and ergonomics aren't a concern.

For live performance, that's another thing of course.

My 2c.
I used a Keylab 49mk2 for a few weeks over the holidays and it was great for orchestral writing
 

LudovicVDP

Active Member
<<Honestly, I haven't played a Nectar that I didn't want to chuck into a landfill.>>

I couldn’t agree more.

Yeah.I've said that a few times around here as well.
Unplayable.
But looking at the low price tag, small dimensions (for under the desk), integration with Cubase, reactive support team...: It fills the bill for me.
 

Alex Fraser

Requires ☕️
Second that re the Nectar support team - they're very good.
Strange - out of the cheaper stuff, I've always found the Netars fairly playable. The keybeds aren't the nicest but the velocity response on the 3 units I've had were better than the Alesis/M-Audios etc.
 

whinecellar

Jim Daneker
Has anyone hand their paws on the new Arturia Keylab Essential 88 ?

88 key with hybrid synth piano action and after touch for 350 euros... might be an interesting alternative to the M Audio...

Just got one today, and I gotta say, it's really impressive - let alone for $350. First thing that surprised me is that it feels really substantial - the bottom is metal, not plastic, and the top and sides feel really high quality. I expected it to feel extremely cheap and plasticky.

The action itself is semi-weighted and fast, but still has a nice bit of resistance and bounce to it - it doesn't feel like empty plastic. Having had surgery on both hands last summer and still dealing with some pain when playing heavy weighted actions, this is exactly what I was looking for until I can get back to a heavier action. And frankly, I can imagine ending up with this permanently given the need for 88 keys but without a heavy, slow action. Oh, and it has pitch & mod wheels even if they're top left rather than beside the keys where they belong. And finally, all the pads, buttons and faders are a nice bonus and feel decent.

If I'm nitpicking, you can't adjust velocity curves onboard - you need their app for that, and the curves aren't editable. Further, none of them is perfect for me, so I'll need to create a MIDI transformer in Logic to tweak to taste. Also, the white keys are 5.5" rather than the full 6", but easy to adapt to. For whatever reason, every semi-weighted action I know of is like this. Last thing: the front edge of the "lip" on the white keys is a bit sharp - could be smoother.

All things considered, I think this is the controller to beat right now for my $$$!
Arturia.jpg
 
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Fredeke

Senior Member
I wonder how the aftertouch feels. It was way too stiff on the mk1.

Also: can you save configurations without going through their software editor?
 

MisteR

Active Member
I wonder how the aftertouch feels. It was way too stiff on the mk1.

Also: can you save configurations without going through their software editor?
If you mean the Arturia, I don’t think the “essential “ line has aftertouch. Not listed on specs. Only velocity.
 
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