October 12, 2005

A New Controller...

by Chris Randall

Okay, my keyboard controller (which is a no-name 4-octave thing) is not fitting in to the New Plan, and I'll tell you why. For some reason I can't fully explain, and thus won't bother, I use a controller which is powered off the joystick port (and I don't mean USB) of my PC. The reason for this is that when PCs first started getting USB MIDI interfaces, they uniformly sucked, because the USB support in Win98 uniformly sucked. Using an MPU-401 was always (and still is) rock fucking solid, so for some reason I just never switched to USB. Never saw the need.

Now, with my new console setup, I need to get a controller that has a little more juice to it. I still have no intention whatsoever of running a USB controller. I'll still use the joystick port as my main input because, even though it looks stupid when I type it, the feel/timing/whatever is better than MIDI that has come in on a USB device. I have several USB interfaces, but they're used for other computers, not my main DAW machine.

So, what works for you? It's now hard to find a controller that _doesn't_ have every bell and whistle on it. I'd prefer one with a 5-octave waterfall keyboard, but that's not really necessary. It should be noted here that, unlike most modern "electronic musicians," I can play, extremely fast if not that well. (Ho, ho, ho.) So none of this bullshit X-Factor nonsense. I don't want 46 sliders, 35 knobs, 6 x/y pads, and a partridge in a pear tree. I want a fucking 5-octave keyboard that has a pitch wheel and a mod wheel and a good action and a MIDI-out port. Nothing more. Ideas?

UPDATE: I'm actually leaning towards one of the ubiquitous 80s digitals for use as a controller, I think. Those things are built like tanks, and we'll need to travel to the stage now and again, so it would be wise to plan for same. ESQ-1? I've never owned a single piece of Ensoniq gear (and that's probably the only company I can say that about) so this would be a leap for me. Maybe even a Mirage. DX11? I had a Korg DW8000 for years, and aside from having really tired sounds, it served me well. Something to ponder, anyways. Anyone have an ESQ1 they want to ship to Oregon for a pittance?



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Oct.13.2005 @ 11:39 AM
I switch controllers every 9-12 months or so, mostly just to rotate a new synth into the studio. I'll second synthetic's comments on the key action of the Ensoniqs - I'm not a fan, but I think from what it sounds like, this really depends on the condition of the board. My friend has a Mirage in his studio, and he can attest that I always bitch about the action on it. Uneven, squeaky, toy-like.

Models I've had a lot of luck with: Yamaha SY series, Korg Wavestation, Roland D-50, Yamaha DX7-II. Maybe not with the SY's so much, but all of these others had a construction that felt more solid, less plastic-y than a lot of other synths I've owned.


Oct.13.2005 @ 12:37 PM
The aftertouch on the K5 was horrible, same as the K3. The DX7s had very nice action to me, and the aftertouch was the most useable I ever had.

Oct.13.2005 @ 12:44 PM
I suppose this isn't from the 80's (though some of the presets sound like it), but I use the newer Kurzweil K2661 61 key, and after going through every imaginable type of 80's clunkers through many of the sweatshop USB paper weights, the 2661 is the baddest ass synth/controller combo on earth. It's built like a tank, and not only do i use it as my master studio controller, but I also took in on serveral tours without thinking twice about it's reliability. I was using the larger K2600 76 key just before this one, but found a great liberation in not needing any more help carrying my gear while on the road - the 2661 is just right for gig self sufficiency. The kurzweil operating system is a great example of "once you're past the learning curve...", but seriously this thing is the overlord of all synths. Worth every penny. On the down side, this keyboard actually killed my sense of gear lust for other synths, as I don't fell like I have to look around at other models anymore (sound like marriage? Or more realistically the first month or two of a new realtionship...).

Oct.13.2005 @ 1:26 PM
You also might want to try out an ASR-10 as a controller, mainly because it has poly aftertouch. I don't know of many other keyboards that have that.

Oct.13.2005 @ 1:29 PM
I'll admit the Kurzweils (I had a K1000SE) have better feel and aftertouch, but I'll still stand by the K5 in terms of durability and just sheer weird cussedness. Plus I _really_ hated programming the K1000.

Oct.13.2005 @ 1:34 PM
The Mirage was pretty yucky too. It's lots of fun to play with, but not a good controller. The D50 was very very good.

This brings back a lot of memories...


Oct.13.2005 @ 2:04 PM
The kurzweil K2600 series make the K1000 series seem like it was programmed in DOS. They seriously improved their technology over time. Go try one out in your local better music store (guitar center stopped carrying Kurzweil products a couple years ago when they realized that they weren't crappy enough to move out the door en masse).

Oct.13.2005 @ 2:56 PM
Chris Randall
Yeah, I had a K2600 for some time. Great synth, great sampler, great controller. One of the best made products the music industry has ever produced. And for a while, Kurzweil would drop some major cool shit every time they did an OS upgrade. I wouldn't be adverse to going back to a 2600 for a number of reasons (or even a 2500) but I don't currently have the coin, unfortunately. It is tied up in other studio upgrades.



Oct.13.2005 @ 3:11 PM
Suit & Tie Guy
what don't you like about the Z1?

btw, i have a line on an SQ-80. i'll keep you posted.


Oct.13.2005 @ 3:32 PM
Chris Randall
What I don't like about the Z1 is the fact that I got one before they came out, and used it pretty much exclusively for live and studio use as a controller until I couldn't stand it any more, which was about two months ago. I'm just sick to death of the damned thing.



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