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Midi Keyboards: Why? How?…. & 5 of the Best!

Published: Thu June 25, 2009  News Feed

A MIDI keyboard is a piano-style digital keyboard device used for sending MIDI signals or commands to other devices connected to the same interface as the keyboard.

MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface (protocol). The basic MIDI keyboard does not produce sound. Instead, MIDI information is sent to an electronic module capable of reproducing an array of digital sounds or samples that resemble traditional analog musical instruments. These samples are also referred to as voices.

An encoding scheme is used to map a MIDI value to a specific instrument sample. Also, other sound parameters such as note volume and attack are included in the MIDI scheme. The keyboard merely acts as a MIDI controller of sound modules and other MIDI devices, including DAW software.

MIDI keyboards are a very common feature of a recording studio, and any DAW setup. Most include a transpose function and the ability to set different octaves. Many MIDI keyboards have pitch bend and modulation wheels. Some also have extra sets of assignable rotary knobs and/or buttons for sending custom MIDI messages to the synthesiser, sampler or DAW software.

Other features that some MIDI keyboards might include are:

  • Input for foot switch (usually used as a sustain pedal)
  • Input for a foot expression controller
  • Semi-weighted or fully weighted keys
  • Capability of sending aftertouch
  • Direct USB connection for use with computers

In other words if your serious about making music on a computer a MIDI device will make your work better faster!

How do I connect a MIDI keyboard to my computer?

The first thing to do is to make sure that your MIDI keyboard has MIDI ports on the back. It is very rare to find a modern midi keyboard without MIDI ports.

Here are your options:

  1. USB to USB
  2. MIDI to MIDI
  3. MIDI to USB port
  4. MIDI to soundcard gameport

USB to USB

Every modern MIDI controller keyboard we sell excluding those by Fatar now come with a USB connection for easy use with computers. Some keyboard are even ‘class complient’ which means you don’t even need to install any software. The cable you need for a USB to USB connection is just a standard USB cable which should be included with your keyboard. For USB Cables in stock at Dolphin,

MIDI to MIDI

Some of the audio interfaces we sell combine Audio & MIDI I/O enabling your to connect your keyboard directly to your sound card. For MIDI Cables in stock at Dolphin,

MIDI to USB port

If your sound card doesn’t have MIDI connections and your keyboard doesn’t have USB then the next best option is a USB to MIDI interface such as the M-Audio Uno or the Edirol UM 1X.

These devices come equipped with a USB connection for your computer, and a 1 In/ 1 Out 16 channel MIDI connection to your MIDI keyboard. However if you had more than one MIDI device to connect such as a second keyboard or a sound module then mutli port options are available such as the M-Audio Midisport 2×2.

MIDI to soundcard gameport

If you are using a standard computer sound card rather than a music sound card, then it may have a joystick port.

If you have a joystick port then all you need is a cable that has a 15 pin ‘D’ connector at one end and MIDI connectors on the other.

If you need any further help, please call us on 0151 448 2080 and speak to one of our experts. We’ll be glad to help and direct you to the best gear for your needs.

More about MIDI…

MIDI data is not the same as sound data. What is transmitted over the wire is information on how to play a song, not the physical sound data itself. MIDI can be thought of better as a player-piano roll than a compact disk: just as the piano-roll instructs the player-piano to create the sounds, MIDI data tells a MIDI device which notes to play, patches (instruments) to use, and other information to help the instrument recreate the song. When you listen to a MIDI file, you’re hearing an actual ‘performance’ by the instrument, not a ‘recording’ of a past performance.

MIDI was not designed to be used with personal computers, but since it is a digital interface, they actually work very well together. Combining at least one MIDI instrument with a personal computer and a MIDI interface (a device that allows the computer to “speak” MIDI) allows for many interesting applications.

The  the easiest way to get this up and running is to us a USB to MIDI keyboard. This will take care of any MIDI channel assignments and route it effectively in your DAW with ease.The USB device drivers are also native with Windows and Mac, which it will just WORK

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MIDI Keyboards: 5 of the Best

M-Audio Oxygen 25-Key USB MIDI Controller

The Oxygen is an updated version of the mobile MIDI controller that started the mobile studio revolution. You get a fully functional MIDI keyboard with great action, 8 pads, 9 faders plus eight MIDI-assignable knobs to control any MIDI parameters you desire in your hardware or software. It’s perfect for composing on the go or performing live bass lines and pads, firing samples, or triggering audio and/or visual effects. New features include full MIDI message support, plus 6 transport controls that can be automapped to a range of popular DAW software including Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic and Cubase.

oxygen 8v2

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Nektar Panorama P4 USB Keyboard Controller

Nektar spent years developing what they feel is the ultimate controller keyboard for Cubase and Reason. The depth of this integration really goes way beyond what the MIDI protocol was originally designed for, with automatic mapping of key parameters and a visual TFT monitor so you don't even have to look at the computer screen to see what your doing. This makes it a powerful live tool, no need to fiddle around with setup for gigs just plug, play and free yourself from the laptop.


Nektar Panorama P4
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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S25

Another new breed MIDI controller the Kontrol S25 was designed from the ground up to work with Native Instruments Komplete. With a light up keybed providing visual feedback as to exactly what each key is assigned to, loads of knobs and controls that go way beyond tweaking the parameters on your favourite soft synth. The Komplete Kontrol S25 lets you get deep into Komplete's vast collection of plugins without looking at the computer screen once. So if you already have Komplete at the hub of your studio this keyboard is the ultimate choice as master controller.

Native Instrument S25 Controller
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Novation Launchkey Mini

If you need something dedicated to control for Ableton Live but don't want to spend a lot of money or need a portable controller then the Novation Launchkey Mini is ideal. All the keys and knobs you would expect from 25 key controllers at this price, plus Novations unique Launchpads built in. These allow you arrange and sequence tracks on the fly, as well as making changes to settings in Ableton. This little controller basically turns your DAW into an instrument that you really play.

Novation Launchkey Mini

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Roland A-500Pro Midi Keyboard

One of the biggest names in music production, Roland make gear for musicians at every level from pro to part timer. Their whole product range benefits from this expertise with a range of features and a build quality you wouldn't expect at this price point. The A500 is ideal as DAW master controller or configurable live keyboard. It even comes with the Cakewalk Production Plus Pack for making sounds right out the box.


Roland A500

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