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Dolphin Guide To MIDI Controllers

Published: Thu February 07, 2013  News Feed

Dolphin Guide To MIDI Controllers

By Hugh McKenna

Dolphin MIDI Controller Guide

How Do I Connect A MIDI Controller To My Computer?

There are a few of different ways of connecting a MIDI controller to your PC, whichever controller you choose there will be a solution below.

USB - USB

All our MIDI keyboard controllers support USB for connection to PC/Mac, some driver installation may be necessary but increasing numbers are plug and play under iOS and Windows 7/8. A number of controllers are going beyond the MIDI protocol and are fully integrating with specific software such as Reason/Cubase (Nektar Panorama) and Ableton (Novation Launchkey). These allow you to control the entire DAW without breaking the flow by switching to mouse and keyboard.

MIDI - MIDI

Apart from small "micro controllers" controller keyboards generally still have standard MIDI Outputs, similarly the majority of audio interfaces will have MIDI inputs. So simply grab a keyboard MIDI cable and connect the two for MIDI control of your soft synths and samplers, this can be handy if you need to spare a USB port or just want a straight plug and play connection. Of course MIDI-MIDI connections are still the norm between your keyboard controller and any hardware sound modules/synths that you might own.

MIDI - USB

Now if you have an older keyboard which only has MIDI Out and you don't own an audio interface with MIDI In then you'll require a MIDI interface for converting MIDI to USB. With up to four MIDI Inputs and Outputs a MIDI interface can be very handy if you own a lot of hardware sound modules and synths, routing MIDI from your DAW/controller to numerous devices. If you want something a little simpler then a MIDI to USB cable for your PC or Mac will do the job nicely.

MIDI Controller For iPhone & iPad

There are a few dedicated controllers which plug straight into the 30-Pin connector, these are ideal plug and play solutions. There is an alternative solution available with the Apple Camera Connection Kit allowing standard USB devices to be connected to the iPhone/iPad, please be aware that not every controller can be used this way though. Here's our recommendations:

How Should I Setup My MIDI Controller?

Now you've got the MIDI controller connected it's time to start having some fun with it. With so many features available on your average controller it's possible to play, tweak and alter numerous things simultaneously. Your MIDI controller can be more than a simple keyboard, it can meld all your hardware and software into one true instrument. Have a look below to see where you might route your control messages, keys, pads and faders in your DAW and plugins.


MIDI History

MIDI has been around since 1983, at this time there was an increasing number of synths and electronic instruments doing increasingly complex things. It was felt that a standard (proposed by Dave Smith of Dave Smith Instruments and eventually announced by Robert Moog) was needed to allow them to communicate with each other rather than each manufacturer developing their own and having a mess of incompatibility. The MIDI standard was so flexible and forward thinking that it is still being used regularly today for synths, drum machines and sequencers.

What MIDI Controller Should I Choose?

There are quite a bewildering array of instruments available these days, from straight ahead keyboards with little more than support for a couple of pedals to full workstations that integrate with your DAW to control the transport functions, arrangement and instruments. Whether you're looking for a compact 25 key controller as the hub of a DAW based studio or to take a fuller 61 keys on the stage let us help you decide. We also have some suggestions as to the best MIDI controller for you.

How Many Keys Do I Need On My MIDI Controller?

If you want a MIDI keyboard for music making in a limited space, to travel with or if you're not too much of a serious keys player then you will only really need 25 keys. There are some seriously compact models available, small enough for a a hand bag or coat pocket.

Best 25 Key USB MIDI Controllers -  Under £60

Name:

AKAI LPK25 - Portable MIDI Controller
Akai LPK25
Acorn Masterkey - Cheapest Full Key Controller
Acorn Masterkey 25
M-Audio Oxygen 8 - Full Features, Slim Price
M-Audio Oxygen 25

Description:

Absolutely one of the smallest MIDI controllers ever. The Akai manages to boast velocity sensitive keys, arpeggiator and memory banks for recall of settings! Ideal if you want to make music on the go with your iPad. Using the Apple Camera Connection Kit you can start controlling iPad apps with velocity sensitive keys, pitch bend, mod wheel and joystick. One of the most affordable controllers with full keys but the Masterkey doesn't stop there. With 4 knobs and 1 one fader you can also get tweaking on some synths and samples. It's the hub of home studios beyond count and spotted on stage with bands big and not so big. Easy to see why with the Oxygen 25 offering big league features at a small price.

Features & Included Software:

  • Superb portability, tuck it in your gig bag or play on train/plane/bus
  • Tap tempo arpeggiator
  • iPad connectivity
  • Joystick controller
  • A collection of software licences are included
  • Very affordable full size key controller
  • Presonus Studio One Artist included
  • 4 Knobs
  • 1 Fader
  • Semi Weighted Keys
  • 8 Knobs
  • 1 Fader
  • Transport Controls
  • Semi Weighted Keys
  • Ableton Live Lite
  • Ignite Software
  • Presets for many popular VST instruments

Other Versions:

Perfect Partners:

    Extend your MIDI and audio I/O with Presonus superb Audiobox. Simple setup and USB Bus powered makes for a complete laptop solution.
Upgrade From Live Lite To The Full Package

Best 25 Key USB MIDI Controllers - Under £150

Name:

Akai MPK Mini - Pads, Keys, Knobs And An Arpeggiator
Akai MPK Mini
Arturia
            Minilab - Complete Synth Solution
Arturia Minilab

M-Audio Axiom 25

Novation Impulse 25 - Big On Features And Deep Editing
Novation Impulse 25

Description:

The features are almost bursting off the MPK Mini, just asking to be poked, prodded and tweaked. Will find space in any gig bag while still featuring the pads, keys and controllers you expect. So many features it's (almost) silly. Arturia have included their renowned Analogue Factory software with the Minilab. So you have access to over 1000 great synth sounds, automatically mapped to let you tweak and control them with no faffing and setup.
A complete package, superbly laid out and just begging to be played with. Switch channels on the fly and keep an eye on edits with the LCD screen. Novation have always been at the cutting edge with their MIDI controllers. The Impulse uses their clever Automap function to map controls in your favourite software.

Features & Included Software:

  • 8 Backlit pads
  • 8 Knobs
  • Arpeggiator
  • Pads can actually send MIDI CC/Program Change info as well as note information, get rhythmic with filter values and effects!
  • 8 Pads (Comes in two banks, so technically 16)
  • 16 Knobs
  • Pitch/Modulation control strips
  • Phenomenal Analogue Factory software from synth experts Arturia
  • 8 Pads
  • 8 Knobs
  • 4 Zones for quick switching between instruments
  • LCD Display for easy editing

  • 8 Pads
  • 8 Knobs
  • 1 Fader
  • Transport Controls
  • LCD Screen
  • Novation Bass Station plugin
  • Ableton Live Lite

Perfect Partners:

Akai EIE I/O USB Audio Interface, low latency drivers and loads of inputs for a complete home studio.
Get Arturia's V-Collection 3.0 and you'll have pretty much every major analogue synth & drum machine ever made, all tweakable and programmable via hardware. With M-Audio's Mic Recording Package you get studio standard DAW Pro Tools and a quality condenser mic. Combined with these keys that's a MIDI/Audio studio for less than £200!
The included Ableton software, keyboard and a Novation Launchpad makes for an electronic music making power house. A Novation synth with full control and hands on arrangements in Ableton.

If you want to extend your range then you'll need at least 49 keys, a bare minimum for a bit of two handed keys playing. The larger size also means there is more real estate for knobs and faders.

Best 49 Key USB MIDI Controllers - Under £100

Name:


Samson Carbon 49
Line 6 Mobile Keys - Great For Garageband And Your iPad
Line 6 Mobile Keys
M-Audio Oxygen 49 - Complete DAW Controller
M-Audio Oxygen 49

Description:

Stripped back for pure playing with great action, one knob and one slider. Works over USB and with the iPad, runs off bus power for simple setup and play. iPad compatibility, bus power and a low current draw means you can take the Mobile Keys with you anywhere and play without complication. All you need to get a handle on your DAW. Set play on the transport, adjust faders for your mix, set an effects send with the knobs, mute on the buttons and play away on the keys.

Features & Included Software:

  • iPad Functionality
  • 1 Knob
  • 1 Slider
  • Comes with Komplete Elements to get you playing and having fun right out the box
  • Volume and pan controls
  • Semi Weighted Keys
  • 9 Buttons
  • 9 Faders
  • 8 Knobs

Perfect Partners:

So you've laid down a tasty line on you iPad synth and now you could do with a nice guitar lead. Well grab an iRig and plug in for quality amp emulations. Ideal mid-range home studio combo with Pro Tools and an Mbox.

Best 49 Key USB MIDI Controllers - 49 Keys Under £250

Name:

Samson Graphite 49 - Affordable DAW Solution
Samson Graphite 4
Roland A-500 - Player's Choice
Roland A-500 Pro
Novation Impulse 49 - Get Control Without Any Hassle
Novation Impulse 49
Arturia Analogue Experience - Big Synth In A Small Package
Arturia Analog Experience Laboratory

Description:

Samson doing it again with a comprehensive range of features that will let you program beats, throw fader moves and wobble some LFOs with ease. Samson even throw in Native Instruments plugins to start having fun right away. Names don't come much bigger in keyboards than Roland. Action and build quality come top on the list of priorities, so perfect for more serious players. The A-500 is not short features either and partnership with Cakewalk gives you access to pro sounds out the box. All fantastic features of the Impulse 25. The 49 squeezes 9 faders on as well. If you have a large collection of virtual instruments and effects the range of controls and Automap feature can help you keep track and in control. Get a whole history of synthesis in this package, already setup to let you sculpt sounds to your hearts content. If you're any kind of synth buff then this is the controller for you.

Features & Included Software:

  • 9 Faders
  • 4 Pads
  • 8 Knobs
  • 16 Buttons
  • Bus powered
  • Comes with Komplete Elements
  • 9 Faders
  • 9 Knobs
  • 8 Pads
  • Transport Controls
  • Cakewalk Software: Rapture LE, Studio Instrument Drums, Cakewalk Sound Center
  • 8 Pads
  • 8 Knobs
  • 9 Faders
  • Transport Controls
  • LCD Screen
  • Automap
  • Novation Bass Station
  • 11 Knobs
  • 9 Faders
  • 23 Switches
  • 4 Pads
  • LED Screen
  • Arturia Analogue Lab Software with 3500 synth sounds

Other Versions:

 

Perfect Partners:

Well, a Roland Integra-7 sound module or Audio Interface/DAW combo make for an excellent choice. Get control of Arturia's seriously impressive Origin synth. With Origin and Analogue Lab you never need another synth.

Things get a little more serious here with some of the best 5 octave MIDI controllers for real keys performance along with masses of great features. These also have some impressive extended functionality, deep integration with DAWs and even CV for old analogue synths!

MIDI, DAW and Analogue Controller Keyboards - Top Producer Keyboards Over £250
Name: Akai MPK 61 - Get Everything Under Control
Akai MPK 61
Panorama P4 - The Hardware Companion For Reason & Cubase
Nektar P4 Panorama
Akai Max 49 - Digital And Analogue Control From The Future
Akai Max 49
M-Audio Axiom A.I.R 61
M-Audio Axiom A.I.R 61

Description:

Akai are perhaps best known for their legendary range of samplers. Nothing feels quite like an MPC and you can get some of that great tactile control on your keys now. Whether it's for beats like Dre, effects like Guetta or synths like Reznor you'll get it all under control with an MPK.
Goes further than MIDI implementation the P4 lets you use Reason as if it were a piece of hardware. So that's countless synths, drum machines, samplers and effects all under your control without even touching the mouse! Cubase support will be available shortly, so two of the most popular studio solutions have a perfect companion. Of course you can still get standard MIDI control of all your other software and instruments.
Snazzy retro-future looks the Max 49 connects past and future. Handle a software sampler on the MPC style pads, tweak your analogue synth on keys with CV output and adjust all the levels on the mixer with your touch faders.
Created in conjunction with virtual instrument developer A.I.R this Axiom controller will integrate perfectly in your DAW. If you're after a pure digital solution the Axiom AIR is perfect.

Features & Included Software:

  • 16 Pads
  • 8 Faders
  • 8 Knobs
  • 8 Buttons
  • Transport Controls
  • MPC Features, get swing, tempo controls and dynamics like the classic sampler!
  • Ableton Live Lite Akai Edition
  • 16 Knobs
  • 9 Faders
  • 1 Motorised Fader
  • 12 Pads
  • 10 LED Buttons
  • 28 Additional Buttons
  • Full Reason & Cubase Integration, complete control solution
  • 12 Real MPC pads
  • 8 Touch Faders
  • CV/Gate controls for analogue synths
  • Akai Connect to automatically map your MIDI
  • Arpeggiator
  • 12 Backlit Pads
  • 9 Long Throw Faders
  • HyperControl Automappnig
  • Tru-Touch Keys
  • Ignite Software

Other Versions:

   

Perfect Partners:

Get back to the old school with a proper hardware drum machine and MPC pads. The Nord Drum has classic sounds with contemporary features. A no brainer really, the P4 was designed with Reason, Cubase and Cubase Artist in mind. Get the old analogue synth out the attic (we all have one right?) or get a Nord virtual analogue for the same great sounds, in matching red!

 
 
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