Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
1 posts since 2 Jun, 2020

Post Mon Jun 01, 2020 6:25 pm

I want to start producing my own music. I already own Ableton Lite and basic equipment for recording guitar (tube amp, recording interface, Shure SM57). But since I listen to a lot of metal with a keyboard element (Neurosis, Cult of Luna) as well as industrial/noise (Street Sects) and electronic (Nils Frahm), I'd like to bring synths and beats into my music.

My budget is around $300-350. Since I don't already own a DAW controller, I suspect that it would be best to buy some sort of midi controller. But I'm having a hard time deciding between the options.

Part of the issue is that I'm not sure whether 49 keys will suffice for my purposes or whether I'll miss having less than 61 keys. It would be preferable to have more keys so that I have the option to play some piano pieces.

The bigger issue is that I'm not sure whether I'm better off trying to get everything in one (a midi keyboard with built-in pads) or buying a keyboard and pads separately, investing more in pads and spending the rest of my money on whichever midi controller has the best feeling keybed.

There are a dizzying array of all-in-one options:
  • Akai MPK249 (over budget new, but someone is selling one used on Facebook for $250)
  • Alesis V
  • Arturia KeyLab Essential
  • Arturia KeyLab MKII (over budget new, but maybe within budget used)
  • Nektar Impact LX
  • M-Audio Oxygen
  • Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol (lacks pads, but perhaps the best option if I buy pads separately?)
  • Nektar Impact LX
  • Nektar Panorama T4
  • Novation Launchkey
And the main contenders for pads seem to be:
  • Akai MPD218
  • Korg PadKontrol (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
  • Maschine Mikro MK2 (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
  • Maschine Mikro MK3 (but I've heard that the MK2 is actually better)
  • Maschine MK2 Groove Production Studio (over budget new, but maybe within budget secondhand/used)
  • M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
I'm leaning toward the Akai MPK249 if I can talk a seller down to $200.

On the other hand, since I've heard mixed things about the pads on the Akai MPK249, and I've heard amazing things about the PadKontrol, Maschine Mikro MK2, and Maschine MK2 Groove Production Studio, I'm wondering if I should try to find one of those used instead. But if I did that, what midi controller would I get for keys/DAW control?

What would you do in my situation?

1838 posts since 15 Feb, 2006 from Berkeley, CA

Re: Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)

Post Wed Jun 03, 2020 11:37 am

Might be a challenge in pandemic times, but I'd recommend trying out a number of controllers in person before committing. Not sure how much has changed, but the 1st-gen Akai MPD32 I own and the 1st-gen MPK49 I borrowed have (respectively) the stiffest pads and the worst/stiffest/noisiest synth-action keybed I've ever played. Maybe that's better in series 2?

Ableton Live is my main DAW and Push 2 was a revelation for me, I use it in conjunction with a number of basic MIDI keyboards controllers. If starting over I'd recommend the Novation stuff which seems to be forward-thinking. I've heard good things about Maschine but NI seems to be in an identity crisis since they took outside investor cash a couple years ago.

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27647 posts since 27 Jul, 2005 from the wilds of wanny

Re: Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)

Post Wed Jun 03, 2020 11:41 am

Novation Remote SL is designed for, and works (straight out of the box) with Ableton Live. It has pads, knobs & sliders aplenty. I've used one with Live for 14 years or so. Id recommend Push2 as an alternative (or complimentary) controller.

47 posts since 14 Oct, 2018

Re: Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)

Post Thu Jun 04, 2020 2:52 am

I love my Novation SL Mk3

It really opened up my workflow in Ableton

6235 posts since 7 Oct, 2005

Re: Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)

Post Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:49 pm

It depends on what software you are going to stick with in the future also. If you are staying with Ableton Live, there is no point in thinking of Maschine as in the future you will get Push controller and any keyboard will do. Also, are you sure you want to use controller instead (mostly) of keys/mouse combo?

Anyway, I would get that used AKAI MPK249, otherwise I would take Nektar Impact LX 49. It has great pads but 8 instead of 16 (not big problem because you will spend a long time with Kick/Snare/HH (closed and open). Even if you add Toms and Crash, you will be OK without scrolling. The integration with Live is good, but it doesn't have aftertouch. The build quality is good really and it lasts better than other brands in my experience.

If you are going with NI products, then think of Maschine. I had mikro mk3 and it was fantastic hardware, but I didn't like the software that much and it is also shit integrated with non Maschine DAWs (with Live being the worst!).

If you are going with Studio One, then ATOM is cheap and great controller. You can add any keyboard to it. But for Live I suggest AKAI first (I don't have experience with Novation products). Best value for money (new) is the Impact LX IMO. I have Panorama P4 and it doesn't have a good integration with Live. The hardware is nice itself but I hated the endless knobs.

But in the end, don't think so much about it! Just buy something and get making music. You'll probably use the computer keys/mouse mostly even with a controller. Aim for Push 2 for Live or if it is NI then Maschine, but not both! Unless you want to make YouTube videos :hihi: So, for cheap things, just buy and call it a day, but for expensive controller's/software, you need to have a plan ;)

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