Short review on ESI K.ON 88 key master keyboard

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
1087 posts since 27 Nov, 2006

Post Thu Jun 26, 2008 10:35 pm

I finally decided to go for the ESI K.ON 88 note hammer action keyboard after choosing between this and the Fatar SL-990 Pro or VMK 188+. I chose it over the Fatars mainly because of available horizontal space as I need to put my Kore2 controller, an AlphaTrack and a mouse on there.

After playing it for some time last night I came up with the following pros and cons:

  • - The keyboard action is nice. Although I'm no expert on piano action (I trained on a pipe organ), I found it to be very dynamic, both very quiet and loud passages can be played with ease.

    - There are 5 velocity curves to choose from. Although it's not a lot, there should be one to suit your style. Note that the fifth curve outputs a flat velocity of 127 which may or may not be useful.

    - The pitch bend and aftertouch wheels are smooth and responsive transmitting a high resolution data-stream for precise control (compared to the Fatar Numa, for example, that has a course data-stream. Info on the Numa is taken from Sound on Sound June 2008 issue).

    - The build quality is very good and solid. The brushed aluminium fascia and the piano black plastic sides look very nice indeed!

    - The two pedal inputs along with the pitchbend and modulation wheels are assignable.

    - The eight sliders have three banks selectable by a button (the ninth slider is fixed to 'master volume' but of course if your sequencer has a 'learn' function it can be assigned to anything). One of the banks can be assigned to any controller number (the other two banks are fixed - see below)

    - The eight rotary encoders have two banks. One of the banks can be assigned to any controller number (the other bank is fixed - see below)

    - The K.ON has a very simple but quick system to change various parameters. Press the appropriate button and then change the value with the alpha knob or directly type in the value with the number pad or +/- buttons.

    - It can transmit: program change and all notes off messages.

    - The transmit channel can be changed along with transpose and octave.

    - When you move a slider or knob, the three-digit display immediately shows the value of that controller. You can then use slider or knob as normal or you can use the alpha-knob/number pad/ +/- keys to change the value. This is great for fine control.

    - Very easy to set up. I plugged it into XP and it detected it and installed it straight away. No driver disc was necessary.

    - It is compatible with CME UF expansion boards. It has four bays but one is taken up with the power/USB/MIDI connectors.
  • - Although it has channel aftertouch, it is hard to trigger. I had to press VERY hard on the keys and even then it only registered about 64 in Cubase.

    - There are only two pedal connectors on the back plate (sustain and soft) but no connectors for expression pedals. Theoretically, this could be addressed with a new I/O expander card.

    - The K.ON does not have lighter action keys on higher notes and heaver on the lower notes, unlike the Fatars.

    - The legend on the buttons are hard to read as it is simply recessed into the button with no additional colouring. It could be a problem on stage.

    - There are only eight knobs and nine sliders for control. You may find this a bit limiting although it wasn't a problem for me as I use an AlphaTrack and a Kore2 as well.

    - The controller assignments for the transport buttons cannot be changed.

    - Two of the three banks for the sliders are fixed to volume (CC 7 on channels 1 to 8 on the first bank and 9 to 16 on the second).

    - One of the two banks for the rotary encoders are fixed to various controllers but are designed to control: cutoff, resonance, attack, release, pan, reverb, chorus and tempo (the tempo knob controls the MIDI clock stream - see below).

    -The K.ON transmits MIDI clock when you press the 'play' or 'record' buttons. There is no way to turn it off.
Overall I'm very impressed with this keyboard. At 345 pounds from Digital Village (UK), it's an absolute bargain!! There are a couple of niggles but most I can live with. It's a shame about the aftertouch - that's a real stinker for me but as I'm happy with everything else, I can live with it.

Hope this was useful!

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