Even though M-Audio Key Rig received a "best buy" award from Keyboard magazine when it was released; it really hasn't gotten the credit or the acceptance that it deserves in the music community. Key Rig is maybe the best "first softsynth" for someone just starting out in electronic music. It's also an excellent synth for complex pads and layered sounds. It's also excellent for getting a "quick and dirty" instrument sound for a particular track to keep the creative flow going without going through 2000 presets in your sampler's folder.
So I don't have to repeat the basics, take the time to read KVR's basic sofware description. In short, Key Rig consists of 4 modules that can be layered or can be assigned to different MIDI channels for different purposes.
The top module, the SP-1 stage piano has two separate sound generators. The first one allows you to select various acoustic and electric pianos. The second generator allows you to also select several basic synthesizer pads. So with this module alone, you can layer two different acoustic pianos, an acoustic and a Rhodes, a Rhodes and a Whirly, etc. This module like all of the modules has its own effects section that allows you to apply the most common electric piano effects. The acoustic pianos in this module aren't my favorites, but as elements in a layered sound, they are very useful.
The second module is the MS-2 Polyphonic Synthesizer. This is just a really neat sounding virtual analog synth that has a very ballsy sound. It covers most of the standard synth sounds, and it is ridiculously easy to program.
The third Module is the MB-3 Organ, a B-3 clone. This module has been criticized for using samples rather than physical modeling. I don't care what it uses. It sounds good like a Hammond B3 to me, and it layers well with the other sounds.
The last module is the GM-4 general MIDI module. This is the only disappointing one of the bunch for me; primarily because it truly has a basic GM standard without the GS or XG enhancements that I am used to. The choir sounds are especially good though. I never figured out how to get it to handle multichannel input.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER. Let's say you want a big pad, a la Massive. If you want a percussive attack, you can use the SP-1 to layer a piano sound with a warm synth pad. Layer a more buzzy sound from the MS-2. Layer an organ sound from MB-3 with lots of low end, and finally add a different synth pad or orchestral sound from GM-4. All of this is coming into your DAW on one MIDI channel and all of it uses a surprisingly low level of CPU. If it were a Korg Kronos doing this, people wouldn't stop about how cool it is. Since it is a 7 year old software program, Key Rig just gets ignored.
I want to remind folks that Key Rig is dual platform Windows/Mac. For a long time Key Rig wasn't compatible with Intel Macs. That has changed. If you have an old copy of Key Rig gathering dust because you switched from a PowerPC Mac to a Intel Mac, just install the Key Rig software from your disk and get the updater from the M-audio site. The updater installs without an authorization code.
I am someone who doesn't want to give synths a long time for tweaking many knobs to get a perfect sound from it. I tend more to use presets and easy to use virtual instruments. So I took a look on Key Rig. Because of the easy looking and wonderful design and some positve articles in some magazines I bought it. And I am really happy I did!
Key Rig is a wonderful collection of very useful instruments. With it alone you can make a whole production of a song. All needed instruments are available in it. And they sound mostly really great!
User Interface -------------- I have never seen such an easy to understand design like that of Key Rig. You don't need to search around a long time to find out where everything is. I love to look at it!
Sound ----- A real pearl is the organ simulation of a B3. It sounds really great. The same I have to say to nearly all sounds include. But the organ is top! In the GM-Set the Accordion is really fantastic! And some presets of the included synthesizer are very useful (especially the pads). The weakness are the included Pianos. They sound really good in the deep/midranges. But higher keys are too thin.
Features -------- The possibility of routing all 4 sections together makes this synth to a monster. It is so easy to combine instruments! There is a punch of effects included so you can experiment for hours to get new and strange sounds out of it.
Documentation ------------- The good thing is: you really don't need a documentation on Key Rig. Everything is so easy to find and understandable that it needs no description. The included documentation is ok.
Presets ------- There are not too much presets included. But that included sound great. And if you need more: it is really easy to make them. Believe me: you will like this synth for its easyness.
Customer support ---------------- Can't say something about it cause I didn't need it because Key Rig is rock solid. But as I remember before I had to deal with the customer support because of my M-Audio Firewire 410 and I was satisfied.
Value for money --------------- To say it short: you can't get more for your money! I think: It's too cheap for that what is included!
Stability --------- Rock solid, nothing more to say...