Category: Portable Music Controllers

Best Portable Midi Keyboard

Looking to play your VST synths in a DAW on your laptop or PC, then you will want the best portable MIDI keyboard. This will give you more flexibility as to where you can make your music.

What is Midi?

Firstly what is MIDI? MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface. It is a way of connecting hardware music synthesisers, sound modules, drum machines and other sound generating equipment. It can also connect to your digital audio workstation. This allows you to play software versions of synths and drum modules and other devices like effects. Midi can be connected via a dedicated 5 pin midi port or via USB or Bluetooth.

There are many midi keyboards on the market with different functionality, size and portability. So it is important to define how and where you will be using it before making your purchase. Of course price is always a determining factor so finding the best cheap midi keyboard will be important.

Size and Portability

For this article we will concentrate on portable midi keyboards for those musicians who make music on the go.

A particular favourite of ours is the AKAI MPK Mini MKII which is a 25 key USB connected and powered keyboard. It has velocity sensitive mini keys that are surprisingly playable. It also has 8 backlit pads for playing drum sounds, for instance in your Ableton drum rack. There are 8 assignable knobs to map to your soft synth to control filter cutoff for example, and a 4 way joystick. You get octave up and down buttons and an arpeggiator with adjustable modes and resolution. Note repeat is another nice touch to quickly create runs of 8th, 16th etc. notes. And when you register your MPK Mini you get some great free sounds. These from the likes of Splice and Loopcloud which is the largest sample library around.

The Arturia Minilab MkII 25 Note controller keyboard is another excellent choice and matches up to the Akai MPK. Also with 25 velocity sensitive keys, it offers 16 rotary encoders to give you huge mapping possibilities. These will allow you to tweak all sorts of parameters to your heart’s content. And the two touch strips give you pitch bend and even more modulation possibilities to get creative with your sound. This is a really great small midi keyboard and it comes with a version of Ableton Lite. Also included is Arturia Analog Lab 2 that gives you sixteen fantastic synths, pianos and organs.

The Arturia Microlab is the option if you really want to go compact. It is extremely compact and with only four buttons and two touch strips, you still have loads of control. A great feature is playing chords with just one note, a bonus for those who don’t have great playing skills. The USB port is recessed so no cables protrude making it easy to transport. And a rubberised case help protect it during travel. Comes with free software and fantastic value for …

The Best DJ Controller

If you are a DJ starting out and want to go the computer route, then your logical question will be what is the best DJ controller around? You might also be considering playing on hardware like the Pioneer CD or IDJs or even going the vinyl route. So what are the pros and cons of each and how do you go about deciding?

How affordable is the best DJ controller

Firstly cost will be a major determining factor in which way you choose to go. In general, DJ controllers are a lot cheaper than their hardware equivalents. Having said that, the assumption will be that you already have a laptop computer if you’re looking to be a serious DJ. Or if not, you will have  tablet running a software DJ app for less demanding situations, be they a home dj party or just in your bedroom spinning for fun. So if you add up the cost of a reasonably spec’d laptop or higher end tablet with a DJ controller, then you are almost on a par with standalone hardware units.

There are quite a number of controllers for DJ’ing on the market these days, but the two brands that stand out are the Pioneer range and Native Instruments Traktor. Both have long established software applications in Pioneer Rekordbox and NI Traktor Pro. Both are also stable, user friendly and offer very sophisticated features to both the beginner and pro DJ. They are used in clubs the world over by many of the top DJs who perform to thousands every night.

Why would you choose a controller over a standalone hardware equivalent?

The standard equipment in most of the major clubs is the Pioneer range. Formerly CDJs when compact discs were the predominant format, now IDJs which read the tracks direct from flash drives. The great advantage of these is that you can carry all you music on a couple of USB sticks, slot them into the players and you’re ready to start the party. But the top end players like the Pioneer CDJ Nexus digital media player cost near enough £2000/$2500 each while cheaper models are still around half that price each. So price is very much an issue for the bedroom DJ.

Is an All In One the way to go?

However the Pioneer All In One DJ controller uses the same Rekordbox software that the standalone hardware versions do. Not only that, using and learning on one of their higher end controllers which have most of the same functions of the CDJs will make the step form bedroom to club pretty seamless. Even a relatively cheap DJ controller like the DDJ-400 Rekordbox has the same basic layout to enable you to progress to the Nexus range eventually. And the DDJ-200 costs even less while still giving you jog wheels, buttons and knobs to mix tracks from your PC or Mac or from apps on your smartphone or tablet.

WeDJ for iPhone is one such app that provides …