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Which MIDI controller to choose?

In a current Home Studio, you will often find a MIDI controller, which will allow you to send information to your DAW (Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Fruity Loops, etc.). It comes in several formats: master keyboard, sequencer, finger drumming pads, mixing consoles... If you don't just mix/master and you're a beatmaker, electronic music composer or other style, you will need one (at least). These devices will allow you to increase your creativity tenfold! Through this guide, we will explain the MIDI standard, very often misunderstood by neophytes, as well as the different types of MIDI controllers and their functions.

WHAT IS LUNCH?

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a digital language dedicated to computers, instruments or other useful equipment with MIDI connections.

This system was created, developed and launched in the 80s by the founder of the Roland brand. The idea was to have a common language to be able to communicate information (tempo, notes, synchronization) between machines and synthesizers, and later with computers via DAWs.

This standard then appeared naturally on all the major brands of the time (Roland, Moog, Korg, Dave Smith among others) and is now essential in musical creation.

MIDI makes it possible to transmit a lot of information, such as velocity, pitch, aftertouch, modulation. Several machines using MIDI can synchronize with each other, very practical for live electronic music.

For connections and connections, the MIDI signal is digital and is transmitted by MIDI cable (5 pins) or by USB cable.

IMPORTANT: a MIDI signal is NOT an audio signal, ie it does not carry sound. Therefore, your master keyboard is not a portable keyboard or digital piano!

Types of MIDI Controllers

As you will have understood, MIDI devices allow many things thanks to current technologies. You will therefore be able, via virtual instruments, to make melodies with all types of modeled instruments, rhythmic sequences, but also to control synths and external machines. The advantage of MIDI is that it is not definitive. If you make a wrong note when recording with your master keyboard, you can modify it via your software.

These devices come in many forms and will be more suitable for some uses than others, and that's what we're going to talk about.

master keyboard

The keyboard format is the most widespread, it is called a "master keyboard". It is very useful because it has a certain number of keys (from 25 to 88 notes), but not only! We often find on the keyboard pads, pots and modulation faders (useful for making volume automations for example), but also transport buttons (Record, Play, Stop, etc.).

Some will even have screens to navigate through software or banks of instruments and sounds, and thus avoid staring too much at your computer screen. This is the case, for example, of the master keyboards from Native Instruments.

To sum up, there are a lot of different master keyboards, with characteristics specific to each model. It will be necessary to target your needs in order to make the right choice.

Sequencer

In electronic music, the sequencer proves to be an ideal tool. The MIDI sequencer will allow you to record and program sequences of notes (or other parameters) to drive electronic instruments or virtual instruments.

If you have a Live project that requires several hands, but you are alone, the sequencer will be your best ally to overcome this. In addition, some sequencers have CV/gates outputs that allow, for example, to send information to hardware machines, synthesizers or modular systems.

Pads / Finger drumming

Beatmakers use the pads a lot to compose their rhythmic beats. It is therefore normal to see manufacturers offering MIDI controllers intended for finger drumming, based on the legendary MPCs. These pads can be found on other types of MIDI controller, such as master keyboards.

MIDI mixing console

There is a slightly less creative type of MIDI controller: MIDI control surfaces. These are devices that are very similar to audio mixing consoles. With these, control the volume, pan and gain of multiple tracks in your DAW at once. Some even have motorized faders to be able to record volume, effect or spatialization automations. These controllers are rather reserved for people practicing mixing and mastering.

MIDI station

These machines are MIDI controllers that allow you to control your software (DAW) directly via the device. You can do everything (or almost) without touching your mouse/keyboard. Some of them are autonomous and do not need to be connected to a computer, this is the case of the AKAI FORCE. The "MIDI Stations" are ideal for self-taught beatmakers.

MIDI Controller for Live

Of course, there are other types of MIDI controllers with more specific uses, such as controllers suitable for LIVE. These come in different forms, and allow, among other things, to launch sequences, manage effects on stage simply using dedicated pads or buttons.

Questions ?

You now have all the basics you need to get started and choose your MIDI controller. It is obvious that everything is not summarized in this guide and you may have some questions or wish to have additional advice concerning the choice of your MIDI devices. The Star's Music team is at your disposal to guide you in our stores or by telephone on 01 81 930 900.