Need some extra muscle using your software? There’s a huge variety of MIDI controllers out there, so here’s a round-up of six (OK, seven) of the best ones that we’ve recently reviewed. Total control, whenever you need it…
Best for Sounds Too! Arturia KeyLab Essential
A well-priced keyboard with 49 notes (a 61-note is also available) and plenty of knobs and sliders that will be suited to any DAW and many soft synths. Not that you’ll need to use many as KeyLab Essential also comes packed with 5,000 sounds wrapped up in the latest version of Analog Lab which is a ‘best of’ of Arturia’s great software instruments.
We said: “With a company that has a pedigree like Arturia’s, you can guarantee that these 5,000 Analog Lab presets are mostly great, with a good variation of everything – all basses are covered; as are leads, pads and strings. KeyLab has lots of improved systems and features on both hardware and software. Essentials is a much-improved package over the original. MIDI Control Center and Analog Lab 2 are excellent and the keyboard represents superb value.”
Best for Live Synths: Expressive E Touché
One of the more unusual looking controllers in this round-up, the Touché uses a tilting principal to control MIDI CC and CV. Operation happens through touch of the upper surface with various areas that tilt, lean and depress and each can have a different MIDI controller or CV assigned to it.
We said: “This will fit well with performers who want a nice control device that has live credentials. You won’t know if you really need it until you use it. But what I’m certain of is that, as a performance device with both computer and modular, it’s a great bit of kit and will look stylish in any setup.”
Best Mini Controller: Isla Instruments KordBot
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The KordBot is a chord generator, arpeggiator, step sequencer, and MIDI controller in one, and even features a hi-res screen. It has a two-octave keyboard and features 32 chord-modifier buttons, eight push encoders, 12 chord memory pads, a ribbon controller and 49 standard and exotic scales to choose from. Great for the cash…
We said: “We wouldn’t recommend KordBot as your only controller, as you’ll probably want something more responsive to play and program beats and melodies – but for working with chords it’s excellent. The beauty of KordBot ultimately lies in the way it can easily take you to places you’d never normally go, getting you lost tinkering with intricate progressions and arpeggios that make your synths and instruments dance in complex and pleasing ways.”
Best Package: PreSonus FaderPort 8
Certainly the best looking controller on offer, the FaderPort 8 features eight touch-sensitive, 100mm long-throw, motorised faders and eight fantastic ’Scribble Strip’ displays. It’s rock solid with Studio One and great with other DAWs too (not so much Live when we tested it though). There are 65 buttons, including transport controls, with 78 functions, and even options to zoom in and out when editing and controlling plug-ins. It’s well-built too and ideal for your desktop.
We said: “I’d be a very pleased Studio One owner if I read this review, as this is the controller for you. I’m also considering it as my main Logic controller. Studio One is a DAW with real merit, and the Artist version of that software is bundled too, so you get a well-integrated motorised fader controller and DAW for a shade over £400. That makes this quite a bargain package. A fantastic bundle that brings pro music features and control to the masses.”
Best Mid-Price: Faderfox PC12 & MX12
Two controllers for the price of one as we include both of Faderfox’s most recent models. The PC12 has 72 knobs and 12 multifunction buttons; the MX12 has 24 knobs, 12 faders (60mm) and 24 buttons.
We said: “The Faderfox PC12 and MX12 are ideal if you’re tired of budget devices that compromise on build quality; they’re totally solid and will hold their own in any performance or studio situation – or anywhere else you can think of where they’re likely to see a lot of use. If you like to combine hardware and software in your rig, and you’re already covered for pads and keys, these are some of the best controllers out there. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it.”
Best Future Controller! ROLI Blocks updates
ROLI’s Blocks take the company’s five dimensions of touch and explore them on a more mobile platform with the NOISE app providing the sounds. But actually they also function as very good DAW controllers too…
We said: “Dashboard and the new Lightpad Block M are where it’s at for us DAW users and ‘pros’ and once you get up and running with Dashboard you’ll soon get it. If ROLI adds templates for all DAWs and makes it as instantaneous and easy as it currently is with Live, then suddenly we will have a control system that works for everyone, and a very cool and fun to use one at that.”