The joy of modern day sampling means that every producer with a computer can have access to a beautiful orchestra – but what sets your music apart from everything else? The answer can be as simple as control. Control over articulations, control over style and dynamics, control over the sounds. If your creative workflow isn’t intuitive or clean, then your music will never flourish. This includes tactile access to articulations, volumes, expressions and styles – so the question is… What’s the best controller to allow this? Here’s our top 5:
1: Komplete Kontrol s61/88
The beauty of the Native Kontrol Standard is the reason that the Komplete Kontrol series comes out on top. This deep rooted integration with hundreds of sound libraries and virtual instruments gives you full control over their parameters – meaning that you’re only a touch away from writing in the perfect automation – whether it’s volume or articulation. With colour coded keys to mirror the active octaves in Kontakt 5 and Kontakt 5 Player, you can make sure that every note means exactly what you need it to mean. The s88 comes with weighted keys, which most people (especially pianists) will prefer to play on. Find out more
2: Roli Seaboard Rise 49
The only 49 key keyboard on this list, and coming in at just under £1000 it had better have a good reason to be here. Luckily, the Roli Seaboard Rise 49 delivers in abundance as a purely expressive musical instrument. The Seaboard Rise will certainly take time to adjust to playing with it’s spongey, almost alien, texture, it’s certainly a learning curve. However, the adjustment is well worth the rewards. Pitch bend, aftertouch, velocity and volume control are all controlled from the pressure and position of your fingers on the keys. It comes with it’s own soundbank, DAW integration and MIDI learning, so that you can attribute every movement to just about any control you want. This video shows the Seaboard Rise in action with ProjectSAM Symphobia virtual instrument.
3: M-Audio Hammer 88
This one’s for the player. It’s getting as close as possible to a hammer action piano without going all out for a digital piano (or God forbid, a real one)! If you’re a pianist that is looking for a good surface to wholly capture your performance, then the M-Audio Hammer 88 is the closest you’ll get to playing the real thing. It’s light on extra features, so if you’re after a control surface then this isn’t the one for you – but if you’re looking for a clean set of piano keys, then look no further. There aren’t any extra controls to speak of, nothing more than a couple of wheels for pitch bend and modulation, however it does come with a several premium software programs and it’s own software editor, and supports multiple keyboard zones for layering and splitting instrument voices.
4: Behringer Motor61
A personal pet peeve of mine has always been un-motorised faders. What is the point?! Behringer has come to the ring with the Motor61 keyboard. Bringing semi-weighted keys, 9 motorised faders, 8 rotary encoders, 8 performance pads and a DAW control surface, it’s a serious contender to be your central midi controller. Whilst it won’t be at the top in terms of play-ability, it more than makes up for it in tactile controls and on-the-fly automation writing. Performance pads give you the perfect triggers for orchestral stabs and percussion tracks, whilst the motorised faders are perfect for adjusting individual instruments, and whole sections volumes while you play! The encoders can also be assigned to volume, as well as other automations such as vibrato and flutter, so you should never have to open the plugin window when you want to write in your articulations.
5: Panorama P6
The tweaker’s dream comes full DAW integration for most major players. It’s available in both 49 and 61 key formats, however I’d suggest going for the extra keys when working on orchestral projects, you’ll be glad of the extra space! Many controllers can be confusing or difficult to map when trying to optimise your workflow, but the Panorama P6 comes with a 3.5” display that will give you all of the information you need when programming midi assignments. If you’re still doubting the amount of control – check out the tech specs: 16 encoders, 9 45mm faders, 1 100mm motorized ALPS fader, 10 LED buttons, 28 buttons, 12 pads each with strike and pressure component, foot switch jack, expression pedal jack, keyboard after touch, pitch bend and modulation wheels gives you immediate control of up to 93 parameters at any one time.
All in all, what matters is that your workflow is optimised and creative. Any control surface or MIDI keyboard can do the job – but these are the 5 keyboards that will let you focus on performing your music, not just writing it. They also give you the tools to maximise the impact that your music has with the access they give you to tactile mixing and automation controls. Your orchestra will only sound as good as the nuance that you give it, so if you have the opportunity to use hands-on controls to fine tune your music then it’s going to speed up your work, and sound more authentic because of it.
Do you produce orchestral music? What MIDI keyboard are you using? Leave a comment to let us know!