1. Welcome to the new MacRumors forums. See our announcement and read our FAQ

Midi Keyboard vs. Synthesizer

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by bov, May 28, 2008.

  1. bov
    macrumors 6502

    Hi guys, i am a guitarist in a band and trying to incorporate more elements into my music. My band plays alternative/indie rock. Some bands i really like are Radiohead, Menomena, MGMT, and Ratatat. So i would like to head in that direction.

    In my band, i would like to use a midi keyboard/synth to try to 'fill in gaps' that a 2 guitar, 1 bass, drum band sometimes lacks, if that makes any sense at all. I also want to try to make some cool hip hop beats and some Ratatat-like beats, but thats just on the side.

    I am currently trying to decide between either getting a Midi Keyboard or a Synthesizer (considering M-Audio Axiom 49 and MicroKorg), but am unclear of the major differences between the two. Some questions i have are: What can a midi keyboard do that a synth cant do? and the other way around. I know that a midi keyboard can store sounds in a bank, but does that mean i can perform live without a laptop? Do midi keyboards usually have a looping feature built in? Will i be able to make beats with a synth?

    Well thats all i can think of for now. :p My budget is probably around $400 max

    thanks guys, let me know what you recommend
  2. macrumors 68000

    you have to imagine a midi instrument like this:
    a controller for triggering sounds that goes to the module that produces the sound.
    like, midi controller is the piano hammer, and sound module is piano strings.

    Midi keyboard(controller) does not play ANY sounds.
    Synth is actually a combination of a controller and a built-in sound module.

    for 400$, you can get a very very decent controller, and probably a crappy synth.
    you cannot play live with a controller, except if you buy an external module (be it rack synth, computer loaded with software instruments,or just using a module part of a keysynth)
  3. macrumors 6502


    All a MIDI controller does is send data to a tone generator which interprets that data as to how to play sounds.

    A synthesizer is just that - a device which synthesizes sound itself. Almost all synthesizers these days have MIDI ports in them so you can control other devices with them too, and/or have the synthesizer controlled by other MIDI devices (as a tone generator).

    If you've got a laptop I'd suggest you buy a MIDI keyboard and Propellerheads Reason. As you're very new to this that's probably going to give the best results with the least steep learning curve, plus there's all manner of Refills (patches) available for download and to buy which will give you lots of sounds with minimal effort and allow you to seek out specific sounds; i.e. Refills called "Radiohead synths" and such like.
  4. macrumors G5


    Reason is a fine product, but realize that performing live with it means having a laptop on stage -- this is a high-risk scenario.

    You also have to decide whether you are going to learn to play keyboards 'properly' -- the MicroKorg has some good sounds, but it has miniature keys, so it is more difficult to play piano or organ style parts, it is more suited for one-finger-at-a-time playing.

    As mentioned, most synths will also be MIDI controllers.

    If you don't want the newest sounds, you should be able to find a used digital synth (with full sized keys) for fairly cheap. Older, analog synths are skyrocketing in price because of the desirability of the 'warm' analog sound.
  5. macrumors Core

    I use a Yamaha DX-11 as a midi control keyboard. It's internal sounds are very dated and I don't have a mixer yet so I'm limited channels wise.
    It cost me £100 and is much nicer than a £100 midi keyboard.

    Reason is excellent as is Logic.
  6. bov
    macrumors 6502

    oh yea i forgot to mention that i am in a Conservatory of Music, so i also have keyboard/theory knowledge. :D

    I am leaning towards the Midi Keyboard at the moment because i want to be able to actually play a keyboard; incorporating inverted chords, arpeggios, and what not. I think ill buy the Axiom 49 first, and when i get the money, ill get a MicroKorg to control the keyboard so i wont have to use my precious MBP while performing live.

    As for software, ill probably be recording using Garageband since i cannot afford Logic at the moment. So would i be using the Reason software through Garageband? or can Reason be used for recording as well?

    Also, a friend of mine recommended Native Instruments software. What do you guys think?
  7. macrumors G5


    Native Instruments is a good company -- they have a gazillion products though, so it's like saying "a friend of mine recommended some Pfizer medicine - what do you think?"
  8. macrumors regular

    Chairman Plow

    Unfortunately you cannot record directly into Reason. (I wish!) I believe you can Rewire Reason into Garageband. Either that, or export your finished tracks as MP3 or AIFF and import them into Garageband.
  9. bov
    macrumors 6502

    ohh i see, my mistake :p let me try that again

    a friend of mine recommended me using the Native Instruments bundle Komplete 4. what do u guys think of that? Will i be able to use Native instruments through GarageBand?

    also, how do plugins work? in context of using GB to record
  10. macrumors 6502a


    You could probably buy Logic for the cost of the Komplete pack.
    DAW should come first. Plugins after that. Unless live performance is more important than recording, in which case just buy the Komplete pack (or individual ones) and use them as stand-alones live.
  11. macrumors G5


    LOL Komplete 4 is ALL of Native Instruments software in one bundle -- for something like $2000 (about half that for the student version).

    "And what will m'sieur like for dessert?" "All of them" ;)

    However Komplete does not have a sequencer/recorder like GarageBand or Logic.

    This isn't congruent with a sub-$400 budget for a synth. If you can consider the budget range of NI Komplete, I suggest starting off with a better quality synth/contoller and ONE software program, and learn that -- rather than taking the shotgun approach.

    Logic Studio is a good choice as its price has come down drastically, and it comes with a decent collection of instruments.
  12. Guest

    Kore 2 ?

    OP, I would recommend using Logic as your sequencer.
  13. bov
    macrumors 6502

    ok well i think i will settle on getting a Midi Keyboard for now.

    Right now i am thinking of getting the Axiom 49, but i have some questions about the keyboard.

    What are rotary encoder knobs?

    What are sliders used for?

    What are transport buttons?

    What are non-volatile memory locations?

    Is this keyboard lacking something that should be wary of? Would you recommend something else? Again, my budget is $400 max.

    Thanks :D
  14. macrumors 68040


    Erh, I know this kinda contradicts what other people say but....

    Get a synth.

    I've used both setups (Evolution MIDI controller on stage + Reason, as well as my Alesis ION on stage) and the synth setup is much smarter.

    Get a synth with hands-on control (something you'll never achieve with a MIDI controller + software package) and you'll be much happier. It'll be more reliable (by far), more rugged (by far), sound better (by far, if you go for the right thing) and you'll be able to do more with it (by quite some bit) simply because you won't be fiddling around with knobs on a screen. A patch which would take me 5 minutes to build in Reason can be built in around 20 seconds on my ION, which is fast enough to build things up live on stage.

    The patches on my ION are also better than the supplied patches in Reason (although Reason has far more).

    Either way, you can then use the synth as a MIDI controller, as I do with my ION if I need to trigger any samples etc...
  15. macrumors 6502


    The first 2 are the same; ways of transmitting a value between 0 and 127, which is the range MIDI data uses to tweak a parameter on a MIDI compliant sound producing device - volume for example.

    Some types of input media are more suited to certain functions; faders for channel volume, rotaries (knobs) for EQ tweaking etc. However you can assign them however you wish.

    Non volatile memory is a type of memory which is not effected by the powering down of the unit; as such it's used in synths and MIDI devices for storing presets etc. USB flash keys use non volatile memory, to give you another example.

    Transport buttons are play, stop, etc. Having them on a keyboard means you can start and stop your sequencer from the keyboard.

    If you're studying music then you qualify for the educational discount for Logic Studio, which if my maths are correct will come in at about $240 USD (it's £118 here). Go the Apple's educational store website from your college network and buy it. It comes with an obscene amount of content DVD's (30Gb worth, iirc! :eek:) and all the in built plugins will keep you busy forever.

    Again though, you'll need to have the laptop present to perform with. Not a problem for me, but it may be for you. If you choose to go the hardware route, you'll be buying 1 synth for that budget, or maybe 1 MIDI keyboard and a couple of rackmount synths, so make sure to read up on the whys and wherefores of synthesis to get the most out of your purchase. Presets are great but creating patches yourself means you have created your sound.

    The other thing to point out is that if you're going to record your band live you are going to need to take your laptop with you, unless the sound engineer has the facility to record from the mixing desk, assuming the venues you'll be playing have a sound engineer. That, and of course that the engineer is willing to record you as well. :rolleyes:
  16. bov
    macrumors 6502

    ok guys, so i decided to buy an Axiom 49 and i am quite happy with it except for one thing...

    i am having trouble mapping it!! at the moment im using it with Reason wired through Ableton live lite 6, or just Reason by itself. (havent figured out how to record yet :()

    I tried mapping it with Enigma but im just not really sure how the preset stuff works, the banks and all that. I know that i have '20 non-volatile memory locations', so are those used for storing 1 particular sound, or for settings for 1 particular program that i will use the keyboard for?

    So once i find that particular sound, effect, program, whatever, whats the easiest way to store it? One thing i want to do is play piano with the Axiom 49, while also using sound effects for vocal use. Is this possible? If it is, how can i do that with the software i have? and is it possible to plug my mic into the keyboard??? So many questions !! :confused: i'll leave you guys with that at the moment.

    Yea i feel real dumb, but thankfully i have you guys to help me! :D
  17. macrumors 6502


    See my response in the other thread for most of your answer.

    The NVRAM storage locations are for storing your personal MIDI presets, not synthesis patches. The Axiom is not a synthesizer, it is a MIDI controller and therefore will only send data to a piece of hardware or software designed to generate sound (like the instruments in Ableton / Reason).
  18. macrumors newbie

    MIDI Keyboard for Live & Logic

    Hi Guys...

    Thanks A Lot For Sharing Info...

    I am DJ, Producer, Remixer... I use Ableton Live 6, Logic Pro 8 And Reason 4.

    So far I produced music with the samples from Prosessions & M-Audio... Now, I am lookin for a MIDI keyboard which can be Used in Live & Logic.. Max I can Afford right now is $400.. can someone suggest me a good MIDI Keyboard...

  19. macrumors member

    M-Audio make pretty decent controllers. There Axiom series is nice with semi-weighted keys (though they feel like half semi weighted ) and 8 pads you can use for triggering different things. Check em out www.m-audio.com

    And no you can't plug a microphone into it. If you want some vocals and vocal effects get the microkorg, or the korg r3 as it has a microphone and vocoder.
  20. macrumors member


    first, think of how much you want to spend, and then multiply that by a lot if you want something that isn't crap.

    here's your options:

    1 - if you buy a synth that is expandable, you'll have a very nice piece of equipment for years to come ($1000 and up for non crap).

    2- if you already own a laptop, buy a program like reason ($400), an axiom 25 ($180), and an i/o card ($???) and you have about the same set up.

    3- find a dj like me who has all that and more to be in your band (priceless)

    if you want to stay in that $400 range, i do have reason 3.0 for sale for $150 and then all you would need is a midi controller and an i/o.
  21. SFT
    macrumors newbie

    im more or less in the same situation.. is it possible to perform with a midi keyboard without using the laptop on stage?
  22. macrumors G5


    Depends what you mean by MIDI keyboard.

    If you mean a MIDI Keyboard CONTROLLER like the M-Audio Axiom etc., then these do NOT have any sounds of their own and they would have to be hooked up to a computer or an external MIDI sound module of some description in order to perform.

    A MIDI Keyboard SYNTHESIZER is a keyboard which has its own sounds internally, and CAN be used onstage without a computer or any other equipment other than an amplifier or PA connection.

    The Alesis Ion has gone out of production. The Micron has the same sound engine, but lacks the control knobs.

    The Novation Xio and X-Station are worth a look for a synthesizer keyboard / MIDI controller

    Of course, the entry level of the Roland, Yamaha and Korg lines are always choices if you have a bit of budget.

    I have just set up an E-Mu X-Board 49 and I am quite impressed. It has a good feel (semi weighted, heavier than most), it has good aftertouch response, and rotary encoders. Downside: The software bundle is Windows only.
  23. SFT
    macrumors newbie

    yes, i meant a midi keyboard controller. what do you mean with external midi sound module? maybe that would be a good option for me. since i do not need a laptop
  24. macrumors G5


    A MIDI sound module is any of a number of different synthesizers and sample players that havethe sound generation hardware, but no keyboard. They come in tabletop or rackmount modules, and can be played from any MIDI controller keyboard (or driven by the MIDI output of a computer sequencer).

    Roland has a range of sound modules, I recently picked up a Korg Radias (without the optional keyboard)
    I've also got a Novation Nova, a RedSound DarkStar, and some older modules like an eMu Classic Keys and e6400 sampler. All of these will play their sounds under the command of a MIDI controller. If you are willing to look at older kit, you should be able to easily find MIDI sound modules used.
  25. 4kd
    macrumors newbie

    M-Audio Axion 25 vs Korg R3

    Hi Experts

    I'm deciding between a midi controller or a Synt that could be used as a Midi Keyboard for Garageband as an example

    I found the R3 has USB-Midi support, and AFAIK will be enought to use the korg as a musical midi device....

    But what funcionality I'm missing by using a Korg R3 instead a full featured midi controller like m-audio Axion 25 or even any korg midi controller..

    Any comments are very welcome.


Share This Page