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88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

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88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Tue Apr 21, 2009 3:25 pm

Hi guys,

I really need some advice. I'd like to get a good quality 88 key MIDI controller with a good 'feel' to it. Ideally it should have a sustain pedal and preferably (but not necessarily) a controller pedal. Mod wheels and knobs and sliders would also be a bonus.


Here are my priorities in order of importance:

Good keyboard
Sustain pedal
Good software integration
Mod wheel
Knobs and sliders

I use Cubase, and I'm drawn to the new Yamaha KX8. It looks ideal, with Cubase integration and a Yamaha pedigree. Apparently it has a GHS keyboard design. Does anyone know anything about how the keyboard feels? It is supposed to have a piano feel, but how good is it really? I think the KX8 is already shipping, so has anyone tried it? Does it compare well to the competition?

Another possibility is the Studiologic Fatar range. Every review from users or magazines seem to suggest that the build quality of the Fatar keyboards are poor. I've heard tales of keys not providing the full 127 point MIDI range, cheap connectors, sliders not working, and so on. This is surprising as they market themselves as top-end. Has anyone used a FATAR keyboard? Are they as bad as people say they are?

Finally, the CME UF80 is a possibility. Feature-rich, but I'm very wary of anything made by CME. In the past Sound on Sound has damned them with faint praise, though to be fair a lot of users swear by the keyboard. Apparently they have poor driver support, and they make a lot of errors in their design. But the CME UF80 is now in its second iteration - is it a good product? Or does it cut too many corners?

Here's my judgement so far: I'm feeling that the Yamaha is a solid option - Yamaha build quality, integration with Cubase. Unfortunately, no controller pedal output - just sustain. On paper it looks the best, but that's why I'm turning to the experts - you guys!

Of these keyboards, which do you feel would make the best purchase? Should I go for the Yamaha? Or are the others better? If you have tried out these keyboards, what would you prefer?

The keyboard I get now will last me for years, so I'm prepared to stretch to £400 or more. But I want to make the right purchase, going for quality.

Any advice would be greatly welcomed.

Daniel
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The Elf » Tue Apr 21, 2009 3:52 pm

I can't comment directly on any others of the above, but I'd say that you'd do well to be wary of CME. I was almost bitten once...

I don't get on with weighted keyboards, but if I needed one I'd look at (not necessarily brand new) devices from Kurzweil, Yamaha and Roland.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Tue Apr 21, 2009 4:07 pm

I like the list of importance, but does the budget feature on this list? four hundred squids does put you in the fatar bracket.

I've used the SL990 for a few years now, and it's a fairly solid feel, to be honest. If you're a piano player, and not too bothered about bangs and whistles, then it's not a bad option.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby infiniteloop » Tue Apr 21, 2009 4:08 pm

Be wary of buying a weighted keyboard if you're planning any MIDI drum-programming, it's a bit trickier than using a normal 'plastic' synthesizer keyboard...
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Tue Apr 21, 2009 4:18 pm

infiniteloop wrote:Be wary of buying a weighted keyboard if you're planning any MIDI drum-programming, it's a bit trickier than using a normal 'plastic' synthesizer keyboard...

I agree. In fact, I'd say synth solos are easier on a non-weighted keyboard, too.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Tue Apr 21, 2009 6:04 pm

I actually already have a semi-weighted Axiom 61 by M-Audio. It's a useful keyboard as far as it goes, but it has an ugly action and I was hoping to supplement it with something more suitable for piano playing. As I have the Axiom 61 I can always use that for drum programming and synth work, but I recently won a competition with Time and Space for the whole Synthogy Ivory collection, and I would dearly like to get a keyboard that would shine on piano work.

The Yamaha appeals because it has good control features for parameter changing in Cubase and, hopefully, has a top quality keyboard. The CME is very fancy but the company has an awful reputation, so I would prefer to stay clear of it. Nonetheless, some people really like it.

I'm fascinated by the Fatar Studiologic range. I was originally looking at the 188+, but I've read several reviews that suggest the build quality is poor. Has anyone here had any trouble with a Fatar keyboard? Would you consider them better than the Yamaha?

Essentially I'm looking for a keyboard to serve a precise purpose - piano playing, ideally with good software connectivity. I don't intend it to use for everything as I have an Axiom 61 already, so I won't be needing it for fast synth work or drum programming.

Any recommendations?
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Tue Apr 21, 2009 6:14 pm

I've got a roland piano for gigging. It's superior to the equivalent yamaha in the quality of the action.

If you're not planning on gigging that piano, I would recommend the fatar. The action is good, and if it's going to stay in one place, then reliability isn't particularly an issue. (I've never had a problem with my fatar studio keyboard).

I've been playing the piano for 30 years (old fart that I am),and the graded hammer action on the 990 XP is spot-on in my opinion.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Tue Apr 21, 2009 6:26 pm

That's really interesting. I was originally looking at the Fatar types, but was put off by some of the comments I had heard.

I am now torn! I could go for the Fatar, or I could go for the Yamaha.

Here's the tie breaker: does the Fatar have the better keyboard that the Yamaha? If it does, then I'll go for the Fatar as I'm really looking for a good keyboard above all else. If they are pretty much similar, then I'd probably go for the Yamaha because of the Cubase integration.

What do you guys think?
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Bob Moose » Tue Apr 21, 2009 6:32 pm

The keyboard action feeling is always subjective. You should try it before buying.

All the best,
-j
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Apr 21, 2009 7:59 pm

Indeed you should - action is such a personal thing.

However, having said that I have to admit that I still like my CME UF8. The CME series is good value, I like its action a lot (I directly compared it very favourably with quite a few other makes and models, as well as various upright and grand pianos, while at the Frankfurt Musikmesse a few years ago), and I bypassed any USB driver problems by using a direct MIDI connection, which has never let me down.


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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Tue Apr 21, 2009 9:32 pm

So Martin is vouching for the CME UF80, Big Piano Player recommends the Studiologic Fatar, and most seem indifferent to the Yamaha.

While I completely agree that trying the action out is probably the smart thing, unfortunately this isn't possible for me. So I'm left a little stuck.

Let's sum up what we know:

The CME UF80 seems to be either loved or hated. I've met several people who swear it has the best action, but on the downside it is poorly supported. It is in its second iteration, and so it can be hoped that most of the early teething problems have been teased out. Without doubt it has a fantastic feature set. In short, it sounds a pretty good bet.

The Studiologic Fatar keyboards do seem to have a lot of praise heaped on them, and yet I have read some pretty shocking reports of build quality. It seems that if you get a working one its excellent, but many of them seem to slip past quality control. It has the weakest feature set of the three by some way. Can't dismiss it outright, but it is an outside bet.

Then comes the Yamaha. This one is something of a dark horse. Yamaha stuff is always innovative, but they suffer from 'big company' syndrome. A lot of their stuff is merely adequate. They always get positive comments (it seems no one ever dislikes a Yamaha keyboard). It also has the advantage of being totally integrated into Cubase. On paper it looks the best.

So I need to come to some sort of conclusion. On paper the Yamaha looks an excellent deal, but I suspect its keyboard action is perhaps not as good as the Fatar range. The UF80 must be doing something right, because although people seem suspicious of the company, users seem to love it. It seems that no end of people are queueing up to praise the action on the Studiologic Fatar's and UF80's.

Could it be that all three keyboards are each excellent, and it merely comes down to which suits my personal preferences? Certainly it seems that the Fatar and CME keyboards have an avid following, with some reservations in build quality. I was perhaps too hasty to dismiss them.

I'm going to do a little more research. If anyone else has an opinion that would help make up my mind, then please let me know!

Thanks for the help so far,

Daniel
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Jabba1 » Tue Apr 21, 2009 10:50 pm

I've been using an M Audio Keystation 88ES for the last two years, bought on Ebay... has never let me down at all.

Doesnt come with the pedal, doesnt have a lot of buttons and sliders... but it depends on exactly what you want to do with it. I find it more than adequate for my needs (basic studio midi input into Cubase or Reaper).
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:17 am

Thanks Jabba. To be honest, I have an M Audio keyboard and I'm not too enamoured with the action on it. They're great value, but I don't think I'd want to take that route again. It's a personal preference, though, and I'm sure they're good keyboards.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:56 am

I had the M-audio stage piano. It was excellent for the price, but I wouldn't pit it against the competition.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Pink Fluid » Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:26 am

Much as we all want to, it's hard to make these decisions based on the specs alone - you have to try them out, simple as that. You can see from the different opinions that what suits one players style may not suit you. Also, if you really like playing keys in general, it's much better having something either non or semi-weighted for synth/organ/drum duties in addition to a weighted keyboard for piano/orchestral stuff is thats your bag. FWIW I use a Studiologic SL880 which is about 10 years old, has never gone wrong and is built like a tank. I've also got a much cheaper 61 key Studiologic model that perches on the SL880. It only cost about £60 but is fine for all non-piano stuff. No sliders or anything though.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Zuben El Genubi » Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:51 am

There is a new 88 key controller from Akai:

MKP88
http://www.akaipro.com/mpk88

Looks really cool and solid.

Anyway I would wish there would be something similar solid with 88 semi-weighted keys as I'm more a synth player, and piano sometimes, too.

There is the Fatar/Studiologic VMK-88 plus
http://www.studiologic.net/vmk-88plus.html
but that looks very cheesy.

Or the mentioned M-Audio Keystation 88es
http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Keystation88es.html
which had bad reviews on key action at KVR. And has no controllers.

Did anyone test or compare these?

I wish there would be an Akai MPK88(es?) with quality semiweighted keys.

Best,
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Jabba1 » Wed Apr 22, 2009 10:40 am

Yeah.... 'spose the fact that I'm not a keyboard player by trade might have something to do with it just another three-finger-chord bassist getting ideas above his station

same as anything with instruments though, its a personal preference thing.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby James Perrett » Wed Apr 22, 2009 11:00 am

I've had an old Fatar keyboard that looks a little like the Studiologic 990 although it also has an LED display with a few more buttons. It plays fine and I like the different velocity curves available but programming it is a little fiddly and the pitch bend wheel has always been a little noisy which means that pitch bends aren't always as smooth as they should be.

Cheers

James.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DSch » Wed Apr 22, 2009 1:26 pm

As tempting as it is to have everything you want on the same instrument, I would be more inclined to go for whatever you feel has the best keyboard action, and then add whatever midi controller(s) you might need later. Having said that, the CMEs i've tried (in stores only) felt reasonably good, if a little heavy. The VX8 felt a bit better than the UF80, but comes with a lot of potentially superfluous features. I use an Oberheim MC2000, which is no longer manufactured, but is built to a much higher quality than what is available now.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby McGreevy » Wed Apr 22, 2009 1:47 pm

Hey!
On a quick skim through your thread it seems nobody has suggested the M-Audio Keystaion 88 Pro. I see other M-Audio devices have been mentioned, but strangely not this one.

Full Hammer action 88 Keys
2 pedal inputs which are assignable
21 knobs
9 faders
17 buttons
pitchbend
mod wheel

cant really ask for a more fully featured keyboard at the price. Granted I am not a pianist by any stretch of the imagination but it does the job for me.

Hope to have helped

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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Wed Apr 22, 2009 2:45 pm

Well, its make-my-mind-up time. I've had loads of feedback from people, and its given me a good idea of what to expect from all of the keyboards except for the Yamaha. That's a nuisance because the Yamaha is definitely a contender.

I'm going to sum up what I know:

It seems the CME keyboard is well-reviewed, has a heavy action, and is well-liked by the people who have one. Some of them include very skilled pianists, which has to be a plus. On the other hand, there are some doubts about the company. It has a poor reputation for customer support and does not often release new drivers or update its products. Communists playing at Capitalism, in other words.

Fatar keyboards seem to be a firm favourite among those that have one, but there are too many reports of poor build quality for me to ultimately feel comfortable buying one. Their quality control is not what it should be, by all accounts, and there are numerous accounts of broken keys and non-working sliders on reviews and user comments around the net. A dodgy choice.

Then we have the Yamaha KX8. Yamaha's GHS action, new design, Cubase integration and assured build quality and support. Downsides include no expression pedal socket, and some nasty gimmicky features that give the impression its not for the serious professional. Yamaha are always good at what they do, and they do have a reputation for making good keyboard designs. Has to be a serious contender.

Other suggestions include the M-Audio range, and the new Alesis keyboard. I own an M-Audio Axiom61 keyboard, and I can comfortably say I won't be buying another M-Audio product. They're a fair brand, but I don't like their software integration and they cut too many corners for comfort. I'm not sure about Alesis, either - they have never really released any products I would consider exceptional, tending to be a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none. I would give them a miss.

So it seems to come down to the CME, the Yamaha or the Fatar, and I'm having real doubts about the Fatar because of its reputation for bad build quality. I don't really want to be stuck with a machine that might give me trouble after a few months, or worse still when its out of warranty. A shame, because it would otherwise have been near the very top of the list.

So we have two left: the Yamaha, and the CME. I'm no fan of heavy action keys, so it may come down to that in the end. I'll think on it, but right now I'm favouring a Yamaha purchase.

So final chance to put in your thoughts: is the Yamaha the right purchase? Just like at the wedding when the vicar asks if there is anyone who has a reason for the wedding not to go ahead, can someone think of a reason why the Yamaha may not be the right choice?

Over to you ...
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:36 pm

DPolwarth wrote:So we have two left: the Yamaha, and the CME. I'm no fan of heavy action keys, so it may come down to that in the end. I'll think on it, but right now I'm favouring a Yamaha purchase.

I'm surprised that the CME series has been described as having a 'heavy action'. Here's what I had to say in my review of the UF8:

"I personally found the feel of the UF8 better than or at least as good as any of the other controllers I tried, particularly for the price. It has a positive feel with the right amount of initial resistance, give, and rebound. The action is deliberately not graded (heavier in the lower registers, and lighter at the top) because this controller is not intended solely for piano sounds, and this makes perfect sense. The action is reasonably light as well, and felt fairly similar in this respect to the majority of 'real' pianos I tried (I've never agreed with those that think that weighted keyboards should require a Charles Atlas bodybuilding course to accompany them). However, keyboard actions are a personal choice, and while many other musicians who have tried them seem to agree with my view, one did report that the UF8 felt a little 'spongy', so try before you buy if possible."

Here's my full review:

www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug05/articles/cmeuf8.htm


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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Wed Apr 22, 2009 3:52 pm

Your comments on the UF80 is surprising - most people on the forums seem to think that the CME is surprisingly hard to play. One person joked about how heavy the feel of the keys are, needing to hit them with earth-shattering power or something.

It could be something to do with the versions. On the CME website they claim that a new version is out, and it could be they have tweaked the action of the keyboard. They changed the colour as well. Mind you, I'm no expert - I'm just repeating the comments I've picked up. Also, the keyboard I'm looking at is called the UF80, not the UF8 - a different version perhaps?

By all means, if you feel the CME keyboard is the way to go then let me know.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Bob Moose » Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:08 pm

(wild guess) Perhaps it is because they modified the action some time ago. Yamaha did it lots of times, so why not CME?

Long time ago I had a Yamaha P-200 (used for shamefully replacing an acoustic piano in a small flat) that I sold because I really needed the half-pedal feature. I tried all the pianos in a shop and chose the P-250 over the RD700 and the Kawai MPC9500. And the action of the P-250 was really lighter than the one of the P-200. Actually some people had complained about the "dangerous" hardness of the P-200 on various forums. Fortunately I found the P-250 action adapted to my way of playing.
Later Yamaha released some new keyboards that were even softer to play, because for lots of pop players the P-250 was still too hard. I tried some and thought they were really too soft. If I played that for too long I would then be unable to play on an acoustic piano.
So today I don't really know how the Yamaha action is. Of course all this is not mentionned in the specifications. On some forums, there are some geeks who measure the weight required to depress a key (they have to do this on different octaves because the weight is different) and they compare it to whatever acoustic piano -- but on an acoustic piano the weight is easily tunable so it's something pretty useless to do. And the required weight is far from being the only parameter that often makes acoustic pianos somehow more difficult to play than electronic pianos, but with a better overall rendering...

Also, as some others already mentionned, different actions fit different sounds. I choose the P-250 because of its very good mapping between the key feeling and the Grand Piano 1 sound (yes, the Rhodes is crappy). Most probably, there were some pianos that sounded better or that had a better action than the P-250, but the mapping was not done properly, so the musical rendering in live was less good.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby John Reid » Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:17 pm

McGreevy wrote:On a quick skim through your thread it seems nobody has suggested the M-Audio Keystaion 88 Pro. I see other M-Audio devices have been mentioned, but strangely not this one.
I'd be very interested to hear some feedback from an 88Pro user ... this is on my own shortlist as well!
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:58 am

John Reid wrote:I'd be very interested to hear some feedback from an 88Pro user ... this is on my own shortlist as well!

I have the M-audio ProKeys 88, a stage piano which, I can only assume, has a similar action to the 88pro.

I'll be honest, I found the action to be a little clunky, and the unit has gradually become more unreliable. Granted, it did a lot of gigs, and was bashed about a lot, so I did expect a bit of wear-and-tear.

I wouldn't recommend it. The action just isn't fast enough for a competent player. The fatar, or roland keyboards have a much better action, in my opinion.
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby DPolwarth » Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:22 am

Okay guys, here's an update. I've managed to find the Yamaha KX8 on Soundslive for £399 - a great price when you consider that DV247 are charging £499 for it, and are selling a B-stock repaired item for the same price that Soundslive is charging for a brand new unit. The next cheapest is still £40 more expensive, so it looks like Soundslive are seriously undercutting the competition. Whilst they have none in stock at the moment, this gives me a breather. The item's on order, but I can always cancel before it comes in.

But I have nagging doubts. Should I have gone for the Fatar Studiologic, and risked a badly made keyboard? Should I have gone for the Chinese CME?

Have I made the right decision?

So here it is: please tell me what you would have bought had you been in my position, and give me your reasons. There is still time to change my mind, and I really would like to hear your opinions on this.

Thanks again, guys!


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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby Stephen Parker » Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:45 am

Just to correct some assumptions on Fatar - I used to be the distributor for both Fatar and CME so have a reasonable idea on them - and I'm not any more so can be relatively impartial.

Fatar keyboards strength is that their keyboard action is almost always better than the competition - they've been doing these for years and all of the bigger manufacturers used to use Fatar keys before some moved production in house.

The two weaknesses are that the older packaging used to be poor so that they would often sustain damage in transit - partly due to the older boxes being badly fitting, and partly because UK courier drivers don't tend to like carrying a 30kg keyboard - my favourite one was a courier picking up 3 or 4 keyboards from Arbiter, throwing them in the back of the van and then stamping on one to get the door shut - in front of me!!

I digress - second the MIDI controller sections were a little basic compared to the competition - you'll notice that their newer NUMA models (inc the NUMA NANO)don't really feature too many knobs or faders - they've decided to leave this to those manufacturers who do it better and concentrate on the keyboard playing action and the general packaging.

So to summarise - get a Fatar if you want really good keyboard action..

CME - they're well packaged and the UF series are pretty solid - there have been some USB issues but not a very large incidence of failure - we never got many back at all - build is good and features are pretty strong although I always found that there were sometimes a few too many features - ie you wished they hadn't tried to cram so much in.

hope that helps..

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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby The_BPP » Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:46 am

That's a good price for the KX8. I've used one, and it's perfectly acceptable. The difference between that and the equiv. Fatar model (SL990XP) is as much about personal taste as anything (as has been pointed-out already).
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Re: 88 key MIDI controllers - KX8, CME UF80, FATAR, what to get?

Postby onesecondglance » Thu Apr 23, 2009 10:05 am

Stephen Parker wrote:

I digress - second the MIDI controller sections were a little basic compared to the competition - you'll notice that their newer NUMA models (inc the NUMA NANO)don't really feature too many knobs or faders - they've decided to leave this to those manufacturers who do it better and concentrate on the keyboard playing action and the general packaging.

So to summarise - get a Fatar if you want really good keyboard action...

that's a good point - i've got an SL990 Pro and the action is great, but one of the keys has had a nasty squeak since day one as if one of the mechanisms has been damaged; still plays fine though so doesn't really bother me. i can well imagine how less-conscientious couriers would not exactly take care of them given their weight and bulk... you're right, too, that they've never really gone for lots of controllers - but then there are folks out there like myself who have no need for these, so if you're one of them i can't recommend Fatar enough.
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