With full-sized velocity-sensitive keys and versatile control capabilities, Evolution's diminutive MK125 could find many uses as a MIDI remote keyboard. Martin Walker tries one out for size.
Although keyboard players ideally need their mixer, computer keyboard and MIDI keyboard all positioned between the speakers for perfect monitoring, most of us have to compromise when it comes to studio layout. With this in mind I was intrigued by Evolution's tiny two-octave keyboard, and wondered if it could solve problems by fitting in where a full-size controller would be out of the question.
The MK125 is just 18.5 inches wide, 8 inches deep, and 3.25 inches high. It will therefore sit neatly on top of a rack of other gear; it's also exactly the same width as my computer keyboard. Despite its small size, the MK125 features a 25-key two-octave keyboard with full-sized velocity-sensitive keys, a centre-sprung pitch-bend wheel and assignable modulation wheel on the left-hand side, a three-digit LED display above them, and a comprehensive selection of buttons along the top surface that send out various MIDI messages. On its back panel is a standard MIDI Out socket, quarter-inch jack socket for a sustain pedal, an on-off slider switch for power, and an input for any suitable 9- to 12-Volt DC power adapter. It can be powered by six AA-size batteries, while computer owners can use the supplied adaptor lead to connect it to a soundcard game port, from which it can also take its power.
EVOLUTION MK125 £70
Compact enough to tuck into many places in the studio.
Full-sized velocity-sensitive keys.
Pitch-bend and assignable modulation wheels.
At this price, no-one could grumble at anything.
An ideal solution for any musician who needs a versatile remote keyboard for MIDI control that can fit almost anywhere -- even on your lap!
The most important thing for most musicians is the feel of the keyboard, although this tends to be a very subjective judgement. Personally, I found the light synth action of the MK125 to be responsive to the touch, even when playing complex chords that place some fingers towards the top of the keys, where other low-cost models can be almost unplayable. Compared with top-end synths it did feel spongy, but at this price you can hardly complain.
All command functions use dedicated buttons, so your musical keys are thankfully not used as multi-function selection devices. Numeric selections can be made either directly with the row of 0 to 9 keys, or by using the +/- buttons. You can select any MIDI transmit channel from 1 to 16, change Program number from 0 to 127, send Bank Change messages in MSB/LSB format, and even save presets to the first six numeric keys which each include a Program Change, Bank LSB and Bank MSB setting.
Given the limited number of keys, it's important that you can generate the full 10-octave MIDI range easily. This is done using the dedicated pair of octave up/down buttons, which let you transpose up to 3/+4 octaves from the default C3 to C5 range. The Transposer button also lets you shift the keyboard pitch from 12 to +12 in semitone steps, and 12 alternative velocity curves are available to suit most styles of playing, including three fixed-velocity settings that could prove ideal for entering drum data. The default setting seemed best to me.
The modulation wheel can generate any of 119 MIDI controller data types, along with pitch bend sensitivity, fine and coarse tune, channel pressure, and velocity. I found it ideal in conjunction with VST Instruments for sweeping filter frequency, resonance or even the pitch of the oscillators in real time. I was pleased to find that the sustain pedal socket is intelligent -- if you find that your footswitch is wired up with the up position as On and down as Off, rather than the other way round, simply hold the switch down as you power-up and this will be corrected. However, none of the MK125's settings are remembered on power-down.
The MK125 keyboard proved so useful that I bought the review model, which is now in daily use in my studio. You can buy it direct from Evolution, but many music retailers also stock it, as well as PC World and Argos. For those with more talent than space, Evolution's MK125 Dance Station could prove an essential purchase.
The MK125 also comes with a CD-ROM containing Dance Station software (for PCs only, requiring a minimum of a Pentium 120MHz processor, 16Mb RAM, and Windows 95/98). This is a real-time dance production package that allows the user to mix their own songs live, using the keyboard to polyphonically trigger audio sample loops. The graphics are slick, and you can record your real-time performances using a piano-roll style display. The CD-ROM includes 1000 pre-looped samples mostly matched by tempo from 100bpm to 160bpm, along with various vocal and rap phrases (I even found a quote from John Lennon in there!), and you can also import your own WAV files. It's fun, but I imagine that most SOS readers will want the package for the keyboard rather than the software!