KMI’s latest keyboards offer MPE control in compact and colourful packages.
For quite some years now, Keith McMillen Instruments (KMI) have been producing an assortment of MIDI and audio devices with LED‑backlit pressure‑sensitive pads. Here it’s the turn of two small, affordable keyboard controllers: the K‑Board‑C and the QuNexus RED, each the latest revision of earlier K‑Board and QuNexus products.
The K‑Board and QuNexus are pretty much identical in terms of shape, size, construction and features. The QuNexus sports some extra sockets that the K‑Board is missing, and much more labelling on the top panel. The K‑Board is available in a variety of colours, but thankfully, my review unit was a rather conservative slightly metallic‑looking grey. The case is plastic, though it seems pretty solid and tough. The QuNexus RED is, as its name suggests, bright red in colour making it look more toy‑like than the K‑Board, even though it’s the more expensive and capable model.
Each device sports a two‑octave C‑to‑C keyboard of mini‑key pads, all white‑ish in colour; these light up when played, the naturals in white and the sharps/flats in blue (which is the closest that modern technology comes to lighting up in black). The left‑hand side of the playing surface provides controls for octave shift, pitch‑bend and various programming options, such as selective enabling of velocity, aftertouch and key position or ‘tilt’. Both devices are USB powered and connect to a host via a USB‑C socket on the left‑hand edge.
We’ll start with the K‑Board, which is the simpler of the two models. The ‘keys’ don’t actually move, except for a very slight compression under pressure. Despite the lack of physical movement, the keys do generate MIDI velocity which feels pretty responsive and authentic. Channel aftertouch is supported, but since the keys operate by pressure, playing a key with high ‘velocity’ will trigger a note with considerable aftertouch at its onset.
Pitch‑bend is less than ideal. There’s a small dedicated pitch‑bend pad providing fiddly and not very accurate pitch control; I think if the physical pad were longer, it might work better. Rounding off the controls, there’s a momentary Sustain button, and a Toggle button, which turns the keys into note toggles, useful for holding chords or setting up drones. There’s a pair of octave up/down buttons, but they are rather small and rather too close to the bend pad and bottom C key, so it’s a bit too easy to accidentally trigger something when switching octave, or to accidentally switch octave while playing.
To unlock the full expressive power of the K‑Board, it needs to be switched into MPE mode in the dedicated editor app (and, of course, you need an MPE‑capable DAW and/or instrument). Polyphonic pressure works fine, with the proviso that notes trigger with some pressure already applied, as noted earlier, so fine control is difficult — some kind of pressure ‘dead zone’ would be useful...