Miniature controller keyboards can be incredibly useful for making music on location. The new Korg MicroKey family of velocity-sensitive USB-powered keyboards departs from convention only slightly, in that the smaller model also includes an arpeggiator function with tap tempo, but a decided bonus is that they all come bundled with some genuinely useful music software.
There are 25-, 37- and 61-key versions and with the MicroKey 25 and MicroKey 37 get you Korg's M1 Le software, which offers all the preset sounds and PCM waveforms of the original Korg M1 hardware synth. Also bundled are Applied Acoustics Systems' Strum Acoustic Session, Lounge Lizard Session electric piano, and Ultra Analog Session, plus a license for Toontrack's EzDrummer Lite. Discount coupons for various versions of Ableton's Live DAW software are included too. The MicroKey 61 comes with the same bundle, but instead of M1 Le you get the full Korg Legacy Collection Special Bundle, comprising five of Korg's classic synths: the MS20 analogue mono synth, the Polysix, the MonoPoly analogue synth, the M1, and the still quite wonderful Wavestation, with all the extra patches. There's also a suite of 19 effects plug-ins. In total, that's quite a package, so it could be argued that this bundle is a real bargain even before you look at the keyboard itself.
Speaking of the keyboards, they all have pitch-bend and modulation controls (a joystick on the 25-key version, wheels on the larger models), octave shift and transpose capability. All have dual USB ports and offer the same functionality as each other, except the number of keys, and the lack of arpeggiator on the two larger models. No additional driver is needed for operation, and although there's no specific iOS connectivity, the keyboards will work with an iPad over USB via a Camera Connection Kit. The key action is what Korg term 'Natural Touch', and it feels pretty good to me, considering the diminutive form factor. A degree of keyboard customisation is available using the free-to-download Korg Kontrol Editor software, which allows you to tinker with the velocity curves, reassign the mod and pitch controls, and so on.
The narrower sharp and flat keys give these little keyboards a more spacious and comfortable feel than other miniature models I've tried, and those lightly sprung keys also feel better than most. Turning on the MicroKey 25's arpeggiator results in a simple pulsed-gate kind of effect, but as you turn the pitch-bend control up or down, it changes to a simple run-up-the-notes arpeggiator. This is hardly the stuff of dreams, but it's still much better than not having it, and I'm struggling to understand why it's missing on the larger models. The only control you have from the front panel on those is octave up and down, so any deeper editing requires the Kontrol software, but that's straightforward enough. Altogether, then, whichever model you choose, these keyboards represent decent value, particularly when you factor in the included software. Paul White
MicroKey 25 £59.99; MicroKey 37 £83.99; MicroKey 61 £167.99. Prices include VAT.
MicroKey 25 $69.99; MicroKey 37 $79.99; MicroKey 61 $179.99.