Miditech's new 49‑key take on the simple MIDI keyboard controller adds a panel of assignable knobs for even more control potential — and all for well under £200.
Dedicated MIDI controller boxes, such as Kenton's Control Freak and Philip Rees's C16, have been one of the niche‑market successes of recent years. Fitted with either knobs or sliders, such hardware controllers allow real‑time access to common synth parameters via MIDI controller data, thus making the use of soundcard‑based MIDI sources, virtual mixers or software synths and samplers much more pleasurable.
This type of unit is most likely to appeal to musicians whose master keyboard does not include hardware controls for real‑time alteration of MIDI parameters. This is not an uncommon situation, as many people get by with one of the simple ('dumb') master keyboards provided by the likes of Roland, Fatar or Evolution. While these provide features such as a pitch wheel, mod wheel and velocity sensitivity, they leave you at the mercy of your mouse when it comes to anything more creative in terms of sound tweaking — one reason for the success of the dedicated MIDI controller box.
However, German manufacturer Miditech have now combined these two functions in one product; their new Midicontrol is a simple MIDI keyboard which also features 12 assignable knobs capable of generating MIDI continuous controller data. What's more, it is competitively priced.
The Midicontrol features a four‑octave, velocity‑sensitive keyboard plus the usual pitch and modulation wheels. A single data‑entry slider is also included next to the three‑digit LED. The MIDI/Select button immediately beneath the LED provides access to some other basic MIDI settings such as MIDI channel, an Octave Shift function for the keyboard output (with a range of two octaves up or down), and the Transpose function (with a range of plus or minus three semitones).
The rear panel features a sustain pedal input, a standard MIDI output and a 15‑pin 'D' connector for direct connection to the 'game' port of a suitable PC soundcard. Using the supplied cable, this socket acts as a MIDI Out from the Midicontrol and also supplies power from the PC to the keyboard. Finally, there is a power switch and a socket for the supplied 9V DC power adaptor, for those not using the 'D' connector. If you like neither alternative, the keyboard can even be powered via batteries. Aside from the slim manual, the only other item included is a CD containing a full version of Steinberg's Cubasis AV, providing a maximum of eight stereo audio tracks; a useful addition for those new to PC music‑making.
In use, the keyboard itself is very functional and similar in feel to the likes of the Roland PC200 or PC300 series. The pitch and mod wheels do their job nicely, and using the MIDI/Select button to access functions like channel select or pitch transpose is very simple, thanks to the clear legending (although the pitch wheel is labelled 'Pith' on the review model...). All these operations are described concisely in the manual.
Of more interest here are the 12 real‑time controller knobs. As on the Gmedia Phat Boy, these output MIDI continuous controllers, but there is no SysEx support, unlike on the pricier Kenton Control Freak. By default, the controller knobs are assigned to continuous controllers 10 to 22 on MIDI channel 1, but each can be assigned to any combination of controller number and MIDI channel. This is achieved by pressing the MIDI/Select key followed by the Set Controller key (B below middle C on the keyboard). Tweaking one of the knobs selects it, and the numeric keys at the top end of the keyboard can then be used to enter the desired controller number.
This 'user‑defined' style of controller assignment provides plenty of flexibility and, if batteries are installed in the Midicontrol, any controller assignments made by the user are retained after the mains power is turned off. The keyboard does not, however, feature preset modes, as found on GMedia's Phat Boy, which instantly configure all the controllers for use with certain GS, XG or Soundblaster sound sources. Nor does Midicontrol offer the Snapshot option found on Kenton's more expensive Control Freak, which transmits all the current controller settings for recording into a sequencer.
Using the Midicontrol with both Logic and Reason proved highly satisfactory. Within Logic, I was able to tweak the various controls of the ES1 software synth, the EXS24 sampler and the SW1000XG soundcard installed in the test PC without any problem; any parameter that responded to continuous controller data was easily altered without needing to delve into Logic's MIDI Transformer options. The excellent MIDI Remote Mapping facility within Reason allowed hardware controllers to be assigned to particular synth or sampler parameters at the software end, and the Midicontrol worked flawlessly with this.
Aside from saying that the Miditech Midicontrol does exactly what it is supposed to, the only other comment of note is that the knobs themselves are sturdy and quite firm in operation, but they don't prevent energetic control movements (for example to generate wild filter sweeps) if that's what's required.
The Midicontrol ought to appeal to anyone looking for a simple keyboard/hardware controller combination for use with their software‑based studio. Putting both devices into the same box is an excellent idea; I understand that a couple of other manufacturers are already following suit. Given that the unit can operate from batteries, it would make a neat front‑end for the musician on the move with a software studio installed on a laptop — why carry two pieces of hardware around when you can just carry one? Saving a bit of desk space might also be useful for all those SOS readers whose families insist their studios are confined to the cupboard under the stairs!
The Midicontrol might lack some of the more sophisticated facilities found on more expensive hardware controller devices, but it's nevertheless a very affordable means of preventing mouse‑induced RSI for all those musicians using software synths, samplers and soundcards. If a basic four‑octave keyboard is sufficient and all your tweaking needs can be satisfied by access to continuous controllers, then the Midicontrol could be for you.
- Keyboard and controllers all in one box.
- Mouse‑free real‑time sound tweaking via 12 knobs.
- Very simple to use.
- Only MIDI continuous controllers are supported — SysEx cannot be used.
- No preset modes for use with popular synth formats such as GS or XG.
- No snapshot option.
A cost‑effective one‑box solution suited to anyone needing a simple master keyboard and a hardware controller for use with software synths and samplers, or soundcard‑based sound sources.