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Keyboards and sound modules

The selection and use of keyboards and sound modules (MIDI modules) in the recording studio.

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Every studio needs at least one keyboard, and even if you can’t play too well yourself, you can always get someone in who can.

The major keyboard manufacturers change their models often, and what today is the sleekest, sexiest, most desirable thing around will be sold off at a knock-down price in two years time.

But don’t worry. Buy the best and aim to develop a lasting relationship with it. You may get bored with it after a few months - that’s relationships for you - but in the long term you will find that you learn how to get more and more out of it and achieve far more satisfaction than those who continue to play the field (that’s relationships for you too!).

I would definitely advise only to consider the manufacturer’s standard top of the range model.

You don’t need an 88-note piano-style keyboard or wooden case (I’m sure you know if you have a special requirement for these features). Just the standard top of the range model. If you can’t afford it, then you might consider buying a lesser model, but look for something that you can live with and, as I said, don’t plan on trading up later because you’ll lose out financially.

Get the top of another manufacturer’s range when you are able to.

If you are buying your first keyboard, then there are certain points you need to bear in mind. The safe option is to buy a keyboard with a good range of basic sounds; pianos, strings, basses, drums etc. These basic sounds are used all the time, and if you don’t have them then you will wish you did.

Other keyboards which produce more specialized sounds and not the basics are best left for your second purchase.

Of course if you really want to be innovative, the most common sounds are best left alone, so feel free to ignore my advice - I wouldn’t like to see everyone taking the safe option just because I said so.

You should buy a keyboard on the strength of the sounds it produces. Other features like the editing facilities and number of outputs are significant. But you will get more value out of a keyboard with great sounds that you can access easily, than one that sounds a bit iffy, yet has great editing facilities and squillions of outputs.

I mention outputs because many users want to set up a MIDI-sequenced home studio rather than one with a multitrack recorder.

This would be a mistake.

Even if a keyboard has multiple outputs, they may be fiddly to use, and you may not be able to apply effects individually to a mix of programs. If I thought a keyboard sounded great, I would buy it even if it only had one stereo output. (In fact even if it only had a mono output, and I would use it with external effects!).

A useful alternative to a standard keyboard is a MIDI master keyboard and sound module, or modules.

A master keyboard, sometimes called a mother keyboard, has no sounds of its own but is simply a controller. Some of these, if you look around, can be amazingly cheap and they will do their job effectively, if sometimes not elegantly.

Of course you get what you pay for and a top of the range master keyboard should last you a lifetime, and it has no sounds of its own to go out of date. Multi-timbral modules can be extremely good value for money and useful either in a multitrack studio or MIDI sequenced setup.

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By David Mellor Monday March 17, 2003
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