PC-MIDI Keyboards


Although most PCs available in the marketplace today are MIDI-ready right out of the box, and some even bundle great software sequencers too, there's no getting anywhere far with this unless one also has a sensible input device to feed in basic data ~ such as a MIDI-keyboard.

In turn, the basic range of MIDI keyboards available globally spans a mind-boggling price range, from the equivalent of under $100 (US), all the way through to $4,000/-,... and up!

With one of the biggest things about MIDI being that the technology enables even amateurs to incrementally create, edit and compose great music, there's a lot of easy confusion to be found in the burgeoning mass of budgeted buy-decisions that have led to the mushrooming of keyboard-stockists all over the world today.

For starters, a seemingly "equivalent" Casio or Yamaha keyboard can for example often be had for half the price of a "similar" Roland or Korg. We all know that at the end of the day there's actually a bundle of reasonably good reasons why this should be so,.. but that includes oodles of connoisseur and Hi-Pro extras and detail that most buyers never even use or (often) discover!

On the other hand, taking the low road can often lead to finding oneself without capabilities that can become a niggling bother over time, of the sort that has led so many keyboard owners towards each owning more than one.

Against that backdrop, PC users looking to economically and ergonomically explore MIDI through their computers may want to take a look at basic keyboard controllers instead, like those featured here, as a super-economy alternative to resolving the dilemma with a stop-gap. Each is available in the global marketplace within about $200, and is barely larger than the keys alone. The fantastic Evolution keyboard (right) even comes in a 2-octave version called the Dance Station, which is small enough to be chucked away in a desk-drawer when not in use.

Keep in mind however, that such MIDI controller keyboards can do absolutely nothing independently ~ no ready styles or drum-beats, no choices on voices,.. they often cannot even independently let out a squeak, leave aside a musical note.

What they can do however, is generate signals that are universally decodable into regular audio by software and hardware sequencers, samplers, sound-modules and other MIDI-compatible devices, that can each alone transform any average person's experience of making music.

The Roland PC-series
Desktop Music/Midi Master-keyboard. . .

Coming as it does from the mighty MIDI-Maharishis of Roland, the PC-200 MK II is a bit of a surprise, coloured the typical "home computer" beige in plastic that marks out the unit as a new exploration aimed at the home market.

However, the four-octave keyboard sports the usual Roland pitch-lever (combining pitchbend and modulation control), velocity sensing (but no aftertouch), a programmable data entry fader, and can send bank select and program changes.

To some, key travel may feel a bit shallow and the velocity curve may somewhat lack resolution, but on the upside, the unit is a cheap and reasonably effective package with a more pro-level style than the entry-level range of their Japanese counterpart, Yamaha.

The PC-180 apparently bridges the gap between Roland's smaller PC-160 and larger PC-200 MkII ~ both of which are apparently now defunct. It has 49 full-size keys stretched just over four octaves, with velocity-sensitivity,.. but with aftertouch available only via an extra keyboard function that's hardly intuitive. There's also the standard Roland pitch/modulation stick to add expression, a socket on the rear panel for a sustain pedal, dedicated MIDI channel and bank message keys and a data-slider that can have any continuous controller message assigned to it.

In playing, there's little of the 'plastic' feel suggested by first look, but extra key functions could have been more intuitive.

Bundled extras include a mains adapter and a MIDI lead, but no software,.. and the sustain pedal is extra. This however keeps the price down, and owners of Roland Sound Canvas and other modules may be just as interested in this buy as computer users looking to make a bit of music on the side.

Bottomline? It's a cheap full-size keyboard, but there are alternatives at the price.

 The Evolution MK-149
"Music Creator Pro"

This one seems to be partly about best-kept secrets, for it's unavailable and even unknown amongst keyboard-stockists in most markets of the world ~ outside Europe and the UK, from where it originates.

In package form, the keyboard comes with the Triple Soft music software package and an adapter/cable for connecting the keyboard's MIDI out to a PC soundcard's joystick socket.

The MK-149 is amongst the cheapest full-size keyboard variants available, but Evolution hasn't skipped the features. Pitch-bend and modulation wheels sit alongside the 49-key, velocity-sensitive keyboard, while the rear panel has sockets for a 9V adapter (not included), MIDI and a hold pedal (also not included).

A big plus is that control functions have their own buttons, so you don't have to juggle button-key combinations,.. and there's an LED display. Independent buttons make setting wheel assignments, calling up new programs, transposing the keyboard and all manner of other functions as intuitive as possible, and there's even a slider for setting the volume on your current MIDI channel!

Surging even further up the VFM curve, the MK-149 also has ten alternative velocity curves to fit your style of playing, and six memories to hold Bank and Program Change messages, making it easy to call up new sounds at the press of a button.

So what's the downside?

Other than a slightly amateur "feel" to some, nothing really to knock it on value for your money.

  • 49 Full sized Keys - Velocity Sensitive.
  • Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheels.
  • Standard MIDI connection.
  • 256 Track Evolution Audio Sequencer
  • Score edit with printing.
  • Virtual Band with jammer - 16 Funky Styles
  • Mixer, Piano Roll, Event List Windows.
  • Supplied with PC connector lead.
  • Supplied with Evolution Audio Software.
  • Software-upgrade to Pro-version possible.

Evolution Audio Software:PC Windows music sequencer with 256 tracks, audio track, chord track, piano roll editor, event list editor, score editor with printing, 16 channel mixing window with effects controls, etc.
256 Tracks
reverb and chorus (If supported by your Sound Card)
Timing correction feature (Quantize) if notes not recorded on the beat
Full control over tempo, time signature and key of songs
Transpose option
Conductor Display
Cycle Record / Play modes. (Great for building up drum patterns!)
Piano Roll editor for quick and easy viewing of note information
Step Time recording.
Configurable Fast Menu option
Velocity / Pitch and Length Processing
Load/Save Standard MIDI file formats 0/1
Cut/Copy/Paste in all Windows
Full control over volume and panning levels in 16 track mixer screen
Windows 95 compatible
Access to ALL the sounds on your Sound Card
Direct software sync with Samplitude Hard Disk Recording program. This allows you to record, edit and play back audio samples in sync with your MIDI sequence without any additional hardware!
Add vocals, drum loops or any Audio samples to your songs (up to CD quality )
Chord track with 16 preset styles for instant song creation
On-Screen keyboard for instant jamming
Playright Mode (never play a wrong note)
Instant Chord Mode (Hit one key and hear an instant chord - Ideal for dance tunes!)
Single Fingered Chord Mode. Turn your PC into a Music Keyboard!
Display and edit notes in traditional musical notation
Score Editor with Printing
Drum Track Editor
GM Patch list with GS/XG bank select options.

more info: Evolution UK: 01525 372621