Review: Korg microKEY USB Keyboard Controller
For most musicians, micro keyboards are a necessary evil, meant to fill in when either portability or space makes it impractical to use your full-sized keyboard. Korg’s microKEY 37-Key Midi Controller ($79.99 at Amazon) is actually one of the LEAST EVIL microKeyboards we’ve seen (they are free to use that quote in their marketing material), and while I won’t say you’d ever trade in your full-sized midi controller for the micro, you also won’t be composing through your tears of frustration.
Probably the thing that takes the most getting used to on a micro Keyboard is… the size. That may seem obvious, but depending on your proficiency and adaptability, the length of the keys can be a little tricky to master if you are used to the real deal. However, again, if you are primarily using the microKEY (as do I) for GarageBand work, this was less of an issue as I tend to use it to hammer out various instrument sounds vs playing straight piano. But all that being said, making the adjustment wasn’t too difficult, and if you are a decent player you should have no trouble.
The microKEY feels quite light, which is a good thing in a portable keyboard, although it fell just this side of felling “toy-like” to me. The micoKEY line comes in 3 sizes – 25, 37, and 61 key models. I tested the 37 key unit. I would imagine the 25 key version would indeed feel like a toy (not that it wouldn’t perform well) although the smaller 25-key version has a nice iPad-related feature its big brothers do not (more on that in a bit).
The casing has a bit of a hollow feel to it, but the keys are well-made and have a nice feel to them. They are not weighted however, but they are velocity-sensing and DO respond to pressure (meaning a louder sound comes from pressing harder). Overall the design is fine, if not uninspired. Basically it looks like a keyboard. Only smaller.
The microKEY is truly plug and play, as all you need to do is plug the USB cable into your Mac and you should be good to go. there is no external power supply required. If you have GarageBand open, you’ll be greeted with the “the number of available midi inputs has changed” message, and you can start playing immediately.
It should be noted that the Korg site DOES have specific Korg midi drivers available for download as well, but the default OS X drivers seem to work perfectly.
Despite it’s size and light weight, the Korg microKEY has the most important features midi users will be looking for, as well as a couple nice extras. First, there’s the Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels located on the left side. I don’t think I have ever used the Modulation wheel in my life, at least not properly, but the pitch bend wheel worked well, so I’ll assume the modulation wheel does what it’s supposed to do as well.
There are also two Octave Up/Down buttons, which can extend the range of the microKEY by four octaves in either direction, essentially giving you a full-sized keyboard.
On the side of the microKEY are two USB ports (type A) that allow you either hook up additional midi devices (Korg recommend their nanoPAD2) but you can also hook up ANY USB device, which means the microKey can act as a 2-port USB hub. This is a great feature as USB ports are even more in-demand than desktop space – at least at my house.
One final goodie that the microKEY family brings to the table is the ability to work with Garageband (or other compatible midi apps) on the iPad. In order to do this, you will need to buy Apple’s $30 iPad camera connection kit adapter, however. Also, it should be noted that iPad compatibility is one area where the 25-key microKEY has an advantage over the two larger models. The 25-key can connect to an iPad without the need for an external USB power supply (the iPad itself supplies the power to the microKEY). On the 37 and 61 key models, you will need to plug the microKEY into a powered USB hub first, which more or less eliminates the portability advantage of using the iPad to begin with. But it’s nice to know it’s possible I suppose.
The microKEY comes with a couple downloadable software titles and discount coupons for other software which Korg claims are over an $800 value. In general these are all light versions and discounts on more expensive software, so I’d imagine if you own GarageBand then that’s where most of you will want to stay. For those desiring more control over their microKEY’s functions, The Korg Kontrol Editor can be used to change advanced settings such as the velocity curve (how pressure sensitive the keys are), the midi channel the microKey transmits on as well as Mod wheel settings. (I took a quick look in here and got scared – these settings are obviously for someone with more talent than I have – but luckily if you mess things up you can always reset your microKEY back to the default settings by holding down both the Octave up and e Down buttons simultaneously).
Sometimes I feel bad couching a recommendation under the lines “For what it is, it’s great”, but the microKEY really is a niche product, and fills that niche quite nicely. Full-time digital composers will still need the “real thing”, but for beginners, or professionals looking for portability or a second midi controller that won’t take up the entire room, the microKEY is a great choice.
Price: ($79.99 at Amazon)
Pros: Compact, well made, acts as a USB hub; plug and play with the Mac
Cons: iPad connection requires a powered hub; No foot pedal support