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I have long been a fan of wireless gear. Having cables strewn around the place always seems a little archaic to me, especially in 2016. So when Korg sent me their new wireless controller keyboard, the microKEY Air to test out it was always going to be of interest. They sent me the 37 key version but it also comes in 25, 49 and 61 key formats. I specifically asked them to send me the 37 key version because I think it’s a perfect balance of portability and usability.
There isn’t a great deal to say about the hardware. The case is of course plastic, which is fine as it’s light and seems pretty robust. There are just 4 controls, a pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel accompanied by octave up down buttons. The keys are of the mini synth action variety but good quality. They are supposed to be exactly the same as on the microARRANGER but I found the travel to be much shorter…which for me made it easier to play.
Connections are minimal. There is a usb port just in case the bluetooth powered wireless function is either not available on the device you want to connect to or the batteries have run out of juice (you’ll get 6-8hrs normally). There is also an assignable connection for a foot controller.
So, minimalist for sure but it does what it needs to do and does it well. I didn’t have any issues using the microKEY Air over bluetooth although I should point out it does require bluetooth version 4 or above in order to function. Since my iMac is of the older variety and my pc was not bluetooth equipped I had to buy an adapter in order to use the keyboard in wireless mode. However it was something I had intended to purchase for a while now and it only cost just shy of £11.00 so no big deal really. There are cheaper bluetooth v4.0 adapters out there but bear in mind not all products are created equally so it may be cheap but it also may not work or work intermittently. Stick with a name manufacturer. I bought an Asus USB-BT400 and it worked fine on both PC and Mac.
One of the issues that often plagues a lot of wireless gear is “latency“. There are many different types of latency but in regard to what we are discussing here it’s the delay between you pressing a key and hearing the resulting output. On some wireless gear I have used in the past, there has been a noticeable delay and whilst this is not too much of a problem if your just entering notes into a DAW one at a time it certainly IS a problem if your playing live. It’s extremely hard to play smoothly when the keys you press are not corresponding to what your hearing.
I’m happy to report that I found no latency whatsoever when using the microKEY Air. It works just as beautifully with the nuances of a virtual acoustic grand as it does with a pounding analogue synth. So for once I can say latency is definitely not an issue you need to worry about with this particular controller.
So that’s the controller itself out of the way and so far so good. You might say ok it’s just another controller, why should I buy this one over any other? Well first off it’s a Korg, that’s always a plus for me but the real value in this package is the software that it comes with, of which there is a generous amount. Korg value this bundle at over $800 and whilst I wouldn’t go quite that far as some of it consists of “light version” software, there are indeed some gems in there that are definitely worth having.
So what do you get? Well first up is a set of softsynths called Digital Synsations by a company called UVI. This may be of particular interest to our Yamaha users because included is a softsynth called DS77, which as you may guess from the title is a sort of software version of the SY77. I say “sort of” because it is of course not a full emulation of the SY77 but it is FM and it does contain a lot of what will be very familiar pre-sets even if they do not have the same names.
Next in the Digital Synsations package is DS1. This is their take on the Korg M1 and although it’s nice to have it does not compete with Korgs own software version of the M1. Still a lot of fun though.
Following this is DSX, which an emulation of the Ensoniq VFX keyboard. I was a big fan of the VFX when it came out back in 1989 but of course could not afford one at the time. I’m not sure how close it is to the real thing but since the hardware version doesn’t come up often in the used ads this will certainly fill the gap for now.
Lastly we have the DS90s which I think is UVI’s take on the Roland D50 but having owned a D50 myself I can’t say I recognise anything here except in general terms. I also have the Native Instruments Kontakt version and that does sound very familiar so if your looking for a more realistic emulation then I suggest that may well be the way to go however, the version here is included free so in that sense it’s a bonus and definitely worth having.
Other software that is bundled is as follows :
- KORG Gadget Le – KORG Gadget offers a collection of more than 20 different synthesizers and drum machines called “Gadgets ” which you can freely combine to produce powerful electronic music. KORG Gadget Le is a function limited edition of it. The sounds and functions are expanded if you use “KORG Gadget Le” with KORG Controller products.
- KORG Module Le for iPhone – KORG Module Le for iPhone is a function limited edition of high-quality mobile sound module app that’s ideal both for performance and for music production, and features a pro-level high-quality sound library. In addition to the iPad version, it’s now available for iPhone as well.
The sounds and functions are expanded if you use “KORG Module Le” with KORG Controller products.
- M1 Le – M1 Le is a special version of the M1 software synthesizer included in the Korg Legacy Collection series. M1 Le brings to your computer the sounds of the ground-breaking M1 music workstation. Using your bundle license code you can upgrade to the Korge Legacy Collection special bundle for $99.00
- Applied Acoustic Systems Pack – A license for “Lounge Lizard Session“. * “Lounge Lizard Session” is the physical modelling sound module from Applied Acoustics Systems, famed for its richly expressive electric piano sounds.* For details on this software, please refer to. Also included in this pack is Ultra Analogue Session and Strum Session. The License for these is included with the software bundle but you register separately on the AAS website.
- Propellerhead Reason Limited Edition – Reason Limited is an all in one music production program that gives you many of the features found in our flagship software Reason—while keeping some of the complexity in check. At the heart of our entire Reason line of software is its legendary creative flow. The studio rack, the sequencer, and the interactive way sound is controlled in Reason Limited means you can stay focused on the one thing that’s most important to you: making music. *For details on this software, please refer to the following URL: www.propellerheads.se/products/reason-limited/
- Ableton “Live” Series (Discount Coupon) – This coupon gives you a $50/€30 discount off the price of “Ableton Live,” “Ableton Suite,” “Ableton Live Intro”*, or any other software product from the Ableton web shop.
Considering you can buy the Korg microKey Air 25 for just £75.00/$129 you could look at it this way. You pay a very small amount for a lot of software and get a very able and versatile controller thrown in for free! The Digital Synsations pack alone retails at £155.00/199.00€/$226.00 so taking into account all the other software that comes bundled with the microKEY Air I would say it’s a pretty good deal.
Of course you don’t even have to buy the “Air” version of microKEY, you could just buy the standard microKEY 25 at just £49.00/$71.00/62.00€ and because you get the same bundle your into an even better value deal!
So I suppose the question is, would I personally buy the Korg microKEY Air? Well I guess the answer is in the fact that I still have it two months after Korg loaned it to me and I use it every day. Yes yes I know it doesn’t have the usual myriad of knobs, sliders and other control functions that seem to be prevalent on a lot of controllers these days but I don’t need them. I have other keyboards here for that. What it does have is a good quality mini keyboard, no cables…although I can plug one in if need be, great battery life and a fantastic software bundle which provides something for everyone and all at a good price. I will miss it when it goes back and I think that says it all.
Korg brings you even more compact controller options with the new microKEY and microKEY AIR Series:
microKEY can be completely powered by an iPad or iPhone and now offers a pedal input for sustain (micoKEY25 offers a sustain button). There’s also a new 49-key version for the two-handed player that still wants compact.
microKEY AIR – To accommodate simpler and quicker setups, or to simply unwire and unclutter your rig, the microKEY Air series features Apple’s Wireless Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) standard, which provides long battery life and extremely low latency! They also have standard USB connections.
Both come with a comprehensive software bundle to advance your plug in library, or serve as your starting point to making music using your computer or iOS device!
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