Keylab 88 MKII or S88 MK2 or something else?


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My first post here, so hi everyone!

I need some help here as bit stuck atm. I’m looking for a MIDI controller with a good piano feel. Doesn’t have to be perfect, as I was never a good piano player, but must have hammer action keys.

At the moment I’m considering two: Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 and Arturia Keylab 88 MKII and this would be the price point I would be looking for (not saying I cannot stretch the budget though, but it would have to be reasonable).

I like the look of a piano, but they usually don’t have as much functionality as other keyboards. Ideally I would build a piano-like custom cabinet for the keyboard :D Also pianos wouldn’t give me much software in the bundle I guess.

Purpose of buying:
  • Creating backing tracks to jam over it with my guitar, or just sing (ideally it would come with a software to do so, both above do)
  • Playing piano (ideally playing standalone is possible, but I accepted with two above that it won’t work and I will need to connect a laptop, and it’s fine as well)
  • I probably would never use it live, but maybe…
There are differences, and here’s my thoughts:
  • Software UI - I prefer Analog Lab, but I only played with Demo, and free version of Komplete Kontrol (used with Garage Band, and vmpk)
  • Sounds - both look like more than I would ever need
  • Keylab has drum pads (not that I’m that much into beat, but having an option and not using is better than needing and not having)
  • Keylab has more controls so you click less I guess?
  • S88’s screens are useful if on your laptop screen you only show Ableton Live, and then you don’t need to switch (with Keylab screen is pretty minimalistic)
  • Guiding LEDs in S88 are awesome, as I’m not a great piano player, and even to learn and practice they would be useful imo, and they would allow me to start real quick
  • Keylab have both laptop and music stands, I know you can buy them separately and most of the time I may not even use them, but it’s very convenient to have them
  • Analog Lab can only be installed on one machine, where Komplete Kontrol on 3, so I could have it on a home computer, and laptop to use while commuting
  1. Do you have any thoughts on above and help me choose which one and why (please give reasons)?
  2. Are there any other keyboards (pianos) I should consider? I'm open to any recommendation as will do my research anyways and it's not that urgent.
Thanks in advance!
 
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SeaGtGruff

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If I were buying for myself, I'd probably go with the KeyLab. :)
 
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I have an Arturia Keylab but not the 88 key version so cannot comment upon the action of that model. I have a 49 key version but the unit is well constructed and the buttons and controls are robust. It did come with some nice software especially one that emulates the Classic Rhodes keyboards of the Seventies.

I have looked at and tried a Komplete 88 which was extremely well made, had a great keybed action and Ferrari like controls, and a price to match.

I cannot reason why you must have hammer action, I can understand it for a full keyboard but not for a midi controller where the prime purpose is creating backing tracks.

Both these midi controllers are not cheap items where for similar cash you could buy a proper keyboard and make use of the onboard sounds within the keyboard in a DAW. A keyboard with 61 keys and synth action is more that good enough for DAW activities, plus it will save you cash.

For 88 keys check out a Roland Juno 88 or a Korg Kross 2 88 (which has a very good onboard sequencer).

Another keyboard to consider is the Numa Compact 2 88, which is another I have looked at and tried, it is very well made and well cheaper than your two choices.

Finally consider an Arranger keyboard, with my Korg PA I can uses its multi track recording features and onboard sounds to create a MIDI file far easier than can be achieved on a DAW, the resultant file can then be exported to an Audio file for playback within the keyboard.
 
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Thanks @Biggles. So hammer action was mainly for a piano feel which is also quite high on my requirement list. I don't have that much space to have few instruments, and was thinking about buying everything in one package. I was even thinking about buying a smaller MIDI controller, and then Roland F140R as a piano. Also was wondering if piano only would be an option to work as a MIDI controller.

So simply got a lot to think of atm...

@anotherscott thanks
 
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Smaller MIDI controllers will have a synth action keybed, it is just the way it is, I do not know of any with less than 88 keys that have hammer action, but no doubt one of the other members will advise if that is the case.

I have just looked at the costs of the two controllers on your short list:-

Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 retails for £829

Arturia Keylab 88 MKII retails for £799.

Which is quite a fair amount of hard earned cash hence we would be be offering questionable advice if we did not present alternatives to you and whilst both are excellent there are alternatives.

A Korg Kross 2 synth/workstation retails for £819, has hammer action, inbuilt sequencer and over 1000 onboard instrument sounds, hundreds of drum and arpeggiator patterns are also inbuilt. You can use it as a MIDI controller and Korg even have free editing software available to use with the Kross 2. Playback could be via the Kross 2 or via a PC so offering far greater and easier functioning.

Other keyboards also have similar capabilities and could offer far better vfm to you.

Previously I did suggest an Arranger, now no you are not going to have hammer action but you will still have MIDI controller via your favourite DAW capabilities but essentially an onboard DAW which is far quicker and easier to use than a PC based one. Coupled with the inbuilt accompanyment Styles each of which is fully capable of being customised to suit your own requirements, chord progression can be made automatic and you can change variations and instrument sounds on the fly by a single touch. Being what they are they have inbuilt amp and speakers and hence fully portable in one unit.

I know of people who use them live in their business where they can be performing three times a day in different location using the onboard MIDI files they have created.

Hence an Arranger would be a trade off in one aspect but offer so much more in ease and speed of use and with the right choice you could have aftertouch on the keybed so have all the finesse and nuances readily available. Ths is Korgs Video Manual on their PA1000 arranger and the one specifically on Recording.


A Digital piano would be viable but care would need to be taken to ensure full MIDI functionality was included within the keyboard. There are pros and cons related to using a piano but what is essentially a hybrid like the Numa Compact would provide the piano function at well below the price of the Komplete or Keylab since a Numa retails for £550 you would have more if your budget available for other uses. This is a review by Andertons


Buy once, buy wisely.
 
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Thanks for your time @Biggles and thorough opinions. This is good. You mentioned you have a Keylab 49. Is it Essentials or MKII? Because this is also on my mind atm, since it will be half the price of 88 MKII. Essentials felt too plasticky at first and I like more of a sturdy build.

A lot of benefits of other instruments you mentioned is playing live, but I would mostly be focusing on recording in my own "home studio" using a computer software, hence never really thought about anything which I would need to take with me besides a ready to play music file.

Keylabs have good Ableton Live control, and I kind of prefer this way over Native Instruments, but NI looks better imo (and I like when things look good too :D). And the way I'd record would be mostly using my right hand only (chords and melody on separate tracks), so quick access to separate tracks is a key (which based on my preference would be a win for Keylabs).

And if I ever do (like a distant future), I thought about 88 Keylab MKII because it's got a laptop (and music interface if needed) stand and then you simply plug it in to whatever PA is in the venue. So having this hybrid is beneficial, but circumstances may never come... But knowing me, and liking buying more expensive stuff and then keeping it for longer makes me consider it still.
 
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Karol

It is the Essentials version that I have and yes it does have that plasticy fee you describe but it functions well and does work well with Ableton.

Its price point is reasonable for its build quality and the actual feel of keys woks for me as I am not used to weighted or semi weighted keybeds.
 
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My first post here, so hi everyone!

I need some help here as bit stuck atm. I’m looking for a MIDI controller with a good piano feel. Doesn’t have to be perfect, as I was never a good piano player, but must have hammer action keys.

At the moment I’m considering two: Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 and Arturia Keylab 88 MKII and this would be the price point I would be looking for (not saying I cannot stretch the budget though, but it would have to be reasonable).

I like the look of a piano, but they usually don’t have as much functionality as other keyboards. Ideally I would build a piano-like custom cabinet for the keyboard :D Also pianos wouldn’t give me much software in the bundle I guess.

Purpose of buying:
  • Creating backing tracks to jam over it with my guitar, or just sing (ideally it would come with a software to do so, both above do)
  • Playing piano (ideally playing standalone is possible, but I accepted with two above that it won’t work and I will need to connect a laptop, and it’s fine as well)
  • I probably would never use it live, but maybe…
There are differences, and here’s my thoughts:
  • Software UI - I prefer Analog Lab, but I only played with Demo, and free version of Komplete Kontrol (used with Garage Band, and vmpk)
  • Sounds - both look like more than I would ever need
  • Keylab has drum pads (not that I’m that much into beat, but having an option and not using is better than needing and not having)
  • Keylab has more controls so you click less I guess?
  • S88’s screens are useful if on your laptop screen you only show Ableton Live, and then you don’t need to switch (with Keylab screen is pretty minimalistic)
  • Guiding LEDs in S88 are awesome, as I’m not a great piano player, and even to learn and practice they would be useful imo, and they would allow me to start real quick
  • Keylab have both laptop and music stands, I know you can buy them separately and most of the time I may not even use them, but it’s very convenient to have them
  • Analog Lab can only be installed on one machine, where Komplete Kontrol on 3, so I could have it on a home computer, and laptop to use while commuting

  1. Do you have any thoughts on above and help me choose which one and why (please give reasons)?
  2. Are there any other keyboards (pianos) I should consider? I'm open to any recommendation as will do my research anyways and it's not that urgent.
Thanks in advance!
At the end which keyboard did you buy? I have the same doubt. S88MK2 vs Keylab 88 Mk.

Thanks
 
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Welcome Blades78.

That is a very good question.

We do get a fair number of one hit wonder members joining asking many questions or a single question, getting answers and options only for them to disappear without so much as a thank you.

As it is the Op has not visited the forum in the last two weeks.
 
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@Biggles I can see you're being active and helpful, and this is what I always want to be as well. In this topic I'm quite new and therefore humble, so you wouldn't see me throwing my opinions as somebody who knows their stuff. So no need to throwing accusations - I only got the email notification today about the post in my thread and this is why I visited the forum, and I can see you replied 2 hours after. At least you could have let me wake up as I live in Sydney ;)

As for the buy itself @Blades78, I didn't decide it yet. I get a lot of mixed opinions, and suggestions from many different angles. I also watched a lot of YouTube reviews of other Arturia and NI MIDI controllers. I'm still watching and trying to decide, but life got me bit busy with work and stuff, and therefore deferred a decision for a bit atm.

This is what I established so far:
1. A guy in my company NI KK S88, and he loves it, but he's mostly a piano player, wanting to mock around with software instruments on something with a familiar feel.
2. I couldn't find any helpful review of Arturia 88 MKII just yet, but aside from keybed it's got all the functionality of Arturia 61 MKII, which I am considering as well. Controlling Ableton Live seems to be superior than NI (or rather would suit me better).

For me it's about keys to create backing tracks for guitar, using piano and some orchestral software instruments. I'm not much into a bit making, so drumpads are an option which I don't need that much. Except in Arturia you can use them to play chords, and that is a bit of a game changer.

I'm looking for the best value for my buck, given those few constraints then: keys + software instruments (piano + strings). I don't need anything fancy, and the cheapest option to tick all the boxes would be Keylab Essentials 61 (UVI grand piano included) + UVI Orchestral Suite. That would give me good entry into a world of music production. At this price point I'm not even considering NI as A61 doesn't have a simple transposition built in (you need to buy S series for that) and for me as a beginner this is a big no, because I'm comfortable to play everything in the key of C, and transpose on the fly to whatever key I need.

If I move a little bit higher, I would go for Keylab 61 MKII (Piano V included) + UVI Orchestral Suite. This would still be cheaper than NI S61. But then I'm actually tempted by NI device and investing in Komplete 12 Ultimate for better quality piano and strings software instruments.

Piano feeling keys is something I still have on my mind, but my wife is a piano player, and she wants to buy electric piano as well. I could easily use it then. But she first needs to promise me that she will go for an electric one with MIDI IN/OUT, instead of acoustic... so I'm kind of waiting for that decision to be made too.

So you can see it's a lot, and I'm not much closer to make a decision... Keylab Essentials 61 may be the best choice to get myself onboard and then figure out what I want to do next.
 
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Karol

Do you have a keyboard at present?

If you do you can use it via MIDI to your computer and the soundfonts onboard the keyboard will be available to use in a DAW.

If you go the NI Komplete route you could end up paying rather a lot of cash for a computer based system since their software instrument pack is quite expensive.

If you have a MAC then the Logic Pro software by Apple is great and has a very good package of software instruments included as standard and all for £200 UK.

Another alternative would be a keyboard with inbuilt multi track sequencer recording. Most quality Arrangers have this function and some synth/workstation like the Korg Kross 2.
 
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Nope I don't atm.

Hmm, I've never considered Logic Pro... and actually just opened Garage Band to check it out as I indeed use Mac. And noticed that there is a good amount of software instruments sounding not too bad at all... so maybe that's the way to go - cheap and not too sophisticated controller and Garage Band which then I can easily upgrade to Logic Pro.

Thanks. Looking at Nektar Impact LX+ now as it seems it integrates nicely with those apps.
 
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You are off to a great start with your Mac, if you also have an iPad then there are a lot of relatively cheap (but very good) Apps available. One particularly good one which I have is Music Studio. If you do want iPad Apps I can list quite a few for you to check out and you will also need an Apple Camera Adaptor to use for the connection, do buy the version which also has the Lightning socket so you can power the setup.

Just a reminder, finding a MIDI keyboard with hammer actions keys can be problematic.

The Nektar LX88 has semi weighted keys whereas the 49 & 61 versions have synth action and the latter action is pretty well standard on MIDI keyboards with less than 88 keys.

Do also take note of what software is included with the keyboard, many include Ableton Lite which is a pretty well specified DAW and also included can be software instruments ie my own Arturia includes a very good emulation of the classic Rhodes EP from the Seventies.

Additionally to looking further into Logic Pro do checkout Main Stage which is its complementary App intended for live playing ( it uses Logic Pros virtual instruments and many live Bands/Musicians use it ).
 
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Nektar LX sounds alright - not sure which one would I go for but there's one thing preventing me from making a decision. It seems the action of this keyboards is very loud, and I'm wondering whether it would annoy me much or not... and as a result it would prevent me from eagerly playing...

Some people (I think mostly piano players like here:
) also say that the feel is not the best, but in this case I wouldn't know, as I don't have a comparison.

I actually started to think that I'm overthinking and wasting time instead of buying something and start...
 
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Another thing which is on my mind as well would be to buy something like M-Audio Keystation 88 and KORG NanoKontrol 2 slim-line (which has a plugin for Garageband and Logic) for DAW control. Just not sure how would it work together. But by buying cheap KORG NanoKontrol 2 slim-line I could focus on keys and keys only without necessity of buying a hybrid for everything.
 
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Do you have the chance to visit a well stocked Music Store?

Luckily for me I have probably about 20 such stores within an hours drive. What I often do is visit one just for a look at try with one store in particular usually has about six MIDI keyboard controllers on display. If you can find a similar store no doubt that will help you far more.

If you consider a proper keyboard like a Roland Juno DS88 and your total budget can stretch to it.p ( c$1000 ) it will give you a proper hammer action keyboard with over 1000 inbuilt instrument voicings which can then be used in your DAW of choice.
 

SeaGtGruff

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As far as M-Audio, the Keystation is inexpensive but doesn't usually get great reviews. They make another 88-key controller, the Hammer 88, which has gotten much better reviews. However, it costs about twice the price of the Keystation 88-- and it looks like its price might be going up instead of down, because IIRC it was introduced at a price of $399, was occasionally available for as low as $329 (possibly an open-box item?), but seems to be listed at $459 now! I wonder if this is due to tariffs? :(
 
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Yeah got few shops around, but in Sydney they're never open on Sundays when I could go.

@SeaGtGruff I looked at that M-Audio with hammer action controller, and it's indeed twice more expansive, $649 here from what I see :/

After another evening of researching I'm considering Novation Launchkey 61 as well, which is cheap, maps to Ableton out of the box, and keybed quality is apparently great. I will have to go to some shop to try it though as @Biggles suggested.
 
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OK went to the shop and looked at those 3: Novation Launchkey 61, Arturia Essentials 61 and Arturia 61 MK2.

The decisive factors:
- I didn't like Novation Launchkey drumpads
- I have no exp in synth-like keybeds, but MK2 has aftertouch, which I still don't know if I will use at all, but felt nice to have
- lack of chord functions in Launchkey, simple in Essentials, and really good in MK2
- transposing in Launchkey is by semitones, in Arturia you just press the key which is becoming your new "C" - I like that more

So made a decision to get Arturia 61 MK2 in white... the budget should survive this decision :) they had only black in stock so will wait til my white arrives straight to home... hopefully by the end of this week... Ofc there is an option to return and swap for something else, so will see.

Also a question @Biggles (as you have Essentials 61, so you may know) - does V-Collection have any strings-like instrument or presets? Something for ambient music?
 

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