M-Audio Keystation 88 II Review

M-Audio Keystation 88 Midi Controller

Manufacturer: M-Audio

Model: Keystation 88 II

Type: MIDI Keyboard Controller

Price: $$$

Product URL: Website

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a MIDI keyboard controller with “semi-weighted” keys and at budget price, this is the right unit for you. Whether you are a beginner interested in making music, a musician or a professional performer, you will find many features on this MIDI keyboard. Overall, if you need a cheap MIDI controller with lots of keys, you can’t go wrong on this one.

Features

  • Composing music and playing with virtual instruments is easy
  • Control your music software without using the mouse
  • Sustain pedal for sustained performance
  • Full sized velocity-sensitive keys
  • Features Ableton Live Lite and SONiVOX Ensemble
  • Versatile keyboards make it ideal for musicians and performers
  • You can easily connect it to an external sound module or MIDI keyboard
  • Easily operate your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) directly from the keyboard
  • Enjoy plug-and-play connectivity
  • Lightweight design
  • This MIDI Keyboard controller have “semi-weighted”, not “synth-action”.

Pros

  • You can play piano sounds out of the box, thanks to the ample features that comes with this keyboard. You get Ableton Live Lite, a VSTi piano instrument, and a SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble.
  • Another advantage to this MIDI controller is that it only requires a USB connection so there is not going to be wire clutter in your studio. Moreover, it will reduce your energy costs unless you decide to power it with power supply – which I don’t advice you do.
  • The Keystation 88 is of a solid build. However, it is not too heavy for its size. Transporting and moving it around the studio doesn’t require too much effort from you.
  • The M-Audio Keystation 88 is a very light keyboard. It weighs less than 20 lbs so that you can rest it on anything and move it around with ease – imaging having your next keyboard with just the right number of keys and being able to shove it around the studio and outside.
  • There are 88 keys on this keyboard so if you are coming from a piano (as a piano user), you don’t need to adjust your finger or technique to perform at your best

Cons

  • It doesn’t feel like a real piano
  • The pivot is very close to the visible keys, making half of the black keys almost unusable.
  • In order to use with a power supply, you have to buy the accessory separately.
  • Noisy due to the spring under the keys
  • The accompanying USB cable is very short

Portability

For me, portability means something I can slot into my backpack and travel with it without having backache all day. Therefore, every time I’m buying a piece of equipment, I always decide whether I’m going to be using it at home “alone” or I’m going to be traveling with it.

In the case of a MIDI controller, you may want something you can just use in your studio. In this case, the M-Audio Keystation 88 II is suitable for your purpose. However, if you are looking for something that will accompany you during your travel, this might not be suitable. For a more portable option, you can check out the Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII keyboard.

Although this unit may not be the ideal candidate for travel, it is still lightweight so moving it around in your studio is a simple matter. In addition, when buying this unit you should also consider your desk space. As you can see from the picture, this MIDI controller requires substantial desk space.

With 88 keys, I’ll be lying if I told you it doesn’t require much space. So be ready to sacrifice desk space before buying this piece.

Budget

During my research, I discovered that many users are completely satisfied with their purchase. At only a $$$, most people feel they are getting a steal.

Beginner or Pro-friendly

If you look at most of our reviews, you will see that we take great care in separating MIDI controllers that are suitable for the pro from those that are suitable for the beginner. Fortunately, The M-Audio Keystation 88 falls in the two categories. Therefore, if you are a beginner or a professional with substantial experience in digital music, you will find this is suitable for your purpose.

For a beginner, you don’t need to tweak or hack anything to get it to work. It also supports plug-and-play. And with this, you can plug it to your computer, connect your digital audio workstation (DAW), put on the keyboard and start plugging away.

To make it even more easy on the beginners, the M-Audio comes with loads of stuffs that helps you hit the ground running without issues. With two virtual instrument preset, full sized 88 keys, and compatibility with DAW software on Mac and PC, it is not difficult to start making your own music as a newbie.

If, however, you are a professional with enough experience, setting up and configuring your MIDI is just a breeze. All the accompanying software with the Keystation 88 II is available on the manufacturer’s website for download.

Dimensions and Weight

The M-Audio Keystation weighs 17 lbs and measures 9.8″ by 3.6″ by 53.9″ for width, depth and height respectively. You can see that it is long equipment that requires some sort of storage space before it can be used in your music production. It is the largest of the Keystation 88 series. Other versions come in 49-key and 61-key variation.

Connection

The connection is through USB chord. However, you can purchase another 9-volt DC power supply if you want to go through that route. Although, it would be preferable if just go with the USB option as that would reduce your expenses, especially energy costs.

Moreover, there will not be any spaghetti wire clutter around your studio. If you are very organized, this should be an incentive to you.

Accessories and Box Content

The box content includes the Keystation 88 II itself, a USB cable, Ableton Live Lite, User Guide, Safety and Warranty Manual. It also comes with SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble and other relevant virtual instruments (which you can download on M-Audio website after your registration). If you previously have an account with them, you don’t need to register again, a login is enough.

Keyboard Feel

The reason most users like this keyboard is that the M-Audio designed the keyboard nicely. The keyboard is only quality so that it is durable and solid. In addition, the keys on the controller also feel nice and do not feel cheaply made. Many users made a point that there is a lot of clicky-clacky sound when operating this keyboard.

Number of Keys

There are 88 full-sized, velocity-sensitive keys here so if you have been using 49, 25, or 61 keys, this can give you some sort of liberation and a new experience. The beauty of this MIDI keyboard is that it features a number of keys that will help you simulate the experience of playing a piano, albeit a virtual piano.

However, this cannot be compared to a real piano simply because it does not feel like one. Unlike a real piano, this keyboard may not be able to differentiate between soft and hard playing because the springs under the keys are a bit stiff.

The keyboard is not just suitable for beginners but also musicians, performers, and anybody who generally want to experience making music without using the piano can also use it. Moreover, there are mixed reviews from different users of this product.

During my research, I discovered that the users of the Keystation 88 II fall into two categories: those who think the keys are light “synth” action and those who think the keys are “semi-weighted”. Also, the manufacturer states explicitly on the official website that the keyboard comes with “semi-weighted” keys.

In my opinion, most people only discover what this keyboard really is after they start using it. Another thing that influenced most people’s view is the main purpose for using the keyboard.

If you have been using this kind of instrument for a while, you know that manufacturer’s information should always be considered as a matter of fact and anybody who opposes this may be speaking from experience and likely in the minority.

As a bounce back from my own research, I will submit that the keys are “semi-weighted” which just means that you need more force to accelerate the keys quickly more than if you were to be operating it slowly. And because the keys are semi-weighted, they seem to be applicable for a general usage such as pads, piano and the likes.

Extra Controls and Ratings

The pivot is also very close to the visible keys so that you may have to adjust your hand every time you want to make black notes with the black keys. Although this should go in the cons section, I feel you should know about this so that you can decide if this is what you want to grapple with after buying it.

The Octave buttons are intuitive and cool. In addition, the M-Audio 88 II leaves a slim footprint so that there is available space for other devices on your desk. What many people like about this unit is that it lacks many of the superfluous buttons and pads on other MIDI controllers out there.

Moreover, the manufacturer did a good job by placing the keys that grace the keyboard in a proper places, which encourages proper techniques and form.

DAW Compatibility

The beauty of this keyboard is that you can use it with a PC or a Mac without hacking or tweaking stuffs. Although it comes with Ableton Live Lite – a software for PC users – you can easily use it with a Mac since it works with Garageband and Pro tools.

As far as my research, I can’t find any complaint about DAW compatibility from previous users. This means that this MIDI controller works with most of the popular digital audio workstation out there.

Pricing and Where to Buy

My Note: This unit is an upgrade from the 2014 keystation models and for its price, it’s the real deal if you know the value of what you are getting. You can easily get this product directly from the manufacturer’s website, from EBay, or from Amazon.

However, I prefer buying things from Amazon.com because the price is always cheap, and if you are fortunate, you might be able to get free shipping with your order. If you don’t already know about Amazon, it’s a retailer website that sells almost anything you can think of. And the beauty of buying from there is they always have discounts on all the products on the site.

Wrapping Up

While some can easily appeal to your fancy right out of the box, some might keep you in the loop for what seems like eternity. The M-Audio Keystation 88 II is a blessing for pros who value time. This is because it comes with just the right number of features that you will keep to get your creative juices flowing. It does not have speakers, overwhelming presets, and the bells and whistles that bloat other equipment out there.

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