MIDI Controllers and Live Performance

Hi all,

I wanted to start a thread on this because Cantabile works hand in hand with a physical MIDI controller of some sort. I personally have used the Kurzweil PC88, K2500, K2600 with the thought that it was good to have them if the computer went down because they have their own sound generators. In addition they have superb controller functions so they work well with Cantabile. But they are all heavy! A few years ago I started using an M-Audio Axiom 61 controller keyboard and then got their Oxygen 88 offering (both are simple controllers). I love the piano weight/action on the Oxygen 88 so I tend to play it the most now with my only complaint being the key contacts sometimes produce “wild” notes (the contact strips are similar to kurzweil and farfisa and they have the same problem). I serviced musical gear for some number of years and would sometimes repair these for customers and almost all, if not all brands would have to have new strips put in from time to time or have them cleaned. Other than that the 2 M-Audio keyboards have great controller surfaces that have worked well with Cantabile. When I need the 2 tier setup for organ work I will stack the Oxygen 88 and the Axiom 61 on a 2 tier stand . So far the only problems I’ve had have been dumb user mistakes like allowing a usb cable on my audio interface to be exposed and pulled out during a song (doh!) :open_mouth: or placement of my laptop stand on a crowded stage with a physically active player or singer (yikes!) :scream: . I’ve had good luck overall and have been working lately with “no net” (backup keyboard in the car) and it’s gone very well. I’ve read where some users play the “house keyboard” if it’s reliable and available so I’ve been adapting a Behringer BCR2000 control surface to possibly use it in these cases where I have only a dumb controller to produce the common messages (sustain, expression …) and the MIDI notes and velocities while using the BCR2000 for the complex things. This is new ground so I haven’t moved it that far yet but think it might have possibilities. I still can’t afford a second laptop for backup but think it’s inevitable if I want to quit carrying the K2600. I also wondered if anyone had tried or owned a Kawaii VPC1. I’m very interested in this controller which is “dumb” but very sophisticated as far as the action goes. I would love to hear what you recommend or prefer for your controller setups.


Dave -

I’ve been playing a VPC1 for over a year now and would say it’s easily (in combination with IvoryII) the finest “Piano” environment I’ve ever experienced. I recently felt the need to get out of my skill rut and started doing lessons again with a local jazz instructor - when he comes over, almost very time he makes some comment about how much of a pleasure it is to play.


  1. 60 lbs or so - I don’t travel with it.
  2. Action is top on my list with the exception of:
  3. High rate single key repetitions are not as responsive as a true acoustic for some reason - even with their triple strike hoo haa. They can be done but the physical change to my playing style is drastic (high hand/arm arc) For instance this-- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBSeEcFiTWA#t=2m59s --is very hard to recreate.
  4. Great keytop feel from their simulated ivory surface.
  5. Not concerned with lack of wheels/slider/midi control etc. This is about playing the Piano.

Others I’ve owned.

  1. Roland A-88 - Great action/weight - terrible touch curves.
  2. Roland A90 - Nice action - too heavy compared to the…
  3. Nord Stage2 - Best of all worlds, becoming the club standard.

I haven’t done this yet - but want to tell you what a phenomenal product C2 is. I also played with the Nord as my failover box and in two years it’s never happened. Just really such a well thought out and implemented, piece of software - can’t do without it. - Thanks for that.



I am sure @brad would appreciate this comment. I am just a happy user like you with a good deal of curiosity. I very much appreciate the excellent and detailed description of the VPC1, I have been thinking of it a lot because of my love of playing the Piano itself. That’s why that controller looks like it takes Ivory II to another place altogether! Greetings JD :smiley:

!! Sorry @brad !!
Weird, I’ve seen your user referenced to code development - may need vision checked.

All the best.


Hi Dave,

I’m going through a similar dilemma at the moment, but sort of the opposite.

I’ve been using a KORE controller (so essentially like a separate MIDI controller) with a Yamaha P-85 for more than 5 years and P-85 has copped it (I can play fairly heavy sometimes!) and is still going strong. I’ve liked this arrangement - the keyboard is ok and I’ve just been mounting the KORE controller on a custom stand arrangement over the middle of the keyboard. I like the action of the P-85 well enough - I certainly see the benefit in getting a digital piano over just a keyboard. What I have missed is the pitch bend wheel - but I did buy a digital piano, so that is not surprising.

However, I’m sick of carting all this gear around and all the cables - takes a while to set up and make the cables tidy!

My ideal keyboard would be awesome piano action but with PB wheel and all the buttons and knobs I want. I’m a piano player and even when I’m doing synth lines I like that weighted feel.

The Arturia KeyLab 88 has all the buttons in the right place for me…but I’m concerned about the build quality (heard about some problems). I seem to remember the keybed was quite thumpy when I tried it so I’m going back today to test it again.

I’ve also considered the Oxygen. I wish the knobs were on the left but I could probably get used to sliders with my left hand (I do all my filter cutoffs with my left hand). How long have you had yours and do you play heavy? Has it lasted well?



Hi Pat, I have had my oxygen 88 for 4 years and it has been played heavily (if not with heavy hands!) I have had to clean the keycontacts in the middle range once because it had “hot notes” but that corrected it. The only complaint I have about this keyboard is similar to the one I had about the Kurzweil line of keyboards (Farfisa Keybeds) and that is that some of the keys are more sensitive to velocity than others and I have to adjust my playing to compensate. It shows up on piano vstis the most since they have many layers of velocity. I’ve noticed that the contact at the end of a contact strip is usually where the sensitive keys are. So I couldn’t say that everything was ok with this controller and feel others should be aware of this and that other brands suffer from it too. It’s big selling point was 45 lbs with an 88 note weighted action and when I got used to it I liked it better than my old K2600.

Thanks Dave - I think I just need to remember that these products have a (potentially) much shorter lifespan than a piano and I need to factor in replacement/maintenance cost to my budgeting!

I think I can accept the compromise - I’m not usually doing delicate piano work live so maybe I can live with less than perfect velocity mapping. I guess there’s also potential to apply a graded MIDI filter across the range to scale the note velocities differently - hopefully there is a VST that can do that or maybe it’s possible with MIDI Ox.

Hope you find a keyboard/digital piano you’re happy with!

From a reliability perspective I think it’s the right way to go - keep the controller and piano separate. I’m just sick of carting so much gear around so I’m prepared to live with that potential risk!

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Hi all,

I saw a new output from NI, the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88, which uses KOMPLETE KONTROL SOFTWARE. It also introduced Native Kontrol Standard® (NKS) – a new plug-in format. I thought @brad might be interested in this new format. Also i wonder if anyone uses this system in Cantabile or if for that matter if it works in Cantabile? It looks like it should appear in the host as a vst but uses these new plugins somehow inside it? Thanks for any information you might have on it.

I had a look at the Kontrol keyboards when they first came out - trying to find information on how to access the lights and feedback displays so Cantabile could use them. At the time I couldn’t find any information (I got the impression it was fairly closed off) and set it aside it because I’m still a way off having time to implement that.

But yes, I’m definitely very interested in this but at this stage don’t know a lot about it.

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Hi All,

Here’s some new controller keyboards from m-audio and Roland I came across. Feature Set is unique on the Code series and the Roland piano controller is only 35 lbs. Wow…

Roland A-88
M-Audio Code 25, 49, 61

Finally read through all the posts in this thread, and I’ll throw in my 2 cents. I’ve been gradually moving to an all “dumb” midi controller set up for a while. For several years, I gigged with a Kurwweil PC3 and used it for a lot of my sounds, particularly organs, pads and strings. That was complimented by a Casio PX-5 for acoustic and electric pianos. Then I started using Cantabile 2 for a couple of specific sounds- particularly VB3 Hammond emulation. When I started playing around with Cantabile 3 preview, I found it much easier to understand and set up than the previous version. I decided to go “all VST” for my sounds at that point. I currently use a Novation Impulse 61 for my upper keyboard and the PX-5 as my lower keyboard. It’s absolutely great not hauling that PC3 around anymore and I’m able to craft song sounds, key ranges and midi controller assignments much easier. All the sounds I use for gigging are provided by VST’s via Cant 3. I’ve encountered no problems which couldn’t be traced to “user learning curve”. I’ve even sold the Kurzweil. I don’t have a backup for the laptop or my keyboards, which is more because of the $$ involved than because I enjoy taking risks. Also, remember that a workstation with onboard sounds is also an electronic instrument which is subject to failure- which actually happened to me with the Kurzweil at one gig.

My only gripe about using midi controllers has already been covered in this thread- keys eventually go bad and need repair. In fact, my Impulse has one flaky key which needs repair. Fortunately, the board is still under warranty, so my only cost will be shipping to the repair center. It worries me that sooner or later other keys will need repair and I will have to make a decision about whether to spend $$ for repair costs which could easily run $200 or more (shipping plus repair)- about 1/2 the cost of a new Impulse…

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Hi all,

at present, I am gigging with the Kurzweil PC3K as a “dumb” master keyboard (with the added advantage that in case everything goes pear-shaped, I can still use it as a traditional synth). But I also carry a fall-back second laptop (complete with second audio interface), so the risk of the PC3 failing is currently the greater one…

What I like about the PC3 is the quality of the keybed and all the built-in sliders and buttons, that I use extensively to control my Cantabile setup. Plus: it is built like a tank with its all-metal exterior; and it looks nice with its wooden bookends :smile:

But: it is HEAVY - about 26 kg; plus the weight of the flightcase. This is a back-breaking exercise, so I’m thinking about moving to a lighter configuration.

One board I have my eyes on is the Arturia Keylab 88 - the specs look very nice indeed - and it weighs only 13 kg!! Sounds too good to be true - has anybody here tried it yet?

Combining this with a lighter gig-bag instead of a full flight-case might be just what the doctor ordered…

Any experience reports welcome!!



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Hi Torsten,

I tried the Keylab 88…for about a week! All the buttons and sliders were in the perfect position for me so on paper it is the perfect keyboard for me. The keys do thump a bit, but on-stage with foldback you can’t hear it. However, after I got it home, I noticed a couple of stuck notes, but thought that was a problem with the software setup. Alas, I was wrong - after a few days, the top 8 notes stopped working. I took it back - while another one might be ok, I didn’t want the same problem to happen out of warranty in a year’s time or whatever.

I have since instead gone with a Roland FA-08 (extra $ but it only weighs 16kg so similar to the Keylab), and I’m very happy with it. The keys are better to play, and if you don’t use the ‘DAW Control’ mode, you can actually link the all 16 drum pads to different functions (DAW mode sends CCs from the bottom 8 drum pads only while normal mode sends 16 MIDI notes on midi channel 10).

The key differences are that you only get 6 knobs rather than the sliders (but I don’t normally control more than 1 parameter per synth per song so 6 is heaps), and you have Roland’s joystick thing rather than a pitchbend and mod wheel. The joystick isn’t quite as good as a normal pitchbend wheel but I have learnt to use it, and for me, the benefits of this keyboard outweigh this small drawback.

Also the drum pads aren’t pressure sensitive but I don’t use this function anyway.

To summarise, for me, the Keylab has the features that all these keyboards should have, but I wish they’d built it better. The FA-08 has stuff I don’t need (workstation sequencer etc) but I can use it as a MIDI controller and sound card so overall it’s much better for me.

P.S. I recently did a gig in another state where I was using an old and battered rental Roland RD 700 which seems to be built along similar lines to the FA-08. It seemed to have stood the test of time so I’m hoping this one does too!

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Hmm, that doesn’t sound encouraging re the Keylab. Will still go and try it at my local drug dealer’s :slight_smile: but I’ll keep your experience in mind.

Unfortunately, the FA-08 doesn’t qualify for me - love the idea of an “ivory touch” keyboard, but can’t live without aftertouch…



PFH: I was afraid the Arturia was going to have a problem. Their hardware is not known for it’s reliability.

Just curious - am I the only person around who bought a Roland RS-9 to use as an 88 note non-weighted controller? Very light and has aftertouch. The only issues are: they rarely show up on Ebay, can be expensive for their age, have the pitch/mod lever rather than wheels and key travel is a little shallow. Reliability and parts availability are very good.

Using Motif ES7 as main / master keyboard and firing off all program change / key mappings with it. The second one is a “dumb” X-Board 63 set to another MIDI channel.
Mainly, I use the Motif ES sounds in conjunction with a Roland XV-5050 module, additionally VST hosted w/ Cantabile v2 (of course; tested Forté too but bought Cantabile Performer) and Scarlett USB audio interface.

BTW, since I ran into some odd MIDI USB behaviour while on band rehearsal, I switched all MIDI calbling to the good old DIN 5pin ones … :wink:



Novation Launchkey. 9 faders, 9 buttons, 8 knobs, 18 pads, transport controls. Pitch and mod wheels, all addressable in Cantabile. And not silly money either. Bingo.

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Nice and small …without cables

My favourite Keypad but to expensive (x-Keys)

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That’s the way to save your back - and your performance.