M-Audio MIDI Controller Keyboard | Learn More: http://www.m-audio.com/products/view/code-49

Review by Steve Reed

What Is It: Piano keyboard that only works with a computer or other MIDI equipment.

While it looks like a digital piano, the Code 49 by M-Audio is actually a top of line MIDI controller. What’s the difference? The answer is similar to the difference between laptop and desktop computers. The traditional ‘all-in-one’ digital keyboard that has the piano keys, the sounds, the buttons, and all the outputs in one stand-alone unit can be compared to a laptop computer where everything is permanently connected. Whereas a MIDI controller is much like buying a desktop computer where you purchase the typing keyboard separately from your screen/s and tower. Then just like how a typing keyboard for a desktop computer doesn’t do anything on its own, a MIDI controller piano keyboard only works when you plug it into a computer.

While it is possible to connect any MIDI compatible piano keyboard to your computer, the Code 49 has been optimized for this task and gives you complete control over your sound. While you might expect to have to pay a lot for these kinds of features, interestingly enough because this style of equipment only does one part of the process really well and leaves the rest to other pieces of gear, it is comparatively inexpensive ($299.00).

The Code 49 connects to and is powered by your computer via an included standard USB cable (think printer cable). This unit also features the traditional round multi-pin MIDI connectors for connection to older gear or to pass midi signals through. Upon connecting your device, your computer should recognize it as a keyboard, but if not a small and free piece of software known as a ‘driver’ can be installed to bridge the gap. When you turn on the keyboard you will probably notice a lot of lights that can all be customized to your liking or even turned off via a free program available for download at the M-Audio website. This program also allows every knob, fader, and key to be changed to emit whatever MIDI message you desire. While most people may never mess with this level of customization it is a nice feature as many computer programs for music have features only accessed by specialized MIDI signals known as ‘CC messages’ (knowing that will help you impress your friends at your next social gathering).

This specific keyboard is specially designed for those who want to have a lot of control over their sound, which explains the vast number of buttons and faders which can all be assigned to do what you’d like within programs such as MainStage, AbeltonLive, or any recording program. Most people, however, use the vertical faders to adjust the volumes of the different layers of a sound patch, such as a pad or strings sound in relation to a piano. These controls then allow you to dynamically change the sounds you are using as the song progresses rather than switching between sounds.

Also included are drum pads (for use with fingers only) that can be assigned to trigger sounds, launch loops, or change settings. And if that wasn’t enough you also have an XY controller which responds to the touch of your finger and is typically used to dynamically switch or ‘morph’ between two sounds or settings in real time.

Available in both black and white models, this keyboard is very stylish and modern. The action of the keys is pretty basic (semi-weighted) but feels good and the keys are after-touch pressure sensitive. For those looking for a more traditional hammer action piano feel there are several other M-Audio midi controller keyboards that would better suit those desires. The 49 in Code 49 stands for how many piano keys are on the keyboard and we found that to be a sufficient number to cover the synth and piano parts of most modern worship songs. However, if you typically find yourself using a wider spread of keyboard real estate you might take a look at the 61 key option. M-Audio also has many controllers that don’t have as many buttons if that’s overwhelming to you.

Pros: Quality construction with an extreme level of versatility and control. Presets are great for multiple pianist sharing equipment to quickly recall personal preference settings.

Cons: The lights are pretty bright which can be shocking at first. Though you can’t turn them down you can change them to softer colors and off is an option. A sustain pedal is not included.

Bottom Line: If you want to control your keyboard and synthesizer sounds, this is one of the best.

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