I love keyboards. There’s something magical about touching the knobs, feeling the click of keys under your fingers, and running your hands over real faders.
Despite my love affair with synths, I’m no love-struck honeymooner anymore. I’ve run into a lot of synth problems since purchasing my first keyboard at 11, and with winter NAMM just around the corner, I thought I’d list my top 5 things I wish keyboard manufacturers would do something about:
1. Balanced XLR outs. I end up hauling two DI boxes to every venue I play, adding about 6 pounds to my gear. All for a feature that could be built right into the back of my synth. Come on, guys- save my back the trouble, drop a few bucks on connectors, and give us some useful outputs.
2. More plug-out synths. Why isn’t there an all-in-one keyboard that can take a VST instrument on your computer, transfer it via USB to your keyboard, and then take it to the gig? I hate having to set up laptops and audio interfaces every show, but I love the sounds of my plugins (In their defense, Roland has been toying around with this concept a bit, essentially using their own plugins with their System-1 synth).
Throw in some dedicated controllers (mappable from the computer) and this would be a no-brainer synth to buy for a gigging musician like myself that has to have the best sounds, but doesn’t like the instability and hassle of connecting to a laptop.
3. Built-in audio interfaces. With Apple reducing USB inputs on their laptops, I often find myself having to use USB hubs just to plug in two controllers and an audio interface, which leads to drops and bus-powering issues in some situations. M-Audio did this back in the 2000’s (I even owned one of their controllers that had this feature) so why can’t we bring it back? At the very least, powered USB hubs should be built into the back of midi controllers. It would cost pennies to put in, and would be invaluable to gigging musicians.
4. No more than one level of submenus. Keyboard manufacturers, you know who you are: if I can’t get to a feature I’ll need live in one or two clicks, it needs to be redesigned. If you can’t fit all your features without submenus, create a computer software program I can use for deep editing on my computer where screen real estate isn’t limited to 3 square inches.
5. Separate headphone and output volumes. While this isn’t a deal breaker, it would help any keyboardist that has to send a different signal level to a monitor or headphones, and a separate volume level to the house.
P.S. I almost included in this blog an undo function for hardware synths and battery power for midi controllers. What's your most overlooked feature? Leave it in a comment below.