Game Music Jobs: Workstation Keyboards VS. Controller Keyboards
Welcome to Game Music Jobs! Today I will refrain from addressing any tenets of occupational professionalism. We will resume that discussion next week. Instead, I will discuss a matter that is a bit easier to control—literally. Today we will talk about your gear; specifically, we will compare the advantages and disadvantages of keyboard controllers and workstation keyboards. I am a bit partial to Korg products—and my favorite product is the Korg Kronos Keyboard. This Korg is my dream keyboard with its full-color display, KARMA system, and solid-state drive all combined in one sexy package. By the way, Korg, if anyone from your company is listening, don’t be afraid to reach out and hook your boy up, OK?
First, we will address the workstation keyboard. The main attributes of a workstation keyboard are the onboard sound modules that come with it. Depending on the company, some sounds may have higher fidelity than others. For instance, I love the Korg Kronos’s drum kits, pianos, and string samples, but I am not a fan of their woodwind samples —they either come on too strong to the point of being caustic, or they are too understated and lack the definite inflection necessary for realism. Thankfully there are third-party sound upgrades available for the Kronos that can be a definite boost to their standard sound library. The workstation keyboard can send MIDI data to the sound modules and includes both inputs and outputs.
The controller keyboard sends control signals via MIDI to a remote sound module and has no output. This is the basic function of a MIDI keyboard. They also come in a variety of ranges from one octave to 88 keys. Some even have weighted keys, which is increasingly becoming an industry-standard due to modular customizability.
I will quickly list the advantages and disadvantages of a workstation keyboard.
- Sounds are already included on the keyboard.
- You do not have to worry about latency (especially with Solid State Drives) eating up precious memory resources like desktop computers.
- They offer more options such as sliders and DAW compatibility.
- They can work independently of a computer, so they are easier to carry around for gigs.
- The sequencer can be a quick way to sketch out a song.
- They are less prone to crashing because they have dedicated systems.
- They can be used as controllers for your DAW.
- The feel of most higher-end keyboards are more realistic because of the weighted keys, and a keyboard like a Nord Stage Piano can have real actions that enhance the feeling even more.
- I have got to be honest. Not every musician is a saint. Higher-end keyboards are harder to steal because they are big and heavy. I pity the fool who would try to steal one of these by himself. All I will say is, your honor, time served.
Now, let’s get to the disadvantages.
- Do you have a kidney to spare? Because 88-key high-end boards like the Korg Kronos, Nord Stage Piano, and the Yamaha Montage can easily go for more than $4,000, and that does not even include cables and studio monitors and monitor stands. Note: I advise you to get an 88-key model; it will give you more range and limit the adjustments needed to play higher registers.
- Editing MIDI data on a keyboard can be a pain! What would take me seconds on a DAW like Ableton can take me two minutes on a keyboard. They are just not made for that. It’s like eating a bowl of rice with tweezers.
- These keyboards have not only a hefty price but also a hefty weight. These keyboards can easily weigh 80 pounds! A friend who helped me carry my heavy keyboard affectionately named it “The Body.”
- It cannot be updated as conveniently as a DAW.
Now, let’s get into MIDI controller keyboards.
CONTROLLER KEYBOARD ADVANTAGES:
- Controller keyboards are more affordable than most workstations with similar specs. Keep your kidneys and your money too.
- They are lighter than workstations. Most 88 key controllers weigh less than 40 pounds. All you need is a computer or app to provide the sounds.
- DAWs that work with controllers offer more versatility than workstations. There are many software options out there; some are easily affordable, and others not so much. VST string plugin options, for example, are numerous and have many features that cannot be found on workstations, like Front Row Violins software, which has divisi scripting options. My personal favorite, although some say that it has passed its prime, is EastWest Hollywood Strings.
- Controller keyboards may have just as many tactile options as higher-end workstations at a lower price.
- They are usually just a USB plug and play. These are easy to use with your computer and usually take few resources.
- They are cheaper to replace if stolen or broken.
CONTROLLER KEYBOARDS DISADVANTAGES:
- They may be made from cheaper materials and break more easily.
- They cannot produce sounds independently of a computer.
- They may not offer weighted keys for some models.
- They may cost more than a workstation keyboard after the cost of software is factored in.
Your decision about which to purchase depends on its purpose. If you are beginning to dabble with music, a cheap 88-key controller and some essential VST software will do just fine. But if you are a professional composer, you will need music industry quality sounds to compete in this field. At that level, any money spent will be an investment in a business. I, Munchman, prefer to own both a DAW and a workstation keyboard because the combination allows me to work with as many sounds as possible.
Choose the one that works best for you. It is not always the composer with the best gear that produces the best work. Remember, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools, and a poor tool who will believe all the hype of corporations selling their latest software.
Game Music Jobs is also about you. We are here to help you. Do not hesitate to ask us questions if needed. We will continue our tenet talk next week.
First, I would like to thank Maury for his support.
Don’t try to steal a heavy keyboard and drop it on your foot! Keep learning and always B#; this is Munchman with Game Music Jobs.