Types of MIDI Controllers - Part 1

So now that we know a bit more about MIDI and MIDI controllers, it is time to discuss the different types of MIDI Controllers that are available (and those that are not).

As I have mentioned before, MIDI Controllers come in many different shapes and sizes and colours. They have a large and varied range of uses in sound and a/v [audio/visual]. They are found everywhere - on stages, inside studios, on the go, at homes, clubs, bars, with live shows' crews, everywhere.

MIDI controllers are used in various areas: -

  • Djs use them, in many different ways
  • Live PA acts use them (Daft Punk and their setup!!!)
  • Audio and Video studios use them (DAW control mainly)
  • Vjs use them (somebody get me pics of Ohm being used live!)
  • Musicians use them on stage for live performances, this includes Solo artists, bands, projects etc.
  • Composers and producers use them at work, at home, everywhere they possibly can.
  • Live A/V acts use them for live manipulation of video and audio (Max/MSP and a crazy guy using hand gestures anyone?)
  • I am not entirely certain, but I think live lighting control is controllable via MIDI. Correct me if i am wrong though.
So as you can see, it pretty much covers every area where there is music and many areas of video and a/v as well. So what are the different types that we are talking about here?

Well, MIDI Controllers can be classified in many different ways. It can be based on the softwares that are used, people who use them, areas in which they are mainly used, etc. But I am going to talk about them in terms of form factor or physcial design.

This sort of classification will be immensely helpful for studying the purpose of each of these devices. It will also help us to judge their usefulness to specific people. Now, remember, each of these types can have entire pages devoted to each of them. So I am just trying to be concise and specific here.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I won't be making full posts on the more common types ;-); so keep this site bookmarked, get the feed or check back frequently. Just make sure you keep on coming back for daily posts and updates.

Okay, so let's start. I realised that this will be a long post, so i divided it in two parts (hopefully, I won't need more). I will post the more common ones in this post. And tomorrow, I am going to post on the more uncommon ones. There is another problem that I would like to mention before i start. Some devices make appearances in more that one category. But usually, they have one main purpose. So I might categorise it differently than some expect.

Ready now? Here we go:-
  • Keyboard MIDI Controllers - Keyboards are originally responsible for starting the entire MIDI revolution. In their MIDI Controller form, they can be anything from simple and focussed to complex and versatile. They can range from the simplest ones with just the keys, two wheels and a few controls to really large and expensive ones with pots, faders, clocks and much more. The simple ones are usually used for playing virtual instruments during songwriting, composing, etc. The really complex ones are usually for studio environments, which need a lot controls. And for live use, it really depends on the artist.
  • DJ Controllers - These have really become popular in recent times. Most of these controllers are in their 2nd or 3rd product cycle at max. Some are brand new offerings. The general rule is simple - just throw in twin jogs, up and pitch faders, a crossfader, mixer controls and some buttons. Most of the compact controllers go for what is often referred to as the [Vestax] VCI layout. There are also controllers that are 'single deck', ones that emulate just the dj-mixer. There are also bigger format controllers like the XONE series from Allen & Heath. These also have audio interfaces built into them. The VCI series doesn't though. The latest crop is now trying to emulate a tuntable, complete with spinning platters and real torque. These mainly used by, ahem, Djs. But people always fine myriad uses for almost any MIDI Controller out there.
  • Pad Controllers - These are constituted mainly of pads and may and a few other controls. Most of these instantly remind you of Akai's legendary MPC products. But there are also those that bend the genre and redefine it. Take Zendrum for instance! They are an amazing work of craftsmanship, each and everyone of them. These are commmonly used to trigger samples, cues or play drums. They are commonly designed to be used with fingers.
  • Foot Pedals and switches - These are usually used in conjunction with other devices to gain extra functionality. This can be a sustain or an expression pedal on keyboard controllers or an entire board full of foot switches to be assigned anyway necessary.
  • Faders or Knobs only boxes - Exactly what the category says, these are just boxes with loads and loads of Faders or Knobs on them. Best (and in some cases the only) examples are from Behringer. Even Daft Punk uses a few of these. They do have a few other types of controls, mostly buttons.
  • Hybrid Machines - These are machine that seek to converge, bring together the features of multiple devices into one, much like some advanced mobile communications devices. For example, the XONE 4D. It it is a high quality audio interface and mixer with MIDI Control surfaces. Or this similar but different purposed tascam product. One if for Dj booths and the other is for studios. And then there is the DN-HS5500 and DN-S3700 from Denon.
That will end this part of my post. Come back tomorrow for more :) and don't forget to subscribe for regular updates from ControlMIDI! Available both Atom and RSS, two delicious flavors for feeding your apetite!