Which MIDI Controller is right for me?

In this basic MIDI Controller information series, I aim to answer basic questions which invariably pop up during a hunt for a MIDI Controller. Most experienced users will know that there is no real answer to this question.

Although, that does not necessarily mean that you are in an ocean without a lifeboat. The answer to this question actually involves a lot of factors. So without knowing specific details, it is hard to give a proper answer.

So will do the classic thing of answering your question with more questions. But don't worry, these questions will help you understand how to purchase a MIDI Controller that is just right for you.

  • What is your budget? - In the current economy, money is at the top of everybody's mind. It should be at the top of your mind too when you are looking for MIDI Controllers. The best way to set a budget while hunting for a controller, is to do a comparative search of items on offer. Just go over the various online stores selling controllers. Note down the prices of the controllers you would like to buy. Then see what the average and the highest price is. Fix your budget somewhere in the middle of these two. But to do all this, you need to know the answer to the next question.
  • What is the purpose of the MIDI Controller? - This is a critical question and must be answered correctly. This is determine what type of controller you will be looking at. This will also, partially decide your budget. Because when it comes to certain categories, the average is higher than others. For example, if you are looking for a simple and decent MIDI keyboard controller, you can get away with a budget of $200. But if you want one that seamlessly integrates with your software (probably a co-branded one like the VCI-300), you will have to spend more than that. It is best to write down a list of things you want to do with your MIDI controller and then order them according to their priority. For example, if your main need is to trigger samples, then that should on top and the rest will follow based on how important they are to you. This way, you will end up with the perfect compromise between utility and price.
  • How much time do you want to spend setting it up? - This is also another important question. Some of the MIDI controllers out there wil have native support in the software you are using. Some will not have this and you will have to map them manually. Some special controllers need specific setup procedures to work with certain softwares. From practical experience i can tell you that the standard mapping will not take you far. You will have to custom map your controller almost always to get a setup that is more suitable to your style.
  • Which software will you using it with? - Making sure that your controller works well for your software is important (although, theoretically, all standard MIDI devices will work on standard MIDI applications). This compatibility should be both at the level of communication and design. The latter brings us to our next question.
  • What kind of layout are you looking for? - Even in similar MIDI controllers, the layout will differ. Sometimes there is a standard layout (like for MIDI Keyboards, DJ MIDI Controllers), but each product will have its own layout, which will be a variation on the standard layout. Think of the various MIDI keyboards in the market. They all have some basic common features but they vary a lot. So choose what you think will work the best for you.
  • Is it for live use or studio use? - Live use would include on and off-stage, some amount of travel at the least and some other things. Studio use or home use would mean that time is not limited (usually), a mistake can be fixed without too much damage, there is not much traveling with the equipment. Typically, for live use, you should choose a sturdy and good quality controller, that can survive traveling. Also, it helps to have the option for changing settings on the fly, in case of an emergency and having just the controls you need. No more and certainly no less. In the case of a studio, sometimes a less sturdy controller, with more controls might workout. But make sure that it won't fail after prolonged use.
  • Expandability - This is very important when it comes to your future plans. If you are planning to buy more controllers in the future and using them all together, make sure that your controllers support being connected to other controllers.
After you answer all these questions, you should be able to zero in on the controller that suits your needs perfectly. When looking for budget controllers, you can always use your priority list to see what you can and cannot live without. Best of luck and check back soon for more info on MIDI Controllers.

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