If you’re a touring musician, you’ll know all about how horrible the load in, pack down and transfer of gear from the practice room to the van, to the venue and back again really is. If you’re about to embark on your first tour, trust me, the packing up of gear can be pretty tiresome! But for the keyboard players and synth players out there, you’ve sometimes got it worse than the rest of the band, especially if you’re trying to drag a full size, flight-cased 88 keys electric piano from venue to venue. Thankfully there’s a full selection of smaller scale and mini keyboards and synths out there that can do an amazing job for you with far less keys, and of course a great deal less weight too.
So right now we’re going to look at the top 5 mini keyboards and synths available, all of which have a variety of excellent musical capabilities and qualities for your consideration. Suddenly that full sized digital piano is going to seem a LOT heavier…
First on our list is the awesome Yamaha Reface selection of synths and electric pianos, but specifically their CP Electric Piano. Since their release in 2015, the Reface collection has become a mainstay in the music production and live arena, both professional and amateur. Yamaha took a selection of classic models from their extensive back catalogue and improved them for the modern player, compiling an array of sought after sounds and installing them in a selection of compact, highly portable and user friendly options. Thus far there are four different options to choose from, namely the CS Analogue Synthesizer, the DX FM Synthesizer, CP Electric Piano and the YC Electric Combo Organ. The Reface CP Electric Piano for example is a true testament to the amount of effort that Yamaha have placed in these units and the results don’t disappoint. The engine is comprised of SCM (spectral Component Modelling) as well as AWM2 sound generation but it’s the six classic keyboard sounds and 128-note polyphony that piano players will be interested in. Choose from early/late 70s sounds as well as the Yamaha CP80 electric grand piano, toy piano, 60s reed electric and 70s stuck string clavinet as well as a host of vintage effects to compliment your sounds. The keys also offer a professional feel and response due to the use of HQ Mini Keys as well as action based on the Yamaha Motif XF. Throw a sustain pedal on top and you’ve got a professional piano ready for the studio or stage.
The Korg minilogue polyphonic synthesiser is probably one of the hottest releases of 2016. When you delve into the effort Korg have put into this piece of equipment and when you understand just how versatile (and useful) this slim 37 key synth is it’s easy to see why! The all analogue circuitry will get the purists out there excited, and those with a need for extended features will enjoy the 4 voices of polyphony through the use of 2VCO, 1VCF, 2EG, 1VCa and 1LFO structuring. On the top panel you have 41 real-time dedicated controllers to really get to grips with your sound whilst the 37 slim-key velocity sensitive keyboard allows for comfortable playing and gorgeous expression. Best of all, it can be connected to all your current equipment whether vintage or modern thanks to MIDI, USB connectivity as well as those csv capable synths that require a 3.5” jack sync in/out. It looks cool, it’s super lightweight and will definitely appeal to all synth/keyboard users out there whilst the producers and musical scientists will appreciate the 100 preset programs and 100 user program slots. If you haven’t heard about the Korg minilogue, it’s probably time you got acquainted as chances are this will be your favourite keyboard as soon as you play it.
For those who control their sounds via MAC, PC or iPad, there’s not a lot out there that give gives you better control or value for money than the Novation Launchkey Mini keyboard controller. This intuitive little unit utilises the awesome InControl technology that instantly maps the unit to all major music software, so you’re ready to go straight out of the box. With 25 velocity sensitive keys, you’re not going to be taking up too much room on stage, which is perfect. You have 16 velocity sensitive, RGB backlit control pads to play with as well as 8 assignable knobs and 6 dedicated transport keys for full control over your DAW. For those who want to make music at home straight away, you’ll be happy to know that the Launchkey range includes Ableton live lite for MAC or PC as well as V-Station and Bass Station soft synths with the Loopasters sample pack thrown in for good measure. This will definitely keep the load in and pack down to a minimum!
The Yamaha reface series deserves to be mentioned again in this blog, purely because the Electric Combo Organ is so good. This extremely compact yet powerful 37-key (3 octaves) mini-action keyboard organ is tough enough to survive decades of touring. Take advantage of 5 vintage organ sounds, all of which created by the Organ Flutes Tone Generator that is an onboard feature. Choose from American tonewheel organ, British transistor organ, Italian transistor organ, Japanese transistor organ, and the Yamaha YC-45D and enjoy flicking through a host of effects and settings via the onboard switches. A really cool feature that will appeal to musicians, especially those who create their own music is the ability to store and recall voices via the iPhone/iPad Reface iOS app. You can even create playlists for your voices and share them through QR codes via email or print.
The Roland JD-Xi Interactive Analog-Digital Crossover Synthesizer is aimed squarely at the professional musician in need of a powerful space saving synthesizer that can withstand years of touring. With only 37 mini-size keys, it definitely fits into our mini keyboard and synth category comfortably. The cool thing about this synth, aside from the true analog sound section of course, is the built in four track sequencer and rhythm section which can really take your music to new places. The extremely handy gooseneck mic is perfect for those who want to take advantage of the built in in vocoder and autopitch capabilities too. Effects such as Bit Crusher, Slicer, and Ring Mod really help to sculpt your sound and with the combination of 2 of Roland’s powerful superNATURAL digital sound engines already installed, you’ll find the Roland JD-Xi extremely useful on stage and in the studio.