The Hammer 88 Pro is the new and full-featured version of the existing Hammer 88 keyboard controller. M-Audio made many pianists very happy with the original Hammer 88 and look set to build on that success with this latest release. Our review discusses the pros and cons of this M-Audio controller and who it might suit most.Table of contents:
Hammer 88 Pro overview
Like the original model, the Hammer 88 Pro is an 88-key MIDI keyboard controller with hammer-action keys. It’s for anyone who wants flexible functionality without sacrificing a realistic piano feel.
You can see the changes immediately compared to the original Hammer 88. The Pro version has 16 RGB backlit, velocity-sensitive pads. Each pad is fully-assignable, has a note-repeat function, and is ideal for triggering samples, clips, and loops. The Hammer 88 Pro also features eight assignable knobs and buttons, along with nine assignable faders.
M-Audio has added two brand-new features to the Hammer 88 Pro: Smart Chord and Smart Scale. Smart Chord is a function that lets you trigger complex chords from a single root note. The notes added to your root are determined by the settings you choose using the OLED screen.
Smart Scale is slightly similar; this time, when activated, you will only be able to play the notes that exist in your selected scale. It’s a safety net to avoid any wrong notes and has 16 selectable scale variations.
M-Audio has added an arpeggiator with various types and octave, gate, swing controls. If you use footswitches a lot, the Hammer 88 Pro has space for three and an expression pedal. The OLED screen is also a new addition, along with aftertouch, which we will discuss more below.
In terms of assignable controls, the Hammer 88 has plenty, so there are no issues there. But the thing that makes it so good in this department is that it comes with an auto-map function for popular DAWs.
Using the OLED screen, you can select auto-map presets for Pro Tools, Logic, MPC Beats, and many other DAWs for complete hands-on control.
The OLED screen provides a massive workflow boost whatever DAW you use because it makes browsing and demoing sounds faster and easier.
Beyond the basic transport and mixer controls of your DAW, you can assign any of the Hammer 88 Pro’s controls to parameters in your plugins. It’s especially good for expression control when using virtual instruments like orchestral libraries.
In the studio
It’s common for an 88-key keyboard of some sort to be the centerpiece of a studio setup. The downside is that it takes up a considerable amount of space compared to a desktop-sized controller.
The key to being a great centerpiece for any studio is control. As we just covered, the Hammer 88 provides awesome control over your DAW and plugins, but it also has MIDI in/out too. So, you can hook up to any of your external MIDI gear and control everything from one place.
It’s always nice to have a full-size keyboard in the studio when you want to record more expressive piano parts. The Hammer 88 Pro, with its beautifully-weighted keys, is ideal for that, and the addition of the RGB pads takes it to another level.
You don’t need to move around the studio or even just your desk to go from keys, to pads, to a fader/expression controller.
Being able to do so many things from one device generally means you work faster without interrupting your creative spark. If you make music often, you’ll know that’s very important to any producer.
When we talked about using the Hammer 88 Pro in the studio, the downside was its size (for anyone with a small space). So, for the stage, we need to say it’s a very heavy MIDI controller, thanks mainly to the hammer-action keys.
Suppose you are used to carrying around a stage piano. In that case, the weight won’t bother you, but many people gig with MIDI controllers as a lightweight alternative to an 88-key stage piano or workstation. The deal is you either go for light and less realistic keys or heavier with hammer-action keys.
With that out of the way, the hammer-action keys are outstanding. We have loved the feel of the original Hammer 88 for a long time, and the Pro version is just as good. It’s also far cheaper than a high-end stage piano or workstation.
The pads, knobs, faders, and deeper DAW integration add an entirely new dimension to live performance with the Hammer 88 Pro. Previously, people may have used a Hammer 88 and another smaller controller for pads/samples; now, you don’t need to. It’s a far more immersive playing experience.
Another feature that changes how you perform is aftertouch. Aftertouch is one of the most intuitive features any keyboard can have, and if you play with synth, strings, or organ sounds, you’ll love it.
M-Audio is by far one of the top manufacturers when it comes to budget MIDI keyboard controllers. If we ever had a complaint about older M-Audio units, it’s that the build quality wasn’t exceptional. We, and many other users, could accept it because the overall value for money was so good.
The Hammer 88 Pro is a little different because we are no longer in the budget price range. Thankfully, the build quality is superb to match the price increase.
Having hammer-action keys, the Hammer 88 Pro needs to house them in a solid case. It does so with a hard plastic front and sides and a metal top/back panel.
The pitch/mod wheels are chunky and nice to use, as are the rest of the faders, knobs, and buttons.
Everything about it is solid and doesn’t have that delicate feeling that comes with some MIDI controllers. It even manages to look pretty sleek, despite its size and weight.
The Hammer 88 Pro comes with a pretty extensive software bundle, as do most M-Audio controllers. It starts with three DAWs, which are Pro Tools First (M-Audio Edition), MPC Beats, and Ableton Live Lite.
You also get six virtual instruments from AIR Music Technology. Hybrid 3.0 is the most expansive of the included instruments, and it’s a real workhorse synth engine for all types of music. It works with Vacuum, which is a monophonic virtual analog synth.
From synths to classic keys, you get three vintage keyboard instruments; Velvet (electric piano), Mini Grand, and DB-33 Hammond Organ.
Wrapping up the software bundle is Boom, a versatile drum machine plugin that mimics vintage drum machines.
Compared to other keyboard controllers
If you want 88 hammer-action keys, pads, faders, the whole works, there aren’t too many options. But, if you can be a little flexible, here are a few options you might like.
Hammer 88 Pro vs. Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII
The KeyLab 88 MkII is the most direct competitor to the Hammer 88 Pro, and it’s fantastic. Not too long ago, we would have said it was the best full-size, full-function controller around; now, the Hammer 88 Pro narrowly edges it.
Check out our full Arturia KeyLab MkII review
Hammer 88 Pro vs. NI Komplete Kontrol S88
There’s no doubt that the Komplete Kontrol S88 is a fantastic controller, especially if you are a fan of NI plugins. However, it’s just not as flexible as the Hammer 88 Pro, and at over $1000, it should be.
Hammer 88 Pro vs. Hammer 88
OK, this might seem like a strange alternative to list. But, if you want the feel of the Hammer 88 Pro without all the bells and whistles, get the original, save some cash.
Final verdict on the Hammer 88 Pro
It’s genuinely difficult to find anything to dislike about the Hammer 88 Pro. Common complaints about MIDI keyboard controllers are that they either don’t feel realistic enough or don’t have enough features; this one does it all. We love it and think it’s very reasonably priced by comparison to the competition.
- Realistic hammer-action keys.
- Fantastic software bundle.
- Incredible DAW integration.
- Great build quality.
- Big and heavy.