The Hammer 88 Pro is the enhanced version of the popular Hammer 88 keyboard controller. M-Audio made many pianists very happy with the original Hammer 88 and looks 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.
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Final verdict on the Hammer 88 Pro
It’s genuinely difficult to find anything to dislike about the Hammer 88 Pro. We love it and think it’s very reasonably priced by comparison to the competition.
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.
What we like
- Realistic hammer-action keyboard.
- Easy DAW integration.
- Lots of assignable controls.
- Great software bundle.
- Solid build quality.
What we don’t like
- Pretty heavy.
We loved the original Hammer 88 because of the excellent hammer-action keyboard. We expected nothing less from the Hammer 88 Pro, and given the name, it couldn’t possibly be any less than hammer-action keys.
But, if we had one concern, it was that the quality of the action would suffer for the sake of adding more features.
Thankfully, we needn’t worry; the Hammer 88 Pro has the same authentic hammer-action feel as the original. The keys are responsive through any playing style, and in our experience, that responsiveness should last for years.
The Hammer 88 Pro offers aftertouch and assignable zones in a step up from the original.
The assignable controls transform the Hammer 88 Pro into a multi-function production powerhouse rather than just a great piano.
Faders and knobs
The Hammer 88 Pro comes with nine assignable faders and eight assignable rotary knobs. If we go by the numbers, that’s awesome; it’s as many as you’d find on most high-quality keyboard controllers.
We would have preferred to see the rotary knobs positioned above the faders rather than on the opposite side of the panel.
Pitch and modulation wheels
We were pretty surprised to see pitch and modulation wheels on the original Hammer 88, but we’re pleased to see the Pro still has them.
We like these particular wheels because they are a perfect size and have a smooth action, making them very easy to use.
The Hammer 88 Pro offers a solid mix of productivity-enhancing features and an authentic piano experience.
It features a flexible arpeggiator with type, gate, octave, and swing controls. Arpeggiators are often the thing that kicks off the music-making process.
16 RGB backlit pads
We have a slightly mixed opinion about the RGB backlit pads. On the one hand, we love that there are 16; it opens up endless production and performance possibilities.
On the other hand, we don’t like the two rows of eight layout and would have preferred to see a solid block of 16.
It’s not a huge complaint, but it’s a better design for anyone interested in advanced finger drumming.
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.
The Hammer 88 Pro has plenty of assignable controls, so there are no issues there, but we feel it could have a better layout.
As we mentioned above, the rotary knobs are not being by the faders, and that’s an issue because it’s easier to use them in tandem when they are closer. It comes up when automating expression or other parameters in synth or strings VSTs.
On the plus side, it has 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 (it could be a little bigger).
The Hammer 88 Pro has all the ingredients for a speedy workflow; the layout doesn’t totally convince us, but others might love it.
The Hammer 88 Pro comes with four pedal inputs for sustain, soft, footswitch, and expression. It has USB Type-B to connect to your computer as well as MIDI in/out.
Generally, we are happy with the connectivity, but it would have been even better to see CV connectivity.
The Hammer 88 Pro comes with a pretty extensive software bundle, as do most M-Audio controllers. It starts with three DAWs: Pro Tools First (M-Audio Edition), MPC Beats, and Ableton Live Lite.
You also get six virtual instruments from AIR Music Tech. 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.
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.
M-Audio is 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 slightly different because we are no longer in the budget price range. Thankfully, the build quality is superb to match the price increase.
The Hammer 88 Pro needs to house hammer-action keys in a solid case. It does so with a hard plastic front and sides and a metal top/back panel.
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.
Compared to other keyboard controllers
There aren’t too many options if you want 88 hammer-action keys, pads, faders; the whole works. But, if you can be a little flexible, here are a few options you might like.
Hammer 88 Pro vs Arturia KeyLab 88 Mk2
The Keylab 88 Mk2 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.
Hammer 88 Pro vs Native Instruments 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 the price, 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, and save some cash.
You can also check out our picks for the best 88-key weighted MIDI controllers.
Who is the M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro best suited for?
It suits composers/producers who need the piano experience without sacrificing assignable controls and features.Buy from: SweetwaterAmazon