M-Audio’s Keystation range provides some of the best-selling MIDI keyboard controllers on the market.
The success of the Keystation range is primarily thanks to three defining characteristics: simple, reliable, and budget-friendly. You can go for 88, 61, or 49 keys, and there’s even a much smaller 32 mini keys version.
Our review will cover everything that makes the Keystation so popular and anything that it could potentially do better.
Our verdict on the Keystation Mk3
The Keystation Mk3 embodies the phrase, what you see is what you get. They are simple keyboard controllers with no bells and whistles, but they do the job better than many others at a similar price. A fantastic software bundle is the icing on the cake.Check availability here: SweetwaterAmazon
As you can see, we aren’t overly impressed by the number of assignable controls offered by the Keystation controllers. But, in M-Audio’s defense, they designed the Keystation to be as streamlined as possible, so we can’t have everything.
Pitch bend and mod wheels
The pitch and mod wheels are surprisingly wide for such streamlined controllers, and we think most users will like that. The larger size of the wheels often makes them easier to use with precision control.
We typically love to see assignable faders on MIDI keyboards, especially when we get to 61 or 88-keys, but, in this case, the mod wheel will be your go-to expression tool.
The transport controls are pretty basic (Stop, Play, Record), but even basic transport controls can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend clicking your mouse and staring at your computer screen.
The directional buttons are very handy for basic navigation. Again, similar to transport controls, it’s a feature you might not think you need until you start using it. You can use them to navigate your DAW/plugins quickly without taking your hands off your controller.
Octave and volume
Engaging the Advanced button will allow you to use the Keystation’s primary controls to control various functions in your DAW or plugins. Those primary controls include octave up/down buttons and a volume slider.
The volume slider, in particular, will be very useful as an alternative to the mod wheel when automating expression.
These streamlined MIDI keyboard controllers don’t have performance pads, arpeggiators, chord/scale modes, or anything similar. So, this area was complicated to score because there were no real production tools to discuss.
So, why haven’t we rated it zero out of five? Well, if we look at the Keystation as a whole, it’s a very useful tool for music production, and we don’t want that to get lost in a terrible score.
As we said regarding assignable controls, you have to sacrifice some features for such a streamlined unit.
Developing a speedy workflow is vital in music production; the fewer things interrupt your creative process, the better. Sometimes, that kind of workflow can come from an abundance of intuitive features/functions or from keeping it simple; Keystation keeps it simple.
We have established that Keystation Mk3 controllers don’t offer a wide range of features and functions. However, another way to look at it is that they come with very few distractions. You can be up and running in seconds, making music, and done on a tight budget.
If you want a simple keyboard that’s extremely portable, you can’t go wrong with a Keystation Mk3.
Advanced button and key controls
We mentioned the Advanced button above, and we are giving it a second mention here because it allows you to work faster. It creates a more hands-on workflow, and that’s always a good thing.
You’ll notice some function labels above the keys, and although it’s not the same as having dedicated buttons, it furthers the hands-on experience by keeping you away from the tedious point and click mouse longer.
All three models offer slightly different connectivity options, but they all start with USB (Type B). The Keystation 88 and 61 offer additional 5-pin MIDI out, which is fantastic if you own some external MIDI gear.
The 88-key version also features two pedal inputs for sustain and expression, while the others only provide a single sustain pedal input.
We love that the Keystation 88 has an additional pedal input because it makes a huge difference when a controller has so few assignable controls. However, we would have liked to see it on the smaller models.
The 49-key model doesn’t offer 5-pin MIDI out.
Now, if the Keystation lacks in some areas, the software bundle certainly isn’t one of them. The bundle includes two DAWs: Ableton Live Lite and MPC Beats. Both DAWs are ideal for beginners and offer plenty for experienced users too. We like the choice of DAWs because Ableton is perfect for EDM, and MPC Beats is perfect for Hip Hop beat-making.
In addition to MPC Beats, you’ll get a selection of MPC expansion packs featuring production-ready samples.
You also get a bunch of free virtual instruments from AIR Music Tech. The free instruments include the versatile Xpand!2, Velvet (electric pianos), Boom (drums), and DB-33 (tonewheel organs).
When you register your new MIDI keyboard controller, you’ll get a three months subscription to Skoove, and 40 free lessons from Melodics, making this bundle one of the best for beginners.
Considering the Keystation series doesn’t offer a premium-feeling keyboard, we still think it’s deserving of an impressive score.
The first reason for our high score is that such slimline controllers often feel too light, and performing with genuine expression and articulation is challenging. However, the semi-weighted keys of the 88 and 61-key versions are amongst the best you can buy in the price range.
The second reason is that many manufacturers switch to synth-action keys for 61-key models, but M-Audio has stuck with semi-weighted keys for all but the 49-key version. The keys are still light, so you shouldn’t expect anything like a genuine piano feel, but they offer just enough resistance to showcase dynamics comfortably.
The synth-action keys on the Keystation 49 are perfectly suited to the smaller controller.
We can keep this section short by saying these controllers are incredibly lightweight; with that in mind, they aren’t the most robust. However, the controls, buttons, wheels, and slider all feel surprisingly nice.
So, we see no real complaints with all things considered (price, weight, etc.).
Compared to other MIDI controllers
Before you make your choice, check out a few worthy alternatives.
M-Audio Keystation vs. Nektar Impact LX+
If you can stretch your budget a little further, the LX+ series has far more to offer in terms of assignable controls, etc.
M-Audio Keystation vs. Alesis Q Mk2
The Alesis Q series controllers are very similar to the Keystation range. For that reason, we’d stick with the more proven Keystation.
M-Audio Keystation vs. Nektar Impact GX
Nektar’s Impact GX range provides straightforward keyboard controllers, which we like. But, M-Audio delivers a far better software bundle.
You can also check out our picks of the best MIDI keyboard controllers on the market right now.
Who is the M-Audio Keystation series best suited for?
It suits beginners and experienced users who want a simple controller keyboard with no fuss.
- Great software bundle.
- Value for money.
- Limited assignable controls.
- Limited functionality.