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M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 review

M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £50
inc VAT

This tiny, low-cost MIDI keyboard is a great idea but suffers from spongy keys and a poor implementation of velocity sensitivity

The Keystation Mini 32 is a 32-note USB MIDI keyboard small enough to fit into a backpack, making it easy to compose on the move using just a laptop and the keyboard. Although it costs just £50, it’s quite well equipped, with a bank of buttons that you can use your MIDI sequencer software to map different functions to, or just leave configured as the Mini 32’s standard map.

There’s also a knob – by default configured as a volume controller. This adjusts the volume data sent to your sequencer software. The Keystation Mini 32, like most MIDI keyboards, has no integrated speaker or processor – it’s just a dumb controller. Other buttons change octave and trigger effects such as pitch bends and sustain.

One of the keyboard’s most notable features is its velocity-sensitive keys. This means how hard you press the keys directly affect the volume of the note recorded by your sequencer. It’s not something we’ve seen much on keyboards this small. Based on our experience with the Mini 32, there’s a good reason for this: it doesn’t really work very well.

M-Audio Keystation Mini 32

We have tiny, nimble fingers that are well used to playing complex patterns and arpeggios on a keyboard, but although our hands are small enough to play such a small keyboard quite fluently, we found it almost impossible to put even pressure on the keys. They feel spongy and unresponsive, and don’t move enough to provide accurate feedback. This in turn meant that when we applied what we thought was the same weight and velocity to different keys, the notes encoded by our MIDI sequencer were often at different volumes.

Those who don’t simply happen to have MIDI sequencing software lying around will be pleased to hear that the Keystation comes with a copy of Sibelius First, an entry-level MIDI package produced by M-Audio’s parent company, Avid. It’s a great little MIDI package, heavily oriented towards producing notation and full score arrangements, but with a decent instrument bank to boot. You can input notes one at a time using step entry or have the software record the notation, timing and velocity data sent by the keyboard in real time. Sibelius First normally costs around £130, and won our Best Buy award last year.

Whether you’re recording live or performing note-by-note step entry to your sequencer, a keyboard of this size is most useful when it’s kept as simple as possible. We’d have preferred to just hit the keys and have a note – without velocity or volume data – appear in our sequencer. While it’s possible to disable your MIDI map’s ability to record velocity, the keyboard still feels unpleasantly heavy and unresponsive to use. It’s nice to see M-Audio making an attempt at a low-cost MIDI input device, but the Mini 32’s compromised functionality makes this no bargain. The inclusion of Sibelius First MIDI software is a saving grace, but we’d prefer a better keyboard to use it with.



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