The MIDI controller. Some years ago, that would have prompted the response, a what? Nowadays, it is an essential part of the setup at any studio that uses keyboards. And most of them do.
The controller is basically just a keyboard. There aren’t any sounds in a controller; it just receives and transmits information. MIDI information not sounds. You must have another external source for the sounds. It serves as the link between a musical instrument and a computer — a Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
It may resemble a keyboard or a piano-style instrument, but you will notice an array of other controls, including sliders, wheels, and buttons.
The majority of MIDI keyboards are not instruments. They are there to send data to the software on your computer. The sound you require is made by a particular piece of software within your computer. This can be by what is known as a plug-in or a virtual instrument.
It can be any instrument you want. As an example, if there is a virtual piano on your computer, it will play in real-time through your controller. You play it on the controller just as you would a real piano. This applies to any instrument for which you have a sound, even drums or voices.
The difference is that in a non-MIDI world, the piano itself creates the sound. Using a MIDI controller, the software in the computer creates it. Most modern keyboards can also operate as a MIDI keyboard.
Is there a ‘MIDI Out’ socket on your keyboard?. If there is, then it will.
Alesis have not been around that long. We suppose maybe that isn’t surprising because the business they are in hasn’t been here long either. Established in 1984, they are based in the US in Rhode Island. They now specialize in pro audio computer-related products and music recording equipment.
Anyone who knows them will tell you they produce great products. Even some that will compete with the best. But that they are all at a very cost-effective price and often much cheaper than their competitors. That is what they do, and they do it very well.
Let’s have a closer look at one of their midi controllers in this…
Alesis V49 Review
The very nature of the MIDI keyboard probably means that it is not going to be flamboyant in its design and presentation. It is not intended in any way to look impressive or catch the eye. It doesn’t need to. In most cases, it will only ever be seen in a recording studio.
Eccentric looking equipment is unlikely to be a talking point in that environment. Most MIDI keyboards tend to be functional items and thankfully, rather boring to look at. If they are a bit flashy, there is a good chance they won’t be very good at their job.
The Alesis V49 is functional, but we have to say it is not unattractive and has enough visual design to make it interesting. But let’s press on to more important matters…
The Design & Build
Let us make one thing very clear from the outset. This is a budget MIDI controller. The Alesis midi controller keyboard is not an all whistling and dancing keyboard. It is not going to make the tea while it creates the sounds of your next big song. We should keep that in mind as we see what it has to offer. Nevertheless, as we shall see, it performs very well.
What we were saying in our opening preamble just about applies to this controller. It is not going to raise any eyebrows or win any awards for its design and layout. But there is something very appealing about its simplicity and almost minimalist feel.
It looks like it is here to do the job and then go home. It has a black design chassis that is simple and uncomplicated. And it is quite sleek in its design and not bulky. Neither is it heavy, weighing just 6.28 pounds, and its 37.6 by 9.6 by 4.5-inch size makes it a compact unit.
There are a number of buttons, knobs, and pads for control operations. More on this later. They are nicely backlit in a not too bright blue. In a dimly lit room, they look quite cool. The keys are semi-weighted, which to those that are used to that is good. If you are not, then it will take some time to get used to the feel of it. Semi-weighted keys are not to everyone’s liking. All we can say is persevere, and it will be worth it.
It is made of plastic as nearly all keyboards are these days, but it is a heavy-duty material. Clearly able to withstand a few bangs and knocks, it has a sturdy-feeling about it and is built to last. With the nicely laid out backlit control panels, tough build, and sleek design, it looks the part. It looks like a pro machine.
What Is Under The Hood?
Some MIDI controllers are loaded with features. Some have hundreds of times the computing power that took Neil, Buzz, and Mike to the moon. But when you are making a piece of equipment like this, there must by necessity, be cutbacks. If you want to make it as cost-effective as possible, that is. And that is what Alesis do.
It is clear the design had to include certain factors. Full-size keys being one thing. This was obviously a priority and in our view an essential for a pro machine. Having made the decision to use full-size keys, do you make the controller physically larger or are there some things that can be omitted.
There are 49 keys and eight pads, all of which are programmable. Also featuring two jog wheels, which are used for pitch and modulation that are rubber-coated, which are an important inclusion. There are also four control knobs that are programmable. In terms of actual hands-on controls, that is about it.
Some will argue that they need more than that, and it is true some features have been omitted. But for the price point, it is still an excellent deal you are getting. It has more than enough for anyone new to MIDI controllers to get their heads around,
We should say at this point that the V49 operates with both Windows and Mac. Also, there is an onboard set of software that includes Ableton Live Lite 9
Products that look good don’t always perform up to their visual expectations. But how does the V49 shape up?
We would have to say that the answer to that question is very well. There will be a learning curve with regard to the controls. Is there anything technical where there isn’t? Once you have mastered them, then it is easy to operate.
The V49 has a good Editor that gives you the chance to edit the MIDI messages sent to your computer. To gain even more practical control over your performance, the velocity curves are adjustable. You can, therefore, set the pads and the keys to your own style of playing.
The keys and the pads on the V49 are very responsive to the touch. If you are a bit heavy-handed you are going to struggle with some elements. The keys will not appreciate it or perform if you suddenly turn into Jerry Lee.
And if you have a John Bonham moment on the pads, it won’t like that either. And it will tell you by not operating correctly. You can adjust the sensitivity, as we have said – use it and tread gently.
As mentioned, once you have mastered a basic understanding of the controls, life becomes easier. With 49 keys and eight drum pads, you have a wealth of possibilities at your fingertips.
We mentioned earlier about the control options. Having influence over pitch and modulation and octave up and down buttons are giving you a good level of control. Closing and opening the filters with the knobs and buttons and being able to change volume levels are all useful, as is being able to use effects and change parameters.
Some may think this machine is lacking in some of the finer points. But those elements that are included have easy controls that make it simple to operate. They are also very effective.
Alesis V49 Review Pros & Cons
- Superb basic control options.
- Simple, stylish, functional design.
- Well built.
- Easy to use after you’ve got used to it.
- Very inexpensive considering the quality and features.
- Some users will want more control, but that comes at a higher price.
If you’re interested in learning more about Alesis products, then check out our in-depth Alesis Melody review, our Alesis Coda review, and our Alesis Recital review.
The Alesis V49 is a functional and practical MIDI controller. It is well-designed and presented and has a strong build that will last. Not flamboyant in its design, it is still attractive and has a professional look to it.
The backlit keys are the only feature that is in any way eye-catching. This function serves a practical application rather than an aesthetic one and will be a plus point in a dimly lit studio.
It has some good connections and software possibilities that are included. The Keys and pads will take a little time to get used to, but we do not see that as a negative point. The controls are neatly laid out and self-explanatory. There will, though, be a learning curve, as we have already mentioned.
Some will be critical over the options included and the way that the instrument plays. Those will be personal issues.
Whatever the negatives that may be used, this machine is a great little MIDI controller. It is a starter machine and has enough onboard to keep you busy. But anything it lacks is more than made up for by its reliability and performance.
At this price point, it is a great buy — a great introduction to the world of MIDI and MIDI controllers.