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Evolution MK461c Midi/USB controller keyboard

picture of evoltion mk461c

Picture from www.evolution.co.uk

I'd gone through a series of five octave keyboards before buying the Evolution MK461c in 2004 for about £160. I was planning to do a bit more techno, and that plethora of sliders and knobs caught my eye: the five octave keyboard would meet all my keyboard playing needs, and I could tweak away to my heart's content on those millions of controllers:

In all, there are 9 sliders and 12 knobs (with a 0 and 127 point - they're not continuously rotating ones like found on some equipment). There is also a LCD screen and a number keypad, eight buttons for selecting functions and up-down transpose buttons. This keyboard has none of the esoteric “hold down two buttons while pressing middle C for 5 seconds” control functions found on some quite expensive keyboards, where you have to guess what value you’re sending.

However, despite the clear display, it’s not exactly easy to programme the sliders, particularly if you’re not used to Midi controller values; there’s some computer software which I think makes this easier. Fortunately, once you’ve got the sliders to do what you want, it stores them in battery-backed memory, so you might only have to programme it once, unless you have so many values to tweak that you need to regularly re-assign!

It's designed mostly for use with a computer, hence the lack of power supply in the box - it uses USB. But there is a power input, and a MIDI out, so this will work just as well as a gig keyboard. And it’s stupidly light, and about as small as it could be too!

The keyboard feel is OK, but not exactly nice. If you have any other velocity keyboards, the Evolution will probably feel worse but, to be fair, it's not the worst keyboard I've encountered.

I used it with Windows 98 and a Yamaha SW1000XG with Gigastudio and Cubase, and it was fine. I ran into problems when I was preparing to do some gigs using a Roland U220. When I used the sustain pedal (that's a clever feature - it works out how your pedal is wired, and sets whether sustain is “press to break” or “press to connect” and adjusts itself accordingly) I found the Roland was coming up wth a “MIDI offline error” and notes were cutting out. And then I managed to knacker my power supply unit… I sent the keyboard away to be checked under warranty, because Evolution admitted it was a “MIDI implementation error”, but it came back with the same problem, and Evolution didn't reply to further emails.

In the meantime, I'd borrowed an 88 note Roland RS-9 digital piano, and I found my playing improved so much on the weighted keyboard, and I decided I wanted a nicer keyboard. I’d found that I had hardly used all those knobs - I was using them to record MIDI data into Cubase rather than live, which is always tricky, trying to get it right. They seemed to work alright, but trying to set the controller values with just a 3 figure display wasn’t so easy. A top tip for people working in the studio with those nasty on-screen sliders is to get a Wacom pen tablet - easier than a mouse, and great if you do any graphical/retouching work as well as music. I think maybe the Evolution software makes it easier to set up the keyboard, which seems to remember its settings when it’s turned off, which is good.

This would be a great keyboard for controlling a virtual synth or mixer on a laptop at a live gig, especially for someone who’s enough of a musician to use the velocity and five octaves. It’s not a super-sturdy keyboard, but it’s so light that it would probably float gently to the ground if you dropped it! Everything worked fine on the MK461c, apart from that pesky problem with my U220: I've tried it with several other MIDI instruments and it’s worked fine. So who knows?

I hope that helps -pb