Review: CME Xkey MIDI Controller

We got the CME Xkey MIDI Controller in the studio the other day, so here is a review on it.

There were few reviews on the CME Xkey on the internet but I dug in deeper. How playable is the Xkey? Would you and can you really use the Xkey for some serious music making?

The unit we tested and made a review on is a 25 key model, the CME Xkey 25.

 

 Click to watch the video review on how playable the CME Xkey is

Verdict On The CME Keyboard

Price: $99

Works with the iPad, Mac & Windows.
Real sized keys. Not mini keys.
Slim designed keys
USB powered

Pros:

  • Light & very portable
  • Very playable
  • Great latency – No delays when programming music.
  • Sensitivity programmable keys with an included software (XKey Plus)
  • High quality build.

Cons:

  • Takes a little time getting used to
  • Playing chords might be a little hard

 

Running the CME Xkey 25 On a Lenovo Y510p  with Cubase 7

Running the CME Xkey 25 On a Lenovo Y510p with Cubase 7

First Touch

The CME Xkey came in a slim box which gives you the same feeling when you unbox a Macbook. It feels premium and in fact the body of the Xkey is made from the same material (brushed aluminium) used to make Macbooks. It comes with a micro USB which you use to connect the Xkey to your computer or your iPad, which got me thinking. That adds up to the number of different USB cables I’ve to stock in the studio. Micro USB for the Xkey, Mini USB for the Zoom H1 and a normal USB for the Samson Graphite 49 that I have on the desk.

The USB is plugged on the right of the Xkey

The USB is plugged on the right of the Xkey

The USB connects on the right top corner on the CME Xkey, which initially got me a little annoyed because I have my mouse on my right and the cables were disturbing my mouse movements. Small issue, considering many people have different setups in the studio.

Getting the Xkey running was pretty easy. Simply plug the USB cable into a spare USB outlet on your computer, launch your favourite DAW and you’re good to go. To my surprise, latency was pretty good on the Xkey. I didn’t have any issues with latency even when using the Xkey with Windows Audio.

I didn’t test the Xkey with the iPad simply because I never felt serious music making should be made on the iPad. Some people might feel different about this but that’s totally fine. I understand all of us have a different approach and method when it comes to producing music.

Is The CME Xkey Playable?

The first VST instrument I loaded to try the Xkey was the piano, my main instrument. It was a nice experience playing some piano lines and small chords on the Xkey. Being a sucker for portable MIDI controllers, I’ve tried producing on the Korg microKey, Korg nanoKey series, Samson Graphite Mini & M-Audio Keystation Mini 32

I found the XKey to be the best among the lot with the microKey second in place. Korg microKey has really small keys which some people might find hard to play and don’t get me started on the Korg nanoKey. The keys from the first nanoKey batch was so fragile that it a few keys broke after a week of moderate usage. The nanoKey 2 is now improved and should be more durable though.

The Xkey despite being really flat is extremely playable. It could take a little time getting used to it if you have played conventional keyboards for some time. However after a while playing around, I was able to control the velocities pretty well and record expressive recording takes on my DAW. I tried the Xkey with a few different instruments on Cubase, from strings, piano, synths, basses and drums. I can tell that the Xkey was very thoughtfully built up as there were easy buttons on the left to quickly shift an octave up or down, a sustain pedal for pianos, pitch up & down for playing synths/woodwinds and a vibrato/modulation button for VST instruments that comes with expression.

The CME Xkey also comes with pressure sensitive keys which means you can add up to more expression will playing on the Xkey. Although I don’t find myself using much aftertouch expressions when producing in the studio, aftertouch expression functions will be a godsend for stage performers. If you’re a stage performer who is obsessed in keyboards and keys on stage, the Xkey would be a great addition to your setup.

Xport Connector: The Xkey 37 comes with the Xport connector which allows you to MIDI out, plug in a sustain pedal and expression pedal to the Xkey, giving you more expression control and expansion to the Xkey.

Programmable Keys – Now That’s Neat!

If you have watched my reviews on some MIDI controllers, I sometimes complain about how stiff some MIDI controllers can be. Because of the stiffness, sometimes it becomes hard to control your touch on the keyboard thus not getting an accurate velocity recording when programming music.

The Xkey somehow addresses that problem. Besides being able to update the firmware and keep everything updated with the Xkey Plus configuration app, you can also set the velocity curve or create your own velocity curve for the Xkey! This means you can customize your own velocity curve to anyway you want it. Some producers prefer to switch to a harder velocity when programming drums and some prefer a softer velocity curve, so it all depends on you.

Draw your own velocity curves and program it to the CME Xkey

Draw your own velocity curves and program it to the CME Xkey

 

The other thing I really find remarkable on the Xkey Plus is that you can program each and every key to have different sensitivity levels. With some tweaking here, you can customize your playing experience on the Xkey, giving you the ability to lower down the sensitivity of certain keys or crank them to a higher sensitivity level if you like. This can be very useful if you feel the Xkey to be too sensitive when playing certain types of instruments and such.

Adjust-sensitivity-levels-on-each-key

Program different sensitivity for each key on the CME Xkey.

Closing Up

The CME Xkey is by far the most versatile and customizable portable MIDI controller I’ve put my hands on and I think it’ll beat most portable MIDI controllers in the market. The keys are flat though and some people (especially pianists) might find it un-tasteful. However if you find yourself traveling a lot and you need a portable MIDI controller that feels right and fits in your bag right, the CME Xkey would be ideal for you.

Price wise, the CME Xkey is a little bit more expensive than its portable MIDI controller siblings and some might want an alternative to the Xkey. Below are some portable MIDI keyboard alternatives that I can recommend.

M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 – Great looking mini MIDI controller. Touch feels a little bit like a keyboard and takes a little time to get used to its touch and mini keys. Volume knob is very welcomed. (The Xkey is missing a volume knob or slider)

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Graphite M32 or M25 – Samson makes MIDI controllers at a very affordable price list. Works well and extremely playable as well. Very nice pitch and modulation ribbon controls.

Korg microKey – This is like a mini keyboard with mini keys. I love its touch. Only thing I felt missing was a jack to use a sustain pedal with. It would be a winner for me otherwise. They have a 61 key version as well, but why no sustain jack?

 

CME Xkey Air on IndieGogo

 

indiegogo CME Xkey CampaignCME is coming out with the new Xkey Air, the latest addition to their line up of Xkey models that works wirelessly. This seems like a good idea but my only concern is the latency and connection issue that might occur. In the past, M-Audio had a few wireless MIDI controllers as well but I experienced lots of drop out, latency and issues when using them. Call me old fashion but I prefer to go straight to producing music when inspiration hits and not be bogged down by technical failures.

I do support the upcoming CME Xkey Air though. Visit their funding campaign on IndieGogo to support CME in some funding as well, to see the CME Xkey Air coming to the market. (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/xkey-air-the-bluetooth-mobile-music-keyboard#/story)

Do you own an Xkey as well? What are your experiences with it and how are you using the Xkey in your setup? Tell us below.

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