Midi Keyboard Vs. Synth: Which Should You Buy?


Due to so many gadgets available, many musicians find themselves in the dilemma of what equipment to purchase. Although it could get frustrating not knowing what to choose, it’s pretty easy making the right choice if certain factors are put into consideration.

We’ll look at three factors below, which would greatly determine the right choice when purchasing musical equipment, in this case, a MIDI Keyboard or a Synthesizer. These factors are:

  • Cost
  • Set-up
  • Purpose of Purchase

Before we discuss these factors in detail, let’s take a brief look at these musical instruments.

What Is A MIDI Keyboard?

A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard, also called MIDI controller is a piece of equipment with the layout of a basic keyboard, used to send audio signals through a MIDI or USB cable into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It comes in several sizes- dependent on cost, and has some knobs, buttons, and a pad, used in manipulating Virtual Instruments (VST- plugins). It could be two, three, four or five octaves in length. 

A MIDI controller has no sound of its own but depends on virtual instruments linked to it through a MIDI cable. In other words, there are no external speakers made with the instrument. It is specifically designed to work with virtual instruments.

What Is A Synthesizer?

A Synthesizer (also spelled as “synthesiser”) is an electronic musical instrument with the layout of a standard keyboard, used to manipulate specific audio sounds or built-in effects stored or programmed into it by default. They are controlled by sequencers, software, or other attached instruments usually via MIDI. Synthesizers are often four to five octaves in length and produce sound from the speakers built into them. 

They generate audio signals which can be manipulated using certain in-built components such as filters, envelopes, and low-frequency oscillators. Some synthesizers (Hardware synthesizers) have MIDI capabilities and can be used as controllers to send signals to DAWs.

Now let’s discuss in detail, the factors that can influence the choice of a MIDI Keyboard over a Synthesizer and vice versa.

  • Cost

Due to how it is made, with less programmable features on it, a MIDI keyboard is less expensive when compared to a synthesizer. Hence, depending on your availability of funds, you’d definitely know what you’re capable of purchasing. Now, this doesn’t mean a MIDI controller is inferior to a Synthesizer nor does it mean a synthesizer is better than a MIDI controller. Hopefully, other factors should clear the doubts.

  • Set-up

Now this is another key area you’d want to be considering. You really don’t want to purchase what would take you so much useful time to set-up or manipulate. A similar analogy would be going to buy a car when you haven’t learned to drive or even had a license: there’s every tendency you’d get the car crashed in no time.

Most times its preferable to learn how to use a musical equipment before purchasing it. This would really save you the nightmares of damaging it.

A MIDI controller when compared to a Synthesizer is pretty easy to set up. You just need a MIDI cable to connect it with your computer and you’re set to use it. It needs no power cable: it gets powered when connected to a computer via the USB port. For a synthesizer, you’ll need to first connect it to a power source using a power cable; get to connect it to a computer using a MIDI cable (if it supports MIDI), or link it to an audio interface (also known as Sound Card), then begin manipulating its knobs and buttons for the desired sound.

To be honest, if you’ve never used a Synthesizer before, please learn it before thinking of getting one. I’ve had a friend who never used a synthesizer before and thought he could manipulate it in his senior thesis performance simply because he was good at playing the piano. Well, you already know the rest: He messed himself up on stage and really got a low grade in his thesis.

  • Purpose of Purchase

Hei! This is a very crucial factor everyone needs to consider before purchasing any piece of equipment. If you can’t answer the question of “Why do I need a Synthesizer?”, then you have no need buying one.

If you are a performer and love going for gigs and outdoor shows, then you might want to get a synthesizer to boost some sounds and do lots of fun stuffs to entertain your audience. But you must be well grounded on how to manipulate this instrument, else your audience might feel bored and you’d feel really bad with yourself. You don’t think Cory Henry learnt to manipulate the organ and synth in one day, do you?

Yeah! for sure, there are really lots of fun stuffs that are possible with a synth. You’ve probably watched the stuffs Jacob Collier does with a synth and be like, “Wow! That’s so cool! I want to be able to do that”. Yeah cool! You really need to be able to do that before getting one.

Well, if like me, you’re a producer and love sitting with your computer and manipulating virtual instruments in a DAW, then I bet you should get a MIDI keyboard. With a MIDI keyboard, you can manipulate lots of virtual instruments inclusive of a synthesizer. 

There are lots of virtual synthesizers you can install in your computer, import into your DAW and have fun with them as you desire. The advantage here is that you use them like a producer not a performer hence, you don’t get to make so much “noise” performers make yet, you get to make good music desired by all.

Synths are not the only virtual instruments available in DAWs, you have drums, saxophones, trumpets, and lots of other musical instruments at your disposal. Using a MIDI keyboard saves you useful time in production. With a MIDI controller, you get to edit the audio signals in the DAW; unlike Synths, where it’s impossible to edit an audio signal played through an audio interface into a DAW.

MIDI controllers are also very handy as they come in different sizes. You can travel with them without worrying about space. So if you are a travelling musician, you definitely want to consider getting a MIDI controller as a sure pet.

SUMMARY

With was has been said here, I’m fully convinced you know “what you want”, “why you want it”, “if you can get it”, and “why you should get it”.

Now if this post solves your problem, you can drop comments as to how much value you got from it.

Mori B

I'm a music producer, a dj and a blogger.

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