Roland A-88MKII by insectile
I am a software developer and not a professional musician. I was interested in a new 88 key controller keyboard, and for reasons I will discuss below I gravitated to the A-88 mk2. It is a new product and I didn't find much out there to read about it. So I humbly submit this review for anyone interested.
I have played piano on and off since I was young, and I currently have a Yamaha U1 piano as my baseline for comparison. I have also previously owned a Roland P1, K2000, Akai MPK Mini Mk2, and Yamaha PSR4600. I've played on quite a few upright pianos. The piano teacher I had during my teens had a small grand piano. I was never in a mind set there that I could actually assess the keybed, so I think we can assume that I have no basis for comparison for grand pianos.
I set up a minimal desk all-in-the-box sort of thing with a Roland A-49 in the last couple years and I really, really liked the A-49. I know it basically has no noteworthy features (other than its weird proximity sensor thing), but I like how the keys feel and I like the pitch/mod wheel thing.
Yes that thing everyone hates, I like - so work that into your reading of this review. I think its great for expressive playing of a lot of EastWest's stuff. If you are a NI person then maybe it doesn't work as well, but I just map one of the knobs to the filter (or whatever) on NI instruments and then it works like the classic mod wheel. I can understand if you are really into having a mod wheel, that solution won't work for you. ...but it works for me.
So I eventually really wanted more keys. Weighted keys. Keys like my U1. I also wanted control. I looked into a lot of products and worked it down to the S88, Keylab 88 mk2, and the Roland A-88 mk2. To be honest, the Roland was kind of the dark horse. Brand new, not a lot of reviews, pandemic everywhere and no end in sight. I so enjoyed my A-49 that I just took a leap of faith. So I guess, if you have an A-49 and you're like 'wtf is this guy saying - that thing is a little plastic garbage box' then maybe the A-88 isn't for you. But I felt the A-49 was a real 'instrument' that I enjoyed playing, and I hoped the A-88 would be as well.
I am happy to report that it is (for me). I love the feel of the keys. No it doesn't match the mechanical presence of a real piano, but its honestly pretty close. Not sure how I feel about the fake ivory key feel. I think my 'real' U1's keys are plastic coated wood and I'd probably have preferred the same sort of thing here. That being said, it has grown on me even in the few days I've had it.
There's a sort of immediate clicky-ness that I like about it. That sounds awful but it feels good. I understand that a grand piano's hammers return to rest faster than an upright's, and maybe that's what this is simulating that I find novel, but it feels lovely.
The knobs feel super great. I love them - they are amazing. I wish there was just one single slider, but the knobs are so nice. ...and the RGB that is available for the knobs and pads is great. The software that controls it is very rudimentary. Like, it looks old and there are not a lot of options. ...but it gets the job done. That can be improved over time.
The pads also feel good. They are a bit small but that doesn't matter to me as I basically just use them as a continuous midi CC pressure controller rather than for drums. I just use the keys for drums. Sorry.
I love that it is USB bus powered. Just great. It's so huge and it seems impossible. More of that please. This also means that there is not a lot of cable garbage coming out of the back. I really want things neat and tidy and this really helps.
It is quite slim - like depth wise. I have a small space and it really fits in nicely. Square and easy to work in, which was one of the design goals they were targeting apparently (according to their marketing propaganda). Hazza I say, well done on that.
The only complaints I have:
- It, for some reason, feels a little cheap at the ends as it has kind of plastic caps that over lay the bottom a bit and snag on fabric or whatever you might have it near.
-The bottom has a billion screws that will scratch and mar anything near. Not a big deal, but plan for it.
-Should really have proper aftertouch and doesn't at all. I don't care so much but for synth dudes this may be a deal breaker.
Overall I'm super happy. Yes I'm just a victim of sunk cost bias, but if you also sink this cost you'll probably be happy too.
I guess I'll sum it up as:
If you are looking for a thing to control and integrate with your synths that has aftertouch and a screen, this isn't the keyboard for you (but power to you, I want that as well one day).
...if what you want is something that feels good to play. Something that you can have feelings for and a relationship with - a real 'instrument' - I think this does a good job there.