I ordered one of these when they were first announced. I have had three other keytars (KX-5 which I still have, AX-7 and AX-Synth). The size and price of this were the selling points for me. The AX Synth had a weak synth engine and the AX-7 was user-hostile. The KX-5 was the best, but it has intermittent problems, and is 25 years old, so it would cost more to fix than it is worth.
The Vortex is a very flexible controller. There are three pitch-ribbon buttons, each of which can be programmed to send different messages when the ribbon is touched. The ribbon also has a return or latch mode which is cool. It has octave, sustain, pitch wheel (only does pitch, hard to get used to), Three pr0grammable knobs and 8 pads that can send notes, cc messages, or patch changes. The accelerometer is actually very cool, as it is programmable and the range of motion is also controllable for amount of effect. The controls are ergonomic and easy to reach. The AX Synth neck was too fat for my fingers.
The downside of this unit is that the documentation is very poor. I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out the programming and finally found someone on line who had spent hours and finally figured out how to do it. I called him and he walked me through it. The documentation is incomplete, obtuse, and in some cases misleading.
There is no software for programming the unit, no way to dump the contents of your work into a computer file, and so far, very little online. Alesis really needs to address this, and if they do, they will sell a lot of these.
There HAS to be a way to save the config of the unit because no one wants to go through the effort and have no backup.
They are so inexpensive that you can beat it up, paint it, mod it and not worry.
I was seeking for affordable keytars, both new and used, and THIS keytar - the Alesis Vortex - came out with a price that, while new, was considerably less expensive than the others, especially considering the features on the paper.
So I bought it.
It's worth remembering that the Vortex do NOT make sounds!
Ease of use
I admit that I was a little frightened by the forums' rants concerning that topic. But I was proved wrong. OK, the patches can't really be inspected by other means than to playing them and then guessing what does what, but they can be programmed really fast. Just recall a patch, push edit, move the desired control, tweak it, press enter, exit edit, done. I can see that this is a somewhat steep learning curve for a beginner, but I got the grasp of it in a couple of minutes, really.
Regarding the playing ease of use, I'm satisfied. The keyboard feels right, aftertouch kicks in after a while and it's useable, the pads have to be configured for velocity curves other than linear because it's hard to trigger them (luckily there's a fixed velocity setting - I use them for patch change anyway, works great). The accelerometer is a joke, if you are buying it for that you'll be disappointed. The handle is subject to personal preference, mainly because of the pitch wheel. I came from the AX-7 and expected bending on the ribbon, but the one of the Vortex proved to be too short to be suitable, I think it's just not meant to bend notes; I learnt to use the wheel and I don't think I would use ribbons for bending anymore, it's great that way. It's well thought too: while you have the thumb on the wheel, you can have the index on the huge sustain button and other fingers on the ribbon for modulation. A real improvement over the AX-7. There's also 3 buttons for different ribbon destinations and the essential keyboard zones-octaves buttons, all nicely placed on the handle. The 3 knobs are reachable from behind the Vortex, so that you can play while tweaking them.
Lots. For that price you get a decent 3 oct keyboard with aftertouch, pads, knobs, and a blue ledfest all-around. Everything you do has a led counterpart. Nearly every button flashes, all the values are visible on the bright display, every note-on and off triggers a pattern step of the 3 led placed on the handle. It has USB facilities that I used without any problem. The connections at the bottom are well-placed, and feature a sustain pedal input (handy): I like the power switch, a little nice detail.
Construction wise it feels solid. OK, it squeaks a little, but there are plenty of screws holding it together, and it's solid even after reassembling it. The knobs are decent ones, buttons depresses nicely, the volume slider it's just ok, ribbon it's decent enough and the wheel feels great. I find it no toyish at all. Oh, and it's very light too!
Bang for the buck
I like how the Vortex is thought of. The way the buttons are designed, the decision to have an ordinary pitch wheel, the blue leds that dominates the scene, the shape itself: it's a keyboard that looks like a keyboard and NOT like a guitar wannabe, because it's not focused on guitarists styles of playing. The 3 oct keyboard restrict players mainly to bass lines and leads, everything more requires "standard" keyboards (as it's supposed to be).
If it won't present noticeable problems over years, I can see how the Vortex could be a new classic.
I have a rainbow strip for it.