Roland MKB-1000 MIDI Keyboard Controller
Plus MIDI MKS-30 and MKS-10
First of all, let me congratulate Roland on producing such a great feeling keyboard as they have for the MKB-1000 keyboard Controller. With 88 weighted wooden keys it's velocity sensitive, and Roland have struck an ideal balance between piano and synth types of action. Since the keyboard can be used to control both piano and synth modules, the medium is indeed a happy one!
So this keyboard is a delight to play - and that's just as well, since it costs over £1500 and doesn't, as such, contain a single sound. It's simply a controller which channels the sound from a number of MIDI instruments or modules, sorting out layering and split combinations as well as modulation and bender information along the way.
The MKB-1000 has 128 memory locations, allowing for instant recall. But before the recall can be used, of course, the combination sounds must be programmed in; and this procedure isn't too arduous, as evidenced by the lack of controls on the MKB's slim, sloping control panel located above the keys. Each of the 128 memories can contain data from two instruments or modules at a time, so a MIDI channel number can be assigned to each, and the MIDI mode can be either poly or mono (unlike some MIDI instruments which don't function in mono mode, of course). Having matched up MIDI channel numbers to the channel numbers on your corresponding sound sources, you can then select and programme in patch numbers, placing each sound where you'd like it to appear on the keyboard by using the key mode controls. Sounds can appear in a predetermined split, or arrive layered on top of each other over the entire 88 note span.
Determining the respective volumes of your sound sources must be done on the instrument or module itself, either by programming in certain set levels on the VCA, or simply by altering the master volume controls. It would have been nice to have some sort of control on the MKB-1000 for this facility, but there we are.
The programming tasks are aided by two small LCD screens that keep you abreast of the situation concerning MIDI channel numbers, MIDI mode and patch numbers - one LCD for 'upper' and the other for 'lower' voices. Even though you are storing patch and key mode data, these can be overriden quite easily once a master patch has been recalled. The 128 master patches are stored in eight banks of sixteen apiece. These controls also double as instrument/module memory controls when you're programming, using the 'memory/program change' select switch. Performance controls such as the pitch-bender/modulation wheel can be programmed to affect either upper or lower voices, or both - provided, of course, the correct MIDI mode has been assigned. The degree of touch sensitivity can be varied on the back of the MKB-1000, set to a level that suits your own style, or strength of fingers. Pedals can be used, too, providing control over upper or lower sustain, volume and, in fact, modulation.
The MKB-1000 is fairly large (1471mm x 145mm x 584mm), and heavy (almost 100lbs). You may well find that it's worth investing a further £150 on the snazzy chrome stand that Roland also have on offer. There are three instrument modules available from Roland to date - well, I say three, but in fact only two have been released onto the market at the time of writing. However, speaking to Roland's Brian Nunney this week, he assures me that the 'Super Jupiter' module will be available by Christmas. This particular module has had its problems, and Roland have wisely (and honourably) withheld its despatch from the factory until they're satisfied that its performance matches up to the two modules already in the shops.
The first of these two currently available modules is the MKS-30 Planet-S - a rackmount standard 19" unit, 2U high, which (if your budget can't extend to a rack) will sit comfortably on the flat surface of an MKB-1000. It's a six-voice programmable MIDI synthesiser which, it should be pointed out, can be controlled by any keyboard with a MIDI-Out facility. Sounds can be stored into 64 internal memory locations, and there's provision for another 64 on cartridge, loaded on the module's front panel.
Sounds can be programmed or edited on the module itself, but in case you find that method (similar to the JX-3Ps) laborious, the well-known PG-200 Programmer can also be patched in on the front panel, and will whisk you back into more immediately accessible knobs-and-switches territory. It almost goes without saying, then, that the synth parameters are much the same as on a JX-3P. The only real differences are that the sounds are dynamic responsive, and you have 128 of them at your fingertips.
If you're not using the PG-200 Programmer to edit or programme sounds, each parameter has to be punched up on the small LCD screen and edited accordingly. Controls that you always will have include bank/patch buttons (eight of them), MIDI channel select button, 'up' and 'down' parameter value buttons, volume and brilliance sliders, and a small 'dynamics' button which allows you to switch off the velocity sensitivity should you so desire. But most sounds do benefit from being at the mercy of your fingers. Accordingly, sounds that would have been merely okay if created on a JX-3P tend to spring to life on the Planet-S.
The second available Roland module is the MKS-10 Planet-P Piano - and very simple and effective it is too!
Again housed in a 2U 19" rackmount format, the Planet-P is a sixteen-voice instrument that offers eight basic 'piano' type presets. Eight more 'hidden' presets can be extracted by an MKB-1000 controller, and these, though good, are simply re-envelope-shaped versions of the originals. Sounds on the Planet-P are grouped into four pairs - Piano, Clavi, Harpsichord and Electric Piano. Effects such as chorus/flanger and sine/square wave tremolo can be set up, but the rate and depth of a particular effect remains under the control of the module itself. It's probably best, then, to set up a blanket overall level suitable for all occasions, if you don't want to have to lurch over to the module in mid-performance!
The sounds are similar to those on an HP-400 piano - that is to say, strong and clear. When combined with the sounds taken from the Planet-S module, they add a certain weight and depth that greatly enhances the complete system's worth.
Additional front panel controls are volume and brilliance sliders, MIDI channel assign controls (plus LCD screen), tuning control and a headphones jack. The MKS-10 also recognises 'Note ON' velocity information.
Although I've only been able to test the system with these two modules as yet the possibilities seem endless, and when the Super Jupiter comes along the Gods only know what the set-up will be capable of! Theoretically, of course, sixteen modules or instruments can be part of your system - though not, I hasten to add, all in the same patch! The only really fiddly procedure can be when you are storing master patches from the modules, when there's often a discrepancy between patch names, from controlling keyboard to module. It's just a matter of learning the process, though; and once the master patches are in place you're left pretty much just to play, and enjoy it. Enjoy it? Not to enjoy this Roland system I'd find totally unlikely - if not downright impossible!
MKB-1000 MIDI Keyboard Controller RRP £1665
Plus MIDI MKS-30 £875.00 and MKS-10 £990.00
More details on the MKB-1000 system and modules from Roland (U.K.) Ltd., (Contact Details).
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Review by Julian Colbeck
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