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M-Audio MidAir 25 Remote Control

February 10, 2007

Why wireless? Aside from the smiles wireless devices put on the faces of battery manufacturers, there’s something cool about not having any wires, and being able to do stuff while roaming around with impunity. Now, into this arena steps the M-Audio MidAir 25. Many have tried wireless MIDI keyboards before, but few have succeeded. Can the MidAir 25 break the jinx?

BASICS

The MidAir 25 is a variation on M-Audio’s Oxygen V2 series of controllers, with 25 velocity-sensitive keys (no aftertouch, though), pitch bend and mod wheels, eight controller knobs, and the usual interface (navigation buttons and 3-digit LED display). It can talk to your world via a hardware MIDI out jack, but the Big Deal here is wireless USB connectivity. There’s a little USB-powered, palm-size receiver box that connects to your computer via USB, and receives MIDI messages wirelessly from the keyboard itself (the receiver also has MIDI in and out jacks, so it’s a basic interface). It seems you can get about 10 yards away from the receiver before reception starts to get iffy.

Setting it up is easy: You just hook up the receiver to your computer, insert the batteries in the keyboard (or use an AC adapter), turn it on, and start playing. The drivers are class-compliant so the keyboard just shows up in your Windows or Mac machine, although you can download drivers that allow using the MidAir 25 with more than one application at a time, as well as send long sysex commands.

Note that the keyboard has no physical USB connector, which is kind of short-sighted — if you lose (or break) the receiver and don’t have a physical MIDI in port on your computer, you’re out of luck.

The wireless connection works at 2.4GHz, which is the same frequency as some cordless phones and wireless internet boxes. Although I couldn’t do a full Underwriter’s Lab testing scenario, my wireless internet kept working while I used the keyboard and I could still dial out, so I guess it’s not an issue.

APPLYING THE MIDAIR 25

Well duh, it’s a keyboard. And of course, for on-stage use it’s kind of cool to be able to set up the keyboard anywhere and control a bunch of synths set up in a rack somewhere else. But what’s also of interest to EQ readers is that this is a very capable remote control in disguise.

For example, most host sequencing programs allow parameter control via MIDI commands. So suppose you’re in the vocal booth, and listening on headphones. You can assign the eight controller knobs in the MidAir 25 to the levels of the channels you’ll be monitoring in the headphones. Need a little more drums? A little less overall volume? Bring the MidAir 25 into your vocal booth, and tweak away. Even better, you may be able to assign the keyboard keys to your host’s transport controls, and if your host allows it, use the sustain pedal (there’s a jack on the back of the MidAir 25) to punch in and out while recording — useful for guitarists doing overdubs.

And I can really see this as a great addition for my live remixing act. It’s based around Ableton Live, and a lot of the act depends on being able to control levels (eight controller knobs — check) and solo tracks with buttons (25 keys — check). The idea of being able to step out from behind the laptop and do my thing is very appealing. Maybe I can even get some lighter fluid and . . . uh, never mind.

CONCLUSIONS

Mini-keyboard controllers are useful in their own right. But if you’re willing to pay the extra for this wireless version, then you have a pretty cool remote control as well. It’s not as ergonomic when serving as a remote as something designed specifically for that purpose (e.g., the aforementioned Tranzport), but when you need something that does double-duty as a wireless keyboard and remote controller, the MidAir series is the only game in town — and it plays that game well.

Product type: 25-key keyboard controller with wireless capabilities.
Target market: Those who need a multi-purpose remote controller for studio and stage.
Strengths: Wireless functionality actually works. Can serve as a remote controller for many programs. Good for custom headphone monitor mixes. Good keyboard feel. Reasonable battery life.
Limitations: No aftertouch. No physical USB connector.
Price: $249.95 list.
Contact: www.m-audio.com

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