E-mu Longboard 61 Review

I'm a longtime E-mu fan, going way back to the early days of the landmark Emulator II and SP-12 units. So this year, when E-mu announced it was re-entering the keyboard market, I was intrigued.
Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

The 61-note E-mu Longboard combines high-end sounds with 128-voice polyphony and onboard effects.

I'm a longtime E-mu fan, going way back to the early days of the landmark Emulator II and SP-12 units. So this year, when E-mu announced it was re-entering the keyboard market, I was intrigued.

The new Longboard 61 ($399) and Shortboard 49 ($349) are 61-note or 49-note USB/MIDI controller keyboards, respectively, combining high-end sounds with 128-voice polyphony and onboard effects. Other than the number of keys, the Longboard and Shortboard are essentially identical. Either can be powered with a DC adapter, be bus-powered via USB, or run on six D-cell batteries.

Both also include E-mu''s built-in Pipeline wireless stereo transceiver system that sends data to an optional $99 receiver with analog or digital (48kHz S/PDIF) outputs. Setting up a solo performance on an empty stage, using the battery power and Pipeline, I brought out the Longboard and an X-stand and set them down, and the artist was playing 20 seconds later—no wires, no fuss. Pipeline sounded identical to a hardwire connection, and it operates in stereo—a slick trick on a wireless rig at any price.

Longboard''s semiweighted keyboard doesn''t quite have the wood-key feel of a Yamaha KX-88, but it''s eminently playable and its velocity-sensitive action has aftertouch. Eight selectable velocity curves let users match their own playing styles. As a controller, it doesn''t have the versatility of a Novation SL, but it handles basic studio functions, with MIDI I/O and USB interfacing and jacks for volume and sustain pedals.

In addition to the pitch and mod wheels, the Longboard has top-panel knobs (no searching though menus) to adjust the onboard chorus and reverb, but it also has fingertip access to the LFO Filter (with cutoff and resonance knobs) and Envelope (attack time and decay/release) controls. A single/split/layer pushbutton for layering two sounds or setting up custom splits (i.e., bass/piano) is available at any point on the keyboard. Octave (transpose) buttons operate globally or in Split mode, and only affect the selected part of the keyboard.

Longboard has 192 built-in sounds including a full General MIDI bank with drums. Accessing the first 32 is easy—the top panel has a matrix of 32 row/group switches, so just press the row you want and press the corresponding group switch, and you''re there. The first bank is clearly marked and it''s fast to get anything from this first bank, which includes pianos, organs, clavs, electric pianos, synths, and combo sounds. It''s a good smattering of what will get you through 90 percent of most gigs. The eight synths present a sort of greatest-hits collection (such as Oberheim OB-Xa, Minimoog, Prophet, Roland Juno-60, Matrix, and Moog Rogue), and with the Filter and Envelope controls, these can be quickly customized to taste. Among my faves was the piano, a sweet, new sampling of a Steinway culled from a new Emulator X collection (see Web Clip 1). I was also particularly impressed with the Hammond B-3 organ and Wurlitzer piano presets. MP3s of many Longboard sounds are available on E-mu''s website.

Getting to the sounds beyond the 64 in the first bank is only slightly more complicated, requiring a press-and-hold of the other bank buttons for access. With no LCD data/preset display, you''ll have to remember where your favorites are as the matrix switches are only labeled for the first 64. And there are 128 more sounds—synths, orchestral, organs, sound effects, percussion, and eight drum kits (acoustic and electric)—available under the hood. You might want to keep your manual handy for this. Eventually, you''ll memorize where your favorites are, although I added a few notes on a piece of white tape on the top panel, a real throwback to the days of yore.

Overall, I liked the Longboard. For live performance, it delivers what it promises with some nice extras that sweeten the deal, especially at $399.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 4
E-mu Longboard 61 Product Page