For those who came to electronic music by way of the acoustic piano, finding an approachable MIDI controller can be daunting. There are numerous weighted, 88-note controllers on the market, but most are aimed at the beginner digital-piano market or at the power user who requires a multitude of knobs and ports.
If, like me, you don’t fall into either category, MAudio’s Hammer 88 USB/MIDI controller just may be what the doctor ordered. It marries a fully weighted, piano-like action to a set of basic but functional controls and ports, and includes a suite of fantastic software and virtual instruments, all for under $400.
Unlike many of the company’s lighter, more portable offerings, the Hammer 88 is a solid piece of gear. The entire top panel is made of metal, the underside appears to be MDF, and the overall weight is a gig-maneuverable 38.5 pounds. It could be the centerpiece of a studio or live rig; it’s that well-constructed.
The keyboard has a fantastic feel and response. Many of the more expensive 88-key controllers have keyboard actions that are far lighter than the Hammer 88’s. While this is usually done so the keyboard works well with piano, organ, and synth/electric-piano parts, those seeking a heftier grand piano feel are often left unsatisfied. Without reservation, the Hammer 88 has one of the best weighted actions I have tried. Much like an acoustic instrument, the Hammer 88’s action is meaty and begs the player to dig in. I found that I was able to play piano parts with a degree of accuracy and expression rarely available on a digital device.
The controls include pitch and modulation wheels, increment/decrement buttons, and a volume fader. The keyboard can be split into zones and configured for performance by means of the included software editor. On the back are three footswitch jacks, USB and 5-pin MIDI output, and an AC socket. Alternatively, the Hammer 88 can run on USB power. M-Audio includes a music rest as a bonus.
The software bundle includes Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite, two acoustic piano plug-ins (Mini Grand and Eighty-Eight Ensemble), the DB-33 Tonewheel Organ plug-in, the Velvet electric piano plug-in, a three-month subscription to the Skoove interactive piano course, and the M-Audio Hammer 88 Preset Editor.
ROCK IT, 88
Immediately after unpacking the Hammer 88 and registering the included software, I fired-up Pro Tools and began recording. I was thoroughly impressed with the resilience and response of the keybed. Piano parts that I struggled to craft on lighter, more expensive 88-key controllers came to life with the Hammer 88.
I love the acoustic quality of the included Eighty-Eight piano plug-in, as well as the Rhodes variations in the bundled Velvet software. Particularly great are the tremolo and tape-delayed Rhodes models which drew me in from the very first note.
Overall, M-Audio’s Hammer 88 is a winner, with its solid piano action and inviting suite of included software, all under 40 pounds and under $400. If you’re looking for an affordable MIDI controller for studio or stage that plays like a piano but thinks like a modern musician, you owe it to yourself to try one.
Satisfying pianohammer action. Terrific build quality. Pro-level software included. Affordable.
At this price, none to speak of.
In addition to being the editor of Keyboardmag.com, Jon Regen is a singer, songwriter, and pianist from New York City.