Review: M-Audio Hammer 88 - EMusician

Review: M-Audio Hammer 88

Low-cost, solid USB/MIDI controller with excellent piano action
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Despite its low price, the Hammer
 88 is a well-built, 88-note USB/MIDI
 controller with a realistic, piano-like
 action for stage or studio

Despite its low price, the Hammer  88 is a well-built, 88-note USB/MIDI  controller with a realistic, piano-like  action for stage or studio

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.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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.

STRENGTHS

Satisfying pianohammer action. Terrific build quality. Pro-level software included. Affordable.

LIMITATIONS

At this price, none to speak of.

$399 street
m-audio.com

In addition to being the editor of Keyboardmag.com, Jon Regen is a singer, songwriter, and pianist from New York City.