Few companies are as serious about MIDI-based keyboard controllers for modular synths as Synthesizers.com. In addition to its 37- and 61-note keyboards, the company offers a slew of related modules to meet a variety of playing styles. Although the controllers are designed for use with 5U, Moog-style Synthesizers.com modules using 1/4" jacks, they work flawlessly with Eurorack and Frac Rack systems with the help of 1/4"-to-3.5mm cables.
The velocity- and channel pressure-sensitive QKB keyboards have semi-weighted Fatar keybeds set into a metal frame, with solid walnut ends sold separately. The keyboards are fully programmable, allowing you set four splits, enable velocity and pressure curves, and select channel and transposition. Two MIDI inputs can be used for additional controllers that merge data with the main keyboard. The QKB feels solid and is a real pleasure to play—you’ll want to use it as your main controller.
Synthesizers.com offers a number of keyboard bundles around common controller configurations, but it’s just as easy to design your own: Add control modules directly onto the keyboard frame (mounting holes are provided) or within boxes designed to hold 1, 2, or 4 modules. Start with the Q174 MIDI Interface Module ($264) to get 1V/octave signals for pitch, gate, velocity, note priority, and gate behavior, along with continuous controller and an additional voice of CV/gate signals. The Add In jack accepts CVs for transposition and pitch bend. The Q174 can also be used on its own as a MIDI-to-CV/gate interface.
I strongly recommend supplementing it with the Q175 MIDI Interface Aid ($130), which provides portamento (switchable to linear or exponential), an arpeggiator (1 and 2 octaves, up or down), MIDI Thru, and another MIDI Merge input.
Synthesizers.com offers an array of single-control modules, including a joystick, a ribbon, a force-sensing touch-pad, a knob that also senses pressure, a dualaxis thumb-stick, a stompboxstyle button, and a foot-pedal interface. My review system included the Q181 Wheel ($145), Q181EB Expression Block ($175), and Q181V1 Whammy Bar ($225). All of these modules have an adjustable Auto Gate function, which sends a gate signal when the controller is moved, as well as a Switch gate that is activated when the controller gets to the end of its travel. In addition, these controllers have three-color status LEDs, which you can configure via internal jumpers—very handy.
The Wheel, available for pitch-bend or modulation control, offers three voltage ranges, provides a useful amount of resistance and feels solid. The Expression Block is equally robust. Reminiscent of the triggering device on an Ondes Martenot, it can be used for pitch, modulation or gating. I enjoyed using it to transpose an arpeggiated pattern up a whole step.
Though the Whammy Bar looks like a gimmick, it’s an agile and flexible controller. And you can be remarkably precise with it after a bit of practice; it’s my favorite device for adding pitch bend. A dual-axis Whammy Bar ($285) is also available.
No matter what configuration you choose, Synthesizers.com controllers combine old-school functionality and feel with modern, high-quality design and parts.