What MIDI controller/synth are you using with Cubasis 3 and how do you like it?

I’ve been searching high and low for the perfect MIDI keyboard controller for Cubasis 3 and I must say NOTHING seems to tick all the boxes.

I’m really curious to hear how Cubasis 3 users are integrating MIDI keyboards or control surfaces into your workflow. What do you like about it? What are you using and what AREN’T you using on your MIDI controller that maybe you thought was important initially?

If anybody has some suggestions for me based on my criteria below, I’d love to hear it.

Price isn’t really a concern if I’m getting everything I wanted. For instance, the Roland Fantom in many ways is the closest example to what I’m looking for: quality construction, great sound engines, nice screen, full set of sliders, knobs and most importantly (and pretty much unique among every option) a set of controls dedicated to the synth engine.

However, IT IS massively expensive and ultimately not nearly as compact and portable as I’d like. (61 FULL SIZE keys is doable but my goal is 49. Mini keys are off the table or I’d just stick with an interface and my extra Korg Minilogue and an audio interface. But I’m looking to keep things as streamlined as possible and would much prefer something class compliant, which sadly the ML is not.)

The problem with most MIDI controllers is the controls are incredibly generic and don’t really make sense from a synthesis workflow. (I understand making a MIDI controller synth friendly is probably an awkward proposition but I think the way the Fantom does it could be a way forward for a future controller keyboard. If there were a 49-key version, I think it would already be en route to me. Although the same could be said of MOD X, which is also on my radar.)

The other issue with MIDI controllers is they have no sound engine inside. I’d really like that bonus tbh. And for instance the Yamaha MX49 would fit the bill pretty well (class compliant, synth engine, 49 full size keys) … but it has no sliders for integrating with the DAW. (Question is: do I really care about that when the touch screen is right there? Or does having mixer control on the board allow you to have other info on the screen, etc. ?)

MIDI controllers like Artual Keylab 49 Mk II is very nice and Novation SL 49 III but in the end they also have no sound engine, no dedicated synth controls and in particular one of the Keylab’s bigger features is the software which doesn’t have iOS version. (Also, in the end, these seem a little overblown for what I need but not out of question.) The Nektar Panorama 49 is also intriguing me (not the least of which because it has a nice screen. In 2021 I really have a problem buying a MIDI controller with one of those ugly segmented LED displays that shows only the most basic of info or patch numbers.)

After going through every option imaginable I also came to the conclusion that a Modal Argon 8 (37 full size keys, synth engine — wavetable at that which would be new to my hardware setup — and class compliant) as well as some kind of control surface with knobs and sliders like the Studiologic SL Mixface Control Surface or similar.) However, I have my doubts about 37 keys as 49 seems like the absolute minimum to try and play two-handed and I’d still need an audio interface since the Argon 8 doesn’t do USB audio; sounds great though.)

So if you read all the way through, and have any ideas or suggestions or comments, I’d appreciate it!

I use a Novation SL 61 Mk3, a LaunchPad Pro Mk3 and an Arturia Keystep 37 as my input devices. I also use several hardware synths, like the DeepMind 12D, Peak and HydraSynth. And I also own a MODX-6. My MIDI interface is the Retrokits RK-006.

I understand the benefit of having a keyboard that’s also a synth and with the MODX you can’t go wrong there. However, it’s not an easy synth (at all) for setting up, though it can do a lot in that respect. So expect to read the manual and internet for tips. I used it for some time but currently I’m not. The reason is I’m a lousy keyboardist and that’s why I use the SL Mk3 and Keystep 37. For me the scale key leds are very useful and help me a lot figuring out scales and how that all works. The Keystep 37 is a stopgap measure for playing/doodling with chords. I have it set up so the keys/chords played on the Keystep highlight the key leds on the SL Mk3. That’s very useful to me. Maybe Novation will update the SL Mk3 with a similar chord mode in the future and I can ditch the Keystep 37. I’m frankly amazed the SL Mk3 doesn’t feature a similar chord mode and their more recent lower end keyboards do! The RK-006 comes into play here, as one has to be careful not to create MIDI loops when running the MIDI output of the Keystep 37 into the SL Mk3.

In combination with Cubasis 3 the SL Mk3 can use HUI mode for its faders, mutes, transport controls etc. Though the displays aren’t used in that mode. MIDI mapping its knobs is also an option. I wish Novation would make it Mackie protocol compatible, but HUI is at least something. However it’s not nearly as good as a dedicated mix controller with motorized faders (X Touch or Faderport). Motorized faders are far more convenient than I had thought, so you might want to look into that. I use the X Touch together with the Behringer XR18 so it’s extremely easy to switch between DAWless setup or through Cubasis. That is a feature when combining the XR18 and X Touch though. I would like to have a MIDI keyboard that has 8 or 9 motorized faders and talks Mackie protocol. But they aren’t available afaik.

If you don’t need the key leds I think the amount of controls the SL Mk3 offers isn’t that special. Not sure if you will like the key feel. I personally like the MODX keys better.

One benefit of the MODX is it is also an audio interface if you want it to be. You can route it’s channels into the iPad I believe, but there are also drawbacks. One is the issue of iPadOS/iOS only supports one audio interface at the time. So if you want to use another interface, you can’t use them together like you can on MacOS.

I also own an Argon8 desktop module btw., but I have to say I don’t use it and prefer the Hydrasynth myself. That is available in a keyboard version as well, so that might be an option?

In the end I’m moving away from some of my hardware synths. Only the ones I really like remain in my setup. I think the iPad has matured enough it can run enough good software synths which frankly is a lot less hassle than setting up a bunch of hardware synths and effect pedals. It’s also a lot cheaper and mobile. I removed most of my external effect pedals from my setup, as there are now many fantastic effects available on the iPad that I also use with my hardware synths. Far cheaper than hardware pedals as well. If I had to start over I probably wouldn’t buy hardware synthesizers at all. Just focus on the iPad and control surfaces and be off way cheaper. Although I do love hardware synths, I do like the practicality of the iPad, not to mention the hassle with PC based DAWs.

So it all depends a bit on what you want to focus on. You might want to look into getting a cheaper MIDI controller first, to check out if you like the workflow. The M-Audio Oxygen Pro line springs to mind. The SL Mk3 is an expensive option imho. Or just maybe the Keystep 37 would already be enough for you, even if it has (good) mini keys. It all depends on what you want, but let’s face it. What you want now might not be what you want in a year. A keyboard is a very personal thing and a specialized one might be the better and cheaper option than a full fledged synth you might not like in the long run. If you are a good keyboardist you probably want to check out the key feel of several options first. As that is probably the most important aspect in that case.