The folks over at M-Audio just released their Keystation 49i Controller/Audio Interface/Piano unit, which you can read all about by clicking here . The catch to the whole piece of gear is that in addition to it being a MIDI controller, it's also a USB-powered audio interface with 2 ins and 2 outs, and it has a Steinway Grand Piano on board. So even if you don't feel like using it to make beats one day, you can just sit there and play practice piano or something. I guess that's sort of cool.

It's funny because I've had a Novation X-Station25 for the past 2 years, and I've used that as my interface with my Powerbook. I've always felt like I'd get so much more out of it had I spent a few more dollars and splurged on the 61-key unit. And then recently I got the original Keystation49- along with the greatest program on planet earth, Piano Wizard (a whole post dedicated to that coming soon to a blog near you)- and its taken the place of my Motif and X-station as a controller. Why? Because it's just simple as fuck to use. Plug it in and go, and works perfectly with any software I load up. Now I'd argue that the X-Station does the same. But how can I actually play with 25 keys? I can't. Just not possible to do anything but get down some simple melody ideas and play back sample hits that are chopped up and placed on the keys. And me trying to fit my heavy ass Motif on the workstation rack right below my computer in front of me? Not happening.

The new keystation 49i is light/compact, affordable (MSRP $299), now comes with an audio interface (too bad the inputs are RCA), and is compatible with Pro Tools M-Powered. Not like some groundbreaking piece of gear, but simple and effective, and it might be the answer to a couple different problems you are having getting a small studio set up. Just something to play music and record some stuff into your computer.

-Paul Cantor