M-Audio Code Review – USB MIDI Keyboard Controller

M-Audio introduced a new series of MIDI-keyboards called Code at the annual NAMM Show 2015 held in Anaheim. The characteristic features of M-Audio Code are all about an unusual design, a large variety of controllers and updated mechanics with aftertouch function.

As usual, the series consists of several models with different number of keys. The Code series includes three models with 25, 49 or 61 full-size keys. The manufacturer claims about a completely new mechanics in the keyboards. In addition to the improved mechanism of the keyboard mechanics, there has been added an aftertouch function, which previously was used only in expensive keyboards of the manufacturer.

Overall Build and Features of M-Audio Code

It is important to note that all three models are fully functional. Even double-octave keyboard has all the features of the older model, but the number of buttons, faders and rotary controllers has been reduced by half in Code 25.

MIDI-keyboards Code are equipped with a group of different controllers, many of which are used in the early models of M-Audio. What is really new in the series is a X/Y touch controller. Actually, it is not a new invention, but until now it has not been seen in any other device by M-Audio.

M-Audio Code has a big screen with large characters that display the configuration and the parameter at the current moment. Main controllers are conveniently placed under the display.

It should be noted that control buttons of areas are separately derived. A user can split the keyboard into 4 zones. Illuminated buttons with numbers indicate the engaged mode. Each of the zones can be assigned to a specific MIDI-channel to control multiple virtual instruments, instantly switch between them or play them simultaneously. For each zone, you can specify an octave and chromatic offset.

To control a sequencer and various parameters of virtual instruments, there are 9 faders, 9 illuminated buttons, and 8 jog wheels. Each group of controllers can operate in several modes, which are switched with special illuminated buttons FADER MODE, BUTTON MODE and ENCODER MODE.

The keyboard has three modes: MIDI, HID and MACKIE / HUI. They allow to control completely different functions. It is possible to instantly switch from one mode to another. For the convenience, in different modes, the buttons are highlighted in different colors.

For example, in MACKIE / HUI mode, the buttons control the mixer function, in MIDI mode – the settings of the virtual tool, and in HID mode – graphical interface and various keyboard macros and commands (cut, copy, paste, delete). MIDI and HID modes have four presets with predefined settings.

For example, for Cubase sequencer, the buttons in the first preset  correspond to the functions of the transport panel (start, stop, pause, punch, metronome, open the mixer and video player windows), the second preset controls the modes of the cursor (an eraser, scissors, glue, hand, zoom), the third preset allows you to edit a track field (select, deactivate, copy, delete), and the fourth one changes a graphic interface of the sequencer (scale and position of windows, of the mixer, etc.).

At first glance, such big possibilities look excessive, and the management somewhat confusing. However, in consequence, this flexibility can be very useful in complex setups and at live performance.

To learn more, we want to talk about X/Y controller. In this case, the controller is a touchpad, allowing you to change a value of parameters in two directions: X and Y. A control is possible in one direction or simultaneously in two. Of course, the touchpad X/Y is most applicable at live performance. You can assign different effect parameters, filters, EQ and effectively manage them.

It is curious that the touchcontroller has three modes of operation. A MIDI mode changes a value of an assigned parameter. In a NOTE mode, a movement on different axes changes the pitch of a note and step of movement. A HID mode assumes a control of a mouse cursor. It should be noted that the keyboards M-Audio Code have a resistive touchpad and, for precise actuation, it is necessary to apply some force. Unfortunately, there is nothing alike with a laptop touchpad: a X/Y controller’s accuracy leaves much to be desired.

One of the characteristic features of the whole series of the keyboards is unconventional location of pads. Unlike many other MIDI-keyboards, the pads are on the left side. They are large enough and located at the edge of the case, not above the keys. We think that such an arrangement of the pads is the perfect solution in all respects. Now they are placed close, from a convenient side and you do not need cross or change your hands while playing the pads and the keyboard.

The sensitivity settings of the pads has 10 modes: 4 types of velocity curves, 3 options with a fixed value and modes in which are only available two, three and four values.

Unfortunately, the pads in the Code keyboards are not the same as in the controller M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro. In any case, a feeling from the play is different. In the Code keypads, the pads are tauter and less sensitive. Although the pads are large enough, a percentage of response is higher when you press closer to the center. We have exhausted all the options of sensitivity and they are all the same in this case. It is not even close to Trigger Finger Pro. However, this does not mean that the pads of M-Audio Code are bad, they are large and comfortable, although a little different.

Without exception, MIDI keyboards Code include a full-sized keyboard with a synthesizer mechanics and Aftertouch function. For convenience of a play, there are 4 velocity curves and three modes with a fixed value to choose from: 64, 100 and 127.

In our opinion, for synth-type keyboards, the mechanics of the M-Audio Code is good enough. The keys are relatively light and have a return.

A connection to the computer is through a USB port. In this connection the power is taken from the USB bus. To use Code with external MIDI-devices, you need a power supply that is not included.

M-Audio Code keyboard is designed to work in most common musical programs, primarily with virtual instruments AIR Hybrid and AIR Loom. For correct operation of on-board controllers with these plug-ins, there are 12 pre-installed presets:

  1. General ASCII – General MIDI
  2. Ableton Live – Hybrid
  3. Ableton Live – Loom
  4. Pro Tools – Hybrid
  5. Pro Tools – Loom
  6. Cubase – Hybrid
  7. Cubase – Loom
  8. Logic Pro – Hybrid
  9. Logic Pro – Loom
  10. Bitwig Studio – Hybrid
  11. Bitwig Studio – Loom
  12. Ableton Live – Hybrid, Loom

Of course, you can create your own preset with individual settings, it is  available as well.

Along with the device, there are included Ableton Live Lite and two full virtual synths from AIR Music Technology.

The tool Hybrid 3.0 is a synthesizer with six oscillators and subtractive and wavetable synthesis. It has about 1200 presets of different timbres, sorted by type of sound. Sound samples can be heard on the official website of the manufacturer in the section audiodemo.

The tool Loom is a powerful modular additive synthesizer with morphing control, whether carried out by touchcontroller of MIDI-keyboard Code. In the special field, it is possible to program an action of the cursor or control it in real time using the touchpad. Examples of sound of Loom are available on the official website in the section audiodemo.

Three Reasons to Buy

  1. M-Audio Code has a large variety of controllers and updated mechanics with aftertouch function.
  2. It has a X/Y touch controller.
  3. 12 pre-installed presets for correct operation of on-board controllers with virtual instruments AIR Hybrid and AIR Loom.

In conclusion

At first glance, the M-Audio keyboards of the Code series look like regular keyboards with lots of controllers. However, a closer consideration shows that these devices are very interesting with great potential and hidden possibilities. The manufacturer’s emphasis is clearly on convenience and simplicity of work in the sequencers directly from your MIDI-keyboard. A large range of features and flexible configuration allow you to use the device both at studio and at live performance with equal success. A quick changing of the modes of the controllers significantly extends the capabilities of MIDI-keyboard, so that can be used in many different and unexpected setups.