M-Audio CTRL49 Review – USB / MIDI Keyboard Controller

MIDI keyboard M-Audio CTRL49 was presented in 2016 at the annual NAMM. Today, this model represents the most advanced device in the series of MIDI keyboards of the manufacturer. New keyboard M-Audio CTRL49 differs from many other similar devices by using a full display and tight integration with signature software AIR and inMusic.

One cannot fail to mention a similar kind of keyboards KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61 by Native Instruments. M-Audio has two major advantages: a significantly more affordable price and it is not needed to buy an expensive software, which is controlled by keyboard, as it immediately comes in a kit. By the way, Native Instruments still does not have pads. But every solution, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages and admirers of a particular brand. So let’s start our detailed overview from technical specifications as usual.

Specifications

  • Keyboard: 49 full-size keys, semi-balanced mechanics with aftertouch, sensitivity to velocity, three types of velocity curve, pitch-bend wheel, modulation wheel;
  • 9 faders and 8 buttons for quick and “seamless” control of your DAW;
  • 8 performance-encoders with 360-degree rotaton;
  • 8 drum-pads with RGB-backlit (sensitive to the speed and force of pressing);
  • Dedicated buttons for switching between pad banks, buttons for transport panel and octave switching, as well as performance-buttons;
  • Buttons – “Full Level”, “Roll”, “Time Division”, “Tap Tempo” and control buttons of  integrated arpeggiator;
  • 4.3-inch full-color LCD high-definition display with dedicated control buttons interface. The display provides a 1: 1 visual feedback to the parameters of plug-ins;
  • One 5-pin MIDI input and one MIDI output, input for expression pedal and input for footswitch;
  • Special DAW – Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) software to control any VST-plug-ins;
  • Additional software from package bundle: Ableton Live Lite sequencer, a set of plug-ins AIR Creative FX Collection, as well as plug-ins: AIR Vacuum Pro, AIR Loom, AIR Hybrid 3, AIR Xpand! 2, AIR Velvet, AIR Transfuser and SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble;
  • Package bundle includes: M-Audio CTRL49 hardware, Power Adapter, USB Cable, Software Download Cards, Quickstart Guide & Manual;
  • Dimensions: 81.4 x 31.4 x 10.4 cm (32 x 12.4 x 4.1  inches);
  • Weight: 6kg (13.2 pounds);

Overall Build, Features and Software of M-Audio CTRL49

M-Audio CTRL49 is equipped with a color 4.3-inch LCD high-definition display, which graphically displays the various modes, settings and adjustable parameters of virtual instruments. It is very convenient, as it allows not to turn to the laptop and helps fully concentrate on performance. MIDI controllers are often equipped with a tiny screen, which shows only the numerical values of certain parameters.

M-Audio CTRL49

The CTRL49 keyboard works fine in all the most well-known DAW applications with using the Mackie Control protocol. The following programs are supported: ProTools, Logic, Cubase, Bitwig, Ableton, Reaper, Studio One and Reason. For complete work there are a number of different controllers in CTRL49. Here we use illuminated buttons, faders, regulators without support, pads sensitive to pressure force. In one word, there are all the best and necessary features ever used in MIDI keyboards M-Audio.

As for keys, there is a full-size four-octave keyboard with semi-balanced mechanics and function of “aftertouch”. Three types of velocity curve and ten sensitivity settings are available. Mechanics is tactilely responsive, it is light enough and relatively quiet; when you return the keys, they do not make extra noise. The white keys are glossy and smooth. The black keys, on the contrary, are mat, their surface is less slippery. There is a certain similarity with the keys used in the Axiom keyboards.

The device has a plastic case. The front upper surface is made of the metal; it is removable in case to repair or clean individual groups of controllers. By modern standards, dimensions of M-Audio CTRL49 are large enough (81.4 x 31.4 x 10.4 cm). However, the weight of the device is not very big, only 6 kg. The lower part of the body is absolutely flat, so the keyboard can be placed on any stand. The keyboard has rubber legs to be placed on flat surfaces.

M-Audio CTRL49

The MIDI keyboard connects to the computer through a USB port. Since the device has a display, it requires a 12V power adapter, which is included in the kit. To connect different external MIDI modules, there is a five-pin MIDI input and MIDI output. It is also possible to connect two pedals, Sustain and Expression.

As an optional accessory for M-Audio CTRL49 we can recommend to buy Moog EP3 Expression Pedal, which has smooth performance and durability (it’s one of the best expression pedals which available nowadays; there are a lot of high rating / positive reviews about this device on amazon. Also we recommend to look at M-Audio SP-2 Sustain Pedal which has 2300+ positive reviews on amazon, which confirms quality of this product. Another great and “must have” accessory is DCFY premium quality keyboard dust cover, designed especially for 49-keys keyboards. It’s a very useful thing, as it’ll keep your keyboard clean, extending the durability of your MIDI keyboard.

A package bundle has a number of virtual instruments AIR and a unique VIP (Virtual Instrument Player) that allows the device to interact with various software tools. MIDI keyboard CTRL49 designed primarily to work with this particular software. Through the use of the VIP controller, CTRL49 turns into a kind of workstation from a regular MIDI keyboard.

VIP Software (Virtual Instrument Player)
The VIP program runs either in offline mode or as an AU, VST or AAX plug-in. With VIP you have an access to any virtual instrument installed in the system directly from the keyboard. Here, a comfortable search and sorting of plug-ins, downloading and editing of them, saving of all the settings in the global presets and their instant download are included. The VIP allows to use simultaneously up to 8 different virtual instruments, with creating layered timbres and conveniently adjusting each of the plugins inside the shell. This is especially useful during a live performance, where there is no urgent need to use the sequencer.

For correct operation of M-Audio CTRL49 you have to install a special driver. All the bundled software becomes available for download after logging in your account on the M-Audio website and registration CTRL49. There is a lite version of Ableton Live 9 Lite, a tool SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble and seven AIR plug-ins (Creative Collection FX, Vacuum Pro, Loom, Hybrid 3, Xpand!2, Velvet and Transfuser) included in the kit. Sound samples of the complete software are available on the manufacturer’s website. Thus, buying only the keyboard you can take up art without additional investments.

CTRL49 has several modes, which allow to use the device as a standard MIDI keyboard in a sequencer or with external MIDI modules. However, the work of CTRL49 with DAW – VIP is of greatest interest, as it reveals the capabilities of the device to the fullest.

For complete work, any other settings are not required. The controllers are assigned by default to all necessary functions of the application VIP. Using VIP as a plugin in the sequencer, you can control the VIP settings and functions of the sequencer. A change of control is made through a switch of modes that switch instantly. You only need to pre-assign the relevant keyboard controllers required parameters of the sequencer. The program has a feature to set other parameters to the controllers in a learning mode a learning mode. The assignment process occurs simply and clearly, as in any similar utilities.

You can use multiple copies of the VIP in the sequencer, as in the case of ordinary virtual instruments. The sound of each of them is displayed on the corresponding stereo channel.

VIP Software (Virtual Instrument Player)

The VIP app allows to use up to eight virtual instruments simultaneously, getting complex layered timbers. A compilation of different plugins of such individual sound is made very easy through a convenient sorting of all installed tools and their presets in a single list. It is important that the search and download can be done from the keyboard without mouse and computer screen. All navigation in the program is made with the controller and buttons under the display.

VIP Software (Virtual Instrument Player)

To control eight plug-ins, there is a built-in mixer with adjustable per-channel volume, panorama, ‘SOLO’ and ‘MUTE’ functions, and even an opportunity to send four tires with VST effects. For each channel, you can apply up to four individual VST effects and specify the range of notes in which a corresponding instrument will play.

M-Audio CTRL49

Oddly, volume control of miniature mixer of VIP is made not with faders but rotary controllers. The faders and buttons underneath are used to control the mixer of the sequencer. The rotary controllers in different modes control many parameters derived from the synthesizer settings to send MIDI commands to external devices.

The buttons placed under the regulators are responsible for the Note Repeat function, which is always active and synchronized with the tempo or external clock. With the buttons ‘BANKS’ you can quickly switch between virtual instruments loaded in VIP.

The pads have colored indication and serve for the performance of drums parties and percussion, as well as to indicate and control several parameters. For a more convenient performance, there are four types of velocity curve and ten sensitivity settings.

In Conclusion

The development of MIDI keyboards is obviously in the direction of closer integration with the software. The controller M-Audio CTRL49 is a prove of this. Such devices are no longer just a MIDI keyboard in the traditional sense, but rather a hybrid of workstations with its original interface and interesting features. Numerous controllers are an integral part of the field and they do not seem to be a rarely used and useless addition.

It is also important that the keyboard CTRL49 comes with a collection of various software and allows to start creating music right out of the box. The supplied programs don’t have much effect on the final cost of the product. Moreover, on the manufacturer’s website, there is a list of more than 400 plugins that support VIP.

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Global M-Audio CTRL49 Rating
  • Overall Build and Features - 9.3/10
    9.3/10
  • Versatility - 10/10
    10/10
  • Design - 8.8/10
    8.8/10
  • Value - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Ease of Use - 7.7/10
    7.7/10
8.9/10