I picked up the CME Xkey USB MIDI Keyboard ($99 street) after seeing a demo of it at the 2014 Summer NAMM show. Finished in stainless steel, the slim (just over ½-inch high) and elegantly designed two-octave controller looks right at home next to a MacBook Pro or iMac, and its full-size keys and feature set make it more playable than other controllers in its size and price range. In addition to velocity, the keyboard offers polyphonic aftertouch, making it easy to accentuate a single note in a chord that is being held out. Pitch and modulation and controls are spring-loaded sensors rather than switches and provide plenty of expressiveness, and the Hold button can be assigned to latch if needed.
I’ve been toting the CME Xkey around with me for the last couple of months—it fits perfectly in my Gruv Gear Club Bag, reviewed below—and it continues to come in handy, time and time again. Not only does it provide an easy way to play my virtual synths while on the go, it’s a great way to trigger drum sounds, and its small footprint allows any studio to ensure it always has a keyboard controller ready to go without eating up too much space. Since the keys are spaced identical to a standard size keyboard, it takes no time to adapt to the instrument, and while the feel is somewhat different than most controllers, it feels natural in a relatively short amount of time.
The only connection on the Xkey is a micro USB socket on the rear of the right side. The keyboard includes an approximately 1-meter micro-to-standard USB cable to connect the keyboard to a computer. iPad connectivity requires Apple’s Camera Connection Kit. The keyboard is bus-powered and includes a small LED that illuminates when it is connected.
While the Xkey works fine straight out of the box, the free Xkey Plus software app provides complete customization of the keyboard’s behavior, including a velocity curves editor, comprehensive configuration of the controller’s sensitivity and timings, access to all of the keyboard’s parameters and the ability to configure new assignments to any or all of the keys and buttons. Any operation customization is stored on-board so there is no need to use the app again until further adjustments need to be made. Xkey firmware updates can also be performed with the application. Xkey Plus is currently available for iOS, MacOS and Windows platforms; the Android app is pending.
The Xkey’s portability is one of its key features and the CME Supernova Xkey Protection Carrying Case is the perfect way to protect the keyboard while taking it on the go. The $25 dual- zipper, padded polyester case looks as good as the keyboard and will provide all the necessary protection for the keyboard.
When it’s all said and done, I’m sold on the Xkey. It’s the perfect portable solution to playing music on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro. At under a Benjamin, I can actually afford a couple.