KMI K-Board Pro 4

#1

My Kickstarter purchase arrived this morning (almost two years past the estimated delivery date). So, hey! It’s a real product now. We should include it here.

Build quality is rock solid. And the sensors seem even and responsive, overall. I am very much of the “take your time, get it right” mindset, and on these fronts, I think the delays paid off. (I also love the hard case that they threw in for our patience.)

First impressions of the raw data to follow. But note that there are no docs or downloads on the KMI site yet. Meaning, most of the limits or oddities I mention should be resolveable


Note On messages behave as expected.

I’m not seeing Note Off velocity in my midi monitor. (They mention this on the pamphlet that came with it, so I expected it would be enabled by default. I’m sure it just needs to be turned on.)

(That pamphlet also says the right-hand slider defaults to preset selection, though. It sends CC#1. So, that’s the first thing we learn: pamphlets aren’t to be trusted!)


Z axis (pressure) performs well enough. I imagine there’s a curve to edit in the editor, and I want to do so. High values require a lot of pressure.


Y axis (forwards/backwards)… not sure.

It does send this on CC#74 as expected, so that’s good.

It defaults to absolute position within each key. So, the space next to 0 on a black key is roughly 48 on a white key. I can’t decide whether or not that’s as it should be. (My natural fingering on a C minor triad has the C and Eb at similar values, which is a pleasant surprise. But then the G ends up significantly higher based on piano ergonomics. I could practice a more even playing style, but I’m not sure that’s healthy).

My instinct says that absolute position is appropriate for something like the Haken Continuum, but that it has no place on a piano style keyboard, much less one with discrete keys of varying height. But I’m sure the editor has a mode which outputs numbers relative to your initial placement. And if it doesn’t, the data provided is more than sufficient for me to build my own in max.

Anyway, I usually disable CC#74. With absolute positioning, I send a lot of unintended values just by placing my hand. And even with relative, I make involuntary changes while sliding in X. I think that will be different here, because my relationship with the X axis is so unlike other MPE controllers. So, I might suddenly care about Y. That’s interesting.

Moving on!


X axis (pitch bend)… is garbage.

Part of that is just me being opinionated. There’s no continuous sliding from one key to another, which I make extensive use of on other controllers. So, I was never going to be happy with whatever it gives me. Strong bias. Acknowledged.

But, I’ve had time to get over that. (I had an implementation thought a few months ago which would necessitate disabling per-note bend anyway, and this is a good controller to explore that on.)

It’s still garbage, though.

Default behavior is that one of the sliders controls bend range, so if you’re using this melodically, your one-finger bend becomes a two handed gesture. And I’m cool with that. It’s probably the best compromise we’re gonna get.

Except…

I think they might be artificially limiting the max range. Can’t tell for sure, because for one reason or another, it’s snapping back to center prematurely right now. Meaning, I strike a note and bend it in either direction, and it doesn’t hold where I hold it. The moment I stop bending further, I’m not bending at all.

(I think what’s happening is the sensor registers my finger as switching from one key to the next, and thus performs the release action of snapping back to center.)

That… doesn’t seem like an editor thing. That seems like a firmware update.

So, yeah. This data isn’t usable. Ergo, garbage.


Anyway, I fully expect every part of this post to be rendered invalid soon, but it’s an interesting snapshot regardless, which can serve as a placeholder for further discussion as these issues are resolved.

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#2

Minor addendum:

Plugged it into the SSP for a bit. A few observations:

  • I was not imagining what I described above with the pitch bend, nor mistaking any kind of multichannel weirdness in the monitor. Maybe it’s sending bend messages in delta offsets?

  • The range slider doesn’t just affect per-note bends, but also the global bend slider.
    So, if you disable it to minimize unwanted bends from each key, your global slider no longer does anything.
    Which sort of takes half of your interface out of commission, since you don’t want to touch the other one, either.

  • Odd physical property… One key in particular (Bb, three octaves up) will often stick. Pressing that key again never seems to send a note off to the correct channel, but bending that note, and particularly bending it towards the top of the key, does.
    That’s with the k-board on my lap again, though, and that Bb is sitting on top of my leg. If I reposition such that it doesn’t, the Bb is less inclined to get stuck. (I wonder if the legs of a keyboard stand are different in this respect than the legs of a human)

  • The second slider defaults to octave selection. I meant to talk about that earlier. It’s like a set of four radio buttons, and while I’d like there to be one or two more octaves represented, four is about as many as you can hope to visually differentiate and reach for the right spot on one of these sliders. What’s cool is, you can jump directly to specific octaves in one press.
    What’s less cool is, I ended up jumping from the lowest octave to the third one a few dozen times tonight by accidentally brushing that slider with my index finger, which sticks awkwardly out between the thumb and pinky while I’m doing octave unison in the bass.
    I have not accidentally touched any of the other faders, even once. Just that one. A lot.
    EDIT:
    Just swapped out the K-Board for something with simple “octave up” and “octave down” buttons, and have to say, that gives me access to several more octaves in either direction. Not having those is stupid. So, I’m doubly hopeful that this functionality can be replaced in the configuration utility.
    (Why aren’t there simply two buttons somewhere? That’d free up 25% of your sliders!)

Again, I’m confident that most of this will resolve itself when some sort of configuration utility emerges.

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#3

Can you at least do vibrato and enjoy yourself?

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#4

In theory.

In practice, pitch bend resetting to center of its own accord (while you’re still trying to apply bend) makes that largely impossible. I don’t think I can make vibrato sound right. And I don’t think I’d enjoy failing at it.

Again, this is a very temporary state of affairs. They’re bound to fix it, and soon.

(I can enjoy myself without vibrato, in the meantime)

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#5

I very nearly backed this… but decided I really need to focus a bit on what I had!

Id love to see some picture and videos of it in use…

Im surprised it was so delayed, as it looked very close when KS was launched - but as you say, much better to delay, and get it right.

I’m sure they will ‘fix’ it, a number of the things you mention, sound like things that they will only really have found out once they had a load of feedback from users about how they want it to behave, especially from users that have other expressive instrument and so have some ‘expectations’ about how it should behave.

the fact that it feels solid, and the sensors are even, that sounds like they have the hardware right, which is the most important part…

keep us up to date with how it improves…

some random questions:
how does it feel as a ‘conventional’ keyboard?
(I was quite interested in it as a portable keyboard, with MPE as a ‘bonus’)

how’s the size? its got full size keys? so its quite long, but other than that, Im guess its pretty slim and quite light/portable?

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#6

The feel takes some getting used to, but it isn’t bad. There’s no mechanical movement like a piano or synth keyboard, and there’s no squishiness to be found. If you’re a pianist, you should be able to play fast passages quickly and confidently. Which I guess was the point.

how’s the size? its got full size keys? so its quite long, but other than that, Im guess its pretty slim and quite light/portable?

The keys are comparable to a full sized keyboard. Same spacing from center to center on each key. But, thinner keys with wider margins than you might be used to.

Muscle memory from other keyboards is right where it ought to be. I didn’t catch myself looking at my hands (except in those moments when I was suddenly playing the wrong octave and needed to correct. but those occurring are largely how I know I wasn’t tempted to look).

Id love to see some picture and videos of it in use…

Yeah, that should happen. But it’s about 4:30am yesterday, from my perspective, and I really ought to sleep at some point.

That said, I’m in a very analytical (read: nitpicky) place with this. I should probably hold off until I can present this in a more positive light. Or at least show off its potential a bit.

I figure my own negativity is enough to contend with without YouTube commenters joining in!

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#7

yeah, that’s natural, given the wait involved…

I guess mid-term, I’m really to see if this can nicely slot into the gap between the Seaboard and a traditional keyboard (*) … I think there is gap there, for those wanting something closer to a keyboard than the Roli.

(ok, touchkeys are available but its pretty expensive, even as a DIY solution (*) )

(*) albeit with no action, so I guess we are closer to something like a CME xkey with has limited travel.

(*) appears touchkeys are all out of stock now… so perhaps no longer being made?
pity I really like the idea … but the £780 for 61 keys was way too expensive,
I kept checking back, in the hope that they might come down to something more reasonable!

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#8

Raising the black keys makes a huge difference over the original K-Board, and other flattened layouts.

I do like the Seaboard, a lot. My one complaint, such as it is, is that I end up playing wider chords out of tune, thanks to improper technique on my part. Weirdly splayed fingers… But I find it inspiring that that’s even possible (and I desperately want a Continuum now).

I find the smaller version more reliable for those chords, because my hands don’t have to stretch for them. But, I’m one of those weirdos who likes mini keys, so take that with a grain of salt.

Aldo worth mentioning, the feel has improved on those with every iteration, so they’re worth revisiting if you haven’t tried one in a while.

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#9

I haven’t had a chance to investigate and follow up, but I wanted to report that the omission of documentation and configuration utilities has at least been addressed now:

Mac OS desktop editor: [https://files.keithmcmillen.com/products/k-board-pro-4/editor/K-Board-Pro-4-Editor-MAC.dmg]

Windows desktop editor: [https://files.keithmcmillen.com/products/k-board-pro-4/editor/K-Board-Pro-4-Editor-WIN.exe]

Web Editor (requires Web MIDI compatible browser): [https://files.keithmcmillen.com/products/k-board-pro-4/editor/]

KBP4 Manual: [https://files.keithmcmillen.com/products/k-board-pro-4/documentation/k-board-pro-4-manual.pdf]

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#10

I got my K this week. I think it does fill a gap between the Roli and say a synth with Poly-after touch. Because of the lack of a continuous surface, there are limitations to the poly pitch bending you can do in comparison to a Roli or Continuum. I see it more suited towards straight ahead keyboard playing styles with enhanced expression than the more experimental paths other MPE controllers offer that are less rigidly 12 tone keyboards. I find I can certainly play complex chordal parts much more easily on the K than my Roli, Linnstrument or Continuum. I found I got used to the rigid motionless surface much faster than I expected, and I haven’t experienced any hand fatigue after long sessions with it. All in all, i think for certain things, the K will bring more expression with higher accuracy into my setup.

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#11

Talked to a KMI rep at Synthplex, gave them my list of annoyances and feature requests. Most of those, they were able to address by pointing to an obscure corner of the editor where the setting in question was hidden. So, I amended my notes to be interface suggestions for the editor… (there’s one drop-down menu in particular which ought to be a checkbox on a different page)

I guess my review at this point boils down to “the initial settings aren’t what I would have chosen, and the editor isn’t terribly intuitive yet, but if you put in the time and effort to configure this, it can be very usable.”

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#12

I am still trying to find time to get into mine… after nearly 3 years of waiting, it arrived just as I was changing jobs, and has sat very patiently while I’ve been trying to find time to get back to music. Frustrating!

I will have my own thoughts at the appropriate time (after I’ve done more with it), but I did want to add a little bit of enlightenment for folks who (a) weren’t in on the Kickstarter and (b) don’t know Keith well enough to have long chats :wink:

Originally, the K-Board Pro 4 was designed on a chassis of square aluminum tubing. That’s why the first production prototypes had handles, and they were offered as an option to Kickstarter backers with no plans to continue with them after the campaign. Originally every KBP4 would have had them, but people asked for a no-handles option and KMI was surprised, upon taking a vote, to learn that this was hands down the polled favorite configuration.

The reason why construction was delayed so long is that the aluminum tubing frame just could not be made to work reliably when built on an assembly line. They lost months and months trying and finally had to give up. As Keith explained it, the degree of rigidity and sensor precision needed to make the KBP4 a truly playable instrument was orders of magnitude harder than that of smaller devices like the QuNexus. I do not know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up having to scrap the entire frame design and create a new one from scratch.

Fortunately, Keith is stubborn and so is his team; they eventually got it right, and we finally get to benefit from that. But boy howdy, if I can’t configure things the way I want, there’s gonna be yelling.

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#13

even during the campaign there were a lot of people who didn’t like the look of the exo-skeleton, and the extra space it took up, i think in the end Keith said it was going to be offered with n without - did he just ditch it altogether in the end?

i personally didn’t like the exo-skeleton look much, and on a desk it was just going to be more space/awkward.

ks survey here

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#14

I loved them, but yes, in the end, they had to ditch the handles altogether. Sad.

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#15

New firmware update / editor version just went live. Here’s the changelog.

Notably, they’ve added poly aftertouch support on channel 1, which was sorely missing for non-MPE use.

(I suggested that at Synthplex, which in turn suggests that they’re listening to user feedback. :slight_smile:)

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#16

There’s a new bend mode, which I don’t understand yet.

Default is relative pitch. Wherever you place your finger is center, so notes initiate in tune. But if you start your pitch towards either edge, you don’t have a lot of control over the area behind that.

The other option we had was absolute pitch. Finger placement represents bend amount (but notes initialize out-of-tune as a result).

The new option is simply called “Pitch Bend [x]”. Near as I can tell, it’s a relative mode that starts notes close to zero, but not at zero, and then bends up regardless which direction you bend.

There is no equivalent mode added to the y or z axis.

I’ll… have to ask them to clarify use case.

Anyway, I complained in the initial post about bend snapping back to center before. That can be disabled, by use of a drop down in the “advanced” tab. That looks like this:
04%20PM
I also mentioned, I think this should be a checkbox, in the same tab where you’re assigning behaviors to the x axis of your keys. (This isn’t an advanced parameter. Or if it is, it should be disabled by default.) Anyway, that hasn’t changed. It’s still hiding in the advanced tab. So I mention that here, 'cause you’ll probably want to change that setting.

(it’s the difference between “bending left and right trigger a pair of vibrato buttons” and "bending left and right puts expressive control of pitch under your finger)

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