Alesis has surprised me in more than one way these past few years. I used to consider the brand a “second-rate” Akai for MIDI controllers, likening most of their products to nothing more than budget versions of their competitors MIDI controllers.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in the quality, presentation and marketing that surrounds this brand, and I have to say, I’m thoroughly impressed. The VI series in general has been receiving quite a bit of buzz since their initial release, and for good reason. The keyboards are cheaper than most of their closest competitors, including Akai, but they pack almost all of the same features, while also packing in a surprisingly fantastic look. I’d even go so far as to say they’re some of the best MIDI keyboards available right now.
Before we get started, please take a look at the interactive table below to to compare the Alesis VI49 to some of the top MIDI keyboards currently available on the market right now:
|M-Audio Axiom AIR Mini 32||32||$||8 Velocity-Sensitive Trigger Pads|
|Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII||61||$||Semi-Weighted Keys w/Velocity and Aftertouch|
|Arturia MatrixBrute||49||$$$||3 Brute oscillators|
|Arturia MicroBrute||25||$||Step Sequencer w/8 Memory Locations|
|M-Audio Code 61||61||$||Semi-Weighted Keys|
|M-Audio Hammer 88||88||$||Weighted Keys|
|M-Audio Keystation Mini 32||32||$||Velocity-Sensitive Synth-Action Keys|
|Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2||88||$$||Fully-Weighted Keybed|
|Nektar Impact LX49+||49||$||Mac, PC and iOS compatible|
|Roland A-800 Pro||88||$||Velocity-Sensitive Keys|
And now, let’s take a deeper look into the VI49 to see if it meets our high expectations.
In bullet-form, here is what the VI49 is made offers potential customers:
- Full-sized, semi-weighted keys
- Square front keys with aftertouch
- 16 pads (pressure and velocity sensitive)
- Multicolor, backlit pads
- 12 assignable knobs, 36 buttons (illuminated)
- Dedicated transport controls
- Modulation and pitch bend wheels
- One sustain input
- Internal clock (sync, tempo, rolls, etc)
- Powered via USB
- Comes with Ableton Live Lite (Alesis Edition)
VI49 takes over for the V49
The keyboard is a followup to the popular V49 MIDI controller, which was a great keyboard overall, but lacked pads. When I first laid hands on the keys, I was immediately impressed by the feel of this keyboard. I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best feeling keybeds I’ve ever come across at the price bracket the VI49 sits at.
The semi-weighted action feels fantastic, and everything about the construction feels well above-average. Even playing pianistically feels natural and fluid on this thing, which is something I rarely say about a MIDI controller.
The newly-added pads feel great to the touch, and as if that wasn’t enough, the pads light up when tapped (looking cool is always a good thing). The color of the pads change depending on how hard they are pressed, which is a nice little touch.
One thing I was disappointed with, however, was the sensitivity on these guys. It simply doesn’t live up to my standards, and what’s worse, I find it to be somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes, they’ll fire perfectly, but other times, I have to essentially slam my fingers down to get a fully “velocitized” (I know that’s not the right context to use this word but cut me some slack, will ya?) sound. It’s great that they are velocity sensitive in the first place, but I would have preferred a slightly more consistent user experience here. This is definitely one area where competitors like Akai and Novation have a clear lead over Alesis, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that gap close in future releases.
The main function buttons and sliders on the VI49 are all backlit when enabled, giving you a really cool visual representation of what is active and what isn’t. There are 36 total buttons (wow!) and 12 sliders, which is honestly kind of insane. If you take the time to map all of these out, you could easily see the massive potential for this thing in terms of shaping sounds on the fly!
What’s even crazier is the fact that you can use the 16 pads as effects triggers as well, making this thing absolutely inundated with options. Personally, I tend to use the on/off buttons to trigger different effects, such as rhythmic processors, reverbs and delays, and I combine that with the different synth-specific modulations and tweaks that are mapped to the knobs.
Putting those two together, you can create massive, evolving leads, delicate, automated textures, and just about anything else you can possibly imagine. In fact, the more I use the VI49, the more I come to appreciate just how many of these things Alesis has packed into the controller.
For those of you who love experimenting with different sounds, this would almost make the asking price worth it by itself. Finally, both the mod wheel and the pitch bend feel incredible to the touch, providing just enough resistance to allow precise, professional control over their respective functions. They also sport the same powder-coated finish, making them feel very easy on the hands.
And before we continue, please take a moment to view a small list of some of the best selling MIDI keyboards available on Amazon:
|1) Akai MPK Mini MKII|
|2) Novation Launchkey|
|3) Alesis V49|
|4) M Audio Keystation 49 MK3|
|5) Arturia KeyLab 49|
With a MIDI controller like this, being easily compatible with all of the major DAWs out there is absolutely essential. The good news is, I’ve tested this controller with both Pro Tools and Ableton (the latter of which is included with the VI49!), and it functions flawlessly with both. I’ve read similar stories from users on a variety of other platforms, so I think it’s safe to say this thing is highly adaptable. With Logic specifically, I’m able to go from initial startup to completely mapped out and ready to go within about 5 minutes.
I’d say that’s pretty great!
As far as connections go, the VI49 has the standard set of options, with a USB providing power and MIDI data, a MIDI out for backup applications, and a dedicated power out for those moments when you need it.
One small but incredibly annoying quirk; around 2 weeks into owning the keyboard, the plastic USB connector broke off on the back of the keyboard. Everything still works alright, but every now and again I’ll lose power, or my DAW will lose connection to the controller. I won’t harp on this too much, though, because I’m honestly not the most gentle person when it comes to my gear. Still, it’s worth noting, as it has been rather annoying.
Alexis VI49 vs the Competiton
So, we’ve established that the Alesis VI49 is a pretty great all-around MIDI controller at this point. It delivers lots of value, including features and quality rarely seen at this level, but how does it truly hold up against its biggest competitors?
Let’s take a look at a few of them, and see who comes out on top.
Alexis VI49 vs Novation LaunchKey 49
Novation is a pretty big player in the MIDI controller game, so it’s only natural to compare their product first. The LaunchKey series has been around for awhile now, and many people swear by the quality, adaptability and intuitiveness of the keyboard.
There are, however, a few distinctive differences between the LaunchKey and the VI49. The first one is rather subjective, but I have to mention it anyways; I think that the VI49 looks a lot better than the LaunchKey. I’m simply not a huge fan of the chunky, plain case, and there’s quite a bit of negative space on the face of the keyboard as well.
Again, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would disagree with me on this point, but I think the Alesis is a pretty attractive looking controller.
Aside from that, another big consideration is the 8 sliders present on the LaunchKey. I don’t personally use sliders all that much, but if you’re partial to them, that alone might be worth opting for with the Novation keyboard.
Overall, I think the whopping 64 (!) assignable buttons on the Alesis makes it the more flexible option in the long run for most users.
Alexis VI49 vs Akai MPK249
Akai has built a rather legendary MIDI controller product line over the last few years, including what many consider to be the absolute best budget mini controller out there, the MPK Mini MKII. But the regular sized MPK249 is just as highly regarded, and as such it represents a huge competitor to the VI49. Again, the difference here will come down to personal preference.
Let’s talk faders real quick. In short, if you use them, the Akai will be the route for you to take. If, like me, you want to have the maximum number of customizable buttons, pads, and knobs, the Alesis is your horse to bet on. You’ll also have to read some customer reviews and see how each product fares. Akai tends to have a pretty passionate fan base that supports their products, and I should know; I’m one of them!
Alexis VI49 vs Alesis V49
Finally, we will compare the VI49 against it’s predecessor, the V49. While the V49 was largely praised when it first released, many cited the lack of any pads whatsoever as a huge disappointment, especially considering that there were many comparable products out at the point that did include them.
Alesis has clearly learned its lesson here, and the VI49 adds 16 velocity sensitive touch pads to the equation. Honestly, finding a V49 new in stores is a pretty challenging thing to do these days, and unless you are looking for the cheapest possible option, it probably isn’t even worthwhile to downgrade to the V49 at this point.
Still, if you absolutely do not care about trigger pads, the V49 remains a solid MIDI controller than can most likely be found for relative chump change on secondhand websites like Craigslist and eBay.
Going into my purchase of the VI49, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d always considered Alesis to be second-fiddle to Akai, and I wasn’t sure I’d really be swayed by Alesis so late in the game.
Alesis has released plenty of products in the past, but to be honest, I’ve never really given them much of a chance. Other brands just tended to have what I wanted at the time, and I never stopped to see what made these guys different.
Brand loyalty be damned, though, I’ve come to very much enjoy this keyboard’s build quality, excellent keybed, and dizzying array of customization and assignability. The keyboard isn’t perfect; I wish the pads were a bit more sensitive, and some people might be frustrated by the lack of faders, but overall, it doesn’t get much better than this for the price being asked by Alesis.
- Fantastic, semi-weighted keys feel great and are fun to play
- 64 total assignable buttons, knobs and pads. Yep, that’s right.
- Sleek and minimal design
- Easily integrates with popular DAW’s
- Semi fragile connections (at least for me)
- Pads aren’t quite as sensitive as I’d like them to be
The Bottom Line
The Alesis VI49 is a fantastic value at $229.99, delivering a high-quality product and a highly adaptable MIDI controller that is well-suited for anyone looking for a reliable keyboard controller for studio or live use.
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