Controllers & MIDI Devices
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These days, computers form the core of most recording setups, which makes sense. Whether you're using a PC or Mac, as long as you've got a good audio interface you can suddenly do what all of the big recording studios once did, and all at a fraction of the price and with way more flexibility. The only downside to working on a computer is the control elements: your standard-issue computer keyboard and mouse was never actually designed for music production and recording, so you're missing all of the tactile encoders and faders that you get with a real recording desk. Since a lot of producers much prefer a hands-on approach to their work, the MIDI controller was developed and includes MIDI keyboards, which in the last decade alone have come on in leaps and bounds.
The MIDI Keyboard
A MIDI keyboard is a must for any writing producer. These are often really compact keyboards designed to sit on your studio desktop but can get bigger, offering a range of really useful controls as well as a playable keyboard. A lot of MIDI keyboards include encoders, faders, performance pads and a master section, which among other buttons, supplies your play, record and stop controls. It's also worth knowing that a MIDI keyboard isn't exactly like your traditional keyboard, since they never come with any sounds built-in. What they're used for is controlling the virtual instruments loaded up on your computer.
The MIDI Studio Controller
You can also get MIDI keyboards that come with masses of extras - so extra performance pads, extra faders and extra encoders. If you want all of the controls but don't need the keyboard, then you can just get a dedicated MIDI studio controller. These can be roughly divided into two categories: performance and DAW. Performance controllers are essentially music controllers, so they'll often have a lot of performance pads, which are pressure-sensitive pads that can literally be played, whether you're playing a melody or a drum beat. Encoders (control knobs) and faders (sliders) are used to control specific parameters of your DAW while you play. A standard DAW controller actually looks much like a traditional mixing desk from a recording studio, so you'll usually get some long faders, a select, mute and solo button as well as a bunch of other functions, all designed to help musicians and producers to control their DAW software during the recording process - in pretty much exactly the same way as you would with a mixing desk.
There are a few other controllers available that are designed to take on specific jobs. So you can get synthesizer controllers or controllers designed to externally control other specific music-making gear. In general, these other controllers and sequencers are built for producers and musicians who are focussed on experimenting and sound design.
MIDI Connections, MIDI Cables & MIDI Interfaces
You've probably come across the term' DIN' already, which refers to a fairly large five-pin plug. This format first emerged when MIDI equipment started to appear. In principle, unless it's a MIDI extension cable, a normal MIDI cable has a male plug at both ends. Modern MIDI controllers are always connected up via USB, but some models still come fitted with MIDI ports so they can be used to control older MIDI gear like a synthesizer. If you want to link some classic DIN-MIDI gear up to a computer, then you can use a MIDI interface.