Alesis Vortex Keytar Review

Keyboard Magazine’s Mitchell Sigman reviews the new Alesis Vortex USB/MIDI keytar controller.

Sigman focuses on the the Vortex’s unique accelerometer control. The Vortex features a MIDI-assignable accelerometer, so you can control virtually any parameter by moving the Vortex’s neck: volume swells, pitch bends, vibratos, filter cutoffs, etc.

Features:

  • USB keytar controller – works with all of your software instruments & synths on Mac, PC, & iOS devices
  • USB and traditional MIDI jacks for use with virtually any synth, sound module, or other MIDI hardware or software
  • Embedded, MIDI-assignable accelerometer for performance parameter control by tilting the neck
  • Thumb-controlled volume slider, sustain button and pitch-bend wheel on neck
  • Finger-controlled MIDI-assignable touchstrip, sustain, and octave-control buttons on neck
  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch for compact, yet complete melodic range
  • Eight velocity-sensitive drum pads/sample triggers enable you to create beats or trigger clips
  • Large transport & patch-select controls for instant access
  • Includes strap; standard guitar strap pegs are compatible with virtually any strap
  • Bus powered when USB-connected to Mac or PC; battery compartment for use with MIDI modules and iOS devices

The Alesis Vortex is available now, with a street price of about US $300.

If you’ve used the Alesis Vortex, let us know what you think of it!

via celebutante

 

20 thoughts on “Alesis Vortex Keytar Review

      1. Wireless midi kits are super expensive. I’ll invest in one soon, but anything of quality is $400 or more. As ever, you get what you pay for.

  1. I got one of these as soon as they were released to potentially replace my Casio AZ-1. The AZ-1 is a vital piece of gear for my live show and I’m not crazy about relying on 25 year old tech. I have yet to gig the Vortex but will give it a shot soon. I love this style of keyboard but will be the first to admit that in the wrong hands (which is most of them) they are cheesy. But that is a topic for another day.

    I like that the Vortex has aftertouch. Aftertouch is such an overlooked but useful controller and on a keyboard like this where one tends to play one handed it is vital. The AT works well on the Vortex but the keyboard action itself is a bit crap. I can get used to it but need to put more time in to getting a feel for the keys.

    I was hesitant about the thumb controlled pitch bend and my fears proved to be legitimate. It is very difficult to use the pitch bend and the ribbon controller at the same time, and I often use two wheels at once on my AZ-1. (The AZ-1 has three wheels in the neck, two of them assignable)

    I tried using the ribbon controller for pitch bend but unfortunately, at least on my unit, when I go to either end of the ribbon it resets to zero, so a full octave is hard to accomplish. This is a real problem as I use the pitch wheel ALOT on my AZ-1 to compensate for the shorter keyboard. I guess I should send mine back to get the ribbon issue addressed.

    Getting back to the keyboard, I do wish that this unit had 41 keys. I miss the keys up top when I’m playing but with some re-programming and re-mapping of my key splits can overcome that, I just haven’t put the time in yet.

    The Vortex is very, very light. I never considered my AZ-1 to be heavy but the Vortex puts it to shame in that department.

    I like that the neck isn’t overly long (my biggest beef about the AZ-1) and the controls are pretty well placed. With more practice octave switching will become easy and being able to assign the ribbon to three different controllers will become handy in time. The accelerometer is going to be a very useful feature once I have it dialed in and really practice with it. Being able to use a little ‘english’ on the keyboard will add to the performance if used with restraint. One ‘feature’ not pointed out in the literature are the three LEDs at the end of the next that light up when played. They are a very bright blue color. I’m not crazy about them but maybe will warm up if I can replace two of them with red and green. (I’m redgreenblue, so it would be fitting)

    The drum pads are well placed and being able to assign cc or notes is great. I can see lots of potential for this. My live setup has me never touching the computer and being able to trigger notes, sequences and cc events from the drum pads will be very useful.

    The USB connectivity makes this a very useful keyboard for lying on the couch and playing with soft synths on the iPad. Alesis deserves praise for making this IOS compatible.

    But that brings me to the next issue and my biggest complaint about the unit. Take a look at the shape, and specifically take a look at where they connectors are. How does one set the unit down when they are not playing it? There is NO reason for this not to have right angles so you can set it down guitar style when not in use. And having the cables on the ‘bottom’ means you couldn’t set it down that way anyway! I alternate between the AZ-1 and a regular keyboard in my show and don’t want to spend a lot of time setting it down. And I don’t have the space to carry a guitar stand. This drives me nuts.

    Overall I do like the Vortex. Not as much as my AZ-1 (plural, I’ve ended up with three of them for backups/parts) but will eventually program a set that will combine the Vortex with a Remote SLZero for my super-portable rig. And I definitely like it more than the absurdly stupid Roland units. I hate almost everything about the AX-Synth: too big, too heavy, too expensive, a synth engine that NOBODY wants, no aftertouch, midi port in the middle of the unit….The only worse decision they could have made for that unit would be to paint it with a lead based paint. The AX-9 is less stupid but still nothing I have any interest in.

    I’m glad that this style of keyboard is being manufactured again. I’d love for Roland to get their head out of their backside and make a new AX-7 with no synth engine, which again, nobody who actually uses one of these on stage wants. Scoff all you want, with the right player these keyboards can be expressive and creative tool. And if you don’t believe me, come see me play sometime.

  2. They are neither cool nor uncool, they are an instrument like any other. There is a lot of really shitty/silly/cheesy music made with guitars, does that make the guitar uncool? It is all in the hands of the user.

  3. @rgb, the ribbon controller problem that you describe (resetting to 0), is programmable. It can be made to “latch” and keep the last value instead of resetting. It’s in the documentation and I e plain it in detail at http://practicalusage.com/?p=799.
    By the way, I have no problem putting the Vortex on the floor. It rests on the pointy tip, leaning against something, so the angle of the port plate lets the plugged cables clear the floor.
    I also tried a wireless midi transmitter that I made for less than a 100$. It works fine.
    Next step is to add 5 touch sensitive sensors just above the ribbon to really augment the left hand play.

    1. Robert,

      Thanks for the info. I’ll try that with the ribbon although I don’t think I want it to latch but it will be good to experiment. But your site has a lot of great info, so thanks for the work.

      I’ve looked at a similar wireless solution with the xbee but I’m not the most savvy person with building electronics. The site where you buy that stuff assumes more knowledge than I have. But that does look like a good solution. I tried the same thing with an iPhone and Line6 adapter but my Line6 isn’t reliable and I want to avoid wifi in a live situation. I just need to suck it up and get a proper wireless.

  4. Question: I just picked up the Vortex and it’s an impressive piece of tech for the price. The only concern I have at the moment is that if I slide my finger all the way to the left on the ribbon, it skips back to (what I am calling) the resting position. So if the value is 67 while I’m not touching the ribbon, it will reset to that when I slide all the way to the left. Let me also make it clear that ribbons range for this particular action is 0-127. It DOES slide all the way to zero, but not if my finger goes all the way to the end; at the end (where the ribbon meets the plastic body) it goes back to the resting value (67). It seems almost like the very end of the ribbon – the sensor on the left end is not aligned. Is anyone else having this problem?
    Thanks in advance!

  5. @Dee, I think your Ribbon is in “pitch bend” mode. The fact that it resets to anything else than 0 pointing to this. It could also be in “latch” mode, although I think it’s in PB mode.

  6. I really wish the Vortex could just be plugged into an amp and played like that. My grandfather says that it should be possible. Does anyone know if it is or, if it works with any type/brand of MIDI or USB keyboard?

    1. Hi Seth, unfortunately you can’t hook the Vortex directly into an amp. The Vortex is a controller, meaning it only controls sounds from an outside instrument (and does not have any sounds itself). In order to play it you need to hook it up with midi cables to a synth or other keyboard, and then that synth can be hooked up to an amp. It will work with any keyboard that has MIDI in, you just need the MIDI cable. Hope this helps!

  7. Why no mention of the keyboard and it’s quality/playability/feel?

    That’s the one major thing that turns me off from these instruments.

  8. Cheap crap. Just got one for $99 from Sam Ash (others also offer that price now). The two little doors in the back don’t latch and, after just a couple of minutes, the Bb3 key stuck and doesn’t play. Cheap Numark crap. If I can’t get the key working, it’s going back. Nothing newer than the Micron is worth buying with the Alesis name on it. Numark is the Union Carbide of the music industry.

  9. I have the (white, non-wireless) Vortex, and have finally pulled it out to get some mileage on it… I had an idea that I would velcro my 6th-gen iPod Touch to the front of it (between the keys and the neck), and run Roland Sound Canvas iOS as the sound source… piping it from the iPod through Bluetooth to my mixer (this part I already have working). I’ve read that I only needed to connect to the Vortex’s USB port with a ‘camera kit’ (lightning port on the iPod to Vortex’s USB), and I’d be good — but got conflicting reports on whether it would work. Alesis technical support tried, but didn’t know that people are doing this successfully with iPads — lots of users jumped in on their support pages to say this is working. But that’s an iPad — mine is an iPod Touch, so when I switch the power to ‘USB/DC’, the Vortex doesn’t power up (no juice from iPod); yet when I move the switch to ‘BATT’, the Vortex does power up and then does absolutely squat on Sound Canvas iOS. I would love to find out I’m just skipping a config step on the iPod. Anyone?

  10. Just recieved my “open box” Vortex Wireless, put batteries in and plugged the wireless dongle into my Macbook and then into my iphone6plus and Ipad Pro and all my software responded nicely. I was able to send program changes so I am a happy camper. For the price I don’t think you can find a better controller. I am new to the keyboard playing but I can feel the difference between my weighted 88 keyboard and this 37 keyboard so I can see why people complain about the action but like anything after practice you can get use to it. I did not find the keys were sharp as others have complained about and the interface worked great but I am a wind controller player and had lots of experience with midi interfacing with software and apps. All the keys worked but they are very stiff and I would assume I will get use to them with practice. The instrument is not a cheap piece of crap as some have indicated. Love it and it has exceeded my expectations but it is only day 2.

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