The ‘Finest MIDI Controller Ever’ Is About To Get Affordable


Austin, TX-based controller manufacturer Infinite Response created what some consider to be the finest MIDI controller ever produced – the VAX 77, above.

When Keyboard Magazine reviewed it, they called it ” the renaissance of the true high-end master MIDI keyboard.”

The VAX 77 featured polyphonic aftertouch, hi-res velocity, release velocity and build quality that made it the Cadillac of keyboard controllers. Unfortunately, the VAX 77 was very expensive to manufacture, with a $3,000 price – putting it out of the range of most musicians. It was discontinued in 2013.

Now the company has announced plans for a new, affordable version of the VAX keyboard. They’ve updated the design to make improvements, while also reducing the cost. To make the new VAX as affordable as possible, a DIY build option will be available.

And they plan on making the keyboard open hardware. The source code, schematics, drawings and STP files will be on their website for anyone to download and build upon.

The new VAX MIDI Keyboard Controller is being developed as a Kickstarter project. Here’s designer Van Chandler introducing the project:

Key features of the new VAX MIDI Keyboard Controller design:

  • The new VAX offers a weighted hammer action but with the return speed of a fast synth action. The important improvement to the action, compared with the original VAX77, is that the hammer releases the keyweight at the bottom of the keystroke, similar to a grand piano. It won’t “wear you out” after hours of playing like the VAX77 did with its constant force springs.
  • The new VAX will transmit velocity and hi-res velocity. It will also transmit polyphonic aftertouch and release velocity.
  • The new VAX will be powered through the USB port and no external power will be required. It will not have a touch screen display and it will heavily rely on computer hosts such as MainStage to handle splits and controller assignments.
  • The new VAX will have traditional pitch and mod wheels and a couple of pedal inputs. The chassis will be similar to the VAX77 except that it will be extruded from aluminum instead of magnesium.
  • Assembly involves sliding modules (first the sets of two octaves of keys then the pitch & mod wheel module) into the chassis on built-in rails and securing them in place with plates at each end. The only tool required is a screwdriver
  • The new VAX will be offered as an Open Source product. That means Source Code, Schematics, Drawings and STP files will be on their website for anyone to download and modify. Since the new VAX is an assembly of modules, it will be easy for 3rd party developers to create and offer new modules and accessories.

The VAX MIDI Keyboard Controller is available to project backers starting at US $400, vs an expected $550 price for later production models.

Note: Expected delivery dates are March-April of 2016. Details on the project are available at its Kickstarter site.

via Geert Bevin

36 thoughts on “The ‘Finest MIDI Controller Ever’ Is About To Get Affordable

    1. I can understand the comparison WRT the technology (i.e., a new type of sensor). However, the NDVR note seemed to be doing something more sophisticated with the entire motion of the key.

      WRT the companies, it seemed that NDVR didn’t really have a track record and at some point seemed to have abandoned their project long before their kickstarter even ended.

      Whereas, VAX has a great reputation and did a successful release of their VAX77. I think their reputation is good, and this concept seems great.

  1. Finally, someone did it! 88-key, poly aftertouch, weighted hammer action, usb, open source, repairable, affordable. It’s NOT the Note. Check out the kickstarter video. I’m totally in.

      1. I had a CS-80 way back in the day and was Jonesin for poly AT ever since I sold it. I got a Roland A-80 but never felt the love. Then I got the VAXX-77, spilled for the big price, but didn’t regret it. I got that joy back that I had with the CS-80. I’m thrilled to see a more affordable version coming out!

  2. Massive thumbs up! The timeline won’t allow me to offer funding as I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this game, but other than that OMG I can’t wait! I’m gushing on the inside 🙂

    1. I SO feel your pain. Being Australian I too will need to settle for six octaves, and never experience the unbelieveable awesomeness of eight full octaves and 96 keys! its probably due to size limitations on international air freight. I will try contacting a US freight forwarder. Perhaps it can fit on a container ship….

    1. I understand your reaction, but with this particular concept (and keeping the price point down), you can’t expect them to offer EVERY configuration. You get 4 octaves or 6 octaves. That’s a pretty reasonable compromise. (But I didn’t thumbs down you, FWIW).

  3. You CAN have the 88-version shipped to anywhere in the world, but you have to assemble it yourself. Only the pre-assembled 88 version cannot be shipped outside of the US.

    1. Please clarify. On the Kickstarter site, both eight octave versions, the $700 DIY version and the $1050 factory assembled version say, “Only ships to: United States.” Do you have inside information?

      1. Ooops, my bad, Michael.
        I could swear I saw the 88 DIY version with shipping possible anywhere in the world. I looked at it again and this time it says US only. You’re right, I was wrong, although I could almost swear it was once possible. I apologize.

          1. Nope, you’ve read it incorrectly, most international destinations, not internationally. As far as to Asia, I believe it will cost up to 500USD depending on the weight of up to 40KG. Nope, the quote was give in other Kickstarter project that is nearly 40KG.

            Pledge that option and the list of countries is incomplete.

  4. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but that 550$ is for the 4 octave version. Still not super expensive, but still not super affordable either.

  5. Hmm DIY – would like to make a “pad” style interface, with good velocity and aftertouch . Or maybe 5 keys facing opposite each other in a v shape.

    1. The Seaboard Grand is really interesting, but it is always going to be an oddity, because it does not have a good feel for doing traditional-style keyboard work at all. And other controllers, like the Continuum, are better for doing microtonal stuff.

      So the Seaboard ends up feeling like an uneasy compromise, instead of a ‘best of both worlds’ type of solution.

  6. I am really intrigued by this. And I could always get rid of my A-70 for a better controller. Poly-AT is great, as well as the other features they are building in.

    It was kind of a shame that the person who was demoing the VAX77 refused to play with ANY dynamics. All of the FF stuff he was playing could have been done with a cheap-ass casio. Would be nice to see some more delicate dynamics played by a piano monster of some sort.

    The biggest risk they mention, being mechanical in nature, is a bit worrying. Sounds like they’d sooner delay production & release than settle for something problematic. But my biggest concern is getting a key action that I end up hating. And buying without trying would require trust, risk, and as much information as I could muster– especially if I was helping out in the KS phase. Tough call. Even at that price, it doesn’t make me less of a broke-ass musician than I already am.

  7. Not sure it is the ‘Finest MIDI Controller Ever’. For me it need to have multiple MIDI outs, MIDI internal patch bay and processor. I use to have Roland’s A80 and A70 and they control two rack full of synth without the need of a computer. In my case prefer to have Kuzrweil or Doepfer controllers right now because I don’t use computer in my creative process.

    1. It looks like they are putting taps for other control sources. Also, there are other ways to get the control surface you want that can merge in.

      Another point is that we’re about to hear about new MIDI standards that are right around the corner. That bodes well for an open-source rig. We’ll see if they can future proof the processor end so it is fast enough to be high-res. I expect so, since the VAX had some of that implemented.

    2. It’s open source and I’m sure someone with a hack saw and talent will notice that. You really need to see what’s there rather than missing as the design and marketing is established to let human nature create a great product. I’ve seen first hand how well open source works and this fits the bill great. Very happy with what I see because it can be modified and I won’t be surprised to see rapid development. Saying the action is as good as the sensors… this is the needed foundation of expression no other midi controller has. Channel AT on todays complex time evolving voices just creates a sonic mess… you need Poly AT if you are going to use AT, and who wouldn’t want some more individual headroom on a notes volume to start a list of possibilities that made keyboard experts scream for Poly AT to be brought back.

  8. Just a few more details and I am in…

    It sounds fantastic (ha…for a controller, that is) but how will it look? The potential for creative modifications is very important I think.

  9. No cosmetic prototypes until September.

    They said it would have a similar chassis shape to the VAX77 but with extruded aluminum– which they would cut to different lengths for the different octave-length versions.

    I asked about where they would put the modwheel and pitch levers, but didn’t get an answer yet.

  10. I was just corresponding with one of the developers about whether it would include MIDI din i/o (or just outs). At first it sounded like he wanted to exclude it. But it sounds like he might consider some way of including it– but his first suggestion was offering EITHER HD MIDI via ethernet OR old-school MIDI via din on two different module options.

    We were both wondering whether an ethernet to MIDI din adaptor option might be available from some 3rd party.

    1. If I’m understanding him, the developer kind of did a 180 on the MIDI din thing, saying that this version WOULD have a MIDI din out; adding that it is hard to speculate about the HD MIDI thing, also hinting that an early version might not have ethernet.

      I hope he will clarify all this on the KS page. Sounds like they are being flexible and open to feedback, which is good news. I hope the synth community both supports this product and gives him clear feedback on what features would be ideal.

  11. Just following up. As of today, the Kickstarter has 22K out of 34K and 36 days to go. The plans are coming together and we’ve gotten great early reports on progress. I’m a supporter and went for the 6 octave version. BTW, you can choose whether the 2 octave modules are C-to-B or F-to-E. VERY CLEVER!!!

    I expect this to not only be a fantastic controller for a great price, but also one of the more innovative and open designs we’ve seen in a keyboard. If you are on the fence, join us!! It’s BLISS!

    No seriously. It’s bliss.

  12. Looks like they stuck with the same horrible design flaw that they incorporated in the original. Because of the folding design, the pitch bender and mod controller are placed so they cannot be used simultaneously. Makes it pretty much useless for anyone who plays anything other than straight piano or organ stuff. Unsafe at any price…

    1. Seem like you didn’t read the comments in Kickstarter.

      Nope, the pitch bender and mod controller can be requested to place on top of the keyboard since all the backers and me requested it. This makes it possible for us to reach easily on 8-octave version.

      IR team will be discuss with a small group of musicians on the designs so we get the best workflows.

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