Keith McMillen Teases New K-Board Pro 4 Expressive MIDI Controller

Keith McMillen Instruments today released this teaser video for the K-Board Pro 4 – a new $495 expressive keyboard MIDI controller.

The company has not announced details on the new K-Board Pro 4 yet, but it’s clear from the video that this builds on their experience with expressive MIDI controllers, but is much closer in form to a traditional keyboard. 

It looks like the K-Board Pro 4 will offer expressive control not found on most keyboard controllers, capturing movement in three dimensions. In the brief demo video, movement along the x-axis (left-right) is translated into pitch bend and movement along the y-axis is translated into timbral changes.

Not demonstrated in this video is multidimensional polyphonic expression – the ability to capture this sort of expressive synth control for multiple fingers.

We’ll have details on the new K-Board Pro 4 as they become available.

What do you think of the K-Board Pro 4? Would you be interested in an expressive MIDI controller with a more traditional form factor than something like the Haken Continuum, the LinnStrument or the Roli Seaboard?

36 thoughts on “Keith McMillen Teases New K-Board Pro 4 Expressive MIDI Controller

  1. Can’t wait to find out more about this.

    KMI controllers are some of the smartest designs available, but I really like that this will let you build on existing keyboard skills.


    I love everything Keith makes. I only wish it would come along faster sometimes, but I respect the precision and quality he puts in every single thing he makes and it’s just awesome.

    -and to Synthopia’s question, yes I really prefer the enhancement of traditional keys over new surfaces like Haken Linnstrument and Roly. As old and quirky as it is, the keyboard layout is amazingly versatile and can only get better with time and invention I feel. I really wonder why nobody has taken a set of KMI qunexus pressure pads and laid it out on front or back points of key hammer mechanisms yet. Would that not be the ultimate key setup? A completely standard sized key and feel with a flexible XYZ aftertouch and velocity sensitivity on them? – – after that really the only thing i could imagine being added to keys would be a physical feedback system like a guitar string, like the old force feedback joysticks from the 90s 😀 I can dream.

    1. I’ve been very intrigued by the Roli keyboards and have planned on saving for one when able. This is the first I’ve heard negative feedback. Just curious, what makes them disasters?

      1. There’s a lot of ‘hate’ on the Roli’s from people that have never tried them – but I think people that have tried them are pretty divided loving/hating them, too.

        The expressive capabilities of the ROLI are obviously very impressive, but the ‘sponginess’ of the keyboard is very different than a normal keyboard, so it takes some getting used to.

        I’ve been thinking very seriously about the recently introduced Seaboard. The new KMI Pro 4 though, looks like it may be a better compromise between expressive controller and traditional piano keyboard. It looks like there’s no travel range on the keys, though, which has always felt weird to me on other keyboards I’ve tried.

        I think the biggest challenge that new instrument designers face is that people always want the new controllers to look and feel just like a piano – but to also do all this cool expressive control. Piano keyboards just weren’t designed for this type of thing, so something like this or the Roli will never let you do glissando like you can do on the Continuum or the LinnStrument.

        As synthesists, we need to move beyond that and realize that these things don’t need to replace traditional piano keyboards – they’re another option to use for doing things that keyboard controllers don’t do well. Having said that, I’m interested to see if the Pro 4 can change my mind on this.

        1. having never played a Roli i can only imagine based on the videos and description, but I really don’t like idea of the mechanisms they seem to have chosen for their bending. Would it REALLY be that hard to take the Haken surface and build that into a segmented surface with a normal set of keys? Very accurate to point out the lack of key travel on this new KMI too hmm. Oh well. With a better price and size I can at least see myself trying the K while I’d never bother with even the Roli 25 at almost 1k for a 25key…

          1. Do you think *maybe* you should try the Roli keyboards out before you call them a ‘disaster’?

            You may want to try the Continuum out, too, because your suggestion doesn’t make sense to people that have tried it. One of the coolest things about the Continuum is that you can take any note that you are playing and you can slide it anywhere up or down the keyboard, without affecting other notes. This sort of thing is done all the time in non-keyboard music, but it’s never been something that’s easy to do with keyboards.

            So, as you can probably imagine, if you tried to slide your fingers up and down a standard piano keyboard, it would be impossible to get a smooth glide. And it would probably be a little painful to your fingers to do those chromatic slides!

            As I mentioned before – it’s probably a mistake to think of these new controllers as replacements for piano-style keyboards. I think most people will still want to have a traditional keyboard for piano type stuff. But a lot of people will want to also have one of these new controllers for doing things that you can’t do on piano keyboards.

            1. a haken style touch-tracking surface on a nice light set of organ-style waterfall keys would be a dream. that with poly aftertouch like this K would not be a technical hurdle. I am fine with a variety of approaches, but it seems that the most obvious useful semi-traditional ones should be developed too, not just completely odd ones like the Roli sponge-y bumps that are not spaced or leveled like a normal keyboard, that fingers will fumble over and have trouble playing chords accurately even with practice. Just looking at the Roli surface I can tell it’s not going to shine in areas like quick chords. It’s easy to get good responses to normal and abnormal touch by not straying so far from tradition. I would rather an instrument I can play a variety of styles on and be able to fit in a rig for live use. KMI is on the right direction I’d say..

              1. “I would rather an instrument I can play a variety of styles on and be able to fit in a rig for live use”

                based on these criteria, the roli offerings seem perfectly reasonable. sounds like your real criteria would be “an instrument that requires no adaptation, and thus brings all the current standard’s limitations along with it”

                1. I’m also taking about marketability since that adds value by lowering cost. Linnstrument and haken are new layouts, tho still pretty darn expensive partially because there’s a whole part of the market that LIKES keys. Any setup has benefits and drawbacks, whether it’s keys or something new. For me, like many, learning a whole new hand technique just to use an overpriced new unit like a Roli is simply put of the question. Bridging the gap is smart and that’s what Keith is doing. He himself has said he’s not a massive keys player, but did he decide the solution is a weird imprecise spongey bump invention? No, he used some common sense and worked within the still-huge windows of engineering potential in a nice normal key surface setup.

  3. This does look like a very cool design. For keyboardists, this probably won’t or shouldn’t be the primary rig. There is NO key-throw, so you are just tapping on key surfaces for sound. That’s fine, of course, but having the key-movement is something we are quite used to, and fond of, for regulating our velocities. I think getting a very expressive touch on this will take time & practice, but it could be a pretty expressive rig if approached with a little discipline.

    As a second, special keyboard, this seems pretty ideal, little x-y-z’s per note? Hell yea.
    Are those ribbons above the keys? Yea, 500 is a pretty nice price for this.

  4. hmm interesting,.. Vangelis would love it i think, but ehm.. i need/want at least 61 keys..
    im so done with less and mini-keys.. soooo, any plans to have more keys?

  5. The ultimate physical controller for Animoog. I hope they make this class compliant and bus powered. The track record would indicate that they will, but as keyboards get larger the power drain may be too high for powering directly from an iPad. Fingers crossed that they can pull this off.

    1. The LinnStrument is a great controller for Animoog (and yes, there’s a low power mode just for iPads). It does cost a lot more, but you do get proper polyphonic pitch slides.

  6. I’m glad to see more expressive controllers on the market, as I think it will encourage instrument makers and software developers to add support for the emerging MPE/Expressive MIDI spec (see link below) to their products.

    I would hope this McMillen new controller is less hit-or-miss than their QuNexus, where one key to the next had wildly varying key sensitivity. I ended up returning that after <48 hrs.

    I've had a Linnstrument for about a month now and I'm absolutely loving it. Never having had any formal Piano/keyboard training, the move to a grid based setup with perfect 4ths tuning was relatively straightforward. I love the isomorphic nature of the fingerings and I find myself understanding a lot more music theory as it allows me to think more about the relationships between notes rather than figuring out all the fingerings again as I move to a new key.

    Expressive MIDI draft specification:

  7. I love my Qunexus keyboard. This is like a giant one. Very cool. I wondered when this was going to come around. I am looking forward to it.

        1. i hope it’s clear to you how easy it would be for someone to feel just as strongly about it remaining the way it is

    1. The top note being a B make sense if you look at shapes of the actual keys (especially the edges) and see that you can easily build little ranges between C-E, and between F-B. Otherwise you have to manufacture a special key just for the high C.

      For a rig like this it would easily make sense to have a high E, and go down to a low F. But people would complain about not having a low C.

      In a similar design situation, I posed one argument for the above; that if you have a high E, you extend a piano’s high note by four extra notes, and with a low F, you extend the bottom note of a piano by four extra notes. Not that the piano is the be-all-and-end-all of what the range of an instrument should be, it does kind of have a nice little “symmetry” conceptually.

  8. bring the mini key version or i’m not buying, don’t listen to the neckbeards pushing their dated, unchecked hatemongering

  9. this seems cool. I’ve owned every kmi instrument and never really gel with the color choices of the leds and now this keyboard. i’m sure it will be nice though. The cv was kinda spotty for me on the qunexus, so hopefully this will be a little more stable. as far as the Roli rise, I ordered one a couple weeks ago and am on back order till next month. Sooo i think they are doing just fine.

  10. hello vaporware.

    this is an experiment, not a product. no time table, no nothing.

    and a month after role introduces the Rise. this is a business tactic, trying to hurt Roli sales.


  11. This seems a nice idea! I think quite a few performers would be interested on this.
    Some more ideas: As mentioned here before, integrate some standard key throw and then the keyboard players would be *naturally* interested on this. Implement CV outs for each gesture and you’ll probably end up having the whole modular synth community behind it…

    seriously, why not to make an expressive keyboard with hex pads, where expression capabilities of KMI controllers would truly shine? why bother with piano layout at all, if piano players already have a range of expressive controllers and still ranting about pads not being a keys with mechanics they’re used to?

    1. “if piano players already have a range of expressive controllers …”
      Oh yes, are we? With x & y axis response? Seriously, can you tell us which ones are you talking about?

      1. at least there is KMI’s own QuNexus, packed with nice features i’m talking about, and – yes – Rise specs looks good, besides traditional piano keyboard layout that doesnt make sense to me, since i’m not a keyboard player in any way.
        any decent keyboard with hex-layout and comparable level of expression?

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