Keith McMillen Instruments K-Board Pro 4 MPE Controller Now Available

Keith McMillen Instruments has announced the official release of the K-Board Pro 4 – a four-octave MPE MIDI controller.

It’s based on the traditional keyboard layout, but features multiple dimensions of touch sensitivity in each key. The K-Board Pro 4 sends attack velocity, release velocity, continuous pressure, horizontal position and vertical position data to offer deep expressive capabilities.

It can also send Poly Aftertouch messages for compatibility with older expressive synthesizers.

MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) is a new MIDI standard that allows for easy integration of multiple, polyphonic per-key dimensions of expressive control.

The K-Board Pro 4 is USB powered and MIDI class-compliant, to ensure both portability and compatibility with MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android, as well as MIDI capable hardware.

“With K-Board Pro 4, we’ve taken the format of a traditional keyboard and updated it for the 21st Century,” notes KMI founder Keith McMillen. “The MIDI MPE Standard is the future for expressive controllers and we have designed the K-Board Pro 4 to be the ultimate MPE Controller.”

Pricing and Availability

The K-Board Pro 4 is available now, with a street price of US $895.

44 thoughts on “Keith McMillen Instruments K-Board Pro 4 MPE Controller Now Available

  1. I’m kinda mixed on this one. On one hand, it’s got a nice compact form factor, and a hugely expressive feature set. I’m especially pleased to see the ribbons on there.

    On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of those kind of keys (squishy pad-type buttons). The Haken Continuum type surface also seems difficult to play. Also, the X axis control sounded a little glitchy (which is to be expected, since its 127 steps crammed into a tiny movement).

    Of course, these types of keyboards are perhaps intended to be 2nd or even 3rd keyboards for special musical purposes/contexts.

    That KMI is releasing an expressive keyboard with these features is a great thing. And the price is also pretty nice.

    Touch Keys was also very interesting to me, and probably a little closer to my ideal, because it used standard keys. I was concerned those touch-elements might prevent my fingers from easily going between the black keys.

    At least this is already out, and isn’t a crowd-funded risk.

    1. The keys are quite firm, but they are pads, so they don’t offer the feel of travel of piano keys.

      the touch keys concept is a add on. touch sensitivity could be built in to the actual surface of a key, if some maker decides to, and then offer a feel closer to that of the touch of a typical controller.

      K Board Pro 4 was a kickstarter that got heavily delayed.

  2. Obviously this competes against the ROLI Seaboard & Rise keyboards and there are important design specifics that are missing, in particular the ROLI products have top & bottom continuous ribbons so you can glissando up & down the entire keyboard. The ROLI keyboards are much smoother, making it easy to glide from one note to another without changing the Y position.
    I don’t believe you can do either of these things on this keyboard which its discrete notes. Therefore although this may look more like a traditional keyboard, and may be easier to learn to play accurately, it also loses much of the MPE expressity that competing products provide.

    1. I think your missing the point – that there needs to be lots of new expressive controller designs to meet different performance styles.

      The Haken blows away everything else if you want to do expressive microtonal pitch control. But you wouldn’t want to get it for playing traditional keyboard parts, you’d want one to complement what you can do with a traditional keyboard.

      The ROLI Seaboard is obviously much more keyboard-focused, but you still wouldn’t want to use it for doing traditional keyboard parts. Using it for traditional keyboard roles is just making your life harder. But it’s a great solution for exploring a middle ground for keyboard players wanting to get into expressive controllers.

      The K-Board obviously is designed more for keyboard players that want to do MPE, but don’t need to do octave pitch bends and stuff like that. I can see actually playing keyboard parts on this, but it seems like it’s tailored to being a secondary controller for keyboard players, for controlling MPE synths.

      I’d like to see the Touch Keys idea go mainstream, it’s the closest to the idea of a traditional keyboard that can do more than a traditional keyboard. I think these other instruments will continue to fit into a niche as people’s ‘alternative controller’.

      1. Yes, but I wanted to highlight that not all MPE controllers are born equal, so the McMillen keyboard sacrifices some expressivity in favour of a more keyboard-like feel. Ultimately, just as with the LinnStrument or the ROLI LightPad, it’s really all about how much effort you want to put into learning to play a new control surface to get that expressivity.

        1. My point was that there needs to be different types of MPE controllers for different types of people and for musical styles.

          You could practice all you want on a Haken or Roli and you’re NEVER going to be able to play Bach keyboard parts well.

          But if you want to do Vangelis-y stuff, the KMI might be the best option. I’ve also seen Indian style performances on the Continuum, which would be impossible on the KMI.

          1. that is just not true. for the novice the steep learning curve might make the idea of playing bach or anything complex seem unattainable. however for the seasoned trained player it’s just a matter of practice. playing bach or anything technically complex quite attainable. dust off that metronome, crack open hannon, and get to practicing!

            1. A “seasoned trained player” with an open mind might try for a week to play expressively on those pads then throw the K-Board out the window.

              I don’t doubt that a seasoned player could play “well enough” on a K-board, but they will NEVER sound as good as on a regular keyboard, no matter how much time they have wasted practicing on it.

              I get your point though.

              In traditional keyboard playing expression comes from note choice, velocity and note durations.

              With alternative controllers like this, other dimensions are added, but the basic velocity is perhaps less easy to control.

              1. It is a matter of Muscle memory, playing lines that someone knows well, or scales on an interface like this, requires much less practice than learning a completely new playing interface for a seasoned keyboard player. It does however still require practice, so it isn’t like playing a piano, just with the addition of extra polyphonic expression. I don’t see how it would never sound as good, but I get that most would give up, and rather using a more piano like key bed at least for some of their playing rather than re-learn on this interface, bur for someone starting out on this, I don’t see how they would not be able to reach the same kind of level of velocity expression.
                For those learning an instrument for the first time, one can learn to play classic piano pieces on other types of MPE interfaces, just as well, and since many of them come with other advantages, that is the route I would suggest.

                I’ve seen over and over in forums, people that can’t quite disconnect the playing interface from the sound. There are many piano softwares that crushes many digital pianos when it comes to realism of the sound, yet there are people that would rather sit by the digital piano then using a piano-midi-controller and a computer with a more realistic sounding software, because they sense the digital piano is a piano, and the controller+software is something else.
                If someone has trained well with another velocity sensitive controller, and uses great sounding piano software, they could get a result out of their playing that sounds more realistic than many digital pianos.
                Piano keys are not in any way superior to all other interfaces for playing piano parts, but when the sound-source is an acoustic piano it is pretty much the only option (though it would be possible to design a system with motors, hitting the keys of an acoustic piano, put it under midi control, and play it from another type of interface… an option I would love to have, not only for use of other types of interfaces, but also to put an acoustic piano under midi control from the DAW). Today we do have convincing piano software, so it is possible to play something sounding almost identical to an acoustic piano, but playing it from a preferred midi interface.

                1. “Piano keys are not in any way superior to all other interfaces for playing piano parts”

                  If you had said “piano keys are not intrinsically superior” I might have let this point slide. But for playing piano parts, it is just wrong. I used to argue a similar point (though I avoided making absolute statements). But my thinking has evolved.

                  You can argue that a MIDI controller can play passable piano parts, but not that they are equal to a piano.

                  Piano (and hammer-action) keys not only measure the velocity/force of our fingers, the weight and springs of the keys provide resistance which helps us to have more controlled movements. This allows us to play softly with more ease of control, and requires more assertive playing to get loud volume.

                  The complex mechanism of a hammer action piano has to do with translating finger movement into hammer movement. It is careful designed and calibrated for expressive playing. You seem to suggest that all that is needed is practice to get the exact same expressiveness from a key that directly strikes the string.

                  If I tap my finger on a surface from soft to loud, I might have a wide range of velocity values, and a high resolution of values, but there is a real limit to how much accuracy there is between intent and result. And even with practice, there are limits to how much control I can develop. The device will truncate that range & reduce the resolution.

                  With a piano action, the mechanics limit the upper range, and our range of force is distributed more evenly across the dynamic range of the instrument. It is easier to control.

                  Yes, with practice, a person can improve their ability to control dynamics on even a crappy touchscreen. But that doesn’t mean it will be just as good.

    2. “it also loses much of the MPE expressity that competing products provide”
      I don’t agree with that, MPE is more than just the pitch bending. This still offers individual vibrato per note, polyphonic aftertouch and the tilt axis, I think it even supports release velocity. So it offers a little, not much, the way I see it. And it does that, to work better with traditional keyboard playing, but it still isn’t perfect with muscle memory.
      Sure it would have been nice to see them to a full keyboard touch strip for bending notes with the use of the keys as reference, although the smooth transition between the keys and the strip would probably not been there.

  3. Wonder how many issues it has and how well manufactured by quality control,
    Took me 3 replacements of the boppad before getting one that was good and that one still had poor QA.
    This was announced Kickstarter on Nov 15, 2016, Started shipping 3 months ago.
    And what for a well established company
    Comes right at at same day as the Roli LUMI announcement

    1. The ROLI LUMI seems like its primary audience is beginners.\

      But for musicians, it seems like it could be a nice alternative to the CME XKey37, which has always seemed a little too stripped down for my taste.

    2. I’m glad you mentioned your experiences with quality-control. I wondered about that.

      I”m glad they are at least willing to replace when there are issues.

      1. You may not have an idea how many emails and arguments that took. I am still convinced they knew the issues (very major manufacturing/design issues appearing only after several months of use) but were hesitant to acknowledge them. This happens often in 1st level consumer, demoralizing methods and treating consumers as being not well familiar with QA and hardware unless they come back with strong arguments.(in this case). Still flabbergasted the issues did not appeared on forums and social media. Still thankful they finally did replace it though.

        1. You’re right. I had no idea. Hearing that they didn’t treat you well is enough for me to give it a hard pass. I never ever want to deal with that.

          I can understand them wanting to make sure you’re doing everything correctly, or there isn’t an issue with your system, but they should be kind and respectful as they troubleshoot. And it shouldn’t take long.

          Thanks.

  4. my opinion on MPE enabled instruments is perhaps informed by the fact that i am only a self taught keyboard player, and i dont read tablature and dont play traditional or classical music which is written for traditional instruments.. but with that said i am thinking that the best designed MPE device ive seen so far is the Continuum, because i dont think the amount of expressiveness on offer is best shoehorned into preexisting designs that never foresaw such advances in musical technology.. and by extension, the learning process involved with them

    its not that i think its useless when implemented in traditional designs, but rather not nearly leveraged as effectively as a design which begins with the concept and builds on it from there… the eigenharp also comes to mind as a nice sort of hybrid between traditional forms deconstructed into a new design which begins with the MPE concept

    the only “traditional” instrument that seems perfectly posied for MPE implementation imo is the theremin, which is arguably not traditional anyways

    now, thinking about this creatively as a way to implement MPE with traditional instruments – id consider some kind of idea like a kinect or similiar type device which maps your body’s movement in 3d space, while you are playing any sort of traditional instrument like keys, guitar, even drums, etc… and the device would interpret your physical motions (in their speed, elegance, etc. almost like watching you “dancing”) and somehow translate the percepted emotive physicality back into controller messages which modulates the output of the instrument in various ways… but that seems difficult to plan for and possibly not intuitive to setup, then again im not an instrument designer so who knows

    1. The only instrument where MPE would work is a Theremin?! Have you never seen a guitarist bend a note, use vibrato, palm muting, etc etc? THAT is multiple axes of expression. Why wouldn’t a keyboard player want this? Have you even watched the roli or kboard videos? If you’re not moved by that, stick with button pushing and buy a theremin.

      I for one, hope MPE controllers take many forms but it will be completely revolutionary for keyboard players.

  5. hahahah how could a job have failed so badly? buyers have literally just asked for a bigger qunexus for how many years . . a double size qunexus with maybe 1 element along the bottom to improve stability and give normal midi out. I love some stuff KMI does . . . just i really dont know what happened to this project and price point.

    1. Wow I didn’t realize that the price had been raised. The early backer price on Kickstarter was $450, which looks like a pretty good deal now!

    2. I don’t quite see what is wrong with the result of the project other than possibly the price.

      It could have been made even better, for sure.
      Midi over 3.5mm, with built in storage for a couple of configurations (when it comes to midi functions), with panel selection.
      Dedicated octave switch with some sort of status indicator.
      Perhaps 8 round touch areas for use as encoders.
      And perhaps a full length touch strip, that could be used for exact bending, or playing ondes martenot style.
      And options with more keys.

      The project was always meant to be a experience based on the layout of typical piano keys, unlike the quNexus. Also with extended polyphonic expression. So if this had ended up as just an extended QuNexus, the project would have gone wrong.

  6. I have to question a couple of design choices, why 48 keys? 49 makes much more sense. And why the micro-usb connector, those are way too fragile and given the size of the unit completely unnecessary.

    1. Micro USB is actually more durable than USB mini. It’s more likely that you’ll break the cable connector rather than its socket, which wasn’t necessarily the case with USB mini.

      In theory 48 keys would make it modular so that you could extend it to an 8-octave unit, but unfortunately the keys aren’t flush to the edge so that doesn’t actually work. It seems like it would be a relatively straightforward change if they ever decide to revise the design.

      I also miss the high C key – I keep trying to hit it, but it isn’t there.

    2. > 49 makes much more sense

      You’re correct. The device is four totally identical one-octave units, each with a MCU, which completely swamps the MCU’s built in analog input support. An extra key for 1 in 4 isn’t a possibility with this specific low cost design. It’s a reasonable trade off as tradeoffs go.

      > And why the micro-usb connector

      I personally like micro myself but I acknowledge there’s a huge amount of anti-micro propaganda about insertion cycles. It all deals with problems from the brief micro design with slanted edges and not the year later design we have now. But we’ll never unravel it. Keith apparently is a fan of the revised Micro, as I am, so I respect that.

      1. For me it the micro-usb this is more about durability and being able to withstand abuse. I’m happy to be wrong, I hope I am. A full sized USB connector is more comforting to me and is what the 12 Step has.

  7. 1) Will I set aside my current rig & put in enough time to even halfway creatively master this thing?
    2) Will anyone but insiders understand what I’m doing once I step outside semi-traditional instrument sounds?

    Probably not. The number of potential listeners who might enjoy what tools like this will do is WAY smaller than the current mix of EDMers and Taylor Swift fans. Learning to play this expressively is small potatoes next to getting the results across to an audience of people whose noses are stuck in a phone set to iHeart.

    Micro-USB connectors reek. I folded the cable under and taped it to the case of my XKey to protect things from small bumps a standard connector would shrug off. If you’re going for MPE users, your device should be robust enough to handle the stresses of a player digging in for real. C’mon.

    1. If you can play the Xkey, you can play this.
      One doesn’t have to master it, to start taking advantage of the additional parameters on hand.
      Side to side wiggle, for vibrato, and on an individual note basis, so one doesn’t have to bend all notes played. Quite straight forward. And the tilt can be used for things like opening/closing the filter, increase/decrease the level of the sound, or even bring in a second sound, by setting the initial level of that to 0. It doesn’t matter if you don’t need to use all the polyphonic expression parameters.
      It doesn’t matter if people understand what you are doing, it is all a matter of the sounds you are producing. The average EDM listener has no idea how to produce any of the sounds played, as traditional acoustic instruments are rare in that genre. Same with a lot of pop and hip-hop. It is not a matter if the listener understands, or if the controller can actually do something that could not be done by deep programming in the DAW, it is a matter of finding something that inspires one to create, that unlocks creative possibilities by making them more accessible (or accessible at all).
      If you don’t like what this product offers, it simply isn’t for you.

    1. Definitely try it first – the zero-travel light-touch design takes some getting used to to play without pressing too hard and fatiguing your fingers, but the expressiveness is very cool.

      It is a big deal. I think we may be slowly entering a golden age of poly expression controllers!!

      1. I really think this is so huge. I’m a drummer primarily. So touch and nuance with my fingers is what I’ve been doing since drumming on desks in kindergarten! I’m a bit bummed the cost went up so much. But that’s because its fairly unique. I like my other mcmillen devices (queneo and qunexus).

  8. So I actually (finally) received this controller and it does seem to work!! So far:

    – It’s a kickstarter where they didn’t just take your money and run! color me shocked
    – they got rid of the handle but included a case for backers
    – It has zero key travel so it is more like a “key surface” than a keyboard
    – it seems reasonably sensitive so you can play it with a light touch
    – it seems solidly made and is heavier than I expected it to be
    – the drivers and software seem reasonably complete
    – the LED-lit sliders are cool and are pre-configured to do useful things like octave and volume
    – I had no trouble getting it to work with Logic’s ES2 in “mono” mode (channel aftertouch for each key)
    – I haven’t gotten it to work yet with Animoog in poly pressure mode (though I think it should be possible)
    – sadly the design isn’t modular so you can’t really combine two of them into an 8 octave keyboard

    Overall, it’s a pretty cool controller that seems to work as advertised. I am a huge fan of poly pressure keyboards and I think I will use it for a long time. I was a fan of the KMI QuNexus, and I think the K-board Pro is good as well.

    They are now also including a license for BitWig 8-track, so I’m looking forward to trying that out as well.

    1. I agree. I got mine just after they announced shipping and have really enjoyed it. But, I fully expected to love it, considering how much I enjoy my QuNexus and QuNeo. Guess that makes me a bit of a KMI fanboy, but their style of pads/keys really appeals to me. They’re fun to use. Definitely not for everyone, though.

  9. I received mine a few months ago. It’s good and does what it says it does. User feedback was taken into consideration and resulted in an updated firmware.

    Yes, a Continuum is better/more expressive. But for much more $$$. This has polyphonic AT and MPE support which is useful. If you’re into that sort of thing. Which means specific plugins/instruments, or a lot of configuration.

    Over the years I’ve invented and implemented better technology. Which I’ll never sell or commercialize because I hate everyone. For me it’s better tech. But not relevant to the normal imbecile I’m sorry I meant to say regular Joe.

    In any case, nearly everyone will want to stick with their basic Halberstadt keyboards without any expression because they are button pressing keyboardists like that room with an infinite number of monkeys banging away on typewriters hoping to make it big by reinventing Shakespeare through Monte Carlo modeling. The thing people do is make all synthesis about primitively simplistic one dimensional keyboards and not ever about expressive instruments like trombones or cellos or voice.

    Some, a very small number, will go beyond that.

    And the monkeys will mock those.

    1. I don’t care about MPE either; though I can see how it could be useful with some intelligent multi-timbral chord parsing.

      $200 means you want something built pretty cheaply.

      I’d be willing to spend up to $800-1000 for a 49 or 61 key with poly-AT. But I’d want it to be a really good keyboard. (And release velocity would be a must).

      1. Not so sure $200 would be a cheap keybed. Looking at Sequential’s and other products, the delta between desktops and key versions is about $200 retail. The costs for a good (Fatar) keybned (REV2 for example) should be lower than that. Sure there is some cost for a sturdy frame. A question would be, what kind of poly AT, with release pressure sensor or just a a release detection switch with fixed/user set AT amount ? Depending on the AT sensors, a 49/61 Fatar KB with full size keys AT + a case, some simple MIDI hardware and a few knobs retail should be possible around $400-$600. A bonus would be to have sensors in the keys as well for vertical slider.
        Just need the A80 back without all the knobs and perhaps an 49/61 and 73 version and waterfall for those not having the space or need for 88 keys or HP and all the ivory. MPE would be just be a small firmware feature that would cost nothing much, just cycling channels.

  10. For most skilled keyboard players, MPE allows one to shape more sound parameters with one hand. I’ve had a Roli since they first came out; the first thing I had to get past is that it is not really a keyboard. Instead, its a series of continuous controllers configured somewhat like a keyboard, whose multiple variables can be treated as data sources for all sorts of things – if one is working with Max/MSP and/or Live, etc., etc., it opens up all sorts of possibilities. As a pianist of many years, I’m not crazy about it as a “keyboard” for reasons mentioned by others. I’ve never liked playing a series of switches that trigger samples or other algorithmic models that generate keyboard sounds. The Roli’s spongy-qualities are odd, but interesting. The new K-Board 4 seems like a return to switches, albeit multi-dimensional ones. ‘the continuous controller strips seem cool; they reflect the direction that Roli has gone, towards the consumer market; I actually just love the two-long strips at the bottom and top of the early Rolis. The combination of the “key waves” and the strips are really fun. I’ve used the earlier McMillan tiny keyboard controller along with a few iPads, all as sound triggers/shapers; alone its not so great, but as one of several instruments, its a trip. This new one is probably in that same category of “a trip” when accompanied by several other controllers, and not confusing it with playing a conventional keyboard, never mind one with mechanical action.

  11. Good to see it available finally! Getting some more alternatives and competition for multi dimensional controllers out there Have been waiting for for years for this one to come out and finally gave up. At the moment my interest has shifted to other things, but that may change. Since I’m more of a rocker I’d prefer a hammer (so to speak) MPE keyboard like this above anything Roly (not a ‘roller).

  12. If you want a piano keyboard to play like a piano, then there are surely better options.
    If you are not a pianist, and want a controller with more than a pianos limitations, because maybe you are used to playing instruments with plucked and/or bowed strings for instance, then this might have a lot to offer.
    I am not a pianist, and I wouldn’t spend money on a wonderful piano simulator, because it doesn’t play what I want. MIDI guitar, Linnstrument, McMillan and Roli do things far more interestingly for me.
    Horses for courses …

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