ROLI Intros LUMI, A Portable Keyboard Controller WIth Polyphonic Aftertouch

ROLI today introduced LUMI, a new portable keyboard design that features polyphonic aftertouch.

The company is positioning the LUMI as a keyboard/app platform for learning to play. But it also compatible with their modular Blocks controller system – so you can connect multiple LUMI keyboards together, or combine them with other ROLI Blocks to create a custom controller.

Note that the LUMI is not designed to be an MPE keyboard, like the company’s Seaboard Block. But it is one of the few keyboard controllers available that features polyphonic aftertouch.

Pricing and Availability

Production of the LUMI is being funded via a Kickstarter project. The keyboard is available to project backers for £131.00 (about US $164).

30 thoughts on “ROLI Intros LUMI, A Portable Keyboard Controller WIth Polyphonic Aftertouch

  1. first I was surprised to learn that this keyboard doesn’t do MPE. But because its only polyphonic control parameter is pressure (no y-axis, no pitch bend per note), it makes sense to use standard MIDI.

    Which leads to another thought. The introduction of a special MIDI MPE standard was not ideal actually. It would have been better to just introduce two or three additional polyphonic parameters to the normal MIDI standard: polyphonic aftertouch as before, x, y, and maybe another one, z. All through one single MIDI channel.

    But maybe the data flow would have been too large for one singe MIDI channel, so they had to use all 16 MIDI channels, and forcibly create this new MPE standard. But in the end these 16 channels go through the same wire, and have to be transmitted and interpreted in real-time anyway.

    I just see that there will be a new standard for music note communication, removing the distinction between normal MIDI and MPE MIDI. It could have been established years ago. A missed opportunity.

    1. The midi standard is old, with limitations of the data per channel, and the polyphonic messages are limited by the specification, meaning that nothing can be added without breaking the standard completely, and making it completely incompatible with older equipment unless using selectable midi standard to send over. A new standard could have easily supported MPE over a single channel, the data transmit isn’t too large for modern protocols over a single wire. The use of multiple channels instead, makes it backward compatible, in the sense it won’t make the receiving synth crash because of midi overload/unkown messages, and it even enables playing old synths with MPE, as long as they are multi-timbral, and the same patch is used for each channel.
      They are working on new midi specifications, that could in theory use a single channel for MPE, since it will have intercommunication, where a device asks the other what it supports, and if there is no reply, it will assume it uses the old midi standard.

      The midi limitations, is not the reason why this product only have polyphonic aftertouch and not polyphonic pitch bend or any other polyphonic messages. It is either a cost issue, or design issue, where the set goals could not be achieved with additional expression.

      I am disappointed that this product is this limited in terms of polyphonic expression. I’m not a huge fan of polyphonic pitch bend, but as a method for bending only a single note of the ones played, instead of bending it all, it does make sense. Or to bend two or more notes to end up at the same note, can make for a cool effect, but that would require something like a ribbon. And I would have liked to see at least 1 more mod parameter in addition to the aftertouch.
      I would also like to see them do a proper control module, with display and storage of settings, and possibly midi port/s, to enable better stand alone operation.

      1. MIDI has no limits of data throughout per channel. Overall throughput, yes, but you can jam all the data you like on to a single channel and it will work as long as you don’t max out the whole bus.

        1. I think the “log jam” issue has to do with multiple control streams, and extra bytes needed to run poly-AT. Not sure how or if MPE reduces this.

            1. Someone was explaining to me that Poly AT required the sending of additional status bytes that aren’t needed with MPE. Perhaps they were mistaken.

              1. Per channel, using multiple channels for MPE, each channel does not send polyphonic aftertouch, and stays within the monophonic aftertouch specification, but over all, using individual channels to deal with all note on and velocity messages, pitch-bend messages, aftertouch messages, mod messages, the necessary throughput of data probably increases.

                1. I think it was because polyphonic aftertouch requires more bytes for a unit of change, than the equivalent change in MPE.

        2. The MIDI standard has limitations in the types of messages that can be sent.
          The midi connector could be used to transfer other types of data, but when transferring MIDI data, it has to stay within the MIDI specification. And since capacity for additional polyphonic messages aren’t reserved in the standard, they can’t be added, without breaking standard.

      2. thanks Jon, you are right about backwards compatibility. And what you said about intercommunication, that’s the condition for one single MIDI standard. And I guess even today it is still a bit too early for such intercommunication.

        I hoped that OSC (Open Sound Control) would be the future solution, but that didn’t take off as I expected.

        Anyway, today we have MIDI, MIDI NRPN, MIDI MPE, and OSC. I’m not complaining at all, it’s great. It’s just a bit complicated for a 21st century electronic musician.

        1. The new midi standard is on its way, so the future will at least be better.

          A bigger issue is the controllers. It will take a long time, before all controllers come with Polyphonic Expression, if that ever happens, and by then, someone might have come up with something very different, that people would like to see as the new standard.
          For playing techniques for Polyphonic Expression to become common, the feature needs implementation in most controllers.
          From that standpoint, it is a bit of a let-down to see Roli do a controller, that isn’t a fully featured MPE controller.

  2. Now that’s two announcements of keyboards with Polyphonic Aftertouch (this and KMI’s K-Board– which also has MPE).

    My enthusiasm for polyphonic aftertouch has been pretty strong over the years. This has required some patience as several designs have come (and some have gone).

    I’m going to wait for one with full-sized keys– semi-weighted. I’d be happy with 49 keys.

    I’d also love to see high-scan rates for velocity (a la Novation SL MkIII).

    Perhaps I’ll even wait until one with a solid MIDI 2.0 spec. Maybe for my 70th birthday (i.e., I won’t hold my breath).

    1. I played the KMI at Superbooth. It wasn’t good. The keys did not suit the MPE. I’ve owned two Seaboards and played Linnstrument and Haaken instruments. I would not buy the KMI

  3. I don’t quite get where this is positioned.
    If it’s a keyboard for learning, does it need poly aftertouch?
    Maybe it would be useful if you’re a pro and want to train your fingers to play really sensitively.
    But then wouldn’t you want full size keys?

    1. Why wouldn’t beginners want polyphonic aftertouch? It’s not like a beginner guitarist never bends a strong. Maybe not initially but it’s part of the learning process. Expressive controllers may keep beginners more engaged.

    2. I think the article is accurate that this is positioned primarily for beginners.

      But I am guessing that the technology that they are using for the keyboard allows for polyphonic aftertouch to be done without much additional expense – which makes this interesting to an additional audience, musicians interested in a mobile keyboard or an expressive controller.

    3. If you ask me this is just garbage. iOS only (limited Android support), no desktop app, locked into buying Roli packs for new content. What if you don’t like the songs included? Calvin Harris and EDM Pop isn’t for everyone. No pitch or bend wheel so no expression. So that means although you can use it with the other Roli apps, almost all the presets will be useless as they are designed to be used with MPE.

      While I do see the educational benefits, I personally, am not going to want to learn how to play the prepackaged pop music that they will be selling. So that angle is completely lost on me too.

    4. well for me – I was going to get it but missed out on the early bird – personally I wanted it both as a practice tool/teaching for my 4 year old and a performance keyboard specifically for ipad apps. if I would have gotten in on the early bird it would have been a nice little keyboard for that

    1. The hardware has USB-C only. I guess it shows up as a MIDI source in your DAW. At which point you could route it to VST or hardware modules.

  4. @Synthtopia… quoting the article,
    “Note that the LUMI is not designed to be an* MPE keyboard, like the company’s Seaboard Block. But it is one of the few keyboard controllers available that features polyphonic aftertouch.”

    I’m not sure that I can discern a difference between an MPE Keyboard and as it is a keyboard controller.

    How is this *not* an MPE Keyboard, exactly?
    Unless that was a press release line issued in the hopes that the Luma does not cannibalize their Seaboard sales.
    Just ttrying to figure out this mystery of function vs language here.

    1. Robert

      They’ve got a FAQ ( on their Kickstarter page, and discuss MPE compatibility there:

      “Unlike other ROLI instruments, LUMI Keys is not fully MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) compatible. It is one of very few MIDI controllers to have polyphonic aftertouch, which makes it more expressive than standard keyboards.

      As LUMI Keys is not fully MPE-compatible, you will not be able to use it to play 5D (MPE) sounds. However, plenty of fantastic 2D presets will be available for LUMI Keys in ROLI Studio Player for desktop and the updated version of the NOISE app. So you’ll have more than enough sounds to start making your own music!”

      As I understand it, the LUMI does not capture x-axis and y-axis movement, like the Seaboard instruments can. Because of this, implementing MPE with the LUMI would not really provide benefits, since the keyboard isn’t capturing any expressive control beyond what can be communicated using polyphonic aftertouch.

      Polyphonic aftertouch can be extremely expressive on its own, though – so I’m interested in seeing how it feels on the LUMI.

  5. Wish other companies would take note of these design aesthetics and modularity! These guys quietly released a modular keyboard! Get whatever size keyboard u want! this is amazing!

  6. Considering the potential consequences of Brexit, I don’t think they offered enough units at heavily discounted prices. One might end up paying import fees, that makes the discount negligible compared to the street price, when (and if) the product is actually delivered.

    The campaign isn’t exactly clear on what features will be available in the desktop software.
    Will it just be a polyphonic aftertouch keyboard, or can it light up in scales, and how about key switches.

    I don’t like how they write about the polyphonic aftertouch vs MPE. They could say that this is one of few piano key controllers with poyphonic aftertouch. The unique thing here compared to MPE instruments it the type of key, as MPE instruments have polyphonic aftertouch as well as additional polyphonic parameters, but those with piano layout have keys with very different playing feel from typical piano keys. No DIN midi output on the unit and few hardware instruments supporting polyphonic aftertouch (over DIN or USB) anyway, doesn’t exactly give it any real benefits over MPE controllers (actually, there are more hardware instruments that would support MPE with channel cycling, if they are multi timbral and set up with the same patch on several of channels), but the keyboard feel might actually be a benefit, even with the loss of additional parameters…
    On the other hand, they could have easily built a keyboard with the same feel, with touch sensors embedded in to the keys, to offer full MPE, probably not at the same price and weight.
    The way they write, to me, it feels like they are trying to claim that there is some kind of benefit to polyphonic aftertouch over MPE.

    On the one hand, I hope they expand on the concept, and do a “pro” version, with full sized keys, built in control over things like light scales, and chord functions, at least 8 encoders (I think both Native instruments and Akai VIP is open for 3rd party controllers with 8 encoders), pedal inputs, Midi output, perhaps touch sensitive keys for MPE, perhaps even a lightblock styled multi function touch control area.
    On the other hand, I feel like a majority of the backers of this project would have bought that instead had they been given the option, thus such a release could generate some badwill.

  7. At first sight, great. Poly AT and could be fun for kids to use to leans,
    But at second sight did not press the funding button Why ?

    Understand making comments which are not positive is not allowed anymore,.
    [If you don’t like it, shut up and don’t buy. Therefore posting using this name. 🙂 ]

    if you don’t like non-positive comments, then just stop reading here.
    Some comments on this for users not falling in some traps.:

    1. As with the seaboard block, it likely supported limited android devices. I remember only one Galaxy and one Nexus were supported. Countless of request have been made to Roil to extend device support. Nothing ever happened in may years. Roil promised device support, yes.. we have seen that…

    2. As with the block, Bluetooth on Windows is not supported. Win10 requires the new Windows modern Bluetooth MIDI API and 99% of DAWs don’t support that. (there is one DAW that does).
    It only works with WebMIDI (the browsers that support it) in Windows 10.

    4. No MPE, a Real miss.who like to use that with software.

    5. Not really clear what is can do with touch . Poly AT, but how sensitive ? Standard MIDI or special CC’s / NRPN’s No specs ! Come on !

    6. When I got the block, posted lots of info on the Roil forum, Roli just suspended that forum and moved to another forum without even migrating the older posts, erasing all “knowledge”

    7. There are several technical limitations for this product seemingly purposely made just to lock in users to the app with the device.

    8. Not posting the full specs of the products.As with the block, No full MIDI implementation specs.

    9. Roil as a company don’t need funding by Kickstarter and limit to only 250 users happy with the lowest price. Their argument to use Kick-starter is to reach a new audience.Really ? The 250 were gone within about 30 minutes and probably just bought by those who have some basic understanding what it is and how to use it. Just marketing stuff…

    10. The message to that “new” target audience and positioning is doubtful This won’t help to learn to play
    Give the kids just a cheap keyboard with more keys that has sounds to learn to play and find a teacher to learns the correct body posture and hand/finger positioning.

    11. The price of $ 250 is too high for some plastic keys and case with a cheap MIDI controller.

    12. Excluding many ship destinations from the kickstarter. Not right.

    There you have it. take it or leave it.

    The Roli’s don’t need MIDI 2.0 and that MIDI bandwidth is old and limited is incoreect. MIDI 2.0 will add more ‘commands’ is also incorrect. If you look in detail, 2.0 is just a bunch of additional SYSEX extensions. (there is only so much you can differentiate in one MIDI start byte).

    The Roil have USB-C but all operate in USB 1.0 mode ! (run lsusb) and it spits out a huge amount of MIDI without any notice of latency. (it sends much more MIDII out when used in an undocumented MIDI mode). The “C” connector is just there because it is small (and maybe for higher battery charge mode, if it does support that…)

    Someone posted on twitter using this on the plane while others were sleeping.Well I would nicely ask the person beside be using screen and light to turn it off to get some sleep ! Do you really need to work on a keyboard in the plane during those few hours ?

    Would be more interested in a controller a real good (normal0 keybed with good action, MPE and poly AT, like the A88. no need for LED’s

    1. “making comments which are not positive is not allowed anymore,.”

      Constructive comments of all types are always encouraged at Synthtopia, including constructive criticism of products and other things.

      Personal attacks on people, whether an individual or groups of people, are not allowed.

      If you’re not sure if your comment is criticizing a thing or attacking people, edit your comment before you submit it.

      PS: You appear to have been submitting comments under a variety of aliases, including GrumpyOldHuman, Q, and FreeFlowingDollars. This is a common tactic of spammers, so it results in your comments being sent to a queue for manual moderation. If you want to avoid this, use a consistent user name and post constructive comments.

    2. “10. The message to that “new” target audience and positioning is doubtful This won’t help to learn to play
      Give the kids just a cheap keyboard with more keys that has sounds to learn to play and find a teacher to learns the correct body posture and hand/finger positioning.”

      I do think the app, and the light guide can actually work as a start for learning to play.
      But it does require a compatible device a a proper size, in other words at this point, pretty much an iPad.

      “4. No MPE, a Real miss.who like to use that with software.”
      Well, it only offer polyphonic aftertouch, no mentioning of release velocity, or touch registrations of side to side or sliding on the keys, so the hardware is most likely not designed to go beyond that.

      “5. Not really clear what is can do with touch . Poly AT, but how sensitive ? Standard MIDI or special CC’s / NRPN’s No specs ! Come on !”
      I would expect it to use the option of polyphonic aftertouch that is in the midi specification. So limited to the typical 0-127, I assume.

      “11. The price of $ 250 is too high for some plastic keys and case with a cheap MIDI controller.”
      It is easy to feel that way, but we don’t know the bill of material and R&D costs that went in to the product. So perhaps that is the cheapest list price they could put it at, while still making som profit on it. Who knows.

      “9. Roil as a company don’t need funding by Kickstarter and limit to only 250 users happy with the lowest price. Their argument to use Kick-starter is to reach a new audience.Really ? The 250 were gone within about 30 minutes and probably just bought by those who have some basic understanding what it is and how to use it. Just marketing stuff…”
      I agree that the limited set of Super early bird offerings, and probably most Early bird offerings went to customers that new pretty well what this kind of product is.
      If Brexit happens before them delivering, it isn’t even sure that the discount offer on the kickstarter will be bigger than import fees that the backers might be facing.
      I have no idea what the funding situation is like at Roli. Perhaps they actually needed additional funds to scale up production. Perhaps they prefer kickstarter for funding over using cash reserves or calling in external backers.
      Some companies uses kickstarter to get feedback, but this product seems to be to developed for anything to change, that isn’t software.
      But I feel established companies seeking funds over kickstarter for products they would most likely do anyway should offer a great discount, to all people willing to back the project. It is a different matter with start-ups or small companies trying to expand, as they would in most cases not be able to get the product out there, without getting the backing. With Roli, if the discount isn’t good enoug, why would someone buy something they haven’t been able to test, that would most likely end up in the stores no matter.

      Some people do need to work on the plane. Few of them would comment on a project like this, even if they might back it.
      Some people don’t have that many free slots for creating stuff, and take every opportunity. On the plain there isn’t that much to do, so if they feel that is a good time, well they are free to do so… but it is really heard to listen critically to anything on a plane, so I have my doubts on how much actual playing an creating that they would be able to do.

      This offerings seems to be an ok compact keyboard. And being able to put two together means that one might be able to bring 48 keys in some kind of normal bag, is a nice feature. So for those that create on the go, or that wants to be able to bring an action they are used to, it could be a good product.

      If the lights can be used to show scales, even from a desktop, it could be useful… and the system lights up the keys much better than other systems I have seen.
      Would be nice to see a full sized version of it though. And having scale feature built in, would be even better than having to rely on software.

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