mKey MIDI keyboard

Ah, those wacky folks at CME. CME is China’s big music tech distributor and manufacturer, and for the last couple of years they’ve been wowing the US market with quite-decent keyboards priced way lower than they should be. (Their keyboards are even showing up free in software packages, kinda like a really sweet Cracker Jacks prize.) If anyone else said they were introducing a one hundred-dollar, ultra-thin keyboard, I’d scream and run away. But CME’s kit has proven to be pretty nice (Thomas Dolby seems to like his controller keyboard, for one). So the new M-Key actually looks pretty interesting.

Yes, it’s a cheap keyboard, and yes, it’s ultra-thin — which means you probably don’t want it as a primary keyboard, just a mobile backup or keyboard for programming synths in tight spaces. But it has some interesting features, like a joystick and semi-weighted keys. Specs, let’s just copy and paste here:

  • 49 ultra thin, velocity sensitive, full action semi-weighted keys
  • 1 x Programmable Joystick
  • 1 x function button, 2 x data entry button, 1 x slider (assignable), 1 x power LED
  • 1 x USB port, 1 x MIDI out, 2 x pedal connect
  • USB MIDI, class-compliant with Windows XP and Mac OS X
  • Firmware upgraded via USB
  • Universal pedal connector, compatible with switch and expression pedal

  • Note-key shortcut function

There’s a nice software bundle, too: “Magix Samplitude SE, Arturia Analog Factory SE, Waldorf Edition LE, TruePiano demo, Keytosound Remedy VST and Musicator MW5 UF Edition.”

Press release
M-Key product page

Hmmm, $99 CME keyboard, kinda boring looking. You know what this means. Get out the paint, give it a new livery and create a music video in the process. (Unlike the good people in the picture, I do remember a little masking. Unless that’s what they meant with the line “Reject all the masks.”)

I need to get my hands on one of these to see if it’s any good. Stay tuned. And, uh, CME — forget that I said anything involving the word paint.

M-Key side view

  • http://octatone.blogspot.com octatone

    You'd think they would include a side profile image when touting their keyboard as ultra-thin.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    It's shipping now, so I do expect to pick one of these up. I'll photograph it properly. ;)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, updated with a side view from their website. But that doesn't really help a whole lot, does it? You can kind of see based on the MIDI port.

    It's quite a lot thicker than the Edirol PCR-M1, which I have here, based on that. I'll be curious to get one in here and try it out.

  • http://www.creativebump.com Myles de Bastion

    Mmmm nice, other sub $100 keyboard controller options include M-Audio's KeyRig 49 and the dubiously picture-less Turtle Beach Crescendo.

    Well I never liked the action on M-audio gear so my money is on the CME.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I've tried both of those — and the KeyRig does include a software bundle, as well — but it always seemed worth another $50 – $100 for a better action. So it'll be interesting to see what this one is like, especially as we're often looking for good recommendations for starter keyboards.

  • gains

    I will take it upon myself to assume the role of the prankster jerk with nothing to contribute.

    Ahem.

    Do they use the lead based paint? Or the one that turns to date rape drug in your stomach? Thank you folks, I'm here all week! Tip your waitresses!

    Seriously though, I like the idea of ultra thin. I have some space issues in my bedroom studio and keyboard drawers under every desk surface are the order of the day.

  • sef

    you've got a slight HTML issue involving italics here. Don't know if i'll check that keyboard out. Kinda weird about Chinese construction practices since all the controversies the American Mass Media have been reporting. And i'm quite pleased with my casio privia for weighted action and my korg k25 for mobility….

  • cdr

    for a bit more you can get this with pads, knobs, and a synth. better deal as it consolidates more clutter

  • http://briarmonsmetrach.googlepages.com/home runagate

    I bought a CME VX5 (just under $700) this summer, far and away the biggest midi controller investment I've ever made, and judging from the forums and support this very new company has some great ideas but is a little confused.

    The build-quality over the entire keyboard is goes from amazing and rugged to poorly-put-together and ill-conceived. In just on keyboard! But overall it's an awe-inspiring amount of midi control for the price. Motorized faders, the U-Ctrl key which allows it to go from instrument-controller to DAW control surface with the touch of a single button, instantly, using the Mackie Universal template thing.

    [side note: GenMce: Generic midi controller to Mackie control e mulator, which is freeware made by Kip Chatterson that allows you to use this technology and customize/edit presets for it is just genius: http://home.earthlink.net/~flipotto/ ]

    More recently CME has released firmware upgrades that fix some pretty awful bugs (and I've had no problems since, but the thing is so deep it's hard to say) and the "VXBrain" program which enables the firmware and .mid files to be zapped through the USB, as well as velocity curve editing. So far there's no way to edit midi assignments and such via software/USB a la the Enigma librarian, which is a damned shame.

    The unit also has some non-standard, microtonal temperament presets, and the ability to constrain all keys to chosen scales which is really cool for a number of uses. It's drum trigger pads sadly don't have aftertouch like the keyboard section does. It hsa audio A/D/A, too, which I haven't bothered with yet, a built-in breath controller jack and sustain and expression pedal jacks, and some weird USB in/out stuff for use with expansion cards, which thus far have not interested me but may in the future as offloading DSP processing into your controller which has audio in/out isn't such a bad thing.

    Just adding my 2 cents on my experience with CME, such as it is. I'd be more opinionated but as far as I can tell they broke the ability to log-in or register on their forums and few speak any English ;-)

  • Steve

    Yea, keep it away from small children though, it probably has friggin lead in the paint.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, except the whole MI industry is basically centered in China. You see very little manufactured elsewhere. So, ultimately, to me it comes down to whether they engineer the product right.

    I love cheap, but personally I wish build quality were more consistent across our whole industry. It's tough — they're selling to a small market, and if you think about the number and importance of moving parts in these products, there's a lot on the line as far as build quality. Everyone screws up, some do nail it with at least some products.

    In other words — keep sending us your experience, everybody!

  • http://www.batmosphere.com David Battino

    That joystick is just begging to be snapped off, but according to the manual, it does have an interesting function: To get the keyboard to work with Windows Vista, you have to power it up while pressing down on the joystick.

  • http://shoshin.110mb.com/genmce/ genmce

    BTW – New version of GenMce 1.6 http://shoshin.110mb.com/genmce/

    How do it get this listed on here?

    It is still free and will remain so.

    Thanks.

  • Wannabe

    Peter – dumb question from a rank amateur – will this be compatible with mac 'garage band'?

  • http://xovan.741.com/ Xovan

    Looks great for the price, but is it compatible with Windows Vista???

    Or FL Studio 8?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yep, it should be fine with FL8 + Vista. :)

  • HarmonicVision

    Is it compatible with Logic Express 8 and Mac OS 10.5 Leopard?

  • Gary

    Hi, i bought one of these, it's my first MIDI and i m totally lost, is it supposed to be working with Cubase SX3? Cause it doesn't show up in the MIDI device manager list. Aren't i supposed to install it through that?

    :/

  • http://cbjazz.webs.com/ cbjazz

    CME M-key v2 Mobile Ultra-Thin MIDI Keyboard is NOT compatible with Windows Vista. I wasted my money

  • JohnieR

    Yeah, got one from musiciansfriend.com, came here looking for help. won't "switch" to vista use. Supposed to hold down the joystick when you turn in on to switch it. Doesn't work. Guess I will end up sending it back if someone doesn't get back in touch with me. THEIR PHONE NUMBER ISN'T IN THE US. SO IF YOU ARE, GOOD LUCK WITH THE INTERNATIONAL CALLING.