The centuries-old piano keeps fighting back every time someone tries to improve it.

Case in point: polyphonic aftertouch. The cause for something new was straightforward enough. On a normal piano, you lose expressive possibilities once you play a note. Because of the necessity of the way hammers work, your fingers are left holding down keys and doing, well, nothing. The piano continues to do beautiful things with the sound – resonating and such – but you’re no longer involved. after you depress a key, keep pressing down to add additional expressive input. (Various historical devices have used everything from keys that wiggle to additional strings and pulleys and ribbons and wheels and … well, this problem just goes on and on.)

The problem with aftertouch is, you don’t have much play after you’ve pressed the key. And so that can make aftertouch rather unsatisfying.

The NDVR is different. It uses something the inventors are calling “key swing.” Instead of only the normal velocity measurement, the keys are constantly sampled with optical sensors, you can now do what intuitively it seemed you always should be able to do. You can move the key up and down across its full range, or push a little harder, and output a continuous, accurate value. (You still get the conventional velocity reading and can play normally in that sense – you simply get more data in addition to it.)

It’s easiest seen in the video, but it means you finally get to use the full play of a key as a controller.

ndvr_1

The project is the work of the Vreden, Germany-based team that built the Endeavour touch keyboard. That project was beautiful and compelling, but it was likely too experimental for most keyboardists. It had elongated keys and touch strips on the surface, requiring players to completely rework their playing style. Playing the NDVR, by contrast, is the same as playing a conventional piano or synth keyboard: it has conventional keys, size, and play, but just captures more of what the keyboardist is actually doing.

Oh, yeah: and the NDVR will also cost less and work with your existing software, without any fiddling. It still has an aluminum case (they do like their aluminum), but uses a class-compliant USB MIDI interface and transmits data as standard polyphonic aftertouch MIDI messages. In other words, you can use it out of the box without installing any drivers or special tools. (There is a custom VST/AU plug-in, though, to push it further if you like.)

Pricing begins at just US$235 for the 25-note version.

ndvr_ipad

ndvr_studio

The catch: you’ll have to wait. The makers are getting prices low by ramping up production, and paying for that with crowd funding on IndieGogo, so you’re essentially doing a pre-paid preorder. Then again, if they can deliver, that means a price that’s a fraction of what an experimental keyboard controller would normally cost.

CDM should hopefully get a hands-on test soon here in Germany, so stay tuned.

NDVR Note Masterkeyboard [Updated link]

All images courtesy the maker.

  • rosa

    looks cool! but one question remains open: can optical sensors recognize the old-school velocity-value too? Maybe i don’t want to map key-ups and downs to some synth-parameter but play a normal piano or the like. and then i need a keyboard that recognizes how hard (= how fast to 100% down?) i play a note.

    • ndvrdisqus

      Yes, it does! Classic old Velocity!

      It does it classically over the speed of a key – just like on every other keyboard – and in addition – acceleration and way/microseconds …

      if you do not want to use the optical sensors the note is just like any other keyboard.

      Simon (from NDVR)

  • otheroom

    That looks quite nice, especially at that price point.

  • anthony antfactor

    Rrrrgggg…! I JUST ordered a quNexus. I guess I’ll see how it feels/works for me…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      They’re really, really different. We’ll have our review of the QuNexus this week, and more thoughts on how you might use it. But the QuNexus’ primary advantage is portability.

    • anthony antfactor

      Yeah – Kind of figured. Purchased primarily for portability concerns… Thank you, I appreciate it – and I’m looking forward to the review.

  • complete

    if only it would do CV/gate, as well…!

  • Softcore

    Isnt polyphonic aftertouch supposed to work continuously after the press of each button eitherways? Wasnt it implemented this way up to now? Im confused. Im quite sure a friend’s Maudio keyboard with key pressure (monophonic aftertouch) works as described – the only difference being it is not polyphonic.
    Im sure optical sensors will yield more accurate results but Im confused by the initial description that implies that up to now polyphonic aftertouch wasnt working as described.

    • David

      As far as I can tell, it’s not only aftertouch,it just has some similarities.

      Since the entire ‘swing’ of the key is being tracked and mapped, my understanding is that you have ‘before-touch’ (the key downswing, pre-strike), plain old velocity (how hard you strike), plain old poly-aftertouch (pressing harder on a depressed key), and ‘upswing’ (partially letting go of a key).

      That would open huge expressive options, if that really is the case. Like breath control on the downswing, normal key velocity, aftertouch modulation on the chord and, say, breath on the upswing again.

      But do you really have all those options? It’s not entirely clear from the article or website and the video doesn’t show anythig that couldn’t be done with poly-aftertouch as well…?

  • nick

    Always interested in expressive reliable poly aftertouch (as custom poly sensors fail and are unobtainable as in Roland’s last true poly at, the A-80). That’s the catch I guess, cheap mass produced keyboards are so cheap and are not really a boutique business proposition as for instance a eurorack module run is. Actually the piano analogy is more complex as a piano has a damper. No mention is made of rarely implemented release velocity which is in the MIDI spec. But yes, the point is well made that velocity is great to have but it’s a single value event tied to a note. Far more common channel pressure is monophonic like an alternate bender or wheel that you don’t need a hand for, but obviously poly pressure is best as its tied to a particular note. One can also have a synth or controller retrigger an envelope at a poly pressure value which if you can use to “strum” a chord being held

  • Tom

    Is this type of technology new? My Nord Lead 3 from 2001 can do this exactly and can even control any and all of its front panel controls. Or am I missing something?

  • chaircrusher

    The real question is this: What would Liberace do?

  • Sjakelien

    This rather looks like Note Off Velocity, a standard MIDI value that is vastly ignored in both hard- and software. While I recognize the great expressive possibilities, I’m worried about two things:
    On pianos and (most) synths, it doesn’t really matter how fast you release a key. That means that your hands are really trained in hitting a key on the right moment with a specific speed, but releasing a key is just a matter of lifting your finger in time, without paying attention to the speed of this action. With this keyboard, I can imagine, you will have to learn to be more precise, otherwise you might get unwanted expressive differences between individual notes of a chord or melody.
    Second, I wonder how I should manage the mapping between the keyboard’s special features and a sound patch? Is it safe to assume that the twilight zone between On and Off is transmitted as Controller data? Is it just one controller, or maybe a combination of Controller and Off Velocity? Can I change the Controller number? Should I program all my patches to listen to that controller and assign them to one sound parameter? In a DAW setup, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. but in a live situation, that would need thorough preparation.

    • ndvrdisqus

      Hey There! Next week we will show you another video which will answer most of your questions. We have made a lot of research on that to make sure you can use it just like any other keyboard. Basically it is Note-On and Note-Off with velocity and release-velocity + The angle of a key transmitted using polyphonic aftertouch or – Midi-CC or – per different Midi-Channel.

      Simon (from NDVR)

  • Dan Overholt
  • None Of

    Is the data converted to midi in MAX/MSP? So we have full power on MAXMSP? then it is converted to midi to go elsewhere? Is it also open source code like in the EVO ?

  • Gongadan

    I’m very interested, but I gave up on wheels years ago and must have a joystick…please consider a modular alternative :) Thanks and good luck.