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Can You Use a Synthesizer as a MIDI Controller? (Answered)

I often get asked if you can use a synthesizer as a midi controller. In this post, I will answer this questions and more about synth and midi controllers.

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If you love making music, you probably have a synth at home, but have you ever wondered if you could use your synthesizer as a MIDI controller?

This post will discuss what a synthesizer is, what it can and cannot do, and whether you can use it as a MIDI controller. So if you’re looking to get started with synths or are just curious about what they’re all about, this post is for you!

Image of a person using a synthesizer as a midi controller. Source: cottonbro studio, pexels
Image of a person using a synthesizer as a midi controller. Source: Cottonbro Studio, Pexels

Can synths be used as MIDI controllers? Yes. Any synthesizer with a MIDI out port, whether a USB port or a more traditional 5-pin MIDI out wire, may be used as a MIDI controller.

Difference between a synthesizer and a MIDI keyboard?

The main difference between a MIDI keyboard and a synthesizer is that the former is typically a full-length keyboard with (usually) 81 keys that can produce its sound with an onboard speaker. MIDI keyboards are smaller and do not have an onboard speaker.

What is a synthesizer?

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers are capable of creating unique sounds. As a result, they can get by quite well without any extra programs or plugins. Like MIDI keyboards, synthesizers may range in size from a laptop to a grand piano. Even though synthesizers don’t need extra equipment to make sound, they can only make the sounds they were made for.

In contrast to MIDI keyboards, which use their controls to change the sound’s external qualities, a synthesizer’s knobs, pads, buttons, and sliders change the instrument’s internal settings, such as the envelope’s amplitude, frequency, phase, and length of the attack, decay, and sustain, as well as the oscillator and pitch.

Filters, reverb, delay, chorus, and other effects are only some of the features often found in synthesizers. It’s important to remember that synthesizers are much more costly than MIDI controllers.

If you’re looking for a top-quality MIDI controller, check out this highly-rated MIDI keyboard from AKAI. It’s one of the best in the market.

  • Standalone Piano Style Keyboard – Portable mini keyboard and USB MIDI controller with 25 velocity-sensitive synthesizer action keys, pitch/mod joystick control, plus 128 sounds and 10 drum kits
  • Play Anywhere – Built in speaker, 1/8-inch headphone output and battery powered specification (3 x AA batteries – not included) for performing and producing on the go
  • Beat Maker Essential – Two banks of eight ultra-responsive backlit MIDI drum pads with Note Repeat and Full Level functions for drum machine style performance and music production
  • Tweak, Customize – Two banks of four knobs (eight total) to tweak internal sounds or software parameters; in standalone mode control chorus, reverb, filter, EQ and envelope controls
  • The MPC Production Experience - Includes MPC Beats Software complete with the finest features and essential production tools from the Akai Professional MPC Series
  • Pro Software Suite – Includes Akai Pro MPC Beats, AIR Music Tech Hybrid 3 and SONiVOX Wobble (downloads)

MIDI keyboard? 

They don’t make any actual noise but instead create and send MIDI data that may be used to control other instruments like synthesizers and software synthesizers. In addition, they produce various MIDI information, such as pitch, length, velocity, and more.

Most MIDI keyboards are bus-powered, so you can connect them to your computer and forget about finding a different power source. MIDI data is also sent over USB connections while using a MIDI keyboard. USB is a much more modern way to connect than the traditional five-pin MIDI cable, which was used by many MIDI keyboards in the past.

Producers often use MIDI keyboards when making music in a digital audio workstation (DAW). Its appearance is very similar to that of standard digital keyboards. Buttons, knobs, pads, and sliders are supplementary controls on certain MIDI keyboards. You can map these capabilities to a wide range of controls in your DAW.

If you’re looking for a top-quality synthesizer controller, check out this highly-rated MIDI keyboard from AKAI. It’s one of the best in the market.

  • Sound Generation Method: Analog Modeling Synthesis System
  • Synthesizer Program: Multi Timbral=2 (max, Split/Dual Mode)
  • Voices: 4 voices. Power Supply- DC 9 V (AC adapter), or six AA alkaline batteries (sold separately)
  • Arpeggiator: 6 types. Outputs: L/MONO, R, Headphones
  • Compatibility : Windows - 98 Second Edition, Me, 2000 SP2, XP. Mac OS - OSX10.6.8 or later

Can synthesizers be used as midi controllers?

A MIDI controller may be any device that can transmit MIDI signals. Therefore, you may use your synthesizer as a MIDI controller if it has either a MIDI out port or a USB connection that allows it to be linked to a computer. If your synth doesn’t have a USB port but instead has the more commonplace 5-pin MIDI output, you can still use it to connect to a PC or laptop. But, you will want an audio interface or a MIDI USB converter.

There is a risk of latency or lag when using a converter. Because of this, I wouldn’t suggest using one (a delay between pressing a key and the PC recognizing it). These issues should be mitigated by using an audio interface with MIDI inputs.

So, Yes. A synthesizer can be used as a MIDI controller if it can send MIDI signals through USB or the more common 5-pin MIDI out port.

What are the benefits of a dedicated MIDI controller?

A synthesizer’s use as a MIDI controller is not always bad. In particular, if you’re trying to reduce clutter and increase efficiency, there are benefits to using a dedicated MIDI controller if you have the room and budget for it. You might want a bigger keyboard layout if you use your controller to make a piano-like sound.

The number of keys on many MIDI keyboard controllers is limited to only 25, especially on the cheaper current models. The keys may differ from the standard size if you’re using a device like a microKorg, which has tiny controls. It may be too little for the job if you plan to use the synth to create piano sounds.

If you want to use a vintage analog synthesizer as a MIDI controller, you should know the following: There will probably not be any “aftertouch” from it. This advanced capability is often only seen on more expensive controllers.

However, keyboardists utilize this to bring nuance to their performances. For example, the vibrato effect was added without using a traditional vibrato wheel. Aftertouch is a great way to get more sounds out of your instrument, especially when making synth pad sounds, which means you may experiment with some unique sounds.

A keyboard isn’t the most appropriate instrument for your recording. If you want to get better drum sounds than when I record, then a synthesizer’s keyboard, which wasn’t made to make the sound of a bass drum, is probably not the best choice. Instead, a MIDI drum machine or MIDI controller with pads instead of keys might be a better choice.

Image of a midi controllers with a red vynil beside it. Source: yaw afari, pexels
Image of a midi controller with red vinyl beside it. Source: Yaw Afari, Pexels

Because of their dedicated design, MIDI controllers often outperform their generic counterparts. Some MIDI controllers are designed to be used in tandem with digital audio workstations. The AKAI APC40 and other controllers like it are designed to be a physical representation of your digital audio workstation, a common practice in electronic music, which is helpful if that’s the kind of music you’re doing. A synthesizer cannot replicate this effect.

Features like displays make it easy to see the software you are operating, improving efficiency. But, of course, this implies you can take your eyes off the screen whenever you want. If you’re using a synthesizer as a controller because they’re not integrated, you’ll still need to use your computer’s mouse and keyboard a lot.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Synthesizer vs. MIDI Controller” from the JAde Wii YouTube channel.

A video called “Synthesizer vs. MIDI Controller” from the JAde Wii YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about synthesizers and MIDI controllers.

Is a synthesizer a MIDI controller?

Some synthesizers provide MIDI outputs. However, this does not make them controllers in the traditional sense. In music and sound production, a “controller” is an electronic device that lets the user change different settings. Instruments like keyboards, drum machines, samplers, and mixers are examples of such electronic gadgets.

Most synthesizers fall short of these standards. If you buy them brand new or as part of a package, they may have some MIDI features, but they are mostly meant for making and recording music rather than playing it live.

Can a keyboard also be a MIDI controller?

Although it is possible to utilize your computer keyboard as a MIDI controller, doing so would be counterproductive since it would prevent you from playing organically. A musical keyboard makes it easier and more natural to enter and change MIDI notes than a regular QWERTY keyboard.

Do you need a MIDI keyboard if you have a keyboard?

No, but it’s highly recommended. Even though there are still many ways to make music without MIDI keyboards and controllers, they are now seen as essential tools for making modern music because they encourage new ideas and make the process easier.

Conclusion

The answer is yes! You can use a synthesizer as a MIDI controller. But to do so, you will have to know how to properly work the knobs and sliders. But once you adjust your fingers and get the hang of it, you will make music in no time.

This article covered the difference between a synthesizer and a MIDI keyboard, whether synthesizers can be used as MIDI controllers and the advantages of having dedicated MIDI controllers. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaway

  • The main difference between a MIDI keyboard and a synthesizer is that the synthesizer already has sounds built in, while the MIDI keyboard does not.]
  • A MIDI controller may be any device that can transmit MIDI signals.
  • Extra tips:
    • A high-quality synthesizer from a reputable manufacturer like Korg, Yamaha, Roland, or Moog will cost you.
    • If you want a good sense of your synth’s sound, try using headphones.
    • A midi controller is essential to any professional studio or at-home recording setup.
    • You will likely use several synthesizers, MIDI controllers, and VST plugins when making music.

So, do you prefer to use a synthesizer as a MIDI controller? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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