For aspiring and beginner producers, one of the most important pieces of equipment for your home studio is no doubt a MIDI keyboard controller that you can use to play out your melodies and compose beats with. The problem? It's easy to get lost in confusion when deciding which model to buy.
When I was looking around for the latest 25-key MIDI controllers that have been released recently, I came across the Alesis V25. Despite the fact that it doesn't get as much attention as other brands like M-Audio, Akai, or Novation does, all of its available features actually looked pretty solid on paper.
The price point was very attractive too, and it's probably one of the cheapest 25-key MIDI keyboards I've seen on the market right now. So of course, I HAD to take a closer look at this keyboard and determine if it would be the right MIDI controller you're looking for.
Let's get into it!
The first thing I noticed with the Alesis V25 is how lightweight it is. Out of all the 25-key MIDI controllers that I've tried, this one is probably the lightest I've handled at just 5.4 pounds. Even though it's a lot bigger than other mini MIDI keyboards (such as the Akai MPK Mini MK2), it's still relatively portable and wouldn't add any significant weight to your setup if you're bringing it along to a gig or on the plane.
The keyboard itself is plug-and-play — meaning, all you'll need is to plug it in your computer's USB and your DAW shouldn't have any problems detecting it. I tested it out on both a Microsoft Surface 3 and a Macbook Pro, and the unit had no problems getting detected. If all you want to do is play some music, you won't need to install any software — however, if you need to customize certain parameters (as you'll read about later) then you'll want to install the V-Series Editor software.
First of all, the keys. The V25 features semi-weighted keys, so playing on it will feel similar to playing on a real piano as the keys have some pushback when you press on it. Personally speaking, I love the feel of semi-weighted keys. Other MIDI keyboards have a springy, plastic-y feel to them due to the lack of semi-weighted keys, and the Alesis V25 is one of the few models who offer this at a very good price. Be warned though: some people are not used to this, and actually prefer the springy feel that other keyboards have.
Some customers have complained about the sensitivity of the keys. All you really need to do is to install the V-Series Editor software that comes with the unit and adjust the velocity curves. There's a total of 8 velocity curves you can use, and the instructions on how to do so are all detailed on the Alesis website — play around and see which one suits your playing style, or simply use curve #8 if you prefer to use a flat velocity no matter how hard you press it.
This is where Alesis made its compromise in order to keep the V25 affordable. Personally, I think it sucks how you'll need to open up this software to write these changes down to the keyboard since other models such as the M-Audio Oxygen 25 will allow you to make these changes on the keyboard itself. However, it's not really that big of a deal — for most people, this is a one-time event, and once you find the settings you like then you won't need to touch it ever again so it shouldn't be that big of a deal.
Next up are the drumpads. In my opinion, these are probably one of the better pads I've felt on a MIDI keyboard. They definitely have a nice feel to it when you press on it without feeling too stiff — not quite like an MPC does, but it's close enough. The V25 comes with 8 drum pads you can use at one time, but there are 4 pattern buttons. The pattern buttons are used by the pads exactly like the octave buttons are used the by keys, which would give you a total of 32 pads you can assign to different notes. This is a pretty great feature — most people wouldn't really need any more than 8 pads at a time, but you have the flexibility to assign these 8 pads across 4 different “menus” should you need it.
Earlier models of the V-series had a pretty significant problem with the pads in the sense that they would sometimes trigger two hits at a time even though you only pressed it once. Alesis has since addressed this issue with a firmware update, which you'll need to download from the official website. Others have reported fixing this issue by using two fingers to tap the pads. Just with the keys, there are 8 velocity curves for the pads as well — once again, play around with them and see which one suits your playing style.
As with most MIDI keyboard controllers, the V25 also comes with a pitch and mod wheel. They feel fairly standard and is just like every other model I've come across, so not much to write about there.
Lastly, the V25 comes with 4 rotary knobs that you can assign to whatever MIDI channel you wish using the V-Series Editor. They're not endless knobs and only rotate 270° all around, which isn't much of a big deal. Just like the pads and the other buttons, these are backlit with a nice blue shade, so if you're using the keyboard during a live performance at a dark bar then this should definitely come in handy.
Most people use assign these to filters and other effects for individual synths so you can tweak your sound during a live performance. However, if this is your purpose then you might find only having 4 knobs to be quite limiting. Personally, I've never really used the knobs for anything since my MIDI keyboards are really just used to compose beats, and it's much easier for me to make effect tweaks using my mouse. Your mileage may vary though.
How Does It Compare Against Other Keyboards?
Now that we've talked about the basic features of the Alesis V25, I'm sure you have one particular question in mind: is it something you should choose over other 25-key MIDI controllers within that price range?
Of course, the answer to that is completely subjective and totally depends on your needs. In this section, I'm going to compare the V25 against other keyboards within a similar price range and discuss the pros and cons of each to help you make your decision.
Alesis V25 vs. Akai MPK Mini MK2
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 comes with a unique pitch/mod wheel that is similar to an analog stick. This feature functions much better than the Arturia MiniLabs touch bar pitch/mod wheels.
The Alesis V25 is often compared to the Akai MPK Mini simply because they're within a very similar price range with each other — at the time of publishing, the MPK Mini costs $10 more than the V25. If these are the two models you're trying to decide on, which keyboard should you go for?
First of all, the MPK Mini is a compact keyboard. Its keys are minified, so playing melodies and chords definitely wouldn't feel like a real piano would. In fact, some people might even find it cramping their fingers too much (I did, and my hands are puny). Its keys feel springy and are definitely not weighted at all.
Because of the minified keys, however, it makes the MPK Mini a lot friendlier to smaller desks and a lot more portable than the V25. It's almost half the size of the V25 in terms of length, measuring at approximately 12 inches long. If being compact and/or portable is what's important to you at this stage, then you might want to consider the Akai MPK Mini.
Both models have 8 drum pads built in. The MPK Mini's drum pads feel slightly better, and don't have the double hitting issue that the V25 does. So if you're planning on using the pads to play out your drums and/or trigger samples with MPC-style and the keys are just a secondary tool, then consider the Akai MPK Mini as well.
Alesis V25 vs. M-Audio Oxygen 25
The Oxygen 25 MKIV is the first in the Oxygen line of keyboards to feature drum pads. This unit also features transport controls and comes with 8 rotary knobs.
Within the spectrum of the popular 25-key MIDI controllers, the Alesis V25 and the M-Audio Oxygen 25 are a lot closer in terms of specs than the Akai MPK Mini. Both are relatively similar in size due to the knobs and drum pads that they come with. However, the Oxygen 25 is shorter (in terms of width) and taller (in terms of height) than the V25 is because of where the pads are placed — it's on the upper right hand corner on top of the keys, as opposed to the left side beside the keys on the V25.
Both come with rotary knobs, although the Oxygen 25 comes with a total of 8 knobs which makes it a little more versatile than the V25. However, the most considerable differences would be the transport controls on the Oxygen 25 which would allow you to control your DAW with your keyboard. Using the Oxygen 25, you'll be able to press stop, play and record with your fingers as opposed to having to reach for your mouse everytime. The Oxygen 25 also allows you to adjust your velocity curves using the keyboard alone without having to fire up any special MIDI software.
The Oxygen 25 retails for $119, so you're going to want to ask yourself if these extra features are worth it. If you're trying to save as much cash as possible and want to spend that extra money on other equipment, then the V25 is definitely an excellent choice. However, if you have a little bit more room in your budget then you might want to consider the Oxygen 25 instead.
Alesis V25 Vs. Novation Launchkey 25 MK2
The Launchkey 25 comes with 25 full-sized keys and 8 rotary knobs
The Novation Launchkey 25 MK2 is the full-sized version of the Launchkey Mini and is the closest comparison to the Alesis V25.
Like its little brother, the Launchkey 25 comes with 16 drum pads (which are backlit with nice, bright RGB colors) and 8 rotary knobs — twice the amount that the Alesis V25 has, which is something to note if you have sufficient need for it during live performances. Unlike the V25, the Launchkey features synth-style keys which some people might prefer over the V25's semi-weighted ones. It also comes with a master volume knob, track buttons (so you can easily switch between tracks on your DAW) and transport controls (so you can easily navigate your software) which would definitely make composing a breeze.
The downside? It retails for $129 — quite a bit more than the cost of the Alesis keyboard. Are these features worth the extra $40? In my personal opinion, no — you get a lot more value for your money with either the Alesis V25 or the M-Audio Oxygen 25 instead. To me, this MIDI controller only makes sense if your main DAW software is Ableton, simply because it offers seamless integration with the software.
All in all, the Alesis V25 is a great choice for a MIDI controller especially for those starting out or if you're on a tight budget. You might want to look for a compact keyboard instead if you're looking for portability, but for everyone else the V25 provides you with excellent value for your money. I personally prefer using a full-sized keyboard whenever possible, and for just $89 it's hard to go wrong with this model.