Getting a MIDI controller is probably one of the most crucial pieces of equipment you need to add to your home studio if you’re planning to make your own beats if you’re a complete beginner.
When I was starting out as a starry-eyed newbie, I spent months dicking around random programs and wondering why I was making nothing but hot garbage. I almost gave up on the idea of producing beats… That is, until I decided to buy a cheap mini MIDI keyboard for $50 (the cheapest model they had available at the store).
As soon as I was able to jam and play out melodies with my hands instead of trying to click them in with my mouse, learning how to make beats just became a whole of a lot easier, and the music I created instantly became a hell of a lot better.
But if you’re reading this right now, then you don’t need any convincing that you need a MIDI controller — you’re simply trying to find out which one is the right model for you.
And if you take a look at all the available options, it’s easy to get confused on which keyboard you should buy. One of the most popular ones for many aspiring producers is the M-Audio Oxygen 25 MKIV. It’s a small, 25 key MIDI controller with several nifty features and connects to your computer through USB.
Is this the right model for you to buy for your music-making journey, or should you take a look at other keyboards instead? We’ll dive deep into this keyboard in this review, so you can make the right decision.
Let’s do this!
M-Audio’s Oxygen series have several models that vary in size: a 25-key, 49-key, and a 61-key version. For this particular review, we’re going to take a look specifically at the 25-key model, even though most (if not all) of the features will apply to the 49-key and 61-key versions as well — the only difference is that the larger models have additional faders.
When you’re considering buying a MIDI keyboard, the first thing you should think about is desk space. One thing to keep in mind is that while the Oxygen 25 only has 25 keys, it’s not by any means a compact keyboard. Because it features full-sized keys with the standard pitch and mod wheels on the left side, the entire unit spans about 20 inches in length and 10 inches in height. To give you a visual reference, here’s the Oxygen 25 against an 8-inch iPad mini in the background:
This is perfectly fine if your studio has the space for it. However, if you have a smaller desks or don’t have the option to place the unit on a separate tabletop beside your main desk, then you might want to consider getting a smaller, more compact model (I’ll give you suggestions in a later section).
Another thing to note is that the Oxygen 49 weighs almost 6 pounds. While this isn’t anything to worry about if the keyboard is sitting on your desk the entire time, it poses a little bit of a problem for those who constantly travel and wish to bring the keyboard with them.
In exchange for the size and weight however brings out what I feel is the best feature of the Oxygen 25: the full-sized keys. Unless desk space and/or maximum portability are your main priorities, I always suggest getting a MIDI controller with full-sized keys. They just feel a whole lot better than mini keys do, and the extra space really gives your fingers room to move around.
They’re very responsive to touch — I’ve always liked M-Audio’s velocity curves (which dictate how “loud” a note is depending on how hard you hit the key), and if the default one doesn’t work for you it’s easy to adjust it to one of the 7 available velocity curves without having to open up any software.
The keys are also soft and feel like the keys on a normal synthesizer/electronic keyboard. Because they’re light to the touch, my fingers don’t get tired when I’m playing. Although if you’re looking for semi-weighted keys that feel more like a real piano, you should look at other models that have this feature. While I personally prefer semi-weighted keys on my MIDI controllers, the synth-weighted keys on the Oxygen 25 is also great to use.
One of the key differences with the 4th generation of Oxygen keyboards is that it now features 8 drum pads. It’s also a huge improvement from the previous models that M-Audio released (such as the Axiom line of keyboards) in the sense that these pads feel much better to the touch — it’s soft, rubbery, and are a lot more comfortable to tap rhythms on. While they don’t exactly feel like MPC pads (nothing does), they work great. And just in case the default pad sensitivity doesn’t work for you? Not a problem; you could easily change it within the keyboard itself without requiring any sort of special software.
Now you’re probably thinking: don’t most drum mach control the other 8 pads? This, in my opinion, is the weakness of the Oxygen 25 as there’s no simple way to shift notes. You can easily change the octaves of the pads, but programming them to fit your DAW is quite a difficult task. If you plan on maximizing the knobs and buttons on your MIDI controller but don’t know much about MIDI, then you might want to consider another model (I’ll give you suggestions at the end of the article).
While most producers would be fine with the keys and the pads on the Oxygen, it also comes with 8 rotary knobs as an additional feature for those who need it. They feel particularly standard and doesn’t feel too plastic-y or cheap. They’re endless knobs, and since you have 8 of them they can come quite in handy during live performances if ever you do a lot of live sound tweaking.
However, the knobs don’t have a lot of resistance when you turn them, which means there’s not a lot of tactile feedback so accuracy may pose to be a problem for some. You should also note that the Oxygen 25 doesn’t come with any bundled software that allows you to assign the knobs to certain parameters, so for the most part you’re going to have to use your software’s MIDI Learn function in order to program them.
One thing I really like about the Oxygen 25 is the fact that it comes with transport controls — meaning you can press stop, play, record without needing to reach out for the mouse. It’s a very simple feature, but one that you won’t be able to live without as soon as you get used to having it. Personally, when I’m composing beats I prefer reaching for the mouse as little times as possible as this disrupts my workflow, so being able to press stop, play, or record with my left hand while my right is getting ready to play melodies means a lot.
There’s something I’d like to mention though: I’ve owned two M-Audio MIDI keyboards in the past, and over the years they’ve found a way to malfunction. One of the keys on my old Oxygen 49 no longer sends any data, while the pitch bend and mod wheels on my old Axiom 25 is sending out ghost data. Of course, this could simply be a personal anecdote and doesn’t reflect on all M-Audio products as a whole, but definitely something worth mentioning.
How Does It Compare Against Other Keyboards?
So now we’ve discussed the basic features of the Oxygen 25 MK4 and you should have a pretty good idea if it’s the right MIDI keyboard controller for you. However, there are several other models out in the market and you’re probably asking, “How would I know if I should choose the Oxygen over these other keyboards?”
One thing to note is that there’s no PERFECT MIDI controller — there’s only the right keyboard for your needs at this particular time. Luckily, I’ve managed to get my hands on quite a few of the other models within this price range, so I can offer some insights as to how the Oxygen 25 compares to them.
M-Audio Oxygen 25 vs. Akai MPK Mini MK2
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is a compact keyboard released by Akai, manufacturers of the world-famous MPC sampler and sequencer. The biggest difference between these two models are its size. While I do like the Akai MPK Mini MK2, the fact that it’s a compact keyboard with tiny keys makes it a less than ideal MIDI controller for my purposes.
Both are extremely similar in features — they both have 25 keys, 8 knobs, and 8 drum pads. However, the advantage of the Oxygen is that it comes with transport controls, something that’s suspiciously absent with the MPK Mini. The MPK Mini also lets go of the pitch and mod wheels and replaces this with a joystick, which is pretty clever for saving space but might be a little strange to use if you’re used to the traditional wheels.
Get the Oxygen if you prefer using full-sized keys when composing melodies and beats, and/or if you want to make use of transport controls (as the MPK Mini doesn’t have one). If desk space is of utmost importance however (or if you travel a lot and want to travel as light as possible), then you might be better suited with the Akai MPK Mini MK2.
M-Audio Oxygen 25 vs. Nektar Impact LX25+
The Nektar Impact LX25+ is the second generation model of Nektar’s budget keyboard series. If you’ve never heard of Nektar before, that’s because they’re a relatively new company: their first product was was released half a decade ago in March 2012.
The Impact LX25+ is a scaled down version of their Panorama series with slightly less features but just as functional. The two models are pretty much exactly the same, but the true strength of the Nektar Impact LX25+ is how well it integrates with pretty much any DAW of your choice.
Go for the Oxygen if brand name is important to you (M-Audio is a far more established company than Nektar) and you don’t really see yourself taking much advantage of controlling your software through your MIDI keyboard. However, if you want to save yourself a few bucks (the Impact LX25+ is cheaper than the Oxygen by about $20) and want to get as hands-on and use your mouse as little as possible to control your DAW, then the Nektar Impact LX25+ is a great purchase.
M-Audio Oxygen 25 vs. Alesis V25
The Alesis V25 is another MIDI keyboard controller that’s similar in specs to the Oxygen 25 in the sense that they both have 25 semi-weighted keys. However, there’s a slight difference in size: the Alesis V25 is longer in terms of width, and shorter in terms of height. This is because of where the drum pads are located; while the pads are on the upper right corner on the Oxygen, it’s placed on the left side beside the keys on the Alesis V25.
The V25 also comes with less rotary knobs than the Oxygen; 4 versus 8. The V25 also doesn’t have any transport controls that allows you to press play, stop, or record to control your DAW, which honestly makes it a bit of a pain to use in my personal opinion. However, the advantage of the V25 is that it comes with software that allows you to easily manipulate MIDI signals on your computer. This means you’ll be able to easily change MIDI parameters without the need for complicated keyboard sequences.
Overall, the Oxygen 25 is a better keyboard in my opinion. I would recommend the Alesis V25 only if its shape is more ideal for your desk, if you prefer the layout of the drum pads, or if you’re on a really tight budget where every dollar matters.
M-Audio Oxygen 25 vs. Novation Launchkey 25 MK2
The Novation Launchkey 25 MK2 is another full-sized, 25-key MIDI controller and serves as the big brother to the Launchkey Mini.
There’s quite a lot of similarities between the Launchkey 25 and the Oxygen 25. Both have transport controls, and both utilize synth-style keys (not really a bad thing, just a matter of preference.) However, the Launchkey comes with 16 drum pads as opposed to the Oxygen’s 8. While the pads are a little smaller than standard size, it’s something that would be quite useful if you use them during live performances. This keyboard is also seamlessly integrated with Ableton, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change the MIDI parameters to make it suitable for controlling whatever DAW you’re using.
However, it’s slightly more expensive than the Oxygen 25. At this point, I would recommend you go for the Launchkey 25 if your main DAW is Ableton, as controlling your software using this keyboard really is a breeze. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either choices.
All in all, the M-Audio Oxygen 25 is a great MIDI keyboard controller. It’s not the most ideal keyboard if you’re looking for something ultra-compact for maximum portability, but it’s a great choice for a tabletop MIDI controller for composing your beats with. At a little over a hundred dollars, it’s hard to go wrong with this keyboard.