Any time we see a new MIDI keyboard available, our hands are all over them. Especially at the NAMM 2020 show a few weeks ago and getting a chance to check it out in action, we were excited to see Roland upgrade their highly rated MIDI keyboard, the A-88. They haven’t done “too much” in regards to changing the entire keyboard (which is a good thing in our opinion), but instead added some tweaks here and there (by keeping in mind musician feedback and staying with the times as well) to just make an overall better MIDI keyboard. Let’s check out the new Roland A-88 MKII below.
Main features of the Roland A-88 MKII MIDI keyboard
- 88 fully-weighted hammer-action keys
- Adjustable key responsiveness
- USB-C connection
- Eight (8) assignable pads
- Eight (8) assignable knobs
- RGB-lit controls
- MIDI 2.0 compatible
- Three (3) user-definable keyboard zones
- Pitch/mod lever
- One (1) sustain pedal input
- Two (2) assignable pedal inputs
- Built-in arpeggiator
- Chord memory
- Weight: 35 pounds and 15 ounces
- Power supply: 9V DC or USB bus
Design of the Roland A-88
One of the biggest highlights in our opinion here are the keys — it uses Roland’s weighted PHA-4 weight bed with hammer-action, so you’re getting some of the best quality keys out there for a MIDI keyboard in our opinion. There are a few other higher-end key makes (that are also weighted and hammer-action) for a lot more money, and those are typically seen only when you start to step up into digital pianos, not MIDI keyboards like this. These keys have a very sensitive and natural response. They aren’t complete ivory but really do a great job at mimicking that piano-like feel we all love for an immersive playing experience.
Overall the entire keyboard isn’t cheap at all, and has a very sturdy and rugged housing that, paired with these beautiful keys, are going to be one of the biggest reasons you buy this thing. The pads and knobs are also of higher-quality and won’t break easy, as Roland usually is able to give the music equipment world consistently. Especially their pads considering they’ve made complete drum controllers before.
Highlights of the A-88 MKII keyboard controller
What we thought was great was the fact that you have control over three zones right from the controller itself (some may ask for more, but it is what it is). There is also a control section up at the top left with eight assignable pads, all velocity-sensitive of high quality make. Right below those we get another eight assignable knobs — all of which are RGB (pads and knobs) and be configured and color-coded for memory if you need be in the studio or on stage. You can organize some quick sets, send out some note or program change information.
Next up we’re always fans of built-in arpeggiators, although we do typically gravitate towards our VST plug-ins preset arps or even create our own through the software. Regardless, there are definitely times we use the arpeggiators on MIDI keyboards. The Roland A-88 MKII‘s is pretty standard in giving us what we need to make those, and you can also send these arps later down the road to multiple devices from the controller. Add on our 3 pedal inputs, split selection, octave control, a pitch/mod wheel and we’re covered in a lot of our favorite controller bases.
A big standout here, or at least what Roland and a lot of other brands are doing that we’ve noticed in the past few years at NAMM is pairing up their new gear with the obvious software bundles (which is great) but also creating their own apps that give you even further control or more functionality. This is a hot topic for some, and of course a lot of old school and traditional musicians are going to scoff at the fact that you have to use an app to work music equipment now. Others will say it isn’t that big of deal and will just simply opt out of using it.
Roland’s is called their ‘Control App’ (works with both macOS and Windows), and in a nut shell helps with assignment mapping, pad and knob customization, program controls, execution, change colors of your coding, and more. Why not?
Concluding our Roland A-88 MKII review
Of course there can always be criticisms of new gear, and let us tell you people are not shy when it comes to dissecting higher-end brands like Roland and equipment they create. For one, we were hearing a lot of talk about the fact that there are only three zones. Many others prefer more, especially those individuals who actually are interested in a MIDI keyboard with not only 88 keys but that are higher-end as compared to most out there with these weighted and hammer-action keys. Others may also say the “app” is overkill, but if you’ve ever tried to learn a DAW and assign certain elements to a keyboard, you’ll know it isn’t necessarily an easy task. This app makes is so much more user-friendly.
We do love the fact that it’s one of Roland’s first pieces of music equipment to support MIDI 2.0, so if you haven’t looked into those changes yet we highly recommend you do into the world of MIDI (like programming, changes into the bit values, going from 128 to billions of values in velocity). You’re going to be confident this controller is supporting you well into the future and will last as an investment.
MAP pricing is looking like a grand or so. Whether or not you want to upgrade from their previous keyboard if totally up to you, but for us it isn’t worth buying an entirely new A-88 MKII keyboard. If you are however in the market for a solid MIDI keyboard controller and your main focus is the the make of the keys, and you’re serious about your playing, this is a great entry-model that won’t give you too many bells and whistles that will start to jack up the price. We know so many piano players who just hate those traditional plastic keys that so many MIDI keyboards incorporate, although they do so because most people who want to spend less than a few hundred bucks are concerned with a home studio and aren’t as advanced in playing like those who want an 88-key, fully-weight controller.
This is a great option for those in a hybrid studio or even performing on stage and need to focus on the most important part of a keyboard or piano — what you’ll be pressing over and over again! Be sure to check our MIDI keyboards with fully-weighted keys guide if you want to look into some competitors before you make the jump.