Alesis QX49 MIDI Controller Keyboard
By DAVID BATTINO
In the January 2013 issue of Keyboard, I reviewed five compact USB MIDI controllers, including the Samson Carbon 49 and Graphite 49. The Alesis QX49, which arrived too late to include in the printed magazine, is an interesting midpoint between the two Samson models. At $159 street, it offers many features of the Graphite ($199 street), but with the lighter weight and friendly rounded edges of the Carbon ($89). The QX also comes in 25- and 61-key versions.
Features and Controls
Like the other controllers in my roundup, the QX49 includes octave-shift buttons, front-panel programmability, and a USB jack for power and MIDI. Around the back you’ll find a sustain-pedal jack, a 9V power socket, and two MIDI Out jacks. One jack transmits data from the keyboard, the other functions as an output for a USB-connected computer — a nice touch. Like the Graphite, the QX49 draws too much power to run from an iPad. You’ll need an AC adapter (not included) or a powered USB hub. (The Carbon runs on iPad power.)
The QX49’s easy-to-read LCD shows helpful information, including the value of the Continuous Controller message you’re sending from the sliders, knobs, and wheels. You get eight 30mm sliders that move smoothly. With the Data 2 and Data 3 keys, you can set their minimum and maximum values, even inverting the range. The knobs have a grippy rubber texture and solid feel, and can be inverted too. (Incidentally, the Data 1 key lets you set the note number the pads transmit, an essential function not mentioned in the manual.)
At the right are six transport control buttons, including a loop activator. I installed the Ableton Live controller map from Alesis.com and the controls all mapped to useful values. There’s a map for Cubase, too, plus instructions for Logic. The Graphite came with built-in maps for many more programs, but I found the QX easier to set up.
One cool feature that separates the QX49 from cheaper controllers is its programmable keyboard zones. You can set three ranges of keys to transmit on unique MIDI channels, and you can make the zones separate or overlap for split and layer effects. You can’t, however, assign one zone to respond to a limited velocity range for velocity-switching effects. Furthermore, the undercooked manual doesn’t explain how to select a zone for editing. You need to press the Zone Group button and then one of the first three transport buttons. There are 20 memory locations to hold your custom controller settings.
The QX49’s keys have a lightweight, plastic feel that’s quiet but not especially fast or inspiring. I preferred the semiweighted action of the Carbon, although the QX49 has more velocity curves. (The Graphite is in a different league, adding crisp weighting and aftertouch.)
The QX49’s drum pads light up when played — very cool — but couldn’t keep up with fast playing. Even sixteenth-notes at 120 bpm disappeared. Nor can you set the pads to toggle mode, useful for sustaining a loop. On the plus side, the pads can transmit either notes or CCs, on a separate MIDI channel from the keyboard.
Polarity Express: Sustaining the QX49
Unlike most keyboards, the QX49 doesn’t detect on power-up if a sustain pedal is wired as normally open (Casio/Korg style) or normally closed (Roland/Yamaha style). Here’s how I got my normally-open pedal to work.
First, update the QX49’s firmware to version 1.0.5 or newer. (You’ll need a Windows computer and a download from Alesis.com.) Now press the sustain pedal. The display should show 127, and then 0 when you release the pedal. If not…
1.Press the Advanced button.
2.Press and release the sustain pedal.
3.Press the Data 2 key (G#3). That displays the pedal’s minimum value. Ironically, you’ll need to set it to 127. Press the 1-2-7 keys, and then Enter.
4.Press the Data 3 key (A#3). This displays the pedal’s maximum value. You’ll need to set it to 0. Press the 0 key, and then Enter.
5.Press the Advanced button again to exit Edit mode.
The QX49 is a capable, lightweight controller with the bonus of providing a standard MIDI output for a computer. Construction quality is reasonable for this price, though the sluggish drum pads disappointed me. For an additional $40, the Samson Graphite offers more features and a far better keyboard action (including aftertouch), though those upgrades come with additional weight and complexity. The QX49’s sketchy, four-page manual makes it impossible to set up without experimentation, but once you suss out the parameters, you should find this keyboard surprisingly useful and portable.
Price (list | street)
$259 | $159
8 sliders; 8 knobs; 4 pads; assignable pitch and mod wheels
USB, sustain, MIDI Out (2), DC in
Ableton Live Lite
7 + 1 fixed; pads can also be set to any fixed value
Computer and keyboard MIDI Outs, light-up pads, clear display, compact
Average keyboard feel, sustain pedal jack doesn’t detect pedal polarity, pads ignore fast playing, skimpy manual