layout: post
title: "CME Xkey 37 LE Review"
date: 2020-12-15
categories: front end development
tags: [front end development]

Earlier this year my old reliable first edition Korg MicroKey 37 died, after 7 years of service. I've bought multiple midi keyboards including a 88 key hammer action weighed keyboard which I quickly discovered was far too big for my use case. Since then, I've favored the 37 key for my sometimes music production mostly for the size and for the selection as there happens to be a bit more options at the 37 size over the more practical 49 keys.

With 2020 being what it is, I've revisited my audio studio setup and decided to buckle down and actually learn to play the keyboard. I had bought the current microKey only to discover... I hate slim-width keys while trying to actually play anything.

The search for the ideal 37 key

Searching for high end small keyboards is a bit of an oxymoron. Here's my observations:

  • The most expensive keyboards in the 49 and below form factor generally pack in "gee-wiz" features, pads, knobs and sliders. These are nice but drastically get away from my "small-as-possible" ideal. I also have an Ableton Push 2 and a NI Maschine MK II which are far more capable in the pad/knob department.
  • Weighed/Hammer Action Weighted keyboards simply do not exist sub 61 key. There's a few 49 semi-weighed keybaords like the Akai MPK249, which falls into the "gee-wiz" style, and certainly isn't small. 37 semi-weighed keyboards are pretty much nonexistent.
  • Most of the keyboards designed for travel use slim keys.

This meant I had to reset my expectations, once I did I zeroed in on the CME Xkey 37.

Low Travel / High quality


The Xkey is its own beast in a number of ways. First off, it's an aluminum chasis, which immediately sets it apart. After years of cheap midi keyboards, it doesn't feel frail but rather substantial. Next up is the lack of a standard pitch-bend/mod wheel. Instead, they're replaced with touch sensitive pads. Also, it's absent of a sustain pedal, instead featuring a sustain button, which is a mild disappointment but not a fail like the original Korg Microkey 37 which did not feature a sustain pedal at all. All of these choices are in the name of space saving as mod wheels and pitch bends take up space, as well as the 1/4 inch cable requirement for a sustain pedal.

Lastly, there's the keys... The big pivot is the Xkey's keys are low travel, akin to a laptop. Pressing them hard results in the "clack" more associated with a alphanumeric keyboard than a musical keyboard, they're still velocity sensitive, and surprisingly features polyphonic aftertouch. Keyboards that feature after-touch continue to record the pressure of a keyboard press, but usually as a global. Polyphonic records the aftertouch per-key.

timing chain / cam sprockets