I’ve watched the growing micro-key keyboard trend with some disdain. “But they’re not full-size keys,” I say. They’re compact, even playable, but … I just realized I’m a hypocrite.
Let’s back up a bit first. So where did the micro-key trend start? The lineage of the current line-up of micro-key keyboards is most easily followed back to the Korg microKorg synth. The microKorg, now something of a legend, was first introduced in 2002. According to Korg, the microKorg has been one of the bestselling synthesizers every year since it’s introduction. Today, there’s not only microKorg, but microKorg XL, microStation, and microKey controllers. M-Audio has joined the party with the Keystation Mini 32 and the Axiom A.I.R. Mini 32, and even Novation has offered up their own blue package of concentrated programming power, the MiniNova.
But I was recently reminded of another mini-key synth that pre-dated microKorg by 6 years – the Yamaha DX100. The DX100 was the “runt” of Yamaha’s wildly successful litter of groundbreaking digital FM synths – the much smaller sibling to the legendary DX7. Its respectable 4-operator FM sound engine was complimented by 61 (!) mini-keys and real buttons as opposed to those modern membrane switches – apparently the DX100 was way ahead of its time.
And how could I have forgotten it? The DX100 was the second “real” synth that I ever purchased (the first was a used Roland Juno 6), purchased on my first-ever line of credit – from Strait Music in Austin, Texas when I was a sophomore attending college there. I had a ball with that synth, and never gave a second thought to the fact that the keys were small. Maybe I was distracted by the strap buttons and the clever positioning of the pitch bend and mod wheels that made the DX100 very nearly a keytar of sorts.
Let’s face it. Mini-keys aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, there may be a whole new generation of mini-key virtuosos developing around the globe at this very moment. But mini-key synths have already come and gone, without causing the least bit of trouble for keyboards with full-size keys.
If you know of other mini-key keyboards from the ’80s (or even earlier), I’d love to hear from you.