Future Retro 512

I received this piece of kit last week. Up to this point, other than my MPC’s, I’d never really spent any money on a good controller, but after I saw this, I knew it  would jumpstart my creative process. I had to make sure that the other similar keyboards on the market weren’t better suited for me than this, and so I also checked out the Sputnik and the Verbos, but neither had the feature set that I wanted, but more importantly, neither offered MIDI control. So after I gathered up the funds, I ordered it from Germany, to avoid the hassle of VAT, import fees, and shipping for it to be sent from USA.

However, it’s also led me to almost losing my mind. Here’s the problem…some of my hardware doesn’t see the MIDI messages it sends. The first thing I did when I got it was plug it into my MPC2500, but nothing showed up in the MIDI monitor page. So I plugged it directly into a module to test it, and it worked fine. So then I tested other controller keyboards into the MPC, and they showed up fine. But the output of the 512? Still nothing. Then I tried all the rest of my synths, and they all responded to the MIDI messages it was sending. If I then route the output of a synth’s MIDI THRU back to the MPC, the messages are received. So I tried some more experiments. First, I plugged it into my MOTU MIDI patchbay. Nothing. Then I routed the output to my old MPC2000XL, which picked up the messages. Then I routed it to my RME UFX, which appears to receive the messages fine. I suppose this means that I will have to route everything through some synthesizer’s input instead of through my sequencer’s input, but it’s not the end of the world. I just wish I could figure out the issue. I contacted the maker of the keyboard and he couldn’t figure it out either. And just today, I plugged the output of the 512 into my midi patchbay, and channel 1 didn’t work, but when I plugged it into channel 2, it worked great! I then routed that back into my sequencer. But sometime later, after I’d taken a break, the patchbay stopped responding to messages again, and no other channel responded properly after that. Bummer.

But as to the functionality of the 512, it’s great. The touch keys have very nice response and with the octave keys can send notes across a 9 octave range. It has built in scales and chords which can be mapped to just the white keys or all keys, so that you can play in any chosen scale and never hit a wrong note. Or play chords all over the keyboard with a single finger. The other killer feature for me is the real time swing which adjusts the swing percentage from 50-75%, something I could previously only accomplish in hardware by setting the MPC up to the exact percentage beforehand, and only for the selected track, having to remember to turn it off and on every time it was used. The arpeggiator is very nice as well, offering a wealth of different options which really breaks up the monotony of playing through different patches with arps, while still allowing real time altering of scale and transposition. It has a sequencer that I’ve used a little as well, but to me how this really shines is creating patterns, and the easiest way to do that is on the fly. It offers CV outputs as well, and since I only have one synth that even receives CV, it won’t be that useful to me now, but should I ever branch out into the modular realm, I’ll be ready.

This is a quality product from a good company, and I recommend it highly, although I wish my hardware wasn’t showing the issues that it does, but I have to assume that it’s my patchbay and MPC that have the problems, and not the 512, since most of my other MIDI gear responds to its messages. Already used it on some track ideas!

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