DAVID'S REVIEW - iCON Platform M+ and iKeyboard 88 Nano
Full Disclosure - I liked these products so much I now endorse them and am now an iCON Artist.
As a professional film and television composer, and keyboard player/synthesist, I am very picky with the gear I use. I have gone through all the phases, new this, piano action that, MIDI this, A to D specs that, VST vs. this VST, studio porn to minimalist, etc.. I am over it. I am now a studio stoic and minimalist.
With the demanding workflow and timelines I and most professional visual media composers deal with, I need gear that sounds great, works great and gives me the ability to articulate musically and sonically the creative vision I have in my head for the project. Therefore, I have made a conscious decision to move away from gear porn to efficiency and practicality. I now chose my studio gear based on the following:
- Must be rock solid and work 99.999% of the time
- Play/Usability - I must be able to play and use it effortlessly i.e. no hoop jumping
- Intuitive and simple - I don't have time to figure things out. If I cant figure it out or solve the issue in less than 15 minutes, I am moving on
- Must sound great - quality, clarity, expressiveness and true representation on my sonic vision
- Ecosystem - an old phrase, but my gear must work together in harmony (no pun intended...although that helps ;-) ). All my gear must easily work together as one system otherwise it injects disfunction and discontinuity in my workflow and thats a recipe for disaster and frustration
I think you get the idea. Thats why when I had a chance to work with some of the gear coming out of a company called iCON Pro Audio, I said hell yeah lets give it a shot. I will say I was a bit hesitant because iCON makes a lot of products including DJ gear. That was kind of a warning flag for me as I am a "Film & TV Composer" and not a DJ (no offense to DJ's)! I don't use DJ gear or want anything to do with it. Yes, I am a composer snob when it comes to gear and the gear I use. However, I am always looking for practical and solid gear to either replace older cumbersome gear or improve my workflow (very important!) and iCON seemed very promising.
I will also make a broad general statement on gear. I used to be very attracted to top brands in general and certainly in technology, synthesizers, etc. And that is still true in some areas. Especially in VST's or computers. I know that if I buy Spitfire Audio, 8 Dio, Heavyocity, Uhe, Arturia, etc.. I know exactly the level of quality, responsiveness and sonic inspiration I will get from them and I will only use those products. I don't use shit VST's. Period. Same for Macs. I will NEVER use a PC and haven't since 1997. (Mac snob). Cuebase. I will not use Logic. I personally think it looks and acts pro-sumer. I know that statement will cause a ruckus and huge differences of opinions. But for me... it looks like Garageband and doesn't have the same sound quality and features/editing of Cuebase, etc.. I don't like DP but I am a fan of MOTU, and I never could get behind Pro Tools as a composers tool. Audio Recoding, Post, etc. Yes. But not as a composers DAW. Yes, I know it has better MIDI now, notation, etc. bla bla bla. But no on PT for me (I have PT and use it, but not for scoring). But DAW's and what I use is for another post entirely and I digress.
Music hardware is much different. Most companies today get their products designed and built by off shore contract manufactures which is why some products look identical even though they are from different brands. So you may buy a "named brand" but its made by the same company in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc that built 4 other brands products. So don't let brand or lack thereof be an impediment to getting great gear. My view is, use what works for you, your workflow, and meets your standards and needs.
Technology has democratized and almost all hardware products now have a standard level of good to high quality which is why when I learned about iCON and saw some of their gear at NAMM, I new this could be promising.
Enter two great products! The iCON Platform M+ and the iKeyboard 88 Nano.
As a composer, I am always looking at new, intuitive, and more efficient ways in which to engage with and get the most out of my Cuebase DAW. I have found it! The Platform M+
Here is what iCON has to say about the Platform M+
True tactile control via USB2.0 to your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), digital mixer, or digital recorder. The Platform M+ is a MIDI control surface designed for producers, engineers and musicians who want the hands on control of real faders on a mixing console PLUS the flexibility of modern “in the box” or touchscreen digital music production within a smaller physical workspace. With nine (9) full sized motorized faders, eight (8) rotary dual-function encoder knobs, backlit buttons for Mute, Solo, Automation and Transport control, a jog wheel, and access to your entire mix by banking across tracks in groups of 8 or 1 channel at a time.
CONTROL ANY DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION
The Platform M+ integrates with most popular Digital Audio Workstations and digital mixers with iCon’s universal DAW mode and mapping for Cubase, Nuendo, Ableton Live, ProTools, Logic, Reason, Studio One, Bitwig, Samplitude, Adobe Audition, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Sonar, Reaper, the Touchmix-30 Pro digital mixer and Sound Devices Scorpio mixer/recorder. Mackie Control and HUI protocols provide nearly seamless interfacing with your digital mixer or your DAW’s functions. But even if your recording system is not on this list, you can still map its functions with our intuitive MIDI User Define mode.
Extremely compact, durable and versatile
Customize the perfect setup with a variety of Platform extension modules
8+1 touch-sensitive motorized faders with 10-bit resolution
8 dual-function encoder knobs (Rotate and enter)
Jog wheel shuttle for fast search and control
Illuminated buttons for each channel including Select, Mute, Solo and Record
6 illuminated transport buttons including Play, Stop, Record, Rewind, Fast Forward and Loop
Illuminated Zoom buttons with 2 direction keys; use in combination with the jog wheel
2 illuminated Track buttons for easy selection of different channels
2 illuminated Bank buttons for shifting channels in groups of 8
ICON “Quick-Setup” driver is available for Cubase, Nuendo, Reason and Bitwig for instant plug & play
Mackie control built-in for Cubase, Nuendo, Samplitude, Ableton Live, Reaper, Reason, FL Studio, Adobe Audition, Digital Performer, Sonar, Studio One, Bitwig, and Touchmix-30 Pro
Mackie HUI protocol built-in for Avid Pro Tools
Logic Pro protocol for Apple Logic Pro
iMapTMsoftware included for easy mapping of MIDI functions
Firmware upgrade available simply via USB connection and iMapTM software
Class-compliant with Windows XP, Vista (32-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit & 64-bit), Windows 8 (32-bit & 64-bit), Windows 10 (64-bit) and Mac OS X
USB 2.0 high speed connectivity
Superior build quality and robust metal casing with Kensington lock port
12V/5A power adapter included
Here is my take...
I absolutely love this product!
My unit has the graphic display like the picture above. The Platform M+ has an extremely solid build. There is nothing cheap about it. It feels great and has the solid construction of high end pro gear. In fact, better than many. The rubberized buttons feel great, the motorized sliders feel great and the programability is outstanding. Very easy to set up in Cuebase and I imagine other DAW's. Took me all of 3 minutes to get it working.
The Platform M+ gives me a pleasing tactile interface to run my DAW, program automation, edit VST parameters, mix my cues, and make my DAW life a lot more intuitive and easy. The Platform M+ comes with everything you need to get up and running right out of the box which is a nice thing considering more and more manufacturers are skimping on the things you need to get up and running out of the box.
Honestly, I have seen control surfaces that sell for twice as much if not more than the iCON unit and not be nearly as good or built as well with the rock solid performance of the Platform M+. Further, these units can be ganged together enabling you to have a larger control surface for your DAW which is pretty cool. For me, I am good with the one unit.
Simply, if you are looking for a control surface for your DAW, I highly, highly recommend the iCON Platform M+. This is a must have piece of studio gear for visual media composers or any composer/electronic musician/producer. For around $300, you can not go wrong. Seriously, I love this product and highly recommend it. It meets and exceeds my high standards for pro studio gear which is why I now use it every single time I open my DAW.
Check it out here:
Ah... MIDI Controllers. So many choices, so many features. I have used and owned them all. Yamaha, Kurzweil, Fatar, Studio Logic, Bohm, Doepfer, etc. I still have an use some of them.
Over the years and as my career moved more to Film and TV Scoring and less session work/performance, my needs and tastes in MIDI Controllers have changed. I really used to like the hammered weighted piano action as a general rule and still do to a large extent. However, its a bitch to use when trying to play complex and nuanced parts or delicate aftertouch effects from VST's, and it can get fatiguing when you are playing ALL day. Further, in my opinion, most MIDI Controllers today are overloaded with crap I don't want or need...drum pads, sliders, programable splits and zones, DAW interface, etc. That may be good for some...maybe many, but not for me. I simply want a responsive, quality 88 note keyboard that I can play my parts into my DAW. I am not performing live in concert so the weighted hammered action is not needed. If I want that, I have several other controllers I can use.
Like I said, if I were doing more session work or live gigs, I would probably chose the weighted piano action for performance and a synth controller for leads. But not in the studio for scoring. Scoring is less about "my" performance than about my ability to play the parts in accurately and effectively so I don't have to edit MIDI all day. I am a musician first, so playability of the keyboard is important to me artistically, mechanically and getting the parts in. I am not a composer who slows the sequencer down, copy and pastes ostinatos, manually enters MIDI data, etc. I am an intuitive composer and I play everything in real time...at least I try.
Ok, back to the iKeyboard 88 Nano. Again, working with my friends over at iCON Pro Audio I selected the iCON iKeyboard 88 Nano as my MIDI controller of choice in the studio. Why? It works great and feels really good. Lets take a quick look at what iCON has to say about the 88 Nano:
The Icon iKeyboard Nano Series combines 88-key semi-weighted keyboards with a single channel DAW controller in a rugged metal enclosure. The controller also provides pitch bend and modulation wheels, and Octave and Transpose up/down buttons.
The Icon iKeyboard Nano includes factory presets for most popular DAW’s including Cubase, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Reason, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Samplitude and Studio One. Every control on the iKeyboard Nano can be custom-mapped to any MIDI application using the included iMap software. The iKeyboard Nano uses Mackie Control and HUI protocols for presets and automatic mapping, and can be configured for general MIDI values as well.
Powerful controller is equipped and easy setup with Mackie Control and HUI protocol
Dual function encoder knob (Enter & rotate)
11-segment LED surrounding the encoder to indicate the rotating position
Velocity-sensitive piano style keyboard
Modulation and Pitch jog-wheel
Octave up/down buttons
Transpose up/down buttons
Multi velocity curves available for selection
Midi output jack
Expression & sustain pedal TRS connectors
Sustain pedal connector polarity reversible
Class-compliant with Windows 7, 8 & 10 (32-bit & 64-bit), Mac OS X (IntelMac) and iOS
USB 2.0 high speed connectivity
Mackie control build-in for Cubase, Nuendo, Samplitude, Reason, Logic Pro and Ableton Live
Mackie HUI protocol build-in for Pro Tools
iMapTM software included for easy mapping of MIDI functions
Firmware upgrade available simply via USB connection and iMap software
Robust metal casing with Kensington lock port
Ok...this keyboard delivers as advertised. I will say that it took me a while to get used to the keyboard. As a keyboard player, I interactive with the keys aggressively. Especially after using a weighted piano action for so long. Moving to a semi-weighted action...which I wanted, took a bit of getting used to in general.
Great MIDI controller and does exactly what it says it does. Easy to use, relatively quiet keybed..especially compared to others. Has a solid build and a very small form factor and fits in my desk great, pitch and mod are textured and easy to access/use, the transpose and octave controls are nice and rubberized and seamlessly work with my DAW. The control button allows me to control, transmit and program pan, volume, etc. Very convenient for quick automation insertions or even to just experiment. Like I said, the 88 Nano MIDI controller delivers great control and integration with my DAW as well as a great keyboard performance. A theme I am noticing with iCON is that a lot of their gear seamlessly works with the most popular DAW's right out of the box with minimal effort, which is awesome and very much appreciated.
The other cool thing is that iCON provides a free light footprint software that enables you to program the controller, change velocity curves and more right from your computer. You can also update firmware, etc. I really like because it enables you to dial your controller in to your personal tastes and playing/use style.
iCON also makes several variations of this MIDI controller that incorporates more controls and even a digital audio Interface built right into the keyboard. Check them out if you need that kind of thing.
The only thing I would have liked to see is a power adapter included in the box. Everything else is included i.e set up guid, MIDI USB cable, software, etc. But if your like me, you probably have a ton of the power adapters not being used in your studio so its not a big deal.
If you are looking for an 88 note MIDI Controller under $325 that delivers a solid build, small form factor and doesn't take up valuable desk real-estate (unlike most others), and offers a great keyboard and useable vs. non-essential features (non-essential from my perspective), I would highly recommend the iKeyboard 88 Nano. I use it and it has now become my main DAW MIDI Controller.
So there you have it. Two highly useful and quality products I use in my daily work. If you are a composer for visual media (amateur/hobby to seasoned pro), you should give these products a serious look. I would and do recommend these products to my close musician and composer, friends and I highly recommend them to you. I liked them so much, I am now an endorser and iCON Artist.
iCON is producing some great products. Check them out. You wont be sorry.