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Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI Controller review

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Reviews

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Being a musician isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Sure, you can get a hit, sign a big record deal, and have an entourage of minions to scurry around doing everything for you. Until then, one of the biggest complaints you’ll hear from aspiring musicians is about all of the gear they need to lug around from place to place. Even for someone learning for the first time, simplicity is always better.

Samson Technologies has developed a USB MIDI controller/keyboard that can be powered through the iPad or iPad Mini.

Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI Controller

Take it to your next gig. Take it to the campfire. (Who doesn’t love campfire songs?) There are a lot of ways to use this controller, but is it really a viable tool for a musician or an overpriced electronic toy?

Design

The Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI controller does not rely on batteries, nor does it require to be plugged into a power outlet; all power is driven from the USB connection. This means it can be powered by the iPad by using the USB to 30 pin adapter found  in the iPad Camera Connection Kit for the older iPads and in the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for later generation iPads and the iPad mini. You will need an app such as Garage Band running on your iPad to accept the input from the controller to drive the sound.

The Carbon 49 controller provides a connecting USB cable. It also has a large slot on the top center to hold the iPad. My iPad 2 with the Smart Cover and a Belkin Snap Shield on it had no difficulty being supported in the slot.

There are a total of 49 full sized keys that are velocity sensitive. There are buttons to change the octave if you need a higher or lower range, found above the pitch and modulation wheels. This allows for the full octave range found in a full sized keyboard or piano.

Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI Controller

Above the keys is a three digit LCD display, volume slider, data selection wheel, and an edit button. This allows the user full control to adjust up to 14 performance related parameters. The Carbon 49 controller also has the power switch, sustain pedal input, USB, and a standard MIDI out connection. It comes packaged with Native Instruments’ Komplete Elements software to allow the user access to a full toolkit of sounds, samples, and sequences to use in the studio or out on live performances.

Performance

The Samson Carbon 49 controller is very lightweight, making it very portable. The added bonus of having the controller powered off of the iPad makes it possible to use in locations where a wall outlet is not possible. The light weight comes from an extensive use of plastic, which does have a downside when using it.

The overall feel when using the Carbon 49 controller is that it’s screams “Hey! I’m plastic!”  The keys are rather noisy when played; too much rattle upon release. You also get a sense of slight hesitation from the keys during release, as though it was caught on a switch. Overall, it doesn’t give the feeling of quality found in other professional keyboards and controller. To be fair, the low price point of the controller could justify the feel, but it could have been done better to make it feel as though better materials were used without drastically affecting the price.

Playing action aside, the responsiveness of the keys was quick and immediate. No delays were found when using the Carbon 49 controller with the ever popular Garage Band app. With the controller, it’s easy to play every instrument. Because the keys are velocity sensitive, the volume on the iPad was turned all the way up to hear what was being played clearly in a large open room.

Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI Controller

Power consumption of the Carbon 49 controller was barely noticeable. Playing for around half an hour did not cause the battery levels drop any faster than using the iPad by itself. This should provide hours of entertainment no matter where you are.

Summary

Overall, the Carbon 49 USB MIDI controller from Samson Technologies delivers a simple solution for those looking to turn their iPad or iPad mini into a self powered musical instrument for home use, studio use, and on-the-go use. This will work well for beginners up to professionals, with a price that makes it very compelling.  My only hesitation in offering a higher rating is the feel of cheaper materials used.

Somebody get me a latte…

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Buy Samson Carbon 49 USB MIDI Controller

Product: USB MIDI Controller
Provides: Portable keyboard controller powered by the iPad/iPad Mini
Developer: Samson Technology
Requirements: iPad 2 or later, iPod mini
Price: $99.99
Available: Available Now

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