Roli is making squishy MPE MIDI keyboards affordable and portable (again)

Rollie was an early poster child for the emergence of MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression). The company has faced struggles over the past 10 years, but it is still trying to spread the gospel of MPE. Its first product after filing for administration (like bankruptcy) in the UK and rebranding as Luminary Rollie was a redesigned version of its Seaboard Rise. It’s a flagship, pro-level MIDI controller that costs just as much ($1,399). New Seaboard Block M Takes the company’s signature squishy, ​​continuous keyboard and puts it in a much more affordable and portable package.

The $349.95 Seaboard Block M features the same 5D Touch technology as its bigger brother. This means, when paired with the right equipment (and properly configured), you can achieve incredible results by moving your fingers around, pressing firmly against a surface like foam, or quickly tapping it for a sustained pluck. Can play expressive melodies and chords.

Where the Seaboard Rise 2 is a 49-key controller with multiple macro controls and its metal frame looks premium, the Block M only has 24-keys and a reduced rear set of controls. However, you can connect two Seaboard blocks together to create a modular 48-key keyboard.

Rollie Seaboard Block M
Jyotirmay Roli

While Roli does not clearly state what it is made of other than "Premium materials…built to withstand the rigors of travel", it seems safe to assume that the Block M is primarily plastic. This also seems to be missing "precision fret" of the Rise 2, which has made it much easier to find your way around the keyboard just by feel.

It at least inherits the dedicated MIDI-out jack from the Rise 2. This means you can use it to control a DAW-less setup and skip the computer altogether. This is becoming much more common on MIDI controllers at any price point, but it’s still a welcome development.

Of course, the number of devices out there – hardware or software – that can take full advantage of MPE control here is still somewhat limited. Block M comes with Rolly Studio, which gives you some options for expressive play. However, it is not as powerful as the company’s flagship soft synth, the Equator 2.

Finally, Roli says you can expect about 10 hours of battery life with Bluetooth on. However, you can always connect directly to the device with USB-C for zero latency and no worries about battery life. The Seaboard Block M is available for preorder now for $349.95, but it’s not expected to ship until March 2024.

This article was originally published on Engadget

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