Music

Why Do I Use A Keyboard Workstation In 2022?

Why bother to buy a keyboard workstation if a laptop with a DAW and MIDI controller can give the same capability?

If you are a musician and your main musical instrument is a keyboard, you may hear about a keyboard workstation, synthesizer workstation, or workstation. What is it exactly? Do I need one?

The workstation is special hardware in the shape of a (usually) keyboard. Typically comes with synthesizer engine, multi-effects processor, audio interface, sampler, drum pattern designer, and sequencer. You can use their preset sounds or do advanced sound editing to make a new sound. You can record and playback your song directly into its sequencer. Since it has an audio interface, you can also record external audio such as your voice, guitar, other synths, etc. The coolest part is you can easily combine (splitting and layering) multiple sounds of instruments with it.

To summarize, a workstation is a specialized computer for music production.

Nowadays, the computing power of a laptop is more powerful than a workstation. It can run multiple software synthesizers and audio effect processors in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Logic Pro and Ableton Live. So, both a workstation and laptop can do the same thing.

Then, why bother to buy a keyboard workstation if a laptop with a DAW and MIDI controller can give the same capability? The answer is that it depends on the musician's musical style and workflow.

My home studio setup.
My home studio with a Korg Kross 2 keyboard workstation.

For me, I use both of keyboard workstation and a DAW. These are some reasons why I'm using a keyboard workstation in 2022.

Minimalize context switching

Before buying a workstation, I worked mainly in a DAW (Ableton Live Lite) with a MIDI controller. It was good, but I often feel counterproductive. Editing a softsynth with a mouse (or touchpad) is not fun for me. Also, I get busier searching the Internet for good VST softsynth plugins to create sound. I know because I'm using the Lite version. The complete version of Ableton has a lot of built-in synthesizers.

Then the moment when I had a budget came. Instead of buying the complete version of Ableton Live, I chose to buy a Korg Kross 2 88MB workstation. It feels amazing. It feels like the machine said, "Here are all you need to produce music. Go! Mess with it." All physical buttons and knobs feel more natural than a mouse/touchpad.

I'm not exclusively playing electronic music

I love playing the piano. That's why I bought the 88 keys workstation. It has full piano length and weighted hammer action keys. Also, the workstation has many acoustic instruments sounds, so I don't need to find separate VST plugins for each musical instrument sound.

More reliable than a laptop

Nowadays, I don't perform live music on stage. But, there was a time I did a live performance with a laptop in a band. Sometimes, I experienced my laptop freezing during the live performance. That was an inconvenient experience. As a software engineer, I'm sure a computer with hardware and software dedicated only to doing one job will be more reliable than a general-purpose computer.

GarageBand for mixing the song.
I use GarageBand for mixing the song.

In the end, I'm still using a DAW for recording and mixing the song. Currently, my workflow when producing music is something like these:

  • I do everything as much as possible on my workstation, such as finding the idea of the track, writing chord progression and melody, making the sound, and recording with its sequencer.
  • I also have a Korg Volca Modular synthesizer. I can connect it to the line-in of my Korg Kross 2 workstation and jam with the song that I record in Kross's sequencer.
  • After the song is complete, I transfer the WAV data to the laptop and mix it in a DAW. Now, I'm using GarageBand for my DAW. It's free software if you have a Mac computer and has more capabilities than the Ableton Live Lite version.

There's no real winner between a keyboard workstation and a laptop with a DAW. That's why musical instrument manufacturers such as Korg, Roland, Yamaha, and Kurzweil still produce and update their keyboard workstation products.

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