Master control – Studiologic SL88 Studio Review

StudioLogic earlier this year released some new master controller keyboards. They kindly sent us the SL88 Studio to review.

So without further ado…

The Studiologic SL88 Studio Keyboard:

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The keyboard is built like a tank. 88 weighted notes with aftertouch, encased in a lovely black matt finish with industrial looking plastic sides. It feels like you could drop this keyboard from a considerable height, and it would get right back up and keep playing.

I love the minimalist look to it – just a small center console with TFT display, one encoder knob, and three tidy little performance joysticks on the left hand side. In an era of midi controllers that are maximally covered in faders, knobs, and flashing pads, this is quite a refreshing look.

On the backside there are 2 midi outs for direct control, a midi in, USB connection to all things computer, and 4 pedal inputs. The 4 pedals take slightly different inputs: 1 and 2 are switch inputs (on/off, like sustain) the 3rd is continuous (think expression pedal), and the 4th is multi-function – which I tried with a few pedals and had mostly success. I think it’s designed for classical piano triple pedals, and other more special function pedals. There are also accessories that attach to the back along a magnetic rail, such as a music stand, and laptop plate.

Joy with the sticks

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I really liked the three joysticks, as a less standard approach to mod/pitchbend wheels, plus extra. Each joystick has slightly different feels: the first is a Sprung X and Y axis, so it always returns to the centre. The second one is Sprung X axis only, and the third is entirely unsprung, so floats freely in two dimensions. They’re all fully assignable, but by default will represent the CC’s for pitch bend, modulation, and filter cutoff and resonance out of the box. Despite the minimalist look, I felt that the three joysticks (essentially 6 controllers when you count both axes), plus the 4 pedal inputs more than coped with my need for expressive playing.

All of these inputs are assignable to any CC, so I could set a lot of my orchestral sounds up with the different CC’s for expressiveness, dynamics, volume and layering up to either pedals, aftertouch, or joysticks, and be completely covered.

I really enjoyed the various sprung elements – so you could assign CC’s to the non sprung joystick when you wanted something you could move, and leave in place while playing. I quickly got used to using the joystick as a pitch bend – finding it not dissimilar to the Nord’s sculpted wooden lever.

When I first saw the joysticks I was nervous that they would feel a bit flimsy, but I can confirm that they are solid-feel, and will probably take a beating like the rest of the keyboard. I’d have a lot of confidence taking this board on the road.

Zones

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SL88 Studio comes with 4 separate zone settings, each of which are featured on a brightly colored quarter of the home screen. Clicking on the main encoder knob over any of the zones will automatically give you access to the volume of that zone – great for mixing your sounds on the fly. Each zone can have a multitude of editable parameters, from different destinations (separate midi outs, or usb out), Joystick and pedal settings, key responsiveness, midi channels, and so on. Basically anything this keyboard can do, you can have differently in each zone. Very flexible. You can name the instrument and the sound (patch) that each zone loads and controls, and save it all as a program.

With a nod to performing gigs, and having setlists to scroll through, you can group your programs together in list form, enabling quick scroll-and-click to next program set. This can send program change signals to everything you’re connected to, enabling super quick program changes for all your gear with one button press.

Feel

The studio version of this keyboard uses the new TP/100LR keybed with aftertouch. It’s designed to keep the weighted feel of an authentic piano, but without adding much weight to the overall keyboard.

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All curves

The responsiveness of the keyboard is phenomenal. It’s the most flexible setup I’ve come across in a controller keyboard: if the 3 factory settings (soft, normal and hard) aren’t to your liking, There are an almost unlimited supply of 10-point user curves to tweak the keyboard to your specifications.

If that’s still not enough, there is a key balance setting, where you can adjust the responsiveness of EACH KEY up or down 30%. (I think this is just on the software editor, more on that in a bit).

Again there are factory settings, but you can create a library of user settings, where you can adjust each and every key to fit your playing/distinct instruments.

You can adjust the weighting between black and white notes, and create much more complex curves to the responsiveness of the keyboard.

I was really impressed with this element of the keyboard. You can have different responsiveness settings for each zone you set up, so if you’re using a zone for triggering samples for example, and you want very limited responsiveness so the samples trigger at the same velocity, except for one quieter sample note – you can set that ONE NOTE to trigger higher velocity. Brilliant!!

Thoughts on the feel

In terms of getting good dynamics and therefore emotion out of your sample libraries, I easily had great success with this keyboard. It was one of those moments when you wanted to keep playing, as you were getting so much more life out of the sounds than previously.

In terms of the weighting, it’s definitely a compromise. Obviously the lack of overall keyboard weight for the feel you get is amazing. But for straight feel, I much prefer Studiologic’s other flagship keybed. I found this ironically to be a little heavy feeling, compared to my acoustic piano, and my nord stage (which uses the same company’s keybed, just a different model)

This is the only slight issue I had with the Studio. I felt that the marketing guys should have marketed/titled this as a stage performance piano, instead of ‘studio’. The great compromise between feel and overall light weight sets it up as a perfect gigging master keyboard, that you (or lucky roadies) get to lug about instead of an actual studio keyboard, where you’re more likely to leave in place than move about. (that, I think, is what the SL88 Grand is aimed at?)

Software editor

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SL Studio comes with a fully fledged, ridiculously good looking (think throwback to 90’s casio digital watchface, but with colour) software editor package that allows full access to the piano, and all its features. It essentially performs the same functions you can do directly on the console of the SLstudio, but using a mouse and larger screen is much more efficient. I found this, especially when editing zones(you can click and drag the corresponding colour up and down the keyboard at the bottom of the GUI), or naming programs – it was a LOT quicker.

It’s also useful to load and save groups or programs onto your computer, in case you have a lot of setlists you need to rotate through. I particularly liked the fact that when you were connected via USB, any editing you did on the software transmitted immediately to the keyboard. No stupid sysex!!

Conclusion

The Studiologic SL88 studio controller is a fantastic weighted 88 note keyboard for the money. It’s a great attempt at providing the feel of a hammer weighted keyboard for about half the overall weight of other controllers. The responsiveness flexibility is brilliant, and the software editor is simple, intuitive, and speeds the process exponentially.

For the time that I had the keyboard, I never came across any glitches switching programs, changing settings or otherwise. I found it to be absolutely rock solid and smooth. This, combined with the build quality makes me very confident in the stability and reliability of the Studio as a master keyboard for those important gigs! The SL88 Studio comes highly recommended, and I look forward to trying out other keyboards from their new range. I had to take a second glance when the advertised price came up. It’s an absolute steal!

Studiologic SL88 Studio comes with a power adapter, and small profile ps100 pedal.
It can be found in most major retailers, for £399.00 or €479.00 (approx. $499.95 for our US readers, see the Studiologic SL88 on Amazon).
For more information, visit the Studiologic website.

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