If you’re shopping for a solid yet affordable budget controller with semi-weighted keys, the market offers plenty of options. But if you’re looking for a budget controller WITH aftertouch, there are way fewer options. Last month, I received an M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 for testing purposes. The Oxygen Pro 49 is one of the strongest contenders in this market segment and I thought it would be helpful to share my impressions.
Available in 25, 49, 61, and Mini key versions, the Oxygen Pro Series are USB powered (via a USB‑B socket) and all feature an OLED screen, smart chord and smart scale technology, auto-mapping, a built-in arpeggiator and note repeat. The Oxygen Pro 25, 49, and 61 all have 16 RGB backlit velocity-sensitive pads, nine assignable faders (excluding the Pro 25), eight assignable knobs, and the classic 5-pin MIDI output on the bigger three (3.5mm mini‑jack socket on the Pro 25). I didn’t really consider the 25 version (too small for me) and went for the Oxygen Pro 49 mostly because it was the best possible match for my cramped desktop space.
Getting the Oxygen Pro 49 I was well aware I wasn’t going to get a Fatar-style keybed, fancy screens and extra bells and whistles. Well, I didn’t need any of that. I just needed a solid keyboard controller, with a nice keybed and a good number of knobs and faders. The pads were a nice bonus, although I’m certainly not an experienced finger drummer.
Here are my impressions after a few weeks with this controller.
Build quality: good quality plastic chassis, which helps with keeping the weight more than reasonable. No wobbly controls – the faders and pots feel solid, budget components maybe but with a good feel. I could say the same thing for the screen. Coming from other flashy controllers (including the now discontinued Akai Advance keyboards), this small monochromatic OLED screen might look nothing special at first, but it’s clear, readable, and a perfect match for the straightforward software implementation of this controller. No complaints on the buttons either. They are firm and clicky (it can only be a problem if you use them in a silent environment or if someone’s asleep!).
Keys: this is obviously something highly subjective (like talking ties!), but I have to say I really like the action of this Oxygen Pro 49. I like it better than the Akai Advance mentioned above, for instance. Light action, quick release, but with a nice feel.
Aftertouch: it works but it’s harder to use compared to other keyboards I use (for instance, my DSI Rev2 with Fatar keybed). Especially with the black keys, you really need to use your muscles to get the aftertouch to react (FYI: the display shows the aftertouch response as you’re pressing the keys, nice touch!). Maybe this could be improved with a firmware upgrade, or maybe not. To be honest, it’s not a dealbreaker for me anyway. Aftertouch is certainly an important feature, but it’s not something I use all the time when doing ordinary MIDI work. If instead you’re a Vangelis-wannabe, you might want to consider spending more for a controller with hi-end aftertouch.
Drum Pads: the multicoloured backlit pads have a nice feel and proved useful in more than one occasion – especially when using plugins like Battery, MicroTonic, or MPC Beats, the AKAI beat-oriented DAW/plugin you get for free when buying an Oxygen Pro controller.
Pitch and modulation wheels: I remember reading some negative comments on the interweb (about a supposedly delayed response), but honestly I have no problems with mine. Either it was an issue with early units, or it has been fixed via software.
The Oxygen Pro controllers offer smart chord and smart scale technology, auto-mapping, a built-in arpeggiator and note repeat. While the arpeggiator is something you would easily expect in any modern controller, the smart chord (AKA one-finger chord) and smart scale (AKA no-wrong notes) features are valuable extra resources, especially for younger musicians (and guitar players!).
As for the automapping feature, I’ve tested it with Logic Pro X. You NEED to read the (clear) setup instructions provided by M-Audio though. While setting up the controller is very intuitive, on the Logic front you need to go through a couple of steps that I wouldn’t have thought of, without reading the instructions.
After a couple of minutes, I was up and running and I could control the transport in Logic and use faders and knobs for volume, pan, etc. Definitely handy!
Besides the DAW mode, the Oxygen Pro controllers also boast a Preset Mode that allows you to auto-map the bundled virtual instruments (more details on them in the next section of this article). Also worth knowing: a number of individual preset mappings can be created and then saved to the keyboard’s internal memory for you to load at a later time.
MIDITip: the Oxygen Pro keyboard can be virtually split in zones. This means you can send MIDI notes on different MIDI channels at the same time. For example, you can create two zones, each using a different MIDI channel, and play and control two virtual instruments (or two hardware synthesizers) simultaneously
With an Oyygen Pro series controller you also get a generous software bundle, with DAWs, VSTs and sample packs. If you’re just starting your music production career, that’s really a big plus – the basic Pro Tools Edition, Ableton Live lite and the Air plugins are an excellent way to start making music.
If you already have a main DAW and tons of plugins, you might still want to check out the MPC Beats DAW/Plugin and related expansions. I didn’t have much time to fully explore it yet, but it looks like an interesting platform. Maybe just not very intuitive at a glance, but I guess that’s the price you pay when you’re not coming from an MPC background. On the contrary, if you’re familiar with instruments such as the Akai MPC X, Akai MPC Live and MPC Oone you’ll feel at home right away. That said, MPC Beats is free, so why not give it a try?
Here’s the list of included DAWs, VSTs and sample packs, according to the press release and the product web page.
DAWs: • MPC Beats • Pro Tools | First M-Audio Edition • Ableton Live Lite
Virtual Instruments: • Hybrid 3 – Multi-oscillator synthesiser • Velvet – Electric Piano • Mini Grand – Acoustic Piano • Vacuum – Analogue Synthesiser • Boom – Vintage drum machine • DB-33 – Classic Organ
FYI: In my Download Manager I only see the first three VSTs (Hybrid 3, Velvet and Mini Grand). Probably it’s a typo on the product web page. I’m checking with the company and I will update the article once I hear from them.
MPC Expansion Packs: • MPC Beats Producer Kits – Multi-Genre Beat Production Pack • F9 Instruments Beats Edition – 25 High Quality Instrument Samples • LANIAKEA Sounds – TrapSoul & LoFi Production Pack • MSX Audio – Soulful Drums Collection • ADSR – LoFi Producer Collection • MVP Urban Roulette Beats Edition – Urban Kits & Samples Expansion Pack • Cr2 Deep House Beats Edition – Deep House Expansion Pack
IMPORTANT: to get all this software cornucopia, you need to sign up for an account at m-audio.com and follow the instructions to register your controller and download the M-Audio Software Manager. Once you’re in, you’ll find an easy step-by-step process to download the bonus content, and you’ll also find precious setup instructions to pair the Oxygen Pro controller with your DAW.
Kudos to M-Audio for doing a great job with their Software Manager application. It has a clear layout and all the info users need to make the most of their products.
Overall, I’m quite happy with the product. The Oxygen Pro 49 does what it says on the tin, and does it well. It’s a solid keyboard controller, with a good set of features and above-average build quality (considering the price range). Keys and drum pads have a nice feel, while the aftertouch is hard to tame and could be improved.
The OLED screen is small yet clear and bright, no complaints. Automapping, Smart Chord, Smart Scale are helpful extra features and the software bundle is a great starting point for all those musicians who are buying their first controller.
I like the fact the Oxygen Pro 49 comes with an old-school MIDI Din connector, and that you can split the keyboards in up to 4 zones capable of controlling different MIDI channels. I bet you’ll appreciate this feature even better if you happen to get the Oxygen Pro 61!
Needless to say, if you’re willing to spend (considerably) more, you can find better keyboard controllers with hi-end keybeds, fancier screens, and extra features. But if you don’t need all that, the Oxygen Pro 49 (or 61) is a solid option. Frankly, for the price (approx. $259/€215) I doubt we can ask for more.
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