Roland Unveils Its First MIDI 2.0-Ready Keyboard Controller, the A-88MKII | NAMM 2020

Back at the 1983 NAMM, Roland and Sequential Circuits debuted the MIDI protocol with a public demonstration. The Roland Jupiter-6 and the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600—the first two MIDI-equipped synthesizers—performed in tandem, connected by a 5-point DIN cable.

So it's fitting that Roland is announcing its first MIDI 2.0-ready keyboard controller for NAMM 2020, even if the long-awaited update to the MIDI 1.0 protocol isn't quite ready for showtime. Today, Roland unveils the A-88MKII—a premium 88-key MIDI controller with a weighted-action keyboard with the company's Ivory Feel PHA-4 wooden keys.

In addition to the luxurious, full-sized keyboard, it also sports eight assignable pads with easily saveable and recallable pad-bank presets, RGB-lit controls, a built-in arpeggiator, sensitive mod-wheel, and the ability to split the keyboard into three zones for your choice of instruments or sounds. In short, it's a high-quality piano-like controller with a focus on keys-based playability and expressivity, but with enough extra features to be at home in any home or project studio.

Roland A-88MKII

But the extra novelty here is Roland's promise that it is ready for MIDI 2.0, an advanced update to MIDI 1.0 that has been in the works for years. Companies from Roland and Roli to Ableton and Google have had a hand in developing MIDI 2.0. It will come with a host of new possibilities: raising the maximum number of MIDI channels from 16 to 256 (allowing a controller to control far more instruments, VSTs, samples, etc. simultaneously); improving the resolution of velocity information, note changes, and other parameters; and allowing two-way communication between MIDI 2.0-equipped instruments.

Exactly how the A-88MKII will take advantage of MIDI 2.0 is still unknown, and all the companies, manufacturers, and other actors involved in the development of the protocol still need to fully ratify the fine-details of the spec, which is expected to happen in early 2020.

One type of control that people are excited about in MIDI 2.0 is per-note pressure and pitch bend information—meaning that you could perform individual vibrato on every key of the A-88MKII, as you might on MPE devices like the Roli Seaboard, if the A-88MKII is indeed equipped to capture such expressive gestures.

Roland's A-88MKII announcement video.

We've asked Roland for more information on the possibilities of MIDI 2.0 and how A-88MKII will make use of them, and will update this piece as soon as we have more information. In the meantime, today's announcement is still an exciting sign that MIDI 2.0 will soon be live.

The Roland A-88MKII will be available in March 2020, for $999.99 USD. Click the "Follow" button above to add the A-88MKII to your Reverb Feed and be notified as soon as listings are on Reverb. Check out all of Roland's vintage, used, and new inventory here.


UPDATE: We asked Roland for more information on what we can expect from the A-88MKII's extended MIDI 2.0 capabilities. The Roland Technical Development Division's Koichi Mizumoto tells us:

"The A-88MKII does not have per-key sensors, but it will provide smooth, precise, high-resolution control through key velocity and knob-generated control changes. Concerning additional extended MIDI 2.0 capabilities, these are under consideration now, and will be released once OS and Application Support becomes available. However, it is possible to preview some of the extended capabilities that could be offered through MIDI-CI such as device detection, auto-mapping, and more by connecting the A-88MKII to the latest version (1.1) of our Roland Zenbeats application.

Mizumoto was also kind enough to answer some broader questions about MIDI 2.0 in our article "What Will MIDI 2.0 Mean for Musicians?"

See more New Products and Highlights from Winter NAMM 2020
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