ROLI Announces First Ever Budget MPE Controller, the Seaboard Block

British innovator ROLI has just announced its lowest cost keyboard controller to date, the Seaboard Block. At a street price of $299, it's the most affordable MPE controller to hit the market yet. This petite 24–key controller may well be the device that breaks MPE to the masses.

When ROLI released its first Seaboard in late 2015 — the Seaboard Grand — there was a lot of talk about the future of keyboard controllers.

ROLI Seaboard Block

The lauded Seaboard boasts a unique, squishy membrane as an alternative to conventional piano–style keys, giving it an extraterrestrial appearance. More importantly, it became one of the first mass–produced controllers using the MPE protocol, an update to MIDI that allows for three dimensions of expression instead of one.

On a conventional keyboard controller, you press a note and maybe there's aftertouch. Your finger moves in just one direction to make the sound. With the Seaboard, you can press the note down conventionally, but then can also slide your finger either left to right or up and down along the key to affect different modulation and effect parameters.

While the Seaboard series bridged a gap between the futuristic MPE control protocol and the conventional keyboard instruments musicians are used to, the Grand was incredibly expensive at $2,999. It's successor released last year, the Seaboard Rise, is also pricey, with a 25–key version released at $799 and the 49–key version at $1,199. Those prices are easier on the wallet than the Grand's, but still steep.

But ROLI has obviously sensed the market demand for MPE controllers, with the recognition that affordability is really how the new MPE protocol stands a fighting chance of taking off.

Seaboard Block: Play it Anywhere

The $299 Seaboard Block announced yesterday is a nifty device that runs off ROLI's Block device — itself a controller that pairs with a mobile app and a variety of DAWs and audio apps. Via the Block component, the Seaboard Block runs wirelessly for use with iOS and Mac OS.

It comes with a 3–month license for Max/MSP and is compatible out of the box with with Ableton Live, Native Instruments Kontakt, Omnisphere 2, Logic Pro, and more. Multiple Seaboard Block keyboards can be linked together to get more octaves.

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