Reviewed: Reloop Keyfadr Mini-Keyboard for Ableton Live

Portable MIDI mini-keyboards have become a dime a dozen, but Reloop’s Keyfadr tries to give you a little more bounce for the ounce. Without sacrificing mobility, it packs in some healthy channel-strip controls, Ableton Live integration, and internal Arpeggiator and Chord modes. Is it worthy of your twiddling fingers? We gave it the once-over to find out.

Reviewed: Reloop Keyfadr
Price: $299 (MSRP); $229 (US street price) $156.13 (on Amazon)
Availability: Now
Communication: MIDI over USB (bus powered)
Ships with: Ableton Live 9 Lite, USB cable, quick-start guide.
Weight: 2.03 pounds (0.92 kg)
Dimensions: 12.6 x 8.66 x 1.14 inches (32 x 22 x 2.9 cm)
Minimum System Requirements (for Live 9 Lite):  Mac: OS X 10.5 or later, Intel multicore processor, 2 GB RAM. PC: Windows XP/Vista/7/8, multicore processor, 2 GB RAM.

The Good: Compact and lightweight; lots of controls; Ableton Live integration; can control Scenes and clips in Live; internal Chord and Arpeggiator modes

The Bad: No pitch bend/mod wheel controls; could use a setting to control Live Device macros and more arpeggiator patterns.

The Bottom Line: There are tons of 25-key mini MIDI keyboards to choose from, but not all of them have this many controls or Ableton Live integration. If that appeals to you, Keyfadr also comes with a potentially useful Chord mode and an internal arpeggiator for creating quick synth patterns or drum rolls.

If you’re searching for a portable MIDI keyboard, either for live performance, mobile production, or both, there’s a plethora of options out there.

The Reloop Keyfadr takes a bit of a different tack on the category, though. For one, it has more numerous and larger controls than the average 25-key mini-keyboard, and it does so without sacrificing portability. It’s definitely wider front-to-back than something like the Akai MPK Mini, Novation Launchkey Mini, KMI QuNexus, etc., but at about 2 lbs, the plastic-body Keyfadr feels quite light to carry and easily slips into modestly sized backpacks with a laptop and a pad controller. 

Keyfadr also sets itself apart with a Chord mode for triggering chords with a single note, and a built-in arpeggiator, which can help you track patterns into Live. Perhaps best of all (if you’re a Live user or want to get started on it), Keyfadr integrates with Ableton Live (and includes Live Lite 9).

MORE THAN JUST KEYS

keyfader-top-section

Keyfadr includes eight blocks of channel-strip controls at the top. Assuming you’re going to be using it with Live Lite 9 or the full version of Live (the board works the same either way), the channel-strip controls break down like this: A push-button controller at the top operates track pan and selects the track when pushed; the two knobs per channel control send amount for Sends A and B; the fader works track volume; and the three buttons per channel mute, solo, and record-arm a track. 

Press the Shift/Scene button, and the eight channel strips will switch from controlling tracks 1-8 to tracks 9-16. 

Three transport buttons control Live’s global Play, Stop, and Record. Using Shift/Scene plus other marked buttons, you can also launch and stop clip Scenes from Live’s Session view, and with Shift/Scene plus the track mute and track solo buttons, you can play and stop individual track clips. 

KEYBOARD AND ARPEGGIATORkeyfader-arp-keys

Keyfadr’s 25 mini-keys feel fine for what they are: good for a portable keyboard, yet not ideal for playing. A Vel button sets the keyboard to always trigger a note with full velocity, and two Octave ± buttons give you a nine-octave playing range. 

The arpeggiator is probably the most fun feature on Keyfadr that you always don’t find on a MIDI controller. It’s an internal feature, so it’ll work in any DAW software you use. Turn it on with the Arp button, and press Sus to keep the notes sustaining indefinitely. If you set the MIDI Clock to “external,” the arpeggiator can sync to your DAW’s tempo, or you can use the Tap button to set the arpeggiator tempo and Shift/DAW Tap to try to tap the same tempo into your software.  

Using Shift/Scene and the keys, you can set the time signature of the arpeggator’s notes, the arpeggiator pattern, range of notes played, and the scale of the notes played. It’s a cool little tool, and does a lot without the use of a display on the controller, however, it would be nice if there were more arpeggiator patterns to choose from, and if Chord mode and Arpeggiator worked at the same time. 

KEYD UP

For a compact controller, Keyfadr puts a lot of options at your fingertips. It could be a boon to those who want to map it themselves.

It includes plenty of Shift-level actions in Ableton Live, like setting markers in the timeline, jumping to different markers, looping a section, turning on overdub, an launching scenes and clips. The Keyfadr’s feature set seems to bend it toward being a producing/recording tool for Live, but it could certainly come in handy for live performance as well if paired up with a Push, Launchpad, etc.

If you produce in Live but perform in another DJ software, Keyfadr could help a lot of people map in some of the missing pieces they don’t get with their DJ controller. 

Although we didn’t test it, the larger Keypad presents a lot more performance and production options with its 16 drum pads, while adding a little bit more size to your gig bag. 

keyfader-andkeypad

Also available, the Reloop Keypad ($207.53 on Amazon) has everything the Keyfadr has, plus 16 drum pads that map automatically to Live’s Drum Rack notes and can also be used to send MIDI control-change and program-change messages. While we wouldn’t call either unit a “must-buy,” for the right set of needs, the Keyfadr or Keypad offer a more compelling package than the average compact MIDI keyboard.

  • Olaf Kliemt

    the most terrible pads i ever played. velocity is all over the place, and you have to hit them like you want to break them. unusable. long way to MPD…

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  • Darren E Cowley
  • Jay Reilly

    This looks cool, Push and APC are Ableton’s sweet baby love children.

  • Toontown

    I actually like it.

  • Patch

    “The Bad: Launches Scenes, but not individual clips within a Session track; ”

    That GREEN button beneath each fader looks like a clip launch button for each track. Use arrow keys/nav. button/encoder to select a scene, then hit the channel play button to launch a single clip. Surely?

    PRO TIP: You can map the channel launch button to any midi button/key – but it ONLY shows up when you are in midi-map mode. It shows up under the clip grid beneath each channel.

  • CUSP

    I like both of these for more than the obvious reason. To me, this means there is a rise of interest in doing more than just DJing (when on the decks), and companies like this are either starting to fill that need or are expecting that that need for fulfillment will come soon.

    I would seriously consider the Keypad if I needed LED feedback from my trigger pads as this is a compact piece of gear that covers most of what I use my existing keyboard (Novation Remote 25SL Mk2) for… at around half the price. As the article states, the piano keys, knobs and sliders are pretty small, and there is no pitch/mod stick, X-Y pad, or ring of LEDs around the effect knobs, but it does have the hardware fader and knobs laid out as they are displayed in Ableton, which is very helpful for the fills you’re probably considering getting a piece of gear like this for.

    I suppose these units are attempting to be right-in-the-middle-ground of the “KORG Nano series” (Pad, Kontrol and Key, $59.99 each) and higher-end, less modular, controllers like the $399.99 AKAI MPK249 (the MPK225 doesn’t have up-faders) and the $399.99 Novation Remote 25SL Mk2 (which does not have illuminated drum pads).

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    1.- The review is about the keyfdr but the first photo is of the keypad, confusing.
    2.- Their functions over live depends on their script, what it can’t do now could be programmed.

    • Darren E Cowley

      Agreed, the question is whether the time invested is worth it?

    • Markkus Rovito

      Sorry for the confusion on the lead image. We swapped it out.

  • efrazable

    Why even have a keyboard on the bottom? It’d be smarter to make something like this with no keyboard so as to let the user choose what they want to do; add a (respectable) keyboard, a Push, or a Maschine.

    • Unreallystic

      Then it becomes a low priced Livid Base. (Not a bad thing)

    • CUSP

      Even Maschine allows you to use a MIDI Piano (instead of the drum pads). I agree that a good, used MIDI-over-USB keyboard (like an Oxygen 8) would be better for progressions because the keys are bigger (actual finger-sized), but this is a compact unit, and it seems compact, (relatively) inexpensive gear, is what a lot of people are looking for.

      Anecdotally, I remember playing in spaces on a shoe-string budget to people who were just happy I was there playing anything for them. Not having enough money for even basic, quality, gear means corners have to be cut somewhere. I think this gear is targeted to the serious, innovative, dreamers on a budget, who will eventually progress to better quality gear in the future… and I strongly endorse that.

      Always give someone who wants to do something good for the world a chance.