With the amount of good and sometimes cheap analogue synthesizers around at the moment I’m surprised that something like this hasn’t come along before. Perhaps it has in the shape of the Roland A01. However, the Future Retro 512 Touch is a different animal.
The 512 Touch keyboard is a hybrid of MIDI and CV control. It features the ability to control MIDI instruments and CV/Gate analogue gear. It can also convert MIDI to CV through itself and merge new MIDI information on top of what’s coming in. It has a powerful arpeggiator, sequencer, scales and chord options and a bunch of other controls. This could be the useful centre of a hardware synth studio.
512 Touch Keyboard
The first thing to point out is that this is not a mechanical keyboard. The “keyboard” is actually a capacitive interface, similar perhaps to the Keith McMillen K-Board Pro 4, or ROLI Seaboard, but not as expressive. The keys do not move which eliminates the wear and tear of mechanical parts. The keys do respond to velocity and aftertouch as you strike them with your fingers. Retro Future argue that capacitive touch provides a much faster response time for playing.
There are 16 notes with 29 user-definable rhythm patterns. Each step has a duration, sustain, glide and velocity value. You have 5 directions and up to 4 octaves of movement. You can trigger as played or hit the Hold button to keep it all going while you fiddle elsewhere. And while in hold, all other parameters are available without missing a beat. So you could change scales, add chords, add pitch bend or modulation, change patterns and MIDI channels.
They liken the 512 Touch sequencer to the Roland SH-101, at least in terms of simplicity. The functionality goes a lot further, though. There are 145 user patterns of up to 64 steps and then it works exactly like the arpeggiator with the 5 directions and parameter access during playback.
MIDI to CV Conversion
The 512 Touch will convert MIDI note, pitch, bend, mod wheel, velocity, aftertouch and clock to CV/Gate. You can then pump this into your analogue gear. The 512 Touch can also merge MIDI on top of what’s coming in. So maybe your DAW is kicking out a sequence that is being routed to the 512. You can add mod wheel and pitch bend to the incoming MIDI and have it all converted to CV and routed to the analogue synth. It has some other tricks too, like the ability to restrict incoming MIDI to specific scales. But perhaps most interesting is the Poly MIDI mode where notes played on the keyboard or from an external device/DAW/sequencer can be intelligently routed to different MIDI channels. This allows you to control up to 16 monophonic instruments from one performance.
There’s a lot more going on
It’s a feature-packed keyboard controller. There are swing controls and glide, it can operate as a master clock. There are 5 velocity curves and 5 aftertouch curves. It has the ability to run an analogue and digital studio with just a few sockets and a 2 octave keyboard. You can even fit it into a 4U rack space with optional rack ears. It’s well thought out and terribly useful if you are mixing analogue and digital gear. It’s a shame there’s no USB connection for a computer. It would be great to route your DAW directly through the 512 rather than having to steal the single MIDI port. Also, the keyboard could have gone further into the world of expression with MPE becoming popular via the ROLI and Keith McMillen keyboards.
This much control does come at a price. You’ll need $800 to enjoy this little marvel of a keyboard.
More information and a whole load of demonstration videos are available on the Future Retro 512 Touch Keyboard product page.