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16 August 2017

X-Keys review

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So I’m a big fan of keyboard shortcuts and macros and like many, when it comes to using Cubase, I can’t imagine working without them.

I originally started using the PC keyboard and mapping shortcuts to various functions. Soon I ran out of letters and had to start using modifier keys with things getting more and more complicated as time went on. It was then a case of trying to remember whether “delete overlaps – mono” was “Control – alt – shift O” or “Alt – shift – M” .

I also found that it was quicker and more ergonomic to use my left hand whilst keeping my right hand on the mouse. However, such left hand gymnastics as the above 4 key combination were proving a challenge – both to remember and then to execute. I moved over to using Touch OSC on my tablet which initially was great but I soon discovered that I much prefer pushing real buttons than touching a screen and I also wanted a dedicated device for this task.

Enter Xkeys

You can see my current setup here

My X-keys music production setup
I’m using an XK-24 pad and an XK-16 strip and I must say these things are great.
On a purely physical note the feel of the XK-24 is superb. Really nice action.In fact, nicer than my PC keyboard. The XK-16 is a little less pleasant. It’s a bit “clicky” and the buttons feel a bit less secure than the 24 but it works very well none the less.

The XK-16 is intended to be used under a monitor or in a rack unit. However in order to use mine above my pc keyboard, I attached rubber feet as you can see here.

Rubber Foot on bottom of XK-16

This brings it up in line vertically with the keyboard and feels more ergonomic.

The X-keys system is quite clever in that you can assign either simple key commands or more advanced macros to each key using the Macroworks software. You can even simulate mouse clicks and enter alpha numerics into dialog boxes which is something that you can’t do using Cubase’s own key commands or macros.

It also allows you to print button legends (including graphics) or you can use the included non sticky peel off labels which are a mixture of pre-printed and blank, allowing you to hand write them.

Using X-Keys with Cubase

I’ve found that, to use X-keys effectively with Cubase, some functions should be set up as key commands in Cubase, some as macros in Cubase, some as macros in X-keys and some as a mix.

With “Set timecode to zero at cursor” you can set a key command in Cubase to open “set timecode at cursor” but then you have to physically type in the zeros and then press enter twice. Using the Xkeys system, I used a key command to open the dialog box and then programmed it to tab across to the entry window, enter the exact amount of zeros I needed, tab across to the enter option and press it twice. All very speedy and an absolute time saver and good fun to watch in action!

It is the same with “Zoom big” which invokes a cubase macro containing “zoom preset 1” and “zoom N tracks” and then enters “3” as the row height and presses enter.

On the Xk-16 in my picture, you will see “show all tracks”. This was originally “visibility – show all tracks”, “Close all folders” and “zoom tracks 4 rows”. I had this set up as 3 key commands with  one button push triggering them in succession. The problem was that in big projects sometimes Cubase was still processing the first key command whilst X-keys was sending it the second. No problem, as X-keys has a “delay” function which I inserted between each key command. However, Cubase was taking different amounts of time on each project and despite adjusting the delay many times, I could never quite get the right balance between speed and correct functionality. So, in the end I created a macro in Cubase to do this (it works much faster with “close all folders” first) and assigned a single key command to it and then triggered that from the X-keys.

Another approach would have been to use X-keys release function.  You can program some macros on the press and others on the release. This allows you to hold the key down until Cubase has done it’s thing and then trigger another macro when you release the key.  Also useful if for example, you want to program a button that opens an editor while you hold a key and closes it when you release, for perhaps a “quick check” action

The visibility options are a real time saver in Cubase and although they are fussy to set up in Cubase, having them mapped onto the XK-16 really speeds up my workflow.  I’ve only done 4 so far….more when I have time 🙂


Final thoughts

So all in all, a big thumbs up for the X-keys system. It improves ergonomics and workflow which, when you spend 8+ hours a day at a desk is very important.

If you are in the UK, head over to KBS

Keyboard Specialists Website logo

for more info. They are very helpful and offered the best price I could find.

I would like to thank both P.I. engineering in the US and KBS for all their help with both purchasing and support.

I would like to mention that I purchased both my units before offering to review them and have offered what I consider to be a completely unbiased review.


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