Difference Between Semi-Weighted and Hammer Action | Decibel Peak

difference between semi-weighted and hammer action

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If you were questioning the difference between semi-weighted and hammer action, welcome. We’ll be distinguishing these two types of keyboard controllers by looking at examples and categorizing them into one of these two groups.

The difference between semi-weighted and hammer action involves the “touch”. In other words, we’re comparing velocity sensitive “buttons” to keys that actually feel like the ones on an acoustic piano. Both of these types of keyboards can be velocity sensitive, but only one of them actually replicates the hammer action of grand/upright pianos. That’s where we get the term “hammer action” and it can also be referred to as “fully-weighted”. Keep reading to find out more about each type and for my personal recommendations if you’re in the market for something new! 

Semi-Weighted Keyboards (synthesizer, electric organ, etc…)

As it turns out, most of the instruments that use semi-weighted keys aren’t velocity sensitive. Just think of the Hammond B3 (electric organ)… It doesn’t matter how hard you press the keys.

However, you may still want to consider working with semi-weighted keyboard controllers.

Out of the two types of keyboard controllers, semi-weighted keyboards are more affordable and obviously, more portable. There are advantages to owning this type of MIDI/USB keyboard controller and it has the added benefit of being velocity sensitive.

In other words, it can sound like hammer action keyboards, but it won’t feel like one.

It’s especially true because these keyboards can come in a variety of different sizes and configurations. Some of them only have 25 keys. Some of them have drum pads!

Electronic musicians usually prefer these types of keyboards.

However, I still find them useful since their “synth-action” makes them much better for replicating the speed of an actual synthesizer. Hammer action are more difficult to work with since they require developed finger dexterity (the keys are “heavier”).

Hammer Action Keyboards (acoustic piano, electric piano, etc…)

You’ve most likely seen those really expensive electronic pianos at the music store, right? Those instruments are more expensive because it’s both mechanical and digital and the level of precision can vary from model to model.

The most expensive keyboards in this category replicate the tension of piano strings.

That’s right, the higher keys will feel lighter to the touch and the lower keys will feel heavier. It may be important for classically trained pianists, but most of us won’t be needing what we refer to as “graded-hammer action” keyboard controllers.

We’ll be looking mostly into plain ol’ hammer action keyboard controllers.

As it turns out, keyboards in this sub-category are much more affordable.

I personally work with hammer action keyboards 99% of the time because I really like the resistance each key provides. It makes my performances sound much more dynamic!

I haven’t seen many hammer action keyboards with less than 88 keys though, so they’re much less portable and can be quite heavy.

You’ll also most likely need to use a keyboard stand (recommendations at the end).

The best/most affordable semi-weighted keyboard controller

When it comes to MIDI/USB keyboard controllers, I always chose M-Audio. I still own the KeyRig 49, but it’s been replaced by the Keystation series. If ever I needed a replacement, that’s most probably what I’d buy.

Depending on your needs, you could work with:

  • Keystation 88 II
  • Keystation 61 MK3
  • Keystation 49 MK3
  • Keystation Mini 32 MK3

They’re all pretty affordable and come equipped with some interesting features.

However, I would personally stick with 49 keys because I work with both semi-weighted and hammer action keyboards. I doubt anybody really needs TWO 88-key keyboards (let us know in the comments if you do)!

It’s the perfect compromise of functionality and portability.

If you want to learn more about the Keystation series, I recommend checking out this post. I’ll also be recommending some useful accessories at the end of this article.

The best/most affordable hammer action keyboard controller

I’ve been using the M-Audio Hammer 88 for over one year now and plan to keep doing so. It’s surprisingly affordable compared to most of the other options I’ve considered in the past.

The impeccable build-quality makes this keyboard controller feel like a professional instrument.

It’s got nothing but the essentials! I really like the minimalist design, but it’ll probably seem too bare for some of you. It’s got lots of surface area though, so you could always purchase an additional controller for more accessibility.

Here are the features at a glance:

  • 88 Fully-Weighted Keys
  • Pitch Bend
  • Modulation Wheel
  • +/- Navigation Buttons
  • Master Volume
  • Sustain/Soft/Expression Pedal Inputs

The Hammer 88 doesn’t include any of the pedals, but they’re pretty easy to get your hands on.

If you want to know more about the M-Audio Hammer 88, I suggest reading my product review. I’ll also be recommending the accessories I personally use at the end of this article.

Which type of keyboard controller should I use?

If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to have one of each. I personally use both the M-Audio Hammer 88 and KeyRig 49 (discontinued).

To be honest though, I work with the Hammer 88 99% of the time though.

I think music producers who work in various genres would be better off with hammer action keyboard controllers since they’re more versatile. Most genres of music incorporate instruments with hammer action, so it’ll make your tracks sound more realistic.

EDM producers would most likely be satisfied with semi-weighted though.

In other words, music that’s mostly synth-based won’t require hammer action. I use it for those purposes at times because I don’t feel like connecting my other keyboard!

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still very doable to play synth parts in hammer action.

Just make sure your fingers are in shape!

On that note, I’ll be leaving you with a list of products you may want to consider. It includes everything we discussed today along with some additional accessories I highly recommend.

M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3

M-Audio Hammer 88

On-Stage Keyboard Stand with 2nd Tier

M-Audio SP2 Universal Sustain Pedal

M-Audio EX-P Universal Expression Pedal

If you were wondering what the difference was between semi-weighted and hammer action, I hope this article cleared that up for you. The type of keyboard controller you choose to work with will depend on the genre of music you work with and your setup. Are you frequently on the road or are you well-established in your hometown? If you enjoyed reading my content, consider subscribing to the weekly newsletter. You’ll receive the latest and greatest in your inbox so you never miss a beat! Thanks for reading!

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