Review: ROLI LUMI Keys Studio Edition

Mike Flynn
Friday, May 28, 2021

The expressive possibilities that the ROLI LUMI Keys Studio Edition opens up are genuinely inspiring and a whole lot of fun too...

ROLI’s unique sound shaping first arrived some 12 years ago via its game-changing Seaboard keyboard; its designer, Roland Lamb, realised his dream of adding pitch bend, slides and polyphonic aftertouch (which creates timbral changes) to each note via its strange, rubberised playing surface. Now with Ableton Live and other digital audio workstations (DAWs) coming with ‘MIDI-Polyphonic Expression’, or MPE, as a standard feature, ROLI is bringing its innovative designs and bespoke ‘software synths’ to a much bigger audience. Hence the release of the hugely appealing LUMI keyboards and Lightpad blocks, which combine chic design with tactile innovation in hardware and software packages.

Jazzwise took delivery of ROLI’s newly released 24-key LUMI Studio Edition keyboard (RRP £299), which also adds a fourth sensory dimension via its dazzling, illuminated keys. Designed as a modular system that links via discrete magnetic connectors to the side of the LUMI, each component can be expanded to build your own customised set-up. The LUMI works over Bluetooth and via USB, and we used the supplied USB cable to connect it to our Macbook Pro running direct into Ableton Live 11.

In performance

The LUMI’s keys have a slightly textured feel and aren’t weighted, per se, but do offer a nice level of resistance that allows for plenty of dynamics when played. The LUMI comes with the Studio Player and Studio Drums desktop apps and these also open as virtual studio technologies (VSTs) in your DAW. Featuring hundreds of specially designed sounds they bring out the best in the LUMI’s expressive possibilities. Among the app’s most impressive features, the triple-layered Arpeggiator really stood out and seems unique to ROLI. This can create overlapping polymetric rhythms and polyphonic intervals. For example, 16th notes that are offset by various intervals in a variety of metric subdivisions on the first layer with two others working around that. This creates some really striking sounds from the simplest of chord progressions.

The expressiveness that MPE brings to the party can, for example, allow a thick analogue bass synth to growl and swell as if you’re opening a filter control simply by increasing the pressure on a note; or a chord on a Rhodes can incrementally shimmer, as if you’re using a sustain pedal, just through touch. Impressively, these expressive moves can be captured in MIDI clips and can be independent from left- and right-hand parts. So, while the left adds chord swells, the right hand can solo with a percussive attack.

Pairing Lightpad blocks with the LUMI would allow control over effects/arpeggiator/smart chords while playing too, so there’s an incentive to expand to more than just the keyboard. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to let the app do all the work, with programmable automated chords and the stunning possibilities of the Arpeggiator almost allowing for music to be self-generating.

That said, the expressive possibilities that the LUMI opens up are genuinely inspiring and a whole lot of fun too. 

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