The ultimate MIDI controller probably has it all in one package: a keyboard with piano-sized keys an decent action, simple USB connection, a wealth of assignable knobs and sliders, and flexbility for use with many DAWs. Price is always a concern for the budget-conscious musician looking for such an instrument, hence it always make sense to get something that would cram all of those much-wanted features in an excellent, budget-friendly package. Here we are examining the Samson Graphite 49 and see if it is that holy grail of budget MIDI controllers.
The Samson Graphite 49 is a MIDI controller with 49-key keyboard with piano-sized keys and semi-weighted action. It can be connected to any Mac, PC, or MIDI-compatible mobile devices via USB and is entirely bus powered. It can also be used to control rack-mountable synthesizer modules and similar hardware through traditional MIDI connections (MIDI out and in ports) with power being supplied through a 9V power supply (sold separately). Other than the keyboard itself, the Samson Graphite 49 has pitch bend and modulation wheels, octave up/down and transposition buttons, four trigger pads, 9 sliders, 16 buttons, and 8 rotary knobs, all of which are assignable to any parameter that the user wishes to control. Standard transport control buttons are also available for control over various DAW functions such as record, stop, play, etc. Inspection of the back reveals an on/off power switch, USB port, sustain pedal input, AC adapter input, and MIDI in and out ports.
Connecting the Samson Graphite 49 to a PC or Mac is very straightforward and does not require installation of drivers. It can automatically be recognized by most major DAW software such as ProTools, Logic Pro, Cubase, and Cakewalk Sonar. As a control surface, it uses the Mackie control surface protocol and it will usually be recognized as such. To improve compatility with other DAWs, the programming of the Graphite 49 can be changed from the default program to other more-specific DAWs such Cakewalk Sonar, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Cubase. Loading one of these programs will enable to Graphite 49 to assign its controllers to most common and useful parameters for a particular DAW title. Although the Samson Graphite 49 is simple enough to start using without the aid of the manual, the manual provides clear instructions with regard to adjusting parameters, using programs, etc.
The semi-weighted action of the keyboard is a very nice feature, comparable to that of the action found in other semi-weighted keyboards like the Yamaha SY77. It was pleasing to know that playing the keyboard doesn't feel rubbery at all, and it just has the right amount of resistance that facilitates playing fast synth leads, organ glissando, and pianistic passages on occasion. The keyboard is velocity sensive and has aftertouch control, making the Samson Graphite 49 a very expressive keyboard controller. The octave up/down and transposition buttons are conveniently located above the pitch bend and modulation wheels, allowing the player to switch registers seamlessly. The trigger pads are velocity sensitive as well, the sensitivity of which is also configurable. Because there are only four trigger pads available instead of the de facto standard of eight, the Samson Graphite 49 makes up for it through a pad bank switch. Although you can play a couple of drum and percussion rhythms with the trigger pads, you will most likely play drum fills involving toms using the keyboard because you can only use four trigger pads at a time. One neat feature is that the nine sliders could be set into drawbar mode i.e. parameter values are increased as you pull the sliders downward, which is very useful for emulating a Hammond organ. In terms of controlling DAW functions, the Samson Graphite is a very good control surface where the sliders work well as volume faders, the rotary knobs for pan control, and the two rows off buttons below can be assigned as mute and solo buttons per track.
A number of my favorite characteristics of the Samson Graphite 49 is the semi-weighted keyboard with aftertouch, transport controls, and a vast array of assignable controllers that allow me to do things such as analog-style control over synthesizers and physical control over recording/mixing/mastering in a DAW. I also really liked how easy it is to use in a performance setting. I usually use it with Mainstage 3, and the controllers are very easy to assign and are very responsive. Another positive thing about it is it is cheaper than most MIDI controllers of the same caliber/functionality. Lastly, I really appreciate that it is light enough to carry around with very minimal risk of injury. I do think that the Samson Graphite 49 could be better if it had more trigger pads (at least four more), and it is also part of my wish that Samson would soon release a version with an 88-key hammer-action keyboard. Overall, I do think that the Samson Graphite 49 gives you a lot of bang for the buck with its wealth of features:
- Semi-weighted keyboard with aftertouch
- Plenty of assignable controls for both live and studio use
- Presets for various DAWs
- Lightweight, portable design