There are two new computer keyboards coming out in the next two months,
each costing about $600. One I can't wait for. One makes me yawn. Guess
which one.

In this corner, from America: the FireWire M-Audio Ozonic, announced today. (full specs)

Controller: 37 keys, 8 knobs, 9 faders, 14 buttons, pitch & mod wheel, X-Y joystick; software editor and presets; MIDI I/O

Audio: 4 in, 4 out; 1 XLR mic in with phantom power, 1 unbalanced in, 2 balanced ins; 4 balanced outs; direct monitoring

And in this corner, from the UK: the USB-powered Novation X-Station, 25-keys out now and 49/61 keys announced in the spring but should be shipping soon says the CDM crystal ball.

Controller: 25 keys (also 49-, 61-key versions), 9 knobs, 9
faders, 22 buttons, pitch & mod wheel, X-Y joystick, programmable
X-Y touchpad; software editor and presets including pre-built presets
from Novation; MIDI I/O

Audio: 2 in, 2 out (24-bit; can't get specs on the M-Audio); 2
XLR/TRS Neutrik combo ins with phantom power, analog and digital S/PDIF
stereo outs; direct monitoring

Built-in synth: 8-voice polyphonic analog synth with 200 presets and arpeggiator

Built-in digital effects: Reverb /
Chorus-Phaser / Delay / Compressor / Distortion
and EQ assignable per input

Read on to learn the winner.

M-Audio, I love you, but I have one word for you: yawn. What's so great about FireWire? For roughly the same price — maybe
$100 more depending on what the final street price is — the Novation
is a much more useful musical tool. In nearly every category it
delivers more. (My friend at Musicthing agrees.)

As a control surface, the Novation is better configured out of the box and
includes an X-Y touchpad that doesn't auto-center like the joystick —
perfect for funky synth modulations or Ableton Live filters. And I
think it feels more like a real keyboard than the M-Audio products. As
an audio interface, it's 2×2 instead of 4×4, but you get two mic ins
instead of one, and digital out. (Why did M-Audio squander all that
FireWire bandwidth?)

Most importantly, you get effects for those audio ins without having to
tax your CPU, plus one of the best analog synths on the market so you
can use your keyboard on its own. It's almost worth the price of admission for the Novation analog sounds alone.

The M-Audio for me represents a new trend in mediocrity in keyboard
controllers. I love M-Audio, and I'm a big fan of many of their
products. But who exactly are these keyboards for? As a control surface
and audio interface, this is a fairly limited box, so you'd expect this
is all about portability and having more keys. So why so few keys? And
why no built-in sound? At $300, I understand — but $600? It's 70% of what you need, but why not get 110% of what you need?

The Novation seems to be built for actual music-making. It's a great
balance between hardware and computer software. And finally, I can pick
up a 61-key keyboard — still easily totable on the subway — and play
it as an instrument.

But I didn't tell you that. Go buy the M-Audio, because the word I've
heard suggests the popularity of the Novation could make them in
extreme short supply.

Doesn't that Ozonic look great?

Incidentally, this is NOT a review . . . yet. Expect more details
once these products actually emerge. Hey, forget Christmas, my birthday
is in January, anyway!

[UPDATED — fixed broken link to musicthing story]