Roland has a new high-end keyboard with weighted action and lots of extras. The real news, though: this is the first MIDI 2.0 instrument from Roland.

Roland was part of the birth of MIDI 1.0, connecting their product in the first public demonstration with partner Sequential (and “father of MIDI” Dave Smith). So it’s fitting that they’ve got something with MIDI 2.0 support, even if the product itself might not be so radical.

As a piano controller, the new A-88MKII looks solid – and it’s a strong alternative to something like Native Instruments’ popular 88-keyboard, in that the Roland here isn’t locked to particular software and doesn’t require a computer to use. (Cough.)


  • USB-C connectivity
  • RGB-lit controls
  • PHA-4 keyboard action, fully weighted 88-keys (it isn’t just marketing speak – Roland do have a good record on response time, etc.)
  • Three zones for defining your own layers and splits
  • Arpeggiator onboard
  • Roland’s “famous pitch/mod lever” – yeah, it’s a Roland paddle, which you’ll love or hate
  • Full MIDI and USB compliance, so you can use this with anything, with or without a computer
  • Dedicated sustain, plus two additional control inputs (for expression or footswitches, as you define)
  • Chord memory
  • Pad triggers (assignable)
  • Assignable controls (also look handy with MIDI 2.0, and ideal for synthesists, for instance)
  • Wooden construction
MIDI 2.0 means easier automatic assignment between devices, and greater resolution, among other features.
Less future shock, more future proof? This is what we’d hope for in 2020: full backwards compatibility with 1983 MIDI, full forward compatibility with USB-C and MIDI 2.0, end result being compatibility with basically everything. We hope.

But really, this is the important part: the A-88MKII is “ready” for high-resolution control and all the extra features in MIDI 2.0. This should mean that you can take full advantage of the sensors, instead of mapping them only to 0-127 quantized values, and map more easily to software and hardware as MIDI 2.0 support rolls out. I really hope that includes full resolution for the key sensors, as that would make this worth the investment. Roland hasn’t been clear with how their MIDI 2.0 implementation relates to this particular hardware, so awaiting some clarification.

In the meantime, you can still use it with everything you’ve got now via that USB and MIDI support.

US$999.99 street, but will definitely be high on my list looking for an 88-key controller. Coming in March.

Obviously there are lots of questions here – even on something as similar as a piano controller – and there’s more to say about MIDI 2.0, so stay tuned. But while I hope MIDI 2.0 has some more far-out applications for its launch, it’s also good to see a bread and butter keyboard example there, too.