Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 Review


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Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 has all the good features of its predecessor, but with a fresh, updated look and enhanced functionality and durability. Read on to learn more about Alesis Vortex 2.

If you like watching concerts, either live or on video, you have probably come across a band member carrying what seemed to be a small keyboard worn across the body.

Oh, wait—it also kind of looks like a guitar. The player even holds it like one.

But it can’t be a guitar since it doesn’t have strings. The instrument has keys very much like those of a piano.

Aha! So, it’s called a keytar! How… understandable. Keyboard plus guitar. Keytar.

Millennials may remember one famous pop star known to play this instrument on stage during her concert tours: Lady Gaga.

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Lady Gaga plays her customized Roland AX synths and other regular keytars; she even has them decked out to match her outfit! I guess we can say she’s quite a keytar fan.

Read Next: Roland AX-Edge Keytar Review

In this article, we are going to check out one of the most popular keytars in the market today: Alesis Vortex High-Performance Wireless 2 keytar.

But wait… What is a Keytar?

You’re probably reading here because (a) you’ve been eyeing this instrument and would like to know more about it before making that purchase, or (b) you are curious about keytars and somehow you landed here, or (c) you’re exploring the world of strange musical instruments and this one is on your radar.

For the uninitiated, let us first define what a keytar is. Obviously, keytar is a portmanteau of keyboard and guitar. The marriage of the two terms does not make the offspring half-keyboard and half-guitar, though. Technically speaking, a keytar is really more of a keyboard synthesizer in terms of sound, function, and just about everything else a typical keyboard is, except for absolute portability.

You see, with a standard keyboard, the performer has to stay at one spot and one spot only (unless of course he is standing on a moving platform, but I digress). But with a keytar, the performer is free to traipse around the stage, jump, dance, and even do wild stage antics like Angus Young’s Dying Bug move.

A keytar is designed to be worn like a guitar to allow the player freedom of movement while performing. It also looks a bit like a guitar, mainly because of the addition of the neck where the controls—volume, tone, sustain, vibrato, pitch bends, and others—are placed for better accessibility.

Invented in the 1980s, various manufacturers of this kind of instrument refer to it as a “Remote Keyboard”, “Strap-on Keyboard”, or “MIDI Controller”, rather than a keytar (although the term came about when this instrument was born).

It was not until 2012 when Alesis, a major electronic music company, introduced “Vortex”—“the first keytar to include a MIDI-assignable accelerometer. It means that this specific keytar is not your average keytar: it responds to the player’s movement to execute different effects, like filter sweeps and volume swells, among others.

Alesis Vortex 2 is the result of this keytar range’s continuous evolution. Let’s get acquainted with this little work of art.

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2:  The Upgrade

Following the success of Alesis Vortex, the Vortex Wireless 2 comes with even more awesome features for a more enjoyable and satisfying playing experience. Here’s a video of Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 in action:

  • One of the key improvements is the ergonomics: Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 is made more durable, with a better controls layout for superior playability.
  • It also has enhanced wireless technology; the range has improved so much that you can even step more than a hundred meters from the laptop where the keytar is connected (wirelessly, of course!) and still have a flawless connection.
  • It has a sleeker design and finish with its more angular look, glossy black surface, and pads flecked with eye-catching RGB hues.

Let’s check out the instrument specs:

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch allow you to create expressive music.
  • Eight RGB back-lit velocity-sensitive trigger pads not only give the instrument that cool look but also let you get creative with beats or trigger clips.
  • Eight back-lit faders serve the basic purpose of controlling volumes, polarity, range, and other aspects so you will have more control of your sounds.
  • Embedded MIDI-assignable tilt sensor performance control with on/off button
  • Thumb-controlled volume slider and reversible pitch-bend wheel on neck let you mix pitches (going high or low) to create wails and howls effect effortlessly.
  • MIDI-assignable touch-strip, zone, sustain, and octave-control buttons are all easily accessible on the neck for a smoother play.
  • USB dongle (included with the instrument) wirelessly connects you to any Mac or PC with a USB host port.
  • USB and MIDI jacks are suitable for use with any synthesizer, sound module, or other MIDI hardware or software.
  • Battery-powered (4 AA batteries included) for use with MIDI modules and hardware synths.
  • Standard guitar strap pegs
  • Production software package is included: Ableton Live Lite, MPC Beats, DB-33, Mini Grand, Hybrid 3, Loom, Vacuum Pro, and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech and TimewARP 2600 by Way Out Ware.

What’s in the package: Vortex Wireless 2 keytar, strap, user guide, USB wireless receiver, cable harness, Safety & Warranty Manual, USB cable, and software download cards.

Design and Layout

Let’s talk about the first thing anyone would notice first about Alesis Vortex Wireless 2: the physical upgrade.

The smooth and satiny black finish lends a lustrous feel to the instrument, and many will agree that this second version is a lot more handsome than its predecessor. But aside from the outward appearance, potential buyers will be happy to know that Vortex 2 is made more durable, which means that this keytar will last long as the outer shell does not get damaged or broken easily. The peace of mind you get from knowing that your keytar is safe and sound while on the go is priceless!

Despite its more robust build, Vortex 2 remains lightweight at 6.5 lbs. It’s comfortable and will not cause your body fatigue or strain, which is a huge plus for when you are looking to play regularly with this keytar.

Talking about comfort, its 37 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch has better action than the previous version, and the controls were upgraded as well. In place of knobs are 8 faders backlit in blue, while the 8 velocity-sensitive pads are all RGB backlit. These backlights make it easier for players to see what they are doing during a performance on stage where lighting constantly shifts. No more second-guessing which button to press at the height of a live performance (because yes, it can happen!).

Pros: More durable than the previous model; minimal latency on keys and pads (barely noticeable, unless you test the delay between the LED and computer audio) compared with other brands of keytar; easy to setup.

Cons: None! Everything just got better in this department!

Expanded Software

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 beefed up its software capability and now supports Hybrid 3 & XPand!2, Mini Grand & DB-33XPand!2, Loom II, Vacuum Pro, TimewARP 2600, Ableton Live Lite (gives you DAW to start with!), and MPC Beats Software.

Pros: The software editor is easy and simple to use.

Cons: No complaints so far, everything is good!

Connectivity

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 knows that its wireless technology is one of its strongest suits, and the Vortex version 2.0 does not disappoint.

The Bluetooth functionality is still as good and reliable as ever, except of course in the presence of many solid barriers that can block the waves and when you move too far away from the Bluetooth dongle.

Its Bluetooth technology is just superior now than it was when the first Vortex debuted, making it more dependable for live music.

It also works the same way, with a wireless USB dongle that works with both PCs and Macs, with a USB receiver included and wired USB and MIDI connectors. The instrument also has an app that lets you load and save presets as well as map all of the controls.

Pros: There is a switch at the bottom that allows you to power the keytar via USB rather than batteries (even in wireless mode), so you can just connect the USB port to a compact battery pack that’s easier to recharge (and lasts longer) instead of constantly changing batteries every few hours.

Cons: For Bluetooth, you need to use the included USB-A wireless adapter, which only works in ports that support OTG; no battery life indicator.

Controls

One of the excellent features of the Vortex 2 is that it has aftertouch; as you will probably notice, this feature is still missing from a lot of MIDI keyboards in the market.

Another advantage is that the display is just over the keybed, allowing the musician to monitor see what octave and synth they are on in a glance. The updated and upgraded modulation wheel on the neck of the instrument also stands out.

Eight velocity-sensitive pads could be used to play samples or trigger clips, a tilt sensor in the neck could translate gestures into effects, and a MIDI-assignable touchstrip, zone, sustain, and octave-control buttons on the neck

Pros: It can store 25 mapping presets.

Cons: The pitch bend is 7-bit, which means there are only 128 levels of precision (higher-quality ones utilize 14-bit, which allows for 16,384 levels); 14-bit pitch was part of the original MIDI standards from the 1980s. Many users have noted that if they pitch bend up two octaves slowly, the low bit resolution becomes noticeable.

Accelerometer for Awesome Bends

It’s a keytar, and you wonder if it’s possible to do solos like guitarists do (because hey, guitar solos are cool!). The answer is, yes! Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 contains an accelerometer that allows you to perform bends that sound pretty much like a guitar bend.

You can also enable and disable a feature that lets you get the bent sound by just angling the keytar upwards. The guitar’s neck also has a sustain button that allows you to play chords and keep them going. If you’re using arpeggiators, the sustain feature keeps arpeggiated notes going.

Pros: Quick and simple controls let you execute bends and sustain effect seamlessly.

Cons: While the built-in sustain button is pressed, the octave buttons will not work; sustain buttons are not pressure-sensitive and don’t support half-damper.

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 FAQ

Q: How does this keytar make a sound?

A: Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 doesn’t have any sound bank, so it cannot produce a sound. It’s a MIDI controller that sends digital signals through plugins, laptop/PC, or DAWs (digital audio workstation) where the data is converted to an audio signal and sent to the speakers.

  1. What kind of wire is needed to connect this to an amplifier from the laptop’s headphone jack?

A: You’ll only need an aux wire that is compatible with your amplifier port. For example, if your computer’s headphone jack is a 1/8” connection (as it usually is), you’ll need an aux cable with one side that is also 1/8” and the other side that has the connection type of an amplifier input.

Q: Is it possible to download/store preset sounds directly into the Keytar?

A: The Vortex Wireless 2 has no built-in memory and is designed to be connected to a computer or hardware synth at all times.

Q: How far away does the wireless work?

A: With a steady connection, the Vortex Wireless 2 will work wirelessly up to 50 feet.

Q: Is it possible to use the Vortex 2 wirelessly with an external sound module?

A: Yes, using the USB receiver or the 5-pin MIDI out connector, the Vortex Wireless may be linked to most external sound modules. The Vortex Wireless 2 will work if your external sound module includes a USB connector for MIDI controllers. If it doesn’t, you can connect straight to your external sound module using the Vortex Wireless 2’s 5-pin MIDI DIN connection on the bottom of the keytar.

Q: Is it possible to adjust the tilt and ribbon controller’s range?

A: Yes, you may use the software editor to set the range of the tilt and ribbon controllers, as well as MIDI type, CC, note, channel, and other parameters.

Is the Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 worth buying? Here’s a helpful review:

In Conclusion

With all the improvements of Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 from its predecessor, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the hottest MIDI controllers you can find. And at the current price point, it is also affordable and makes for a good entry-level keytar for beginners.

While we can say that the instrument is still not perfect (and is most likely still evolving), Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 is still a decent keytar and may even surpass more expensive brands in terms of functionality and looks.