Roli is making its squishy MPE MIDI keyboards affordable and portable (again)

The Seaboard Block M brings the company's expressive 5D Touch tech to a $350 controller.

Luminary Roli

Roli was an early poster child for the emergence of MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression). The company has had its share of struggles over the last 10 years, but it's still out there trying to spread the gospel of MPE. Its first product after filling for administration in the UK (kind of like bankruptcy) and rebranding as Luminary Roli was a redesigned version of its Seaboard Rise. It's a flagship, pro-level MIDI controller, with a price to match ($1,399). The new Seaboard Block M takes the company's signature squishy, continuous keyboard and puts it in a much more affordable and portable package.

The $349.95 Seaboard Block M features the same 5D Touch technology of it's bigger sibling. That means, when paired with the right instrument (and properly configured), you can play incredibly expressive melodies and chords by sliding your fingers around, pressing firmly into the foam like surface or quickly tapping it for sustained plucks.

Where as the Seaboard Rise 2 is a 49-key controller, with multiple macro controls and its metal frame screams premium, the Block M has just 24-keys and pared back set of controls. Though, you can connect two Seaboard Blocks together to make one modular 48-key keyboard.

Roli Seaboard Block M
Luminary Roli

While Roli doesn't explicitly say what it's made from other than "premium materials... constructed to withstand the rigors of touring", it seems safe to assume the Block M is primarily plastic. It also appears to lack the "precision frets" of the Rise 2, which made it a lot easier to find your way around the keyboard simply by feel.

It has inherited the dedicated MIDI-out jack from the Rise 2, at least. That means you can use it to control a DAW-less setup and skip the computer altogether. This is becoming a lot more common on MIDI controllers at any price point, but it's still a welcome development.

Of course, the number of instruments out there — hardware or software — that can take full advantage of the MPE controls here are still somewhat limited. The Block M does come bundled with ROLI Studio, does give you a few options for expressive playing. It's not quite as powerful as Equator 2, the company's flagship soft synth, though.

Lastly, Roli says you can expect about 10 hours of battery life with Bluetooth on. Though, you can always connect directly to device with USB-C for zero latency and no worries about battery life. The Seaboard Block M is available to preorder now for $349.95, but it's not expected to ship until March of 2024.