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The Key Buy award by Keyboard magazine

The Key Buy is Keyboard magazine's award for outstanding musical instruments and music technology products. Below are the most often-asked questions from readers and music products manufacturers about it, along with our answers.

What are the criteria for receiving one? A product is considered for a Key Buy if it meets at least one of the following conditions:

  1. It represents a genuine technological breakthrough.
  2. At press time, it's the best product in its class.
  3. It offers bang-for-buck that's better than what anyone would expect.

In addition to jumping through at least one of these hoops, the product also has to be free from any significant flaws that would detract from sound, workflow, or any other aspect of using it to make music.

Can you give us examples? When it came out in 2005, the Korg OASYS was the only keyboard to combine multiple synthesis technologies, an internal hard disk multitrack recorder, and tons of realtime controls in a single workstation. So it met conditions (1) and (2), even though it was expensive. The best clonewheel, digital stage piano, or virtual analog synth at a given time would also be an example of something getting a Key Buy on grounds of (2). In December 2013, we awarded a Key Buy to Apple Logic Pro X because of all the applications and software instruments it offered within one DAW product for $199, i.e. largely for reason (3).

Who decides? It's a collaborative process. All Keyboard authors are thoroughly versed in the Key Buy criteria, and in the course of writing a review, the author is the first to nominate a product. The author tells the editors, and as we read the review, we discuss among ourselves and with our expert team of contributors, ask the author for clarifications, make comparisons to recent reviews of similar products, have a good, hard think about the current product landscape, and last but not least, try the product out for ourselves. Then we vote.

There are also times when the editors nominate a product for a Key Buy even if the initial idea didn't come from the review author. After that though, the process of interaction with the author, discussion, and voting is the same.

Are only a certain number awarded per issue? Per year? No. Because music product development doesn't happen on any rigid cycle (it's not like "summer blockbuster season" at the movies, for example), our obligation is to evaluate how cool, useful, and inspiring a product is right now, relative to other products that are available right now, and we get products in for review when they become available. For this reason, a given issue month may have, say, three Key Buy winners in it while the next month has none.

Do you give Key Buy awards to prototypes or beta versions ever? Not only do we not award Key Buys to prototypes or betas - we don't do full reviews of such products. We may do a "first look" or "technology preview" giving our first impressions, but we only award Key Buys based on a full review, and we only do full reviews of the very same commercial release version of the product that you can buy in a music store.

I'm a manufacturer. When do I know if my product is going to get a Key Buy? To protect the integrity of the process, we never tip our hand about Key Buys. Manufacturers find out at the same time readers do: when the issue of the magazine in which the product is reviewed hits subscribers and newsstands.

Does a product not getting a Key Buy mean I shouldn't buy it? Not at all. Ever seen a movie you loved that nonetheless didn't win an Oscar? Same thing. Plenty of products that musicians love and rely on every day to be creative and get work done didn't get Key Buys. Don't worry - if we review something we think you shouldn't spend your money on, we'll say so.

Is there any connection between the Key Buy and a company advertising in Keyboard? No. It's a decision made by the editorial team, and like most reputable publications that review any sort of consumer products, we observe a strict "separation of church and state" between the editorial and advertising teams.

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