By Craig Anderton
The original Oxygen8 was a breakthrough product. As more musicians got into using computers, they wanted a control surface that didn't take up a lot of space, and could sit next to a standard QWERTY keyboard. With eight assignable controls and a two-octave keyboard in a compact package, the Oxygen8 answered that need. It also connected to your computer via USB, obviating the need for a separate MIDI interface.
There were a couple rough spots, though: The operating system was cryptic, the construction felt a bit "plastic," and there were reported reliability issues with some of them. Still, given the cost and convenience, those weren't deal-breakers.
The Oxygen8 V2 is an updated version of the original Oxygen8 mini-keyboard. Among other things it's easier to navigate and sturdier.
Oxygen8 V2 is an update with several improvements:
Unfortunately, V2 doesn't add aftertouch response. The good news is that the velocity response is more consistent than the original; there are nine velocity curves and three fixed velocity settings. Also, the data slider is gone, replaced with switch-based data entry. In one way, this is an improvement as the original data slider's short throw made adjustments somewhat fiddly, and the switches work much less ambiguously. I would have preferred a data slider with a longer throw, but I can cope with using switch entry.
The package includes:
The Oxygen8 V2 receives its power via USB; there's a jack for an optional AC adapter, but this doesn't come with the package. One point of confusion is that the rear panel jack specifies 12VDC, but the PDF manual specifies 9VDC (250-300mA). I checked with M-Audio, and the rear panel legend is correct: It's 12VDC.
The rear panel MIDI out jack can carry either messages generated by the keyboard, or data coming from your computer. For example, if you have a sequence that feeds an external hardware workstation, you can use the Oxygen8 V2 as a MIDI interface. There is no MIDI in, though, so if you want to use a different controller, you'll still need a MIDI interface.
You'll also find a jack for a sustain pedal, but this is not limited to sending controller 64 messages – you can assign it to any controller number, which is handy.
The USB drivers are compatible with Windows XP (SP1 or later), but no other Windows variant (including Windows 2K). On the Mac side, you need OS X 10.2.8 with 256MB RAM or 10.3.4 or greater with 512MB RAM. The keyboard is class-compliant, so it plugs in to either system and is recognized. However, it you want to use the keyboard with more than one application at a time, you need to install the included drivers. Installation is simple, and with XP, the process automatically creates restore points so if anything goes wrong, you can "get back to where you once belong." But I don't think you'll need to, as the drivers have been rock solid.
One big help is a "Select" button that chooses among three edit options: Globalfor changing the global MIDI channel, Program for sending program changes, and Preset for recalling one of the ten presets. Another is that M-Audio has added a sort of "learn" function to programming the knobs. You start by moving the control you want to program, at which point it becomes necessary only to hit Advanced (to access the keybed programming options), the Ctrl Assign key, the controller number, and then enter. Channel assignment defaults to the global channel, but you can program a different channel assignment if desired. This is much easier than the V1 protocol, which required programming everything about a controller at the same time. There's also a Control Select key if you find it easier to use that when programming several controls.
For selecting Program Changes, you go into advanced mode, hit the desired number keys, then hit Enter to fire off the change. Easy. There are also Bank select buttons, should your target device have sound banks.
One thing that took some getting used to was the smaller wheels. At first, I didn't like them. But after a while, I was able to match my motions to the wheels. A good analogy is when you speed up the mouse response on your computer; at first, you overshoot – but eventually, you develop more finesse, and it ends up letting you do things faster.
I was also a little confused initially by the "Data" options, as the three data options vary depending on the continuous controller to which you apply them. Fortunately, an appendix details how you would apply these – and this is where you're really grateful that you can save settings in memory, as well as dump memory settings. The Data options are also what program the assignable buttons to toggle between two states (values), or even send one value when pressed, and a different one when released.
Yes, and I could go on: Programming MIDI Machine Control, assigning RPN/NRPNs to controllers, assigning notes to buttons, and the like. About the only thing you can't do is program sys ex strings for later transmission. But now we're getting into the seriously tweaky zone, and better move on before people start falling asleep.
The interface is an improvement over the original, so programming from the front panel isn't too big a deal unless you need to get into some of the really deep functions. But also note that computer-based editing is supported via M-Audio's Enigma V1.2 program. You can just type in controller numbers, minimum and maximum values, button assignments, and the like, then blast the whole setup into the V2.
In any event, the bottom line is that Oxygen8 V2 retains what people liked about the original version, fixes some of the loose ends that needed attention, and adds a bunch of new functions. Whereas V1 was a keyboard with some controllers included, V2 is more of a controller that includes a keyboard, and is definitely more versatile. But the biggest feature for me, aside from the more straightforward operation, is the velocity "feel." The action is far more predictable and consistent, and the ability to load different velocity curves is also welcome. All in all, it's a worthy successor that builds on the legacy of the original.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.