Best MIDI keyboard controllers.

ULTIMATE MIDI shopping guide for all music producers.


INTRODUCTION


No recording studio is complete with MIDI keyboard controller. We can all agree on this. It is an invaluable tool that can help you to control sounds and notes from your DAW, thinking out the melodies, rhythm, making loops and beats.

To choose the best midi keyboard that is suitable for the type of music you are into, can be a difficult task.

This is the ultimate MIDI keyboard controller buyers guide forthat should help you with your decision.

Before getting one, firstly you should ask yourself:

  • Are you home music producer with a laptop who just started to learn the piano? Buy smaller one.
  • ​Are you a DJ who needs a compact MIDI device for a gig? Buy MIDI controller with a lot of knobs, faders, pads with the small midi keyboard you can easily fit it in your laptop computer bag.
  • Are you skilled piano player? Get a full sized MIDI keyboard with full-weight keyboard, aftertouch and sustain

Scroll down for more buying tips for finding the best midi keyboard or controller!

Akai Pro MPK25 

akai-mpk25-best midi controller
  • 25 keys, 8 drum pad
  • 4 program memory banks
  • sustain, octave up/down
  • arpeggiator, tap tempo

Available from $71

Alesis Q49-Key 

  • 49 velocity sensitive keys
  • pitch + modulation wheel
  • sustain, octave up/down
  • Ableton Live Included

Available from $79.95

Novation Launchkey 25- Key

  • 25 keys
  • 26 assignable controls
  • 16 velocity sensitive multicolor launch pads

Available from $74.99

Arturia MiniLab 25-Key

  • 25 velocity sens keys
  • 16 param knobs
  • 16 MIDI channels
  • pitch band, modulation

Available from $99

IK Multimedia iRig Keys

ik multimedia midi keyboard
  • 37 vel sensitive keys
  • powered from iOS/Mac/Pc
  • pitch + modulation wheel
  • comes with SampleTank

Available from $80

Xkey 25-Key

cme xkey midi keyboard
  • 25 vel sensitive keys
  • aftertouch
  • powered iOs/Mac/Pc
  • octave shift up/down

Available from $99

M-Audio Oxygen 49 2014 Version

  • 49 full size, vel sen keys
  • 8 vel sen pads
  • 8 assign knobs
  • 9 assign faders

Available from $169

M-Audio Keystation 88

  • 88 full size, semi weight keys
  • pitch + modulation wheel
  • transport controls
  • sustain pedal input jack

Available from $179

Akai Pro MPK25 Keys

akai-mpk25-mpc midi
  • 25 full size, semi weight
  • 12 genuine MPC pads
  • 12 assignable knobs
  • 8 Q-Link knobs

Available from $195

Nektar Panorama 49 keys

  • 49 semi weight keys
  • motorized ALSP faders
  • 12 drum pads
  • built for DAW Reason 

Available from $499

Native Instrument Komplete Kontrol S49

  • 49 full size, semi weight keys
  • FATAR keyboard
  • quality touch strip controls
  • built for Native Instruments

Available from $599

Novation Impulse 61

  • 61 full size, semi weight
  • multi function drum pads
  • 8 assignable knobs
  • 9 assignable faders

Available from $339

Let’s have a look on the list of the most used midi keyboard controllers in home recording studios in 2014/2015.

1.  Popular MIDI Controllers

Akai APC40 MKII, APC mini, APC KEY 25

APC40 MKII

Follower of APC40. The new APC40 mkII incorporates five years of user feedback into its design.  

What's new?
(compared to old APC40 version)

  • 5x8 clip-launch matrix with RGB feedback for clip status and color coding
  • dedicated tempo control knob
  • channels can be assigned to the A/B crossfader for dynamic mixing on the fly, and also there is a session record button
  • Sends button for quick access to 8 send buses
  • Clip Stop buttons are now recessed, making them less prone to accidental activation
  • The 8 endless rotary knobs have been relocated to directly above the channel strips
  • much lighter and USB powered

With new APC40 mk2 you will also get

  • Ableton Live Lite with Puremagnetik Effect Racks
  • Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech
  • SONiVOX Twist
  • Prime Loops sample packs
  • Toolroom Records artist launch packs

Available from $395

APC Mini

Ultra Portable version of APC. MIDI controller for all mobile DJ and music performers on the way. Great integration with Ableton Live, durable, and very intuitive. APC mini concentrates the essential features of the APC40 mkII into one compact dynamic instrument that empowers you to make music with Ableton Live—anywhere.

APC mini features:

  • 8x8 clip matrix with tri-color lighting displays current clip status
  • Shift button and directional arrows manipulate the scope of the grid
  • USB-powered and plug-and-play setup for Mac and PC
  • Seamlessly integrates 1 to 1 with Ableton Live
  • Ultra-portable all-in-one Ableton Live controller

With APC mini you will also get

  • Ableton Live Lite
  • Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech
  • Toolroom artist launch packs

Available from $99

APC Key 25

High Performance MIDI keyboard and controller in one sick device. Again great integration with Ableton, APC Key 25 can be also used as a general MIDI controller to manipulate with DAW function, virtual instruments, or any plugins. Designed for the performing musician or the conventional composer.

APC Key 25 features:

  • Clip-launch matrix with tri-color lighting displays current clip status
  • 25 synth-action mini keys
  • 8 assignable knobs map to Ableton Live and control volume, sends, and more
  • Shift button and directional arrows manipulate the scope of the grid
  • Dedicated Octave Up, Octave Down, and Sustain buttons
  • USB-powered and plug-and-play setup for Mac and PC

With new APC Key 25 you will also get

  • Ableton Live Lite
  • Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech
  • SONiVOX Twist
  • Toolroom Records artist launch packs

Available from $129

AKAI MPK261

Available from $499

Recently AKAI has upgraded their flagship MIDI keyboard controller AKAI MPK 261. And they did a great job here. AKAI MPK261 comes with a new super sensitive MPC pads with RGB backlit  and with much better and quality keyboard mechanic.

  • 61 semi weight full size keys with aftertouch
  • 16 RGB illuminated MPC pads with 4 banks for 64 pads
  • 24 assignable Q-Link controllers include knobs, faders and switches
  • Revamped control layout with backlit LCD screenUSB-MIDI with 5-pin MIDI input and output
  • Comprehensive transport & parameter controls for hands-on DAW integration
  • MPC Note Repeat, MPC Swing, and arpeggiator for advanced rhythmic

microKORG XL+

Available from $446

Are you looping artist? This is my favorite tool for LIVE  looping music. See Nastya Maslova playing her drum'n'bass song.

With its unmistakably unique exterior and its inimitable sound, the microKORG set the standard for analog modeling synthesizers. The year 2008 saw the introduction of the microKORG XL, which inherited the microKORG's fat and powerful sounds, while adding keyboard staples such as electric piano and CX-3 organ. And now, 2014 is the next evolutionary step, the microKORG XL+ delivers a fresh update to the sounds and look of the microKORG XL, making it an ideal compact keyboard.

  • 37 natural touch mini keyboard
  • 17 powerful effect types brought from Kaoss Padd
  • Connection via USB. You can use this little guy as MIDI keyboard or you can customize and add new sounds via powerful software editor
  • Next generation MMT technology - multiple modeling 
  • 147 on board customizable modern and vintage sounds
  • 16-band filter vocoder. Using the Vocoder is an easy way to add sounds that can be found in today’s popular electronic music.

Keith McMillen - QuNexus

Available from $149

QuNexus is your key to quick and easy music production, at home or on the go. QuNexus works with all of your music software out of the box, connecting to your tablet or computer instantly, while also offering you room to grow – as your skills advance you can explore the touch sensitive keys to add effects and expression to your music. QuNexus is designed to be accessible to musicians of all ages and expertise.

Native Instruments Kontrol

Komplete Kontrol S-Series

This is probably the best MIDI keyboard controller for EDM.Native Instruments has listened to its customers and in October 2014 they released their new powerful MIDI controller. Quality FATAR keyboard supplemented, simple operation and maximum integration with Komplete instruments package (read here what is new) makes Komplete Kontrol S-series invaluable tool for all types of music production. NI has managed to hit the perfect balance of price and features. Available in 3 sizes: 25, 49 and 61 keys.

Available from $499 for Kontrol S25

Native Map™ technology automatically maps all key parameters for each KOMPLETE Instrument to the touch-sensitive controller knobs – all clearly visible on the keyboards’ Clear View™ display.

The knobs on the Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are mapped to the source you are using and the small screens below each controller give feedback about what will happen when you tweak the control. It is super tight integration into Komplete.

KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards also offer Smart Play™ - best described as an arpeggiator on steroids. It can offer both basic arp tricks but also offers complex chord patterns, which are smart too, so they make sure you don’t do weird chords.

KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series debuts several industry innovations never before available in a hardware…

2.  Small MIDI keyboard controllers (25-key)

AKAI PRO MPK Mini

akai-mpk25-best midi controller

Available from $71

Small portable ready-to-rock device, you can easily put into your bag. Actually it is basically a combination of the Akai LPK25 and Akai LPD8, smashed in one universal versatile product.

Good for any creative composer, who is often on the go and is always ready to lay down some tracks with ultimate production control. With 25-keys, 8-pad and 8-knob this USB MIDI keyboard controller provide the most portable groove-infused command over any DAW.

Minor cons is: it doesn’t have modulation and pitch wheel. Otherwise, it is excellent multifunctional product under $100.

CME X Key

cme xkey midi keyboard

Available from $90

This is the new generation of ultra low profile MIDI controllers. Designed with pure portability in mind, this uber stylish keyboard delivers a great playing experience, complete with polyphonic aftertouch, that can fit in an iPad carrying case!

Under the hundred bucks you are getting stylish full sized key keyboard with aftertouch.

Great for everyone who is making music on the road.​

Minor cons is: it doesn’t have modulation and pitch wheel. 

IK Multimedia iRig Keys

IK-Multimedia-iRig-Keys

Available from $70

Similar to CME XKey. Very nice and elegant design, compact and light. This is probably the best MIDI keyboard solution for iPad and iPhone musicians. Connectivity is via USB or iOS 30-pin socket. Also featuring mod and pitch wheels.

It comes also with free Apps like SampleTank and iGrandPiano.

Powerful and portable device ready to perform.

Arturia MiniLab 25

IK-Multimedia-iRig-Keys

Available from $86

The last king in the small portable MIDI keyboard controller solutions (25-keys) in 2014. Arturia is well-known for emulations of classic hardware synths. Arturia MiniLab 25 is humble MIDI device turned into hybrid synth with access to 1000+ sounds from some of the greatest classic hardware ever built.

If you always desired for a vintage sound matched with wooden cheeks on the end of your keyboard, this will be a perfect solution for you.

3.  Bigger MIDI keyboard controllers (49,61-key)

Alexis Q49

alexis midi keyboard

Available from $79

49 stylish velocity-sensitive keys ready for your expressions. Pitch bend and modulation as well as octave up/down buttons which allow you to access all the notes you need to hammer out your tunes!

Straightforward has never been so sexy.

Valuable gadget for all beginners that will love the simplicity. You will learn to play the actual instrument as well learning to work with your music production software.

For all others who looking to add an element of control to their studio setup, this is the right choice. Compact and extremely light.​

Akai Professional MPK49

cme xkey midi keyboard

Available from $249

Based on my personal experience and also reviews of the others, this little guy steps up the competition in this midi controller field.

It has just about every feature you could want. Plus:

  • 49 SEMI WEIGHT keys with AFTERTOUCH

If virtual instruments are your primary means of composing music, then it’s pretty essential to get this one.

It is no coincidence that this MIDI keyboard controller is used in many popular PRO studios. Wanna proof? Check out Mike Dean / Anthony Kilhoffer and Kanye West studio setup (big messy room with plenty of gear, around 2:50 you can see there Akai MPK49)

M-Audio Axiom 49

m-audio axiom

Available from $229

This is the classic. I bet that this is the most used MIDI keyboard in home studios.

Great midi device for all who are looking for quality and functionality. 49 semi-weight, velocity-sensitive keys, pitch and mod wheels, knobs, faders, buttons, pads…all you can eat. Plus:

  • DirectLink allows automatic mapping of hardware to DAW parameters
  • LCD display screen
  • Unique Select buttons for on-the-fly step through of presets, program changes and MIDI channles

Good for all DJs, electronic music producers, creative music makers. Amateurs and semi-professionals alike! Spanning 4 octaves, this keyboard gives you two-handed freedom while staying lightweight and easy to store.

M-Audio Oxygen 49

IK-Multimedia-iRig-Keys

Available from $169

If you are looking for more simplicity and cheaper version of M-Audio Axiom, don’t forget to check out his little brother M-Audio Oxygen 49.

8 assignable knobs, 9 assignable sliders, dedicated transport and track select buttons.

Good for all music producers on budget, who want reliable, compact and portable MIDI keyboard with some additional features. This great device also has velocity-sensitive keys.

Novation Launchkey 61

novation 61

Available from $199

For all who want to have complete control.

Along with the velocity sensitive keys, you are getting plenty of assignable faders, rotary knobs, and buttons, along with 16 (yes, 16!) pads for triggering loops, samples and effects.

Dedicated MIDI, track, octave toggle, and transpose buttons as well as a pedal input for even more control. They didn’t skimp on the details when they built the Launchkey line!

Musicians both amateur to professional will find themselves at home with this beautiful piece of equipment.​

Nektar Panorama P6 61 key

IK-Multimedia-iRig-Keys

Available from $599

Control surface with fully integration for DAWs (Cubase, Logic, Reason, etc...).

The P6 is essentially an outstanding midi keyboard controller with semi-weight keyboard with aftertouch and many additional features like sliders, knobs, pads, triggers that has been programmed to control many of any-DAW parameters.

Create music easier than ever before. It was designed to work and control your DAW.

The unit feels sturdy and generally well-constructed. Nothing shifts or rattles, nothing flexes, and it is definitely not light or flimsy.Musicians both amateur to professional will find themselves at home with this beautiful piece of equipment.

4.  MIDI keyboards for pianist and composers

Now, let’s guess: you are skilled piano player and all you want is a simple keyboard, that will give you a feel you play the real piano. All those other features might just get in the way.

Yamaha P105

digital piano MIDI

Available from $535

If you want to have feeling that you are playing piano, this MIDI keyboard is for you.

Yamaha P105 keyboard feature weighted hammer action. It can replicate the mechanical action of the real piano. Heavier touch in the low end and lighter in the highs, just like an acoustic piano. If you actually play the piano, you appreciate how important those features is, so you can have true piano “feel” while composing / producing.

Simplicity. Clean design. Usability. 128 note polyphony. It also come with built-in drum patterns and metronome, good for practicing.

StudioLogic SL-990 PRO

studilogic fatar

Available from $599

StudioLogic is company that makes one of the best keyboard mechanics in the world (for MIDI devices).

In 2013 they introduced StudioLogic Sl-990 and since then it became very popular among all music producers who’s primary job is to compose music.

No other keyboard has ever achieved this level of popularity and quality.

For realistic and natural tone, this is a super deal.

5.  MIDI controllers and production workstations

Novation Launchpad S-64 Button

studilogic fatar

Available from $149.99

This is the one of the most popular controllers on the market, being sold in millions of units.

The immense popularity is due to its functionality, friendly way of use and most of all, because of it’s at a very affordable price.

It got all features you need to control your mix with volume, pans, sends, track arming, soloing and muting while jumping to different levels across eight channels at once. Trigger loops and effects using the Launchpad app on iPad.

If your favorite DAW is Ableton, this is a MUST-HAVE.

Akai Pro APC40 Ableton Controller

studilogic fatar

Available from $250.39

Studio worthy classic MIDI pad controller designed by AKAI in partnership with Ableton.

It offers exclusive bi-directional communication between the APC40 and Ableton - no mapping required.

Designed to be a powerful, intuitive controller for electronic music performance artists, DJs, hip-hop producers and traditional musicians using Ableton Live on stage and in the studio.

If your favorite DAW is Ableton, this is a MUST-HAVE.

MicroKorg Analog Synth with Vocoder

Korg-microKORG

Available from $390.41

None can go far wrong with the microKORG, a modern miniature ‘classic’ analogue-modelling synth that will double very well as a basic software/MIDI controller.

Get a bonus real ‘classic’ synth with your MIDI controller and your music production will never be the same again.

If you want to enhance your music production, take this.

Akai MPC Renaissance

Korg-microKORG

Available from $999

It doesn’t act like MIDI controller, anyhow I put it on this list, because this became an ICON of hip hop production with its crunchy sampling and and sequencing enabling whole tracks to be built quickly and with plenty of inherent character.

This is complete music production toolbox in one device.

First version has been released back in 90s, now the MPC has literally been ‘rebirthed’ again, this time apparently going head-to-head with Native Instruments Maschine Studio in the hardware/software hybrid beat machine category.

HOW TO BUY A MIDI KEYBOARD CONTROLLER


There are many things you have to look into, when you are buying the best MIDI keyboard.

MIDI keyboard controller is your input method of getting information into your DAW. They can also help you with automation as lot of them have many other features like rotary encoders or faders. Lot of people think that MIDI controllers are only for people producing electronic music. However, every music producer, or even recording engineer is using it during production process.

A. PATERSON
music producer
Dave Smith Synthesizer manufacturer

What MIDI did is it allowed the first home studios to be born

Difference between controller and keyboard

MIDI controllers are a devices, that can help you to control every aspect of your produced music – loops, vocals, effects, instruments, automation, triggers…With help of different knobs, faders, sliders or transport control you can tweak any sound loaded into your DAW/host application.

On the other hand MIDI keyboards are good for arranging notes or thinking out melodies and they can make an enormous difference to your music production. You can buy MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller, but the best ones are the hybrids. It all depends on what you are going to use it, what kind of music you are into.​

​What to look into, before getting one

MIDI is something like programming language and MIDI devices are tools designed to communicate with your DAW through it. The best MIDI keyboard controllers can be composed of many knobs, sliders, pads, switches, rotary encoders. They can give you ultimate experience and control over your music production.

Key count

MIDI keyboards are usually composed of 25, 49, 61 or 88 note keys. Before buying one, you should have an answer to following questions:

  • Can you play with both hands? Are you skilled piano player?
    If you are advanced keyboard player, 25 note keyboard would not work for you.
  • Do you want to take your MIDI keyboard on the road? How much space you have in your home studio?
    More bigger is your keyboard, less portable it would be. You won’t get 88 note keys controller, if you produce music in tiny space.
  • Are you DJ or producer with having lot of interests in electronic music? Are you having fun with shaping your sounds?
    Get a MIDI controller with a lot of knobs, buttons, switches. MIDI keyboard will be boring for you.

The best MIDI keyboard controller for you, doesn’t mean, that you need to break the bank.

Keyboard Action Types

Don’t underestimate the impact of having a less-than-ideal keyboard on your creativity and productivity!

Often it depends on the particular type of music you want to make. There are three types of keyboard action:

  • Weighted hammer action
    Mostly 88 note controllers have this type of keyboard action. It can replicate the mechanical action of piano. It is good for skilled piano players, so you can have true piano “feel” while composing / producing.
  • Semi-weighted action
    Similar to full weighted, with less key resistance and slightly better and light release.
  • Synth action
    After hitting the key, they tend to return to resting position more quickly. Synth action keyboards are good for playing fast lines and arpeggios. This is the best choice for producers who aren’t natural pianist. They are mostly made in ultra compact mode, that can easily fit your backpack. Good for live performance

Faders, buttons and knobs, sliders

They can dramatically increase the hands-on control you have over your DAW or any other synth or module connected back to your midi keyboard. With them you can real time tweaking the synth filter, amp envelope, LFOs, EQ, reverbs, automation and so forth. It is more “analog” feel over controlling via mouse. Through auto mapping you can assign all kind of effects from your DAW to faders, knobs, etc of MIDI controller.

Mod and Pitch wheels

They are good for bending the pitch of notes and modulating the tones. With touch of fingers you can dramatically change the sound transmitted to your DAW. This feature can be very handy during your live performance.

Rotary Encoders

If you want to have more actions under your control via MIDI keyboard, Rotary encoders are the way how you can tweak out the automation, or other parameters such a cut off, resonance, delays, panning, etc….

Drum pads

You can use them to play drum samples, or trigger loops, often percussive in nature. Some of them can be velocity sensitive. Good for thinking out the beats or making out perfect drum loop. Usually all controllers come with predefined banks of presets, which you can change and modify. Also you can add additional sounds through USB memory stick, or duplicate the amount of presets and change it according to your feel and ideas.

Sustain

Some keyboard has sustain button instead of sustain pedal. This functionality is quite often used, especially when your piano skills are not the greatest one. While holding sustain pedal or button down, the played sound continues to stay off the cord after key is unengaged.​

Do I need Aftertouch?

Aftertouch is often nice and ergonomic way how you can add expressiveness to your playing. Mostly you can find this feature on the Hi END products.​

I/O options and connectivity

Standard is a square shaped USB connector. If you are planning to connect other external MIDI module such a hardware synth, you have to look for MIDI controller with conventional 5 pin din MIDI connector. Most of the controllers are equipped with a sustain pedal jack, where you can connect foot switch to have better control over sustain of played notes.​

This page is regularly updated in terms of new arrivals in this beautiful world of MIDI keyboard controllers. 

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