Anyone who wants to work with virtual instrumentation or record sound using DAW software is probably going to want to get the best MIDI controller they can find. A model they can connect to their computer or phone, so they can have control over the sound they need. Of course, looking through all of the models available can be a tedious chore and very time consumer. To solve that problem, we’ve gone ahead and researched the best models available and have listed them for our reader’s convenience. Now anyone can find the right controller for them without having to pour over half a dozen different sites.
Our Top Picks for the Best Midi Keyboards
#1 Novation Launch Key 61-Key USB Keyboard
Equipped with 61-keys, 16 RGB velocity sensitive pads, 8 knobs, and dedicated control buttons, this MIDI controller is designed to provide the power and versatility that professionals demand. This device easily plugs into any MAC or computer via its USB port, and it’s completely Plug N’ Play, so no special drivers have to be installed. This product also comes with software that can be used with either a MAC or PC. The software that comes with it includes Ableton Live Lite and XLN Audio Addictive Keys. This software combination and this MIDI keyboard are a great match that produces excellent results.
#2 Novation Launchkey 49-Key MK2 Keyboard
This controller is designed to be plugged into a USB port, so the operator can be up and running quickly. This product is also designed with an intuitive layout and come with software for MAC or PC use. The software package that comes with this product includes Ableton Live Lit and XLN Audio Addictive Keys. These software packages allow the user to mine the full potential of this controller to use it to transform their sound any way they desire. Some of the other features found on this device include 8 knobs, 16 RGB pads, and an easy to read LED display.
#3 Akai Professional MPK249 Keyboard
his MIDI keyboard is designed to be a professional tool and an all-in-one solution. It comes with 49 semi-weighted keys that are equipped with pressure sensitivity and has 16 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads. This controller also has 8 switches, 8 control knobs, and 8 faders, along with a 5-pin MIDI input/output. All of these features come together in a unit that’s as suitable for live performances as it is for in-studio compositions. And since it’s designed to be primarily used with a computer, this product isn’t powered by an external power source but is instead powered by the computer’s USB bus.
#4 Novation Launch Key Mini Controller
Designed to be used with Ableton Live Lite software and featuring a 25-note velocity sensitive keyboard with quick synth-action, this controller is good for both music production and performances. It has 16 backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, 8 knobs and a number of control and navigation buttons that give the user complete control over their sound. This product not only comes with an assortment of features but also comes with some nice software which makes it handy to use. Some of the software included with this product include XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Novation Bass Station and an assortment of Loopmasters samples.
#5 Roland 32-Key Keyboard Controller
One of the biggest complaints that many people have about some other MIDI keyboards is that they aren’t practical to take with them because they are too big and have too many keys to be practical. This Roland MIDI controller solves this problem, however, by features just the right amount of keys for most people. This model is equipped with 32 velocity sensitive keys and comes with an assortment of compact controls. In fact, it has 45 assignable controls in the form of buttons, knobs, and sliders. It also has 8 dynamic pads that allow for convenient and quick MIDI triggering.
#6 Alesis V49 49-Key USB MIDI Keyboard
This easy to use and very intuitive device allows anyone to take their sound editing to the next level. It features 49 full-size keys that are easier to press than some of the mini-key models, and it’s USB powered with sustain pedal input. This device also features 4 assignable knobs and 4 buttons, modulation wheel, pitch wheels, and 8 drum trigger pads. These drum trigger pads are backlit by LED lights and respond both to pressure and to velocity. Any music producer who needs to keep control over their virtual instrumentation is going to want to take a look at this model.
#7 M-Audio Keystation 49
With a size of approximately 31.88 by 7.67 by 2.95-inches, this controller may not be the smallest one available, but it is one of the easier to use models. It comes with 49 full-size keys that provide synth-action and are velocity sensitive. It also features transport controls that allow the user to control the digital audio workstation without having to use a mouse or other input device. The other features which this product has include modulation wheels and pitch bend wheels, as well as a 1/4-inch sustain pedal input. Overall, it’s a controller designed to easily get the sound editing work at hand done quickly and efficiently.
#8 Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
Although this product isn’t as expensive as some of the professional controllers offered by Akai, it does offer a robust set of features which should make it a useful tool for most people. This USB powered device is compact enough to be carried anywhere and has a small footprint that allows it to easily fit on a desk. It has 25 velocity sensitive keys, 9 velocity sensitive MPC-style backlit pads and 8 assignable Q-link knobs for mixing. And since it comes with Akai Pro MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3 and SoniVox Wobble, the user can get started with it right away.
#9 IK Multimedia iRig Compact Controller
Compact MIDI controllers can be a real lifesaver, as long as they’re not too small to get the job done. Having one that can easily fit on a crowded desk can really make the user’s life a whole lot easier, and that’s why this controller is so useful. It’s only 21.25-inches by 6-inches by 2.5-inches, so it can easily fit on my desks so it can be hooked up to a PC or a MAC. Weighing in at under 2-pounds, this product is also lightweight enough to be tucked into a backpack and taken to school, work or anywhere else a 37 mini-key controller is needed.
#10 Midiplus AK490 MIDI Controller
49 velocity sensitive keys, a MIDI-out Din jack and a sustain pedal socket for hooking up a sustain pedal are only a few of the features that can be found in this product. It also has pitch and modulation wheels and has octave up/down buttons. This product can be used with a computer that has a Pentium 3 800 MHZ CPU or higher and can be used with any MAC that has a G4 733 MHZ CPU or higher. It comes with a USB cable and an owner’s manual, so it’s easy for the user to jump right in and begin using it to craft sound to their personal needs. And it can be powered by the USB bus or 6 AA batteries can be installed into it.
A Guide To Purchasing A MIDI Keyboard
Since we’ve just spent quite a bit of time reviewing some of the best MIDI keyboards, it only stands to reason that we should know a thing or two about these devices. This is the knowledge that we wanted to share with all of our readers, so we’ve decided to write a guide on how to purchase a new MIDI keyboard. And that’s all the introduction this guide is going to need, so follow along with us as we take a look at some of the things the aspiring musician is going to want to consider when they purchase one of these devices.
Step One: Advice For Starting Out
One of the first things that the aspiring musician is going to want to think about is whether they need a fully-functional MIDI keyboard or if they’re looking for something modular that they can build on. Fully-functional models are more expensive than controllers, so the beginning musician might want to choose a controller instead of a keyboard. That will allow them to add on essentials to it over time. On the other hand, if the musician needs the full functionality of a MIDI keyboard, then they’re going to want to make sure they purchase the best one available.
Step Two: Consider The Number Of Keys
Once the musician has determined that they need a MIDI keyboard, the next thing they’re going to need to think about is the number of keys they need it to have. MIDI keyboards can have as few as 25-keys or as many as 49+ keys. For musicians who are used to keyboards, the 49-key models are usually best for them. They’re good for intermediate keyboard learning and for entering basic music. For musicians who are simply looking to add bass or drum lines, and/or basic chords, then a 25-key model will usually suffice.
Step Three: Is Weighted Action Needed?
The next thing the musician is going to want to think about is whether they want a touch-sensitive or weighted action MIDI keyboard. What’s the difference? Touch-sensitive keyboards will play softer or louder according to how hard the musician plays it. Weight action imitates the action and resistance of a real piano. Weighted action pianos are the closest the musician can come to a real piano without having to buy one. Most of the MIDI keyboards sold are touch-sensitive. More expensive models will be equipped with hammer action—which approximates the feel of a real piano.
Step Four: Mini Or Full-Size Keys
The musician is also going to want to make sure that they purchase the MIDI keyboard with the right key size for their needs. Most MIDI keyboards have mini-keys that allow them to use less space, but some people find them difficult to use. Full-size keys are easier to use, but they’re just aren’t that many MIDI keyboards with them, so the musician might have to search a little bit and spend a little bit of extra money to find one.
Step Five: Consider The Size Of The MIDI Keyboard
Since we’ve already covered the size of the keys, it’s time to turn our attention to the size of the MIDI keyboard itself. Although there’s no right or wrong answer as to what size keyboard the musician should choose, they should give it a good deal of thought. Larger keyboards tend to have a weightier feel to them, but they are also difficult to transport. Smaller models tend to be lighter, but they can have that “toy” feel that some musicians hate. The consumer should choose the one that they feel fits their needs the best.
Step Six: Does It Come With Software
We think that the musician should also think about whether the MIDI keyboard they choose comes with software or if they will have to purchase it separately. If the keyboard doesn’t come with software, then the user might have to spend upwards of $100 or more to get the software they need. That can turn an otherwise cheap keyboard into something very expensive.
Although most of the software that comes bundled with MIDI keyboards is basic, it can still be quite useful for musicians who are only beginning to experiment with them. Keyboards with bundled software are also good for first-time MIDI keyboard users and can be a starting point before they purchase better software.
Step Seven: Consider Some Other Features
Since we’re quickly running out of the number of features that we can list, we’ll go ahead and just provide our readers with a list of some additional features they are going to want to consider. Since we’ve already covered the most important parts about buying a new MIDI controller, the following features are really just icing on the cake. Some musicians will find the following features useful and some won’t.
- Pedal Inputs
- On-Board Sounds
- iPad Compatibility
- Midi-Out Ports
- Fader Knobs
- Controller Knobs