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The 10 Best Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controllers 2021

James is an USA-based writer and musician with a passion for audio production. Growing up he was surrounded by talented musicians and different forms of music, which set the path for both his personal and private life. He played several instruments during his childhood, dipping his toes into all sorts of musical genres, but once grown-up he discovered that his true calling is music production, rather than creation. Read more about author

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Every aspiring producer needs the best weighted MIDI keyboard controller they can get. Whether that’s fully-weighted or semi-weighted will depend on your style of music and your budget. We are picking out our overall top 10 MIDI controllers available in 2021. Our top 10 will cover 88-key models right down to 49-key controllers to suit every type of musician.

Here are the best weighted MIDI keyboard controllers:

  1. M-Audio Hammer 88
  2. Novation 61SL MkIII
  3. Studiologic Numa Compact 2x
  4. Nektar Panorama P4
  5. Alesis VI61
  6. M-Audio Keystation 61
  7. Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII
  8. NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII
  9. Arturia KeyLab Essential 88
  10. Studiologic SL73 Studio

1. M-Audio Hammer 88 – Pro Players Suggestion

The piano players choice

The Hammer 88 is a personal favorite of ours; it’s the absolute best fully-weighted MIDI keyboard you can buy. This controller is the ultimate MIDI keyboard for piano players.

Although, being number one on our list is purely based on how it feels because the Hammer 88 offers very little in the way of features. The keybed on the Hammer 88 is the best we have played on any weighted MIDI keyboard. Every single key from top to bottom is perfectly weighted to give a piano feel that you don’t expect from a controller.

It does have some useful connectivity with a 5-pin MIDI DIN port so you can trigger external MIDI gear. The MIDI output means the Hammer 88 can integrate with your wider studio setup rather than just be on the fringe of it. As far as hands-on control, there isn’t much, just pitch bend and mod wheels, and two buttons. All of which, along with the master volume fader, are fully assignable.

Adding to the realism of the piano experience, there are three pedal inputs for soft, expression, and sustain.

M-Audio Hammer 88 MIDI KeyboardImage credit: M-AudioCheck Price on Amazon
  • Incredibly realistic/responsive feel.
  • Sleek design.
  • Assignable pitch bend and modulation wheels.
  • Three pedal inputs.
  • Limited functionality.
  • No drum pads.

If you are looking for a controller that does a bit of everything, you won’t find it here. Also, we will assume for some people that would mean the Hammer 88 wouldn’t be top of your list.

In terms of functionality and how it integrates with your DAW, it’s way behind some other keyboard controllers. However, as far as MIDI keyboards with weighted keys go, this is the one. We are placing the feel of the controller above all else, and in that area, the Hammer 88 beats all comers.

2. Novation 61SL MkIII – Best Controller for Ableton Users

An Ableton producer’s dream

The Novation 61SL MkIII is an ultra-modern MIDI controller keyboard with lots of intuitive functions.

It comes with 61 synth-style, semi-weighted keys with assignable aftertouch. Each key also has RGB LED feedback to show scales, modes, and split zones. Impressively, the 16 velocity-sensitive pads also have polyphonic aftertouch. The pads are used to trigger samples, clips, and input steps to the onboard sequencer.

The 61SL MkIII has an 8-track internal step sequencer that adds a new dimension most controllers don’t offer. You can input notes as steps or record live straight to the sequencer. Now you can edit sequences straight from the keyboard and even record parameter automation on the fly.

There is also a built-in arpeggiator with adjustable velocity curves. As far as connectivity goes, you get MIDI in/out, CV/Gate, and Mod outs. The 61SL MkII integrates well with most popular DAWs, but it’s absolutely perfect for Ableton Live. When using it with your DAW, there are eight assignable faders, dedicated transport controls, and eight mute/solo buttons.

Novation 61SL MkIII 61-Key MIDI Keyboard ControllerImage credit: NovationCheck Price on Amazon
  • Deep Ableton Live integration.
  • Internal sequencer.
  • Assignable faders and buttons.
  • Smart arpeggiator.
  • Aftertouch.
  • 16 pads with aftertouch.
  • More suited to Ableton than any other DAW.

If you are a Novation user already then, you probably work on Ableton Live, in which case it’s a no brainer. The 61SL MkIII will be the perfect controller for you. The keys feel great, especially for synth and electronic sounds. Having the internal sequencer lets you work faster without needing to leave the keyboard, too. It’s everything you want from a 61-key weighted MIDI controller and more.

3. Studiologic Numa Compact 2x – Most Versatile Keyboard Controller

The ultimate hybrid performer

The Numa Compact 2x is a hybrid digital piano/MIDI controller that has some fantastic onboard voices.

It is an 88-key controller with aftertouch and 128-note max polyphony. Starting with what’s on board, there are 88 sounds, including acoustic pianos, synths, and organs. Two dedicated FX engines allow up to six effects simultaneously per voice.

The control surface is pretty busy but easy enough to get around. Nine faders bring the organ sounds to life; they can also be used to control FX parameters of any voice on the fly. Furthermore, they are fully assignable when being used as a MIDI controller. Each FX engine has a dedicated section, and next to the master volume is some EQ controls.

The keys are semi-weighted with aftertouch, and the entire thing is extremely light and portable. Studiologic even added some built-in speakers, so you can play anywhere, with or without a computer or an amp.

Studiologic Numa Compact 2x Digital Stage Piano/MIDI ControllerImage credit: StudiologicCheck Price on Amazon
  • Amazing built-in sound engines.
  • 9 assignable drawbars.
  • Built-in speakers.
  • Two onboard effects processors.
  • OLED display.
  • Very lightweight – easy to transport.
  • Aftertouch.
  • Pitch and modulation joysticks.
  • Keys feel a little light for piano playing but are better suited to organ and synth.

We understand that the Numa Compact 2x won’t be on everyone’s mind when they think about a MIDI controller. It’s a bit of a wildcard pick, but it’s just too good to leave out. As a controller, it does everything you need it to, although not as intuitively as more dedicated controllers. But, the fact it has so much to offer as a stage piano, too, massively adds to its value.

If you want a keyboard for the stage as well as the studio, check this one out. We think it’s one of the best semi-weighted MIDI keyboards on offer.

4. Nektar Panorama P4 – Best Mini MIDI Keyboard Controller

Deep DAW integration in a small package

The Nektar Panorama P4 is one of the coolest little keyboards you will ever play. It looks cool, and the first time you see the motorized fader, you’ll be hooked. More importantly, it’s not all style over substance.

It’s a 49-key controller with assignable aftertouch, which means the aftertouch can be assigned to control various parameters. The Panorama P4 comes with 12 velocity-sensitive pads, too, for triggering samples or finger drumming.

What will really surprise you about this keyboard is the deep integration with popular DAW software. Channel strip control lets you control a channel strip within your DAW directly from the controller. The large TFT screen displays what functions and settings you are editing, giving you instant access to EQ, sends, inserts, etc. There are 10 assignable faders, 16 assignable encoders, and two pedal inputs.

Nektar Panorama P4 49-key MIDI Keyboard ControllerImage credit: NektarCheck Price on Amazon
  • Deep integration with popular DAWs.
  • Lots of assignable encoders.
  • Assignable aftertouch.
  • Two pedal inputs.
  • 10 assignable faders.
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheel.
  • Large TFT display.
  • Transport controls.
  • 12 drum/sample pads.
  • Drum/sample pads could be more responsive/expressive.

The Panorama P4 goes deeper with DAW integration than any other controller on our list, that alone makes it a top choice for many. It’s compact but still delivers a massive amount of control. We have no real complaints here; this keyboard will improve your workflow dramatically. Overall, it’s a top-quality 49-key weighted MIDI keyboard.

5. Alesis VI61 – Fully Asembled Keyboard Controller

The control freak

The Alesis VI61 has more assignable buttons than any other controller in our top 10. For some people, it might be overkill, but it’s worth listing for the control freaks out there.

It comes with 61 semi-weighted keys with a square front and aftertouch. As far as being a keyboard playing experience, it pretty much ends there. The VI61 is all about software and plugin control.

There are 16 velocity-sensitive backlit pads that are as close as you will get to MPC pads outside of Akai products. On top of that, there are 16 illuminated, fully assignable knobs, and dedicated transport controls. Now the crazy part, it has a whopping 48 fully-assignable buttons so you can control anything and everything. The bundle includes Ableton Live Lite and its MIDI Editor software.

Alesis VI61 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard ControllerImage credit: AlesisCheck Price on Amazon
  • Insane amount of control via assignable knobs, faders, and buttons.
  • Ableton Live Lite.
  • 16 very high-quality drum/sample pads.
  • Aftertouch.
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheels.
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheels could be more accurate.
  • Keys feel great but are a little noisy.

The VI61 is generally a very good MIDI controller, the keys feel great, and the pads are better than most. It comes down to personal preference when it comes to the number of knobs/buttons etc. For many, this will be a highlight; for others, it will be overkill. But, if that’s your thing, then the VI61 is a monster controller.

6. M-Audio Keystation 61 MkIII – Best MIDI Keyboard Controller for Beginners

Reliable control on a budget

M-Audio’s Keystation series of controllers have been around forever, it seems. The range has had multiple updates and facelifts, but it never goes away.

The Keystation 61 is sometimes thrown into the cheap and cheerful bracket, a little unfairly we should add. It has 61 semi-weighted keys, and not much else, but that’s the appeal of it. It’s incredibly lightweight, so if you need to take your MIDI setup from the studio to a gig, it saves you carrying heavy equipment.

There are some assignable controls in the form of a pitch/mod wheel, master volume slider, and octave buttons. It even has dedicated transport controls, albeit very basic ones.

It also comes with a pretty fantastic software bundle, including Ableton Live Lite, and Pro Tools First – M-Audio Edition. The package includes some awesome VSTs from AIR Music Tech, as well as Skoove sample content.

M-Audio Keystation 61 Mk3 61-Key Keyboard ControllerImage credit: M-AudioCheck Price on Amazon
  • Extremely lightweight.
  • Cheap.
  • Suitable for beginners.
  • Not the most versatile controller.
  • Build quality could be stronger.

When you buy any M-Audio Keystation controller, you are purchasing a budget MIDI controller. There are no surprises; you get what you pay for, no more and no less. While that might sound quite poor, they have been serving musicians very well for years. Due to their low price and reliable performance, they will continue to serve musicians well for many years to come. It’s also a great choice for beginners.

7. Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII – All-In-One MIDI Keyboard Controller

The one that does everything

Arturia’s KeyLab 88 MkII is their flagship MIDI keyboard controller, and it’s one for the hands-on producers. With 88 keys and the much-admired Fatar TP100LR keybed, the KeyLab 88 provides a realistic piano feel. The keys also have aftertouch, which is fantastic for synths, organs, and orchestral sounds.

We said it’s one for hands-on producers, and that’s because of the abundance of control offered directly from the keyboard. There are nine assignable knobs and faders, as well as transport controls that map to all popular DAWs. Arturia provides its Analog Lab 4 software, which contains over 6,500 outstanding sounds, from electric pianos to soaring synth leads. One of the coolest things about it is that the knobs and faders automatically map to the virtual instrument currently selected, making it feel more like a hardware synth.

The KeyLab range is known for its backlit drum pads, and the KeyLab 88 MkII has 16 of them that can trigger samples or clips (clips in Ableton Live).

Connectivity is an area where the KeyLab 88 MkII really shines. It has four CV outputs, and one CV input, so even those with an advanced analog setup can place this controller in the center of it. Adding to that, there are three assignable pedal jacks on top of the expected expression and sustain pedal jacks.

Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII 88-key MIDI Keyboard ControllerImage credit: ArturiaCheck Price on Amazon
  • Realistic piano feel.
  • A mass of assignable controls.
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheels.
  • 16 drum/sample pads.
  • Professional-grade virtual instruments included.
  • CV connectivity.
  • Assignable pedal jacks.
  • Aftertouch.
  • Fantastic DAW integration.
  • Drum/sample pads are a little small.

Arturia has taken a MIDI keyboard controller that was already very successful and made it even better. The KeyLab 88 MkII is such a joy to use, the level of integration with DAWs, and VSTs takes away so much of that annoying back and forth between the laptop and controller.

The drum pads are slightly small, but they are responsive, and that’s the most important thing. It feels great, comes with over 6,500 premium sounds, and it’s built like a tank. If we wanted an all-rounder, that combines feel, function, and versatility well, we would call this the best 88-key MIDI controller available.

8. NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII – Best Native Instruments Software Users

One for Kontakt or Komplete users

Native Instruments plugins and virtual instruments are amongst the best money can buy, what better to control them than a Native Instruments MIDI keyboard? The Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII is one of the top-rated 88-key MIDI controllers with fully-weighted keys.

It comes with 88 hammer-action keys and aftertouch, considering Native Instruments are relatively new to hardware (compared to other manufacturers), they have created a great hammer-action MIDI keyboard.

The Komplete Kontrol S88 is designed very much in the image of Native Instruments software. It’s about creating a very specific workflow and aimed more at producers than performers. All Komplete software instruments are pre-mapped to the controller giving you the ultimate control from the hardware.

One rare feature of this keyboard is that it has dual color screens, which let you navigate your virtual soundbanks and functions in a way that isn’t possible with most controllers. There is another intuitive feature that shows Native Instruments background in software; each key has an RGB light that is color-coded to indicate drum cells, key switches, and more – just like you see in a DAW.  A touch strip adds further expression along with a pitch bend and modulation wheel, all of which are assignable.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard ControllerImage credit: Native InstrumentsCheck Price on Amazon
  • Aftertouch.
  • Touch strip, pitch bend, and modulation wheel.
  • RGB color indicators.
  • Perfect pre-mapped integration with all Komplete instruments.
  • Two high-res color screens.
  • Komplete Kontrol software plus Komplete 12 Select.

The only surprising omission from this keyboard is some Native Instruments Maschine pads. But, if you don’t really care about pads or already own a Maschine, it’s not a deal-breaker. A potential downside is that while it’s clearly a high-end controller, it’s also a pretty expensive controller. The sounds that come from the Komplete 12 software are absolutely fantastic, too.

It’s one of the best 88-key weighted MIDI controllers around, especially for Native Instrument fans. Our advice is simple, if you use Native Instruments plugins already and want 88 keys, buy the Komplete Kontrol S88.

9. Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 – Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard Controller

The best value for money

We already have the KeyLab 88 MkII on our list, so you might think we don’t need another similar controller. But, there are some significant differences between the two, the most prominent being that the KeyLab Essential 88 is under $350.

As the name suggests, this keyboard is a stripped-down version of the flagship KeyLab, keeping not much more than the essentials. You still get nine rotary knobs and nine faders that are fully assignable. Even better, you still get 6000+ premium sounds that auto-map to the assignable controls. The transport controls and super-easy DAW integration are still present, too.

You’ll notice there are just eight drum pads rather than 16, which might be an issue for some people. The other cutbacks come mostly on the back panel, there is MIDI and a sustain jack, but no CV outs, and no assignable AUX pedal jacks.

Now, the biggest change that we haven’t mentioned yet is that you get semi-weighted keys, not fully-weighted. The keys still have aftertouch, and depending on what sounds you use most, semi-weighted may suit you more.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 88-Key MIDI Keyboard ControllerImage credit: ArturiaCheck Price on Amazon
  • A mass of assignable controls.
  • Eight drum/sample pads.
  • Professional-grade virtual instruments included.
  • Fantastic DAW integration.
  • Drum/sample pads are a little small.
  • No CV connectivity.

As far as we can see, Arturia has packed in far more than just the essentials here. It’s crazy to think this controller is available for under $350. If you want the realistic piano feel, then you might be disappointed with the semi-weighted keys. Although, if you are more about synths and organs, you’ll love the feel of the keys.

Having fewer drum pads should only be a problem if you’re a serious finger drummer; for triggering clips, eight is plenty. It’s tough to say anything bad about the KeyLab Essential 88; it’s an absolute bargain.

10. Studiologic SL73 Studio – Piano-Like MIDI Keyboard Controller

The alternative piano experience

The Studiologic SL73 Studio is an excellent 73-key weighted MIDI controller, and it’s a curveball in our list. It’s similar to the M-Audio Hammer 88 in that it’s a MIDI controller that feels like a piano.

While the SL73 doesn’t top the Hammer 88 for feel, it offers something slightly different that some players may prefer. There isn’t much in the way of controls, but interestingly, Studiologic has gone with joysticks instead of wheels for pitch/modulation. Three assignable X/Y sticks controllers can be used for various parameters.

Most fully-weighted MIDI keyboards that are built mostly for their piano feel don’t come with aftertouch. The SL73 has aftertouch and variable soft, medium, or hard keyboard feel. It also has space for six user velocity curves via the SL Editor software.

One big plus for the SL73 is that is has a TFT color display for quick and easy navigation through functions. As far as connectivity, there is MIDI in/out and three pedal jacks for an authentic piano experience.

Studiologic SL73 MIDI ControllerImage credit: StudiologicCheck Price on Amazon
  • Very realistic feel.
  • Lightweight for a keyboard of this size.
  • Color display.
  • Assignable joysticks.
  • Easy to use software.
  • Three pedal inputs.
  • Limited functionality.
  • No drum/sample pads.

If you choose the Studiologic SL73 Studio, it should be because you want a realistic piano MIDI controller more than you want loads of functions. In that department, it performs very well, indeed. We do place it behind the Hammer 88 in terms of the realistic feel, but it has aftertouch and assignable joysticks that might sway your decision.

The reason we chose the 73-key version rather than the 88-key version is the price; our opinion is that is you want 88-keys, the Hammer 88 is better value. If you don’t need 88 keys, the SL73 Studio is a winner.

How to choose a MIDI controller with weighted keys?

It doesn’t matter if a keyboard has drum pads, faders, or any other features if it doesn’t feel right to play. The weight of the keys is always the most important thing because it makes a difference to your performance.

Generally speaking, fully-weighted keys are better for playing piano sounds. They allow you to be far more expressive and articulate in your playing.

Semi-weighted keys are generally better for playing organ and synth sounds, where subtle expression is not quite as important. It’s often about having the ability to play quickly with a fast action that allows for rapid note repeat.

These are general rules and should always be considered but not at the expense of personal comfort. Many players feel more comfortable with a certain weight of key no matter what sound they are playing, and that should be your main priority.

Here are a few examples of what different types of musicians might need.

Composers

Composing for orchestra, film, TV, or games means you will need a full harmonic range to explore. For this kind of use, 88 keys will always be better because you don’t want to be working with octave buttons and lose the natural feel. Much of this kind of work will be based around a piano sound, too, so fully-weighted keys will give the most expression and dynamic range.

Suggestion: We would suggest choosing one of the 73-key or 88-key controllers. Any extra features would be a bonus but focus on the playing experience (fully-weighted keys).

Beatmakers and EDM producers

Studio setups for this style of work quite often have limited space, so it’s unlikely 88 keys will be suitable. Producing in this way usually means shorter projects and quicker output, sometimes several tracks per day. So, you want something that improves your workflow and lets you turn out quality work more efficiently.

Suggestion: Anything in the 25-key to 61-key range should be more than enough; of course, if you have space, there’s no reason you can’t go higher. You should be looking for something with responsive pads to get beats down quickly and look for something you know will integrate well with the DAW that you use. Don’t just choose the one with the most sliders and buttons etc. Choose the one with features that you will use. Since this kind of work relies mainly on virtual instruments, any controller that comes with an excellent software bundle is a bonus.

Singer/songwriter

When you spend as much time on stage as you do recording, it’s good to have something that fits both scenarios well. It’s most likely 61 keys to 88 keys would be needed to give you enough range for live work. Unless you are looping sequences, then you will be focusing more on keys when playing live, which means pads and DAW integration might not be so important.

Suggestion: Something that has onboard sounds would be a huge benefit, so you don’t have to use a laptop and virtual instruments on stage. It’s easier, plus it takes away the risk of a software/computer/USB issue. If you do go for 88 keys, you’d want to make sure it’s still easy to transport.

Summary

Whatever you decide is the best weighted MIDI controller for you, just make sure it fits what you do. As we said, a keyboard with a million features is only useful if you are going to use all of those features.

When deciding between semi-weighted and fully-weighted keys, use our suggestions above as a starting point, then start to apply it to your situation. For example, how much space you have, do you need to transport it easily, what kind of sounds do you use most?

Ultimately, there are no bad keyboards on our lists, they are some of the best MIDI controllers with weighted keys around, but it has to be the best for you.

Sours: https://consordini.com/best-weighted-midi-keyboard-controllers/

Top 7 Best 88-Key Fully-Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controllers 2021

While you can do a lot with the 49 and 61 key MIDI keyboards controllers, they’re nothing compared to the 88-key full-size instrument. And if you are serious about playing and composing music, it’s inevitable that you’ll look for the best weighted MIDI keyboard at some time.

A great concern, however; it’s not that simple to find the best 88-key MIDI keyboards with so many options flocking on the market. Since we all have different needs and preferences, we will be lying if we tell you that there’s a fit-for-all option.

best weighted 88-key MIDI keyboard controllers

You’ll find different instruments equipped with different features, specs, and quality. And the only way to know your perfect match is by doing research for each instrument to know its strength, weaknesses and who it’s best for.

Top 7 Best Weighted 88-Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers: Reviews

Unfortunately, very few of us have that time to go through each instrument to decide their best fit. That’s why we have done the research to bring you 7 best 88-key MIDI controllers that will fit different requirements.

Here are the best weighted 88-key MIDI keyboard controllers 2021:

  1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
  2. M-Audio Hammer 88 Keyboard Controller
  3. Arturia KeyLab 88 MIDI Controller Keyboard
  4. Akai Pro MPK Road 88 Keyboard Controller
  5. Doepfer LMK4+ MIDI Master Keyboard
  6. Studiologic SL88 Studio Keyboard Controller
  7. Korg D1 Stage Piano / MIDI Controller

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2

If you want an all-round fully weighted 88-key MIDI controller with hammer action, then the Komplete Kontrol S88 is the way to go.

The keyboard comes with sleek black buttons and a smooth design which includes the twin screen Komplete Kontrol browser that you can use to run everything without the need for a monitor.

With the keyboard, you can use every NKS compatible effect and instrument plugin which will turn up in the browser on the screens. All you need to do is to load it up with the encoder and map it to the buttons and knobs available. Better yet, it comes with hundreds of instrument sounds and effects from leading manufacturers.

Literally, everything you need to know is in the line of sight. You’ll find sound and projects information on the screen and the backlight of the buttons which varies with intensity and colors to indicate different settings and so on.

The workflow is slick and responsive. It combines with the guiding lights on the keys to pinpoint the location of sounds, scales, switches, key zones and more.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 MIDI Keyboard Controller

Its keyboard has a great feel as it comes with weighted keys each with hammer action, smart spring and memory foam damping for a more realistic feel.

The instrument comes with precise pitch control and mod functions. It features the ultra-sensitive touch strip which provides a responsive alternative to the plugin that expresses pedal.

  • It sounds like the SL88 Grand.
  • Offers a more realistic feel compared to most of its competitors.
  • Lighting zones that will help you in as you play.
  • Many integration options.
  • No finger drum pads.
  • Require additional power source.

This keyboard enables you to capture all your ideas. If you are looking for the best MIDI controller with weighted keys and immediate access to transpose, mixing and able to edit controls with visual feedback and volume adjusting on the built-in display, the S88 Mk2 is the way to go.

M-Audio Hammer 88 Keyboard Controller

This controller remains to be one of the pocket-friendly weighted keyboards with a reasonable feel and enough features to perform essential functions.

It comes with a solid build and weighs 38.6 lbs which is easily manageable where one person can carry and even move around with a substantial flight case.

The front panel comes with just a few controls: two buttons, pitch, and modulation wheels and one fader. On the rear, there are equally minimalist components. You’ll find footswitch sockets, USB connector, power input, and MIDI output.

Unfortunately, the only visual indicator in this unit is the pitch and mod wheel which glow red.

You don’t need additional drivers in for USB functionality; you just need to plug in, select it as MIDI input device on your DAW and you are good to go. All you need is to fire up the editor app and if the USB is connected, you can use it.

You can separate the keyboard into four zones and use each to transmit different MIDI channel with own octave and transposes. With this, you can overlap the Zones to create layered sounds and produce richer music. And if you want to use the settings again in future, you just have to save the file to the library of presets.

M-Audio Hammer 88 MIDI Keyboard Controller

On top of that, the Hammer 88 comes with weighted keys that are not too hard to play fast yet weighted enough to leave you satisfied.

The hammer action is great that anyone looking for a fantastic feel and great response will not be disappointed. You’ll be able to play piano parts with great accuracy and good expression that is rarely available even to high end keyboard controllers.

The keyboard is velocity responsive, where the sound will vary depending on how hard or soft you hit the keys.

  • Satisfying hammer action.
  • Very affordable.
  • Great build quality.
  • Quality software and plug-ins included.

While it might not have so much to offer in terms of features, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is a great budget item. It comes with features that will greatly suit average pianists but might prove hard to those who are used to advanced key stations.

Arturia KeyLab 88 MIDI Controller Keyboard

The 88-key fully-weighted controller keyboard is a great instrument primed to redefine how you interact with virtual synths. It includes Analog Lab software which has over 6000 presets.

With the keyboard, you can have maximum control of your sounds. This is enabled by the amazing hammer action keyboard and the available controls: faders, encoders, transport controls, and buttons.

The keyboard is touch sensitive with aftertouch so you are guaranteed to have a great experience. On top of that, the KeyLab 88 is pre-mapped but you can use MIDI control center software to customize the layout.

It comes with a great sound as it emulates vintage synthesizers giving you over 6000 classic sounds with the option to choose any synth sound you need in the bundle.

You can choose patches from Arturia popular software like the ARP2600, Modular V, JUP 8V and so on. Even better, you can add organs and classic EP’s for a classical experience.

It comes with a generous set of controls and great feeling keyboard that you can easily configure and optimize for all software you use. In addition, there’s expression pedals and breath controller inputs which is ideal for music production.

Arturia KeyLab 88 MIDI Controller Keyboard

The KeyLab 88 has a firm and positive action with no side to side wobble on the keys during practice. The monophonic aftertouch has great controllability and can be adjusted according to your preference.

All the knobs behave as they should. The sliders come with a nice feel and the incorporated MPC pads that are built to tolerate even heavy pounding.

You can easily adjust the knobs buttons and sliders to give you the desired combination data and even save them as preset.

  • Excellent keyboard feel.
  • Fine-looking appearance.
  • Good value for money.
  • Huge sound library.
  • Few controls.
  • Limited Analog Lab editability.

If you are looking for the best 88-key MIDI keyboard that comes with great features, beautiful interior and a modest price tag the KeyLab 88 is a good place to start. It undercuts most of its competitors in both weight and price.

Although it doesn’t come with most fancy keys like the Analog Lab, you‘ll find it exciting and very reliable. It makes its way to be one of the cheapest 88-key MIDI keyboard controllers out there.

Akai Pro MPK Road 88 Keyboard Controller

The Akai Pro MPK Road 88 controller comes with a built-in audio interface and road case. This instrument is designed for professionals who are looking for a versatile fully weighted MIDI keyboard.

It features 88-key graded keybed with hammer action and velocity sensitivity which are meticulously engineered to give even the most demanding musician the nuisance they need of their performance.

With its built-in USB audio interface which gives you four audio outputs, the instrument is ideal even for advanced musicians. This eliminates the need for a separate audio interface where you can create a separate feed to monitor your stage and PA system.

Akai Professional MPK Road 88 Keyboard Controller

It comes with dedicated volume controls on the front panel where you can manage your signals easily without messing with other interfaces.

The MPK Road 88 is designed to be responsive enough to give you a number of creative potentials to express control synthesizer and other software.

It enables you to select to transpose for a key change, split the keyboard to allocate multiple sounds and even select their presets. The controls are dedicated to each function to enable you to manage the instrument without using the menu. On top of all that, you’ll find dual expression pedal MIDI in-out ports and USB connectivity which are ready for all situations.

  • Great keyboard feel.
  • Compact design.
  • Great professional features.
  • The keys can be a bit noisy.

The MPK Road 88 is one instrument that will enable you to manage your VI collection to maximize the effect. It thoughtfully includes everything a professional keyboard player might be looking for. You’ll find Pitch and MOD wheels that combine with dedicated volume control knobs and buttons to easily meet the challenge.

Doepfer LMK4+ MIDI Master Keyboard

This is another instrument that has made its way to our best 88-key MIDI controller list. It’s an instrument that you can easily use as the command center of your electronic music gear as it comes with 88 full-size piano keys with hammer action and it’s packed in a flight case with a removable lid to give it maximum portability and control.

The Doepfer LMK4+ comes with two MIDI inputs which you can use to connect another keyboard or bypass pedal. With the instrument, you to send MIDI program change and bank message, MIDI clock, Start, continue, stop, and even reset all function. Even better, you can assign the wheels, rotary, control, sliders, aftertouch, footswitch and pedals any parameter.

Doepfer LMK4+ MIDI Master Keyboard

Its playability is exceptional whereby you can fine tune the feel to fit your playing style from the available 32 selectable velocity response and 8 aftertouch response. On top of that, it comes with 128 memory slot that enables you to save your configurations and use them later.

The instrument comes with 8 overlap zones which you can assign and get comprehensive control to multiple synths. You can assign the velocity of each zone and aftertouch curve MIDI channel and output, controller activity, bank number transpose and more.

  • Comes with 3 resistance level.
  • Pre-mapped and requires no manual to access every function.
  • Comes with the European plug so you need a converter to power it.

For serious players, the LMK4+ is the best deal out there when it comes to a reliable MIDI keyboard controllers with tones of fancy features. It comes with a great feel to give you pianos style action.

Generally, from production to playing, the Doepfer is the best MIDI keyboard with weighted keys in the market. It’s certainly a great value of everything.

Studiologic SL88 Studio Keyboard Controller

The SL88 is a modern MIDI controller that combines quality construction, versatility, ease of use and fantastic pricing. The instrument comes with a compact case, premium TP/100LR and 88 graded keys with a plastic keybed.

You can easily adjust the feel to the available soft, medium and hard settings or even customize it to your preference with the available 6 editable velocity response of each key. Here, you’ll find 6 factory settings to balance the keys and a memory of 10 custom settings to store your own.

The controller weighs only 30 pounds and sheds as much cost as it does on the weight. On top of that, the layout is very simple but classic in all ways.

It includes just three real-time controllers with the clever arrangement: the first is spring loaded with four axis to control mod and pitch. The second is loaded in only two directions and the third isn’t spring loaded at all and it’s used for crossfade, planning, and synthetic control.

Studiologic SL88 Studio Lightweight MIDI Controller

The SL88 Studio provides pretty straight forward connectivity. There are two pedals input that can accommodate the regular sustain pedal, there’s the third pedal for a continuous controller and a fourth pedal that supports either multifunctional or controller pedal.

There are USB ports that support class-compliant USB-MIDI connectivity. You’ll also find MIDI jack in and two MIDI jack out, power input that is supplied by the 9V external power source but still it can run with the USB bus power.

The instrument comes with an elegant TFT color display and a control knob that is a multi-position selector and enters key when pressed. It comes with a 250 program memory with each memory coming with four programmable zones that you can split and layer on the instrument.

It also enables you to set bank select message for each zone which might seem like a little detail but is very essential to send message to change program MIDI containing multiple sound banks.

  • Compact design.
  • Very responsiveness control.
  • Flexible midi routing.
  • With the pitch bend joystick and patch changing, you might have trouble gaining the control.

Overall, the SL88 comes out as a useful and contemporary command center. It has a remarkable weight and gives outstanding value for money. With the keyboard, you are guaranteed to get a grand flavor that differs only in action.

Korg D1 Stage Piano / MIDI Controller

This is an instrument dedicated to bringing the feel of a grand piano to your home or stage. It features the famous Korg RH3 keybed at a mid-range price to bring hammer action into the compact frame with the patches and built-in effects.

The instrument is unquestionably well designed as it takes minimal construct approach and layout. Actually, the instrument is so minimal in a way that you might have a hard time spotting features like headphone jacks.

Korg D1 88-key Stage Piano / MIDI Controller

Above the keybed, the instrument comes with numerous effect and patch controls. On the left, you will find controls for touch sensitivity, reverb, chorus, and basic brilliance.

To the right, there are simplified patch controls that enable you to access over 30 different sounds organize them into 10 tones and categorizing them into 3 variations.

On the back, you get a 1/4 output/input damper, power input, and MIDI in and out jack pin. Unfortunately, there’s no USB-MIDI jack included in this keyboard which might seem like a downside considering it’s built focusing home use.

The available patches bring additional depth and increase the focus on sensitive resonance and sample sounds.

The sustain pedal is full and vibrant and the key off sounds contribute the realism commonly available to the electric pianos. The chorus and reverb effect are very useful to add motions and ambiance to the patches.

  • Great keybed action.
  • Ideal for stage and home performance.
  • Solid and minimalistic design.
  • User-friendly control panel.
  • No USB port.
  • The keys are too heavy for some people.

The Korg D1 is a terrific instrument for players with different skill sets. We can actually say it is the cheapest weighted MIDI keyboard on the price range.

The onboard RH3 is one of the high-end weighted keyboards offered by Korg and having at the affordable price is really remarkable. Even though you don’t get many fancy features, this remains to be one of the best MIDI keyboards with weighted keys in our list.

Conclusion

From the realistic to full feature to simple yet elegant, an 88-key controller keyboard will be great for numerous reasons. The instrument will open up your creative boundaries as a musician and allow you to explore a wide range of options.

In our list, you’ll find something that will fit your needs whether you are looking for an instrument that sound and feel like a real piano, something friendly and portable to travel with or even one with pads and extra buttons.

Sours: https://digitalpianojudge.com/best-88-key-weighted-midi-keyboard-controllers/
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What’s the Best MIDI Controller with Weighted Keys?

MIDI controllers are great to work with during the music production process because they usually come with several different types of encoders used for processing all sorts of sounds, effects, and samples within your digital audio workstation. As an avid Ableton Live user, I love using MIDI controllers and I use one for every single music session I do.

For some, MIDI controllers can be a problem, however. That’s because nearly every MIDI keyboard on the market is not weighted, meaning it doesn’t really feel like a piano. I’m a piano player; I’ve been playing for a long time, and I’ve played really heavy pianos and really light synths. For me, I don’t have a preference: all keyboards are created equal (well, to an extent) in my book. If it feels good and is useful, I usually love it.

studio-logic-sl-88

But the problem is that a lot of piano players who want to use MIDI are in a bit of a pickle because they are so used to weighted keys. They need something that feels like a grand piano but can also double as a workstation for music production.  Some people hate the plastic feel of keys on most MIDI keyboards and want something more like the Roland A-88.

Before moving forward, feel free to use our interactive table below to better help you find the perfect MIDI controller featuring weighted keys, as well.  

Finding the Best MIDI Controller with Weighted Keys

So what are they supposed to do about that? Well, fortunately there are a handful great weighted MIDI keyboard controllers, and we’re going to go into depth about some that I’d recommend and why I think they are worthy of your consideration.

If you’re shelling out a lot of cash for a MIDI keyboard with weighted keys, you had better be sure you can find one that will last you for a very long time. In fact, if you’re in desperate need of a weighted MIDI controller that feels like a piano, you’ll need a controller that has the following:

  • Weighted keys (well duh!)
  • 88 keys
  • USB to Host
  • DAW compatibility
  • Inputs for everything you might need
our-top-picks-1

Below, please take a moment to view a list of some of the best selling MIDI keyboards available on Amazon:

So with all this in mind, let me tell you about my 5 favorite weighted MIDI controllers and how they can help you in your time of need.

5. Yamaha P-125

A comforting sight for experience eyes, the Yamaha P-125 is technically a digital piano that can double as a MIDI controller. The reason I’m including this on the list is because it still fits as a MIDI controller and the keys feel too good to ignore.

yamaha-p115

So obviously, you have your standard CF sampled sound engine that Yamaha is famous for here, as well as its other core sounds: organs, strings, electric pianos, and vibes. It has speakers, but if you’re using it as a MIDI controller, you will only be able to hear the sounds on your DAW through your studio monitors or headphones.

So, I know what you’re thinking—you’re skeptical. Why would I include something that’s not exclusively a MIDI controller? Well, I’ve seen a friend use this thing as both a MIDI controller and a practice piano, and the more I think about it, the more I like its dual role.

For instance, if you want to practice some parts before your record them, you don’t have to arm tracks and solo the VST plugin synthesizing your piano sounds virtually. Instead, you just turn up the volume on the P-125. And the piano sound is so good that it’s almost better than a lot of the lower-end plugins like Addictive Keys anyway.

Plus the P-125 has inputs for pedals, a USB cable input for MIDI, and it just feels great to play. It’s also cheaper than a lot of the other MIDI keyboards on this list, and the other ones can’t play sounds on their own.

I don’t have much negative to say about this weighted MIDI keyboard (and digital piano), except that I feel like it’s a little narrow and slides around if you put it on a metal X stand. But you could put a towel or something underneath it. But it only weighs about 26 lbs. so it’s pretty portable.

Also, it doesn’t have any mappable parameters for music production stuff, which can be a problem for a lot of producers. If you want encoders, go with something like the Komplete Kontrol S88 or the Studiologic SL88.

I give it a 4.1 out of 5 stars in this context.

4. Studiologic SL-88

Studiologic was a bigger deal a little while ago, but since then they’ve kind of drifted out of the spotlight and have made room for companies like Akai and Novation to dominate the MIDI sphere. Nevertheless, the SL-88 is still a great option for a weighted MIDI keyboard.

studio-logic-sl-88

It doesn’t have much in the way of MIDI encoders, but it has a nice screen with a scroll wheel and a couple of assignable sticks. If I’m being perfectly honest, knobs make more sense than sticks in today’s digital climate. So if you’re looking for something that encodes better, go with something else. However, in order to get a MIDI keyboard that features weighted keys and perfect knobs, you’ll need to spend a lot more money in order to get something like the Komplete Kontrol S88.

However, the weighted keys are superb. They’re lifelike and convincing, and perfect for a piano player who needs something with weighted keys. The money invested in this keyboard goes straight toward the quality of the Fatar keybed, so it’s definitely worth the money. It’s wider than the P-115 so it feels really sturdy, and it weighs around 30 lbs. so you can probably carry it by yourself in a gig bag or something.

It doesn’t have any internal sounds like a hybrid MIDI controller would, but it controls everything inside the DAW just fine. It might not be a recognizable brand, but it’s still pretty great.

I give the Studiologic SL-88 a 4.3 out of 5 stars.

3. Roland A-88

I’m a big fan of Roland, but I promise the reason I put the A-88 on here is because it plays like a grand piano and is really quite nice. It’s got the same keys as Roland’s digital pianos, which is their patented Ivory Feel G technology.

roland-a88

It’s got a few necessary controls, although it doesn’t have any DAW transport controls (and for a MIDI controller you’d expect it to have some).   It does have two knobs that are assignable, a full 88 keys, and a USB to host port for MIDI compatibility. It also has a few other controls, like octave, pitch, volume, etc. although for MIDI, you don’t necessarily need those.

My favorite thing about Roland keyboards are that the pitch and mod wheels aren’t wheels at all, but are actually a joystick you can use to change pitch and mod simultaneously. It’s brilliant because it only takes one hand to move both at the same time if you want to. Obviously the A-88 has one of these, and it works great. You can even assign different stuff to it if you want. 

Some negatives? Only two knobs, and there aren’t any pads or anything like that, so it’s still somewhat limited as a music production machine. But I think when you demand weighted keys you have to sacrifice some of the production features on most of these MIDI controllers. Otherwise it’d weigh a lot more, and Roland A-88 already isn’t really light at 35 lbs.

I’d probably take this one over the Studiologic SL-88 because the controls are better. Although the keys feel about the same quality: they’re both great.

The A-88 gets a 4.4 out of 5 stars for me.

2. Kawai VPC 1

For a weighted MIDI controller, the Kawai VPC 1 is about as realistic as you can get. That’s because it’s made by a company that pretty much only makes really high quality grand pianos.

kawai-vpc-1

For purists who want something digital, this one is the way to go. It’s hands down the closest thing to a real grand I’ve ever felt, and while the action is a little bit lighter than some of the other Kawai grand pianos, if you closed your eyes you’d think you might for a second be tricked into believing that you were playing an expensive grand.

Of course as a MIDI controller, your sounds are limitless, but if I was using this thing in my studio, I’d feel guilty not using a pure grand piano sound on it at all times.

Of course, the gorgeous design of the keybed and even the boxy frame (which looks like the top of an upright) is contrasted by a lack of controls, buttons, or anything useful for a producer. So that could be a major problem for a lot of people, and would turn away most producers.

So you probably have to decide what’s more important to you: perfect keys and no controllability, or more controllability and lower key quality.

It’s hard to decide, right?

Well for me it is, and I wouldn’t necessarily buy this MIDI controller because it’s very heavy (65 lbs.) and it has no controls, but for piano players who need that perfect key touch, I can definitely see the appeal.

And it is delightful overall, really, it just might not be the best for producers. The quality alone though is worth a high rating, and if it had everything a producer needed, it would top this list.

But instead, I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars because it’s amazing, just not perfect for everyone.

1) Komplete Kontrol S88

In my very humble opinion, probably the best MIDI controller of all time is the Komplete Kontrol S88, regardless of the fact that it has beautifully designed weighted keys with LED backlighting. It’s hands down one of the most useful production tools out there right now, simply because of its workflow design and its flawless Native Instruments Komplete software integration.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

What do I mean by software integration? Well, if you own a copy of Komplete, Native Instruments’ industry standard set of music production VST plugins, the Komplete Kontrol S88 automatically maps to the parameters designed by the plugin makers so you can make any sound customizable more easily than ever before.

The S88 has these really great knobs that already sync to existing parameters so you can edit sounds in real time, which is a producer’s dream. Of course you can map anything on the keyboard to non-Native Instruments plugins as well, so that’s a plus.

With the S88, you can select arpeggios, scales, and chord modes so you can create better melodies without worrying about playing wrong notes. The pitch and mod adjusters are touch screens, so you just run a finger up and down the zone to modulate the pitch or another effect. Very useful, and because it’s flat, you don’t risk breaking the wheels.

The screen is bright and easy to read, and the menus are so easy to get through, and the buttons for controlling the DAW and the menus inside any Native Instruments plugins are all there and are easy to use.

The S88 weighs around 37 lbs. so it’s very portable, and it’s definitely worth bringing along to a gig because the keys feel so sturdy and great to play. I should also note that the other S series keyboards do not have weighted keys; only this one does. So if you want weighted keys, you need to go for the S88.

If I had to find a complaint (and believe me, it was hard to find one) I would suggest that maybe on the next series of MIDI controllers they add eight pads and eight faders/sliders, just because that extra control would be nice. Native Instruments could even use the same pads they use for their Maschine. It doesn’t necessarily matter, but it would be nice.

Also, this MIDI is a little expensive too. It’s so easy to use that it’s a shame beginners might not be able to afford a $1,000 MIDI controller, plus the cost of the Komplete software, which is at least $400. Of course, you don’t need Komplete to use it, but that’s where this midi controller shines.

I don’t think they could have done a better job making a weighted MIDI keyboard that feels great to play, can control everything, and is easy to use.

I happily give it a 5 out of 5 stars.

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Filed Under: MIDI and Synths

Sours: https://www.digitalpianoreviewguide.com/whats-the-best-midi-controller-with-weighted-keys/

3. M-Audio Keystation 88 II Semi-Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controller

Semi-Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controller Keystation

If you like the sound of the M Audio keyboard above but are looking for a full-size model with similar functionality, this unit from the same company could be the ideal alternative.

With its 88 full-size keys, it will feel much more like playing a real piano, making it a good pick for those who want to be able to play a wide range of styles.

The design is very simple and easy to understand, but we like the way it incorporates Core Control, a feature designed to make it easier to use this keyboard to control your DAW with minimal use of the mouse.

The onboard controls also include useful pitch bend and modulation adjusters, again, making it easy to control these parameters from the keyboard.

It comes with its own software package, making it easy to start playing as soon as it arrives. However, it is also compatible with all the most popular DAWs, so if you already have one, you’ll be able to use it with that too.

The pack also includes a 2GB sound library, giving you loads of scope for original composition.

However, on the downside, if you want to use it with other DAWs, the setup can be a little complicated, and you may find you need a little patience to get it set up and working correctly.

Also, be aware that this is a big keyboard with a large footprint – so if you don’t have lots of space, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

In short, a great option for anyone who’s looking for a full-size MIDI keyboard that’s easy to use and represents great value for money. However, if you’re looking for a compact option for a smaller home studio, this might not be the best pick.

Pros

  • Full-size keyboard with 88 keys – for the feel of playing a real piano
  • Core Control – makes it easy to control your DAW
  • Includes software – but also compatible with most other DAWs
  • Pitch bend and modulation controls – for extra creativity
  • Includes 2GB sound library – allows you to play a range of sounds

Cons

  • Complicated setup for some DAWs – may take some time and patience
  • Large footprint – will take up quite a bit of space

Check Current Price on Amazon

 

Sours: https://www.nonamehiding.com/weighted-midi-keyboard-controller/

Keyboard weighted midi

Best MIDI Keyboards: An In-Depth Look At the Market (2021)

Best MIDI Keyboards

As our website name implies, we focus mainly on pianos, specifically the electronic variants that serve as viable learning and practice tools for all skill levels.

Our most recent article challenged us to pick out a beginner’s training tool for under $150, which was no small feat.

MIDI Keyboard icon

One of the options we offered was a combination of a MIDI Keyboard alongside a VST plugin. This was an interesting take on things, as we’ve yet to cover MIDI keyboards and controllers.

Not long ago we also introduced you to the world of VST plugins and VST instruments in particular. These plugins are ideal companions to the MIDI keyboards we’ll cover in this article.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to MIDI keyboards, especially since our prior knowledge about companies like Yamaha, Roland, and other prolific digital piano manufacturers don’t apply.

To streamline things and to ensure you’re making informed decisions, we’ll offer our personal favorites based on use cases, while also providing some alternatives that might be worth considering.

Our Selection Criteria

Unlike our usual lists, we’ll be a bit more lenient with our choices. There won’t be the typical 88 weighted key rule here, because as we just discussed, we aren’t looking for the best piano replacement.

Shopping for MIDI controller

For MIDI keyboards and controllers, we are looking for:

  • Good build quality
  • Nice-feeling keys (which means it must have keys)
  • Pitch-bend and modwheel
  • Velocity/pressure sensitivity

That’s a short list due to the important factors you need to consider. At the least, this ensures that any recommendation we make will feel well-built and playable, and you won’t regret your purchase.

However, you’ll need to make a few decisions yourself. Some MIDI controller models come in different keybed sizes, ranging from a miniature 25-keys to the full piano-sized 88, and the models are essentially the same apart from the number of keys.

MIDI keyboard studio

Hence, you’ll need to judge the following on your own merits:

1) Number of Keys: More keys mean a higher price and more bulk, which might be unnecessary if you’re not playing classical pieces.

We find that 49 keys are good enough for synthesizer-focused players, whereas 61 keys are a good amount for keyboardists who need organ-style keys.

2) Key Type: Synth-action keys are most common, but semi-weighted and weighted options exist as well. You’re probably familiar enough with synth-action and weighted piano-style keys.

Semi-weighted keys are quite rare in the realm of digital pianos (though we did see them on the 73-key Nord Stage), but they strike a balance between versatility and responsiveness.

Synth unweighted key action

3) Number of Controls: Knobs and buttons are good to have and easy to assign software functions with MIDI Learn. However, most of us don’t need a full digital mixing board. If we did, we’d be buying something else. Knowing what you need is key.

If you’re looking at the Nektar GX49 for instance, but don’t need the controls, you can get the same keybed on the stripped-down Nektar SE49.

4) Aftertouch: Typical pressure sensitivity tracks the pressure on the down press, but aftertouch continues to detect how hard you’re pushing down until you let go.

Assigning this to an effect such as rotary speaker speed for organs is great for adding extra layers of expressivity to your performances.

5) 5-Pin MIDI Support: MIDI controllers are sometimes marketed as “USB only,” which means the manufacturers don’t offer MIDI connections. This isn’t a big deal if you’re connecting to a laptop directly, but it locks you out of some tabletop modules like the previously mentioned Analog Four MKII.

A workaround is to use a USB MIDI interface, which allows you to send USB MIDI signals through traditional 5-pin MIDI. However, as any laptop user will tell you, ports are a limited commodity. For reference, this is an example of a connection chain to support legacy gear:

USB MIDI Keyboard -> Computer -> USB MIDI Interface -> 5-Pin MIDI Cable -> Legacy Hardware

While this shows it’s possible to use USB MIDI controllers regardless, it does present added hassle.

MIDI to USB interface

6) Pads: Pads are fun, but they’re not a must. They are essentially better buttons, though, due to their larger size, especially if you’re playing on another main keyboard.

Finger drumming is something many prefer, but I find keyboard-drumming more precise. Your own personal mileage may vary.

7) Pedal Support: Much like digital pianos, it features a pedal jack. However, not all models have this, particularly the portable 25-key models.

Regardless, better safe than sorry, and it’s always better to ensure that you’re getting pedal support, proprietary or otherwise.

Music Production DAWs apps

8) Software Support: Some controllers are designed to integrate well with specific software, and this could push it up a few notches in your own personal lists.

We tested our picks on Ableton Live and Mainstage, but we did our best to avoid software-specific features to select the best general picks.

We won’t discuss the included software in the article. Chances are if you’re looking into MIDI controllers, you already own the related VSTs and DAWs.

If you’re starting out, most MIDI controllers include stripped-down versions of DAWs, like Ableton Live Lite and Bitwig 8-track. These aren’t long-term solutions due to their limitations, but they can help you learn the basics.

Speaking of DAWs, you won’t need to worry about DAW compatibility. While certain MIDI controllers, like the Novation Launchkey series for Ableton Live, have a clearly targeted DAW audience, it doesn’t mean they won’t work with other DAWs.

MIDI Learn is a software protocol that’s all about customizability, and it’s available in all major DAWs. Simply click the parameter you wish to assign and move the corresponding knob, fader, or button.

It’s easy to use and makes MIDI controllers usable regardless of which DAW you’re using.

The preamble out of the way, you now have an idea about how MIDI controllers work, so let’s look at our top picks.

Arturia KeyStep – Best Portable MIDI Keyboard (25- to 32-key)

Arturia Keystep Review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Gear4music Thomann


Arturia made a name for itself as one of the top developers for software emulations of classic synthesizers. They then moved onto hardware with their highly successful Minibrute synthesizer, praised for its solid build quality and excellent sounds.

Arturia’s focus on expanding its product line was what brought around the KeyStep. This is a portable MIDI controller geared towards laptop-based users who are consistently on the go.

This category is dominated by mini-keys, more likely associated with toys over fully-fledged instruments.

Arturia Keystep unboxing

Most people may see recommendations for the ever-popular Akai MPK Mini, or even the Novation Launchkey Mini, both well-reviewed MIDI controllers.

However, the KeyStep wins simply because of how good it feels. The keys, while small, feel a lot more premium, and have a decent amount of travel and springiness.

When compared to the alternatives, there is no competition. The MPK Mini and Launchkey Mini feel cheap and unresponsive, whereas the KeyStep legitimately feels like a real keyboard.

Arturia Keystep 32-key

32 keys isn’t a lot, but it’s still better than the 25-keys offered up by the competitors. It’s also important to remember that these are meant to fit into laptop bags. Size and weight must be kept at a minimum here.

If you want a point of reference, I’d say the KeyStep feels like a good unweighted arranger keyboard. That’s not much of an endorsement but believe me when I say there isn’t much better at this size.

The KeyStep was also designed with full-on connectivity in mind, and it shows in the number of options on offer.

USB MIDI is the obvious one, but 5-pin MIDI and even CV/Gate voltage signals are provided. If you’re using legacy gear or modular synth modules, the KeyStep has you covered.

Build quality is also best-in-class here. The KeyStep is plastic, but feels sturdy and is well suited for rugged laptop bags. The knobs and buttons feel much better than the competition.

Where it falters is in the lack of controls. The pitch bend and mod wheel exist as touch strips, which I feel is much better than the MPK Mini’s joystick and the Launchkey Mini’s nothing (though the new MK3 includes touch strips as well).

Arturia Keystep live performance

That’s the limit of positives for controls. The onboard knobs are all used for the sequencer and arpeggiator functions (which are robust for such a compact package), and the buttons are for transport controls only.

Pads are also notably absent, though neither the Launchkey nor the MPK Mini’s pads feel especially good.

Is this a deal-breaker? It depends on what you’re looking for. Personally, I’ll take good keys and build quality over all else. The KeyStep is easily the best portable MIDI keyboard out there, and it doubles as a proficient MIDI controller.

While you won’t go wrong with the KeyStep, I would suggest testing out alternatives if given the chance. The Launchkey Mini might be worth it if you’re using Ableton Live as your main DAW.

Pros

  • Best compact mini keys on the market
  • Good build quality
  • 5-pin MIDI and CV/Gate support

Cons

  • Lack of knobs and buttons

Alternatives

We talked briefly about the MPK Mini and the Launchkey Mini above. We don’t consider them viable controllers, but you can always try their bigger counterparts, the Akai MPK225 and Launchkey 25.

These dodge the problem of mini keys, but I still give the KeyStep the edge in that regard. The good controls are even more prominent here though and might just push you over the edge.

You could also consider the Arturia MiniLab, an even more miniaturized variation of the Arturia formula, but it has knobs and pads at the cost of 5-pin MIDI and CV.

This is a purely computer-based solution, but it still feels far superior to the competition.

Nektar SE49 – Best Budget MIDI Keyboard (below $200) 

Nektar SE49 review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Gear4music Thomann


While the Arturia KeyStep is great, it’s not something I’ll use for playing complex parts like chords or piano pieces. The 32-key limit means I have only 2.5 octaves to work with, which is extremely limiting.

That’s why we recommend the Nektar SE49. 49 keys aren’t a lot either, but Nektar more than makes up for it with their playability and simple control scheme.

Nektar as a company was founded to make MIDI controllers that closely integrated with DAWs, specifically Reason, giving you the ideal experience of being able to operate without even glancing at your computer screen.

This laser focus lends itself to specific DAW audiences but is not ideal for a general consumer. Thankfully, Nektar excels at good keyboards, and that same level of quality is seen with the SE49.

It’s worth noting that this category is highly contested. The Roland A-49 is a slightly more expensive option that’s a bit older, but it is well praised for offering good value for money.

Nektar SE49 MIDI

The M-Audio Keystation series, on the other hand, lags in terms of playability but features 5-pin MIDI support.

In fact, that’s the first blow against the SE49. You’re operating strictly on USB MIDI here. If you’ve got MIDI modules in mind, you might want to consider the Keystation.

Apart from that, the SE49 is plagued by the absence of more controls. A fader, pitch and mod wheels, and 4 buttons (which double as octave switchers) are all you get. And again, no pads – yikes!

Nektar SE49 front controls

However, the SE49 makes up for this by including one of the best unweighted keyboards I’ve played. Only the semi-weighted keys on the Novation Impulse (which costs 4 times more) beats it.

In my opinion, this beats out other options in this price range by simply feeling the best. I can play piano, synth, and organ on the SE49 without much issue.

Nektar SE49 connectors

The Keystation falters on account of its weak keybed, and while the Roland A-49 feels good with synths, it doesn’t feel as good with glides and glissandos.

The only thing that would have made the SE49’s keys perfect would be aftertouch, but it straight up doesn’t exist with the competitors at this price point, so I won’t hold it against Nektar.

Even the controls, limited as they are, feel high-quality. The pitch bend and mod wheels feel very precise despite their cheap look, which was unexpected.

The biggest pro of the SE49 is its price. This is one of the most affordable 49-key MIDI controllers out there, and it thankfully hits well above its weight class.

Even the Keystation 49 costs more, and I’d argue that it’s a worse deal unless you desperately require 5-pin MIDI. Seriously, go with the SE49. As far as price to performance ratios go, this is tough to beat.

Pros

  • Great keybed for the price
  • Very affordable
  • Decent build quality

Cons

  • USB MIDI only
  • No aftertouch
  • Lack of controls

Alternatives

In terms of alternatives, the Keystation series as well as the Oxygen line (if you need more controls) have variants with more keys, which might make it seem like the obvious choice if more keys are needed.

However, Nektar also makes the Impact GX61, which is cheaper than the Keystation 61 while featuring an upgraded build quality over the SE49.

Alternatively, if you’re willing to spend more, I recommend checking out the M-Audio Code series and the Novation Launchkey series (non-mini versions). These are all well-praised options that justify the extra price, giving you aftertouch, semi-weighted keys, and so on.

Arturia KeyLab MKII – Best Controls

Arturia KeyLab 49 MKII review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Gear4music Thomann


We’ve been skimping on excess controls so far, which seems counterintuitive to the design of MIDI controllers. However, we stand by the fact that keys are the most important aspect of any keyboard.

Regardless, for people who want a lot of knobs and buttons, the Arturia Keylab is the way to go. We’ve already introduced Arturia, so you know their pedigree as one of the top names in computer music.

Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII studio

The KeyLab series is split into the mainline series (KeyLab 49, 61, and 88 which is weighted) and the Essential series (KeyLab Essential 49 and 61).

The differences primarily regard the layout and the Essential line’s reduced number of controls. We’ll consider the series, but our opinions will be based on the KeyLab 49 MKII, which we believe is a better option.

Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII controls

The KeyLab takes the KeyStep design ethos and cranks it up to eleven. You get the same robust build quality with bonus wooden sides, a full-sized keybed, and actual controls beyond the transport buttons.

The keybed itself feels good and roughly identical regardless of which model you choose. Considering Arturia managed to make good on a mini-sized keyboard, I’m not surprised that their fully-grown brethren excel, too.

The keys here feel great and are a great fit for any playstyle once you’ve gotten used to them.

The KeyLab 88 is the only exception, featuring an ungraded piano-style weighted keyboard. While I did find it good, I think there are better options out there.

Even the FP-30 (which admittedly features Roland’s PHA-4 Standard action) feels better despite a much lower cost.

Everything here feels physically sound. The pitch and mod wheels are physical and have a light response and quick return time that feels somewhat like the Nord-style keyboards many of us covet.

Pads are also included (4×4 matrix on the mainline, and 4×2 on the Essential). The pads are less Akai MPC-style resistant, and more like the Native Instrument’s Maschine-style responsiveness.

This is a personal preference, but I find myself enjoying these a lot more than those on the Akai MIDI keyboards.

The faders, knobs, and buttons feel like they came off real hardware mixing boards, and there’s even a simple LCD screen to provide visual feedback when necessary.

The magic with the LCD screen is that the KeyLab comes with preset configurations for well-known DAWs and hardware synthesizers.

No matter what DAW you use (apart from FL Studio, which feels like a weird omission considering its popularity), there’s a default setup you can use and modify to taste. Arturia even provides printed labels you can use to change the button descriptors.

Arturia KeyLab KII connectivity

Since you have MIDI and CV/Gate connections, you can also use preset configurations with most hardware synthesizers, modern or otherwise.

Using this with the Prophet 6 available in the store was seamless, and I saw a lot of recognizable names in the menus.

Overall, I’d say the KeyLab is the best in its class. While some might consider the price to be a negative, there are many worse keyboards that cost more, and you really are getting a lot more than you pay for.

Pros

  • Full connectivity options provided
  • Good keys and controls
  • Versatile configuration with provided presets

Alternatives

For a higher price, you can get the Novation SL MKIII-series keyboards, designed specifically with Ableton Live in mind, integrating its 8×2 pad matrix and multiple color-LCD screens with the workflow directly.

 

While I love the SL MKIII as an Ableton Live user, it doesn’t integrate as well with other software and hardware. I’ll still note it down here as an excellent choice though.

The AKAI MPK249/261, Novation Launchkey, and the Nektar Impact LX series are MIDI keyboards available at a cheaper price, and they’re solid choices if the KeyLab feels too expensive.

I personally favor the Impact LX over the other two, but Akai is known for making sturdy products that last a long time.

These options aren’t exactly excellent, but they offer a good amount of controls for the price. The KeyLab is slightly ahead when it comes to playability and integration.

Novation Impulse – Best Semi-Weighted MIDI Controller

Novation Impulse review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Gear4music Thomann


Novation is another veteran MIDI controller. Their earliest controllers focused on providing as much control as possible. In fact, the ‘father of controllerism’ Moldover himself began by heavily modifying one of the earliest Novation SL keyboards to make his dreams of complete control a reality.

Novation Impulse keyboard

Novation is most well-known for its Launchpad line, which featured simple 8×8 pad controllers made for sample triggering, and these were surprisingly successful for performance purposes.

Many now write off Novation as just ‘the Launchpad company,’ but their legacy speaks for itself. They know what people want and they’re good at making things that work well.

We already spoke briefly about the latest MKIII SL iteration, but that’s not the only product to consider.

The Novation Impulse is an old MIDI controller, but the keyboard is one of the best I’ve played, and it even comes close to surpassing the semi-weighted 73-key variation of the Nord Stage 3.

Let’s talk about the keys first. They are semi-weighted and come in 25-61 key variations. The 61-key model is the one we’ll refer to.

Basically, semi-weighted keys feel somewhat like light piano keys, making them a happy medium between weighted and synth-action keys.

I personally prefer them over straight-up unweighted keys because of their versatility. Being able to play both piano and synth parts convincingly without changing your technique is quite useful, as you won’t need to switch between controllers just to get your ideas out.

Novation Impulse keys

The keys here are still the best semi-weighted keys I’ve played, despite being released in 2012, and I still recommend them. Velocity response and aftertouch are good, though aftertouch feels slightly uneven on the black keys.

Either way, keys aren’t the Impulse’s only advantage. There is a good amount of controls here such as pads, faders, and buttons, which unfortunately feel less premium due to their age. The SL does have the edge here, especially in terms of integration.

However, Novation’s built-in Automap software works well enough for most plugins and DAWs, though some of the more recent plugins aren’t supported.

Most of the common ones are still used to this day though, and I didn’t find many failures while using it.

Novation Impulse front controls

As you’ve probably noted throughout this article, controls take a back seat to good keys for us. The Impulse is a great keyboard at a good price, and one might even call it a good ‘impulse’ buy, pun intended.

Pros

  • One of the best semi-weighted keyboards available
  • All the controls you need

Cons

  • Everything apart from the keyboard feels a bit dated

Alternatives

There’s a better option if you’re willing to sacrifice a lot of controls and pay a lot more. Native Instruments is the biggest name in the business, and their plugins and hardware integrate well with each other.

Their new Komplete Kontrol S series includes semi-weighted keyboards courtesy of Fatar.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they’re responsible for the keys on all Nord keyboards, as well as the new up and coming company Dexibell.

The 49- and 61-key variants of the Komplete Control (henceforth known as the S49 and S61) are virtual carbon-copies of the Nord Stage 3 73’s semi-weighted keyboard, and I have to say they’re hard to beat.

These keyboards also include a high-resolution OLED display that gives you direct control of NKS supported plugins, something no other MIDI controller can attest.

The only major downsides to this keyboard are a hefty price and a limited number of controls. Even so, the screen + knob combination is efficient and hampered only by a lack of full-fledged support from non-Native Instruments plugins.

Kawai VPC1 – Best Weighted Keys

Kawai VPC1 review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Gear4music Thomann


Kawai needs no introduction as prolific acoustic and digital piano makers, having been around since 1927.

The Kawai VPC1 was a surprise when released in 2014, but it’s gone on to become a top option for people who want an acoustic piano-style experience that integrates with their software and hardware modules.

For the longest time, people resorted to actual digital pianos for that accurate replication of feel. Options like the Akai MPK88 existed but never compared to the more professional touch of actual digital pianos.

While getting an affordable yet well-reviewed digital piano (such as the excellent FP-30) is a valid option, you need to pay top dollar for wooden keys and responsive sensors. Kawai’s VPC1 felt like the natural answer to that problem.

The VPC1 is the most limited MIDI controller on this list, as there isn’t much to work with in terms of controls. You get a power button, USB MIDI and 5-pin connections, and the full-sized 88-key keyboard.

No faders, no buttons, nothing at all. This might seem blasphemous, but you’d be surprised to find that companies like Akai and M-Audio are attempting to recreate this minimalist product with their own Akai Road 88 and the M-Audio Hammer.

Kawai VPC1 inside key action

Sadly, they don’t come close. The Kawai VPC1 has the best keyboard of the bunch and is worth the price of admission.

If you look up the price, breathe deeply. Over $1,000 seems like a lot until you realize you’re getting the RM3II wooden key action.

These keys are far from plastic blocks and compare to the Grand Feel key actions featured on Kawai’s flagship console-style digital pianos (which cost many times more).

Kawai RM3 Grand II key action

With the RM3II action, you get a simulated acoustic feel with graded hammers, counterweights on keys, synthetic ivory-textured surfaces, and triple sensor detection for repetitive key presses.

Each key is a solid piece of wood of similar length to a real piano, which combined with a seesaw action mechanism, offers an incredible amount of realism.

A triple pedal setup also comes with the controller, providing soft, sostenuto, and damper pedaling in one package. As with Kawai’s digital pianos, these feel realistic and support half-damper functionality.

You even get to customize your own velocity curves using the VPC editor software.

This is the best piano-style weighted key action you can get in a MIDI controller. The competition (especially the Akai Road) comes close, but it’s not worth saving if you want the closest to the real deal.

More so than anywhere else, you’ll need to pair this with a good software piano. Again, I recommend you check out our breakdown of all our top piano VST plugins to find one that works best for you.

Pros

  • Best fully weighted key action on a non-digital piano
  • Excellent build quality
  • Piano-style design

Cons

  • Price
  • Relatively heavy
  • No controls

Alternatives

While the Akai Road 88 seems enticing due to costing 3/4 of the price, I’d say the M-Audio Hammer or the Studiologic SL88 Grand is a better value-for-money option.

The latter comes with Fatar’s premium TP/40 Wood action, which feels superior to the SL88 Studio with a lighter and more basic action, the TP/100LR.

The actions still feel worse than Kawai’s RM3II, but they have a few bonuses that justify the downgrade.

It also helps that they cost less than half the price of the Kawai VPC1.

Roli Seaboard – Best Innovation

Roli Seaboard Rise 25 review

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From What Retailer to Buy From?As you can see, there are plenty of good places where you can buy this item. My personal favorite is Sweetwater.

Being one of the oldest and most reputable music retailers in the US, it offers exceptional customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, and overall the best experience I’ve ever had shopping for audio equipment.

Many of my fellow musicians share the same opinion and regard Sweetwater as their go-to music store.)
Sweetwater Guitar CenterAmazon

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Thomann


If there’s one takeaway from this whole article, it’s that MIDI controllers are all about giving the user control.

Knobs, buttons, and faders seem archaic, but they’re an easy method for interacting with sound parameters to add expressivity.

However, those feel more like an engineer’s tool, as opposed to that of a musician. Roli is a company formed to tackle that issue head-on. Their products, from the Roli Lightpad Block to the Roli Seaboard, don’t have knobs or buttons.

Instead, they use the simple concept of aftertouch and add extra dimensions to enhance performance capabilities.

Imagine controlling a synthesizer’s filter cutoff point by moving your finger up and down the keys. Perhaps even controlling pitch bend by moving your fingers horizontally!

This is all possible with the Seaboard, and it’s something quite unique. If you’ve ever used Korg’s famous Kaoss pads, this feels like that, but in keyboard form.

Touch is the name of the game here, and Roli even designed their own software plugins to take full advantage of their keyboard. These come with every Seaboard model you can buy, and while they’re complicated, the sounds are worth the effort.

The problem here is the price. The cheapest Seaboard Block is many times the price of other 25-key controllers, and the Seaboard Rise 49-key variant costs nearly as much as the Kawai VPC1! That’s no small investment.

However, this is innovation the way we like it. It’s hard to say how things will change in the coming years, but we’re looking forward to more innovative products like the Seaboard from other companies.


Honorable Mentions

The Roli Seaboard requires you to significantly alter your playstyle, so what if you like your current keyboard?

Well, a lot of other products act as accessories to enhance performance, rather than replace your current rig. These include the ring-based MIDI controller from Enhancia that reacts to movement dynamically, sending CC changes as you move your hands.

On paper, this seems less cool than the Seaboard, but it might be worth looking into if you’re hitting a creative wall in your performances and want to spice things up.

An Introduction to MIDI Controllers

MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it’s the current technical standard protocol for signal transfer in digital musical instruments.

The most general form of MIDI data is note data, whereby each note we play on the keybed has specific properties.

MIDI definition

For example, if I play middle C for a few seconds before letting go, the sound chip receives a C3 trigger, velocity/sensitivity data, the length of the note, whether or not the sustain pedal is pressed, and potentially more information depending on what sensor architecture the keybed uses.

There’s a lot of interesting online information about MIDI, and there’s even a 2.0 revision ‘coming soon’ that promises a lot. I enjoy reading about it all, but let’s be frank, we’re musicians first and engineers second, so I’ll cut to the chase.

MIDI piano roll DAW

MIDI as the industry standard is great because it allows instruments from different manufacturers to communicate with each other.

For example, if I had the Roland FP-90 (which we’ve reviewed previously), and I purchased the Analog Four MKII synthesizer (which does not have keys), I could link them together with a standard 5-pin MIDI connector.

Once connected, any notes I play on the FP-90 would trigger sounds on the Analog Four MKII seamlessly.

That’s not the only possible combination. Nearly all instruments can communicate this way. If the goal was to trigger the Analog Four MKII, we could use anything from the cheap Casio CT-S300 to the gargantuan Yamaha AvantGrands.

MIDI keyboard performance

This isn’t even limited to synthesizers. If you were inclined, you could control a Korg Grandstage (a stage piano we like) with a Nord Piano 4, a Nord Stage with a Korg D1. You could even link two Roland FP-90s.

Of course, whether you need any of this is another question, but the option exists.

VST Musical Instruments

The more modern solution is to utilize VST software plugins, which run on any computer while controlled by MIDI.

This is a common occurrence, and we’ll test all our choices here using VST software on a laptop connected by USB.

Sure, we might need to be smart with connectors, but the essential takeaway is that nearly everything can communicate via MIDI. MIDI controllers adopt this approach in another way, too.

All the previous options we brought up assume you have a key-based instrument by your side, but if you’re just going to be triggering sounds off another source, you don’t exactly need built-in sounds, right?

Hence, MIDI controllers are purely signal-sending devices that don’t generate their own sounds. While this is an oversimplification, that’s the essence of MIDI.

MIDI controllers often offer bonuses. MIDI is more than just note and pedal data. MIDI information also exists as Continuous Controllers (CC) and Program Changes (PC).

These are mostly used when you turn knobs or hit buttons on your instrument, nothing too exciting.

However, it is particularly important on MIDI controllers, as you’ll never know what you’ll end up controlling. Controlling piano software is straightforward, but what if you want some drawbars for an organ module or filter knobs for a synthesizer?

MIDI Controllers or MIDI Keyboards?

You may have noticed that we called them MIDI controllers, not MIDI keyboards. No one said keys were a must.

One of the most successful early MIDI controllers was the AKAI MPK-series, which had keys, but was praised for having well-built buttons, knobs, faders, and so-on. It also came with AKAI’s iconic drum pads.

Let’s talk about the drum pads first. AKAI was famous for making the classic MPC music production center, a compact instrument based around pad-based control.

This was used by early hip-hop producers such as Dr. Dre, J. Dilla, and more. Even today, artists like Kanye West still swear by the workflow.

Pads were never taken seriously as a substitute for keys, but that didn’t stop companies like Ableton and Native Instruments from creating the “pad only” Ableton Push and Native Instruments Maschine.

These are impressive MIDI controllers and inventive new instruments. However, we won’t be covering them in this article, as they’re too far off from actual key-based piano for our skills to be transferrable.

There are also unique controllers such as the AKAI Midimix and the Novation Launch Control. These were MIDI controllers that omitted the keys entirely and hit the mark for audiences who wanted workflow enhancers instead of keyboards with extras.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on MIDI keyboards and use the terms interchangeably.

Who Are MIDI Controllers For?

MIDI controllers were mainly designed for home-based music producers using digital audio workstations (DAW). This means the most common use for modern MIDI controllers is connecting to a computer, either desktop or laptop.

This is further evidenced by the rise of USB MIDI, as opposed to the classic 5-pin MIDI connection.

MIDI keyboard studio setup

However, being ‘for producers only’ is not a hard-set rule. More and more MIDI controllers are geared towards performers and keyboardists. This rise was dubbed ‘controllerism’ by DJ and live performer Moldover back in 2005.

This attempted to take the best parts of MIDI and merge them with more traditionalist live performance styles. This involved sample triggering via pads, gradual morphing changes using knobs, and live volume mixing with faders.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a paradigm adopted by most modern stage pianos, such as the Roland RD-2000 which we praised for offering a lot of hands-on control.

We’ve always advocated for using stage pianos in live performances, but I’d argue that MIDI controllers deserve just as much attention.

Bands are incorporating laptops and MIDI controllers more and more into their live sets (even guitarists and drummers!). Having the flexibility of software with hands-on physical control is quite liberating.

With performance-oriented DAWs like Ableton Live becoming more commonplace, there is no reason to avoid dabbling in the possibilities.

Software is getting increasingly powerful, with the biggest hurdle of latency (or what we commonly call lag) being less and less relevant with modern hardware.

I’d say the traditional answer of MIDI keyboards being strictly for producers is outdated. Any performer can benefit from using performance software and MIDI controllers.

Are MIDI Keyboards a Valid Replacement to Digital Pianos?

MIDI keyboard vs Digital Piano

MIDI keyboards are valid practice tools for budding pianists and keyboardists. While the setup may turn some away, the cheaper price is a bargain. We won’t get detailed here, but you can make it work.

Our stance remains, if you want to learn the piano specifically, you need a good set of realistic keys and sounds. MIDI keyboards aren’t suited for this goal.

So, if your goal is to become a pianist, I’d suggest going with some of the selections from our other lists. Weighted MIDI keyboards exist (as we’ll cover below), but they’re expensive and don’t offer any sounds.

Sustain Pedals

Sustain pedals are omitted on all but the Kawai VPC1, so you’ll need to shell out a bit more cash to unlock full functionality. Something worth considering when purchasing pedals for MIDI controllers is whether you require half-pedaling.

Pedals with half-damper support cost a bit more but are well worth the extra price to enhance realism on supporting plugins like Keyscape.

Our favorite damper pedal that supports half-pedaling (and our favorite sustain pedal in general) is Korg’s DS-1H. This small pedal is built like a tank and will last you many years even if you chuck it around.

It’s also not a square block-style pedal, which is something we prefer. The DS-1H feels good, with a decent amount of resistance so you can rest atop it, but not so much that you’ll struggle to push downwards.

If you decide that half-pedaling is unnecessary, your options open greatly. We recommend the Nektar NP-2 for its cheap price and good build quality. The M-Audio SP-2 is a good alternative as well.

Final Words

MIDI controllers are interesting if you’re willing to dive deep, and I hope we’ve given you an idea of what to look for. If you’ve gotten this far, I want to strongly recommend you consider your main purposes.

We’ve tried our best to provide general recommendations that work well regardless of your DAW or hardware preferences, but certain other options might be preferable because of their close integration. The Komplete Kontrol and Novation SL come to mind.

While we stand by our stance that keys are the most important aspect, there are other factors to consider.

If you’re already a stage performer who loves your Roland RD-2000, you don’t need a fully-fledged MIDI controller to add to your control capabilities.

You can easily get away with a cheap Akai LPD8 for some buttons and knobs, or even a cheap Korg nanoKONTROL for faders. Both suggestions can even fit into your gig bag without adding much weight.

You’re not limited to single products when it comes to controllers, and as we said early on, the sky is the limit. As always, we recommend going into stores to test out your purchases beforehand whenever possible. A good feel is something we always look for and being subjective means that what we like might not be your personal favorite.

Regardless, we hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of MIDI controllers. If you want to know more about piano VSTs and plugins, we invite you to review our previous coverage for a pro’s thoughts on the matter.


You might also like:

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Digital Piano

Digital Piano Buying Guide

Best DAWs Today: How to Choose Your First DAW?

Best DAWs

Best Studio Monitors: The Ultimate Buying Guide

Best Studio Monitors

Build a Home Recording Studio With Me: Step-by-Step Guide

Build a Home Recording Studio

Sours: https://www.pianodreamers.com/best-midi-keyboards/
This Was Made For Piano Players! -M-Audio Hammer 88 Review!(2020)-

I bought her a set of cosmetics and inexpensive perfume, everything that Kostya asked for, bought even more, asked Nyashka his size and took him a camouflage. Suit, sweatpants and a T-shirt. Then we went to grocery stores, picked up pasta, various cereals, vegetable oil, fry fish, stewed meat and three bottles of vodka, I was. Already tired of alcohol, I loved wine a couple of bottles of good wine.

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