How to find the best MIDI keyboard controller
Midi keyboard controllers have been used by musicians to control virtual instruments for over 25 years, and are now an integral part of the music industry. These devices are commonly found in studios, classrooms, and on stage, and give you the ability to control all of your favorite music software and hardware. It is important that you choose the best midi keyboard controller for your needs. There are several different types and styles of midi controllers to choose from, and each includes its own benefits and features. To help you make an informed decision that fits your budget and your musical needs we have put together this comprehensive buying guide. In it you will find everything that you need to pick the best midi controller for your favorite virtual instruments and software.
What to look for when buying a midi keyboard controller
Number of Keys
One of the first things that you need to consider in a midi controller is the number of keys. Most midi controllers have either 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys, but you can occasionally find units that have 32, 37, 73, or 76 playable keys. The number of keys on the controller will determine if you can play two or one handed, and it will also help to determine its size. Small 25 key controllers usually have a length of 20 inches, while units with 88 keys can be longer than 50″. The number of keys will also determine the midi controller’s portability, along with the number of available functions.
The best midi controller will have keys that are comfortable for you to play, and this is determined by the type of action that it has. Keyboard action refers to how the key feels when you are playing it, and a midi controller that feels uncomfortable can affect your productivity and creativity when you are using it. There are three basic types of keyboard action that include, weighted hammer, semi weighted, and synth. Most of the 88 key midi controllers use weighted hammer action that is similar to the feel of a standard grand piano. Semi weighted midi keyboards are quick and responsive to the touch, and are the perfect balance between the other types of key action. Synth action midi controllers are popular among guitar players for the spring loaded action. The keys are lightweight, extremely responsive, and can be played quickly. Some of the best cheap midi keyboard controllers use responsive spring loaded synth action.
Knobs, Sliders, and Pads
Depending on your budget and your musical needs, the best midi keyboard controller may include knobs, sliders and pads. This will give you more musical options, and allow you to create more expressive sounds. The addition of these features can make it easier to control the DAW, giving you the ability to make adjustments in real time. Not only does your music have a more seamless and natural sound, some midi controllers also let you set up auto mapping that can be triggered by the different knobs.
Flexible or Focused
Most of the top midi controllers are flexible and focused, which means that they include factory presets that you can change or add to. A midi keyboard controller that is considered focused simply refers to the included presets that are put in place to work with your selected musical software. A flexible midi controller will let you select the settings that you want, and can be programmed to your specific needs. Beginning musicians and some guitar players prefer a focused midi controller that is already set up and ready to go. Studio musicians often find that they need the flexibility of a open ended controller.
There are several different ways that you can connect and power a midi keyboard controller, and the top midi controllers will give you a variety of options. Almost all controllers can be connected to your computer via a USB cable, but there are other options that you should consider. A midi controller can also use Firewall, MIDI, mLAN, and S/PDIF that are either built in to the unit, or connected externally. The input and output options should also be considered before spending your money on a new midi controller. Having the in and output jacks already included is ideal for using the device as a digital workstation. If you plan to connect the controller to speakers, amps or mixers you will also want to make sure that the audio plugs are included, this is especially important if you plan on using it during live musical shows.
- Best 88 key midi controller
If you are used to playing on a traditional upright piano, you might want to consider a midi controller with weighted keys. Like a piano these types of midi devices have 88 semi weighted keys that are also velocity sensitive for a faster response time. There larger surface, to accommodate the 88 keys, let you use both hands while you are playing and will give you the familiar feeling of playing on your piano.
There are plenty of options for range, which lets you compose and play almost any type of music, and the controller will also easily work with your existing work station. Since it is a larger midi controller it also includes additional functions that will work seamlessly with your favorite DAW software. Pitch and modulation wheels let you add creative expressions to your compositions, while additional buttons let you quickly change the octave when it is needed. The larger number of keys gives you a versatility that you don’t normally get with a smaller midi controller, along with the ability to start composing and creating music quickly and easily.
The Alesis Q88 USB MIDI Keyboard controller features everything that you need to start composing and playing. The semi weighted keys are ideal for piano players, and it includes the music software to get you started. Change the tone, key, or add expression to your music with the modulation and pitch wheels. It can be used in the studio to record and compose music, and it is lightweight enough to be easily used for live performances.
If you are a student on a budget or do not need 88 keys, a small and cheap midi keyboard controller is the perfect choice for you. These midi controllers have 25 keys, and feature synth action for a fast response. With the ability to quickly return to position you can easily add fast tempo riffs to your performance.
The best small midi controller by Akai has 25 small keys that are extremely responsive to touch. There is a thumb stick that lets you control modulation, and bend the pitch when you want to. The compact midi controller also include 8 knobs for tweaking your plug ins and mixing samples. To give you even more options there are 8 touch sensitive pads, and you can use the midi controller with your favorite DAWs software. Even though these types of devices are often priced lower, this does not mean that you have to sacrifice quality or functions. Its compact design makes the controllers ideal for traveling musicians, or for anyone that needs a small midi device that will fit on a crowded workstation.
The Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII Midi Keyboard Controller is compact, lightweight, and affordable. It is ideal for students, guitar players, and traveling musicians, and can be easily plugged in and powered by your laptop or computer. It includes everything you need to get started creating and recording your own music, along with production software and plenty of virtual instruments.
- Best M-audio midi keyboard controller
A midi controller with weight keys can be used by anyone that is used to playing the piano. The heavier key action, is also preferred by some studio and stage musicians. The longer keyboard lets you compose and play with both hands, and many piano players find the similarities between the two keyboards comforting. These types of midi keyboards are often found in the studio, and can usually be connected to any PC or Mac.
Since this larger midi keyboard controllers are often designed for experienced musicians and sound technicians, there are usually several creative functions included. A M-audio midi keyboard controller has everything that you need to get started composing and playing. The midi devices have functions that let you change or set the programming, so you can use all of the creative options available with your software. You can also sustain the musical notes, when you want to add the familiar sound of a piano. These midi controllers also have a built in USB jack that lets you send messages to your computer and keyboard from other devices.
M-Audio Keystation 88ES USB MIDI Keyboard Controller has everything you need to trigger beats, bend pitch, and record new sounds. The responsive keys are touch sensitive, and the data is easy to assign with the up and down buttons. The larger midi keyboard controller is easy to use, and for added convenience it can be powered by your computer or with a 9v adapter.
The best small midi keyboard should not only be portable, but it should also be able to connect easily to your computer with a USB plug. Not only will this give you the ability to have a constant source of power, through your PC or MAC, it also gives you the option of recording when you are traveling. A USB plug will let you control iOS software, along with the ones on your computer so you have almost unlimited options on what you can create musically.
A USB midi keyboard controller will generally have 25 keys that are usually synth action for a fast response time. Throw in rifts whenever you want, and signal quick changes with just a press of a key. These midi devices also give you the ability to adjust the volume or switch the parameters of the synth to your unique specifications. You can sequence and trigger drum patterns with the drum pads, while also choosing creative samples to give your composition a creative touch. The small midi keyboard controllers are ideal for guitar players, and for students who are still learning the art of music composition and sampling.
The Alesis QX25 Advanced USB/Midi keyboard Controller is a favorite among musicians who like to add their own touches to their music, and create amazing compositions for live audiences. It can easily connect to your PC or MAC with the included USB plug, and the midi keyboard controller can also be used to control iOS music software.
- Best 25 key midi controller
Often traveling and stage musicians find that the best midi controller for them is one that only has 25 keys. These compact devices can fit easily in a backpack, or be used to control a number of different industry tools. Since it doesn’t require a lot of space, a 25 key midi controller can also fit on stage with the rest of your equipment.
The mobile and durable design of these controllers is also great for students to take to class, and since it uses a USB connection the midi device can work with your personal computer. You can assign your favorite DAWs and create personal instrument parameters, the midi device will also let you control and streamline your recording sessions. This is also ideal for DJs who often need to trigger samples, and insert loops throughout their performance.
With the M-Audio Oxygen 25 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller you can easily create, mix, and record samples when you are traveling. It features a lightweight and durable design that will last through stage shows. The 25 key midi controller is easy enough for students to use, but still features all of the functions that many professional DJs depend on for a successful performance. There are plenty of presets included with the midi device, and with the quick and easy set up you are ready to start composing music as soon as it is connected.
- Best 49 Key midi controller
Professional DJs need the best midi controller for traktor, and they also need it to be able to give them the versatility they need to put on incredible shows. Since a DJ typically does not need the heavy weighted feel of an 88 keyboard midi controller most are looking for a device that is portable and functional.
A 49 key midi controller is compact and portable, but it also has the additional functions that most professional DJs and studio musicians are looking for. The keys on these midi devices are sensitive to velocity, and feature the fast response time that you need during live performances. You can easily add expression with the modulation wheel, and bend the pitch whenever you want to. The ability to seamlessly use traktor software is important to DJs, and a 49 key midi controller will let you control and experiment with it to find the best beats, tracks, and samples for recordings and live shows.
DJs and studio musicians love the versatility of the Alesis Q49 USB MIDI Keyboard controller. Not only will it easily connect to a computer via a USB plug, its ability to work with almost all software programs lets you expand your creative horizons. Work with Traktor and stun audiences at your next live event, and easily lay down all of your chosen tracks without any hassles. It features a compact and portable design, but is still large enough to be played with two hands for anyone used to playing a piano.
It is not always easy to find the best midi keyboard controller for ableton software. Even though it is one of the top rated music software programs, not all midi devices work seamlessly with it. Ableton software lets musicians and DJs lay tracks, trigger samples, and control virtual instruments. It is easy to use, and gives your musical compositions a professional sound and feel.
A 49 key midi device is often the best choice for the software, since it gives you the versatility that you need to get the most out of the music suite. A USB plug is also essential so you can connect to your PC, Mac, or even iPad. Electronic musicians love the flexibility that a midi controller can give them, when it is paired with the best software there is no limit to what you can create and compose. Ableton software also includes the innovative Launchkey which gives you access to a wide variety of different sound effects, samples and art mixes.
The Novation Launchkey 49 USB/iOS MIDI Keyboard Controller includes both Ableton and Launchkey software. There are 49 keys for versatile options, and there are over 50 controls that can instantly map your DAWs. It is easy to set up and use, and the synth action keyboard is comfortable to play. The midi keyboard controller features everything that you will need to compose, play, and record amazing sounds and musical pieces.
- Best 61 key midi controller
The best midi controller for a garage band will be lightweight, versatile, and able to connect via USB to your computer. It also helps if it is affordable and durable, since it will often be used in a garage or home recording studio. Many musicians and bands choose a 61 key midi recorder for their garageband. Not only is the device versatile and functional, it is also cheaper than a full 88 key midi controller.
With 69 keys you have the option of playing with one or two hands, and the semi weighted keys are responsive and comfortable to play. Most midi controllers with 69 keys, also give you the option of resetting the factory commands. This will let you experience even more from the software, so your band will impress and not annoy the neighbors. You can easily lay tracks and trigger effects, and the assignable buttons keep everything flowing smoothly during a backyard show. One thing that you will want to consider is the ability to power the midi device via USB so the band can play almost anywhere.
Many garagebands choose the M-Audio Keystation 61ES USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for their musical needs. Not only is it expressive and versatile, it is also extremely affordable for bands on a tight budget. You can connect to your computer with a USB port, and it is also used to power the midi device. 61 responsive synth action keys let you quickly trigger samples and fast guitar riffs. It is designed to be durable, and you can also program midi commands directly to the controller’s keys.
It can be difficult to find the best midi keyboard controller, and it’s easy to make the wrong decision. One that is too large probably won’t be convenient if you need to travel with it, while a small 25 key midi device probably won’t work for a professional keyboard player. There are several factors that you need to take into consideration, and one of the most important is the number of keys you need on the midi device. This will help you determine where you will use the controller, and whether you will be taking it with you when you travel. The key action and versatility are also important when you are choosing a midi controller.
Two of the best units for you to consider are the Alesis Q88 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller and the Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII Midi Keyboard Controller. Both of these midi devices can help you compose and record, and include the ability to change and switch different commands. For more information on these two midi controllers please take a look at our comprehensive comparison chart. Here you will find the information that you need to make the right choice, and begin creating expressive and unique samples and tracks to enhance all of your musical compositions.