Find the best USB MIDI controller in 2021
The MIDI protocol was developed as the answer to the need for allowing live performers to gain control over the sounds of numerous synthesizers using a single keyboard. Today, laptop-wielding songwriters, sound engineers and designers, studio musicians and live performers have benefited a lot from MIDI controllers. The plug-and-play simplicity of the best USB midi controller makes it a popular choice among music-making professionals. It is important that in buying such a device, you need to be smart in taking quality alongside affordability. PC-based music performance or production should be enabled with a compact and portable device with velocity-sensitive keyboards bundled with software and giving access to soft synth versions.
What to look for when buying an USB MIDI keyboard controller?
Data Transmission Controls
The basic best USB MIDI keyboard controller has piano-style keys, of course (Duh!), as well as a range of buttons, knobs and sliders on the top panel. The device is capable of relaying MIDI information while being able to dramatically increase hands-on control over software or any other module connected to the controller. To illustrate: when a controller is plugged to your PC and the DAW of your choice, you can run a sample of your favorite soft synth. In this set-up, you can use the controller’s modulation wheel, sliders and knobs for real-time control over resonance and synth filter cut-off tweaking, amp envelope and others. You obtain an authentic analog feel while using your mouse. Auto-mapping technology has become popular in this respect as it configures the faders and knobs to match specific software applications.
Applicable Keyboard Action
The manner in which the key responds to playing is an essential quality of any product that gets high ratings in any USB midi controller review.
Weighted hammer action keyboards replicate the mechanical workings of a typical piano keyboard. Manufacturers offer products with weighted keys and springs to approximate a piano’s action. People who’ve played the piano or create plenty of piano-based music may find hammer action keyboards perfect.
Semi-weighted action, a similar platform, offers less resistance and slightly springy release, which is popular with plenty of players. It is ideal for those who don’t care much for realistic piano action and springy synth actions.
Synth-action keyboards have the electronic organ feel, with light, spring-loaded keys that move and return to their resting position quickly. They’re perfect for playing of fast parts, for guitarists who want to integrate MIDI functionality to their instrument set-up.
In/Out Options and Performance Pads
Modern controller keyboards channel MIDI data through USB, but more complex set-ups such as those not considered the best USB midi controller still have a conventional 5-pin MIDI DIN jacks that allow connection to and control of external MIDI instruments, for instance, hardware synths. Gate and CV outputs may even allow you to play and regulate non-MIDI synth gear.
Nearly any keyboard controller is equipped with a switch-type or sustain pedal jack. Basic models do not have this component for a continuous controller jack. An expression pedal lets you be more articulate in your musical performance by allowing you to modulate any controllable aspect in real time while keeping your hands on the keys. Velocity-sensing performance pads allow use of trigger loops and drums, with some even offering After-touch.
Easy to set up with a computer, the Alesis QX25 25-Key Advanced USB/MIDI Keyboard Controller is consistently loved by many buyers for its full-size keys and four pads, making it the best USB midi keyboard controller in their book. The keys are not too soft nor too stiff, perfect for newbies as well as professionals. The keys are velocity-sensitive. One Mod Wheel remains centered while the other offers adjustable functionality. The device works optimally even when it’s just taken out of the box, giving you control over virtually any iOS, PC or MAC music software, and DAWs including Ableton 8, Logic Pro X, Ableton Live and FL Studio 10. The four surprisingly comfortable drum pads are useful for triggering loops and samples and for sequencing drums. The eight faders work wonderfully for adjusting synth parameters and volume. The eight knobs are great for adjusting pan position as well as any other parameter. The plug-and-play simplicity of its USB functionality makes it a real winner, enabling you to explore your musical creativity with endless possibilities and plenty to work with.
Definitely earning raves in any USB midi controller reviews, the Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII USB MIDI Keyboard is an ultra-compact device that offers an array of hardware controls to let you compose, record or perform with virtual instruments. It is built with 25 velocity-sensitive synth-action keys that give you an authentic electronic organ feel. The four-way thumb stick enables dynamic manipulation of modulation and pitch. Two banks expand the quantity of MPC-style pads to 16 from the original 8, easily extending creative ability. The device comes with professional production software and virtual instrument samples for instant music production. The high-definition synthesizer, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, creates anything from edgy modern leads to robust retro synth sounds.
The electronic music grime synthesizer, called the SONiVOX Wobble, provides two independent channels of spectral morphing synthesis. Wobble offers harmonic controls as well as discrete LFO controls and individual filtering, for making brighter sound that becomes more prominent in the mix. The sample-triggering and groove/beat production software allows musicians and producers to integrate authentic MPC workflow into any DAW of choice.
Samson Graphite 25 USB MIDI Controller
The Graphite 25 boasts of semi-weighted keys that offer musicians superb responsiveness and use of an expressive platform. Engineered to feel more like an instrument than a controller, the Graphite 25 is equipped with velocity-sensitive keys that precisely pick up the dynamics of any performance. The Aftertouch feature gives you personalized control over various parameters and effects, such as the incorporation of a growl to your saxophone or a vibrato to a stringed instrument. Perfect for performing while maintaining awesome portability, the Graphite 25 is built with 25 keys that offer ample pitch range.
Easy to use, this unit has dedicated Transpose and Octave buttons that can be utilized to change the key of any given instrument. These elements also expand the keyboard to a full range with four octaves, eliminating the need for any shift keys or sub menus. The Graphite 25 also comes with classic Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels, offering tone manipulation and musical expression at your fingertips.
You can enjoy full control of your virtual instruments and DAW thanks to the four function buttons, eight encoders and master volume fader.
Alesis V49 USB MIDI Pad/Keyboard Controller
Perfect for employing plug-ins, virtual instruments and other applications, the Alesis V49 USB MIDI Pad/Keyboard Controller is loaded with full-size, 49-note synth-action keys. The square front provides the feel of large keys. Tap out rhythms and trigger loops, or play synthesizers using the 8 backlit, velocity- and pressure-sensitive LED pads. The four illuminated assignable knobs work to help you program the control of parameters of your favorite virtual instruments. You get the power to map out nearly any function of your plug-ins using this quartet of assignable buttons and knobs of this tactile controller. The pitch and modulation wheel completes the package, giving you expressive control over your software. MIDI data and power to your keyboard get transmitted via just one cable. Truly, this is one compact keyboard with limitless number of functionalities.
You have all the controls you need plus the simplicity of USB bus-powered versatility. The unit comes with Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition. It also ships with Native Instrument’s Komplete Elements software, providing an extensive selection of professional-quality sounds, tools and effects for advanced sound design, music composition and production.
Korg Taktile 49 USB MIDI Keyboard
There’s plenty to love about the Korg Taktile-49 USB Keyboard Controller. It enables you to explore the full potential of virtual instruments and DAW Software, making everything easy, inspired and convenient. It offers all the functionality you can expect from a premium-quality control surface. The many onboard performance functions are so awesome and advanced you can rarely find them on a controller keyboard of this price range. There are presets for a broad range of DAWs, helping you get started instantly once the device is out of the box. This is a vital piece of musical instrument you can’t do without whether you’re a producer or performer.
The device has an X-Y pad that provides dynamic manipulation of sounds beyond the use of an ordinary mod and pitch wheel alone. Just press the button to use the device as a track-pad for controlling the mouse pointer on a PC. The ribbon controller can be used to do left and right mouse clicks, eliminating the need to switch to your laptop. Command your DAW with the dedicated transport controls with buttons for fast forward, rewind, loop, record, play, stop and for adding markers.
Alesis VI61 Advanced USB MIDI Pad/Keyboard Controller
Offering comprehensive control of your virtual instruments and DAW, the Alesis VI61 USB MIDI keyboard controller lets you take charge. It is outfitted with 61 semi-weighted full-size keys that offer Aftertouch, for generation of large quantities of MIDI data for very expressive capability. The 16 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads are illuminated, allowing easy color coding for a variety of purposes. The 16 illuminated, assignable knobs and 48 buttons give you precise control over your plug-ins. DAW recording is quick and easy thanks to the dedicated transport controls. The unit ships with Software Preset/Parameter utility plus Ableton Live Lite 9, enabling you to start creating your own music once the device is out of the package.
Explore the terrific bevy of controls, including the classic pitch and mod wheels, a massive selection of encoders, buttons and pads and transport controls. You’ve got everything before you onstage and in the studio with the Alesis VI61 USB MIDI keyboard controller, a flexible and fully functional piece of music-production equipment. Integrating perfectly with your synth rig via USB port or the 5-pin MIDI output port, the device lets you use a computer running virtual instruments or a MIDI keyboard.
The music-making process has become so advanced that there is a strong need to utilize MIDI USB controllers that can expand music-creation capabilities. This becomes even more vital with the increasing employment of virtual instruments in the studio and onstage to broaden all aspects even more. That is precisely what the Alesis QX25 25-Key Advanced USB/MIDI Keyboard Controller and the Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII USB MIDI Keyboard are designed for. The Alesis QX25 25-Key Advanced USB/MIDI Keyboard Controller has velocity-sensitive keys and plug-and-play USB connectivity. The Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII USB MIDI Keyboard sports velocity-sensitive synth action keys built for remarkable responsiveness and accuracy.
Do check out the features of each product using the comparison table.