Top 7 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers ­ The Core Of Every Home Studio


To say that modern technology has completely changed music production would be an understatement of the century. You no longer need all that bulky, expensive gear. Instead, you only really need a laptop. However, it is always good to have some sort of hardware input. This is where MIDI keyboard controllers come into play. Today we are going to spend some time talking about these devices, what they are designed for and how to best use one. Before we get into the gist of it, lets take a look at some of the best models currently available on the market.

Top 7 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers

ImageMidi Controller / RatingSummaryCheck Price
+ - Novation Launchkey 61 Novation Launchkey 61

Total of 4.80/5  

Intuitive and highly versatile full sized controller that features very high compatibility.

+ - Korg microKEY Air 37 Korg microKEY Air 37

Total of 4.75/5  

Compact and lightweight solution for proper mixing or composing on the go.

+ - M­Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV M­Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV

Total of 4.70/5  

One of M­Audio's most impressive controllers they have designed to this day.

+ - Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

Total of 4.63/5  

One of the most versatile sub compact MIDI controllers on the market.

+ - Alesis V49 Alesis V49

Total of 4.60/5  

An incredibly stylish and minimalist rig that offers a full­ sized piano­ style keyboard.

+ - Nektar IMPACT LX25+ Nektar IMPACT LX25+

Total of 4.50/5  

A true no ­nonsense controller with all the right features, options and specs.

+ - KorgnanoKEY2 Slim­Line KorgnanoKEY2 Slim­Line

Total of 4.43/5  

One of the smallest, most compact yet fully functional MIDI keyboard controllers.

Novation Launchkey 61

Novation Launchkey 61

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Full sized controllers are coming back in style. Novation Launchkey 61 represents just how great these things can be. We're looking at a pretty functional yet simple design that offers more than it lets on. For starters, we have great compatibility across both of operating systems. This is a USB powered device so pretty much anything with a USB port should be able to run it. Launchkey 61 works great with all mainstream DAWs, even eliminating the need for mapping with a few of them. Ease of use and a very intuitive control layout makes it a perfect tool for both professionals and enthusiasts alike. Chances are you won't find a similar model that's much better in this price range.

Korg microKEY Air 37

Korg microKEY Air 37

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Korg has a pretty colorful offer when it comes to MIDI controllers. However, the one that caught our eye isn't their flagship model. On the contrary, it is a niche piece of kit that has a lot of potential. Korg microKEY Air 37 features a compact format that is perfect for getting work done on the go. You are looking at 37 velocity sensitive keys in addition to the standard pitch/mod wheels. What makes this particular model interesting is its wireless capability. You can connect it to your laptop or smart device via Bluetooth and work anywhere. With a battery life of couple of months, the whole thing becomes extremely convenient. At this price, it's a very reasonable choice.

M­Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV

M­Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV

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M­Audio is one of the few brands out there which holds authority when it comes to MIDIcontrollers. One of their best models to date is the M­AudioOxygen 49 MKIV. For a mid range compact unit, it packs a whole lot of punch. The main features include 49 velocity sensitive keys, 8 programmable trigger pads, an equal number of knobs and 9 faders. All of this comes packed into a sturdy yet stylish chassis. M­Audio knows their way around designing an affordable yet attractive piece of gear. Thanks to its full compatibility with all major DAWs, M­AudioOxygen 49 MKIV is a logical choice for those who need solid core functions, but also a bit extra on the top.

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

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Akai's reputation of designing and producing impressive controllers has been earned withmodels such as Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII. It is small, it is affordable, but it packs a mean punch. We are looking at a 25 synth style keys paired with a full pad cluster and additional, fully programmable controls. Akai has managed to squeeze in so much stuff in such a small chassis without sacrificing performance. That makes the Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII a perfect choice for live performers who need a mobile platform, but also home producers with limited space to work with. Best of all, it is priced in a way that makes it a too good to pass. It is just that good.

Alesis V49

Alesis V49

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In a market full of utilitarian controllers, Alesis has decided to do something slightly different. Alesis V49 represents the fusion of style, niche aesthetics and solid performance. With its boxy design, full size piano style keys and a minimalist trigger pad layout, you are getting a somewhat conservative package that is still very much versatile. Alesis has made sure that V49 is compatible with all platforms and most mainstream DAWs. On top of that, it comes with a select but impressive software suite. Those looking to cross over from traditional piano to MIDI controllers will find V49 to be the perfect transitioning tool. We can definitely recommend it to both beginners and more experienced users. Especially at this price range.

Nektar IMPACT LX25+

Nektar IMPACT LX25+

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Once you go past the usual suspects during your search for a compact, affordable MIDI controller, you might find yourself looking at some pretty awesome gems. One of them goes by the name of Nektar IMPACT LX25+. It is a simple, clean unit that features everything you would want from a workhorse controller. With its full sized keys, great pad grid and practical transport controls, it can stand toe to toe with most big shots in its category. In terms of compatibility, Nektar has made sure that IMPACT LX25+ works flawlessly with all major DAWs as well as Windows and Mac operating systems. It is a simple controller but one that will have your back even during a live performance.

KorgnanoKEY2 Slim­Line

KorgnanoKEY2 Slim­Line

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KorgnanoKEY2 represents a fairly niche type of MIDI keyboard controllers. The idea behind it was to design something that is lightweight, easy to use and most importantly, functional on the go. All things considered, that is exactly what you get with this controller. KorgnanoKEY2 features 25 velocity sensitive keys, pitch control, octave shift and every other core element you would expect to see in a standard controller. With that said, there are no trigger pads or assignable faders. That is the tradeoff for a super slim form factor and more convenience on the go. On top of that, you can't really ask for anything more when you take the price into consideration. This thing is a real bargain.

What Is A MIDI Keyboard Controller

There is a short answer and a long answer to this question. Since the latter is much more interesting, that is where we are going to start. Back in the day, in order to record a keyboard, you had to get every individual model, every specific synth and record them one by one. As you can imagine, that wasn’t the most efficient way of recording music. It wasn’t until MIDI standard was invented that things changed in any significant way. MIDI allows you to basically centralize the control over your synths using only one keyboard to control them all. Ever since then, the world of music production was flipped upside down.

Today, MIDI keyboard controllers are doing the exact same thing, but in a slightly different way.Instead of plugging it into your mixer or recording station, a modern MIDI controller is almost always plugged into the studio computer or laptop. That only makes sense considering that just about everything today is done in a DAW. Long gone are the days where you had to have actual instruments in your possession if you wanted to record them. All of it is contained right inside your Digital Audio Workstation. Of course, we are still recording real instruments, but nowhere near as much as we used to. With all that in mind, you can look at MIDI keyboard controllers as an imperative part of modern music production.

Are MIDI Controllers Limited To Studio Use?

MIDI controllers, including the keyboard variety, are extremely versatile. They are used inside a studio, but they definitely are an important component to a successful live performance. Since you are using the controller to tap into a VSTi or a particular synth in your DAW, there is nothing stopping you from using it in a live setting. By now you should have a pretty good idea of why a keyboard controller is such an important piece of gear. Not only are controllers used in live settings, there are various models which are designed specifically for this purpose. Another reason why controllers are great for live use is the fact that you don’t need a USB audio interface in order to use it. It plugs directly into the USB port.

Finding The Best MIDI Keyboard Controller For Your Needs

Going about finding the best MIDI controller for your needs requires a tad bit of research. The topic discussed in the previous segment of this guide is a great place to start. The first question you need to answer is what kind of application you have in mind for your controller? Will you be doing DJ work or are you mostly going to be staying in your studio making music? Keep in mind that it can be both.

All of this is important because figuring things out in the comfort of your studio is very different from trying to find the pad or key in a chaotic, low light live setting. One quick glance at our top list will tell you that controllers come in all kinds of shapes and formats. Some of these are better suited for stage work while others are all about that studio life.

Figuring this out right away will make your life so much easier.In case you want to do both, do your best to find a device that is flexible in this regard. Triggering tracks or stringing a melody during a performance requires focus as well as fine motor skills. The only problem is that both of those tend to go out the window if all you have in front of you is an overcrowded control interface.

Compatibility

Compatibility issues are definitely not as bad today as they were not so long ago. Almost every brand in this business has recognized that they have potential customers using different operating systems and different DAWs. Still, it is a good idea to cover all your basses just in case. Operating system compatibility is really rare. If you do run into a controller that is locked to one platform, manufacturer will almost definitely state which platform that is.

With DAWs, it is a slightly different story. It isn’t necessarily that you won’t be able to use your controller with every DAW, but rather that you might not get complete compatibility. Here’s what we mean by that. Just about every keyboard controller out there packs a number of features.Aside from the keyboard, most if not all of these features will be fully programmable. The problem arises when your DAW doesn’t recognize what each of the buttons, knobs or faders is supposed to do. Fortunately, most DAWs will let you manually map the function for every control on your controller. It takes time to get done, but it is ultimately possible. Another thing to keep in mind is that most major DAWs won’t give you any trouble. It is usually the lesser known ones that are prone to compatibility issues.

Features

Every keyboard controller can be measured by the amount of features it brings to the table. Further more, all of these features can be divided into several categories. The first one are definitely the keys themselves. So far the standard is to use synth style velocity sensitive keys. However there are other options out there. Those who are used to playing a piano might like to have full sized keys. Type of the key isn’t the only thing to look out for. The number of keys matters as well. More keys gives you more liberty while composing music, however it also means that you are working with a bulky controller. On the other hand, shorter scales are harder to compose on, but are far more mobile.

Next come the auxiliary controls. You will see things like pads, knobs, faders and various buttons. Pads are a great tool because they allow you to trigger different samples. All of these aux controls are fully programmable in most cases, but pads are a special case. You can map them out any way you want, while some even allow you to apply more than one map and cycle them as you see fit. With knobs and faders, it is a much easier deal. Having these two types of controls can be beneficial if you really like to be hands on with your work.

Figuring Out The Budget

Budget is by far one of the most important aspects of finding the best controller for your needs. However, it isn’t as much of a factor as it is with say condenser microphones. When they first appeared, MIDI keyboard controllers used to be pretty expensive. That is just the way things are with new and emerging tech. Fortunately it didn’t take long before the industry caught up and those prices started going down rapidly. These days you can get a very capable controller at affordable prices. Just take a look at our list, it contains several great examples. The price of a controller is mostly going to be dictated by the type and number of features it offers. As we have established before, you should cater your controller to your needs. In other words, you don’t need to have every bell and whistle that exists.Chances are that going for the most tricked out model might have negative consequences on your work. Trying to grasp so many different controls can draw you away from mastering the basics. At the end of the day, all you have to do is find something that works for you at this very moment. Getting started is much more important than having the latest features.

Conclusion

If you’re planning on making a home studio, chances are you will need a MIDI keyboard controller of some kind. It is extremely hard to compose music without it these days. Models we’ve shown you above are all great choices and represent a cross section of what the market has to offer at the moment. They also show that you don’t have to break your bank account into pieces in order to have a solid piece of kit at your disposal. Hopefully this guide has cleared up whatever questions you might have had about MIDI keyboard controllers and their use.

If you need more help with setting up your studio, check out the related buying guides for recording gear:
Studio Monitors
Studio Headphones
Audio Interfaces
Microphones: Condenser|Dynamic|USB
Laptops For Music Production
DAW Software


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