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Here’s our list of the best MIDI keyboards available in 2021:
Getting your first MIDI Keyboard is a big step for a producer. There’s so much variety in the MIDI controller space, that it’s increasingly easy to get lost in your options. In this article you’ll find the best MIDI controllers that money can buy, for all price ranges. Without further ado, let’s get into #1
Below are all the best budget MIDI controllers.
In our opinion, there aren’t many midi controllers at this price range, that stack up to the versatile V161 keyboard controller, by Alesis.
The V161 is a 61 key controller that’s characterised by its large amount of mappable knobs and buttons. And, with over 80 mappable MIDI controls, DAW integration with this midi keyboard controller is truly incredible.
The features of the V161 include:
If you have a hands on approach to music production, the V161 is the perfect budget midi keyboard controller. With an incredible array of MIDI buttons, and a large span of notes to choose from, it’s definitely the best choice for a budget, home studio. There’s no controller that provides better value for money.
With 61 keys, you’ll have 5 full octaves to play around with, which is extremely useful for future-proofing; even if you won’t use those notes now, there will be a point when you expand your keyboard playing skills and this will come in handy. Along with the stupidly vast amount of mappable buttons, you won’t need to invest in an extra drum pad, a MIDI knob device or anything else for that matter.
This is a keyboard that will last you a very long time. Upgrading from it won’t be necessary. If you do eventually upgrade, it will be due to luxury and preference, over form and factor.
You also get 5 free melodics lessons (to learn piano or finger drumming) & bundled software – Ableton Live Lite!
Price: $199 – $250 (US)
If you’re an Ableton Live user, then look no further.
This bad mamma jamma has been designed to fully integrate with Ableton Live’s functionality & make it feel like a piece of hardware. It makes using Ableton as a live music production tool an absolute dream.
It’s one of the best value for money MIDI controllers available, with an incredible amount of customisability. And, if you’re using Ableton, you’ll know you can map these to pretty much any parameter you want, quickly & easily, using Ableton’s MIDI mapping feature. The Launchkey 49 is a workflow dream, and a wickedly good MIDI device for those that need full control over their DAW from a hands-on bit of kit.
The Novation Launchkey 49 features:
The Launchkey 49 also includes a wide array of free software for you to use.
Here’s the software included with the Launchkey:
If you work in Ableton, there aren’t many midi controllers as good as the Launchkey. The full DAW integration for this keyboard controller has been well thought out, and is incredibly helpful at times.
Price: $240 – $280
Listen, we’ve been there, you’re just starting out as a producer and you don’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars on a keyboard. In this category, of the absolute cheapest around, there’s pretty much only one possible keyboard that can take this spot: The M-Audio Mini32
The stand-out feature of this mini keyboard is how much it packs in to a small package. Instead of a 25 key midi controller, you get 32 keys, as well as pitch and mod wheels (that aren’t wheels but work).
With the cheaper price comes a smaller key size – so if you’ve got big fingers, it might not be the best pick. But, if you’re looking for an extra portable device, with a 3 octave range, instead of just a 2 octave range, then the M-Audio Mini31 is a solid pick up. It’s super compact, light and easy to cart around, and does everything you need a MIDI keyboard to do.
M-Audio Mini32 Features:
Just because it’s super cheap, doesn’t mean it comes without it’s share of bundled software. The M-Audio Mini32 includes Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition and AIR Music Tech Xpand! 2.
Native Instruments is one of the dominating figures in the mid to high end range of MIDI Keyboards. The Build quality of this pressure sensitive 49 key beauty, is out of this world and is perfect to add to your home studio as a centrepiece.
It’s also a great pickup if you’re looking to get into the Native Instruments world of software as well. If you don’t know already, they make some of the best software on the market, including: Kontakt, Massive, Reaktor and a whole lot more. The S49 comes with a copy of Komplete 12 select, which includes over 45GB of instruments and effects – some of which are the best sounding on the market.
You’ll know how big a deal this is if you’ve heard of Kontakt. Kontakt alone, is the best sampler instrument available. With Kontakt, you get access to some of the most meticulously designed, orchestral and real-life sampler instruments about.
The S49 also comes with some extremely welcome features, such as the built-in screens for browsing and tweaking patches, the light-guides, which gives backlit keys that show you what notes you can play in a scale, or what chords you can play & on top of all that a vast amount of MIDI buttons and controls.
The Komplete Kontrol S49 features:
With every purchase of a Komplete Kontrol S49, you get Komplete 12 Select, which includes:
Price: $400 – $500 (US)
Arturia make some of the best software and hardware out there, and it’s the second largest competitor in the market.
Arturia’s wide selection of products makes them the most versatile keyboard maker right now. From beautiful midi controllers, to impeccable keyboards, Arturia nails it time and time again.
The Keylab Essential 61 features:
Price: $250 – $300
With the purchase of a Keylab you get access to Arturia’s incredible software package, Analog Lab (worth $199). And, more impressively, the controller has been designed to integrate perfectly with each software synth – making it feel more like a hardware synth.
Analog Lab gives you access to over 7000 sounds from 17 legendary hardware synths. Which means you can play the likes of a CS-80, JUNO and loads of other classic emulations of analog beauts. It also includes an incredible piece of Grand Piano software, & finding good sounding piano samples is hard, especially if you’re on a budget.
The software included in this bundle makes getting an Arturia Keylab Essential 61 worth it alone. If you’re new to producing and want a big package of software + a MIDI keyboard to play around with, it’s a great pickup.
A left field choice for this list, the Arturia Keystep Pro isn’t for everyone.
The people it is for, however, cannot get enough of the Keystep series of products. In addition to all the usual MIDI Keyboard features, you get a multitude of connections for outboard gear and modular setups. Accompanied by a stellar sequencer, the Keystep is the key to bringing your hardware to life.
What makes the Keystep so special is all the built in stuff. You get access to a mult-mode arpeggiator, randomness, easy chord-trigger modes and real time recording. On top of all that, there’s a crisp, OLED display built in to provide visual feedback.
The Keystep also has a incredibly vast amount of input & outputs. That means you can link a tonne of hardware instruments and your DAW together, with the Keystep acting as the centrepiece of it all. It has a clever step sequencer, multiple tracks to record through, scene changes, gates etc.
It’s a portable, live performance beast.
Main Features of the Keystep Pro
Here you’ll find the cream of the crop keyboards.
The Komplete Kontrol S88 by Native Instruments has perfect DAW integration & 88 full size keys, with aftertouch.
The S88 is one of the best midi keyboards out there & works flawlessly with Native Instruments’ line of products. Team this up with Kontakt or Maschine & it acts as an extra arm or leg to you software. You can choose, manipulate & control patches from this beast.
Main Features of the S88:
Price Range: $850-$900
The build quality, and integration between NI products makes the S88 keyboard the best option for serious professionals.
Also it has one extremely cool feature up its sleeve: the light guide. This will light up your keys & present notes/chords you can play within your chosen scale.
The S88 also comes with a full version of Komplete 12 Select & Maschine essentials. That means you’ll get a load of incredible sounding synths, sampler instruments and more along with the Native Instruments S88 keyboard. Kontakt is widely considered as the best sampler instrument about, and includes a vast array of real, sampled instruments that sound as close to the real thing, as possible.
If you want a midi controller that’s going to take you out of the computer & allow you to be more physical with your music, then this is a fantastic choice!
The Panorama P6 is one of the best midi keyboard controllers on the market due to it’s great hardware and software integration. It’s actually pre-mapped to a tonne of very popular VSTs, so as soon as you open Serum or Massive etc, it will map accordingly.
It’s also got a tonne of range for customisability, including a vast amount of MIDI buttons, sliders, drum pads, transport controls and a whopping 61 keys.
One of the coolest things about the Panorama P6, is that it acts more like a hardware device than just a MIDI controller, and actually has a screen built-in, which you can use to choose your patches, alter the parameters and more. It’s a great controller for people who don’t want to spend all their time inside the computer, and can be an impressive workflow booster.
The Nektar Panorama P6 features:
The ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 is a completely different take on a MIDI keyboard.
In a complete left-turn from all keyboard standards of practice, the Seaboard has become one of the most unique and pleasurable keyboards to play.
The expression possibilities you get with a Seaboard are as incredible as it’s price tag.
Main Features of the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49
With Ableton Live 11 just been released, the MPE enabled Seaboard has the potential to become even greater than it has been up to this point. If there ever was a time to seriously consider a ROLI Seaboard, it’s now.
MPE stands for: MIDI Polyphonic Expression. This allows you to record MIDI much more expressively. Its aim is to bring the playing of electronic instruments much closer to how you’d play a real acoustic instrument. You can do slides, record the pressure & a whole other plethora of things.
Instead of just recording the velocity, length & pitch information – you can record a load more information including:
MIDI Polyphonic Expression is different to normal automation data, because it allows you to automate single notes at a time, rather than automating the whole clip of notes. The sound design possibilities of this are pretty much endless, and to be properly equipped for MPE updates, you’ll want an MPE controller.
ROLI Seaboard includes software licenses for Equator Synth, Strobe2, Bitwig 8-Track, Tracktion Waveform, Cypher2 Player, Max MSP 3 (3-month test license) and Seaboard Dashboard
Don’t know what to buy? Check this buyer’s guide!
What number of keys should you get?
All of the best MIDI keyboards featured here come with octave shift buttons, meaning that the full range of note pitches is accessible even from a 25 key device, just by pressing a couple of buttons.
That said, if you’re a more advanced player, or want to learn how to play two-handed, it’s better to go for a four octave (49 key) or five octave (61 key) keyboard. If space isn’t an issue, you can even opt for an 88-key, full piano-sized controller if desired.
For us, the more keys you have the better. At some point in your music production journey, you will probably learn to play the piano, or learn some kind of music theory – it just makes making music a whole lot more fun and hands on. We’d highly suggest going for a MIDI keyboard with 61+ keys. That way you’ve got enough room to play bass and chords at the same time, and jam out a little bit.
For a home studio, have a 61 key handy. If you’re travelling about a lot, having a 25 key is extremely useful, because you can take it on train journeys, round a friends – you could even produce at the beach!
In our experience, the more keys and more buttons available – the greater the functionality & increased workflow. This is ultimately what you want out of a new piece of gear for your studio.
Either way, it comes down to what your situation is. So use this information as a guide to help you make your final decision on what you purchase.
With a lot of producers now working ‘in-the-box’ on a single computer or laptop, you don’t necessarily need a MIDI output, unless you have some hardware MIDI synths to connect it to.
Some keyboards do come with traditional 5-pin MIDI out ports, and smaller, minijack TRS MIDI outputs are becoming more popular. All the controllers listed here have USB MIDI connectivity, & are powered via the USB port. Some on this list can also be run off your mains power.
If you’re planning to play piano on your keyboard, or even control synth lines with pedals, then pedal inputs are a must. Pedal inputs will allow you to use a sustain pedal, to control the hold of an instrument. Some even have Footswitch pedal inputs, which allow you to control filters or parameters of synths.
If you want to use your MIDI keybord to control multiple bits of hardware, such as hardware synths or other analog instruments – then you’re going to want to buy a MIDI keyboard that has multiple 5-pin MIDI ports. Most MIDI keyboards come shipped with 2 of these by default (depending on the key amount you go for), but make sure to check before purchasing.
For bedroom producers, you don’t need to worry too much about connectivity, unless you’ve spent some real big money on a hardware synth. Most of us don’t have that kind of money (yet), so all you’ll need is a USB connection to hook up your MIDI device and get playing.
We’d recommend getting a MIDI keyboard that has USB connectivity and sustain pedal inputs. This will allow you to use a sustain pedal, to hold out chords or melodies for longer, without having to continually press the keys down. You can use this cleverly to switch chords, or notes and give you more time to make that switch between changes.
Most MIDI keyboards do not come with sustain pedals, you’ll have to purchase that separately. A great, cheap sustain pedal is M-Audio’s SP2. It’s extremely robust, and also very cheap – coming in at around $15.
The question of weighted vs semi-weighted keys, can tend to get very argumentative. We’re here to be the voice of reason.
Weighted Keys, or Hammer Action keys, are a much closer analogue to the feel of an acoustic piano. Most keyboards with weighted keys, are aimed more at people who’re used to the feel of an acoustic piano.
In contrast to this, semi-weighted keys, also sometimes called synth action keys, aren’t as accurate to their acoustic counterpart. But these are called synth action keys for a reason. Most synth players prefer Semi-Weighted keys, for blistering arpeggios and synth runs.
If you’re not used to the weighted action of piano keys, then it can be difficult to get used to, & can cause timing issues when you’re playing stuff in. When we switched from semi, to full weighted keys (to learn piano), the jump was something we didn’t expect at all!
Everything became a little bit harder to play, and we had to build up muscle memory & grow accustomed to the feel of them. For music producers, we would recommend sticking with semi, unless you want to learn the piano.
And, if you do want to learn the piano, we recommend starting on our learn the white keys guide.
With weighted keys, you get much more dynamic control and a more accurate response, but you can always adjust the velocities in your piano roll (which we do all the time anyway).
If piano playing is not your main goal, don’t bother with fully-weighted keys. If you are a pianist, or you want to learn the piano, then go for weighted. It entirely depends on your situation and what you want your MIDI device to do for you. In the end, you ultimately decide which is best for you, based on your unique requirements.
To recap, here’s our list of the best MIDI keyboards available in 2021:
Whatever you’re looking for in your music production setup, and whether you are on a budget or not – you will find a MIDI keyboard that suits your situation on this list. The very best money can buy is hands down Komplete Kontrol equipment, or Arturia hardware.
But, we know that’s a lot of money and not everyone can afford to splash out on such expensive studio gear. If that’s the case, the Alesis V161 is the best all-rounder. It’s great value for money, has a tonne of options and will stand you in good stead for years to come. It’s hard to see a future where you’d *need* to upgrade this controller.
If you’re looking for a more budget, travel option – the M-Audio Mini32 should be your pick. It’s a similar size to most 25 key controllers, but gives you an extra octave, which makes all the difference when laying down melodies, chords or basslines.
The best mid-range controller has to be either the Arturia Essential or the Komplete Kontrol S49. The choice is entirely yours. Do you need more keys, and want Arturia’s software over Native Instruments? Or do you want less keys and access to the biggest library of sounds & Native Instruments goodies.
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