The 7 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers

best keyboard midi controller

If you were to ask producers nowadays, “what’s the first piece of equipment you’d buy for your home studio?” – it’s more than likely going to be the MIDI keyboard controller, that’s how important they are, they’re up there with your laptop and choice of DAW.

Some MIDI controllers though are better than others, like everything in life, and our job today is to weave through all the jargon out there and compare the best MIDI controllers on the market, so you don’t have to.

Choosing the best MIDI keyboard controller for you

First things first, budget, one of the most important factors in deciding which controller to go for. Each controller has different features that are going to alter the price, amount of keys, brand name and the extras, pads, sliders and such – there is something out there for everyone, we will dig out portable keyboards for under £50 and some of the most advanced for over £300.

As mentioned a second ago, the number of keys plays an important part in choosing the controller for you. To put it simply, you’ve got the smallest number of keys, 25, gradually going up in stages of 49, 61 and finally to 88, which is full size. It’s completely personal preference but we’d recommend a 49 key controller, right in the middle of the pack, not to space invading and is definitely the most popular option allowing both simple and complex production.

Something we see time and time again is budding producers asking for MIDI keyboard controller recommendations based on the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) they’re using. It really doesn’t matter, yes a few are made for a specific DAW but you can still map any controller to whichever software package you use, so relax.

One another feature I feel we should make you aware of is the bells and whistles, not literally bells and whistles but the extras, the pads, sliders, buttons, knobs and wheels that come on many of the more advanced controllers. Take a look at the ____, it’s jam packed isn’t it, now compare that to the ___ – see what we mean?! If you prefer to manipulate your DAW using your mouse and keyboard then you don’t need all the extras, but if you’re like me and want everything in one place then it makes sense to go mad with your controller because the majority of your time will be on it.

Finally, portability could be an issue for you, you don’t want to lug an expensive £300 controller through the busy streets of London on your way to university for example! Just be aware when choosing where you’re going to be doing the majority of your music production.

So, now we’ve got that out of the way.. Onto the good stuff..

1. AKAI MPK Mini MKII

akai mpc mini mk2Akai is probably the most popular brand of MIDI controller, they make some of the best equipment on the market, specifically though, we’re going to take a look at the MPK Mini MKII – which comes hugely recommended and is in fact a best seller on Amazon.

Our Checklist

  • 25 Keys
  • Portable
  • Great Value

What makes the Akai MPK Mini MKII unique is the 4-way thumbstick (top left of the controller) which is for dynamic pitch and modulation control. It’s also got a built in arpeggiator with adjustable resolution, range and modes – very popular controller.

It also comes with a few different pieces of software;

  • Akai Pro MPC Essentials
  • Sonivox Wobble
  • Hybrid 3 by Air Music Tech

Get the Latest Amazon Price

Check out our in-depth review here.

2. M-Audio Axiom AIR

m audio axiomIf quality is what you’re after you cant go far wrong with any of the M-Audio equipment but the high end Axiom AIR range is something else, they’re built to last. The Axiom AIR range are not built with space in mind, they take up some room, but they truly solid – and they look incredible too.

Our Checklist

  • 25, 32 & 49 Key Models
  • Semi-Portable
  • Great Value

What makes the Axiom AIR controllers stand out is the hypercontrol automatic mapping system which syncs with all the top DAW’s. The 16 trigger pads (8 on the mini) have great feeling and respond to pressure and velocity.

There are 3 different versions

  • 25 Key
  • 32 Key (Mini)
  • 49 Key

Comes with;

  • Ableton Live Lite software
  • Ignite by AIR (via download) with over 275 instrument sounds

Latest Amazon Price Here

3. M-Audio Oxygen

m audio oxygenThe M-Audio Oxygen range are quite an advanced group of controllers, adding a lot of extras to control your DAW to perfection. Surprisingly well built too which is nice seeing as it’s carrying a very reasonable price tag, you wouldn’t go far wrong should you go for one of the Oxygen’s.

Our Checklist

  • 25, 49 & 61 Key Models
  • Semi-Portable
  • Fantastic Value

Loads of nobs, sliders, pads, the M-Audio Oxygen series has the lot. Including, transport buttons which make your mouse utterly useless in the production phase – which is great.

There are 3 different versions

  • 25 Key
  • 49 Key
  • 61 Key

The M-Audio Oxygen series also comes with software;

  • SONiVOX Twist
  • Ableton Live Lite

Latest Amazon Price Here

4. Alesis Q

bestIf you want to keep it simple and straight forward then the Alesis Q series is the one for you. There are 3 different sizes, you’ve got the 25, 49 & 61 key models – however, and this is a pro and a con depending on your thinking, it isn’t packed with the extras that a lot of others do, its simple, very few nobs and lacking in fancy features.

Our Checklist

  • 25, 49 & 61 Key Models
  • Semi-Portable
  • Great Value

So, what does the Alesis Q series have? Apart from being a good build and reasonably priced not a whole let, there is a great sustain pedal input available but unfortunately that needs to be purchased separately. We do however feel despite lacking a certain something, they will get the job done and then some – very good controllers.

There are 3 different versions

  • 25 Key
  • 49 Key
  • 61 Key

Alesis Q controllers also come with the following software;

  • Music Creation Software from Air Music Tech
  • Ableton Live Lite

Latest Amazon Price Here

5. Korg NanoPad2/NanoKey2

nanopad2Now, the Korg’s are a little something different to this list, not one but two pieces of equipment which are designed to work together – it’s not complicated! They have the wor
d ‘nano’ in them for a reason, small things, one of the best portable midi controller-wise and they’re an absolute bargain!

Our Checklist

  • 16 Pad & 25 Key Models
  • Very Portable
  • Incredible Value

Lightweight, compact and perfect for a student on the go!

There are 2 versions (but they work together)

  • 16 Pad
  • 25 Key

Latest Amazon Price Here

6. Novation Launchkey

Novation LaunchkeyNot all MIDI controllers are created equally.. Which is especially true for the Novation Launchkey, which is specifically designed for us on Ableton Live (yes it does work with other DAW’s). It does have InControl Technology which makes it easy to sync with other DAW’s, you will get the best out of it if you’re using Ableton Live.

Our Checklist

  • 25, 25 (mini), 49 & 61 Key Models
  • Semi-Portable
  • Okay Value

If you’re an Ableton expert then this is probably what I would recommend to you, but it’s not imperative. It also comes with V-Station and Bass Station Soft Synths and a Loopmasters Sample Pack to beef up its appeal.

There are 4 different versions

  • 25 Key
  • 25 Key (Mini)
  • 49 Key
  • 61 Key

Software for Novation Launchkey

  • Ableton Live Lite

Latest Amazon Price Here

7. Arturia Minilab

Arturia MinilabNow, last but not least, Arturia aren’t the biggest name when it comes to MIDI controllers but they’re pretty big fish when it comes to synths and modern day sounds – which makes it interesting that they’ve released there own MIDI controller. Whilst the Launchkey above is made for Ableton, the Arturia Minilab works incredibly with there own Analog Lab package which makes for quite a powerful bit of kit.

Our Checklist

  • 25 Key
  • Portable
  • Good Value

Arturia Lab comes with the Analog Lab software package which is immense, for instance it has over 5,000 synth sounds built in.

Latest Amazon Price Here

There we have it guys.. Feel free to chime in the comments below letting us know what you went for or you preferred controller.. We hope we’ve helped you out.

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