- 1 What are the Best Midi Keyboard Controllers?
- 1.1 What is a Midi Keyboard Controller?
- 1.2 Our Best Picks
- 1.3 Conclusion on best midi controller
What are the Best Midi Keyboard Controllers?
The music industry is constantly evolving and for any musician or producer, failure to evolve and adapt to the changes makes you obsolete almost instantly. Music fans of all genres demand new sounds, engaging tunes, and catchy music but what exactly does a producer need to meet these needs? What sort of equipment must you have if you are to live up to your fan’s expectations? Well, you can get your drum sets, keyboards, and other traditional equipment but in today’s world, that equipment alone doesn’t cut it. You need new and advanced devices and the good news is that technology always gives us something to work with and currently the Midi keyboard controller is perhaps one of the best innovations that can set you apart from traditional music producers.
Midi keyboard controllers have been around for some time now but a lot of producers have, for the longest time, been reluctant to adopt them. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand what the device is, how they work or how they can be useful. For whatever reasons, the one thing that is clear is that it’s high time you got this equipment into your studio for more magical productions.
In this review, we will tell you all about the midi keyboard controllers, why they are important and we’ll go a step further to highlight the best midi keyboard controllers in the market at the moment.
What is a Midi Keyboard Controller?
Before the eyes of a regular person, Midi keyboard controller is nothing but a keyboard with additional buttons and knobs all over it. In the eyes of a music producer, however, the midi keyboard is the pathway to endless opportunities in music production. It may look like a typical keyboard with extra buttons and knobs but what lies beneath all this is simply magical!
A quick glance at the midi keyboard controller introduces you to a keyboard-like device with extra knobs either on the right or left depending on the brand. The knobs allow you to tune all sounds the way you want until you can find a specific authentic sound that your music needs. On this controller, you will also find extra buttons just above the keys and these usually come programmed for certain features. The good thing with these buttons is that you can reprogram them and customize each button into a specific feature that you desire! You will have the opportunity to designate certain features, sounds, and even effects to specific buttons and this helps you to create better music in a more convenient way.
How is the controller capable of all this? A midi keyboard controller normally comes programmed with a software that’s compatible with Windows computers and some that can also work with Mac. The software is designed in a very user-friendly manner enabling its users to navigate through the thousands of features easily and without having to cram the more technical stuff.
Midi keyboard controller operates on the same concept but they don’t all provide the same number and type of features. There are so many companies making this equipment with each one of them offering something unique. The good thing about this is that as a producer, you have a wide variety of options to choose from. The bad news, sadly, is that not all of these products perform as brilliantly as the producers claim. Generally, the best midi keyboard controllers come from Akai, M-Audio, Alesis, and Novation among a few other manufacturers.
The better the brand the better the controller and the more costly the gadget is. Don’t be discouraged though because you can get one of this equipment for as low as $50 but this means that you’ll have to settle for fewer features. If you are an upcoming producer then such an affordable controller is not a bad point to start from because they are also easy to learn and decent enough to make incredible music. If you are a professional producer with a better budget, $350 is more than enough to get a beast midi keyboard controller that will allow you to fully utilize your skills and potential in music production.
Here are some of the common features of midi keyboard controllers that you’ll find really helpful.
- Sound Effects
For most newbie DJs and music producers, their options when it comes to sound effects is fully dependent on how many effects come with their equipment and maybe if they can access and download more effects from the internet. With a Midi keyboard controller, you can make your own effects! Yes, these controllers come with preset effects and additional software that allows you to combine the various beats, and sounds with your fascinating creativity to come up with unique sound effects that you can record and use later on. These effects can also be mapped to the provided controls where you’ll be able to access them easily.
- Mappable Controls
Majority of the midi keyboard controller buttons can be customized into functions of your own choice. This means that you can designate certain features, sounds, and effects to specific buttons that you want. This feature has proven to be very useful in saving time and making music production effortless.
Basically, every midi keyboard controller tries as much as possible to come up with software that offers lots of features without being overly complicated. Different controllers have slightly different software and UI but the idea remains the same. As you’d expect, the more costly a controller is the more the better the UI will be and the more the features it offers. Even some more affordable midi keyboard controllers have tried to offer as many features as possible while remaining within a decent price range. You just have to be more attentive when shopping for one and you’ll be able to get a cheap controller that hasn’t compromised on quality.
No longer do you need a traditional drum set to come up with drum beats. Midi keyboard controllers provide several programmed buttons that bring drum beats closer to your fingers. Now, why in the world would you need the drum beats on the buttons instead of just getting the regular set? First, scientists have, on more than one occasion, demonstrated that learning how to play drum through buttons is a lot easier than doing so on an actual drum set. This, therefore, saves a lot of time that you would have had to learn on the set in order to come up with a decent beat. Secondly, having the beats available on the buttons allows you to designate specific beats to specific buttons that you can easily access during your music production. Finally, do we really need to tell you that having the beats on the controller saves you from having to spend an extra stash of cash on buying a drum set for your studio?
Different controllers will be offering a varying number of pads that you can use to create drum lines and beats. Some are limited to just 6 or 8 pads while a few offer an excess of 12 drum pads!
Other Unique Features
Of course, not all midi controllers are the same. Different manufacturers add different features to their devices to lure users into purchasing theirs. This is where you will need to be seen, do some research and even consult an expert before committing into purchasing a particular controller. The unique features that manufacturers include in their devices might just be the difference you need to stand out from the rest of the producers in the industry. You, therefore, owe it to yourself to try and understand all the critical features of a controller before you finally purchase it.
Our Best Picks
In the next couple of minutes, we will be answering the most crucial question yet, which is the best midi keyboard controller right now? This is no easy question because it’s not just a subjective matter but it’s also one that is dependent on multiple factors as we are going to see.
The keyboards that we are going to review will be coming with excellent features but some of them are not really ideal for beginners. This might be because of how complex they may be designed which could make learning on them an uphill task. A few others have distinguished performance but their price is reasonably high thus limiting the number of people that can afford them.
Without further ado, here are the best midi keyboards controllers recommended to you:
Novation Impulse 61 Midi Keyboard Controller
This Novation Impulse controller has everything you’d want in a midi keyboard controller. It’s also equipped with a few extra features that allow you as a producer to experiment on new beats and sounds which might just be what you need to make a great hit.
Novation is a reputable company famous for making great music instruments at very fair prices. In this particular controller, they have designed it with highly responsive and weighted keys which allow you to easily make music without facing unnecessary resistance.
The keyboard is designed with eight mappable knobs, nine fader knobs, a plug-in or DAW control board and a few extra mappable buttons that can be customized as per your preferences. There are eight more drum pads that are also programmed with several other features. The controller runs on the Automap 4 control software that both newbies and advanced producers will find very user-friendly. Navigating through the various functions of the keyboard is super easy with this software.
The keyboard features an LED screen (it’s quite small) where you’ll be able to go through and select the various settings of the controller. It’s also on this screen where you’ll be able to see the sort of effects that are turned on, the channel you’re currently on and other functions. The user manual will further help you out in case you see anything on the screen that you don’t understand.
The keyboard is also packed with a few downloads to spice things up. These include Ableton Live, Loopmasters Sample Pack, Novation’s Bass Station Synth and the XLN Audio Addictive Keys.
- The keyboard is extremely easy to use. Producers of all levels can comfortably work with this controller whether they are just learning or they are making professional music. The 61 keys will also help beginners to learn on a huge sized keyboard controller and this experience should make it easy for them to work with any other controller in future. The 61 keys are also well spread out to make moving up and down the controller is much easier.
- We also can’t fail to mention the sturdy nature of the keys. These keys are semi-weighted which makes the transition from one note to another effortless. Their design makes them feel nice when touched and their sturdiness makes them quite durable. They are not clunky or loud as is common in other cheap keyboard controllers.
- The overall layout of the controller’s buttons and knobs is well-done to improve their accessibility while playing. The fact that you can also customize some buttons to specific functions also means that you can map the functions you use more frequently on the buttons more accessible to you for convenient performance.
- The controller has a wide variety of features that’ll definitely make your experience a productive and fun one. The default mapping feature, for instance, helps learners and other seasoned users to set up the controller much quicker than they would n most other typical keyboard controllers.
- Novation works with some of the biggest software manufacturers and this means that their products are usually compatible with most of the music software out there. You can, therefore, download and sync the software and other newly developed features like effects and beats to your controller.
- The LED screen makes maneuvering through one function of the controller to the next seamless.
- The device is powered by USB which is a great thing if you want fewer cables around your studio.
In conclusion, for less than $500, the Novation Impulse 61-key midi controller is among the best controllers available. Its performance is superb and the user reviews online are more evidence of just how great the device is. The instrument is also available in 25 and 49 keys in case you feel like the 61-key controller is too big for you. Of course, these other models will feature fewer knobs and buttons but the software and everything else is still the same.
Alesis V49 USB-Midi Keyboard Controller
If you are familiar with the music instrument industry then you know that Alesis makes some of the best devices out there that rival other high-end instruments. Fortunately, unlike their premium competitors, Alesis usually put a price tag on their device that almost anyone can afford. This is great news for all the musicians out there that are working on a squeezed budget.
The Alesis V61 midi keyboard controller is the perfect example of an excellent Alesis instrument with an affordable asking price. This controller has the best quality not just in its exterior construction but also on the software used. The buttons and knobs are of similar quality and this doesn’t just improve the performance of the controller but also makes it look and feel like a premium device.
The Alesis V61 gives you the desperately needed control over your plug-ins and the additional electronic instruments in your house.
We also have to mention the great quality of the weighted keys on this controller. With these keys, you can adjust their sensitivity to your desired preference. How often do you come across such a feature in a controller costing less than $200?!
The controller also features eight drum pads with LED backlight. There are so many great things about these drum pads; where should we even begin from? Firstly, the LED backlight radiates an ambiance that will definitely boost your mood when working on this controller at night. Secondly, the backlight means that you can continue playing the keyboard even when you are in a low-lit area. Thirdly, all these pads are customizable and mappable! They are also highly sensitive that enables them to respond to pressure and velocity. What this means is that the sound output when pressing the pads can move from low and smooth to moderately fast and hard to extremely fast and hard and all this is controlled by your fingers!
The keyboard controller also has mod and pitch wheels. Additionally, you’ll get eight mappable and adjustable buttons and four knobs that you can use to manipulate sound, faders, arpeggiators and change tempo among other functions. A USB port and a sustain pedal input jack for the sustain pedal is also included at the back.
- Alesis V49 for less than $200, is among the few midi keyboard controllers that offer a wide spectrum of features at a ridiculously low price without compromising on the overall quality of construction. How they have managed to achieve this is still a mystery.
- The keyboard is fully powered by USB and this improves overall tidiness of the studios by reducing the number of cables laying around.
- Alesis V61 comes in three different versions. Other than this 61 key model, you can also get the 25-key and 49-key for even lower prices. These will prove to be very useful especially for musicians and producers that are looking for portable instruments.
- The overall designing of the keyboard and the used software is very easy to use. The buttons and knobs also respond very well.
- The keys used are of high quality; they guarantee durability.
- The controller is compatible with the latest Mac and PCs allowing you to utilize its potential fully.
- The octave up and down buttons are conveniently located next to the keyboard. This provides the user with the freedom of creating piano tunes, baselines and other beats more easily.
- The 4 mappable control knobs give you all the control you need to make authentic music. With these knobs you can adjust the volume, activate and deactivate effects, teak parameters and open or close filters.
- You’ll also be able to customize the software in both visual and technical functions.
- Alesis V49 software is designed with both Ableton Live Lite 9 and Expand! 2 from AIR Music Tech. This software helps you in editing your music and Expand! The software gives you preset beats to make your music magical.
- A few users complained about the sensitivity parameters of the drum pads and the keys.
- Responsiveness of the drum pads has also been a prevalent complaint from various users.
For less than $200, no one can debate the fact that Alesis V61 is among the best and most affordable midi keyboard controllers in the market at the moment. This controller gives you much more than a typical midi keyboard would and that is why it is highly recommended to you.
AKAI Professional MPK249 Performance Keyboard Controller
AKAI has been making remarkable music instruments for years but not many producers realized this until the Mini MKII came along. This model was the best compact and portable controller with excellent features, software, and construction. After the enormous success of this model, AKAI keyboard controllers gained more popularity and the MKP249 is their best one yet.
The MPK249, like the above controllers, is also available in three different models: the 25-key, 49-key, and this 61-key version. Though the number of buttons and knobs may vary they both share one common thing, which is quality and remarkable performance.
This particular model is perfectly designed for both studio and live performance uses. When you get yourself the MPK249, you’ll no longer have to spend an extra cash in getting an extra keyboard because it, simply, has everything you’ll ever need for any midi keyboard controller occasion.
The controller features weighted and pressures sensitive keys that feel smooth below the skin. The drum pads, on the other hand, are lit with 16 colors and designed in an MPC-style; you have to admit that this gives the keyboard a great boost in terms of looks. The drum pads are also fully mappable and will accommodate up to 64 different customizations.
You will also find a Q-link control board with mappable switchers, knobs, and faders. This is aligned rows of eight knobs each.
AKAI have maintained their incredible VIP 3.0 software in this keyboard. It’s easy to understand why AKAI and most musicians love this software because it is easy to use and performed brilliantly and that’s why it has even been honored with awards. With this software, any user will have an easy time controlling the tones, effects, maps, keys and all other functions of the keyboard.
AKAI MPK249 is compatible with iOS devices. The bad news, however, is if you want to connect it with an Apple iPad Camera Connector you’ll have to purchase it separately. The controller also supports DAW integration.
You will also get 5-pin midi input and output, at the back, there are two mappable footswitch jacks and one expression jack.
- The controller offers 16 amazing drum pads. Any musician who has ever used this controller will tell you that the MPK249 has, perhaps, the best drum pads ever put in midi keyboard controller!
- The software used is user-friendly and hence the keyboard accommodates users of different skill levels.
- The entire construction of this controller is of superb quality. We loved the exterior casing and the feel of all the knobs and buttons in this keyboard.
- The controller comes in different models accommodating users that are seeking a more compact and portable controller. These devices are of the same quality but you’ll be able to get them for a lower price.
- AKAI offers one of the best customer care services. They will help with all your concerns about any aspects of this instrument that you haven’t understood. They will also be willing to listen to any complains or issues you may face once you’ve purchased the controller.
- A few users have complained of receiving a defective set either in the software or the hardware. This is a could possibly be due to poor packaging or shipping but whatever the reason is a phone call to AKAI customer care will sort you out immediately.
AKAI MPK 249 will see you through your learning process in your house or at the studio all the way to your professional live performances. The construction is built to withstand wear and tear and the features are made to expound on your already incredible skills to give you the best beats and music you’ve ever made.
M-Audio Keystation 88 II Midi Keyboard Controller
This beast is made for serious musicians and producers. Other than performing the basic keyboard functions that most other midi controllers do, the M Audio Keystation 88 goes an extra mile to exceed your expectations. With this reasonably big keyboard, you get 88 keys and a dozen more knobs, buttons and other features that you wouldn’t find in a traditional midi keyboard controller.
The keyboard is programmed with lots of virtual instruments. The 88 keys are all velocity sensitive and weighted for seamless performance. You will also get some modulation wheels, transport controls, octave range, and pitch bend controls. For any professional, these functions will be a significant boost that you desperately need in order to take your music to the next level. For beginners, you’ll need to be patient and learn a little more about the functions and how to use them but once you’ve mastered them making music with this device will definitely be your favorite hobby.
M-Audio Keystation 88 runs on the remarkable Ableton Live Lite Software with both the SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble and Expand! 2 included. As if that isn’t enough, the instrument is iOS compatible meaning you can use it alongside an Apple Camera connection kit for even better performance.
This controller features a ¼” sustain pedal jack and is powered by a USB. You’ll also be glad to notice that getting started with this keyboard is extremely easy. You won’t need to do any programming or run any software to get it running. All you have to do is connect it to your computer load the digital audio workstation (DAW) and you’ll be good to go.
- The controller has lots of professional features that’ll prove very useful to anyone who’s serious about making music. The 88 velocity sensitive keys are not just good for studio use but will also come in very handy during the live performance.
- It’s easy to start up saving a lot of time in the process
- The keyboard features a very simple design where accessing every function feels natural. This has proven to be very useful in making music even for the inexperienced producers and musicians.
- The buttons and knobs are made of an excellent material that feels executive and easy to use.
- You can play, perform or even record music all while using the controller i.e. you won’t have to be moving back and forth between the controller and your computer. This helps to reduce unnecessary interruptions that usually disorient the producer affecting the whole production process.
- The manufacturer has designed the wheels in this controller with little fingerholds that help to minimize errors when using them. This also boosts the accuracy of all the functions controlled by the wheels.
- You can record and edit music directly from the controller. This is thanks to the big size of the controller that has allowed for the inclusion of editing functions within a single unit.
- The biggest limitation of this keyboard is that you get no drum pads! I have to admit that this was shocking even for us. With its big size, you would think that adding a few drum pads was the least they could do but they didn’t. This, however, shouldn’t be an issue for people can get drum set separately.
Apart from the lack of drum pads, everything else about this instrument is fantastic. The controller features lots of controllers and functions without being too complicated to operate. The M-Audio Keystation 88 II is a professional instrument that will be key in boosting your music production and live performance experience.
Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 USB Keyboard Controller
Ask any serious music producers about some of the best instruments they have ever used and Novation will come up. This brand has given us lots of incredible instruments and the Launckey 61 MK2 controller is one of them.
This midi keyboard controller is made by musicians and producers for other musicians and producers. It, therefore, features almost everything a producer would ever dream of in a midi controller. The fact that it is made by fellow producers also means that it has solved lots of the problems that other midi controllers have like accessibility to various functions.
The first brilliant thing that you’ll notice immediately after unboxing this controller is the top-notch quality of its construction. The entire body looks great and the keys, buttons, and knobs are just as good. This construction has reduced wear and tear issues significantly and has also eliminated the cheap feeling of keys and buttons. Your fingers will enjoy sliding from one button to the next.
The controllers feature the Ableton Live Lite Software, Novation Bass Station, V Station and XLN Audio Addictive Keys. This software will work with both PC and Mac and hence you never have to worry about compatibility issues. You will also get 4GB different music loops that are copyright free.
Launchkey 61 MK2 features eight mappable knobs and 16 small RGB drum pads. These pads are located just above the keys and they are all mappable and customizable to fit your personal preferences. You can use these pads to create loops, triggers, clips, and control various effects among other uses. The rest of the buttons and knobs are conveniently spread out for easy accessibility.
All the keys are pressure sensitive and semi-weighted. There is also 25-key and 49-key models for producers that are looking for a similar but smaller version of the controller.
- The controller uses the award-winning Ableton Live Lite software. This makes all things super easy for you whether you are just learning on how to use the controller or if you’re doing productions or live performance.
- We have to mention that you get great value for this device considering all the features it offers to its affordable price tags. Launchkey 61 easily beats other expensive midi controllers that retail for almost twice its price.
- The Launchkey offers you 9 faders to control your mixes and 8 mappable knobs that control the various instruments and effects programmed in the keyboard.
- Most midi keyboard controllers offer 8 to 12 drum pads but not this particular controller. Here, you get 16 drum pads, imagine how much you can achieve with all of these pads!
- The drum pads are color coded! Yes, you can customize the pads to different functions and then code them with a particular color. This makes it even easier for you to remember the function of each pad.
- To accommodate 16 drum pads, producers had to reduce them in size. Some users found this small size a bit of a problem because they needed precision to avoid hitting two pads simultaneously or hitting the wrong pad altogether.
- If you are used to weighted keys then getting used to this keyboard may take some time because they are not weighted.
The Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 has so much to offer for a gadget going for less than $300. The controller will blend into your studio instantly and you’ll also find it very useful during live performances.
Conclusion on best midi controller
Basically, the above information covers everything you need to know about midi keyboard controllers. The above samples that we’ve mentioned to you don’t just offer the best features that a controller should have but they are also among the most affordable in the market. They all provide almost the same functions with slight variations in design, number of keys and included features. You will need to do extra research in each one of them to find one with your most desired functions. Bottom line is that whichever one you choose from the five above, we guarantee you excellent performance.