Best for the Price
The Akai’s MPK Mini MKII 25-Key is the best selling MIDI keyboard controller in the world and for good reason. Out of any MIDI controller, the MPK Mini MKII will give you the best bang for your buck. From now until Cyber Monday you can get it for only $99 dollars on Amazon right now, and it is an excellent controller with a lot of value for the price.
$99 and up
Keybed: 25 Shallow synth action mini-keys, playable but don’t get crazy.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Controlled by top-left joystick.
Pads: MPC-style pads, but think thinner, not the thick pads that show up across the rest of the MPK lines larger counterparts.
Build: Sturdy, lightweight but plasticky.
Knobs: 8 assignable pots
Pedal Inputs: Sustain
Extra Features: Arpeggiator, Tap Tempo and Multiple Banks, also it comes in 3 color combinations.
Best for Producers
After receiving critical and commercial success with their foray into the world of keyboard controllers, Akai returned with the MPK2, a direct followup to their MPK MIDI keyboard, which was the best selling keyboard controller upon release. The wait for Akai’s first pivot from the MPC to MPK was well welcome and everything they got wrong the first time around has been addressed in the second incarnation in what became the gold-standard of midi keyboard controllers. With the Akai MPK2 users are afforded a more versatile model that also comes with a good-sized software bundle.
$249 to $536
Keybed: Full-sized keys with split arp, and aftertouch enabled options. Key-count options like mini 25, 25-key, 49-key and 61-key.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present, but their unfortunately no longer backlit ?
Pads: 16 of Akai’s finest RBG backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, configured just like like most of the drum controllers of today. (Read as: Why were the original drum pads rectangles instead of being perfectly square. On top of having better pads, the MPK2 includes Note Repeat, MPC Swing, Tap Tempo, MPC Full Level
Build: The original was sturdy, this is sturdier, with a brand new LCD screen that doesn’t look like it came from the starter Yamaha keyboard you got on your 6th birthday.
Knobs: This time, users get 8 official Q-link encoders with 3 banks each.
Faders: They’re back, they’re sensitive, and they’re stylish and once again have the solos and mute functionality.
Pedal Inputs: Two Assignable Footswitch Jacks and an Expression Pedal Input.
Octaves: Of course.
Extra Features: What more could you really want other than a great software package, MPC Essentials, and a brand new comprehensive DAW transport controller.
Best for Travel
Novation’s LaunchKey Mini is the only keyboard controller that features both pads and keys that can be fully bus powered by a computer or even an iPad, making it the most versatile unit for travel on the market.
Extra Features: Works with iPad, comes with bonus software. 2 track and navigation buttons. Software for Mac and PC, Including: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Novation Bass Station and V Station virtual instruments and over 4GB of Loopmasters samples
Best for Pianists
The Arturia brand is famous for bringing analog classics back to life in the form of their V collection, and subsequent Analog Lab and Spark collections. Eventually moving into the hardware game with Origin and a range of high-quality synths that put a modern-day spin on analog sounds. Because of the company’s expansive knowledge into the both the aesthetic and quality their customers expected, Arturia’s keyboard controllers offer an intuitive design with old-school nods.
Featuring Arturia’s unique gel pads, endless encoders, a semi-weighted Fatar-keybed with aftertouch the KeyLab is ready for you to play like a professional or link up to your favorite drum sequencer. Bundled with Arturia’s Analog Lab software, which has 5,000 synth sounds the controller acts as a hybrid controller synthesizer that gives any user diverse options for any genre. With the KeyLab, you’ll get access to the SEM V, Prophet V and the CS-80 V making the KeyLab not only a great piece of hardware but a worthy investment in your music production career. In addition, The system’s main features consist of:
$100 to $400
Keybed: With key-count options including 25-key, 49-key, 61-key, and 88-key the KeyLab serieis features models that include key hammer-action Fatar keybeds for realistic piano-like playability to semi-weighed keybeds with aftertouch.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present and feel as good as the pads.
Pads: 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB backlit pads with another 10 assignable buttons.
Fader Bank: 9 programmable faders with 2 banks.
Build: Sturdy and extremely ergonomic with wood and aluminum casing.
Novation’s Launchkey line offers you the best that Novation has to offer. Packaged in a sleek black casing with Novation’s patented Launchpad styled pads with macro and pressure-sensitivity, the Launchkey is a versatile MIDI controller line that capitalizes on Ableton’s rise in market share. Both feature-rich and affordable, the Launchkey series isn’t just “baby’s first MIDI controller,” it is a power-packed production tool. Recovering from the short-comings of the Novation Impulse line, the Launchpad keeps the same overall build-quality with a better aesthetic and this time around includes a healthy helping of software and sounds to get you going. The keyboard controller’s main features include:
$99 to $250
Keybed: Synth-style velocity-sensitive keybeds which include key configurations including25-key, 49-key and 61-key.
A step up from its little brother (the Alesis VI), and a step down from its older cousin (Akai’s MPK2), Alesis VX series in the perfect combination of functionality and affordability. For a company that has never quite found its place in an industry where it has time and again created the cutting edge, Alesis has finally found a home in tactile prosumer gear, and this is no less found in the Alesis VX, regardless of size. The third wave in Alesis’ base V series, and one step up from their VI series, the VX embodies the best of its former evolutions and takes things a step further in a streamlined manner.
Stocked with full-sized semi-weighed keys that include aftertouch along with 16 RGB, backlit velocity-sensitive pads, the VX loses the hoards of programmable buttons (though there are a few) and gains VIP instead, allowing you to visually map out whatever you need right there on the screen. Unfortunately, the VX series seems to be a test run as the VX 49 is the only model that is currently available, but for smaller or larger models with a similar build, Alesis’ VI line will suffice. Even though y. The device’s main features consist of:
$240 and up
Keybed: 49 full-sized velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch that are quite playable.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Oddly placed above the drum pad bank for an aesthetically pleasing design, but a bit strange for a function that has basically been in the same place on ever controller in history..
Pads: 16 velocity-sensitive RGB backlit drum pads that also work for launch clips in Ableton Live.
Build: Lightweight, and slim for everything that’s here.
Knobs: 8 assignable endless encoders..
Pedal Inputs: Sustain only.
Octaves: Up and Down.
Extra Features: Comes with Xpand! 2, VIP System for auto-mapping
If you’re on a tight budget, then consider purchasing the M-Audio Keystation. This keyboard controller for pro tools will give you access to the basics at a price that you can afford. It comes with keys, a mod wheel and a pitch along with a few other fundamental functions. The device’s key make is solid while the synth action is slightly more bouncy than semi and full-weighted models. It also comes with a good orchestra-type virtual studio technology, or VST, feature, which is in the SoniVox Eighty-Eight Ensemble. The keyboard controller’s downsides include its limited software bundle and its lack of faders and knobs. However, most musicians only use these extra options during live performances, so if you need an affordable device for creative purposes, then this is the one for you. The product’s main features include:
In many circles, Behringer is one of the best brands when it comes to music equipment that is affordable and durable. With the U-Control UMX, you’ll receive a solid key build as well as several assignable controls. The keyboard controller features 100 virtual instrument sounds in addition to 50 different VST effects. Velocity-sensitive keys and access to an audio interface increase the usability of the equipment item since the features provide external volume control. Behringer’s 61-key option is one of the most affordable on the market. However, the model does lack pads and faders. The Behringer U-Control unit includes:
The Axiom AIR is one of M-Audio’s advanced models. It comes with assignable features like eight knobs, three banks and nine faders. In addition, the keys provide synth-action and include Aftertouch. With this MIDI keyboard, you’ll receive just 12 trigger pads, but the pad quality is high. If you want to kick your style up a notch, you can create personalized velocity curves. A major benefit of this keyboard controller is the addition of Pro Tools Express as well as Ignite by Air. If you already have your digital audio workstation in place, then you may not need the many options that this keyboard provides. However, if you’re considering changing over to Pro Tools, then Axiom AIR will help you get started. The keyboard controller’s main features include:
$100 to $400
Keybed: Semi-weighted keys with custom velocity-curves in key-count options like 25-key, 49-key and 61-key.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present, both underwhelming.
Pads: 10 switches that are assignable.
Fader Bank: 9 faders.
Build: Lightweight, but it will stand the test of a good time.
Knobs: Eight encoders
Pedal Inputs: Sustain
Octaves: A 128 tone range octave transfer function.
Extra Features: HyperControl software that offers mapping with your digital audio workstation.
The Korg microKEY keyboard is a basic option. Because of the unit’s limited features, it is more affordable. The company offers a unique 37-key model, and it is convenient to own since it’s lightweight. This makes the device portable. With the Korg, you’ll gain keys that are velocity-sensitive. Despite the unit’s affordability, the keys have a quality feel. The device is USB powered, and this feature lets you avoid dealing with an adapter. You’ll also receive a key transpose button and an octave shift. If you buy the Korg model, be sure to download the company’s Korg Kontrol Editor for additional options. The keyboard controller’s main features consist of:
M-Audio has long set the standard for affordable MIDI controllers. The CTRL 49 represents the company’s attempt to capture a portion of the high-end controller market. In addition to its keyboard functionality, the CTRL 49 features faders and buttons for controlling your digital audio workstation, a large color display and drum pads for sequencing percussion loops.
Keybed: 49 full-sized velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present. Both fine.
Pads: 8 RGB backlit velocity and pressure-sensitive drum pads with roll, time division and arp functions.
Build: This is a bit on the heavy side, but that is a specific testament to the quality of it’s build.
Knobs: 8 endless encoders with LED indicators.
Faders: 9 faders, with a primary master fader.
Pedal Inputs: Sustain and Expression pedal inputs.
Extra Features: There is a full-color screen, M-Audio’s NKS rival, VIP, comes standard, full transport controls, programmable buttons and more.
Korg ‘s Triton Taktile, stylized as TRTK, is one of the few MIDI keyboard controllers that works not only as a MIDI controller but also as a mini-workstation/synthesizer, meaning it includes a host of onboard sounds interface and has its own pre-programmed sounds. An advanced version Korg’s now-defunct Taktile line features the entire sound library of the iconic Korg Triton workstation series, which was a studio mainstay for artists like David Bowie, Trent Reznor, and Timbaland. Beyond being a powerhouse sonically the Taktile also features Korg’s kaossPAD that effects the onboard sounds or can be mapped to outboard gear, a fader bay, programmable knobs all mappable to any DAW.
$420 and up
Keybed: Synth-action controller without aftertouch.
The ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 represents an entirely new way to play a keyboard. The Seaboard doesn’t have keys in the traditional sense. Rather, it has waves that represent the traditional keys of a keyboard. You can play the Seaboard as if it were a standard keyboard, or you can allow your fingers to drift between the waves for greater expressive possibilities.
Keybed: Velocity sensitive 5D Touch enhanced standard sized gel “keywaves”, it will take some getting used to.
Build: Extremely durable rubber mixed with another plastic-like polymer.
Pedal Inputs: Sustain
Octaves: 2 Up, 1 Down
Extra Features: Has an actual XY pad with another set of parameters above it that can be mapped for X, Y, and Z controls. Can work wirelessly with MIDI over bluetooth, which also means you can use its internal rechargeable battery. Comes with the custom Equator for RISE plugin, which is a custom built for all of the intricacies of 5D Touch. As a bonus it also now comes with FXpansion’s Strobe2 and Bitwig 8 Track, but who would be using that if they just spent $800 dollars on a 25 key MIDI controller? No one.