The world of midi instruments is constantly growing, and there are some amazing devices available these days! However, shopping for the best midi keyboard can be a daunting task.
There are so many high quality, and extremely complex, products on the market that it’s hard to know where to start, let alone know which is the best model for you.
This site is full of in-depth reviews, up-to-date content and midi information, helping you make the right choice in your keyboard selection.
Below is an interactive chart that is designed to assist you in comparing different models of the best controllers.
- The products
- Product Name
- Key Features
- Rating and Price *
- MBMK Review
The Best MIDI Keyboard
Size (W x D x H):
Rating and Price:
|CME Xkey||25 keys with aftertouch, octave toggle, sustain||15.3” x 5.3” x .62”
|M-Audio Oxygen 49||Semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys, pitch and mod, 8 knobs, 9 sliders, 9 buttons||29″ x 9.4″ 3.7″
|Akai Professional MPK Mini||25 keys, 8 buttons, 8 pads||13″ x 6″ x 1.2″
|Novation Launchkey 61||61 keys. Pitch, Mod, 9 sliders, 8 knobs, 16 pads, transpose and track||41.3″ x 15.1″ x 6.3″
|M-Audio Keystation 88ES||Semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys, 1 slider, 3 buttons, pitch and mod, pedal inputs||53” x 9.5” x 4”
|Akai Professional MAX49||49 keys with aftertouch, pitch bend and mod wheels, 8 faders, 12 pads, Ableton Live Lite, Ignite and Pro Tools!||29” x 12.5” x 3”
* Prices are approximate of Amazon and are subject to change. $ = $49 or less, $$ = $50 – $99, $$$ = $100 – $199, $$$$ = $200 – $399, $$$$$ = $400+
What is a MIDI keyboard controller?
Let’s back up one step and ask ‘what is midi?’.
MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It was developed in the early 80’s as a global standard for electronic music composition and performance.
Before MIDI, electronic instrument sounds were produced with synthesizers, which had finite musical options.
It allows the musician to access virtually unlimited sounds when connected to a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW.
The most popular model are piano style keyboards. These range from ultra-compact 25 key models to full scale 88 key keyboards.
They connect to a computer running DAW software such as Ableton Live, Logic Pro or Garage Band, through a usb cable.
Most smaller keyboard models are entirely powered by usb through the workstation computer. All you need is a laptop, DAW software and a portable device to compose music whenever and wherever you feel inspired! The variety of options to choose from today is incredible.
Other styles available are drum trigger pads, guitars, and even some creative wind instruments!
What kind of musician are you?
The easiest way to discover which is the best device for you is to ask yourself where you are as a composer?
- Are you a music professional in need of a full sized keyboard for your digital recording studio?
- Are you an amateur composer with a laptop?
- Are you a DJ who needs a compact keyboard for gigs?
Thinking about what your current or future needs are will make the process of elimination easy.
While investing in a great device that suits your needs is never a mistake, overpaying for an up-sold product should be avoided! The best device for you doesn’t need to break the bank!
What bells and whistles are you looking for?
Some of the best models are bare bones while others are stalked to the T with extra features. These can be used to enhance your music composition control, manipulation and overall experience.
Some common additions are:
Pitch and Mod wheels
These two toggles allow you to bend the pitch and modulation with a touch of your fingers, drastically effecting the sounds signals being transmitted to the DAW. While these are great features for in-studio effects, they can be really handy during live performances as well!
(An alternative to the pitch wheel or stick is having built-in aftertouch in the buttons. This frees up your hand to play two handed melodies. A great feature which comes at a price and is generally most appreciated by professionals who require both hands to play.)
Faders and knobs
Often times keyboards which include these will come with automapping, automatically assigning effects to the faders and knobs on your controller from your DAW.
Working with actually physical knobs and faders allow you hands on control over the effects you can use live. Otherwise you are left to edit them post recording, which can be a hassle.
Pads can be preset to different effects, loops and sounds, often percussive in nature.
Many keyboards with pads will come with two or more memory banks, allowing you duplicate the amount of preset effects available at your fingertips!
These require room though, thereby making your controller bulkier and heavier. Something to consider.
On an actual piano, sustain is achieved through a foot pedal. The pedal is held down and the damper continues to stay off the cord after the key is unengaged.
To use a sustain pedal with it requires some external extension, however, sustain buttons are far more common and mimic the effect of the pedal without all the extra parts!
Different keys, different experience.
Classic buttons are not designed like a regular piano’s buttons. Without the hammers striking the cords to produce the note, the buttons bounce back quickly.
If you are not a concert pianist this may not be an issue. However, if you are used to playing a real piano, switching to this device might be a bit of a shock to your fingers!
Clearly, spring loaded buttons were not everybody’s cup of tea. Hammer Action (like a piano), and Semi-Weighted buttons have been developed.
- Hammer Action, or ‘weighted keys’, feel the most similar to a real piano. This is achieved by, you guessed it, adding a hammer, or placing weights in the buttons to give them a more natural feel.
- Semi-Weighted keys don’t pretend to be piano buttons, although, they provide a little more resistance than regular spring loaded buttons. This feeling is preferable to some players which is why both weighted and semi-weighted buttons are very popular features in them.
Some ultra-compact keyboards which use pad stylebuttons are none of the above. Usually a simple pad, some models (like Keith McMillen’s QuNexus) are designed with velocity sensitive buttons, creating a unique experience and raising the bar for ultra-portable models!
Ultra-portable MIDI keyboards:
Recently, the popularity of ultra-compact devices has risen amongst those working on the go or with extremely limited space.
These keyboards are often small enough to transport in your laptop bag and are usb powered. Just plug and play. Some models are even iPad/tablet compatible!
While these bare bones controllers are clearly not up to the same key standards as the ivories on a concert grand, great strides have been taken in developing velocity sensitive keys and pads, further engaging the user experience.
25 key MIDI keyboards:
The smallest piano style keyboards available are the 25 key models. Covering two octaves, almost every model has an ‘octave up/down’ button to allow you to cover all the notes you require. While some are ultra-portable, others have full-sized, semi-weighted keys, giving the user a more natural and expressive piano feel.
Often, 25 key controllers will include some of the extras; pitch and modulation wheels, pads, knobs and or faders, for example. While some of very high end models will be a little pricey, in general, these little keyboards will relatively inexpensive compared to some of the larger versions. Almost all 25 key keyboards will be exclusively usb powered, keeping it simple.
49 key MIDI keyboards:
49 key models are great because they are still compact enough to be considered portable, yet working with 4 octaves creates greater freedom for the user experience.
It’s very possible to find a great value, low cost 49 key model, but it’s also possible to shell out the dough for some high end keyboards!
61 key MIDI keyboards:
At 61 keys, two handed playing is accomplished with relative ease and relatively few restrictions. Although these controllers are larger and less portable, they give the player great range and control.
88 key MIDI keyboards:
Full range piano keyboards are a must for those who need the ‘real deal’ experience! 88 key models can either be great, basic keyboards, or decked to the T with extras and range in price from under $200 to over $2000!