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Top 10 Best MIDI Keyboard Controller Buyer’s Guide

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Today, high quality MIDI keyboards are increasingly getting popular and with advancements in technology, musicians from all over the world have gradually began switching to digital systems or partly to hybrids systems consisting of digital and analog systems. Although there are people that still stick to completely analog equipment in creating music mixes and mastering, they still often use MIDI controllers for studio productions. Even though we still appreciate authentic drum machines and synthesizers, we are highly enthusiastic about keyboards since they are economical and generally efficient. Keyboards are characteristic depending on the virtual instrument in use and offer limitless possibilities for audio effects. Below is an analysis of the 10 best quality MIDI keyboard controllers in the market today; this analysis focuses on both on quality and affordability to enable one select which keyboard suits them best.

How to Select a Best MIDI Keyboard Controller?

Firstly there are a number of things that you have to consider when selecting a MIDI keyboard controller best suited for your needs.

The following questions will assist you in determining and selecting MIDI keyboard controller:

How Much Do You Intend to Spend?

This question is very important since there are many alternatives for various price ranges; below $100, from $100 up to $500 and even above $500. Generally the more the number of keys (discussed next) the more the cost. It is important to note that some keyboards include additional software packages making them cost more.

What Number of Keys Do You Prefer Your MIDI Controller to Have?

Many options exist like mini-compact 88, 61, 49, 37, 32 or 25. Mini compact 88 has the highest number of keys similar to an actual piano while mini compact 49 is the most preferred. It is likely that those that prefer the 88-key mini compact option wish to get the feel of an actual piano whilst those that are always on the move make use of laptops or simply do not mind choose the option with 25 keys. Therefore it is all a matter of preference.

What Key-Type Would You Prefer?

Choice of key type depends on preference. Some key types include synth-action, full-weighted, semi-weighted and aftertouch. Below is a summary of the various types of keys that can generally be incorporated in MIDI keyboard controllers:

  • Synth Action: Many well-known MIDI keyboards key are synth action type. Typically synth keys are constructed using plastic and make use of springs and not real weights to bring back keys to their initial position when pushed and released. Compared to other models that use actual weights, pressing and releasing keys feels relatively fast and light. This make of keys works well for many categories of music and its performance is entirely dependent on an individual and their preferred mode of playing.
  • Semi-weighted: This type is not constructed using plastic material and springs. Instead each key consists of a spring-loaded design and light in-built weights. Semi weighted key type performs averagely in terms of quickness and lightness with respect to synth action keys.
  • Fully-weighted: Many digital pianos are constructed using weighted keys in an effort to emulate the feeling one gets when playing a piano. Even though it does not actually feel like playing an actual piano but it is very close. MIDI keyboards rarely have weighted keys however the more costly models usually have them.

How Important is the Portability?

In case you want something portable then you have to consider the issue of overall size. It has been previously mentioned that small MIDI keyboards like the 25 –key option are suitable for travelling, however it is still possible to move with the 49-key option keyboard controller particularly for live performances.

Would You Want a Controller With MIDI Pads?

Very many keyboards emerging today come with “drum pads” (even though not only for drums as other kinds of sounds can also be assigned). Usually these drum pads are about 8 to 16 in number with 3 or 4 potential banks. Therefore if you need a drum machine or something close to it built in a MIDI keyboard it is important to look out for this feature.

Is There Any Additional Functionality You Would Wish Your Controller to Have?

Additional functionalities include different performance controls like faders, knobs, buttons, arpeggiators and pitch and modulation wheels. These additional functionalities are an advantage but they are not necessary. You can determine the additional features you will require based on your working style and music genre you produce.

Is There a Specific Software Bundle You Would Prefer The Keyboard to Contain?

While some keyboards include substantial programs like complete Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), VST or FX, others come without.

The Top 10  MIDI Keyboard Controllers

According to some people, the most valuable piece of equipment when constructing a music production studio. The 10 best MIDI keyboard controllers in the market today are outlined below. The MIDI keyboard controllers outlined below have different number of keys and offer various additional functionalities such as pads and appropriate software packages. Examine them and determine which best meets your needs and budget. In addition, if you require some sound effects to complement your controller.

1/ Novation Impulse

Novation Impulse

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$

PRODUCT RATE

Novation Impulse is presently our favorite and the most preferred MIDI keyboard controller. It is puzzling how this controller even with its solid structure, pads and additional external features still costs almost half what its competitors cost. The Novation Impulse is among the finest MIDI keyboards on sale today. It has been listed here at number 1 for several reasons namely structure, make of key pad and it cost is relatively fair.

The only limitation is that it does not come with any software package but these days many companies create and incorporate software bundles such as DAWs, FX or VSTs in controllers to warrant upgrades or simply higher costs. The Novation Impulse comes with two relatively great VSTs and Ableton Live Lite. Even though its build is not as good as that of the Akai model, it works just fine. It ranks first in our finest Logic MIDI controller among others.

  • Keys are semi-weighted and extremely responsive
  • Keys programmed with after touch effect
  • 9 buttons, 9 faders and 8 knobs that are assignable (25-key has fewer assignable options)
  • Consists of Automap software that makes MIDI control easy using major DAW's
  • Powered from USB
  • Inputs for sustain and expression pedals
  • MIDI input and output ports
  • Includes Ableton Live Lite, Loopmasters sample library and Novation Bass Station

2/ Akai MPK2

Akai MPK2

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$$

PRODUCT RATE

Akai Professional’s first MPK array of MIDI keyboard controllers overwhelmingly captured the market to quickly become among the preferred MIDI music instrument. Akai Professional has released a state-of-the art upgraded version of their highly regarded keyboards with highly reliable stability and in general assignable features. In addition it comes with an extensive software package. Except the mini, every key count version consists of Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, MPC software (relatively reliable but we commend finding a software that is more dependable) and Hybrid 3.0 virtual synth.

The key design is very solid; among the best we have encountered so far and its drum pads speed-responsive with RGB backlight. They offer you several alternatives with respect to the number of keys and cost; key count ranges from 25-key for the mini to a complete 61-key. It is a little more costly compared to Novation Impulse MIDI keyboard but it comes with additional extras such as a superior software package, a generally better structure and an arpeggiator. It is among the finest MIDI keyboards in the market and has excellent user reviews.

Note: Recently they released their newest model “Advance” MIDI keyboard. We will monitor its performance for a while before including it in the list. Be in the look out!

  • Keyboard is full-size with keys that are semi-weighted and have aftertouch (with the exception of the mini)
  • Drum pads are speed responsive with16 RGB backlight (4 pad banks and 64 assignable pads)
  • LCD screen of high resolution
  • 8 assignable buttons, faders, and knobs
  • Octave can be adjusted using controls on the keyboard
  • Modulation and pitch bend wheels
  • Comparatively reliable software packages

3/ Novation Launchkey

Novation Launchkey

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$$

PRODUCT RATE

This is among our favorite MIDi keyboards by Novation. Launchkey is cheaper than our favorite of all Impulse which has been covered previously. Therefore this model is recommended for those who wish to spend about hundred dollars less. Launch keys has relatively smaller drum pads compared to Oxygen and Akai models (initially this worried us but we eventually got accustomed to it). In addition is has assignable button and faders (it does not have knobs) and also mod and pitch blend wheels. Generally it has great structure and its very reliable being a Novation brand. It includes Bass Station VST and Novation V-Station for both Mac and PC. Additionally they have Novation iPad apps and hence suitable if one uses iOS music (appears to be increasing in popularity these days).

  • 16 trigger pads; multi colored and speed-sensitive
  • DAW mapping control
  • Keys are synth action
  • Includes a software package
  • Assignable faders, buttons and knobs (8 each)
  • Transport controls
  • Up and down octave controls
  • Modulation and pitch wheels

4/ M-Audio Oxygen

M-Audio Oxygen

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$$$

PRODUCT RATE

This is another keyboard by M-Audio, very inexpensive but consists of pads some essential faders, encoders as well as additional assignable features. Its keys are of excellent quality, are full size, are synth action and highly responsive. Oxygen’s transport controls perform well with just about any available DAW. It is shipped with SONiVOX Twist and Ableton Live Lite software packages. Its price range is great. Go for this if you are not really concerned about software packages and would overlook some structure deficiency for a lower price but would still want your MIDI keyboard with pads. We just about to replace Oxygen their newer version M-Audio Code MIDI keyboard but we are still thrilled by Oxygen’s its reliability. There our recommendation remains M-Audio Oxygen.

  • Velocity sensitive, full size and synth-action keys
  • 8 speed sensitive trigger pads
  • 8 assignable faders
  • 9 assignable knobs
  • Transport controls
  • In-built mapping via well-known DAWs
  • Shipped with SONiVOX Twist and Ableton Live Lite software.

5/ M-Audio Keystation

M-Audio Keystation

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$

PRODUCT RATE

Our love for this keyboard from M-Audio is due its particularly lower price which makes it very suitable for those not wanting to spend too much. It is relatively simple; it consists of keys, pitch and modulation wheel and only a few additional features. It is therefore ideal for those not interested in pads or sophisticated controls; only offers the necessary functionalities hence the cost effectiveness. The keys are synth action hence a little springier compared to full and semi weighted keys (this is desirable) and their make is reliable with respect to the price of the keyboard. It is shipped with a good orchestral VST contained in Sonivox Eighty-Eight Ensemble. This is not such a sophisticated software package and it will not be able to give you that attractive combination of glamour and vitality with faders and knobs; if you feel you will not need all that glamour which actually is only needed for live performances then this keyboard is suitable for you. It is general reliable and it is recommended for those who would want a simple and affordable keyboard.

  • Keyboard is full-size (with the exception of the mini) and its keys have synth-action
  • Speed-responsive keys
  • Modulation and pitch bend wheels
  • Has transport controls
  • Input for sustain pedal
  • Includes SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble software

6/ Behringer U-Control UMX

Behringer U-Control UMX

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$

PRODUCT RATE

Behringer music gears are among the 5 leading brands in terms of affordability. Behringer’s U-Control UMX keyboard controller is one of a kind; its keys have a sturdy structure and it consists of a couple of assignable controls. Its 61 key controller made it to our list of the leading 61-key option MIDI controllers. It consists of 100 virtual sound instruments and 50 distinct VST audio effects; even though according to us a number of them are preset sounds. It has good keys though not as those found in Novation or Akai; anyway they get the work done (remember it is relatively cheaper). Additionally the keys are full size and speed-sensitive. It has an audio interface that controls external volume and additional features as well. This MIDI keyboard has unmatched quality and affordability; its 61 key option is among the cheapest in the market although it lacks faders and pads.

  • Keys are full sized and speed-sensitive
  • Has a USB interface for both PC and Mac
  • Includes NI KorePlayer sound unit
  • 8 instantaneous rotary adjustments
  • 10 switches that are assignable
  • 128 tone octave control
  • Powered via USB

7/ Korg microKEY

Korg microKEY

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$

PRODUCT RATE

Korg microKey keyboard is a very simple version; it is much simpler compared to M-Audio keyboard controller outlined previously. There are low cost and among our favorite low cost controllers. They offer an excellent and unique 37-key version, however they do not have the famous 49-key alternative. This keyboard is remarkably light and portable; its keys are speed sensitive and feel quite good taking into account its cost. It is powered via USB and so there is no need for a power adapter. Additionally it has an octave control and key shift button as well as modulation and pitch blend wheels. Incomparably low cost and really simple. You don’t need to pay extra for software packages; all that is need is the Korge Kontrol Editor downloadable for free on their website. This Korg keyboard is suitable for those who travel a lot and so the portability and size are important considerations.

  • Small speed-sensitive keys
  • Highly portable
  • Keyboard feels natural
  • Octave control / key shift button
  • Modulation and pitch blend wheels
  • Powered via USB

8/ Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$$$

PRODUCT RATE

This is the most recent very powerful equipment by the adored Native Instruments. We were very excited upon learning of its release. Do not let it cost drive you away before checking out its specifications and the general purpose of this exquisite MIDI keyboard. This keyboard is recommended to those using Native Instruments’ famous Komplete VST package because the keyboard is designed to use this particular software. Every button and other additional excellent features of this MIDI keyboard are intended to match up with VST installed on your personal computer. Even though this model can also be used with other different VST’s, its price is not worth it and it would be better for you to go for another luxurious MIDI keyboard with faders and pads or simply a less expensive one to cut down expenses.

  • Semi-weighted keys and fatar keybed (With the exception of S88 model, with fully-weighted keys and Fatar hammer-action keybed)
  • All models include aftertouch
  • Unique, rugged structure
  • Buttons are simple to run through via Komplete
  • Auto mapping parameter
  • Excellent lighting guides for chords that light up particular keys for keyboard chords
  • Two super sensitive touch strips are multi-purpose
  • Arpeggiator
  • Integrated scale mapping feature

9/ M-Audio Axiom AIR

M-Audio Axiom AIR

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$$

PRODUCT RATE

Axiom AIR is a more expensive version by M-Audio. It has 12 high quality trigger pads, 9 faders, 3 banks and 8 knobs that are all assignable. It has synth action keys with aftertouch effect; additionally it allows you adjust velocity curves to change how the keys respond to your presses. Axiom AIR keyboard is popular because it includes Ignite by AIR and Pro Tools express which are not really necessary if you have a running DAW. However we recommend switching to its standard Pro Tools to experience the most from this keyboard. This keyboard is more superior compared to other keyboards.

  • Keys are synth action type with afterttouch effect
  • 12 quality trigger pads; pressure and sensitive to velocity
  • Includes roll buttons
  • Consists of 8 encoders and 9 faders each having 3 banks
  • Adjustable velocity curves to enable style customization
  • Modulation and pitch blend wheels
  • Includes ignite by AIR and Pro Tools Express (over 275 sound instruments)
  • HyperControl to synchronize keyboard and software
  • Compatible with both PC and Mac

10/ Arturia KeyLab

Arturia KeyLab

AVAILABLE NUM OF KEYS

PRICE RATE

$$$

PRODUCT RATE

KeyLab is a keyboard by Arturia who are popular for synth sounds and other cutting edge analog sounds. KeyLab has a different kind of twist; its analog software library consists of very many synth sounds including classic synths such as CS-80V, SEM-V and many others. Therefore if you want a MIDI keyboard with amazing synth sounds then Arturia’s KeyLab keyboard is the one for you. In addition it includes 10 switches, 10 encoders and 9 sliders that are all assignable hence the cost. It has semi weighted keys with aftertouch and sensitive to velocity. It also has a number of pads; it is fully equipped particularly in terms of sounds. If you are willing to spend more on a MIDI keyboard then this absolutely worth it. It also looks great.

  • Analog software library consisting of thousands of synthesizer sounds
  • Preset sifting by equipment, type or feature
  • Allows editing of existing presets
  • Its keys are semi-weighted with aftertouch (the mini lacks this) and sensitive to velocity
  • 2 encoders accessible by clicking
  • A total of six transport switches
  • Modulation and pitch blend wheels
  • 16 trigger pads that have backlights and are velocity sensitive
  • 9 sliders,10 encoders,10 switches and 2 banks that are assignable

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