Best MIDI Controller Keyboard Reviews In 2020
Today’s MIDI controller market is flooded with an abundance of different options like keyboards and pads available at every imaginable price range. Each with a bunch of different features, making it difficult for anyone, especially beginners, to decide which one would be best suited for them.
If you’re in the same boat, then keep reading because we’ve researched and compiled a list of the best MIDI controller keyboards that you could buy right now.
Top Picks: 11 Best MIDI Controllers Reviews
Native Instruments as a brand is well-known for producing high-quality software, effects, and hardware to go along with. The NI Komplete is a very popular collection of MIDI software with a vast range of synthesizers, samplers, virtual instruments, and effects. The Komplete Kontrol S88 MKII was designed to complement it perfectly, with pre-programmed controls for Komplete software, making it one of the best MIDI keyboard controllers.
The Komplete Kontrol S88 MKII features 88 velocity-sensitive, hammer-weighted, and full-sized keys on a Fatar keybed that truly feel like a real piano. There are two ergonomic wheels for pitch and modulation, as well as a touch strip for improved expression control. The S88 also features two high-resolution screens that let you browse, tweak, and mix your sound to perfection easily from the comfort of your keyboard (1).
This keyboard is special because it integrates so well with the Native Instruments Komplete 12 set of plugins and allows you to control them better than any other MIDI controller keyboard. But most importantly, it feels like a grand piano!
This keyboard comes bundled with Komplete 12 Select, Maschine Essentials, Massive, Monark, as well as a host of other software to jumpstart your musical journey. With complete compatibility and easy programming accessibility, you can use this MIDI controller with a host of software and virtual instruments.
If you’re looking for the most feature-packed, ergonomic, customizable, and easy-to-use MIDI keyboard, then the Komplete Kontrol S88 MKII is for you. It’s used by professionals across the globe, and if you’re already a fan of Native Instruments software, then this is perfect for you. It is hands down one of the best MIDI keyboards you could buy.
2. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 Micro Keyboard Controller – Best Value For Money
No. Of Keys – 32
- Key Type – Velocity-sensitive
- Key Size – Mini
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac
- Connectivity – USB
Another entry on this list by Native Instruments, the Komplete Kontrol M32 is their portable MIDI controller designed for musicians that are always on the move. It comes with features like an OLED display, found only on more expensive MIDI keyboards, while maintaining a compact form factor for easy portable usage.
The Komplete Kontrol M32 has 32 mini-sized velocity-sensitive keys with 2 touch strips instead of pitch and mod wheels. It also has 8 touch-sensitive knobs for transport controls and a 4-directional push encoder for easy adjustment of parameters and DAW navigation. The keyboard is USB bus-powered, so there’s no need for any external power outlet.
With the keyboard, you get a whole range of Native Instruments’ software like Monark, Reaktor Prism, Maschine Essentials, Ableton Live 10 Lite, and more. The keyboard is pre-mapped to work with NI software intuitively, but can also be reassigned to meet your needs. There’s even a TRS pedal input to connect sustain pedals to it.
If you’re looking for a feature-packed, yet compact and portable MIDI keyboard, then the Komplete Kontrol M32 is for you. It’s affordable, and is more than capable of producing professional music on the go. That’s why it’s among the best MIDI keyboard controllers at its price, making it the best value for money today. It’s perfect for jotting down beats in your head while you’re traveling, or just sitting in the cafe with a nice cup of coffee.
Nektar is a music tech brand known for its commitment to making high-quality MIDI keyboards and controllers at affordable prices. The Nektar SE25 is their newest and cheapest offering for keyboards with MIDI, packing a powerful punch in a small body with 25 keys.
At just 0.5 kilograms, it is one of the lightest keyboards available in the market. It features 25 velocity-sensitive mini-sized keys. Instead of any pitch or mod wheels, however, you get button controls for octaves, semitones, and other transpose functions, as well as controlling other aspects of the keyboard. It comes with a micro-USB port and is bus-powered.
The biggest plus-point here is that you get to take advantage of Nektar’s DAW Integration software, which lets you use the SE25 to control DAW transport functions, tracks, and much more in a host of DAWs like Bitwig, Cubase, Reaper, Garageband, Logic, and more. This makes it easy to keep the flow going while producing any music.
If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard on a very tight budget, then the Nektar SE25 is perfect. It’s a great starting point for beginners as well as professionals looking for a very handy and portable option. It packs features well above its price range into a portable, compact, and easy-to-use keyboard, making it the best cheap MIDI controller available today.
Roli is a relatively newer company known for producing innovative and exciting new instruments, touted as ‘technology of the future.’ Their Seaboard Rise keyboard was hailed as an exceptional advancement in keyboard technology, and it had a very innovative approach to making music. Their newest release, the Seaboard Block, aims to continue that innovation in a more compact form.
The Seaboard Block Studio Edition features 24 ‘keywave’ style full-sized keys. These keys are soft (some might even say ‘squishy’) and very responsive to touch. The keys respond to how fast and hard you hit the notes, and also respond to finger movements afterward. You can sustain notes for long periods, pitch bend them by sliding fingers, and easily add vibrato. This makes the Seaboard Block extremely expressive compared to regular keyboards, with room for a lot of improvisation and customizability (2).
The Roli Seaboard is a pinnacle of elegant, cutting-edge music technology, so it was the perfect choice for this scene,
The Block also comes with USB MIDI as well as Bluetooth MIDI capabilities so that you can connect it to your computer, laptop, phone, or any other device wirelessly or via cable. The Bluetooth is low latency, so you can hear your playing in real-time. Roli offer their Noise app for free with the keyboard, but it is highly compatible, so it can easily be used with any virtual instrument, synthesizer, or sequencer.
The Block’s unique feature is that it lets you connect multiple Blocks together (either in a straight line or as an L-shape) to form combinations of several connected keyboards, with individual assignment functions. This really allows for innovative and flexible playing for both studio recordings and live performances.
If you’re looking to try something new and innovative, then definitely give the Roli Seaboard Block a try. It’s a unique approach to making music, very different from standard keyboards. It gives you a new dimension of expressional control over your music, and that’s why it’s our most innovative MIDI controller.
Ableton is no stranger to the music industry; their software and hardware are used by professionals all over the globe. The original Ableton Push was launched back in 2013 and very well received, and now they’ve launched the Push 2 as a massive improvement over its predecessor.
The Ableton Push 2 features 64 pressure-sensitive pads on a matrix that let you play expressively and accurately. You can program samples, loops, sequences, and a variety of other stuff to each individual pad or a collection of them for fantastic creativity and versatility. There are various other control knobs, transport controls, and touch-sensitive encoders that let you adjust parameters in real-time to perfect your sound as you play.
The Push 2 also features a high-resolution color screen that transmits information and data from the DAW straight to the pad, giving you visual feedback of your playing with accurate waveform data. You can even manipulate DAW settings according to the information on the screen. The Push 2 can run entirely on USB power, though an external power supply is included to provide better illumination to the keys. You also get a full version of Ableton Live Lite 10 Intro included with it, to jumpstart your music-making career.
If you’re looking for an intuitive way to make electronic music, then the Ableton Push 2 is the best MIDI pad there is. It features everything an upcoming DJ or electronic musician needs in the modern-day. It can serve you well in the studio as well as on the stage.
No. Of Keys – 25
- Key Type – Velocity-sensitive
- Key Size – Mini
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac
- Connectivity – USB
Akai Professional is a well-known Japanese brand that makes high-end music tech like electronic instruments and audio equipment. Their latest release, the MPK Mini III, is a significant upgrade over previous controllers such as the MPK Mini II, LPK25, LPD8, etc. The MPK series was designed to produce a multi-purpose MIDI controller with keys, pads, and rotary knobs.
The MPK Mini III features 25 velocity-sensitive mini-sized keys, with 8 MPC-style pressure-sensitive pads and 8 assignable rotary knobs. You also get a 4-way thumbstick that allows for dynamic pitch and modulation control. It also has an in-built arpeggiator function, octave and tap tempo control buttons, transport controls, pad controls, and a small LED display that shows your current settings and patches.
This controller is highly compatible with most popular music software and DAWs, and can easily work with any third-party plugins for instruments and samples as well. The pads and knobs can be assigned as per your need to trigger loops, samples, etc., and control parameters and settings within the DAW for a smoother and more natural workflow while mixing and producing. The pedal is USB powered and extremely portable.
If you’re looking for a great MIDI keyboard that also has MIDI pads in a compact form factor, then the Akai MPK Mini III is right for you. It’s great for musicians looking to create and record ideas on-the-go. It’s very customizable and flexible, making it an excellent fit for musicians of different genres.
Arturia, a French electronics company, is quite famous for its MIDI controllers, sequencers, synthesizers, etc. The Arturia KeyLab series is their most popular MIDI keyboard, and with the KeyLab mkII, they are improving further on an already successful design.
The KeyLab mkII 61 features 61 velocity-sensitive full-sized keys with aftertouch in a lightweight aluminum chassis. It also has two wheels for pitch bend and modulation, 9 large fader controls and 9 rotary knobs for DAW integration, 16 backlit performance pads, and an advanced configurable interface with an LED display.
This keyboard comes with Analog Lab 4 included, which is Arturia’s signature collection of over 6500 synthesizer presets and sounds, giving you instant access and playability for a wide variety of music genres. It’s also highly compatible and easily integrates with most DAWs easy parameter adjustment. It’s connected via USB and offers 4 CV input jacks and 5 expression control inputs as well.
If you’re looking for a great 61-key MIDI keyboard controller with advanced features like aftertouch, as well as pads and faders, then the Arturia KeyLab MkII is perfect for you. It’s a roadworthy keyboard with MIDI and a bunch of features that make it great for any recording or performing musician, and it comes at a reasonable price. It gives a fierce competition to some of the best MIDI keyboards.
The second entry from Arturia on this list, the KeyStep 32 is a budget MIDI controller designed for budding musicians with a compact, portable body and advanced features you wouldn’t find at its price range.
The KeyStep features 32 velocity-sensitive mini-sized keys with aftertouch capabilities. You get two capacitive touchstrips for pitch bend and modulation, and you also get control knobs for its sequencer and arpeggiator functions, with functional buttons for ‘append’ and ‘clear’. It has octave transpose buttons here as well.
With aftertouch support, the KeyStep is already ahead of its competitors in its price bracket. And with the added 64-step, 8-note polyphonic sequencer and chord arpeggiator, the KeyStep provides you with some amazing tools for recording and performances. Its connectivity includes USB, MIDI I/O, CV/Gate, DIN Sync, as well as a sustain pedal input.
If you’re looking for a compact 32-key keyboard with aftertouch capabilities as well as more advanced features, the Arturia KeyStep is undoubtedly worth looking at. It’s a very portable keyboard, and with advanced features like its polyphonic sequencer and arpeggiator, this controller is great for beginners and professionals alike.
Novation is a British audio electronics company, and their MIDI Controllers are quite widely used. The Launchkey Mini series is a combined MIDI keyboard with performance pads, and their latest update is the Mk3, with major improvements and new features.
The Launchkey Mini Mk3 features 25 velocity-sensitive mini-sized synth-action keys, with 16 pressure-sensitive illuminated RGB pads. It also has 8 rotary knobs that let you control your tone’s parameters more accurately, and sliders for pitch and modulation. You have access to octave transpose tools as well.
The Launchkey comes with Ableton Live Lite, Softube, Spitfire Express Strings, XLN Addictive Keys, and the Novation Sound Collective. This is especially great for beginners, giving you a jumpstart on your music career. It’s USB powered, has a MIDI Out port, and also a sustain pedal input.
If you’re looking for a compact keyboard equipped with performance pads as well, then the Launchkey Mini Mk3 is definitely worth a try. With the extensive software bundle and Novation’s own sounds, the Launchkey Mini has enough to satisfy any beginner keyboardist. It’s small enough to carry anywhere you like too.
No. Of Keys – 25
- Key Type – Velocity-sensitive
- Key Size – Mini
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac, iOS
- Connectivity – USB, Bluetooth
Korg is a Japanese electronic instrument company that’s famous worldwide for its collection of digital and analog synthesizers, keyboards, pianos, MIDI controllers, etc. Korg synthesizers are used by many famed professionals. The microKey Air-25 is one of their newest offerings in the MIDI collection, aiming to be a great portable wireless MIDI controller for on-the-go use.
The Korg microKey Air features 25 velocity-sensitive mini-sized keys equipped with Korg’s Natural Touch for a seamless playing experience. It also has pitch and modulation joystick, a sustain button, and octave selector buttons. All of this is in a very compact and very easily portable plastic body that weighs just 0.7 kgs.
The main feature of the microKey Air is its Bluetooth connectivity. It can easily connect to any device like laptops or mobile phones wirelessly via Bluetooth for low-latency playing. It can be powered by USB or by 2 AA batteries. And the Korg comes with Ableton Live Lite, Propellerhead, and other software programs as well.
If you’re looking for a compact keyboard controller with Bluetooth capability, then the Korg microKey Air is a great option. It’s incredibly lightweight and portable, includes a lot of software, and packs enough powerful features for any musician looking to produce some fresh, cool beats on the go.
Nektar’s second entry on this list, the LX88+ is an advanced MIDI input keyboard controller designed to give you full control over your DAW and your playing. It sits well between the high-end MIDI keyboard controllers and the low-end budget ones, providing a great balance of power, versatility, and affordability.
It features 88 velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys that give you a smooth and precise feel while playing. You also have two pitch bend and modulation wheels, 9 control faders, 8 control knobs, and 8 assignable performance pads here. It also has a simple LED display that shows the current patch and settings. The keyboard’s body is lightweight, robust, and quite portable.
In terms of connectivity, it’s USB powered, features a MIDI Out connection, a foot pedal jack, as well as 9V DC input in case USB power isn’t available. It comes with Nektar’s sophisticated DAW integration that works with all popular DAWs like Reaper, Bitwig, Logic, Garageband, Studio One, FL Studio, etc. All the controls are pre-mapped and pre-programmed, but can also be assigned as per your need.
If you’re looking for an 88-key MIDI keyboard controller, then look no further beyond the Nektar Impact LX88+. It ticks all the right boxes and has more than enough features for any musician, beginner or professional. It’s truly a worthy stage instrument and works equally well for studios and home practice with its high compatibility.
No. Of Keys – 49
- Key Type – Velocity-sensitive, Synth Action
- Key Size – Full-size
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac, iOS
- Connectivity – USB
M-Audio is an American brand, well known for its audio electronics equipment like monitor speakers, microphones, interfaces, as well as MIDI for keyboard controllers and other MIDI instruments. The Keystation series is their main MIDI keyboard series, and the MK3 update brings many improvements with it.
The Keystation 49 MK3 features 49 velocity-sensitive full-sized synth-action keys, with two smooth wheels for pitch and modulation. You also have a volume fader control, octave transpose buttons, as well as a directional keypad for greater control. The keys themselves can also be assigned special functions, lending this keyboard a lot of customizability in a compact and sturdy design.
The Keystation is USB bus-powered, and you also get a sustain pedal input at the back. It’s compatible with iPads and iPhones as well. The included software here is Ableton Live Lite, AIR Music, Pro Tools First, Skoove, and Touch Loops.
If you’re looking for a simple yet effective and affordable 49-key keyboard controller, then the M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 is definitely a good option. There’s no fancy bells or whistles here, but the controller works well with its high compatibility, range of included software, and effective customizability.
Buying Guide: How To Choose The Right MIDI Controller Keyboard For You
If you’re still worried about which keyboard might be best suited for you, then here are some relevant specifications that you should keep in consideration before making the buy:
Number Of Keys, Type, and Size
MIDI keyboard controllers come in a range of shapes and sizes with different numbers of keys, from 12 key (one octave) and 25 key (two octaves) controllers, up to the full piano-sized 88 key (7 octaves) keyboards. You should pick a keyboard that fits your playing style and will be comfortable for you to carry around as needed (3).
All keyboards come with octave transpose buttons, so you can always transpose them around to play higher or lower. A bigger keyboard is only necessary if you need access to several octaves simultaneously for more comfortable playing.
Key size matters as well. Some of the keyboards have mini-sized keys for extra portability, while some have standard full-sized keys (similar to pianos). Based on your fingers’ comfort and playing style, you should pick the one that will let you play efficiently.
Key types vary as well – certain keyboards have semi-weighted keys that have more resistance, similar to piano keys, while some are incredibly light. Some keyboards have aftertouch, which responds to your fingers even after pressing the key, while others don’t. And keyboards like the Roli Seaboard have ‘keywaves’, which are unique and extremely responsive to every finger movement, allowing a great deal of expression. Pick what’s most comfortable and expressive for you.
Compatibility And Connectivity
It’s important to note the compatibility and connectivity options of the keyboard you’re buying. Almost all of them are compatible with Windows and Mac; however, some are also compatible with iOS in case you wish to use your Apple device to play on the go.
Most keyboards are USB connected and powered by USB bus as well, but some of them require external power supplies for additional functionality. Based on your usage scenario, you should pick what’s comfortable.
Some of the keyboards also connect wirelessly via Bluetooth and powered by batteries, which can be extremely useful in certain situations as well.
Some keyboards have additional jacks available for sustain pedals, MIDI I/O, DIN Sync, CV, etc. Based on your requirements, you should pick the keyboard that has all the necessary connectivity.
Control – Pads, Faders, and Knobs
The standard controls available on a keyboard controller vary greatly – they may have knobs, pads, wheels, sliders/faders, and buttons for various functions. Some of these are pre-programmed to specific functions, while some are assignable as per your needs.
Depending on your playing style, genre of music, and comfort, you may want a different combination of control buttons. Some keyboards like the Nektar SE25 only have the basic keys and some function buttons, while keyboards like the Arturia KeyLab have a variety of all the controls like pads and faders. Controllers like the Ableton Push 2 have no keys, and only have pads and fader buttons, making it most appropriate for DJ-ing and electronic dance music. So pick a controller that suits your playing needs.
The best MIDI keyboard controller for beginners would be the NI Komplete Kontrol M32. It has a perfect balance of all the necessary features, comes with a suite of software, and is pre-programmed to work effectively with all the major DAWs and virtual instrument plugins.
MIDI controllers are designed to be used in conjunction with software like virtual instruments, synthesizers, and samples to trigger sounds effectively and expressively. They have no sound of their own; they are merely hardware controllers meant to work with software. They can be used for a range of other MIDI programming functions as well.
The best MIDI keyboard for making beats would be the Ableton Push 2, as it features 64 performance pads and a host of other controls like specifically designed for beat-making, DJ-ing, and electronic music. It gives you intuitive access to your playing and makes triggering loops and samples very fluid and natural.
Yes, a MIDI controller can be used as a piano keyboard, with more advantages due to their extensive collection of virtual instruments and samples. However, they are not stand-alone devices like synthesizers, and hence require an external device like a computer or a mobile device to process and produce the sound.
- Native Instruments S88 MkII Review. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHeR6zkbh6o
- Sound Technology, La La Land – was that keyboard real?. Retrieved from: https://www.soundtech.co.uk/music-retail/roli/news/la-la-land-was-that-keyboard-real
- Sweetwater, MIDI Controller Buying Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/midi-controller-buying-guide/