In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: August 25, 2021
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MIDI controllers mean you don’t need to spend a load of money on a sound module, and you can create limitless sounds from your laptop or PC. But only if you make the right decision and get the best 25 key MIDI controller for you.
In this guide, we have explored the best 25-key USB MIDI controller options for a variety of different software. We’ve looked into information such as how easy it is to set up and link to your software, as well as how many different options the software has for controlling your VSTs. As well as being able to control the notes, you may be able to use pads and sliders to change more parameters within your software.
The Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-key Controller is incredibly easy to link to your computer and gives you loads of control over settings, including on software like Ableton.
Many of the Arturia models on the market are larger products, and some include Arturia’s flagship software, too. This model is designed to go straight in your bag and come on your travels with you, giving you plenty of control in spite of being a tiny model with slimline keys.
Why is it special?
So many different controls are packed into this tiny model. The Pitchbend Touch Strip, Modulation Touch Strip, and two banks of 8 sliders and pads mean you can trigger loads of sounds in the studio or on stage. Play drums, synth lines, or basslines. The synth action gives a realistic and expressive sound when you are playing melodies, rather than the wooden feel of some other MIDI keyboards.
What are the flaws?
The slim keys are something you’ll either love or hate. If you have larger fingers or you are used to playing bigger keys, such as those on a piano or even a digital piano or keyboard, these slimline keys might be hard for you to play. You can find yourself hitting the wrong notes, which can sound unprofessional. The smaller keys may save space, but this comes at a price, especially if you have larger hands.
This may be the best 25 key midi controller with pads. The pads themselves are velocity sensitive, so they feel the pressure you apply and adjust accordingly. This is great for finger drumming.
A lot of MPK products are designed as controllers rather than MIDI keyboards, but this gives you 25 keys to allow you to create melodies and still includes loads of extra controllers, including knobs and sliders, and those velocity-sensitive pads. It comes with the brand’s own VIP3.0 software. Though you don’t have to download it, it will work with your DAW.
Why did it make our list?
All that control. Assignable Buttons, Mod, Pitch Wheels, and this is without even considering the fact you've got those fantastic pads to play around with. The LCD display is also great, and it shows the controls you have and links with VIP software so that you can understand exactly what is happening, even in the dark on stage.
What is not ideal about it?
There can be such a thing as too many controls. Some people find that this is a bit much, and it can be easy to get lost or misunderstand what all of those buttons do. If you don't have the right DAW, then you may not be able to understand what you’re doing or how all of the controls link. For this reason, it may not be best for beginners.
As well as being one of the best 25 key midi controllers with software, this is also the best value model on our list. It’s compact and works well with the Bitwig 8-Track. Like many of the other models on the list, there are loads of controls besides keys, such as Modwheel and Pitchbend controls.
This Nektar product is based on other models from the brand, the Panorama and LX49+/LX61+ were released before. The LX25+ is newer, but it also has a different design due to the fact it is incredibly compact. It’s designed for traveling musicians.
What are our favorite features?
The velocity-sensitive keys mean reliable and impressive playing. Nektar’s products have always been very good for their touch sensitivity and synth action. We think this makes it is a fantastic option for playing live. The full-sized keys make an easy transition from a digital piano or keyboard. We also love the Bitwig 8-track. If you’re already using a DAW, then it might be overkill, but if not, it is a good way to start composing and creating from your MIDI keyboard.
What could be better?
The keys are great for velocity-sensitivity, but they may not be as good if you want something that is quiet and soft to the touch. They can take a little bit of pressing. They don’t have the graded hammer action that some models do have, and this can mean you have to press a little bit harder to generate the same sound. If you are recording, this can be annoying, too, as the keys themselves produce a sound.
Some people want the full feel and expression of a piano when they switch to a 25-key MIDI controller. The Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 25-key Keyboard Controller gives exactly that. As well as being the smallest model in the Novation range, it has a sustain pedal bundled with it, just like the one you would use on your piano. This can be recognized by a DAW, too.
This is great for both live use and studio use and allows you to extend the use of the USB ports as it comes with a hub to extend the number of USB outputs. It also has some really clever playing modes that don’t come with all of the MIDI keyboards and spark some creativity when writing songs.
Why is it special?
As well as the expression offered by the sustain pedal, we like that you can enjoy the extra playing modes, including a creative arpeggiator and a "chord" mode so that you can play one note, and it will automatically get turned into a chord. This means you can do more with far less musical knowledge or spark some new and interesting ideas.
What are the flaws?
This is arguably the best 25 key MIDI keyboard for Ableton, but other software doesn't connect quite so intuitively, so if you are using something like Logic or FL studio, it might take a little bit more setup. You may have to map more aspects of your VST in order to turn this into a hard-working production machine. There’s still a lot to like about this MIDI controller, though.
Another option from Nektar, this is one of the best midi controllers 25 key models with a tiny design for taking out and about with you. It’s so small that it can slip within virtually any laptop bag and come out on trips to the studio or so you can produce on the train, for example.
This is one of the best 25 key MIDI controllers for a laptop, as you can take it anywhere with you. It’s almost pocket-sized. We’ve already mentioned the other Nektar MIDI keyboards on the market, all of which are much bigger. Even the Nektar Impact LX25+ 25-key Keyboard Controller has a much bigger design.
Why did it make our list?
We love the portability and the included software. These are two aspects that are very hard to ignore when you are looking into the best keyboard for producing on the go or being able to fit inside your equipment bag. The Bitwig software links easily with the hardware. On top of this, you’ll struggle to find a smaller MIDI controller overall. If you need something tiny yet reliable, Nektar has your back.
What is not ideal about it?
The fact that it is so small means that there are certain things that have been bypassed. For instance, there are no pads, and while there are controls over Pitchbend and a transpose model, it’s really hard to change these if you have big fingers as they are also very small. If you want to use this on stage, then it might be tricky to see exactly what you're doing and use those mini keys.
The Alesis V25 is a good choice for live musicians and links perfectly with ProTools software. The two are designed to work hand-in-hand, but they can also link with some other software options.
The product is smaller than the majority of Alesis models, and they offer a lot of 49 and 61-key MIDI controllers. This is one of the best mini controllers, but it also includes pads to give an extra level of control.
Why are we impressed?
We enjoyed the easy link-up with ProTools software. On top of that, the fact that this comes with backlit pads means that it is very good for live use. Even within a dark venue, you can easily use this to trigger samples and loops, and obviously, you can play your melodies and basslines, too.
What negatives must you be aware of?
It’s a little on the expensive side. We found that you can get a bit more for your money with some of the other choices. As well as this, in spite of working with Pro Tools, it isn’t as good for some other software. If you’re looking for the best MIDI controller for FL Studio you can find other options that link more intuitively.
As well as being an awesome model for use with the Native Instruments catalog of virtual instruments, this is possibly the best 25 key MIDI controller for Logic Pro X as it links incredibly intuitively.
Native Instruments is famous for both its incredible Komplete software and the fantastic range of hardware they offer, usually in larger products such as the Maschine production suite. This is one of the smallest products they offer, but it still integrates with all that software.
What are its best features?
We love the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 Smart Keyboard Controller for a few reasons. Its incredible integration makes it one of the best 25 key MIDI controllers for Logic, as it easily loads up presets within the software. The access to the huge number of Native Instruments VSTs, including 1.6GB worth of samples and software, makes this a great choice for aspiring producers. These can also be triggered live for amazing performances.
What could be improved?
To use this keyboard live, you should probably make sure you've got a light nearby. We found it harder to see what is going on in some of the darker locations we tried, as the keys and knobs aren't backlit. It also doesn't have any pads for playing drum loops or triggering samples, but this is only a downside if that’s what you’re looking for.
The Akai Professional MPK Mini MK III Limited Edition White 25-key Keyboard Controller is a great option for those who are looking to program beats, but it can also be used for melodies and basslines.
Akai is a brand with a rich history, and they’re famous for the MPC Beats hardware and now software, which comes with this MIDI controller and makes it easy to play some hip hop style beats and produce songs with your keyboard. The smart design has an inverted color scheme and looks great, which is a nice bonus and a big difference from the rest of the Akai range.
Why are we impressed?
The free MPC software is a bit of a throwback to the early days of sampling, and it is great fun for throwing beats together. It also integrates fairly well with lots of DAWs. The sleek design not only looks good, but it gives loads of control over the different aspects of your sound and can be used along with virtual instruments easily.
What negatives must you be aware of?
In an ideal world, it would be great if this didn't require any software installation, but this is hard to come across with any hardware. It can still be used along with your DAW. There is also sometimes an issue with recording the velocity sensitivity when you hit the pads, this doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it can be really annoying and means you have to go in and make some edits.
Things to Consider
How do you know which MIDI controller is ideal for you? There’s a load of choice on the market, and you’ll see this if you start to dive into the types of controllers. While some have pads, others just have the 25 keys. Some offer miniature keys for their compact design, and others give full-size control.
Why do you need a 25-key midi controller?
A 25-key MIDI controller gives you a compact and portable way to play melodies and chords as well as control other aspects of your DAW. You can use them in beat-making and even trigger audio samples.
The features below are those we’ve researched and investigated closely when creating our list of the best 25 key MIDI controllers. These are things that every musician will have to think about.
Types of keys
Some of the products on this list, such as the Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-key Controller, have slim or even miniature keys. This is designed to help to fit the products in portable setups and make it really easy to store a MIDI keyboard somewhere in your house. It comes with a downside, though. They can feel very different from the hammer action of piano keys and even be harder to play.
Velocity sensitivity refers to whether the keyboard can detect how hard the pad or key has been struck. If it can, it is an easy way to play expressively and enjoy dynamics in your music. If not, everything will be recorded as the same volume, which may not sound good.
Having pads enables you to trigger drum sounds and samples. It can also be used to trigger notes and other sounds, and it’s really up to you and something you can normally set up in your software. Backlit pads such as that in the Alesis V25 25-key Keyboard Controller also make it much easier to play on stage and see exactly what you are doing at all times.
Even though 25 key MIDI controllers are small, they can pack in some other controls to go along with the keys and pads. Some have sliders to allow you to lower the volume of certain tracks or even change some of the virtual instrument controls.
Most of these small controllers also have the option to change the octave so that even within your couple of octaves, you can make use of the full range of the piano.
Presets make it easier to link with certain software. A preset might be specific to a virtual instrument or specific to a DAW, meaning that the hardware integrates easily and lets you make your changes on the fly while you are playing the songs.
Many piano players will be used to pedals. There are three on most pianos, but a lot of people use the Sustain pedal the most.
Many of the products on this list have an option to include the sustain pedal, which lets the notes ring out more.
Most modern models will connect to your computer using a USB connection. You may be looking for a 25 key 5-pin midi controller, which means you need something compatible with older hardware. Not many of the modern mini controllers have a MIDI output, but some of the bigger Alesis products can accommodate. The Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 25-key Keyboard Controller even includes a sustain pedal as standard.
You need software in order to use a MIDI controller. It won’t generate any sound on its own, so this means it is vital that you have a DAW or other software. Many models on this list have their own software to install, including the MPC software or Bitwig studio 8-track recorder.
All of the products on this list are USB-powered. In some rare instances, you might have to provide power from an outlet, but this is usually something that is required on older models as modern technology has done away with the requirement for external power.
A MIDI controller will either need you to set it up just by plugging it in and waiting for software to connect. Alternatively, it might be that you have to manually install a driver so that your controller is recognized within the software. Some MIDI controllers even need you to install specific software for them to be usable. For instance, the MPC controller for the Akai keyboards makes it far simpler to intuitively use the hardware. It still works with DAWs, though.
We would recommend that beginners consider exactly what they need from their MIDI keyboard. It may be different depending on which of the features you value the most. For example, some users will find it much easier to use a product that is good in the studio, while others want something for live use. The Nektar Impact LX25+ 25-key Keyboard Controller is a versatile product that is great for beginners. As well as being easy to link to software, it has synth-style keys that are a decent size, so you don’t constantly have to adjust your playing style to compensate.
We think that one of the main advantages of a 25 key MIDI keyboard is the fact that you can carry it in a bag. It’s great if you are able to put it in your laptop bag, so you can play on the train or just about anywhere else. It does add a slight extra level of risk, but if you get a well-made MIDI keyboard and combine this with a padded bag, then you can hugely reduce this risk and make it more likely that your MIDI keyboard stays safe at all times even when you are on your travels.
So, there we have it, our list of the top controllers with 25 keys and what to look out for if you want to purchase one of these.
The Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-key Controller is a spectacular product and earns its 9.9 rating due to the fact that you can use it to control so many aspects of a DAW with ease. For example, you can use it to trigger samples and drum pads.
Another of the best 25 key MIDI controller options is the premium pick, the Akai Professional MPK225 25-key Keyboard Controller, which has backlit pads and loads of assignable controls to give you the full level of expression you’d hope for from your MIDI controller.
The Nektar Impact LX25+ 25-key Keyboard Controller is our value pick and has a rating of 9.6/10. This is a fantastic option for beginners and even comes with an 8-track VST for recording and producing. It’s super simple to get set up.