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: February 16, 2021
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MIDI controllers can be used to create a much wider variety of sound than a digital keyboard, especially if you get a 61 key model. These models will allow you to create musical masterpieces, no matter what type of music you are trying to play. With the best 61 key MIDI controller, this process will be a pure joy allowing for maximum creativity and freedom.
As you can imagine with such a sophisticated piece of musical equipment, there are several different features that we looked into before we found the controllers for our list. This included the size and weight, which will help you decide whether you can take your new controller with you or keep it in your studio. We also looked at the number of pads and controllers for each model, since these will have a direct effect on how innovative you can be with your music.
We spent tens of hours reading through hundreds of user reviews to whittle down our list to the best of the best 61 key MIDI controller keyboards on the market today. This allowed us to put together in-depth reviews for each model and a comprehensive buying guide so that you can find the perfect model for your next musical project.
If you are in the market for an easy to use 61 key MIDI controller that also has plenty of functionality and performance, then this is a great option. This model from Alesis is so easy to get started with that it is perfect for anyone that is just beginning producing their own music. On the other hand, if you are an experienced musician, then this controller still has plenty to offer you, such as eight LED backlit pads, and plenty of pads, knobs, wheels, and buttons.
Something that helps this to be such a good option for experienced and amateur musicians is its high level of customizability. All of the different controls, including the four rotaries, eight drum pads, and four buttons are fully assignable. This means that you can make each of these different functions work exactly as you want them to work, which is an awesome option for more experienced users.
Of course, if you are on the other end of the spectrum musically, then you will be glad to know that these functions are already set up and ready to use just the way they are. This will allow you to make slight changes as you get more experience, without having to change everything all at once and become overwhelmed.
One thing to keep in mind with this particular controller is its dimensions. While it is not overly heavy or all that bulky, it is very long. This can make it quite challenging to take along with you or to fit into a smaller studio space.
If you are in the market for a MIDI controller that has the look and feel of an electric keyboard or you are just used to using an acoustic piano, then this might be an excellent option for you. It features fully-weighted keys that also come with velocity settings. These keys will allow you to have the best of both worlds since they will give you the feel of a real piano, but the overall control of a MIDI controller.
As far as the controller aspect of this device goes, you will basically have the musical world at your fingertips. It comes with 93 real-time controls, which will make it very easy for you to create a custom sound each and every time that you use it. Of course, since there are so many options, it could be a bit overwhelming for a new user.
Thankfully, this controller comes with an automapping feature. With this amazing option, you can allow the software inside the controller to map what each of the controls does for you to a default setting. From there, you can start to create music, or just make little tweaks to some of the settings, rather than all of them. Simply put, automapping will save you a ton of time getting this controller up and running quickly.
Though this is a very well designed and rugged device, its faders are not all that responsive. They can take a little bit more time to get to where you want them, though the automapping certainly makes this a bit easier.
Though you certainly want to make sure that you are getting a MIDI controller that will allow you to create unique pieces of music, it can be a bit confusing to get a model with too many bells and whistles. In fact, it can be downright difficult to do anything with such a unit. If you are just getting started in the world of music production, then this might be a good option for you. It offers plenty of musical flexibility without confusing you too much.
This is a portable controller, which makes it great for anyone that wants to work in lots of different locations. Something else that helps to make this possible is the fact that it can be used so easily with an iPad as not only its main operating system but also its power source. The fact that you don’t need to lug around a power cord is a big plus when it comes to portability.
While this model doesn’t have any pads, it does come with a pitch wheel, modulation wheel, and data knob. Though the lack of pads will limit your abilities a bit, these other customizable parts will still give you plenty of leeway as to how you go about creating the sound for your compositions.
As you would expect with such a portable model, the controller is lightweight. While it means the unit is easy to take with you, it also makes it a bit flimsy. The keys especially are not made as well as on other models and, as such, are not quite as sensitive to velocity changes as you might want them to be.
If you are an experienced MIDI controller user, then this just might be the right model for you. To start with, it has a wide array of user-friendly, highly customizable controls. This includes nine faders, eight knobs, and sixteen pads. These controls, when combined with the 61 fully sized synth-style keys, make for an infinitely customizable experience that is perfect for anyone that is looking to take their musical compositions to the next level.
The controller is designed specifically for use with Ableton Live Lite which comes in the package. You only need to install the program, set your MIDI controller up, and start creating music. No additional drivers are needed. However, the unit is also compatible with other software products, in case you’re used to some other DAW program.
One of the biggest issues with this large number of controls on any other model would be the amount of time it takes to set them up. The last thing that you want to do is spend all of your studio time tinkering with controls. Thankfully, this model from Novation comes with an automapping feature. It does all of the heavy liftings for you and sets up each of the controls on its own. From there, you can simply tinker with only those controls that aren’t quite where you want them to be for a minimal amount of time, and instead focus on what you want to do, making music.
Those most of the controls on this model are excellent; the pads are inconsistent. They do not always have the sensitivity needed to be used as drum pads unless you get the settings just right. They can be used as drum pads, but it might take a bit more time than you are used to.
Possibly the best feature or this controller is its compact, yet user-friendly design. This model is built for the musician on the go who still wants the best from their controller. Its dimensions are nice and small, and it is also very lightweight. This makes it perfect for taking with you wherever you go. Even though this is such a portable device, it still offers plenty of functionality that makes it feel like a full-sized model.
The controller features a pitch wheel, modulation wheel, and footswitch socket. This allows it to operate in five different octaves, which is a big advantage if you are looking to switch up the style and sounds of your musical pieces. The octave buttons are very easy to locate since they are color coded with bright LED backlights.
The setup for this device is exceedingly simple. While it is certainly not as simple as plugging it in and playing, it is almost that easy. This controller has a class compliant MIDI driver, which means that it will work with any iOS device. This compliance means that you can easily hook it up to your iPad and get it going with relative ease.
Due to the lightweight nature of this model, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it is missing some key features, such as pads. The overall design is also a bit flimsy, so you’ll have to be extra careful with it when you are transporting it and setting it up.
Akai is another big player in the world of MIDI controllers. This is a company that has built a reputation on high-quality products, and it doesn’t fail to demonstrate it with this model. This particular controller has semi-weighted, synth-style keys that are also velocity sensitive. These keys make it much easier to control and create the exact tones that you want when you are putting together your compositions.
The customizability of this controller doesn’t stop with its keyboard, however. To go along with these very easy to use keys, this model has a wide array of controls and pads so that you can customize your sound to meet your specific tastes. These controls include 16 illuminated pads and 24 assignable controls. The pads allow for the possibility of four possible drum banks. All told, this allows you to create sixty-four different sounds, making this an excellent option for live performances or DJing.
Of course, there are some small issues that you will need to deal with if you do decide on this model. To start with, it is somewhat fragile, which is a bit surprising considering its size and weight. Secondly, the USB cord, which is its only power source, is very short. You would be better served purchasing another one, though this will, of course, add a bit to the purchase price.
One of the biggest concerns, when you are making a new musical purchase, is the cost. Getting into the world of music production can get quite expensive. Thankfully, for anyone looking for a quality 61 key MIDI controller on a budget, this model is perfect. Though it doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as some other options on the market, it still will offer you a compact, lightweight, and highly portable solution that is easy to use while not breaking the bank.
Even if you are new to controllers, this model is an awesome bet. It is very easy to setup and use. It features a simple and accessible interface that makes getting started a joy rather than a migraine-inducing episode.
Of course, the reason that the setup is so simple is that it doesn’t have quite as many features as more expensive controllers. For instance, this model doesn’t have any pads. It does have some modulation slides and tonal knobs, but it can’t do as much as pricier controllers.
Another feature to take into consideration with this model are its keys. Though they are full-sized, which makes them look like an acoustic piano’s keys, they are not fully-weighted. Though these keys are effective at creating the sounds you desire, they might be a bit challenging for anyone that is used to playing a keyboard or an acoustic piano.
What we liked:
Highly portable and lightweight
Easy to set up and use
What could be better:
Keys are not fully-weighted; they don’t feel like piano keys
This is another awesome option from Nektar, which is one of the industry leaders when it comes to MIDI controllers. This is an affordable option, though it costs a bit more than our Budget Pick. While the added expense might seem like a bit much, it does get you some impressive features. For instance, this model comes with nine faders, eight controllers, six transport buttons, two wheels, mixers, and eight pads. With this many different mixing options, you are sure to have everything at your fingertips to create that custom sound you desire, all while saving some money.
As with other models in this price range, this controller has a synth-action keyboard with velocity sensitivity. The synth-action is very easy to use and makes for a pleasurable playing experience, especially on more complex pieces. The velocity sensitivity leaves a little bit to be desired, however. While it does work somewhat, it is also very inconsistent. With enough practice, it is possible to get the key velocity set exactly the way that you want it, but it will take a bit of fiddling and lots of time, which isn’t ideal.
Another factor that helps to make this such a good option for both beginners and experts is the fact that this system is very easy to set up as it can be used with pretty much any DAW software that you might have at your disposal. This compatibility makes it a great choice for anyone that already has a software package that they prefer, as this controller will work very well with it right off the bat.
While lots of MIDI controllers utilize full-size keys, they don’t always quite feel right. Either they are not the correct size as advertised, or they are don’t have the right weight behind them. This can make them difficult to adapt to for anyone who is used to playing acoustic pianos or electric keyboards. If that is the case for you, then it might be a good idea to check this model out. It has full-sized keys that look and feel almost exactly like a real piano. The only difference is that the keys are only semi-weighted, rather than fully-weighted. Still, they will provide an acoustic piano user with a much more familiar experience, which will only help the transition to electronic music production go that much smoother.
As you would expect from a larger dimension controller, this model has a wide array of customizable features. This includes several modulation wheels and volume controls, as well as octave and fader buttons. While this model lacks in the pads department, it still gives you an assortment of tools to make a variety of musical compositions with ease.
Another feature that helps to make this an easy to use model is the different software products that it comes with. These different packages will let you try out different systems until you find the one that you like the best, which is ideal. These different systems can also be used for different types of music, which only helps to increase the versatility of the controller.
If portability is the name of the game for you as a musician, then this just might be the best model for you. It has very compact dimensions, which make it perfect for taking along with you where you need to go to spread your music. While its compact design does lend itself to being portable, it is its weight that really sets it apart from its competition. This is by far the lightest model on the market, weighing in at an extremely slight four pounds. Even if you have a lot of other equipment to lug around with you, this will undoubtedly add to your luggage portability as you’re heading for your next gig or recording session.
Since this is such a small controller, it isn’t surprising that it doesn’t have as many sound modulation systems built-in as larger models. The velocity-sensitive keys are also a bit inconsistent. It doesn’t have any pads at all, though it still does have a pitch and mod wheel, as well as two-octave buttons. These will allow for a fair amount of flexibility when it comes to creating your preferred sound.
Another nice feature that comes with this model is that it is pre-loaded with five different instruments, which include digital and hybrid synthesizers, electric piano, acoustic guitar, analog synthesizer, and a software synthesizer. Between these five different musical software packages, there is a lot of different pieces that you can compose.
What we liked:
Five integrated virtual instruments
What could be better:
Keys are inconsistent
Things to Consider
In this section, we will go through everything that you need to know in order to find the best 61 key MIDI controller for your needs. We have also taken the time to answer several frequently asked questions, so be sure to read through those if you still have any questions.
Advantages of a 61-key configuration
MIDI controllers come in a large variety of key configurations. You can select models with 25, 49, 61, or even 88 keys. The most popular option out there is the 61 key model. This is thanks to a combination of several different factors, such as:
While you might be tempted by the versatility and musical options of an 88 key model, their size can be a big challenge. This is especially true if you have a smaller studio space or you are always on the go with your controller. 61 key models are small enough to take along with you anywhere you need to go, while still having enough different keys to make any style of music you want to make.
The other big issue with selecting an 88 key model is how much they weigh. These models can get extremely heavy for a piece of musical equipment, which makes them a pain to take anywhere. 25 and 49 key models are much lighter but are also much flimsier and easy to damage. A 61 key controller is substantial enough that you won’t need to worry about it getting broken but light enough to take with you anywhere you go.
Number of keys
Obviously, this is one of the most important distinctions between the different models of MIDI controllers on the market. The biggest advantage that a 61 key model can offer you is that it isn’t overwhelming like the 88 key models, but can still provide you with plenty of musical options. If you are looking to make a simple techno beat, then the 25 or 49 key controllers will work for you. If, however, you want to blend a large number of different genres or switch between them at will, then the 61 key models are going to give you the artistic license you need to fully express yourself musically.
Different music will call for different octaves. Different controllers will offer a larger or smaller array of octaves. For instance, a 25-key model will only give you two octaves, which will most likely not be enough. Even 49-key models only use four octaves, which is definitely an improvement. Of course, if you are looking for a full octave range, then the 61-key controller is going to be your best bet. This will allow you to go in any musical direction that you want to go, without limiting your options.
Features to consider while choosing a 61-key MIDI controller
As you can imagine, there are a ton of features to consider when you are looking for the best 61-key MIDI controller. In this section, we will go through every detail you need to be aware of so that you can find the perfect model for your needs.
When it comes to the keys of your new MIDI controller, there are a few basic options you can choose from. The first option is synth-style keys. These keys are very different from a standard piano or keyboard in that they offer no resistance when you push on them. They are more similar to pushing down on a computer’s keyboard than a musical one. This makes them a great option for anyone looking to play extremely complex pieces of music without making their hands work too hard. The Novation Launchkey 61-Note MK2 Version is an excellent option if this is the style of keys you are looking for in your new controller.
Another popular option is semi-weighted keys. They are much easier to press than a piano or keyboards keys, which makes them perfect for anyone looking for a good mix of playability, dynamics, and portability. Semi-weighted keys use the same spring-loaded mechanism of synth actions while still also provided minimal weights attached to keys. This gives models like the Akai Professional MPK261’s keys a very lightweight feel when they are pressed. Since these keys are lacking weighting mechanisms, the models are also much lighter than those with fully weighted keys.
The next option that you could select from is fully weighted, full-sized keys. These keys are usually an excellent option for anyone that is a pianist since they look and feel very much like a standard piano key. They are also a good option for anyone that is looking to recreate the same action that is found on an acoustic piano. Obviously, since these keys are larger and require an additional mechanism to make them feel heavier when you press them, they will also be a bit bulkier, heavier, and more expensive. A good example is the Nektar Panorama P6.
The final variation that you can get on your keys is to get keys with a system called velocity sensitivity. Basically, these keys allow you to adjust the sound of each key based on how quickly it is pressed. Some even offer a multitude of velocity curves to choose from, so that you can fully personalize the feel and sound your keys produce. Since there are a lot of mechanical components involved in this process, these are usually the most expensive options. If, however, you want a truly personalized musical creation experience, then the Korg microKEY2-61 is an excellent option.
Pads and controllers
While the keys are where most of your musical options are going to come from, you will also want to pay close attention to the different pads and controllers the model of your choice offers. The more control options a MIDI controller has, the more command you are going to have over your instrument. Most models offer an array of knobs, faders, and drum pads that allow you to create the exact sound that you are looking for in your music.
Something else to look for is transport controls. These allow you to play, rewind, fast forward, and even stop without having to go back and examine the track on your computer. This will save you a ton of time, not to mention that it will also help to keep you from losing your train of thought while you are working. Of course, while this will keep you focused on your task at hand, these systems can take a good long time to get set up. The more controllers and pads your model has, the longer it will take to set up, and the more expensive it will be. The Nektar Panorama P6 is a good model if you are looking for a full range of controllers and pads.
Weight and dimensions
The weight and dimensions of your new MIDI controller should be based on how you intend to use it. Since all of the models that we are looking at have the same number of keys, they are generally going to be about the same length, with the biggest variance coming in the weight department. The weight of each model is usually dictated by the number of pads, controls, faders, and key weighing mechanisms.
If you are operating in a larger studio space, then the size and weight of your controller shouldn’t be all that big of a deal. This is especially true if you don’t ever intend to take it with you anywhere. In that case, you could go with a truly versatile model, like the Nektar Panorama P6, which weighs in at 21 pounds. While this wouldn’t be impossible to take on the road with you, it is probably better suited to a studio space.
On the other hand, if you are looking for an extremely portable model, then you are going to want to get your hands on something much lighter, like the Korg microKEY2-61, which only weighs around four pounds. While it won’t offer a ton of versatility due to its lack of controllers and pads, this model is great to take along with you to gigs, since it is so lightweight and won’t take a ton of time to get up and running.
As you can imagine with such a customizable musical tool, there are lots of different extra features out there to make your experience that much more productive. One of the best features to keep an eye out for is an automapping feature. Obviously, when you take the time to personally map out and configure your controller, it is going to be much more personalized to your specific needs, wants, and stylistic choices. This process, however, takes a ton of time. Automapping makes it much quicker since it automatically configures the controller itself, saving you time and allows you to get set up right away and be able to play.
The next thing that you will want to make sure of when it comes to extra features is that the model of your choice also uses the software, or is compatible, with the software that you prefer.
Most models on the market come pre-loaded with a software package that the controller will use right off the bat. Be sure that you get a package that you know how to use, or, failing that, get a controller that can be used with your preferred software.
Finally, you need to make sure that the software you intend to use will work with the connection types that you have at your disposal. For instance, if you are looking to use an iPad to help you create your music, then the Samson Carbon 61 USB MIDI Controller is an excellent choice since it comes with an integrated iPad slot. You also need to make sure that your computer is able to handle the different software packages that your controller will need to run correctly. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make the music you desire.
How a MIDI controller differs from a digital keyboard?
The main difference between a MIDI controller and a keyboard is how they communicate their sounds. A digital keyboard produces and emits sound directly from the instrument. MIDI controllers, on the other hand, have no built-in sounds. Due to their lack of built-in sounds, controllers need an external source for producing music, such as a computer, which will allow you to edit the sounds as well. You would also need a digital audio workstation, which is used to produce the MIDI data.
Digital keyboards are a bit more portable than a MIDI controller since they don’t need any additional equipment to create sounds. Of course, they are also extremely limited in the type of music that they can be used to create. MIDI controllers can create a ton of different sounds and are perfect for making a wide array of different types of music.
Since most models can be connected to a computer using a USB cord, they can also be used with an iPad. You simply need to take the charging cable from your iPad and hook it up to your MIDI controller. The Samson Carbon 61 USB MIDI Controller even has an integrated iPad slot, making it even easier to hook up.
While it is possible to use a MIDI controller as a digital keyboard, it cannot be simply used as one on its own. Since controllers do not produce sound on their own, you will need a computer, sound system, and a digital audio workstation.
Basically, all of the different encoders, knobs, and faders on a MIDI controller are used to create different sounds for different keys. These controls allow you to customize every aspect of what happens when you press a key, from the pitch to the volume. In this manner, you can carefully tweak your instrument until you have the exact sound you are looking for.
Of all the different models that we looked into and reviewed, the Alesis V61 is by far the best option out there. This fantastic machine is great for both beginners and experts, thanks in part to its impressive customizable functions and easy to set up nature. No matter what kind of music you want to play, this is a great option, and we highly recommend that you check it out!
The Nektar Panorama P6 is perhaps the most versatile 61 key MIDI controller out there. Its fully-weighted keys are great for an acoustic pianist that is making the jump to electronic music production, and its automapping feature makes getting it setup a breeze for experts and beginners alike.
As handheld technology such as iPads has become more and more reliable, more and more people have stopped using standard computers altogether. Perhaps the best 61 key MIDI controller for use with iPads is the Samson Carbon 61 USB MIDI Controller. It has an integrated slot for an iPad and can easily be powered and controlled by one as well.