If you are starting to make music, especially if you plan to do so for a living, having the best MIDI controllers for beginners is essential. A MIDI keyboard is a piece of music gear that should be in your studio. A MIDI controller might admittedly look and feel complicated. And this is no surprise; these devices might seem like a piano keyboard, but they are somewhat more complicated to use.
In this review, we tested over 20 products and considered hundreds of reviews about each one. After hours of testing and reviews, we have come up with this review of the 8 best MIDI controllers for beginners. From our testing, we voted the Akai MPK Mini MKII is our top pick. It is a proven MIDI controller that features robust performance, a nice set of features, and a really attractive price. We will consider more of the features in our review below, as well as other MIDI controllers that offer similarly impressive performance.
Top 8 Best MIDI Controllers for Beginners Review 2020
To create this list, we considered several essential factors. Some of the factors considered include the number of keys, pads, controls, output, dimension, weight, and more. These factors are vital and assist in selecting the best MIDI controllers for beginners. In this post, we provided a table, an in-depth review of each product, and a buying guide. We believe that by reading and applying the information in this article, you will be better equipped to make the right buying choice. First, let us see a comparison table that outlines the rankings of our options.
Akai MPK Mini MKII – Editor’s Choice
- Number of keys: 25
- Action: velocity sensitive keys
- Number of pads: 8 backlit velocity sensitive MPC drum pads with Note Repeat & Full Level for programming drums, triggering samples and controlling virtual instrument / DAW controls
- Controllers: 8 rotary encoders, octave up and down buttons
- Dimensions: 7.1 x 12.4 x 1.8 in.
- Weight: 1.63 pounds
Other features: No drivers required, USB powered, Innovative 4 way thumbstick for dynamic pitch and modulation MIDI control, plus a built in arpeggiator with adjustable resolution, range and modes
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is an excellent MIDI controller that delivers some of the best performances whether used by a beginner or a professional.
Akai is one of the most popular makers of MIDI controllers and similar musical gear, and due to the high quality of the products, it is the gold standard for most beginner musicians.
The Akai Mini MK2 comes in a tiny, compact size that is very handy and affordable.
It might not have the complete keys or number of pads found on its larger siblings, but as an entry-level MIDI controller, you will be hard-pressed to find any better than it.
It comes with a low weight and a compact form factor. These features make it very portable and easy to carry around.
The design is rather muted, as Akai decided to go for functionality over aesthetics. The 25-keys on this model feel robust and well-made. All other buttons, have a good feel, although you might complain that they lack a satisfying click.
One of the nicest design features is the size of the keys. The keys are large and comfortable, something that is rather rare for portable MIDI controllers.
Performance wise, the Akai Mini comes with plenty of bundled software. MPC Essentials is especially great on this MIDI controller. An especially handy tool is the Virtual Instrument Player that allows you to control any compatible virtual instrument from the unified dashboard.
It is very easy to use as well, as all you need is to plug it in and launch your DAW.
- Plenty of bundled software
- Excellent value for money
- Impressive pad quality
- Comes with just eight pads
- Knobs lack a satisfying click and feel lightweight
Novation Launchkey Mini MkII – Budget Pick
- Number of keys: 25
- Action: synth style keys
- Number of pads: 16 multi-color backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
- Controllers: 8 knobs, dedicated navigation and control buttons
- Dimensions: 7.1 x 12.4 x 1.8 in.
- Weight: 1.63 pounds
Other features: Software for Mac and PC, Including: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Novation Bass Station and V Station virtual instruments and over 4GB of Loopmasters samples, 2-year warranty
Novation music is another popular manufacturer of equipment and recording gear, and their MIDI keyboards are especially loved in the industry. The Novation Launchkey Mini MkII is a 25-key mini MIDI keyboard that has garnered several positive reviews from users.
It is a compact mini-key MIDI controller, but don’t be deceived, it packs quite a punch.
Pad and key quality are quite impressive on this device. During testing, we observed that synth-action feels a tad springy, however compared with other MIDI keyboards on the market, we rather enjoyed it.
The keys are somewhat small in size, hence if you are used to a regular-sized piano with similar sized keys, it might take time to get used to them. However, once mastered, you will enjoy using them as much as we did.
Unlike many of the MIDI keyboards on the market, the keys are not semi-weighted. However, this ‘lack’ is balanced out by the compact and smaller size.
The knobs and buttons on the Novation Launchkey Mini MkII work as planned and are straightforward to use. To use, all you need to do is plug in your USB cable and you’re up and running. It comes with apps, support and sample packs that enhance your performance.
Once assigned to major DAWs, all the knobs, buttons, and functions work as designed.
The Novation Launchkey Mini MkII offers stable performance that is rarely found in the market. Compared to the top pick the Akai Mini keyboard, it comes with a better pad quality. However , the Akai Mini keyboard trumps it by providing a thumb joystick that offers more control over pitch and mod.
- Portable and compact design
- Comes with Ableton Live Lite 9 software
- 25 synth-style mini keys
- Lacks a thumb joystick
Nektar Midi Controller (IMPACT LX25+) – Best Value
- Number of keys: 25
- Action: velocity sensitive full-size keyboard
- Number of pads: 8 Hyper-Sensitive backlit pads for drum programming
- Controllers: 1 x 30mm fader and 8x potentiometers
- Dimensions: 18.34 x 10.5 x 2.34 in.
- Weight: 4 pounds
Other features: Mac, PC and iOS compatible, Software instruments automatically mapped to controls, Smart controller functionality with Nektar DAW Integration for 11 DAWs, USB connection
In our opinion, the Nektar Impact LX25+ is one of the top choices when choosing a MIDI controller for beginners. It offers excellent value for money and is highly rated by many users.
It comes with loads of features that make it high regarded. For one, it is compatible with iOS, hence, you can use it on the go by connecting it to your iPad. While this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking feature, it is still uncommon enough to make the Nektar Impact LX25+ a unique MIDI controller.
Initially, Nektar’s MIDI controller was out of reach for aspiring musicians and casual users due to the high price. The Nektar Impact LX25+ is the company’s answer to that. It is a toned-down version of that original model. Just as its more expensive counterpart, it offers users integration with DAWs. However, it doesn’t have the full-color TFT display of more expensive models.
It is a 25-key controller, however, unlike similar numbered keys; it is rather large and bulky.
The keys are decent, and are synth-action. The medium action on these keys implies that it doesn’t feel as smooth or ‘bouncy’ as semi-weighted keys. However, unless you are a professional pianist or keyboard player, you might not really need the semi-weighted feel.
Aside from the keys, it comes with eight rotary knobs that feel regular and allow you make music more conveniently.
Performance is great on the Nektar Impact LX25+. It integrates seamlessly with most of the major DAWs available. Hence, whether you are using Logic, Garageband, FL Studio, or Reaper, you will be able to use the basic software functions.
- Eight velocity-sensitive drum pads are excellent for tapping drum beats
- Works seamlessly with most DAWs
- Excellent value for price
- Relatively bulky
- No semi-weighted keys
Arturia MiniLab MkII – Best Slim Keys Controller
- Number of keys: 25
- Action: velocity sensitive slim-keys
- Number of pads: 2 banks of 8 pads, 8 velocity and pressure sensitive
- Controllers: 16 rotary encoders (2 of them are clickable), 2 capacitive touch sensors for pitch bend and modulation wheel, 8 user presets, octave up and down buttons for full range
- Dimensions: 14 x 8.7 x 2 in.
- Weight: 3.3 pounds
Other features: Sustain pedal jack, USB powered, USB/MIDI class compliant no drivers needed, Mac or PC, Kensington Security Slot
The original Arturia MiniLab, introduced in 2013, made quite a good impression. It came with solid build, impressive drum pads, and a spectacular array of knobs. Now the company has released the MiniLab MK11, and, we must say, we are mighty impressed. It improves on an already impressive device.
Right out of the box, it is clear that this device has good things to offer. It comes in a very compact design, making it one of the best MIDI keyboards for beginners. The compact form is largely down to the company’s restructuring of the buttons and their positioning. For example, the mod and pitch-bend touch-strips have been redesigned and transported to the upper panel of the controller.
While some prefer the former position, we found this new placement useful. In fact, the repositioning allows space for folks that like to put their controllers into their backpacks and carry it around.
An interesting feature is the number of rotary controls. Unlike others that come with eight, like those reviewed so far, the Arturia MiniLab MkII comes with 16 rotary controls. It also features eight drum pads that allow you velocity control of drum and percussion, as well as other functions.
Aside from all these nice features, it comes with the remarkable Analog Lab Lite that integrates seamlessly with the controller’s nice array of options.
In addition to the integration with Analog Lab Lite, the controller’s pads work well with Ableton Live, thus letting you to launch clips and scenes.
- Impressive portability
- 16 rotary controllers
- Seamlessly integrates with Analog Lab Litem Ableton Live Lite, and other software
- Some might not fancy the touch strip controllers
Nektar Panorama P6 – Best Weighted Keys Controller
- Number of keys: 61
- Action: weighted velocity-sensitive keyboard w/aftertouch
- Number of pads: 12 pads with velocity and pressure sensitivity
- Controllers: 16 encoders, 9 45mm faders, 10 assignable LED buttons
- Dimensions: 42 x 5.9 x 15.4 inches
- Weight: 21 lbs.
More features: 20 preset locations store all settings including links to keyboard, pad and F-keys maps
The Nektar Panorama P6 is a high-calibre option that ticks many boxes required for a MIDI controller. During our testing, we experienced increased work flow and intuitive control.
The Nektar Panorama P6 is a universal MIDI controller that comes with several controls that allow you manage your sound production. It features nine sliders, modulation and pitch wheels, 12 drum pads with pressure, 16 rotary knobs, transport controls, and a clear , crisp TFT screen.
Other buttons found on the controller include the Undo and Click buttons, Performance buttons, and more.
From our testing, one of our favorite physical features is the ALPS motorized fader that lies in the upper left corner of the front panel. When DAW automation is activated, you will discover that moves are seamlessly updated.
The keys are semi-weighted. Hence, it delivers a nice balance between weight and resistance.
When the controller is paired with software and applications, it is transforms from a decent controller to one of the best on the market.
Overall, it hits most of the right notes. With its nine sliders, numerous knobs and buttons, handy pressure sensitive drum pads, wheels,, pedal inputs, logical layout, and octave-shift controls it is a thoroughly impressive device. Coupled with all these impressive features is a decent keyboard that ensures easy, convenient playing.
Whether for touring or for studio use, you will find the Nektar Panorama P6 an impressive MIDI controller.
- Great build quality
- Nice semi-weighted keyboards
- Extensive integration with several software
- Noisy keys
- Only 12 physical pads
Alesis VI25 – Best Controller for Mac
- Number of keys: 25
- Action: full-sized semi-weighted keys
- Number of pads: 16 velocity-sensitive trigger pads with illuminated RGB feedback for beat production and clip launching
- Controllers: 24 assignable buttons and 8 assignable knobs, pitch and modulation wheels
- Dimensions: 12.4 x 24.6 x 4.5 in.
- Weight: 7 pounds
Other features: USB MIDI and 5-pin MIDI Out, Plug-and-play support for Mac and PC
There is no shortage of USB controller keyboards on the market, and the Alesis VI25 is another one of these. However, this particular controller keyboard offers more than mere output functions.
It is lightweight and can be carried around without any hassle. It comes with a narrow profile.
The Alesis VI25 comes with a keyboard whose keys is responsive and reacts superbly to the player’s touch. If you are an amateur, you are bound to enjoy the decent performance on this controller. The 25 keys are velocity-sensitive and during testing, I found them super comfortable and responsive. They feel fluid and have a nice bounce to them. The keys are also full-sized despite the portable size of the keyboard. We also enjoyed using the wheels to control pitch bend and modulation.
The keyboard comes with assignable controls that allow you expand the range of your proficiency. As a controller keyboard, it has 16 dynamic pads that I found satisfactory. I could easily finger drum on these pads, and it was a breeze triggering the MIDI function. It allows you control synth parameters and DAW.
The pads are illuminated using multicolour RBG.
- Excellent LCD display
- Portable size and design
- High-quality semi-weighted keys
- Doesn’t feature as much software as other controllers
Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard – Best Semi-Weighted Keys
- Number of keys: 49
- Action: semi-weighted
- Pads: 8 multi-function drum pads
- Controllers: 8 rotary encoders; 9 faders; buttons with QWERTY support
- Dimensions: 33.3 x 13 x 3.93 inches
- Weight: 11.02 lbs.
More features: also available in 25- and 61-key versions, Includes downloads for: Ableton Live Lite, Novation’s Bass Station synth, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, and a Loopmasters Sample Pack
The appearance of the Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard looks like the company put a lot of thought into the whole design process. It comes with 49 highly responsive keys and during testing; it seems that the essence of the keyboard is geared towards beginners and those just learning the instrument. It comes in a light and plastic housing, which makes it quite portable. You can even operate it with batteries.
The interface of the keyboard is honestly great. It is very well-organized. The keys are easy to identify and even advanced functions are easily located by beginners. The learning curve on this keyboard is not steep and compared to many keyboard geared at beginners, it is very easy to master. What sets the Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard apart from most of the competition is the ability for the user to seamlessly control DAW and plugins with ease and accuracy.
The 49 semi-weighted keys offer excellent control for pianists, synth players, and organists. It comes with eight rotary knobs, eight backlit pads, an LCD screen, and transport controls.
The LCD screen is very helpful, although it is nothing special. I would have loved the screen to be brighter and crisper, but alas, we cannot always get what we want. Included with this controller is Ableton Live Lite, Mike the Drummer software, and Loopmasters sample library. Aside from the LCD screen, another gripe we had with the Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard is that we believe that the instructions for DAW setup could have been clearer.
- Full-sized keys
- Comes with bundled software
- USB connectivity
- Poor LCD screen
- Complex DAW setup instructions
Midiplus Origin 62 – Best Modulation
- Number of keys: 62
- Action: full size semi-weighted sensitive keys
- Number of pads: 4 trigger pads
- Controllers: 8 fully assignable 40 mm sliders, 8 fully programmable knobs, 6 transport controls, pitch bend wheel, modulation wheel
- Dimensions: 36.22 x 36.22 x 2.95 in.
- Weight: 8.84 pounds
Other features: supplied USB MIDI out and keyboard MIDI out, sustain pedal interface
The Midiplus Origin 62 comes with a bunch of features, knobs, buttons, and controls that deliver quite great performance. It comes with responsive knobs, faders, and buttons. It is very portable and durable.
Created for beginners and useful for professionals, the Midiplus Origin 62 is an excellent MIDI controller.
It comes with a low price, and this is reflected in several of its features. However, you will still get decent performance from it. During testing, we observed that it is highly functional with virtually all the types of DAW thrown at it.
To ensure that the controller is correctly read by the DAW, it is smart to check out “options” and choose ‘generic controller’.
The keys on this controller are not especially impressive. We didn’t like the stiff and cheap feeling we got from using them. However, considering how cheap it comes, it isn’t very surprising.
The functionality is the main attraction of this controller. It works superbly with DAWs, and throughout our testing, we didn’t have any issues with it in this regard.
The sound quality from the keyboard is impressive considering the size and price. In our opinion, and due to our testing, it arguably offers the best modulation in this category.
- Simple, straightforward layout
- Lightweight and portable design
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t have drumpads
A MIDI controller is an excellent, handy, and essential piece of gear that allows you to do plenty of things to make beautiful music. But to look at when purchasing a MIDI controller? In our buying guide you will find all the necessary information in order not just to buy a MIDI controller, but to purchase the best one.
What is a MIDI keyboard controller?
Using a QWERTY keyboard and mouse to computer applications is pretty straightforward. It allows you to type, browse the internet, and more. Although these devices are useful for general use, if you are creating music or using music software, you will be better off using something else: the MIDI controller.
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it has been around for more than two decades.
Originally, MIDI was employed to connect several external hardware boxes, but now, it simply allows you to send input information from the controller right to the computer.
A MIDI keyboard controller is a piano-style keyboard that is attached to the computer via a USB cable.
On its own, the MIDI controller doesn’t create any sounds; rather, the music is from the computer and made through different software and plugins.
Benefits of a MIDI Controller
There are several advantages to buying a MIDI controller, and in this section, we will consider some of them.
If you want to make the recording process more comfortable and relatively more straightforward, then a MIDI controller can help you. They are cheap and easy to play, although you might decide to choose a more advanced model. Either way, as long as it is a MIDI controller, it will result in an easier recording process than you’re used to.
Aside from simplifying the recording process, it enhances the performance quality. After a recording session, the MIDI controller allows playback. Playback is editable; hence, any mistakes that you make can be corrected.
MIDI controllers let you use any instrument you want. It comes with several built-in features that mimic a guitar, trumpet, piano, violins, synth, and other musical sounds.
Features to consider when choosing a MIDI keyboard
Considering that there are several of these products on the market, it is admittedly difficult choosing the right one. However, there is a solution. You can make the right choice from scores of products when you know the features to look out for. In this section, we will discuss some of the essential factors to consider that will assist you in making the right choice.
Number of keys
MIDI controllers come with a wide variety of keys. In most cases, they come with key counts of 25, 49, 61, or even 88 keys. However, mini controllers, like those found in this article, come with 25 keys or less.
Many professionals opt for a MIDI controller with 49 keys because it is often big enough to play with two hands.
In most cases, the larger the number of keys, the bigger the MIDI controller is. Therefore, you should note the space available in your house and the type of music that you hope to create before choosing a controller. The portable options, for example, the Arturia MiniLab MkII, come 25 keys and can fit into your bag with ease.
There are three main types of key actions that can be found on a MIDI controller. Each of these serves a particular function. Let’s discuss these actions.
· Synth Action
Synth-action can be found on almost all MIDI keyboard controllers on the market. The synth-action keys are made of plastic and use a spring.
These action keys are near-weightless; however, when pressed, you will discover that the spring ensures that it promptly returns to its original position.
· Semi-weighted action
Semi-weighted action keys are different from synth-action keys because unlike the former that is weightless; these keys use a light weight. The weight is fixed to the end of each key. For example, the Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard comes with semi-weighted keys.
Semi-weighted keys are also not made of plastic. They might not return as quickly as synth-action keys; however, they deliver a more original feel that is reminiscent of a traditional piano.
· Fully-weighted action
As the name implies, these keys use a full weight design. They are the closest you will get to the keys of a digital piano. It might not be as hefty as the keys of a traditional piano, but it is very similar.
There are no fully-weighted key MIDI controllers in our review, as they aren’t very good for beginners. Professionals usually use MIDI controllers with fully weighted action keys. Thus, they come at a higher cost.
Aftertouch is a nice addition to any MIDI controller. This feature is what grants the controller a layer of expressiveness as you play. It sends additional messages to your DAW to improve your playing performance.
It is useful in emphasizing melodies and chords. Aftertouch is a feature found in high-end MIDI keyboard controllers.
There are two modes of this feature: monophonic and polyphonic
With the monophonic type, you can apply one aftertouch value across all keys.
Polyphonic, on the other hand, grants the ability to adjust the parameter of the held note.
Monophonic can be found in budget MIDI controllers, while polyphonic only exists for high-end MIDI controllers.
Inputs & Outputs
The main output found in MIDI keyboard controllers is the USB output. Using this output, data is transmitted from the controller to the computer. Expensive MIDI controllers have several outputs, which make them very versatile.
One of the common outputs is a 5-pin MIDI DIN, which can be found on the Alesis VI25. It allows you to connect different hardware and external synthesizers.
If you are looking to get a great beat from your MIDI controller, then you should be looking for a MIDI controller with pads.
Pads are similar to keys as they are velocity-sensitive. They add a layer of realism and depth to your beats.
Drums come in different styles, but they are usually made of rubber material. Like keys, they come in different numbers, usually in sets of eight.
Our top pick, the Akai MPK Mini MKII, for example, comes with eight backlit velocity-sensitive MPC drum pads.
Most drum pads feature aftertouch that makes them sound better.
By getting a MIDI controller with pads, you can add plenty of creativity to your work.
Buttons, faders, and knobs
Although pads and keys are important to every MIDI controller, equally important are the buttons, faders, and knobs that they come with.
These serve input functions as they also send data to make your music production process easier and more creative. From customizing filters to automating volume, and other things, the faders, buttons, and knobs are what you need.
Knobs and sliders are customizable, and you can assign them whatever functions you want. They make your music creation more expressive and smoothen your path.
Buttons are usually for MIDI data, changing octaves, or editing menus. If your MIDI controller comes with plenty of buttons, you might find yourself using the mouse and keyboard-less often.
If you love creating music on the go, you will require a portable MIDI controller. A portable MIDI controller built for the road while be bus-powered or battery-powered.
If it is bus-powered, you simply need to connect it to your laptop, computer, or tablet to use it. This type of power is excellent since it reduces the load you have to carry around. It also jettisons the clutter that arises from having several cables. Battery-powered, as the name implies, runs solely on batteries.
Bigger MIDI controllers will likely be too powerful for batteries or bus-power. Hence, they require external sources of power like an AC adaptor. Ensure that the MIDI keyboard controller you buy can be powered by the available resources you have.
In selecting a MIDI controller, you should note the primary use of the device. Are you going to use it for live sets? Then you’d need a relatively portable option. If you are using it in your home studio, then you can opt for a larger option.
Additionally, if you will be hitting the road a lot with your beginner MIDI controller in tow, then you should ensure that it made from high-quality, durable materials.
Some MIDI controllers come with additional features like arpeggiators, faders, and more. These features are mainly for controlling the performance of the MIDI keyboard. Since these aren’t very common features, they are usually found on expensive MIDI controllers.
It is essential to buy a MIDI controller that will suit you and your style. The main aim of purchasing a controller in the first place is to improve your production skills. Check out the ease of use and the learning curve. By reading reviews and guides like this article, you will be able to select one that is right for you.
One of the benefits of a MIDI controller is the ability to playback previous recordings. These recordings take up space; hence, you should consider the storage capacity of the beginner MIDI controller.
Some controllers cost thousands of dollars. However, armed with the correct information, you can find a high-quality MIDI controller that doesn’t cost as much.
Reputable brands usually cost more than obscure brands. Although they require more, they typically offer more reliable performance and will last longer than the cheaper models.
If you are on a budget, carefully consider the listed features of the controller as these features increase the price. The software that comes bundled with the controller also jacks up the price. Hence, look out for controllers with software that you will probably never need.
Basically, a regular keyboard is an instrument on its own that doesn’t require additional equipment to work. A MIDI keyboard controller, on the other hand, requires an external source for sounds.
Setting up a MIDI system is quite straightforward as long as you follow instructions.
To set it up, plug the MIDI interface cable to the interface and plug the other end to your computer or laptop. Once done, turn on the equipment. From here on, different brands have instructions to follow on several things, like the software to install and run, and so on.
The compatibility of your MIDI controller with other DAW depends on the model of your controller. Some are designed to work with a wide variety of DAWs, while others have limited compatibility.
Choosing a MIDI controller from the scores of controllers on the market is not easy, especially if you are a beginner. Fortunately, guides and reviews such as these will assist you in selecting the right one. Our top pick, the Akai MPK Mini MKII, is one of the best options on the market. It comes with robust performance, a set of impressive features, excellent build quality, and more. Overall, it is the ideal pick for beginners. If you do not fancy our top pick, then you might fancy the second on our list, the Novation Launchkey Mini MkII. It might not have as many robust features as the top choice, but it offers excellent performance at a low price. If you seek a portable option or a back-up, then you might love the Nektar Midi Controller (IMPACT LX25+), which is IOS compatible and use on the go.
We hope that this review and guide of the best MIDI controllers for beginners will help you to make the correct buying choice.