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 20, 2021
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A MIDI keyboard is a musical tool you can use to create almost any type of music. All you need is a source of musical sounds, such as your computer alongside compatible software. While the design is similar to that of a piano, you can edit and map each key to produce a specific tone or sound; hence, this is one of the most versatile tools a music producer can own.
In our write-up of the best MIDI keyboards, our team managed to review at least 20 different products with the top nine being shortlisted. While the products in the table below are all excellent choices, the Akai Professional MPK249 seems to hold an edge over the rest. This is because it incorporates a bit of everything in the design, making it a more versatile tool for beginners and professionals alike.
You would be right to assume that the list below did not come easy. We, as a team, have used various sources inclusive of manufacturer websites to come up with information presented below. Also, some customer feedback has been sampled where devices mentioned are concerned. As such, our select choices with regards to the best MIDI keyboards came about as a result of features associated with each model. These include controls, output, weight, number of keys, and more. As mentioned above, there is a table where products are ranked from highest to lowest. After that, in-depth reviews of the same products follow in a similar order, and lastly, you see a buying guide.
Other features: premium, natural response; velocity-sensitive full size keys with aftertouch; a premium piano-style key bed; pitch bend, modulation, and octave controls; 5 pin MIDI input & output; 1 assignable footswitch jack and 1 expression jack; 24 MPC Note Repeat, arpeggiator, MPC Full Level, Tap Tempo and Time Division; includes VIP3.0
The keys on the board are big enough that any person with prior piano experience will be able to play them with ease. What you get is a natural response from each key you press. While this is somewhat due to the size of the keys in question, the reaction can also be attributed to velocity sensitivity as well as the aftertouch feature. For those unaware of what aftertouch is, it means the sound produced when the player holds down the key as they are playing. The initial sound is produced when the key is hit, but if contact is sustained and a sound is created because of it, you can refer to that as aftertouch.
As mentioned in the name, this is a tool you can take with you on stage for a performance, but only if you know how to use it effectively. Any professional who has experience with MIDI controller keyboards should consider this a worthy purchase. As far as overarching controls the user is accorded, they can change pitch bend, modulation, and octaves so that they have more control over the final output.
You may also have to plug this device in with a computer. To use most computers with MIDI controllers, you would need musical software as well. As a side note, such software may come at a cost. With the purchase of this device, you don’t have to worry about that at all since you get Ableton Live Lite, MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3 & SONiVOX Twist as well.
Also, the device comes with MPC functionality as well, with 16 keys for the same conveniently located for easy reach. As to the other button layout, there are faders, controllers, and knobs, and they are all assignable, meaning they can have different functions depending on the session. The 5-pin MIDI input and output situated at the back is so that you can connect your device to other MIDI interfaces as well.
Why are we impressed?
Comprehensive key layout
Comes with a software package included
Full-size piano keys with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch
What negatives must you be aware of?
Learning how to use this tool as a beginner may be a bit difficult
Some users have complained that the USB cable in the package is shorter than most
Other features: full-size sensitive keys, eight fully assignable 40 mm sliders, eight fully programmable knobs, four trigger pads, six transport controls, pitch bend wheel, modulation wheel, supplied USB MIDI out and keyboard MIDI out, sustain pedal interface
The only other things that come in the box containing this tool are the USB cable and a manual. Other than that, you get 62 full-size sensitive keys on the body of the device. These keys can be used together with the sustain-pedal interface to hold notes and sounds for longer. Some of the devices below contain wheels for pitch bend and modulation modification. The Midiplus Origin 62 is no different.
The power supply is USB oriented, so you might need a computer near you if you intend to use the device. Transport controls are as well incorporated. Also above the key layout, you see assignable sliders, programmable knobs, and the four trigger knobs in the setup.
What makes it stand out?
You can customize what some of the buttons and knobs do
Easy to use for beginners as well
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
The velocity of the keys on this device has been a disappointment to some people
Other features: twin-line LCD; velocity keys, one clickable encoder, nine encoders, nine faders, six transport switches, four command switches, one modulation wheel, one pitch bend wheel; MIDI out, USB, ыustain pedal interface, DAW Command Center
The basic specs and features of this device make it worth the price you pay for it. As a first, this is one of the best 49 key MIDI keyboards you can find in the market. What makes this true is first the build quality. All the materials used to make the tool are robust and long-lasting enough to withstand use. This is inclusive of the body, keys, and the buttons included.
If powering the device with a USB is what you want to do, then you can do so using the dedicated slot. Where you don’t want to connect the invention with your computer, you can comfortably switch to the optional DC power inlet. Some of the software that comes free as a result of purchasing this device are Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab, and lastly, UVI Grand Piano Model D. These allow you access to all the sounds you would need to get started and even a complete production studio.
Additionally, the MIDI keyboard is seemingly divided into various sections where controls are concerned. You can see knobs and faders on the top right-hand side of the tool while the backlit performance pads are on the top left.
If you are looking for a portable MIDI keyboard, you cannot go wrong with the Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3]. The dimensions allow you to pop it into your laptop bag right next to your PC as you head to the studio. Also, the device is seemingly weightless and features a USB power supply. You will also note the inclusion of RGB pads on the device interface. These are as well velocity-sensitive to give the user more control over the music they create.
Another benefit of ownership with regards to the musical tool is the arpeggiator. The manufacturer makes sure that this feature is easy to use and control as the user might feel the need to change rhythm, pattern, and octaves in quick succession. Also, you might appreciate the mod and pitch touch strips.
The most compatible piece of software you can own alongside this device is Ableton Live, and the two integrate seamlessly.
What are its best features?
Comprehensive button and key layout
The device is highly compatible with Ableton Live Lite
What could be improved?
Keys are not a standard size
Equipment is not compatible with a lot of other music producing software
Other features: full-sized, square-front keys with aftertouch; USB MIDI in and 5-pin MIDI Out; hands-on controls; velocity-sensitive trigger pads with illuminated RGB feedback; pitch and modulation wheels; 24 assignable buttons and eight assignable knobs interface; plug-and-play support for Mac and PC
As far as the number of keys is concerned, this device has a similar amount to that or mini keyboards. While this will not offer the same feel associated with a piano, you can rest assured that the keys available are full size and that they work almost in the same way. They are both velocity-sensitive and feature semi-weighted action. As such, they both incorporate a spring as well as light weights to ensure they get back into position.
Also, you will note that there are assignable knobs and buttons in the device construction as well. If you do not want to keep looking at your laptop screen to get feedback while using the invention, you are in luck as well. The LED display, illuminated knobs, and buttons may provide some of the information you are likely to look for on your computer. However, just in case you need your MAC or PC, the device offers plug and play functionality with both of these options. This is in addition to the Ableton Live and Xpand!2 software packages you get for free.
What makes it special?
Simple and map-able key and button layout
Backlighting and LED screen giving some crucial information to the user
What cons did we find?
Seemingly some of the keys may be squeaky when you receive the device
While the device works great with Ableton Live, it may not be as good with other software of the same caliber
Other features: Informative OLED display, eight touch-sensitive control knobs, ergonomic pitch, and mod wheels, TRS pedal input, assignable to sustain, 4-directional push encoder, Smart Play, Full VSTi and VST FX support
Before you get this device, you may need to look at the specs required to run adjacent software on your computer. An example is given where you need a core i5 CPU or higher. Once you have checked to verify that you have all you need from your computer, you can then gauge the semi-weighted MIDI keyboard for compatibility with your needs.
Among the positive attributes are the touch-sensitive control knobs. You will, therefore, not have to struggle much with making changes and tweaks by rotating a knob here and there. An OLED screen, while small, is enough for you to look into and get information about a particular setting that you are trying to adjust.
On the far left side of the invention, some wheels are incorporated to help you adjust the pitch and modulation at a moment’s notice.
Why are we impressed?
Useful OLED display included
Full integration with a few of the software packages in the market
What negatives must you be aware of?
There is no on/off button or switch hence you have to unplug USB to turn it off
This is perhaps one of the best MIDI controllers for beginners. With the 88 keys incorporated, it allows for users to experience what a piano would feel like. This is because it also includes velocity sensitivity. The device is USB powered and also features a USB MIDI connection to attach it with other compatible devices.
As a bonus associated with making this purchase, you are given a 3-month free subscription to Skoove. The platform allows you to learn piano at your own pace with interactive piano lessons. These may be helpful for both beginners and veterans who want to advance their piano playing knowledge. On the surface of the device, there are octave controls as well as buttons that allow you to tweak pitch bend, volume, and modulation.
If you want to integrate this with your computer, you as well get software as value addition to the package. However, you can opt to purchase the Apple iPad camera connection kit, and that will allow you to use the device with your iPad.
What makes it special?
Comprehensive keyboard layout
Comes with software for integration with PC or MAC
Comes with a beginner training course
What cons did we find?
The device is bulky and may be a hassle to move around as it does not feature handles
Other features: velocity-sensitive keys, four knobs edit sounds or send midi; built-in speaker; OLED display; pitch/mod joystick control, built-in arpeggiator; 1/8-inch headphone output; Pro Software Suite; Photo4Less Top Value Akai Professional Accessory Kit
There aren’t many MIDI controller keyboards that use batteries. However, the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play seems to be an exception to the rule. As such, if you run out of power, you can pop in three new AA batteries and continue with your session. This is not to mean that the device slacks when it comes to performance.
Another thing unique about this device is that it includes a small speaker in the design. Consequently, after you map your keys, you can play music and use the tool without needing to attach it to a computer or any other device. As such, you can be taking your bus ride home and still be making music. To add to that point, there is included in the design of the musical tool a headphone jack as well.
Nonetheless, you may feel the need to use this device with a personal computer, and this is where the USB port comes in handy. As well the device ships with a high-speed USB extension cable that turns one USB port into four. Consequently, you can attach more devices to the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play. As with the other tool by the same manufacturer, the USB MIDI keyboard features velocity-sensitive keys. However, the ones on this device use springs to return the keys to their original position after being pressed.
What are our favorite features?
Built-in speaker and headphone jack
You get free music making software
Battery power supply
What could be better?
There is the constant cost of buying batteries associated with the device
Other features: velocity-sensitive keyboard; assignable Data encoder and Volume slider; traditional MIDI Out, Sustain pedal input and USB connections; dedicated Transpose and Octave buttons, Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels; integrated iPad slot
Many MIDI controller keyboards are only compatible with Mac and PC. However, this tool adds an exciting dynamic by letting you connect and use the controller alongside an iPad. The manufacturer goes as far as incorporating an iPad slot as well, so your tablet can remain upright as you use it. When you receive the tool, you will note the presence of some dedicated buttons. These include octave, pitch bend, transpose, and more. Apart from these buttons, the design of the tool is minimalist. Consequently, the only other prominent feature is the keyboard layout that includes 61 semi-weighted keys in total. Also, if you use the sustain pedal, you can hold notes for longer when you press the sustain key.
What stands out?
Presence of a sustain pedal
The musical device can be used in conjunction with an iPad with an integrated slot for the tablet included
What cons did we manage to find?
The velocity of the keys seems to be a bone of contention for many of the previous users
Things to Consider
Owing to the prices of most of these devices, it would be foolhardy to buy one without putting any consideration into the matter. Having grading criteria against specific devices will only benefit you in the long run as you can find useful and well-priced controller keyboards in the shortest amount of time. You are also more likely to be happy with your purchase.
What is a MIDI keyboard controller?
MIDI keyboards are musical devices that feature piano-style keys as well as other buttons, wheels, and sliders. These send MIDI signals to devices, such as PCs and iPads, using MIDI protocol. Those signals, when interpreted, will enable the device to produce various sounds and tones.
Features to consider when choosing a MIDI keyboard
Each MIDI keyboard is different from the next in one way or another. Most of what makes up the difference is a feature in one model that may not be present in another. Also, this affects functionality to the point where one product may be considered superior to another. As such, each feature associated with a MIDI keyboard needs to be looked at carefully, as we have done below.
Number of keys
Smaller MIDI devices tend to have 25 keys in total, as exhibited by the Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3]. Such a small amount of keys may not take much space hence why products with the same number of keys are portable. They, however, may be lacking in some areas where an 88 key device like the M-Audio Hammer 88 may do well.
Larger keyboards may also be considered more comfortable to play as they possess the same layout as full-size pianos.
Each device you look into will respond to your touch in different ways. Weighted keys, for instance, are the highest-rated. This is because they offer the closest feel to an acoustic piano since they offer similar levels of resistance. A synth-action will be the fastest key to spring back up to position due to their spring construction. The semi-weighted key action is a bridge between spring mechanism and the addition of some weights. They thus offer light to moderate resistance when pressed. In contrast semi-weighted keys will be a bit slower to get back up than their synth counterparts due to the inclusion of a weight. Ultimately it falls to you to determine if the action of a keyboard controller is worth the purchase or not.
With a lot of lower-end devices once you hit a certain key and they produce a sound, that is the end of it. Other higher-end models allow you to hold the key for longer. This will, in turn, result in a tone or sound being held for longer. As mentioned this feature is available in higher-end devices that tend to cost more money. Nevertheless, if this feature is not all that important, you can choose more budget-friendly models to purchase.
Common input, as well as output modes, include USB and the 5-pin MIDI jack. Nevertheless, the 5-pin is slowly being phased out by the more modern USB option. Both options have positive and negative aspects attached to them, and only you can choose the one that you feel works best for you.
You will find that pads vary in number, size, color, and more. This is evidenced by devices such as the Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3] in comparison with the Samson Carbon 61. The Novation has 16 while the Samson doesn’t have any. There will also be a disparity in velocity. While pads will typically be made from the same material, some are more sensitive than others.
You should know that pads more or less function the same as keys with one major difference. A keyboard can be used to create melodic lines and chords, while the pads are more likely to be used in creation of individual sounds and beats.
It, therefore, falls to you to determine how essential pads are to your plans and your music-making experience and then make a decision based on that.
Buttons, faders, and knobs
A common theme with regards to MIDI keyboards is that buttons will likely not have fixed uses. They will be programmable, and hence you can use software and other settings onboard the device to determine how they will be used on a day to day basis. This is the same with faders and knobs. In rare cases, you may find a situation where the faders and knobs are dedicated to particular functions. As to whether or not you can live with that, it falls to you to answer that question.
A common theme is USB-powered MIDI controllers. These can be turned on as soon as you plug them into a computer. The second most common occurrence is those that work with a socket; hence will need an adapter to plug in. In rare cases, you will see battery-powered options such as the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play.
Pitch bend wheel and mod wheel
It is almost certain that each MIDI controller will have these two wheels somewhere on the surface of the device. Devices like the Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3], however, opt to use touch strips to help you modify both pitch bend and modulation. The important thing is to have some sort of interface that enables you to adjust both of these parameters.
While they may look similar, one is a standalone instrument, whereas the other is dependent on other equipment to work. MIDI controllers send MIDI data to a computer or other hardware, and as a result, the device may interpret the information and produce the sound required. A keyboard, on the other hand, is more or less an electronic piano, and hence you may not be able to influence the sound that comes out of the device as much as you would with a MIDI keyboard.
As mentioned time and again in the article above, the MIDI controller will likely be used to produce music. Nonetheless, that is not all it can do as there are frequent cases of the equipment being used to control audio mixers, guitar effects units as well as stage lights.
Standard MIDI system setups include a computer, keyboard, and a MIDI interface so you can start by positioning each of these three devices whichever way you want. At this point, none of the gadgets should be on. Next, you should connect the MIDI interface to your computer by using the USB to MIDI cable. The USB end goes into your computer. The third step would be to connect the MIDI interface to the controller keyboard. On the controller keyboard, check for the MIDI-out slot and plug in the cable while on the MIDI interface, the MIDI-in cable is what you should be looking for. After that, you can turn on the equipment in your setup.
The Akai Professional MPK249 seems to have a bit of everything in terms of quality. A sensitive keyboard, programmable interface, piano-style key bed, and more. Almost all the features you can think of with regards to MIDI keyboard controllers are present hence why this is our first pick.
On the other hand, the Midiplus Origin 62 with the 62 keys is almost the size of a regular piano and will thus have the same feeling. In addition to that, programmable components are many, and given that you want to retain as much control over sounds as possible, it only makes sense that you to make this purchase, especially if you already know how to use such a piece of equipment.
Also, the Arturia KeyLab Essential sets itself apart by including a complicated but comprehensive, key, and controls layout. You will thus be able to do almost anything you can think of with the tool, including sustain tones for longer. Whatever your choice from the nine above, you are unlikely to regret your purchase. However, this is not to mean you shouldn’t put careful thought into the process.