5 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers: Top Picks for 2023
Updated: May 23
MIDI keyboard controllers are essential tools for music producers, composers, and live performers. These devices not only allow you to play and record your music compositions but also provide the flexibility to control a wide variety of virtual instruments, effects, and digital audio workstations (DAWs). By integrating a MIDI keyboard controller into your setup, you can streamline your creative process and enhance the quality of your productions.
When selecting the perfect MIDI keyboard controller, key factors to consider include the number of keys, key action, additional controls like knobs and sliders, software compatibility, and build quality. Finding the right balance between functionality, ease of use, and affordability can be challenging, but it is crucial for enhancing your creative workflow.
We have reviewed a variety of MIDI keyboard controllers to help you find the one that best suits your needs, whether you are looking for a compact option for home studios or a comprehensive controller with performance in mind.
Here are the 5 best MIDI keyboard controllers available today:
1. AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
The AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 is a compact and versatile MIDI keyboard controller with impressive features and solid performance for both beginners and professionals.
Compact and portable design
Impressive array of features, including backlit drum pads and assignable knobs
Comes with music production software and 2GB of sound content
Some users may find the key sensitivity inadequate
A slight learning curve for newcomers
Requires registration for some included software
The AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 is an excellent choice for music creators who are looking for a compact yet powerful MIDI keyboard controller. Its 25 velocity-sensitive keys, 8 backlit drum pads, and 8 assignable knobs make it easy to create music on-the-go, and its USB-powered design eliminates the hassle of extra cables or power connections.
Its array of controls, including a 4-way thumbstick for pitch and modulation, along with the built-in arpeggiator, make it simple to produce dynamic and expressive music. Furthermore, the included music production software - such as MPC Beats, AIR Hybrid, and more - provide a solid foundation for getting started on your musical journey.
While some users report adjusting to the key sensitivity and overall learning curve, the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 is a powerful tool for music production that delivers on its promise. It serves as an indispensable piece of equipment for both beginners and experienced producers alike.
2. Midiplus AKM320 Midi Keyboard Controller
The Midiplus AKM320 is an affordable and compact MIDI keyboard controller ideal for those looking for a portable solution with essential features.
Compact and portable
Responsive velocity-sensitive keys
Easy USB connectivity
Smaller key size may be challenging for some users
Limited to 32 keys
No included sustain pedal
Having used the Midiplus AKM320 recently, I can attest that it is a great choice for producers on a budget or those with limited space. It's lightweight and easy to connect to a computer with its USB Type B cable, making it perfect for those who are constantly on the move.
The 32-note velocity sensitive keys offer enough range to create your melodies and chord progressions. However, the smaller key size may take some time to adjust to, especially for users with larger hands. The pitch and modulation wheels, octave, and transpose buttons add versatility and enable quick adjustments during your creative process.
One drawback I noticed is the lack of a sustain pedal input, which may limit the level of expression available to more advanced users. Nevertheless, the Midiplus AKM320 scores high in terms of portability, affordability, and essential features, making it a solid choice for those entering the world of MIDI keyboard controllers.
3. Nektar, 61-Key MIDI Controller
The Nektar GX61 offers a great balance of quality, expressive keys, and functionality for those seeking an affordable MIDI keyboard for their digital music production needs.
61 expressive synth-action keys
On-board pitch bend and modulation wheels
DAW integration with popular software
Key action might not satisfy all users
Lacks pad and extra control options
Some reports of double-note issues
The Nektar GX61 is a versatile MIDI keyboard that provides 61 synth-action keys for a wide range of expression, perfect for producers looking to improve their digital music creation setup. It also comes with on-board pitch bend and modulation wheels, bringing your music to life while keeping control at your fingertips.
One of the standout features of the GX61 is its seamless integration with an array of popular digital audio workstations (DAWs). This allows users to easily incorporate the keyboard into their existing setup without experiencing compatibility issues. The compatibility with Mac, PC, and iOS devices further expands the device's usability for both beginners and seasoned music producers.
Despite its overall quality and performance, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. The key action may not be ideal for every user, especially those accustomed to a more traditional piano feel. Additionally, the GX61 lacks extra control options such as pads and sliders, which may limit its capabilities for more advanced users. Nevertheless, the Nektar GX61 remains an excellent choice for those seeking an affordable, functional MIDI keyboard controller.
4. M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3
For those looking to dive into computer-based music creation and performance, the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 offers a natural, player-centric response and a solid set of features, making it a fantastic choice.
Natural, responsive keybed with 61 full-size, velocity-sensitive and semi-weighted keys
Easy plug-and-play connection to Mac, PC, and iOS devices
Premium software suite included for immediate creativity
Keys could have a slightly better feel
Construction may not be as high-end as premium options
Recent software changes may cause some confusion
The M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 is a full-featured MIDI keyboard controller, perfect for those wanting to create or perform music on their computer. With its superb keybed delivering a natural feel and 61 full-size, semi-weighted keys, this controller captures every nuance of your performance with expressive pitch and modulation wheels.
Whether you're playing lead lines, extended chords, or sub-heavy bass-lines, the Keystation 61 MK3 gives you complete control, thanks to its volume fader, transport and directional buttons. The easy plug-and-play connection allows for hassle-free setup with your Mac or PC, and it's also compatible with iOS devices with an Apple to USB Camera Adapter (sold separately).
To top it all off, the Keystation 61 MK3 includes a premium software suite consisting of MPC Beats, Ableton Live Lite, Velvet, XPand!2, Mini Grand, and Touch Loops, providing plenty of creative potential right out of the box. Overall, the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 is a fantastic buy for those looking for an affordable, yet powerful MIDI keyboard controller.
5. Arturia KeyLab Essential 49
The Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 is a versatile MIDI keyboard controller that delivers a top-notch music production experience for its users.
Hybrid synth-piano key feel
Comprehensive control options
Integration with Analog Lab V software
Steep learning curve for beginners
Software installation can be challenging
Pads might feel stiff for some users
Having just used the Arturia KeyLab Essential 49, I was immediately drawn to its impressive 49-key velocity-sensitive keyboard that strikes an optimal balance of synth and piano-style keys.
The action is both expressive and comfortable for hours of play, thanks to its unique hybrid feel.
The range of control options on the KeyLab Essential 49 is outstanding. With nine encoders, nine faders, six transport switches, and eight touch-sensitive pads, it has everything you need to create, tweak, and perform your music with ease.
Moreover, the Deep Analog Lab V software integration makes browsing presets and smart control assignment a breeze, unlocking countless creative possibilities.
However, I should note that this controller may present a steep learning curve for newcomers. The software installation process took me longer than expected, and the pads felt a bit stiff initially. Nevertheless, once overcome, the Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 offers an engaging and highly rewarding music-making experience.
Choosing the best MIDI keyboard controller can be overwhelming, especially with numerous options available in the market. This buying guide simplifies the process by highlighting essential features to consider before making your decision.
Key Count and Size
The number of keys on a MIDI keyboard controller can vary from 25 to 88. Your choice depends on your specific requirements and the space available. Beginners can opt for a 25-key controller, whereas experienced players might prefer larger options like 49, 61, or 88 keys. Additionally, note the key size: full-sized or mini-sized keys, generally dictated by personal preference and playability.
Weighted or Semi-weighted Keys
Weighted keys offer a more realistic piano feel, while semi-weighted keys provide a lighter feel with faster response. Consider your playing style and genre before deciding on the key weight.
Aftertouch is a feature that allows you to add expression to your notes by applying pressure on a held key. It can be channel aftertouch or polyphonic aftertouch. While not a necessity, this feature can enhance your creative options.
Some MIDI keyboard controllers come with extra features like faders, knobs, and pads. These allow greater control over your DAW, virtual instruments, and effects, making your workflow more efficient.
Ensure that your chosen MIDI controller is compatible with your computer's operating system and digital audio workstation (DAW). Some controllers come with specific software bundles, which can be an added bonus.
Lastly, consider your budget. MIDI keyboard controllers are available across a wide price range. While expensive options may have more features, there are affordable options that provide excellent value and performance.
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