What is a MIDI keyboard?
A MIDI keyboard or keyboard controller is an electronic device used for sending MIDI messages to external hardware. This could be a computer or virtual instruments in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
A MIDI controller does not have to be a keyboard. However, if you want more flexibility in your music sequences, a MIDI keyboard will give you more options than a standard MIDI controller.
These devices can be plugged directly into your PC or laptop via USB, or they can connect wirelessly to your computer over Bluetooth. Some of them also have knobs and sliders that let you control hardware synths, making them one-stop performance hubs for your studio.
In this section, we’ll show you the different options available for MIDI keyboards. You can choose a portable keyboard that fits comfortably in a laptop bag or an 88-note model with weighted hammer-action keys. Most options we recommend here also come with additional features such as knobs, pads, buttons, and faders to boost creativity and give you even more control over your software.
Features of the best MIDI keyboard controllers
A MIDI controller can help you create your favorite sequences by adding creativity, uniqueness, complexity, and personality to your tracks.
If you like feeling a heavy-weight keyboard beneath your fingers as you play your favorite chord progressions effortlessly, then it’s best to choose a keyboard controller that weighs more than a pound.
However, if you prefer portability and need something small enough to fit into your bag, then a smaller device is the way to go.
You should also buy one that comes with additional features such as arpeggiation and sequencing in order to create even more complex tracks.
We’ve listed our top picks for the best MIDI keyboard controllers for beginners in order to help you find the right one for your needs. Here are our top picks for 2022:
1. Nektar SE25 MIDI keyboard
If you’re a musician who makes music on the go, you need a small MIDI keyboard that can fit in your bag. Nektar’s SE25 is an excellent choice because it’s both portable and has all the features you need for creating great music, without any unnecessary extras to weigh it down.
The SE25 is Nektar’s smallest MIDI keyboard controller—it’s about the size of a laptop. Yet it gives you everything you need to create music on the go: 25 mini keys, six knobs and buttons, and Nektar DAW Integration.
- Incredible value
- Nektar DAW integration
- Fits in a laptop bag
2. Alesis V25
The Alesis V25 is an entry-level keyboard controller that puts you in full control of your music software. It comes with 25 velocity-sensitive synth-action keys, 8 trigger pads, 4 assignable knobs, and 4 assignable buttons.
It also has a USB port for connecting to your computer, so you won’t need an external power adapter—and it’s lightweight and portable enough for on-the-go creativity.
Alesis is well known for their selection of keyboards and other musical equipment, and this controller doesn’t disappoint: it’s packed with features that are perfect for both beginners and professionals.
- Extremely Durable
- Quality Keys
- 8 Velocity-Sensitive Pads
- Simple Interface
- Works Well With Almost All DAW’s
- Not The Newest Controller
- Pads Are Known For Double Triggering
- No Aftertouch
- No LED Screen
3. Akai Professional MPK2
The Akai Professional MPD226 is a great MIDI pad controller with 16 LED-lit pads that have 4 different banks.
It additionally comes with 4 faders, 4 switches, and 4 control knobs for maximum control over your device. It comes with the free version of Ableton Live, which is a full-fledged digital audio workstation (DAW).
The pads on this instrument are extra thick and velocity-sensitive—meaning you can play them more expressively, with more feeling. It has MIDI input/output capability and USB connectivity.
This instrument comes with 30 pre-set sounds—configurations for most major DAWs are available via download from Akai’s website.
- Easy to use
- A good way to get into digital music making.
- Budget friendly.
- The software setup is somewhat intimidating but there are easy-to-find tutorials to help you.
- The software included is limited.
4. Akai MPK Mini MK3
The Akai MPK Mini MK3 is a great choice for most people, particularly those looking for an easy way to add melodies, basslines and simple chords to their projects.
We like the addition of eight encoder knobs which can be easily mapped to practically any parameter of your DAW, and eight full-sized MPC style drum pads. What you get, therefore, is a full-service production powerhouse which excels in many different playing situations.
It’s small enough to be thrown in a backpack and light enough to carry around all day without getting fatigued; yet contains enough useful features and functions to make it a highly useful addition to any studio.
- Loads of control
- Great bundled software
- Mini keys are certainly mini
5. Arturia KeyStep Pro
The Arturia KeyStep Pro is a compact, lightweight, and portable MIDI keyboard controller featuring a 3-octave keyboard with 37-note slim keys that are sensitive to velocity and after-touch.
It also includes 4 independent polyphonic sequencer tracks for controlling your synth, module, or drum.
You can connect the KeyStep Pro via USB, MIDI or CV/Gate. The unit’s built-in 24-part drum sequencer lets you craft music live on the fly. Its crisp OLED display and illuminated controls make it easy to use in any lighting environment.
- Standalone, USB‑powered MIDI and CV control.
- Multitrack, polyphonic sequencing on all formats.
- Scenes and Chains.
- Pattern variations and Looper.
- No MIDI CC controls within tracks.
- No assignable CV mod sources currently.
- Projects don’t store CC and drum map assignments.
6. Novation SL MKIII 49
The Novation SL MKIII 49 key is a fantastic option for producers who need to work on the go. The SL MKIII is incredibly portable and includes everything you need to start making music right out of the box.
Novation has been in the MIDI controller game for years, and this experience shines through with the SL MKIII.
If you’re an experienced producer, you will love being able to control external instruments directly from your MIDI controller. You are also able to access an incredible sequencer with the Novation SL MKIII.
- Top‐notch MIDI master keyboard.
- Customisable, eight‐part sessions with instant recall.
- It’s a stand‐alone eight‐track poly sequencer with CV!
- Built‐in arpeggiator, scales, and keyboard zoning.
- DAW control mode.
- Novation Components software manager.
- Plug‐in functionality significantly reduced without Automap.
- Can’t edit templates on the hardware.
- No displays for faders.
- Navigation could be improved in places.
7. M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKV
The Oxygen 49 is the cheaper version of M-Audio’s Pro 49, but it still packs many of the same features as its more expensive sibling.
While the display is smaller, there are red LED back-lit pads instead of multi-coloured ones, and there’s only one bank of eight pads, which means you can only trigger eight different sounds at any one time from the front panel.
The MIDI out port has also been ditched and replaced by USB connectivity for hooking up to a computer, but that’s not such a big loss since most MIDI keyboards nowadays connect via USB anyway.
On the upside, though, Smart Chord and Smart Scale modes make writing songs easier than ever before: they help you find chords and scales while you play so you can create your own music faster.
There’s also an arpeggiator that lets you play killer riffs just by tapping out a rhythm on those backlit pads, plus Beat Repeat so that stutters and repeats can be triggered from your fingertips.
- Chord and Scale modes great for composition and production
- Fully-featured arp
- Deep DAW integration
- Less ergonomic and half the pads of the Pro
8. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25
This tiny keyboard manages to squeeze 32 miniscule keys and all the controls of Komplete Kontrol into its small frame.
The pitch and mod wheels have been replaced with short touchstrips, but the eight capacitive knobs, 4D encoder and numerous buttons are uncompromised in their size and feel, giving you full control over browsing and manipulating plugins, operating Maschine, and getting hands-on with the transport and mixer of your DAW.
The surprisingly informative OLED display from the A-Series is also in place, as is Smart Play—a feature enabling scale snapping, chord triggering and arpeggiation.
And of course, it works as a regular configurable MIDI controller keyboard with any other software. The mini keys are the only real downside. However, if you can live with them this is the best portable and affordable MIDI keyboard you can buy.
- More keys than your average mini MIDI keyboard
- Tight software/hardware integration
If you’re looking to learn about music, check out our other blog posts! We also have guides to help you understand Music Royalties, Music Licensing, and how to get started when it comes to selling your music online.
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