10 Best: MIDI Keyboards

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We list ten of the best MIDI keyboards on the market, from compact, affordable controllers through to high-end options for professional studios.

While recent years have seen the analogue synth make something of a comeback, there are still plenty of producers out there quite happily working with soft synths and effects plug-ins. Though it’s quite possible make an entire track using just a mouse, there’s no substitute for a good MIDI keyboard controller, whether used just to write a melody or bassline or get deep into shaping the sounds themselves.

MIDI keyboards used to be pretty basic, but the past decade has seen manufacturers offering models with assignable knobs and faders for controlling parameters, LCD screens for displaying values and even velocity-sensitive pads for creating beats. As the title suggests, here we pick ten of the best models currently available, covering everything from compact travel-friendly models through the best options for iPad to high-end models that could easily offer an all-in-one solution for all your production needs.

Best compact MIDI keyboards

lpk25-590

Akai – LPK25

Sometimes space is at such a premium, you don’t have room to carry a keyboard with anything except the keyboard itself. Enter the Akai LPK25, a keyboard designed for use alongside a laptop that jettisons pretty much every unnecessary control for a unit that’s almost entirely made up of keys. The keys themselves are velocity-sensitive, not bad considering the extremely low price point, though they are in mini keyboard form, which may put some off. However, though the controls only extend to an arpeggiator, sustain, octave up and down and tap tempo, the fact it weighs less than a pound makes it one of the best options for sketching out melodies on the go. It doesn’t have MIDI connections, so it’s no good for controlling hardware, but if you just need to play melodies in a DAW, it’s ideal.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 25 velocity-sensitive mini-keyboard keys
Controls Arpeggiator, sustain button, octave up and down, and tap tempo controls
Display N/A
Connections USB
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech
Dimensions (cms) 40 x 4 x 11
Weight (kgs) 0.5

 

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Novation – Launchkey Mini 25

Novation’s experience of building MIDI keyboards puts most other companies to shame; its first controller was released in 1992, and its X-Station controller from 2004 still holds up as something of a classic. The Launchkey Mini packs all that experience into a tiny package, and together with the Akai MPK Mini and the Korg Microkey, Novation’s Launchkey Mini 25 is part of a subsection of MIDI keyboards aimed at those who need a portable keyboard or who have limited space in the studio.

Considering its diminutive size, the Launchkey Mini has an impressive array of controls. As well as a compact 25-strong keyboard, it features eight assignable rotary knobs and 16 velocity-sensitive pads for playing beats and triggering samples. It’s also designed to be the perfect partner for an iPad, coming with Novation’s Launchkey synth and Launchpad apps. Unlike the iRig keyboard featured below, you’ll need a camera connection kit to plug it into your iPad, but you do get more controls to play with.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 25-note mini keyboard
Controls 16 velocity-sensitive, three-colour launch pads, eight knobs, seven function buttons, and two performance buttons
Display N/A
Connections USB
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Ableton Live Lite 9, Novation Launchkey app, Novation Launchpad app and over a gigabyte of samples and loops
Dimensions (cms) 32.5 x 17.5 x 4.3
Weight (kgs) 0.675

 

Best for iDevices

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IK Multimedia – iRig with Lightning

While the iPad and iPhone may not have quite taken over from laptops and computers on the stage and in the studio, there’s no denying the quality of the synths available on the App Store is getting ever more impressive. Arturia, Korg and many other big names are making mobile softsynths serious rivals to their computer-based counterparts, but it’s left a real need for compatible keyboards. Though there are more than a few options on the market, IK Multimedia’s is perhaps the best and most straightforward tool for the job, plugging directly into the Lightning port of a new iPad or iPhone without the need for adaptors.

Featuring 37 velocity-sensitive mini keys, pitch and modulation wheels, volume knob and octave controls, the iRig is a fairly stripped-back keyboard, but with synth apps having touch controls built in, there shouldn’t be much need for additional controls. It comes with a Lightning cable and traditional 30-pin cable for connecting iDevices old and new, and for portability and ease of use, there’s nothing better than the iRig for users of Apple-based synth apps. If the keys are a little too small, IK Multimedia also offers a Pro version with full-size keys.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 37 velocity-sensitive mini-keys
Controls Modulation and pitch wheels, volume/Data knob (assignable), back-lit, soft-touch buttons to control octave/program up/down
Display N/A
Connections USB, Core MIDI for iOS, input for an optional sustain or expression pedal
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library SampleTank FREE, iGrand Piano FREE (download from the App store), SampleTank 3 SE
Dimensions (cms) 50.3 x 12.0 x 4.0
Weight (kgs) 0.66

 

Best value

oxygen25-590

M-Audio – Oxygen 25 Mk4

M-Audio arguably laid the groundwork for the modern MIDI keyboard controller with the introduction of the Oxygen 8 back in 2002. While not the first company to introduce a portable 25-key MIDI keyboard, its success helped the company establish a strong foothold in the portable controller keyboard marketplace, and the number of 25-key options currently available owes a lot to the the Oxygen 8.

The Oxygen keyboard is now on its fourth iteration, and not much has changed since the first. It still has the same eight knobs along with pitch and modulation wheels, but now features eight of the seemingly mandatory velocity-sensitive pads for beatmaking or sample triggering. This Mk4 version of the Oxygen is also compatible with the iPad via a camera connection kit, making an ideal option for App users wanting a full-size keyboard. The Oxygen might not be the flashiest keyboard on this list, but its enduring legacy makes it easy to recommend to anyone wanting a solid controller at a good price.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 25 full-size, synth-action velocity-sensitive keys
Controls Eight velocity-sensitive trigger pads, eight assignable knobs, assignable fader, transport buttons, pitch and modulation wheels
Display LCD screen
Connections USB, sustain pedal input
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist, AIR Music Tech Xpand!2
Dimensions (cms) 49.2 x 24.3 x 9.4
Weight (kgs) 1.8

 

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Alesis – VI25

Instruments like the Maschine and Arturia’s SparkLE may offer great options for making beats with a computer, but there are times when you want to combine the two, along with the full 16 velocity-sensitive RGB trigger pads laid out in an MPC style. While there are a number of offerings in this sphere, nobody does it as affordably as the Alesis VI series, which throws in eight assignable knobs and a generous 24 function buttons aimed at controlling VSTs and effects. What’s more, the minimal black design is reminiscent of classic ’80s keyboards, a nice change from the sometimes overly flashy array of LEDs and dreary greys that sometimes make up MIDI keyboards.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 25 full-sized, square-front, semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
Controls 16 velocity-sensitive trigger pads with illuminated RGB feedback, 24 assignable buttons, 8 assignable knobs, pitch and modulation wheels
Display LED screen
Connections USB MIDI, 5-pin MIDI Out
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech
Dimensions (cms) 31.5 x 62.5 x 11.5
Weight (kgs) 3.2

LX49-590

Nektar – Impact LX49

While there are plenty of affordable options here, there’s nothing else on this list that offers quite the value for money of Nektar’s Impact keyboards. For around £100 you can get a 49-key controller with sliders, knobs, transport and navigation buttons, pitch and modulation wheels and eight velocity sensitive pads. The software integration will automatically set up the keyboard with most major DAWs, and the low-profile black design and rubberised fader caps make it look the part too. The Impact is definitely one to put in the workhorse category, but for those who want the maximum amount of control for their money, there’s not much else to rival it.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 49-note full-size velocity-sensitive keyboard
Controls Pitch bend and modulation wheels, two transpose buttons, two octave shift buttons, eight velocity-sensitive trigger pads, eight function buttons, nine 30mm control faders, eight control pots, six transport buttons for cycle, rewind, forward, stop, play, record
Display Three digit LED
Connections USB, foot switch jack
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Studio One Artist
Dimensions (cms) 80.5 x 27.0 x 7.6
Weight (kgs) 3.175

 

Best mid-range MIDI keyboards

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Korg – Taktile 49

If there’s one thing Korg does well, it’s create massive workstation synthesizers that make you feel like you’re sitting at the bridge of a starship. While the Taktile MIDI keyboard isn’t quite as huge as the KROME or KingKorg workstations, it does have that same expansive headboard packed with the kind of controls you’d expect to find on a piece of modern Korg gear, with the sleek black casing and radioactive green LEDs that make it look both retro and contemporary at the same time.

The Taktile’s features are equally as impressive; there’s a semi-weighted keyboard – the same as that found in the KingKorg workstation – which is ideal for those using the unit for live performance, together with eight assignable knobs and sliders. In addition there are eight trigger pads, which, as well as being velocity-sensitive for creating beats, also feature a “Chord Scale” function, which automatically generates chords according to the key and scale specified. Finally, the unit features a touch pad that functions as a kind of built-in version of Korg’s Kaossilator effect unit. The included Korg Kontrol Editor software makes setting up these features with your chosen software relatively simple. Add in a very reasonable price point for the features, and the Taktile is a great mid-range MIDI keyboard.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 49-key full-size, velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keyboard
Controls 16 velocity-sensitive trigger pads, eight switches, eight sliders, eight knobs, pitch and modulation wheels, touch pad
Display 128 x 64 dots, the high-contrast OEL (Organic Electroluminescent) display
Connections USB, assignable switch, assignable pedal, MIDI in/out
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Korg Kontrol Editor, Korg Bundle Software PIN Card
Dimensions (cms) 75.0 x 29.0 x 8.3
Weight (kgs) 3.8

 

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Arturia – KeyLab 49

Arturia has long been known as the company reviving classic analog hardware via their highly regarded softsynths – everything from the Minimoog to the ARP 2600 has been recreated digitally by the company. As well as a line in drum controllers and hardware synthesisers, Arturia makes great MIDI keyboards too, under the KeyLab name. In line with Arturia’s vintage credentials, the white metal casing and wooden rack ears on each model hark back to classic ‘70s synth design, together with the kind of features (including drum pads on the 49 and 61-key versions) that you’d expect from modern MIDI keyboards.

While the KeyLab keyboards are suitable for use with any DAW or softsynth with a bit of programming, it’s the included Analog Lab software that’s likely to make this the preferred option for vintage analog synth enthusiasts. As well as 5000 synth sounds to tweak, owners of Arturia’s V Collection of synths will be able to create their own presets and store it in Analog Lab for later use. Arturia’s focus on vintage sounds might not be for everyone, but those who appreciate the quality of analog will love having the next best thing to a rack of classic gear in their studio.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard Full-size 49-note velocity sensitive keyboard with aftertouch
Controls 16 velocity and pressure sensitive pads, nine faders, one clickable encoder, 10 rotary encoders, assignable switches, six transport buttons, pitch and modulation wheels
Display 32 character LCD display
Connections MIDI in & out, USB, sustain pedal, expression pedal, aux footswitch, breath controller inputs
System Requirements (PC) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
System Requirements (Mac) Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC requires no driver installation
Software/Library Analog Lab with 5000 synth sounds
Dimensions (cms) 79.1 x 29.8 x 7.0
Weight (kgs) 6.5

 

Best high-end MIDI keyboards

 

Akai – Max 49

Akai has a full range of excellent MIDI keyboards covering all bases, from bespoke Ableton control to performance controllers with MPC drum pads. The Max range sits at the higher end of the scale with both the 25 and 49-key models with MPC drum pads (taken from the recent MPC Renaissance controller), LED touch faders and even a built-in step sequencer – a rarity in the world of MIDI keyboards. It has been noted that the semi-weighted keyboard is slightly heavier than average, but the build quality is more than befitting a keyboard of this price point.

However, the Max line makes this list thanks to its unique selling point: CV and gate outputs. As well use being connectable with USB MIDI and traditional 5-pin DIN MIDI, those with older hardware featuring only control voltage and gate outputs will be able to to control everything from modern analog synth units to ‘60s modular systems. Add to this the built-in step sequencer and Akai’s AutoConnect software for mapping your preferred DAWs and VSTs of choice, and the Akai Max range are the perfect solution for those wanting to work with hardware as well as software.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 49-mote semi-weighted keyboard with aftertouch
Controls Four banks of 12 velocity-sensitive backlit MPC pads, eight backlit LED touch faders, transport controls, rubberized pitch and modulation wheels, built-in step sequencer
Display N/A
Connections USB, MIDI Out, MIDI In, CV (1V/octave), Gate (configurable), one programmable continuous footpedal, two programmable footswitches
Software/Library AkaiConnect automatic-mapping software, Ableton Live Lite Akai Pro Edition, Air Ignite music creation software
Dimensions (cms) 74.1 x 32.2 x 8.0
Weight (kgs) 5.31

 

komplete-kontrol-61-590

Native Instruments – Komplete Kontrol S61

Native Instruments’ Komplete package has become the go-to solution for producers who want a comprehensive collection of soft synths and effects out of the box. In the early days the company produced the Kore unit with which users could browse Komplete without having to resort to the mouse, but since it was discontinued producers have only had the Maschine to fill the gap. While the solution is great for beatmakers, it’s perhaps not the best Komplete nerve centre for all producers, which is where the Kontrol range of MIDI keyboards comes in.

What marks the keyboard out is the inclusion of Komplete Kontrol, a piece of software allowing the user to browse every Komplete plug-in from one central location, namely the Kontrol keyboard itself. The keyboard itself is also an impressive piece of equipment. It’s as beautifully designed as you’d expect from a piece of Native Instruments gear, together with automatic parameter mapping for Komplete, touch strips and an innovative the “light guide” – an LED feature helping novices to find the right keys in whichever scale is selected.

Unlike some MIDI keyboards the Kontrol doesn’t load itself with features like drum pads or sample triggers – it leaves it to the integration with Maschine for all that – but this is about as high-end as MIDI controllers come. You’ll need Komplete to get anything out of this, but if you’re happy to be tied to the Native Instruments ecosystem it’s the ultimate keyboard.
More info/Buy
Specifications:

Power USB Bus power
Keyboard 61-note semi-weighted Fatar keybed with aftertouch and Light Guide
Controls Eight touch-sensitive controller knobs, browsing knob and controls, two touch strips and transport controls
Display Clear View display for displaying parameter names and values
Connections USB, MIDI, 1/4″ jack
System Requirements (PC) Windows 7 or 8, Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 4 GB RAM (6 GB recommended for large KONTAKT Instruments), USB 2.0 or higher (cable included), Requires power connection (adapter included)
System Requirements (Mac) Mac OS X 10.8 or 10.9, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM (6 GB recommended for large KONTAKT Instruments), USB 2.0 or higher (cable included), Requires power connection (adapter included)
Software/Library Controller Editor software (Komplete is an additional extra)
Dimensions (cms) 100.2 x 27.43 x 8.58
Weight (kgs) 6.350