MIDI keyboards are a valuable asset when it comes to music production. These devices provide a broad scope of features and controls that can simulate piano keys, strings, guitars, and other classic orchestral instruments. On top of this, you can create complex drum loops, synth patterns, and make some highly-interesting sound design elements to implement into your tracks. All by twisting and tweaking a few knobs and buttons! Each MIDI keyboard is different. That’s why we’re going to run through an affordable selection of options to help you pick a model that is right for you.
Note: This list is specific to MIDI keyboard controllers. If you are looking for a keyboard synthesizer only, some of these products may not suit your needs. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, check out: the difference between MIDI keyboards and keyboard synthesizers first.
In this article, we’re going to review the following MIDI keyboard controllers:
- Arturia MiniLab MKII
- MIDIPLUS 32-Key AKM320
- Nektar Impact LX25+
- Alesis V49
- IK Multimedia iRig Keys Pro
- Novation Launchkey 49
- M-Audio Keystation 88 II
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32
- M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3
- Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
Why Should I Purchase a MIDI Keyboard?
We guess you’re probably at a stage in your productions where you may feel the need to add some extra flavor to your projects. That’s precisely where MIDI keyboards come in. They allow you to explore the wonderful world of live-sounding instruments and synths without having to go out and purchase these items and hardware individually. This not only speeds up your workflow but gives you full creativity when it comes to the building blocks of your tracks and the endless possibilities when it comes to enhancing your live performances.
MIDI keyboards give you a reliable, compact workstation that you can drop samples into and mimic these instruments and sounds to an exceptional degree! These sounds can then be fed back into your DAW to manipulate further: drop them into a sequencer or sampler, edit and remix loops, build melodies, drum patterns, add oscillators, mess with envelopes – you really can do so much more using this powerful all-in-one tool! Which is why MIDI keyboards are an absolute must for any producer serious about making beats.
How We Chose:
What we look for in a top-quality MIDI keyboard comprises of the below factors:
- Price – because you shouldn’t have to spend an arm and a leg for a good one.
- Quality and durability – durable build material means it will last longer.
- Portability – makes it easy to transport and fit into a backpack if needed.
- Feel of the keys – they shouldn’t be too small or slim, so you can’t press them properly.
- Responsiveness of the controls – to pick up on any latency issues or delay
- DAW compatibility – to ensure they work with your music software and programs
- Software included – we chose ones with reputable software and some freebies included
- Ease of setup – the installation process and time it takes to get started.
MIDI keyboards seriously cut a lot of the extra work and carve out more time for you to play around with new concepts and ideas as a result. They let you pay more attention to the details and micro elements in your tracks that would otherwise prove very limited through your DAW alone. We concluded that every single unit we tested in this list has their own unique qualities and features, and most if not all, would be suitable for both beginners and professional musicians.
However, we have to say that the Arturia MiniLab is our undefeated champion for the best MIDI keyboards. Not only did it take minutes to set up and was compatible with all the popular DAWs we tested it with, we found the keys to be a complete pleasure to the touch with just the right amount of sensitivity. Even before we messed with the velocity curves! This was also something we found to be quite fiddly and long-winded with the other models, and you definitely don’t want this problem if you’re going to be using your keyboard in a live setting.
The responsiveness of both the trigger pads and transport controls were also impressive, and will allow you to get creative with sounds and loops in your projects. All in all, the MiniLab is a beautiful, fully-loaded controller with one of the most affordable price tags on the market – not to mention a sleek, strong and reliable build quality that’s made to last. We wouldn’t hesitate to add to our own set up, let alone recommend it for anyone else’s!
How do I connect my MIDI keyboard?
Depending on what you’re planning to connect, most new age MIDI keyboards can simply be connected to a desktop or laptop via a USB cable, but you’ll need a USB to MicroUSB if you plan to hook it up to a smart device or tablet. There are also converters you can purchase separately for connecting traditional MIDI gear too.
What does the key action mean on MIDI keyboards?
Key action is the reaction of a key being pressed into its spring on a keyboard, then the motion of it returning to its original position. The main types of key action found in synthesizers and MIDI keyboards are semi-weighted, hammer-weighted and synth key action. Each one reacts according to the small weights which are added to the individual keys to make the release in the springs faster or slower. Most professional pianists tend to use semi-weighted action keys, as they are less sensitive and they can play faster.
Is there any advantage buying an 88-key device?
If you want to take your controller on the move with you, a keyboard with 49 keys would probably be more appropriate for the size and easy portability. Plus, you’ll still be able to play it with 2 hands and still get the dynamic range of keys to create more melodic patterns instead of simple notes and occasional pads. 88 keys are better for musicians and producers who need the more realistic feel and function of a piano, but even 61 or 76 keys is probably enough to cover both of those needs.