Best 88 Key Midi Controllers In 2018 – Buyer’s Guide

88 key midi controllers are a perfect replacement for a full size piano if you don’t have the space for one, and in many respects are an instrument in their own right.

However, they tend to lack the array of controls and DAW integration possessed by smaller midi keyboard controllers - so if you’re looking for a key controller that has music production as the focus then you might want to take a look at our other article which compares the best midi keyboard controllers for this purpose.

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best 88 Key Midi Controllers On The Market

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying the best 88 key midi controllers

  • If you’re coming from years of playing a piano, hammer-action and weighted keys will make you feel right at home. However, not all do and many use synth action and semi-weighted keys, so it might take some getting used if you opt for a controller using these designs instead.
  • Zoning allows you to assign different sounds to sections of your keyboard, allowing you to record as you would want the finished track to sound rather than having to alter it later on, and also allows you to have more flexibility when playing live.
  • DAW controls are often limited on 88 key controllers, so if you’ll be recording you may want to choose one which at the very least has transport controls.
  • Many midi controllers are developed for specific DAW software, so if you’re already committed to one in particular you’ll want a controller that will auto-map the hardware to the software or be prepared to spend a long time manually setting everything up.

Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best 88 key midi controllers.

5 Best 88 Key Midi Controllers

1. Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller (Editor's Choice)

Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller

This is the closest thing you’ll get to having a grand piano without needing to have a huge amount of space. It’s designed with pianists in mind rather than general music production purposes, so it’s not perfect for everybody - but for what it’s made for it performs brilliantly. The low rating is mostly a reflection of it’s lack of flexibility rather than any issues regarding quality.

  • Hammer-action, weighted and full size keys that feel like ivory plus three pedals (damper, sostenuto and soft)
  • Has a 5-pin midi and USB output plus a 5-pin midi input
  • Comes with the VPC editor to edit the touch curve and velocity of individual keys
  • No DAW controls at all
  • At 65lbs it’s not the most portable of instruments
  • No zoning

Let's take a look at this product...

2. Roland A-88

Roland A-88

More flexible than the Kawai VPC1, the A-88 is one of the best 88 key midi controllers for a musician who wants to be able to do more with a keyboard than just replicate a piano but doesn’t want to lose the feeling of playing one.

  • Much lighter than the VPC1 makes it more appropriate for gigging
  • Has zones which can be manually assigned
  • Has a number of controls, including the Roland D-Beam and integrates with the superNATURAL modelling technology for extremely realistic recreation of acoustic instruments
  • The A-88 uses a lever rather than a wheel for modulation
  • DAW application is still very limited
  • Requires installation of drivers to work

Let's take a look at this product...

3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Keyboard, 88-Key

A five star rating is something that we’re very cautious about giving, but the S88 from Native Instruments has earned it. It’s one of the best midi keyboard controllers ever designed for both pianists and general purposes. We can only spare so much room, so be absolutely sure to watch the demonstration video.

  • Fully weighted, hammer action keys with aftertouch
  • Automaps to several DAWs including KOMPLETE, Ableton Live and Cubase among others
  • Comes with a number of extremely useful software bundles and instrument patches
  • It’s very expensive
  • DAW controls are still fairly limited

Let's take a look at this product...

4. Nektar Impact LX88 (Budget Choice)

Nektar Impact LX88+

Unlike most 88 key midi controllers, the Nektar Impact LX88 has much more in common with fewer-key designs. Rather than trying to be a piano-alternative, it’s simply an expanded version of the DAW friendly midi key controllers. True to form, there are extensive manuals for using the LX88 with various software.

  • Keys are full size and velocity sensitive and velocity curves can be edited for your preferences
  • Automaps to most popular software such as Ableton and Cubase with assignable faders, knobs, pads, footswitch jacks, transport controls
  • Very light at only 18lbs
  • Keys are semi-weighted
  • No bundled software

Let's take a look at this product...

5. Akai Professional MPK88

Akai Professional MPK88 Hammer Action USB Midi Controller

If the Nektar Impact wasn’t good enough for your needs, the MPK88 is a step up in terms of power, giving you a much larger range of controls.

  • Keys are hammer-action and full weight, and the pads are the much loved MPC design used by many high end Akai designs
  • Huge range of controls and features such as assignable knobs and pads with multiple banks, faders and q-link controls
  • Has features from the MPC series, including note-repeat, swing and arpeggiator control for great rhythm work.
  • Only comes with Ableton live lite rather than the full version

So what are the best 88 key midi controllers?

For the best 88 key midi controllers that replicate a piano and does nothing else, go for the Kawai VPC1 if that’s all you need. If you want a little more technology and natural sounding sampling at your control, and an easier time travelling with your gear, the Roland A-88 is better for this purpose.

Now, if you want a true beast of a midi controller, the Komplete Kontrol s88 cannot be overlooked. It’s an amazing bit of gear that speaks for itself.

However, not everybody can afford the s88 and it’s also not the best way to control a DAW.

If you want the full range of functionality offered by fewer key variants, but simply can’t bear to go without the sheer size and feel of playing a proper piano keyboard, the Akai Pro MPK88 is the perfect choice. If that’s out of your budget, the Nektar Impact LX88 is a great alternative.

Image Credits:

Featured image source: Shunichi kourokiCC BY 2.0

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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