88 key midi controllers offer the melodic range and playability of a full-sized piano keyboard. Although many music producers opt for smaller midi keyboards, full-size controllers are essential for those who want up to seven octaves beneath their fingertips.
Some feel like a real acoustic piano, with velocity-sensitive weighted keys, sustain pedals and soft pedals. Others lack these features, but still offer a piano’s range often with additional features such as pitch shifters and modulation wheels. We review both these types in this guide to the best 88 key midi controller available.
If you’re in a rush, here are the products we review:
At a Glance – Our Pick of the Best 88 Key Midi Keyboard on the Market
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices, and customer reviews on Amazon.
Ok, let’s get started. Here’s what we cover in this article.
Table of Contents
- What is an 88 Key Midi Controller?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up and Reviews – Best 88 Key Midi Controller
- So, Which Should I Choose?
What is an 88 Key Midi Controller?
Midi keyboards or ‘controllers’ are used to control your DAW (digital audio workstation) software and often found in a recording studios. They’re also used by pianists to simulate grand pianos when they need something lightweight.
88 keys is a full ‘piano-size’ keyboard, but you can, of course, get smaller models such as 73, 61 or 49 key ones. We’ll stick to the 88 variety for the purpose of this article.
One of the main benefits is creativity. Being full-size, they let you reach the seven octaves you’d find on a standard piano, but many also feature ‘octave’ features which let you go even lower or higher than a piano.
Access to so many notes allows you to play parts that are impossible on a smaller keyboard. Some have additional midi drum pads so you can also use them to make beats too.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
In terms of key action, a weighted midi keyboard has hammer action keys that are weighted via a small hammer which is attached by a lever system to the key, somewhat replicating a piano’s system.
- Lower-end products often aren’t weighted at all.
- On low to mid-range products, you’ll find semi-weighted keys that are controlled by springs and have a slight piano feel, giving you a little expression.
- Graded hammer action keys are the best kind, and play like a piano. It’s a must for those who want to emulate a piano on stage or in a recording.
Some of these products have what are called ‘zones’. These are sections of notes which are assigned to a particular sound. If you want different settings assigned to different note ranges, it can be really useful.
Maybe you want your high notes to have an added reverb, but not your lower-end notes? Zones will allow you to achieve this.
If you plan to use a DAW, you might want to consider a keyboard with transport controls. Transport controls let you control your DAW without having to a mouse or trackball – so you can play, record, stop, pause, etc, greatly increasing your workflow.
Pitch and Modulation Wheels
The pitch wheel is used to bend the pitch of your notes and leads to some cool sounds. The modulation wheel is most commonly used to add vibrato to the note that’s being played. Like the pitch wheel, it’s incredibly flexible and can lead to some cool, fun sounds.
Usually, they’re powered via USB into our laptops or PCs. However, as well as a USB connector, some of these midi keyboards also have midi ins and outs which let you attach additional midi instruments or devices.
Connectors for foot pedals are also something to look out for if you are likely to use sustain or softener pedals – some midi keyboards also have assignable foot pedal inputs.
If you want to power your controller via your laptop, make sure that it’s bus-powered. Some of these products require an additional mains socket, as an AC or DC adapter power them.
Of course, it’s not a problem for some people, but a bus-powered instrument can come in handy when you’re not sure about the mains supply situation.
Aftertouch allows midi data to be sent after a key is pressed. It can control vibrato, volume or whatever else you set it to, and can give you an extra level of control in your keyboard playing. This is a feature that’s most commonly found on the higher end units.
Product Round-up and Reviews – Best 88 Key Midi Controller
Yamaha are a household name, and the P71 offers everything you’d expect from a market leader.
Its standout feature are the graded hammer keys which mimic the feel of the real acoustic piano. Touch sensitivity can be adjusted too from a soft to a hard feel.
It sounds divine too, thanks to Yamaha’s AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) sampling that uses digital technology to record the sound of an acoustic piano. In essence, it creates a deep, rich and more spacious sound by using pairs of waveforms (left and right) captured with two microphones.
It’s particularly small (depth of less than 12 inches) and light (25 lbs) too, so it saves on space.
- True stereo sound recorded from a full concert grand piano
- Includes Yamaha’s GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) for realistic feel – giving you heavier touch in the low end and lighter touch in the high end, just like on a real piano
- 4 levels of touch-sensitivity: fixed, soft, medium (default), and hard
- Small, maintaining a modest footprint in your home.
Alesis have successfully carved out a niche as good budget option when keyboards. have made a name for themselves. None more represents this value for money than the Alesis Recital, one of the cheapest 88-key beginner keyboards around.
What sets this apart from many of its competitors is the quality on offer, despite the price. With it, you get semi-weighted keys with adjustable touch response, not commonly found at the budget end.
The five built-in voices (acoustic, electric, organ, synth, and bass) all sound rather nice, plus built in reverb and chorus effects. It also comes packed with dual 20-watt speakers which is plenty loud. Of course you get USB-MIDI output too, as well as an onboard learning mode and built-in metronome.
Overall, it’s fantastic value for money if you’re just starting out.
- Semi-weighted keys, not often found on budget models
- 5 built-in voices: Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Synth, and Bass
- 20-watt speakers
- Comes with a reverb and chorus effect
Now to the premium keyboard on the list, the Kawai VPC1 is a real beauty that offers a piano-like playing experience.
The full-size, hammer action keys feel like ivory, and the included three pedals means that you can pretend you’re on a grand piano. As well as this, it has midi input and outputs, as well as USB, so you can connect it to other compatible synths if you need a vintage sound.
It comes with the VPC editing software, which allows you to edit the touch curve and velocity of individual keys, giving you a superior level of control, and you can also choose whether you power the Kawai VPC1 by USB or AC. There’s an included music rest, and this piano has the aesthetic of a grand piano.
Without a doubt, this is the most suited to those who love the look, feel, and sound of a real piano. It will be less suited to digital producers, who want extra knobs, wheels, and faders that this traditional-looking instrument doesn’t have. Its weight also makes it prohibitive for travel.
- Hammer action weighted, and full-size keys that feel like ivory, plus three pedals make this very akin to a piano playing experience.
- It comes with a 5-pin and USB output, plus a 5-pin input so that you can connect additional controllers.
- It ships with the VPC editor so that you can edit the touch curve and velocity of individual keys.
M-Audio Keystation 88 II
This is a budget-friendly, lightweight product. It has pitch and mod wheels to enable powerful performances, as well as an octave key to give you more control over your range. It comes with velocity-sensitive keys, though not weighted, and there are connectors for both sustain and expression pedals. It also has its own volume control and record, play and stop buttons and can be powered by either USB or via an adaptor, so you can choose which suits you best.
It will be suited to musicians on a budget and want a keyboard to make melodies or play chords on. As there are no drum pads on this controller, it will be less suited to those who want to make beats.
- It’s budget-friendly and lightweight.
- Pitch shift, modulation and octave controls which enable expressive performance.
- Four zones, so you have the creative options of 4 channels in one instrument.
The StudioLogic SL88 also has a simplistic look to it. It has assignable joysticks and a small screen that is navigated through via a wheel dial. There are also three assignable function buttons. You get hammer action keys with aftertouch so you can have full control over the expression of your playing. There are also 4 programmable zones so you can edit the sounds differently throughout the keyboard’s range. It also comes with 4 programmable pedal connectors and a rail system that can be used in combination with sheet music or laptop holder (not included).
The StudioLogic SL88 will fit well in a recording studio, as it is robust, reliable and multi-functional. It will be less suited to musicians who want something to carry from gig to gig, as it’s pretty heavy and can take some time to learn how to control.
- Four zones, so you have the creative options of 4 channels in one instrument.
- Four programmable pedal inputs.
- Weighted midi keyboard – weighted keys with hammer action, giving it the feel of a piano (and there’s also aftertouch for additional control).
M-Audio Hammer 88
The M-Audio Hammer 88 has hammer action keys that give it the feel of a real piano. There’s also a music sheet stand included, so it’s excellent right away for those who perform classical or session piano performances. There are pitch shift and modulation wheels to enable extra expression and creativity, though there is no aftertouch function on this keyboard. It’s compatible with iOS via the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit and comes with Ableton Live Lite so you can get playing right away.
There are no pads or zones on this keyboard, so it might not suit those who like to get super techy. However, this is perfectly suited to pianists who perform in a variety of venues or styles, and it includes some virtual instrument settings which sound like real pianos.
It has the option of being powered via USB or an external power supply.
- Hammer action, weighted keys give it the feel of a real piano.
- There’s a music sheet stand included, which makes it great for piano-style performances or for playing by lead sheets.
- Pitch shift and modulation wheels enable expressive performances.
Nektar Impact LX88
The Nektar Impact LX88 is an advanced midi keyboard with an abundance of functions. As well as the 88 velocity-sensitive keys, you get 8 drum pads, 9 assignable buttons, and 9 faders. There are pitch bend and modulation wheels and 2 zones. It’s compatible with most DAWs including Cubase, Logic, Reason and more. It has a sustain pedal as well as a USB and midi output and has an option DC connection. Unfortunately, with semi-weighted keys there is no aftertouch.
- Automaps to most popular DAWs including Cubase and Ableton, with assignable knobs, faders, pads, footswitch jacks, and transport controls.
- It’s very light at only 18lbs.
Icon ICOK iKeyboard8X
The Icon ICOK iKeyboard8X is a slim, lightweight controller with robust metal casing. It features pitch and modulation wheels, and the keys are velocity-sensitive (not hammer action, and there’s no aftertouch). But the portability of this keyboard in some ways makes up for that. It comes with 18 assignable LED buttons that are easy to use and see, and the iKeyboard8X comes with iMap software to make it easy to map the device to various DAWs. It has a midi output and USB port and is also bus-powered.
- It’s extremely portable and lightweight.
- Velocity-sensitive keys, so you can deliver an expressive performance.
- Pitch and modulation wheels, which give you controllability and creative options.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 is an advanced controller with fully weighted, hammer action keys and several built-in sound controls. It also has aftertouch, so you can keep on controlling your signal after you’ve pushed the button. The built-in sound controls are buttons that adjust EQ, attack and release time and tone settings. This makes it one of the most hands-on devices, as you don’t need to click in your DAW to make adjustments. It’s can also automap to several DAWs, including KOMPLETE, Ableton Live, and Cubase, which is great for those who want to plug in, get going and get creative.
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 is suited to producers who use a variety of sequencing software. Despite having fully weighted keys, it will be less suited to those looking for an authentic piano-like playing experience, due to its additional features and digital focus.
- Automaps to several DAWs including KOMPLETE, Ableton Live, and Cubase.
- It comes with compatible software bundles and instrument packages.
Arturia KeyLab 88
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The Arturia KeyLab 88 has hammer action, velocity sensitive keys with aftertouch. 16 drum pads, 9 faders, 12 rotary encoders, and 10 assignable buttons make this a beast. There are pitch and modulation wheels that give you creative and expressive playing, plus an integrated sheet music / iPad stand so that you can perform with ease. It comes with Analog Lab 2 software and Arturia Piano V so you can get started right away, and there are midi, sustain pedal and USB connections. There’s also an adaptor input, as this keyboard is not bus-powered. It has an additional shelf for a laptop or other instruments and has wooden sides that make it look at home in any studio.
It might be less suited to regular gigging, as it’s quite heavy and might be hard to find an appropriate case for.
- Velocity sensitive, hammer action keys with aftertouch.
- 9 faders, 12 rotary knobs, and 16 pads give you loads of creative options and control.
- There are connectors for sustain and expression pedals as well as an AUX footswitch connector.
The Roland A-88 is another high-end option. It is extremely special as the only one on the list which has progressive hammer action keys. They also feel like ivory, and there are connections for a sustain pedal and two assignable foot pedals. You can really make this play like a grand piano. It has split keyboard options, so you can get creative with your sounds and it is lightweight and easy to transport or store away. There are assignable knobs and switches, as well as octave and transpose buttons to shift the range of your instrument. It comes with an included sustain pedal and an AC adapter, although the keyboard can be bus-powered if you prefer.
It’s straightforward to plug in and play, making it perfect for those who want to play the piano at home but perhaps don’t have the space for a real one that would achieve their desired sound. It might be less suited to those who want to gig, as it doesn’t come in a particularly sturdy casing.
- It has progressive hammer action weighted keys with an ivory-feel, so it’s very piano-like.
- Connections for a sustain pedal and two assignable foot pedals.
- It’s lightweight and easy to transport.
So, Which Should I Choose?
If you’re looking for a midi keyboard that plays, sounds, and even looks like a piano, the Kawai VPC1 offers everything: superb looks, sound, and feel. But it will cost you a pretty penny.
The best budget option is the Alesis Recital, nothing gives you quite as much at such a low price point.
The best all-rounder is Yamaha’s P71, superb sound and feel at a decent price.