Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers – Which to Choose?

Midi keyboards are great, but if you’re not a keyboard player they pose a few challenges in live performances as well as in the recording studio. Also, what if you want to create beats using midi? It’s not ideal to start hitting out drum sounds on a keyboard, particularly if keys aren’t your instrument.

Luckily, there are also devices which work just like midi keyboards but play more like drums. They have pads instead of keys, which you can hit with sticks or push with your fingers. These controllers can be used with virtual instruments in sequencing software to create beats and/or to trigger samples. As midi controllers, they can also be set up to melodic instruments, so you can create tunes on them.


In this article we’re going to deep dive into the key considerations when purchasing one of these midi drum pad controllers, as well as recommend our favourite picks from the bunch.

If you need to dash, here’s a quick glance of what we review:

At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers on the Market


Akai Professional MPD218 | MIDI Drum Pad Controller with Software Download Package (16 pads / 6 knobs / 6 buttons)

Akai Professional MPD218
  • Velocity-sensitive and aftertouch pads
  • Comes with DAW software (Ableton Live Lite etc.)
  • Powered by USB

Alesis SamplePad Pro | 8-Pad Percussion and Sample-Triggering Instrument with SD Card Slot & 5-Pin MIDI In/Out

Alesis SamplePad Pro
  • Large pads
  • 200 internal sounds
  • Play like a real kit

Korg nanoPAD2 Slim-Line USB MIDI Pads - Black

Korg nanoPAD2 Slim-Line USB Midi Pads
  • Create melodies and harmonies
  • Easy to use
  • Works with iPads

Akai Professional LPD8 | Ultra-Portable USB Drum Pad MIDI Controller for Laptops (8 Pads / 8 Knobs)

Akai Professional LPD8
  • Backlit pads
  • Bus powered by USB
  • Good value for money

Ableton Push 2 Controller Instrument

Ableton Push 2
  • 64 velocity-sensitive pads
  • Able to trigger multiple samples
  • Large sonic palette

Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller and Sequencer, white, S

Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller and Sequencer
  • Highly versatile
  • Broad connectivity
  • Includes a kensington lock

QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller

QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller
  • Small (size of iPad)
  • Lightweight
  • Extremely responsive to velocity

Novation Launchpad Pro Professional 64-Pad Grid Performance Instrument for Ableton with MIDI I/O

Novation Launchpad Pro Grid Controller
  • Comes with DAW (Ableton Live)
  • Multifunctional, highly colorful pads
  • Create light shows as well as music

IK Multimedia iRig Pads MIDI groove controller for iPhone, iPad and Mac/PC - IPIRIGPADSIN

iK Multimedia iRig Pads Midi Groove Controller
  • Comes with large amount of samples
  • Extremely portable and lightweight

ROLI Lightpad Block M Wireless Controller

ROLI Lightpad Block M Wireless Controller
  • Wireless and extremely small
  • Great for sharing music on the fly
  • Reactive touch-surface

Still here? Awesome. Here’s what we’re going to cover. Feel free to jump to an area of interest, but for full effect read from top to bottom.

What is a Midi Drum Pad Controller?

A drum pad controller is a Midi interface (‘Midi’ stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) which works by sending data, made of 1s and 0s, to trigger sounds.

The Midi messages are sent from the instrument itself to the virtual instruments within sequencing software such as Reason, Ableton or Cubase. As you hit a pad on the machine, there are no end of sounds you can trigger when it’s hooked up to your Mac or PC.

You play a drum pad controller by hitting the pads which are assigned to different sounds, either with sticks or with your fingers (depending on the model). These controllers are popular both on stage and in the studio.

How Do Midi Controllers Work?

Midi controllers work by sending Midi data to virtual instruments to create sounds. Drum pad controllers have pads which you hit to trigger samples which can be drum sounds or anything else you assign them to.

These pads usually respond to pressure and velocity in order to give the drums (and other samples) a more ‘real’ sound.

Many controllers have built-in sounds already, including full kit sounds, so that you don’t need to hook it up to any additional (virtual) instruments before you can start creating beats. Many also come with compatible software, so that you can get the most out of them straight away.

Benefits of Drum Pad Controllers

There are a couple of reasons why you might opt for using a drum pad controller, either as opposed to a real drum kit or as an alternative to a Midi keyboard.


Drum pad controllers are extremely portable, especially when compared to drum kits. They are usually smaller than a laptop.

They can be a real alternative to an electric or even an acoustic drum kit for musicians who are tight on space but need to play a live beat.

Drum pad controllers also often are USB powered, so you don’t even need to worry about finding an extra plug socket.

Ease of Use

Drum pad controllers can be a lot easier to control than midi keyboards. The buttons are easy to press, light up as they are activated and make the process of making music a bit more accessible.

If you’re already savvy with your software, these controllers can work like a fast track to achieving whichever instrumental sounds are in your head.

Buying Guide – What to Consider Before Purchasing a Midi Drum Pad

There are a few things to consider whilst choosing which midi drum pad controller is right for you.

Types of Midi Drum Pad Controller

There are some key differences between some drum pad controllers, which might affect your buying decision.

USB Powered

A lot of drum pad controllers are USB powered (also known as bus powered). These devices don’t need an additional adapter and can be a godsend for those who like to create beats as they travel.

If you’re unsure about whether there will always be a plug socket available as you work, this is an essential feature to look out for so that you can power your instrument from your (charged) device.

AC Adapter Powered

The drum pad controllers that aren’t USB powered will require a plug socket as they are powered via an AC adapter.

If you’re using the pad controller in the studio, where plug sockets are aplenty, then this kind of power source will be just fine.

How Many Pads?

The amount of pads on these controllers can vary from 6 all the way up to 64. How many pads do you need? More might immediately sound like a better option, but if you want to hit it with sticks then 6 large ones might be more appropriate than lots of small ones.

If you require a large number of samples in a single session, 16 or more pads is likely to suit you the best. If you are looking for something that’s more similar to a drum kit, 6 or 8 should suffice. Some of these controllers have the option for you to add extra pads (which can be more drum-like), or even foot pedals to trigger bass and hi hat sounds.

Features You Can Expect to Find on Midi Drum Pad Controllers

There are some features which are common to almost all midi drum pad controllers.

Velocity and Pressure Sensitive Pads

Most midi drum pad controllers have pads which are sensitive to velocity and pressure. These react according to how hard you hit the pads. If you hit it with some force, the sound that’s triggered will be louder, if you tickle it lightly, the sound will be soft.

This enables you to get dynamic range in your drum sounds, and makes the sounds feel a bit more natural and authentic.

This feature is essential for those who want to achieve realistic instrumental sounds.

Fully Lit or Partially Backlit Pads

Some of these controllers have pads with fully illuminate, thanks to an LED, whilst they’re in use. Others have pads which light up at the back.

If you’re looking for a colourful experience, or if you need to be able to easily see what you’re doing in the dark, pads which light up fully might be more suited to you. If you think that this might be distracting, pads which are partially backlit could be more appropriate for your needs.

Volume Faders or Knobs

As well as pads, most of these controllers also have volume faders or knobs. These allow you to adjust the volume of individual pads as well as the overall output(s).

Faders are sometimes preferred as they feel a little more ‘hands on’ and can be more visual, however knobs which work like dials are just as effective at giving you the control that you need.

USB Connectors

USB connectors are the norm in Midi drum pad controllers, as they are most commonly used in combination with laptops or desktop PCs or Macs.

Some drum pad controllers can also be powered by USB, making them extra-portable and a little more environmentally friendly. These are well-suited to musicians who travel a lot.

Extra Features that Might be Useful

As well as the essentials, there are some additional features which you may or may not want on your drum pad controller.


Aftertouch is found on higher end devices and enables the user to add techniques like vibrato and a volume boost after the initial triggering of the sound.

This can be really useful when creating melodic lines using pads as it gives you extra control over your sounds and makes it possible to play with more style.

Flam / Roll Buttons

Some of these drum pad controllers have buttons which will instantly insert a flam or a roll to your drum sample.

This enables you to create complex beats and use realistic techniques that a drummer on a kit would be likely to include.

If you play drums, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy this feature as not having it could prove frustrating.

Key Settings

Some of these Midi controllers have settings which allow you to set the key of your pads so that your melodies work. This is like a ‘transpose’ button on a keyboard and it makes it easy to add a melody that fits with the rest of your song.

It will be useful to those who want to use drum pad controllers for creative purposes beyond making beats.

Extra Outputs

Drum pad controllers sometimes have extra outputs, as well as the obvious USB one. Some have vintage Midi outs, so that you can connect them up to old fashioned synths and use their sounds.

Some drum pad controllers also have headphone sockets as well as stereo outputs for sound, so you can listen to what you’re doing privately and/or create beats without disturbing others.

Some of these devices also include outputs for sustain pedals, which can give an additional ambience to the music you create.

Round Up & Mini Reviews – Best Midi Drum Pads

Akai Professional MPD218 | Midi Drum Pad Controller

Akai Professional MPD218 | MIDI Drum Pad Controller with Software Download Package (16 pads / 6 knobs / 6 buttons)

A 16 pad drum controller, the Akai MPD218 builds on the previous iterations of the MPD, but improves in many ways, making it a great choice for a midi drum pad controller.

As well as the 16 pads, there are 3 banks which means that 48 sounds can be accessible during a performance. There are also 6 dials which can be assigned to control volume, pitch, automation and more.

The pads benefit from being both velocity-sensitive and having aftertouch, so you can have some real control over the sounds you create.

This drum pad controller is slim, sturdy and easy to use. It’s compatible with both mac and PC and there is also iOS compatibility when the device is used in conjunction with a camera connection kit (sold separately).

The Akai Professional MPD218 is perfect for musicians who want to make expressive beats and need some software as well as hardware before they can get started.

It will be less suited to those who want something that they can play with sticks, like a kit.


  • Pads are velocity-sensitive and have aftertouch, which enables expressive playing.
  • It comes with Ableton Live Lite and Reason software, as well as Akai Pro MPC Essentials, SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion and Big Bang Universal Drums making it perfect for those who are new to making beats and/or triggering samples.
  • Powered by USB – there’s no need for an additional plug.
  • Lots of sensitivity in the pads allowing for intuitive soft or loud playing


  • Pads are backlit rather than fully lit, so can be less easy to see in a dark environment.
  • Although 48 settings are attainable, switching between 3 banks might not be practical mid-performance.
  • The pads are so sensitive, they can trigger double-hits even when you just tap them once.


Alesis SamplePad Pro

Alesis SamplePad Pro | 8-Pad Percussion and Sample-Triggering Instrument with SD Card Slot & 5-Pin MIDI In/Out

The Alesis SamplePad Pro is an instrument that’s ready to play straight away, as it has 200 built in sounds as well as the ability to trigger samples from your computer. There are 10 full drum kits to choose from, and you can install additional sounds to the machine using an SD card.

There are 8 velocity-sensitive pads, which are highlighted with blue light when in use, and there are also inputs to allow for additional pads. As well as this, the Alesis SamplePad Pro has inputs for foot pedals, so you can control your bass drum and hi hat sounds with your feet as you would on a real kit.

As well as the pads and the pedals if you add them, this Midi controller has multiple outputs, including a headphone socket and plugs into your computer via USB (although it’s powered by an AC adapter). The instrument is compatible with both Windows and Mac.

It’s the perfect drum pad controller for those who already drum, as the option to add foot pedals means that you can transfer your drumming skills to it, and you can incorporate it into your existing electronic or even acoustic kit.

It will be less suited to those who want something simple to get started with, or for people who require something that can be powered by USB.


  • You can add pads and pedals to make this play like a real kit.
  • The large pads are responsive and suited to being hit with drum sticks.
  • There are 200 internal sounds already included, so it works as an instrument straight away.


  • Needs to be plugged into the mains.
  • It’s suited mainly to those who already play drums.
  • It’s expensive.


Korg nanoPAD2 Slim-Line USB Midi Pads

Korg nanoPAD2 Slim-Line USB MIDI Pads - Black

The Korg nanoPAD2 is a fun and easy to use controller which is suitable for creating melodies and harmonies on, as well as beats and rhythms.

It has 16 velocity-sensitive pads which, as well as being capable of assigning drum sounds to, can be set to scales which make melodic creation possible and easy.

Up to 4 pads can be played simultaneously, so you can create chords, and there’s an X Y touchpad which works a bit like a Kaossilator so you can have more sounds than just those you make with the pads.

It’s very budget-friendly, light and easy to use, so it will suit the creative musician who wants to have fun and establish new musical ideas.

It will be less suited to those who need a large amount of sample options and superior controllability, as this is more of a competent all-rounder than a professional device.


  • Works with iPads as well as PCs and Macs.
  • It’s very budget friendly and easy to use.
  • Includes an option to set a key for the pads, and an X Y touchpad so it works well for creating melodies and harmonies as well as beats.


  • The pads don’t light up.
  • It’s more of an all-rounder than something that’s great for drums.
  • The pads don’t feel as stable as on some higher end drum pad controllers.


Akai Professional LPD8

Akai Professional LPD8 | Ultra-Portable USB Drum Pad MIDI Controller for Laptops (8 Pads / 8 Knobs)

The Akai Professional LPD8 has 8 pads and 8 corresponding dials, which makes it easy to control and to play with.

There are also 4 banks in this interface, so you can store settings and switch between them, which can come in useful when you need to have fast access to a certain kit or selection of samples.

It is bus powered by USB and the pads are lit from behind so it’s easy to see which ones are being used.

This compact and budget-friendly drum pad controller comes with a free Reason download, making it perfect for those who are just getting started and don’t have much money to spend.

Like the nanoPad, it will be less suited to those who require triggers with superior sensitivity and a large number of pads. Despite the ‘professional’ name, it’s less professional than some of the higher end products.


  • 8 corresponding dials for the 8 pads makes it very controllable and easy to use.
  • Bus powered by USB.
  • Budget friendly.


  • Pads are highlighted rather than fully lit, so can be less easy to see in a dark environment.
  • Switching the 8 pads between their multiple functions can be impractical on stage.
  • The pads aren’t as sensitive as on higher end drum pad controllers.


Ableton Push 2

Ableton Push 2 Controller Instrument

The Ableton Push 2 has 64 pads, making it extremely well suited to electro musicians who are likely to need access to a lot of samples at once, including drum sounds.

There are options slice, stretch or shorten samples, so that they always stay in time with your music. There’s also a built in screen where you can access a huge bank of inbuilt sounds to assign to your pads.

The pads themselves are velocity-sensitive and have aftertouch, so you can hold and manipulate samples after they’re triggered. There are also recording options built in to the software so you can capture musical ideas as they are born.

The Ableton Push 2 is perfect for electronic musicians who take the triggering, manipulating and mixing of samples seriously.

It will be less suited to those who want a quick and easy way of achieving drum kit sounds.


  • 64 pads makes it easy to trigger multiple samples and to have a large palette.
  • Pads are velocity-sensitive and have aftertouch which enables vibrato effects.
  • The pads light up, so you can see what you’re doing in the dark.


  • Very expensive.
  • Although the features are fantastic, they could overwhelm somebody who is new to Midi controllers.
  • It’s more suited to triggering multiple samples than for drum sounds.


Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller and Sequencer

Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller and Sequencer, white, S

The Arturia BeatStep Pro is more than just a Midi controller. It can be used in combination with PCs, Midi-compatible synthesizers, drum machines and more, via its USB, Midi and gate outputs. There is an internal drum sequencer and two melodic sequencers, which enable you to create and record beats and tunes with the hardware and even capture the velocity of the notes as you play them.

This advanced piece of hardware has 16 light up, velocity and pressure sensitive pads and it also allows you to save up to 16 projects. As well as this, there are 16 dials which are fully customizable.

There’s a tap tempo control, a drum fill generator and an option to dequantize notes a little, to give your music a more natural, random feel.

There are multiple scale settings, from dorian to harmonic minor to the blues scale, so you can also get creative with your melodies quickly and easily. These scales are transposable to all keys.

The Arturia BeatStep Pro is perfect for those who perform with drum machines, synths and VSTs live on stage. This device can connect to them all and make the performing process smoother, more interesting and more fun. It’s also sturdy whilst slim enough to carry in your laptop case. It can be powered off your laptop, too, by USB.

It will be less suited to those who want something simple, that’s designed primarily for drum sounds. The BeatStep Pro, with its multiple functions, is designed to be made the most out of.


  • Large amount of features and broad connectivity makes it versatile, functional and creative.
  • Includes a kensington lock as an anti-theft device.
  • Includes a randomiser to make the drums sound more natural.


  • The enormous amount of features can be overwhelming to the beginner.
  • The included USB lead is flimsy and short.
  • It’s not that intuitive to use: you’ll need to read the manual.


QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller

QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller

The QueNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller is an extremely sensitive, modern Midi controller.

It has 16 pads, each of which are respond amazingly to velocity and there are 9 touch-sensitive faders. Each of these react according to exactly where they’re touched: the pads have different functions for each of the corners. When the pads and faders are in use, they light up in reds and greens. This makes the QuNeo a very visual tool that’s easy to see in darkened rooms.

The device is exactly the size of an iPad, and is powered via USB. This makes it extremely portable, but it still feels solid and robust.

To connect with more old fashioned Midi instruments, you will need an additional Midi expander, and there are no audio inputs or outputs on this pad controller. It’s designed with portability and laptop connectivity in mind.

This Midi drum pad controller will be well suited to electronic musicians or DJs who need to travel light, but don’t want to sacrifice features or quality in doing so.

It will be less suited to musicians who might need audio outputs or who want to use the controller with Midi synths or similar. Although it’s possible to connect this to Midi synths, doing so requires additional hardware that’s sold separately.


  • Small, lightweight and USB powered.
  • Pads are extremely responsive to velocity and have multiple pressure points.
  • It’s exactly the same size as an iPad, so can fit into accessories designed for the iPad.


  • There are no multiple outputs, so it’s less versatile than some of the other pad controllers.
  • The touch sensitivity might not suit those who prefer knobs.
  • The colour scheme of the lights – reds and greens – might not be clear underneath disco/stage lights.


Novation Launchpad Pro Grid Controller

Ableton Push 2 Controller Instrument

The Novation Launchpad Pro Grid Controller is a colourful, 64 pad controller.

It can be used as an enormous drum kit, enabling you to trigger up to 64 sounds in your beats. The pads are velocity and pressure sensitive, so your beats can be expressive and natural-sounding.

When you’re creating melodies, the pads automatically assign themselves to keys and modes, so you can create fitting tunes easily. The notes which fit appropriately are highlighted, whilst the remaining chromatic notes stay accessible but are lit more dully. As with the beats, these can be played with expression, thanks to the pressure-sensitive pads.

As well as a USB connection, which powers the device, there are Midi ports so you can connect it to older Midi synths.

This device was built with Ableton in mind, and it comes with a copy of Ableton Live as well as a load of Loopmaster loops, to get you started creating electro music immediately.

It’s well suited to electro musicians who perform live with Ableton and need something to trigger audio and video samples as well as to create tunes and beats.

It will be less suited to musicians who want something simple, to put together drum parts on.


  • Pads are extremely colourful, multifunctional and sensitive.
  • Comes with Ableton Live and a selection of Loopmaster loops to help you to get creative quickly.
  • You can use it to create light shows as well as music.


  • It’s not all that intuitive to use: you’ll need to read the instructions and/or be tech savvy.
  • Although it’s compatible with various software, it’s most suited to Ableton.
  • It’s a bit bulky compared to some of the other drum pad controllers.


iK Multimedia iRig Pads Midi Groove Controller

Ableton Push 2 Controller Instrument

As is suggested in the name, the iK Multimedia iRig Pads is the phone-friendly option here.

The iRig Pads Midi groove controller can be plugged in to your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac, and is also compatible with PC.

It’s the smallest drum pad controller in the list, and it also weighs next to nothing. You can plug it into your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch using the lightning cable provided, and create beats, melodies or mix tunes using a variety of Apps. Groovemaker 2, DJ Rig and SampleTank are all compatible with the controller. You can use it with the PC or Mac versions of this software too, or opt for using with Ableton, Fruity Loops, Garageband or MPC software after you plug in via USB. The iRig Pads controller comes with SampleTank software and a bank of sounds that you can get started with.

It has 16 multicoloured pads which are velocity sensitive, 2 Midi controllable knobs, 2 assignable push buttons and a Midi controllable fader.

This hardware will suit those who are loyal to Apple and already use iPads, iPhones or similar. It’s easy to get started when you use this as an addition to a small device you’re already comfortable with.

It will be less suited to those who want something for permanent use in the studio, as it’s designed with portability in mind and is made to work with handheld devices.


  • Extremely portable and lightweight.
  • Comes with software and a large amount of samples to get started with.
  • Pads are velocity-sensitive and light up according to how hard you’ve pressed them.


  • Android devices aren’t supported.
  • It doesn’t provide great value for money.
  • The controller and the software can take some getting used to if you’re new to making Midi music.


ROLI Lightpad Block M Wireless Controller

Ableton Push 2 Controller Instrument

The ROLI Lightpad is a wireless Midi controller which is also compatible with iPhone, iPad or iPod apps. It also works with Macs and PCs.

It has touch-activated pads and, as ‘Block’ suggests, you can join more than one of these together to increase your range of options. They connect magnetically, and each individual ‘block’ can fit in your hand. You can connect them and configure them in a way that suits you, to make beats, melodies, basslines and beyond.

You can shape sound by gliding across the touch screen, striking the lit-up pads or by pushing your fingers into the surface. The sensitive screen will ensure that your sounds are expressive, and there are features to record your beats and play them back.

When you’re creating melodies, you can switch between scales and arpeggios, so it’s easy to add fitting tunes to your beats and basslines.

The ROLI Lightpad Block is perfect for those who like to share the music they’re making, as they’re making it. It’s so portable and easy to use that you can carry it everywhere with you, and get it out when you’re with your musical friends. You could even join your blocks together.

It’s less suited to people who need something more permanently set up, or to people who use android devices.


  • Wireless and extremely small.
  • Extremely reactive touch-surface.
  • Can be expanded easily by adding further magnetic blocks.


  • Although it’s intuitive, it might not suit those who prefer to have knobs and faders.
  • Android devices aren’t supported.
  • The ‘Noise’ App it’s compatible with isn’t as advanced as other music making software.


So Which Should I Choose?

As you can see, which Midi drum pad controller you buy will largely depend on what kind of music you will be using it to make.

It you’re an electro musician, who uses Ableton seriously and needs something that can trigger up to 64 samples per performance, the Ableton Push 2 or the Novation Launchpad are both professional choices, which have all of the functionality you will need to create electro music in a live setting. The professionalism of these products is also reflected in the price.

A more budget-friendly option would be either the Akai Professional LPD8 or the Korg NanoPad 2. The Akai Professional LPD8 is more suited to those who want only percussive sounds, whereas the Korg NanoPad 2 is designed to make melodic and harmonic improvisation easy and fun.

The Akai Professional MPD218 is a bit more advanced than the two budget options. It also comes with all of the software you will need to get started, making it perfect for those new to creating Midi music.

Drummers who need something portable will do best with the Alesis SamplePad Pro, which plays just like a drum kit. It’s designed to be played with sticks and even has a foot pedal option so that you can use your drumming skills in the same way as on a real kit.

If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, the ROLI lightpad or the iK Multimedia iRig may be catching your eye or (or ‘i’). The iK Multimedia iRig is quite similar to controllers like the Akai models, whereas the ROLI is completely different with its entirely touch-based response system and the magnetic expansion possibilities.

iPad users might also be excited by the QueNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller, as it’s exactly iPad sized so can fit into any space you’d also put an iPad. It’s also extremely sensitive and each pad is capable of 4 different functions, at the same time.

The Arturia BeatStep Pro is a clear favourite for musicians who need to plug into instruments and drum machines, as well as computers (or phones), as its large amount of input and outputs gives it the best connectivity of the bunch.

Whether you’re an iPhone user, a multi-instrumentalist, an electro musician or a drummer who just wants something a bit more lightweight, we hope that these reviews have helped you to find the Midi drum pad controller that’s right for you.

Featured image source: aerate soundCC BY-SA 2.0

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