5 Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers – Buyer’s Guide

The best midi drum pad controllers are an instrument in their own rightWhether you’re using them for live performance or in the studio creating and mixing new tracks, they should feel like a natural extension of you as a musician and your DAW software. 

Also check out our choice of the best midi keyboard controllers and the best drum machines for live performances!

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Midi Drum Pad 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 midi drum pad controllers

  • The pads should ideally be sensitive to velocity - allowing you to control how soft or strong the beat is without having to manually adjust it later on in your DAW
  • Ease of programmability will enable you to push your drum pad further in live scenarios and increase your workflow in the studio
  • Integration with DAW software that you’re already familiar with is a plus, but the packaged DAW that many drum pads come with should be factored in as it may be an improvement over your current choice
  • User interface should be conductive to high speed work, so dedicated controls for as many functions as possible is a plus, but a well-designed layout is a must to prevent confusion.

Should you wish to grow upon your home recording equipment studio, check out this excellent article on the Best USB Audio Interfaces!

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...

5 Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers 

1. Akai MPD218 (Editor's Choice)

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.

  • Shipped with Ableton Lite DAW software as well as Akai Pro MPC Essentials, SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion and Big Bang Universal Drums
  • Lots of sensitivity in the pads allowing for intuitive soft or loud playing
  • 3 banks for the pads plus the encoder knobs gives a lot of flexibility
  • Unintentional notes are a frequent occurrence
  • Aftertouch feature can clip the sound of samples with long decay or reverb
  • The pads quickly gather lots of dust and need daily cleaning in order to keep the MPD218 looking good

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2. Maschine Studio

Native Instruments Maschine Studio, Black

Not just a drum pad controller, the Maschine Studio is a sophisticated piece of kit that can function as a complete DAW (including two screens) with only rare circumstances requires mouse and software input.

  • The full colour screen and well designed software allow the Maschine Studio to be used to create beats without needing to touch your mouse once throughout the process
  • Comes with full soundbanks and library of Maschine 2.0, plus the DAW software
  • Many of the most useful functions have dedicated controls to speed up workflow
  • Can’t be powered by USB, requires mains power supply
  • An expensive bit of gear that will require a serious investment
  • The Maschine Studio works best as a fully integrated hardware DAW, and if it’s only needed as a drum pad controller it’s extra functions won’t be needed

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3. Alesis Control Pad

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

An 8 pad controller designed to be use with sticks, making it an unusual design among midi drum pad controllers.

  • Very responsive to velocity and pressure
  • Is durable, which is an important factor for a drum pad designed for stick use
  • Can be expanded with other Alesis electronic drum components
  • Adjusting pad sensitivity can be a laborious process, and pads can sometimes trigger without being hit
  • Pads are quite small for fast playing or solos
  • Doesn’t store samples or produce audio, it is purely a controller (along the lines of a mouse) to be used with your DAW

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4. Novation Launchpad Pro


A very common midi controller designed for use with Ableton Live, it’s an excellent midi drum pad controller for live playing.

  • Very lightweight and compact for travelling
  • Capable of creating beautiful light shows with its RGB LED pads
  • Full 8x8 grid of pads and completely customisable with two blank “User” modes makes it a very easy pad controller to fit to your needs
  • There are no mixing knobs or sliders, and the emulated capabilities prevent smooth live playing
  • Adjusting mixing levels is done in ‘steps’ that lack smoothness
  • Can be difficult to set up and use for the first time, requiring the exact right drivers and versions of software

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5. MPC Studio

Akai Professional MPC Studio Black Music Production Controller with 7+GB Sound Library Download

The MPC Studio is definitely one of the best midi drum pad controllers for studio use, although the Maschine Studio is a strong competitor on that front.

  • An absolutely staggering amount of drum kits, synth sounds and more to experiment with gives this drum machine a life of it’s own
  • A decent sized screen is built in so you can use this live without also needing to hook it up to a laptop or tablet for a display, which serves to enhance it’s live gig usability
  • It’s a very slim piece of kit, making it perfect for travelling
  • The interface is quite cluttered
  • Being only an inch or so thick, it can be damaged quite easily if you aren’t careful
  • This might be slightly too advanced for total beginners, so if you’re hoping to grab something to quickly replace your drummer who’s not feeling very well on the night of a gig you will need to have invested the time learning the ins and outs of all of the sounds and functions available

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So What Are The Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers?

The extreme end of drum pad controllers allow you to do just about everything you need to from the hardware - which is why both the Maschine Studio and the MPC Studio are among the best midi drum pad controllers you can buy.

The problem with these two is that they cost quite a bit - and if all you need is a drum pad controller without all of the additional capabilities of these two, then the Akai MPD218 is a much better bet.

Additionally, if you’re an established drummer and want something that allows you to use these skills without investing in a full electronic drum kit, the Alesis Control Pad is an attractive option.

The Novation Launchpad is an interesting little device, and although it has it’s place, the majority of the time the other drum pad controllers will be a much more pragmatic purchase. They are fun to use, ease for beginners and Launchpad light shows are quite popular on YouTube. In combination with multiple Launchpads they can become quite powerful.

Featured image source: Pete BrownCC BY-SA 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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