5 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers (REVIEW)

Midi keyboard controllers let you interface with your DAW in a much more streamlined manner than using the keyboard and mouse approach. They are invaluable for live performances, and a mainstay of many home recording studios. The fact that many include DAW software can help you get started sooner than you might have thought by helping to reduce overall costs. 

Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers

There are a huge amount of midi keyboard controllers out there, so we’ve put together a buyer’s guide to help you make the best decision. 

We’ve only included our favourite midi keyboard controllers, so no matter which you choose you’ll be getting a good deal - but some will be better in certain situations than others.

If you’ve been producing music for a long time you’ll know what you need and don’t, but for beginners almost all of the keyboards included will be sufficient thanks to their flexibility. 

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best MIDI Keyboard 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 MIDI keyboard controllers

  • If you want a keyboard controller that’s better for live performances and portability is a key factor, look at one that works with tablets such as the iPad and has 25 keys with octave shift.
  • Pads are useful for launching clips, allowing you to spend less time focusing on your DAW and more on creating a good stage presence. They can also streamline recording and mixing.
  • Aftertouch support isn’t a feature of all midi keyboard controllers, so make sure you check beforehand.

Essential in your home recording equipment, we have also reviewed our favourite USB Audio Interfaces, check them out here!

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 Keyboard Controllers

1. Alesis VI

Alesis VI

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

The Alesis VI comes in three sizes, 25-, 49- and 61-note configurations. Depending on the size chosen, you also get a different amount of assignable buttons and sliders for physical interaction with your DAW. It’s a solid performer that’s hard to criticize.

  • Also includes a built in drum-pad controller, and pitch and modulation wheels
  • Keys are full sized, semi-weighted, and support aftertouch
  • Both midi and power can be supplied through the USB connection, but separate connections for each are also available
  • The 25-note version has far fewer programmable on-board controls
  • The LED screen doesn’t provide much more than extreme basic parameter change monitoring.

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


2. KMI QuNexus

KMI QuNexus

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The QuNexus is immediately a very different beast to most MIDI keyboard controllers, using highly responsive keys that pick up much more nuance than regular keys, giving you a great deal of control over the sound produced.

  • Very small, light and tough making it ideal for bringing to gigs
  • Keys are tilt, pressure, and velocity sensitive and can be used as drum pads just as easily
  • High connectivity with two micro-USB ports, two minijack CV outputs, and a third minijack input
  • Key layout takes some practice to get used to, and the extra sensors make playing with precision harder
  • Lacks the usual knobs and sliders found in most midi keyboard controllers

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3. Arturia MiniLab

Arturia MiniLab

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The MiniLab is one of the best MIDI keyboard controllers for portability, making it great for gigs. Despite it’s smaller size with 25 keys, you don’t miss out on the flexibility and control that you get with larger keyboard controllers.

  • Comes with tons of presets, effects and synths
  • 16 encoders, and 8 pads that switch between two banks for a total of 32 programmable controls
  • Includes Analog Lab Lite and Ableton Live Lite software
  • Keys don’t support aftertouch (but they are velocity sensitive)
  • At 25 keys it’s slower to use due to the need to rely on octave switching frequently

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4. Akai APC Key 25

Akai APC Key 25

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This is an affordable midi keyboard controller for professional musicians. It’s light and compact enough to be suitable for performing, and it’s also great for creating new tracks thanks to the extensive range of dedicated buttons, pads and knobs.

  • 40 pads for clip launching and 8 assignable knobs make it great for integrating with your DAW, and is optimised for Ableton Live
  • USB powered and very lightweight gives it great portability
  • Bundled software includes Ableton Live Lite, Air Hybrid 3, SoniVox Twist and Toolroom
  • Keys are synth-action rather than weighted
  • Not available in versions with more than 25 keys
  • Doesn’t have dedicated pitch bend and modulation wheels

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5. Novation Launchkey 25 MkII

Novation Launchkey 25 MkII

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

A well designed midi keyboard controller, rivalling far more expensive models without the high-end price tag.

  • 16 RGB pads that are also pressure sensitive alongside the 25 keys
  • Works with iPad if you purchase the connection kit
  • Comes with Ableton Live, Midnight Plugins and Loopmaster samples
  • No case included for protecting it during travel
  • Versions with more keys cost significantly more
  • Keys aren’t weighted

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


So what are the best MIDI keyboard controllers?

The Alesis VI is hands down the best midi keyboard controller, and the variety of sizes make it a viable option for either live gigs where you don’t want to be carrying a ton of equipment around, or larger versions are perfect for composing.

For a slightly different experience unlike any other keyboard, the QuNexus is definitely interesting. It’s a solid performer, but it’s such a unique beast that it can end up being harder to use due to the unique pad/key design. We wouldn’t recommend it for beginners, as it’s likely to hinder your progress rather than help. Then again, learning to use this could give you a great advantage.

The remaining three midi keyboard controllers are all great, and it will largely be a matter of personal choice depending on your software preferences and the amount of pads, encoders and knobs you want.​

There is also a wide range of MIDI Drum Pad Controllers out there.

Featured image source: Daniel SpilsCC BY-SA 2.0

Image Credits:​

http://alesis.com/promotions/v-vi-series/index.php

https://www.keithmcmillen.com/products/qunexus/

https://www.arturia.com/products/hybrid-synths/minilab/overview

http://www.akaipro.com/product/apc-key-25​

https://uk.novationmusic.com/keys/launchkey#​

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