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Buyers Guide & Information

Best MIDI Keyboards For Music Producers

We have reviewed and compared the best MIDI keyboards for beginner and professional music producers.

by

What is a MIDI keyboard? They're instruments that communicate with your computer, allowing producers more versatility and easier editing, among other benefits. They're also the perfect addition to any live performance setup, allowing you the ability to loop and edit on the fly while remaining relatively portable.

No matter if you're a performer, producer, music enthusiast, or some mix of the above, you'll find exactly what you're looking for in this review.

Image

Product

Key Number Options

DAW Compatible

Check Price

Akai Professional MPK261 | 61-Key Semi-Weighted...

Akai Professional MPK261

61

Yes

Arturia Keylab 49 Essential Controller Keyboard

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49

49

Yes

Roland A-800PRO-R 61-key MIDI Keyboard Controller,...

Roland 61-Key A-800PRO-R

61

Yes

Nektar (IMPACT LX88+)

Nektar IMPACT LX88+

88

Yes

M-Audio Hammer 88 | Premium 88-Key Hammer-Action...

M-Audio Hammer 88

88

Yes

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2...

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

88

Yes

Novation Launchkey 61 USB Keyboard Controller for...

Novation Launchkey 61

61

Yes

Alesis V49 | 49 Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller...

Alesis V49 Key USB

49

Yes

How MIDI Keyboard Controllers Work

A MIDI controller is an easy way of sequencing music, as well as essentially playing an instrument into your production software of choice. The way this works is by sending MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data to either your computer or synthesizer, where the signal is interpreted and generates a sound.

MIDI keyboard controllers must be connected to a computer/tablet and used with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), also known as the aforementioned production software.

A MIDI keyboard isn’t just used in the traditional way your average keyboard is, however. Different parts of the controller can be mapped/assigned to control different instruments. For example, the lower portion of the keyboard could control drums, while the higher end could control synths.

You can also map it to change the tone of an instrument, trigger sample loops, modulate pitch, program drum beats, and much more. As you can see, this allows you much more versatility and creative options than your regular keyboard could.

If you’re using it for composition, you can quickly and efficiently edit your work, as opposed to the “old-school” way of doing things: multitrack recording, which can get confusing and messy.


Choosing a High-Quality MIDI Keyboard

Intended Usage

What are you planning on using your MIDI keyboard for? If you're using it for performance but aren't planning on using a traditional keyboard/piano application, then you'll probably want a smaller keyboard that's more portable and has a smaller footprint. If you're using it for production, you'll want as much variety and features as possible to make editing and programing instruments easier.

Midi Keyboard Type/Action

Any good MIDI keyboard is going to be the one that responds best to you and offers you the most natural feel. This is important whether you’re talking about performance or production. Let’s take a look at each of the 3 basic keyboard action types so you can narrow down your options.

Weighted Hammer Action

Many models are 88-key types which work to replicate the action of a conventional keyboard. As a controller is going to lack strings and hammers, manufacturers use an array of different ways to apply weights and springs to best replicate this action. Others may even add a hammer action to give you that real piano feel. If you already play the piano, then this may be the right choice for you.

Semi-Weighted Action

This draws similarities to the last one but has slightly less key resistance and spring to it. If you don’t feel you require a realistic piano response but also aren’t a fan of spring-loaded synth actions, then this is a nice meet-in-the-middle.

Synth Action

These feel similar to an electronic organ with spring-loaded, light keys that can be pressed and returned to their original positions quickly. This is helpful when you're playing quickly, like with fast arpeggios. These are usually the preferred type with people who aren't pianists.

Midi Keyboard Size/Key Count

MIDI Keyboards typically come in either 25, 49, 61, or 88-key options. While the bigger options definitely look the coolest, that doesn't always mean it's going to be the best option for you. Bigger keys mean you can play more octaves without having to press the "Octave" button. This is particularly useful if you're performing more complex music compositions or if you're a pianist/keyboardist who is already used to this size.

Also, it's not a rule, but larger models sometimes have more functions or features, occasionally including screens.

If you’re looking to save space or need a more portable option, then a smaller one is ideal. If you’re just starting out with production, then this is often the way to go, depending on your background and preferences.

Touch Sensitivity

Also known as "aftertouch," this is an often-overlooked feature and adds expressiveness and variety to how you play. It comes in two different types: monophonic or "channel aftertouch" and polyphonic.

Monophonic

This consists of a "rail," which can be pressured by any key and sends the average MIDI value for all held keys.

Polyphonic

These let you change the parameter on each note independently, depending on the pressure on the key after the note is played. These are quite expensive to create, generating more MIDI information and also demanding more dexterity for you to reap the full benefits. This makes it more of a rarity in the MIDI keyboard world.

DAW Compatibility

Before anything else, you should already know which software/DAW/computer operating system you're using. With current technology, it's pretty rare that a USB MIDI keyboard is only compatible with certain OS or software. However, it's always better to be safe than sorry. With that being said, make sure that the model you have your eye on works with your DAW and computer operating system.

As most are class-compliant, all you'll have to do is plug it in, and it works. Some even automatically prompt you to download the correct drivers or at the most, will provide you with the drivers on a CD or make you visit the manufacturer's site to do so.

Sound Capability

Some keyboards give you the ability to generate more than one sound at once, which is called "polyphony." This is not to be confused with "multitimbrality," which is the ability to play different sounds at once on a keyboard (i.e., drums, strings, piano). Both capabilities will allow you more freedom in expression and composition.

Extra Features

As I briefly mentioned above, MIDI keyboards are much more than just keys. Knobs and sliders are quite common additions and give you more flexibility with how you program and edit. They can be mapped to trigger loops, alter sounds, be used as filters, and so on. Performance pads are also common and can e used to play drums, trigger loops, and more.

Ease of Use

Again, it's crucial to consider how and where you're going to use your controller. If you're going to be doing a live set, then you'll probably need to value size and portability over many other features. You don't want to be lugging around a full-size keyboard, especially if the surface you're playing on is somewhat limited in space.

If you are using it for production, consider the space you have on your desk or table at home. Also, take into consideration the possibility that you may want to add more instruments or gear to your production setup and will need extra space when that time comes.

Price & Warranty

How much money are you planning on spending on one of the best MIDI keyboards? Whatever your budget may be, I'm confident there's a model on our guide that will suit it. If you're a beginner, then you may want to start out with a less expensive controller.

However, if you're at an intermediate level and looking to take your skills to the next level or increase your creative abilities, spending a bit more will pay off. When you move up in budget, you can expect to see more features, ease of use, better key feel, and more.


8 Best MIDI Keyboards Reviewed

1. Akai Professional MPK261

Our Top Pick!

Key Number Options

61

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Semi-Weighted

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

High-quality keyboard & performance pads

Warranty

Yes, 90 days

The Akai Professional MPK261 MIDI Keyboard may be a lot to take in at first glance, and that’s because it comes with a wide selection of features perfect for recording as well as live performances. The 61-key model provides incredible playing response, offering an intuitive, pleasant user experience no matter what you’re using it for.

One of the first features you'll notice is the backlit RGB (red, green, blue) pads. As they're lit, you can use them in all kinds of lighting conditions, making it perfect for use in dark venues and studios. You also have the option to customize the lights and their colors to make it easier for you.

Coming with 16 drum pads and 4 drum banks, that's an impressive 64 possible sounds, which is more than sufficient for most users and excellent for live sets. Trigger samples, loops, one-shots, melodics, and more!

With 61 semi-weighted, full-size keys and a high-quality piano-style keyboard, you'll be able to enjoy a natural and expensive feel. Expressive response is built-in thanks to the velocity-sensitive keyboard with aftertouch that will give your productions and performances more emotion and character. It may not be a full-size keyboard, but it does come with an onboard Octave Up and Octave Down control so you can easily access the entire range.

The best midi keyboard features 8 control knobs, faders, and switches that allow you to have complete control over your DAW, mapping to any assignable parameter without issue.

If you don’t yet have a DAW or know which one to use, you’ll love the fact that the controller comes with Ableton Live Lite, along with Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX Twist 2.0 and Akai Pro MPC Essentials. Used together or individually, you’ll be able to create more sounds, patterns, and edit your musical ideas to perfection.

Finally, you’ll also find an assignable footswitch jack and an expression jack to use a piano-style sustain or control parameters even further. While it’s not much of an upgrade from their MPK61, it’s a very solid build made to last and provide you with a ton of capabilities for production and performance.

Pros

  • Very high-quality build
  • Comes with 16 performance pads
  • Natural, intuitive feel
  • Comes with extra software/DAW

Cons

  • Very short warranty
  • Not much of a step up from their last model

2. Arturia KeyLab Essential 49

Best Midi Keyboard for Beginners

Key Number Options

49

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Non-Weighted

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Velocity-sensitive keys, easy to learn

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Arturia is quite possibly the most underrated manufacturer when it comes to keyboards and controllers. They’re known for being budget-friendly, but offer an incredible amount of value, which the Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 displays perfectly. If you’re just starting out and need something beginner-friendly with the features to allow you to improve upon your knowledge and workflow, then this is it.

The best 49 MIDI keyboard is made to work with multiple DAWs, coming with both MCU and HUI compatibility and a whopping 5,000 sounds coming in the included version of Analog Lab v2. In addition, you'll receive a ton of different presets, allowing you to use just about any sound you can think of.

The Arturia MIDI software lets you load and saves templates, assign MIDI info to controllers, and even different colors! This makes performance and editing much more efficient and intuitive.

The model comes with a lot of functions you wouldn't usually find in your standard controller, such as touch-sensitive velocity keys, which offer amazing feedback and feel depending on the amount of pressure you apply on the keys. Right next to the keys on the left-hand side, you'll find a modulation and pitch bend wheel to allow for greater versatility. 

On the top right, there are 9 faders and encoders which are perfect to use with any loaded VST, really giving you the ability to take your productions to a new level. If you’re not a pianist, you will definitely be able to take advantage of their "Chord Play" function, which lets you record and save chords to be triggered at a later time just by pressing a single key.

This means that you can create complete arrangements with a couple of keys, making productions faster and performances easier. 

"Between the controller's top-notch keybed, comprehensive hands-on controls, and total integration with the thousands of sounds in Arturia's Analog Lab 4 software, KeyLab Essential just plain works,"

Compatible with all major DAWs and MCU/HUI control compatible, you'll have no issue using it with whichever setup you currently have. The sleek, streamlined model also comes with MIDI out, USB, and Sustain Pedal connectivity to make setup of this MIDI piano keyboard a breeze.

Pros

  • Very high-quality build
  • Comes with velocity-sensitive keys
  • Relatively affordable
  • Comes with extra software

Cons

  • Not ideal for advanced producers/performers
  • Not that visually attractive

3. Roland 61-Key A-800PRO-R

Best Portable Midi Keyboard

Key Number Options

61

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Synth-Action

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Velocity-sensitive keys, 45 assignable controls

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Roland is easily one of the most popular, well-known brands in the music world due to their revolutionary products that have literally changed electronic music and beyond. With that being said, it’s no wonder why their 61-key MIDI Keyboard Controller is consistently ranked as one of the best performance models.

If you're taking a keyboard with you to perform live, you need to have something that can offer you the ease of transportation but also have enough keys that you don't have to keep hitting the Octave change button while playing compositions. Soft-touch synth-action keys are inspiring to play, especially if you're not already a piano player.

"A quick scan of the A-800's physical properties will tell you this is a keyboard designed equally for stage and studio. The unit can be bus-powered via its USB port or via a DC power inlet, and it's extremely light in weight for a 61-key controller, making it an easy instrument to sling in the back of a car en route to a venue,"

As is typical with Roland products, this MIDI keyboard 61 keys model provides a very playable keyboard surface, adding velocity and aftertouch control for smooth, expressive play. On the top panel, you’ll find 9 sliders, 9 dials, 8 Dynamic Pads, and complete transport controls. This makes it a transformative addition to any studio with the ability to edit and adjust on the fly, with quick motions.

It does work well with the most popular DAWs on the market, though you'll have to first install the driver software. After this, you can take advantage of preset templates that are available for any DAW you use. Also, you'll receive other music software like the Sonar 8.5 LE and Rapture LE, Cakewalk Sound Center and Studio Instrument Drums, which will give you a ton of instrument options to use in your performances and compositions. 

While many plastic components may not last quite as long as more durable options, it's overall a very reliable and portable controller.

Pros

  • Reputable brand
  • Smooth, expressive play
  • Compatible with all major DAWs
  • Comes with extra software
  • Incredible amount of assignable controls

Cons

  • Includes some less-durable plastic parts
  • Not that visually attractive

4. Nektar IMPACT LX88+

On Sale Today Nektar (IMPACT LX88+)
Best Semi-Weighted Midi Keyboard

Key Number Options

88

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Semi-Weighted

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Nice key feel and feedback, soft pads

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

If you've been checking out MIDI keyboards online but haven't found one that responds well enough, then check out the Nektar IMPACT LX88+. 

"The LX88+ is light and trim; narrow enough to slide under the desk on a keyboard stand when not in use. It's also bus-powered, which makes it easy to move about,"

For being a lesser-known brand, they’ve sure delivered in various aspects.

The USB Midi keyboard is one of the most pleasant and natural to use, coming with semi-weighted keys that offer the perfect amount of spring behind them, offering solid return without that annoying “twang” that lesser quality options come with.

However, it’s not just the keys that feel luxurious – so does every other aspect of the controller. Drum pads are super soft and velvety with quick response that will have your back if you’re relying on precision during live performances. Next to the pad bank are two operational modes for your DAWs: Clips and Scenes – just like what you’d find in Ableton. Right to the left of the pads are 8 knobs, 8 sliders, and a 3-character readout.

With the ability to send on up to 3 zones simultaneously, each one can be programmed to send on its own MIDI channel with your choice of pre-programmed settings or opt to adjust on the fly.

Despite being packed full of a good selection of features, it’s actually relatively compact and light enough to be able to transport without too much effort on your part!

Taking things a step further to make performance and production easier are dedicated Mixer and Instrument buttons for pre-mapped control of mixer settings (Level, Pan, Mute, Solo) and virtual instrument parameters (envelopes, filters, resonance, oscillator pitch, etc.).

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with pads that is the perfect option somewhere between your regular piano and synth keys, the Nektar IMPACT LX88+ is the one for you!

Pros

  • Relatively lightweight
  • Excellent feedback and spring
  • Compatible with all major DAWs
  • Great for production and performance
  • Incredible amount of assignable controls

Cons

  • Not the most durable

5. M-Audio Hammer 88

Best Full Midi Keyboard

Key Number Options

88

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Weighted

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Piano-quality feel, high-quality included software

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Are you a piano player who's having a hard time finding one of the best high-end MIDI keyboards that can allow you the same flexibility that a regular piano can? Then don't go anywhere because the M-Audio Hammer 88 may be just the perfect selection for you! Bringing fully weighted, piano-like action with an accompaniment from all kinds of controls, ports, and virtual instruments, you'll wonder why you didn't put it in your studio earlier! 

"It has a terrific, meaty piano action, an inviting suite of included software, all under 40 pounds and under $400,"

informs KeyboardMag.

Right out of the package, you can see how high-quality the Hammer is, featuring an entire top panel comprised of metal, and an MDF underside. Due to how durable it is, you can count on it being perfect for taking with you to live gigs or using it as a studio centerpiece.

The design itself is very neat and clean, once again lending to the traditional piano feel. You'll find pitch and mod wheels, a master fader, as well as 2 assignable buttons placed conveniently on the deck. The wheels can be mapped to any MIDI parameter, which is incredibly handy when trying to add more character to your productions.

The up and down buttons let you quickly select programs, FX, MMC messages, move up or down octaves, and much more. What's really cool for serious keyboardists/pianists is the pedal inputs for Sustain, Expression, and Soft modes.

This model also lets you use various keyboard zones for layering, splits, and playing 4-note cords just by pressing one key! If you're looking to improve the complexity of your productions or performances, then this will give you the tools you need to do so, while also allowing for greater expression of ideas.

While the controller itself is quite impressive, the inclusion of an incredible selection of professional-level software makes it that much more appealing. ProTools M-Audio Edition, Eleven Lite, Ableton Live Lite, Velvet, and more are all there to give you unique options and more tools at your disposal.

Pros

  • Large, full-size flexibility
  • Excellent feedback and feel
  • Very durable/excellent build quality
  • Great for production and performance

Cons

  • Not ideal for absolute beginners

6. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

Best High-End Midi Keyboard

Key Number Options

88

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Weighted

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

LED lights above each key, dual high-res screens

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Native Instruments is hands-down one of the most popular and well-respected names in the production world, rising to recognition with their products that recreate classic synths and keyboards for incredible sounds. Their Komplete Kontrol S88 is one of their most popular products as well, which speaks just a bit to what it’s capable of doing.

“Aiming to re-imagine the humble MIDI piano for producers and performers alike, the controllers integrated seamlessly with NI’s incredibly comprehensive Komplete software instrument and effects suite, allowing you to quickly access instruments and sounds from your libraries,”

It's tough to find a MIDI keyboard controller more visually aesthetic than this one. Coming with a brushed metal front panel, smooth rubberized knobs, and an incredibly clear OLED screen displaying parameter functions along with multicolored LEDs above each key, it's like stepping into a spaceship.

Going back to the LED "Light Guides," this is an often overlooked but incredibly powerful feature, allowing you to color-code different sounds by category: kicks, snares, hats, etc. This is also an easy way to display split keyboards visually. The high-resolution screens make it simple to browse for sounds, change parameters, and more will keep you focused on the controller instead of your computer. 

The hammer-action keybed feels incredible, giving an authentic piano feel that beginners all the way to pros can appreciate and take advantage of. Aftertouch makes your music more "human" and expressive, which lends to better live performances and crowd connection.

Ergonomically placed, rubberized pitch and mod wheels are easy and quick to adjust with precision, while a touch-sensitive strip only opens up your creative possibilities even further. 8 touch-sensitive knobs are perfect for creating little tweaks here and there, while the one-touch MASCHINE access offers complete integration to your Scenes and Patterns.

In addition, you'll find transport functions in Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, GarageBand, Cubase, and Nuendo.

Pros

  • Large, full-size flexibility
  • Excellent feedback and feel
  • Very durable/excellent build quality
  • Beautiful design
  • Perfect for all levels of producers/performers

Cons

  • More expensive than other options

7. Novation Launchkey 61

Best Midi Keyboard for Ableton

Key Number Options

61

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Synth-Action

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Inexpensive, excellent native Ableton integration

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

While the Novation Launchkey 61 is made for producing and performing in Ableton Live, you can just as well use another DAW and take advantage of the ergonomic layout. 

“All Launchkey controllers come with Loopmasters sounds, Bass Station and V-Station synths from Novation, and your choice of one of Addictive Keys’ pro-grade virtual keyboard instruments,” 

informs Novation themselves.

The best MIDI synth keyboard works wonders in the studio but is also perfect to use on the road. Simply plug it into your laptop via a USB cord – no drivers or power cables needed since it’s bus-powered and class-compliant!

As far as looks go, it’s neither here nor there. The design is relatively tame, coming with a black, sturdy chassis and various groups of features. The 61 velocity-sensitive keys are synth-action types perfect if you’re not comfortable with heavier ones or will be mostly using it in the studio. They’re relatively lightweight, but not so much that they feel cheap or twangy.

Right above them are bright RGB touchpads, which are also velocity-sensitive and perfect for live sets. In all honesty, they're not that attractive, but they get the job done. Another group features 9 faders, 8 knobs, and your pitch and modulation wheels, which can all be programmed and mapped to give you more versatility.

If you're just starting out with pads and keyboards, then you can take full advantage of the Melodics lessons that come in the box, letting you learn at a much faster pace while ensuring you don't learn bad habits.

Pros

  • Various pads and knobs
  • Included lessons
  • Perfect for beginners and intermediate producers
  • Very affordable
  • Excellent DAW compatibility

Cons

  • Not the most durable

8. Alesis V49 Key USB

Best Cheap Midi Keyboard

Key Number Options

49

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Compatible

Yes

Keyboard Action Type

Synth-Action

Class Compliant (Mac & Windows)

Yes

Key Feature

Inexpensive, basic yet easy to operate

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Are you on the hunt for the best MIDI keyboard for EDM, techno, house or electronic music production/ performance but are on a tight budget? Then take a serious look at the Alesis V49 Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller. Alesis is not quite as big of a name as, say, Native Instruments, but they're still well-reputed for producing quality, durability, and user-friendliness.

“Feel the expression of playing on full-sized keys, but in a compact-sized controller that will easily integrate into any desktop production setup. The V49 is everything you need in a keyboard controller, without the space and size of some much larger, feature enhanced versions,”

states Guitar Center.

At first glance, you’ll be impressed by the visual aesthetics of the model, featuring a matte black chassis and cool blue backlit pads, wheels, buttons, and knobs. The full-sized keys are velocity-sensitive and very responsive for synth-action keys – quite surprising for such a reasonable price. However, it's about much more than looks. The build quality is exceptionally sturdy, with keys moving smoothly without any wiggle.

While you’re not going to find as many pads and knobs as you would on most others on this guide, it’s still a great option for the producer. That’s not to say you can’t use it for live performances, but it does seem to cater more towards studio applications. If you do decide to take it to gigs, then you’ll love how narrow and lightweight it is, weighing just under 10 pounds!

I did feel it lacked a bit in terms of performance pads and parameter controls. However, if you're a beginner or are an intermediate-level producer looking to save a few bucks, then the V49 is a wonderful option. The best budget MIDI keyboard comes with Pro Tools I First Alesis Edition, Ableton Live Lite 9, Eleven Lite, Mini Grand, and more so you have everything you need to elevate your skills.

Pros

  • Very attractive visuals
  • Included software
  • Perfect for beginners
  • Very affordable
  • Excellent DAW compatibility

Cons

  • Not the most advanced/feature-packed

MIDI Keyboards vs Synthesizers

This is one of the most frequent questions among newer producers, and though they do have similarities, they operate in very different ways.

MIDI Keyboards

These are used to generate a MIDI event, like a tap pad. The controller can't create its own sounds but instead comes with programmable additions like faders, knobs, and pads to generate them.

These will come with USB connections used to plug straight into your computer and have a considerable amount of flexibility as you can use them with all mainstream DAWs, VSTs, and other software programs. These work well for all experience levels and are perfect for live performances and production due to how versatile they are.

Synths

Synthesizers do have the ability to produce their own sounds or "timbres." However, to make these sounds, they require bulkier components, which will then make the synth itself heavier and bigger than MIDI controllers.

They do not have the same amount of flexibility as you can only play the pre-programmed sounds they come with while controllers have virtually endless possibilities. These are more well-suited for your studio as they're not portable and don't have as many options as you may need during a live performance.


Essential MIDI Keyboard Accessories

  • Sound Module
    These provide a soundbank and typically an array of effects to use during performance and production, using a digital signal. Said signal reflects a specific type of sound or instrument, while MIDI allows the signal to be edited, altering the sound. The best sound module for MIDI keyboards is known to be the Midiplus S-Engine.
  • Tone Generators
    These can often also be called “synthesizers” as they work to generate sound. They are also essentially sound modules.
  • Computer/Laptops
    You're going to absolutely need a computer to plug in your MIDI keyboard and use it in your DAW. While countless options will work well, a simple MacBook is often the best way to go as it's so reliable and works seamlessly with the controllers above.
  • Headphones
    While there are a ton of headphones out there, the Audio Technica’s ATH-M50xWH Professional Studio Monitor Headphones are considered to be the standard among producers. They offer a flat response to ensure you’re reproducing sound accurately, along with incredible clarity throughout the entire frequency range and deep, accurate bass response.
  • USB Midi Control Surfaces
    Control surfaces can boost the speed and accuracy of your workflow. This allows you to control any track in your session with ease, along with basic transport controls, window select options, and much more.
  • Dust Covers
    If you're going to be investing in one of the best MIDI keyboard controllers, then you need to take care of it. The easiest way to lower maintenance or replacement costs is to use a dust cover.

How to Use a Midi Keyboard

Using a MIDI keyboard shouldn't be that difficult if you follow the next steps. First, let's take a look at how to connect it. Of course, if you have any doubts, recommend you take a look at your DAW's user manual about MIDI routing.

Most will connect to your computer through a USB cable, and some can offer bus power, which means you don't require an external power supply. As many are class-compliant, you also won't need third-party drivers for it to work.

Connecting MIDI Keyboards with USB

  1. 1
     Download necessary drivers if needed.
  2. 2
    Connect the MIDI keyboard through USB or a powered USB hub if you need more room.
  3. 3
    Configure your DAW with your keyboard controller.

Connecting MIDI Keyboards with MIDI Cables

  1. 1
    Connect a 5-pin MIDI cable from the MIDI OUT port on the rear of the controller to the MIDI IN port of your external hardware.
  2. 2
    If you’re connecting various devices, first connect your cable from the MIDI THRU port on the first device to the MIDI IN port on the next.
  3. 3
    Connect the cable from the MIDI OUT port on the last external device to a MIDI IN port to a MIDI or audio interface. The Focusrite Scarlett Solo audio interface is inexpensive and high-performing.
  4. 4
    Configure the DAW with the keyboard, ensuring the correct MIDI ports are enabled in your DAW.

Recording MIDI

To record what you’re actually playing on your MIDI keyboard, simply press the “Record” button while an instrument channel is active. This should automatically record it to a clip, depending on your DAW.


Common Issues, Fixes & Care Tips

While MIDI controllers are fantastic pieces of equipment, they're not perfect. Let's take a look at common issues and how to fix them.

Delay

Delay is one, if not the most common issue in regards to what MIDI keyboards. There is also more than one cause for it.

  1. 1
    Audio buffer size is too big:
    As MIDI is a digital signal, it needs to be processed before it can generate a sound. The bigger your buffer size, the more latency you’re going to have. If this happens, go into your audio driver settings in our DAW and change the numbers to have your buffer set at 10ms or less.
  2. 2
    You’re not using ASIO Audio Drivers/Core Audio:
    With Windows PCs and laptops that have just MME or DirectX drivers, you can download ASIO4ALL. This low latency driver is made just for reducing latency in audio production.
  3. 3
    Your Audio Input Device Isn’t Disabled:
    When your AID is enabled, latency can increase. If you're not recording from an external source and want to record MIDI, disable the AID. 
  4. 4
    Your CPU is too hot:
    This can happen easily with VSTs, among other burdens that can lead to latency issues. Try keeping your production laptop dedicated to just that. The more applications you're running, the more stress is placed on the CPU. 

MIDI Keyboard Not Working

If you’re not getting any sound from your MIDI keyboard after you’ve correctly connected it to your computer, then check out this video.

Dead Keys

If you notice that certain keys on your controller aren't registering, then there are solutions. It's best at this point to go ahead and open up your keyboard. Keep in mind that this may void your warranty, so you may be better off sending it to the manufacturer if you're still under said warranty.

If not, open it up and locate the circuit board which interacts with the keys. Remove it and find the button contacts which interact with each key. Remove the rubber buttons and remove any dirt, hair, and other debris that may interfere with the signal. Use 90% isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs. This should have the key(s) working again.


Understanding Terminologies

  • MIDI
    MIDI is short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and describes a communications protocol and connectors which connect a variety of electronic instruments, computers, and more for the purpose of music production and performance.
  • Multitimbral
    This is typically in reference to synthesizers and samplers. If they’re multitimbral, that means that they’re capable of producing more than one type of sound at a time.
  • Polyphony
    This refers to the ability to play two or more tones or melodic lines at one time, meaning you can play much more elaborate pieces with ease.
  • Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO)
    This is an electronic frequency typically below 20 Hz and creates a rhythmic pulse or sweep. These not only sound cool, but can be used to modulate synths, delay lines, and much more.
  • Hammer Action
    Hammer action keys are meant to replicate the action found on your traditional acoustic pianos. If you’re a pianist, you might opt for this type.
  • DAW
    A DAW is a Digital Audio Workstation, which is a software program that you'll use to produce, edit, and even perform music.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What are the best MIDI keyboard brands on the market?

Native Instruments is definitely the most well-known and well-respected, though more expensive than most. Excellent alternatives are Novation, Alesis, and Arturia, which are slightly more budget-friendly but still deliver quality. 

Can MIDI keyboards play without a computer?

Yes, they can! MIDI keyboards can be used on their own.

Can I learn piano on a MIDI keyboard?

Absolutely! While it may be difficult with smaller ones, take a look at the Native Instruments models, which come with built-in features to help you learn music theory, chords, and more!

Do all keyboards have MIDI?

No – only MIDI keyboards specifically will be able to use MIDI.

What is the best MIDI keyboard software?

While there are countless plugins, the best one to use would be a DAW. The crowd favorite is Ableton, due to how relatively intuitive and simple it is to use, as well as being compatible with just about every controller out there.

Where is the best place online to buy a MIDI keyboard?

Amazon, hands-down. It offers you the best prices, and lets you see real ratings from real users, so you know you're receiving a quality product that does what it says. On top of that, shipping is speedy, and your keyboard will be safe. 


Conclusion

Now that you've had the chance to read all about the best MIDI keyboard controllers on the market today, which one will you be using in your studio or at your performances?

While each of the items mentioned above are top models, if you're still undecided, allow me to reiterate how wonderful the Akai Professional MPK261 is. It's budget-friendly, has a sturdy build, great key feel, and feedback, is compatible with every main DAW out there and offers an array of useful editing and production features. 

However, what's most important is that you select the model that is ideal for your skill level and needs. I hope this guide has helped you to do just that. Thanks for tuning in and happy playing!

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