What are the best MIDI keyboards you can buy today? Music production and performance have taken off since the pandemic, and it is more affordable than ever to get into the hobby. Now, you could very easily get away without a controller, but you lose out on the tactility and control afforded by using one.
That said, these are some of the best MIDI keyboards on the market today and should be usable with a slew of audio workstations and hardware instruments. We’ve looked at dozens of options, and here are our top picks:
- Best Overall: Arturia Keystep Pro
- Best for Budget Users: AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
- Best for Wireless Use: Korg microKEY Air 25
- Best Budget Full-Size Controller: M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3
- Best Premium Option: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
- Best for Live Performance: Novation Launchkey Mini
Best Overall: Arturia Keystep Pro
The Arturia Keystep Pro is one of the best overall MIDI keyboards on the market today. What makes it such a stellar example is its integration with computers and synthesizers alike. You’ve got access to USB, MIDI DIN, and CV inputs and outputs.
Arturia has also packaged together a 64-step sequencer that is polyphonic by design. There are four controllable sequencer lanes on the device itself, making it a great choice for users looking for a flexible and versatile controller built for performance, recording, or tinkering around with Eurorack synthesizers.
The only real downfall of the Keystep Pro is the reduced key amount. 37 keys only span just over three octaves of note range, which isn’t ideal for key players that are used to a standard 61 keys or higher.
|It supports hardware synths and computers alike.||It’s not a full-sized keyboard for the cost.|
|Comes with a four-lane polyphonic sequencer.||The touch mod and pitch wheels aren’t as responsive as traditional ones.|
Check out the Arturia Keystep Pro on Amazon.
Best Budget MIDI Keyboard: AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
- 4-way thumbstick for dynamic pitch and modulation control,
- 8 backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style MIDI beat pads
- Note Repeat and Full Level for programming drums
- 1500+ sounds
AKAI has been a known quantity in the music industry for decades, and its MPC line of samplers has been a popular choice for music producers the world over. You can get some of that functionality with the AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3.
It comes with eight full-sized drum pads with the same tactile feel as the MPC sampler. You’ve also got 25 keys, spanning just over two octaves of range. The device comes with an arpeggiator in addition to eight knobs that can be freely assigned to any MIDI learn functions.
The MPK Mini MK3 is USB only, meaning you’ll need specialized adapters for connecting to your hardware instruments. However, this is a flexible and affordable controller that can do a little bit of everything.
|It has some of the best performance pads on the market.||The velocity response on the keys isn’t ideal.|
|AKAI’s MIDI controller features full-size keys despite the size of the device.||There are only 25 keys, which makes some chord arrangements more difficult to play.|
Check out the AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 on Amazon.
Best for Wireless Use: Korg microKEY Air 25
Creating music on the go has never been more popular, and with options like the iPad Air and iPad Pro, you’ve got laptop power on tap. The Korg microKEY Air 25 is one of the best MIDI controllers for wireless use. You’ve got connectivity through Bluetooth, which is surprisingly stable and the latency is kept to a minimum.
The portability of this particular MIDI controller does come with some notable drawbacks. The dedicated modulation and pitch wheels seen on some of these controllers have been replaced with a joystick. This does take some time to learn how to use. It does come with a built-in arpeggiator, which functions just fine. It would be nice to see an additional sequencer, especially since Korg has excellent ones built into its budget line of Volca synths.
|Connecting to your iPad is a cinch.||It doesn’t feature a sequencer.|
|Supports all major music creation software on the iPad.||Doesn’t beat a hard-wired MIDI controller.|
Check out the Korg microKEY Air 25 on Amazon.
Best Budget Full-Size Controller: M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3
- 61 full-size velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys
- Volume fader, transport, and directional buttons
- Easy plug-and-play connection to a Mac or PC
- A 6-month subscription to Reason+ is included
Most budget MIDI controllers come with a fairly slimmed-down number of keys. Musicians looking for an extended range would do well to pick the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3. You’ve got 61 full-sized keys with velocity sensitivity. It loses out on the drum pads seen in most full-size MIDI controllers.
However, the price makes this one of the best MIDI keyboards to purchase if you’re on a budget. Connectivity is fairly robust, with class-compliant USB and 5-pin MIDI DIN being the primary options. The overall feel of the keys isn’t the best. Understandably, at this price range, you aren’t going to be getting a Fatar keybed.
|It features a full-sized keyboard at an affordable price.||The key feel isn’t the best.|
|The dedicated pitch and modulation wheels are precise and sturdy.||There aren’t any performance pads for finger drumming.|
Check out the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 on Amazon.
Best Premium Option: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
For users interested in a deluxe MIDI controller, it’s hard to go wrong with the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61. You’ve got a premium set of Fatar keys, ergonomically designed modulation and pitch wheels, and robust software support through the NKS standard.
You’re paying the same amount as for a mid-range polyphonic synthesizer when getting into the Kontrol S61. However, it gets you integrated into a robust ecosystem with dynamically mapped controls and performance enhancements. The S61 is due for a refresh soon from Native Instruments, so you could see a price reduction in the coming months for this premium MIDI controller.
|It has some of the best-feeling keys around.||It is rather expensive for a MIDI controller.|
|The software integration is deep and well thought out.||The S61 isn’t useful if you forego Native Instrument’s ecosystem.|
Check out the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 on Amazon.
Best for Live Performance: Novation Launchkey Mini
- 25 keys
- 8 rotary controls, as well as pitch and mod touch strips
- Features octave control
- Sounds, instruments, and effects from AAS, Softube, Spitfire audio, XLN audio, and Klevgrand
While the Novation Launchkey Mini lacks the premium feel of some of the controllers featured in this guide, it’s geared toward live performance. Novation has taken special care to tightly integrate this budget controller with Ableton Live. Live is one of the best audio workstations for live performance and sound design.
As such, you’ll have native integration with a slew of features like scene selection, recording functionality, and playback. The keys leave a little something to be desired on the Launchkey Mini. Smaller keys aren’t a drawback, but the velocity curve and sensitivity are a bit unresponsive. However, the drum pads are great and make for comfortable finger drumming and scene triggering.
|It is built with Ableton Live in mind.||The keys feel cheap to the touch.|
|The performance pads are responsive and easy to use.||It isn’t the best MIDI controller if you use any other digital audio workstation.|
Check out the Novation Launchkey Mini on Amazon.
What to Know About Choosing the Best MIDI Controllers
Picking a MIDI controller really comes down to a few different considerations to keep in mind. You’ll likely want to pick one that fits your needs rather than spending a considerable sum testing out different controllers.
Key feel is arguably one of the most important factors when considering a MIDI controller. While hammer action keyboards are out there for emulating the sensation of playing a real piano. However, that doesn’t directly translate to synthesizers and other virtual instruments. You’ll likely want a keyboard with good velocity sensitivity, which can really nail the nuance of your performance.
Most MIDI controllers come with knobs or faders that can be freely assigned. These can vary in quality considerably, ranging from cheap plastic to a sensation akin to a premium polyphonic synthesizer. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of controls for controlling your virtual instruments and other functions.
Having hands-on controls really can bring a performance to life. This also factors into things like filter sweeps, pitch bends, and other flourishes that make a composition really pop out.
Integration with Software and Hardware
Not all MIDI keyboards are built equally, and as such the capabilities and functionality can differ substantially. Now, most hardware synthesizers require MIDI DIN inputs to send and receive data. Most budget MIDI controllers you’ll find on the market don’t come with this functionality by default.
If you’re deep into Eurorack synthesizers, that brings up a whole new set of requirements with CV being the standard. You’ll want to take a close look at your setup and see what features and integrations make sense before deciding on a MIDI controller.
Using the Best MIDI Controllers: What It’s Like
So, what is it like actually using a MIDI controller? If you have any experience with keyboard instruments, it is functionally the same. Notes start at C and run however many octaves. Some controllers come with keen velocity sensitivity which makes for great expressiveness when playing music.
Other controllers come integrated with sequencers, which can really bring to mind the halcyon days of 90s dance music. Whatever you’re choice, it really depends on the genre of music you want to make and how you plan to get there.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©MR.Worawuth Yupapong/Shutterstock.com.