The best MIDI keyboard controllers for home recording studio

The best MIDI keyboard controllers for home recording studio

The best MIDI keyboards for home recording studios, semi-pro and pro. What to look for before you buy one.

5 of the best midi keyboard controllers in the market can stand in any home studio, as well as a professional recording studio.

Getting the right equipment for you studio and live performances is essential. MIDI keyboard is a must for every producer. Luckily you don’t have to spend a lot for any of our choices for the best MIDI keyboard controllers. The prices variate from very low to medium level. Everything depends on your needs and we will discover a choice for everyone.

What is MIDI keyboard

MIDI keyboards do not generate sounds of their own. Instead they are used to play sounds to other electronic devices such as sound modules or software synths that are installed inside your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) simply sends a series of messages to other instruments how to generate a certain sound.

Typical MIDI messages

  • Note On – A key has been pressed. 
  • Note off – A key has been released. 
  • Key Pressure – How hard the key is pressed. 
  • Pitch Wheel Change – The pitch of the note has been bent.

There are various factors to consider when you buy a MIDI keyboard

  1. Key count: The number of keys you want on your keyboard. 25keys are ideally for travel and small home recording studios. 49keys can also do both and with extra capabilities in your studio. 61 and 88key models also exist in the market for a fair price but unless you are a professional key player then it is probably waste of money and space.
  2. Aftertouch: Aftertouch is when you apply sustained pressure after the key has been struck. Monophonic type is the most common, while polyphonic is for skilled players.
  3. Action-typeSynth-action type feels more electronic, Semi-weighted are the most popular and Weighted hammer action are for piano-oriented music.
  4. Software integration: Does the MIDI keyboard comes with automatic configuration options to integrate with your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Check the best music production softwares for more information.
  5. Performance controls: Do you want MIDI pads, knobs or more faders on your keyboard? The extra controls that automatically integrate with your software, will give a more natural way of performance.
  6. Included softwares: Beginner musicians, hurry to unpack and plug-in the midi keyboard. Often users forget about the included softwares. All of the best midi keyboards in the market offer music softwares in their package. Some are extremely useful for starters as well as pro’s. An intro version of a DAW, most commonly Ableton Live, and a couple of sample banks and virtual synths will help you to start music production immediately. 

Other preferences to look after are the size and weight for portability. Same with I/O options -MIDI via USB, iOS, 5-pin, gate outputs- and brand preference -AKAI, Korg, Novation-.

If you look for some more affordable choices check The best cheap MIDI keyboard

Here are the five of the best MIDI keyboard controllers for every available budget. Picked according to features, included softwares, reviews, price tag and personal experience. 

 

BEST MIDI KEYBOARD CONTROLLERS

1.AKAI MPK2 25(pro & mini)/49/61

AKAI MPK 249

The best seller of all MIDI keyboard controllers, highly recommended by users and with excellent ratings at online stores. AKAI MPK2 is available with 25 mini and 25 pro/49/61 keys. All key models of AKAI MPK series 2 are premium quality. There are very strong competitors but it surely worth the first place for the best MIDI keyboard.

MPK2 25/49/61 have semi-weighted keys with aftertouch and the keyboard also includes variety of  performance controls. The 25key-model has 8 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads, 8 control knobs and 4 switches. The two biggest models with 49 and 61 keys offer 16 pads, 8 knobs, 8 switches and also 8 faders. The pitch bend and mod wheel complete a perfect MIDI keyboard for any studio and every use.

These MIDI keyboards are compatible with all major DAW’s (Logic, Ableton Live, FL studio etc.). The construction may look cheap with plastic chassis, but it’s actually tough enough to handle abuse in your studio. A control layout with backlit LCD screen powered by USB connection to computer, is here to make your job easier.

conclusion: AKAI MPK2 has very strong competitors but it surely worth the first place in our list for the best MIDI keyboards. They are not the cheapest in their category but if your pocket can afford one i would highly recommend it. The package includes also the Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3.0 virtual synth, SONiVOX twist 3.0, and MPC Essentials software to get you started. 

note: MPK2 mini is perfect for live performances, light, portable and very affordable. Synth-action and small spring-loaded keys are not ideally for studio, but there are other options for your recording studio as well.

Musicians who use it: Avicii, Skrillex, Dr.Dre,  Rodriquez Jr., Pole Folder, UNKLE. As well as the majority of electronic music producers.

Check price on Amazon.com

Key-count models: 25/49/61
DAW compatibility: All major DAW’s
Keyboard action type: Semi-weighted
Build quality: 8.5/10

        

 

 

 

 

2.NOVATION IMPULSE 25/49/61

NOVATION IMPULSE 49

The Novation Impulse is the most budget friendly MIDI keyboard in our list. The 49-key count model is our value-for-money pick and for sure an option cannot go unnoticed. Impulse is also available with 25 and 61 keys. So, check your available space in your studio, and purchase accordingly. Ideal place for your MIDI keyboard is between you and your computer monitor.

The keys are semi-weighted with aftertouch. On the left side you will also find pitch bend and mod wheel. All key-count models have 8 multi-function drum pads and 8 knobs, and the two larger keyboards have also 9 faders for a full DAW control surface.

The built is solid but not as good as AKAI MPK2 and this is the only minus compare to it’s competitor. There are not many complains on reviews about broken or loose buttons or knobs.

conclusion: Novation impulse is a great solution for your studio and very friendly for your pocket. The built could be better but i wouldn’t worry a lot about it, especially if you are not planning to take it everywhere you go. The package comes with Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station synth and a Loopmasters sample pack. Everything you need to start, record, mix and master your musical ideas.

Musicians who use it: Deadmau5, Giorgio Moroder, Far Too Loud

Check price on Amazon.com

Key-count models: 25/49/61
DAW compatibility: All major DAW’s
Keyboard action type: Semi-weighted
Build quality: 7.5/10

 

3.ARTURIA KEYLAB 25/49/61/88

ARTURIA KEYLAB 49

Even tho i use an Axiom49 in my studio, Arturia Keylab is my personal favorite MIDI keyboard. I especially like it’s vintage design and appearance but most important the very nice feel of the keys.

Arturia Keylab has semi-weighted action type keys with aftertouch. Instead of the basic 25/49/ and 61 key-count models, Keylab is also available with 88 velocity sensitive keys for a full piano experience. Like all MIDI keyboards in our list, Keylab has a numerous of performance functions such as 9 faders, 10 knobs and 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive backlit pads for the three largest key-count models.

The build is similar to Impulse, solid but not good enough. In fact i notice quite a few comments and bad reviews about keys and knobs getting bad for no reason and after a short period of use. Friends i work with and use an Arturia Keylab, didn’t experience any problem so far. Drop your comment below if you experienced a similar problem.

conclusion: Nice vintage appearance with wooden side panels and features that are not lacking in anything compare to it’s competitors. The price tag of this MIDI is close to the above, but with a very economic 25-key choice. The big plus of this purchase is the Analog Lab synth software with nearly 6000 sounds. Sounds from Prophet and Jupiter are pure quality, so if you just start building your home studio and don’t want to start spending big for synthesizers, i highly recommend the Arturia Keylab.

Musicians who use it: Moby, Stephan Bodzin, Hans-Peter Lindstorm, Steve Angello 

Check price on Amazon.com

Key-count models: 25/49/61/88
DAW compatibility: All major DAW’s
Keyboard action type: Semi-weighted
Build quality: 7.5/10

 

4.M-AUDIO AXIOM AIR 25/32(mini)/49/61

M-AUDIO AXIOM AIR49

As i mentioned before, Axiom49 has a special place in my home recording studio. I have spent countless hours in the studio with it and has accomplish me in dozens of live performances without a single problem. Strangely i found some not so good reviews about the construction and also many customers experienced bad customer support. If you found yourself in a same position, let us know with a comment below or a private email through our message form in order to improve our content and reviews.

Axiom Air is available with 25/32(mini)/49 and 61 expressive synth-action keys with aftertouch. All key-count models have 16 amazing velocity and pressure sensitive pads. The 25-key is missing faders but the rest have 8 encoders and 9 long-throw faders. A big plus for Axiom Air is the 128 memory locations to save your own presets, it will appear to be a big help and great time saver.

From the first look, the appearance is attractive with a solid construction and nice feel on the keys. Unless you purchase the 32-key mini -which fits pretty much everywhere- the rest models are not easy to transfer.

conclusion: Axiom Air is one of the higher end models by M-Audio. It is also responsive to most DAWs, except the FL studio which is not HyperControlX compatible. It’s price range is not a big problem but unlike the rest MIDI keyboards in our list, Axiom Air does not come with any software plug-in or DAW.

Musicians who use it: Moby, Linkin Park, Zedd, Paul Van Dyk

Check price on Amazon.com

Key-count models: 25/32(mini)/49/61
DAW compatibility: All major DAW’s
Keyboard action type: Semi-weighted
Build quality: 8.5/10

 

5. NEKTAR PANORAMA P4/P6

NEKTAR PANORAMA P4

The MIDI keyboard for the big spenders who want top quality tools that will last for years. Nektar Panorama is the smallest serie in our list with two models, the P4/P6 with 49 and 61 notes respectively. The best way to close our list of the best MIDI keyboards.

The keyboard is a cut above the rest in our list, with weighted and velocity sensitive keys with aftertouch. Panorama has 12 pressure and velocity sensitive pads, 9 faders, 16 encoders, 10 assignable LED buttons and a 3.5″ TFT display. A loaded keyboard, big and heavy tool, so unless you have a stable place to put it, it will be trouble to move it or transport it.

If you use Cubase, Logic Pro, Bitwig Studio or Reason then you will not find many keyboards with such a deep integration like Panorama P4/P6. If from the other hand you are using Ableton Live or any other DAW that is not listed above then it is quite possible you will experience problems with integration and it will leave you with an overall disappointment.

conclusion: If you don’t use any of the DAW’s mentioned before, don’t buy this MIDI keyboard. Otherwise you will end up with a tool that you will only use in special occasions. Even if it’s a bit pricey Panorama is a great tool with high quality build and with an amazing experience on specific DAWs, it is definitely worth every penny.

 Musicians who use it: Haywyre

Check price on Amazon.com

Key-count models: P4/P6
DAW compatibility: Cubase, Logic Pro, Bitwig Studio and Reason
Keyboard action type: Weighted
Build quality: 9/10

 

COMMENTS

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