Best MIDI keyboards of 2022

Best MIDI keyboards of 2022

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Updated Oct 13, 2022 3: 00 PM

It’s never been simpler (or more affordable!) to make music. It’s easier than ever to create music with computers and inexpensive MIDI keyboards. To hook up even the simplest home studios, you needed to have an electronics degree. Today, music-making software and hardware are powerful and intuitive. One of the most powerful MIDI keyboards should be at the heart of it all.

Paired with a decent computer, an audio interface, and maybe a set of studio monitors or mixing headphones, a MIDI keyboard can mean you’re in (show?) business. The right keyboard allows you to input all the chords and notes that will set the world ablaze. You don’t need to start popping corks just yet. You still need the right MIDI keyboard. It’s more complicated than simply buying any old keyboard and plugging it in to your computer. The world of MIDI controller keys is a vast one. There are more variables than a poorly planned high school science fair project. How many keys are you going to need? Which type of connectivity is best? What amount of money are you willing to spend? Before you can start receiving royalty checks for your future hits, you’ll need to think about all of these. We’ve broken it down for you, so don’t be alarmed. These are our top picks for the best MIDI keyboards.

How we picked the best MIDI keyboard

There are a variety of MIDI keyboards available on the market. They come in a wide range of key numbers, sizes, and weights. Some even offer CV/gate connectivity to interconnect with modular synthesizers. Some are general use while others have been designed to work best with specific digital audio workstations (DAWs) and music production software. What all of them offer, however, is compatibility with MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface–an industry-standard connection/communications protocol that converts interactions with the keyboard into instructions for compatible computers, musical instruments, and other outboard processors/sound modules.

We considered all options when compiling our list of the top MIDI keyboards. To narrow down our top controllers for each category, we made use of our own experience as experts in the field–specifically, I’ve spent three decades as both a professional musician and writer for top music technology publications, including Attack Magazine, Computer Music, MusicTech, Reverb.com, IGN.com, and more. We also consulted our peers and considered user impressions, critical consensus, and the use cases of well-known music producers and composers.

Due to the variety of models available, each with different feature sets and features, it is important to decide how you intend to use your MIDI keypad. This will depend on your playing style and genre. For example, a lo-fi hip hop producer will have different needs than a concert pianist.

First, think about the keys. How many keys do you need? A full piano keyboard has 88 keys (key count can also be expressed in the number of octaves). There are many sizes of keys, from full-size to mini. Key weight is also an option. A piano feel will be more apparent if you use weighted keys. This is important for a jazz pianist but not for an EDM producer.

Next, choose how many knobs or sliders you require. Many MIDI keyboards double as studio control centers. The knobs can be mapped to your DAW, soft synths, or MIDI keyboard. Trigger pads are useful for finger drumming and launching clips in DAWs like Ableton Live. You should also consider connectivity. Basic MIDI keyboards have one USB connector. More complex keyboards may have two USB connectors, a CV/gate, DIN MIDI ports, or jacks to allow expression pedals. Many will be compatible with an iOS or Mac device, while others may work on a PC or Mac.

Is portability important? A MIDI keyboard that can be used on the move will have a different feature list than one that is designed to work in a studio. Your budget will also determine how basic you can go. An 88-key keyboard with knobs, sliders and plenty of connectivity could cost as much as a new synthesizer–or more!

What is a MIDI keyboard?

It can be helpful to define what a MIDI keyboard is. A MIDI keyboard can be thought of as a silent synthesizer. It can be controlled by other controls and keys, but it doesn’t produce any sound. It can interface with a computer, device or other electronic instrument via MIDI, allowing the user to remotely play the destination instrument’s sounds. Additional controls such as sliders and knobs can send control information to an instrument at the other end. This can be used to change the timbre or volume of a sound. You can also use the transport buttons to start and stop playback on a DAW or sequencers to generate musical passages that are not dependent on a DAW. There are also buttons for triggering drums and other samples. You can make your MIDI keyboards as complex or as simple as you want.

Do I really need a MIDI keyboard?

While a MIDI keyboard is a great tool for music composition, it’s not essential. Many DAWs allow you to trigger notes using a QWERTY keyboard. Some producers prefer to draw them directly in the MIDI sequencer section. This is frustrating for many, especially jazz and classical pianists. In hundreds of years, the function of the piano keyboard has not changed much. There’s a reason. It’s a great way to get musical ideas out of your head, into your fingers and out into the world. Although you might be able do without a MIDI keyboard, it’s definitely more fun to have one.

The best MIDI keyboards: Reviews & Recommendations

Because MIDI keyboards don’t make any sound themselves it can be tempting to scrimp on one and put that money toward something else in the studio (maybe you’re eyeing a fine new monitor to make your session look as sweet as it sounds). It’s easy to see why investing in MIDI keyboards is worthwhile when you consider that they will be the heart of your studio or live rig and that you will be using them more than any other piece. It is a good idea to set a budget first, then add knobs and sliders as needed. You can be sure that the keyboards on this list will be worthy of your hard-earned money, regardless of your budget.

Best overall: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

Why it made the cut: A full keybed plus smart DAW and computer integration mean you’ll finally take your eyes away from the computer and focus on the music.

Specs

  • Keys: 88 full-size weighted keys
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0, MIDI in/out, 2 pedal controller inputs
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC

Pros

  • Fully weighted hammer-action keys
  • Two high-res color displays
  • DAW integration

Cons

Modern music production revolves around the DAW or digital audio workstation. We tend to fixate on the computer monitor for whatever reason. Native Instruments, a German company, believes this is a problem and has created MIDI keyboards that encourage users to look away from the monitor and to interact more with the keyboard. Called Komplete Kontrol, they range from the small to the large, with our pick for best overall MIDI keyboard, the S88, at the top of the line.

As the name suggests, the S88 has 88 keys, with a fully weighted Fatar keybed with hammer action–something that piano players looking for an acoustic piano feel and level of control will surely appreciate. You can also use the two control pedal inputs to make your playing as realistic as possible. It also adds a row with eight rotary encoders to the keybed and a four-directional push encoder to navigate the high-resolution color displays. These are the ones that NI uses to get your eyes off the monitor. This full-size MIDI keyboard supports deep DAW integration. It can reproduce portions of your DAW on two screens, allowing for tasks such as mixing right from the keyboard. The included Komplete Kontrol software allows it to integrate with other software. It can be used standalone or as a plugin for DAWs. This instantly maps Native Instruments and third-party software to the knobs. It saves you the hassle of creating MIDI maps to control things such as filter cutoff.

Komplete Kontrol S88 is not cheap but as a fully featured MIDI controller with a piano-like keybed, it’s just begging to be the centerpiece of your home studio. For musicians who like the functionality but don’t need all the keys, look to the Komplete Kontrol S49 or Kontrol S61 for the same extras without the extra octaves.

Best modular: Joue Music Instruments Joue Play

Why it made the cut: This controller marries good looks and build quality with a creatively inspiring approach to MIDI control.

Specs

  • Keys: Varies depending on module
  • Connectivity: USB-C
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC/iPad

Pros

  • Swappable controller modules
  • Gorgeous build and design
  • Creatively inspiring

Cons

  • Bundled app has limited editing
  • MPE requires Pro (paid) firmware upgrade

Modern music creation goes beyond just playing notes on a keyboard. Drums, effects and unique articulation all make up the experience. It would be great if there were a controller that could be adjusted to suit the situation. Joue Play, a MIDI keyboard control by French boutique Joue Music Instruments, perfectly fits the bill.

Joue play is modular and has rubber controller mats that can easily be swapped depending on the task. The four-module version that we reviewed (there’s also one with two) contains your standard piano-style key controller along with one with drum pads, another with a guitar fretboard, and a second key mat but without black keys, perfect for those who like to experiment with scales. The controls for each module are different, but the transport and octave buttons will be the same across all. The mats are snugly placed on top of a metal or wood base. An RFID chip tells the system which module’s controls it should recognize. The whole device feels solid and sturdy. It’s also a delight for the eyes, with two color sets available, a bright Fire (shown below) and a more subtle Water.

The end result is a unique controller with Swiss Army-like adaptability to the production task at hand. It also has unique control surfaces such as XY pads or raised bubble domes that encourage experimentation. Joue Play can be used with any software, but it is the most compatible with the bundled application. The app sounds great but some users may not like the editing capabilities. In such a case, you’ll want to pony up an extra $50 for the Pro firmware upgrade that unlocks more customizable control and MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression).

Best for beginners: Akai Pro MPK mini mk3

Why it made the cut: Keys, pads, knobs, and even a free bundled DAW–what more could a beginner want?

Specs

  • Keys: 25 mini keys
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0, sustain pedal input
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC

Pros

  • 8 pads straight from the MPC line
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Includes free MPC Beats DAW

Cons

  • Mini keys could be better

Want to make beats but don’t know where to begin? Akai Pro’s MK mini mk3 is a solid entry point to the world of music production, as long as you have a computer.

Akai Pro is responsible for the MPC line, a series that created the foundation for hip-hop. What does this have do with a MIDI keyboard The MPK mini mk3 is the best-selling MIDI keyboard, according to Akai Pro. It borrows some MPC hardware magic and pairs that with MPC Beats (the DAW version) of the music-making operating systems inside the machines. For around $100, you’re making music with the best of them.

Think of the MPK mini-mk3 as an all in one MIDI controller. It’s got 25 mini keys, eight drum pads taken straight from the MPC with both channel and polyphonic aftertouch for complete timbre control (unheard of at this price point), eight endless encoders for controlling software instrument parameters, a mappable X-Y joystick, an arpeggiator, and even an OLED screen for visual feedback. It’s lightweight enough to be carried on the move and sturdy enough to keep your studio safe while you bang out beats.

While the keys feel a little stiffer, you get a lot of control for the money. It is hard to recommend it highly enough for everyone, not just as the best beginner MIDI keyboard.

Best weighted keyboard: M-Audio Hammer 88

Why it made the cut: Grand piano action for around $500.

Specs

  • Keys: 88 full-size weighted keys
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0, MIDI out, 3 pedal ports
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC

Pros

  • Gorgeous weighted piano feel
  • Affordable price
  • Music rest

Cons

  • Lacks additional controls

There is a distinction between music producers and musicians. The former want to have full control over their MIDI keyboards, while the latter only care about the keys. A MIDI keyboard that provides a piano-like experience is the best choice if you are a keyboardist. You want M-Audio’s Hammer 88.

A well-made keyboard with a minimal aesthetic, Hammer 88 offers seven octaves of velocity-sensitive and weighted keys. They have a rich, almost acoustic sound to them, and piano players will love them. Part of the piano experience is using the pedals, so Hammer 88 provides three pedal ports: one each for sustain, soft, and expression. You even get a music rest.

While M-Audio’s keyboard isn’t very intuitive, there are no arrays of encoders and sliders. However, it does offer some concessions for modern synth players with pitch and modulation wheels as well as two basic selections buttons. The bundled application allows users the ability to create splits and other configurations.

At only around $500, M-Audio’s Hammer 88 is a striking bargain. And, if you really find yourself needing drum pads, M-Audio makes one with additional controls. This one is for you, players.

Best small keyboard: Arturia KeyStep Pro

Why it made the cut: A plethora of control options elevate this Swiss army knife of a MIDI keyboard.

Specs

  • Keys: 37 slim keys
  • Connectivity: 4 x CV/gate/modulation output sets, 8 drum gate outputs, 1 MIDI in, 2 MIDI outs, USB, clock synchronization in/out, metronome line out, sustain port
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC

Pros

  • 4 sequencer lanes
  • Analog and digital drum triggering
  • DAW control mode

Cons

  • White color may turn some off

Most of the MIDI keyboards in this list can be used with computers. There is a growing trend of musicians leaving behind the computer and becoming DAWless. Modular synthesizer users are a good example of this. They enjoy the freedom to experiment without being bound by a computer-based sequencer. Arturia’s Keystep Pro is the right tool for you if this sounds like you.

A 37-key controller, the Keystep Pro combines sequencing and MIDI note triggering into one device. It has four sequencer lanes, one of which doubles as a drum programmer. Sequencing is more than just note on/off. It also includes note offset, velocity and gate length. It can be thought of as a set of tools that allows you to experiment with patterns and notes. The Keysetp Pro can transmit control information over MIDI via USB or five-pin DIN MIDI cables, or through control voltages, which is the language of vintage and modular synths. Arturia’s MIDI keyboard is also compatible with a DAW. It has a customizable controller mode that allows mapping to soft synths or other applications.

The Keystep Pro is a MIDI keyboard that does a lot. It’s a bit pricey, but it does a lot. Should you want something similarly unconventional but with a friendlier price tag, Roli’s Lumi Keys and Keith McMillen’s QuNexus Red are inspiring alternatives.

Best for Ableton: Novation Launchkey MK III 61

Why it made the cut: It’s the most, well, able-bodied controller for everything the Ableton power user needs.

Specs

  • Keys: 61 full-size keys
  • Connectivity: USB, MIDI out, sustain pedal port
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC

Pros

  • Effortless Ableton integration
  • Plenty of knobs, sliders, and buttons
  • Excellent price

Cons

  • Non-Ableton users may feel left out

Despite what some might argue, DAWs can be very different. While they all can get you to the same destination, a finished song, the way they transport you there may be different. Ableton Live is a good example. It does things differently to ProTools, with its two views and emphasis on clips and live performance. It would make sense to have a MIDI keyboard made specifically for Ableton.

Novation has been making Ableton-focused MIDI keyboards and controllers for almost a decade now and the Launchkey MK III series is the culmination of this experience, with 25-, 37-, 49-, and 61-key models available. The flagship model, the MK III 61, is our pick for the best MIDI keyboard for Ableton.

As you’d expect, the Launchkey MK III 61 integrates fluidly with Live, so much so that using the controller becomes second nature. You can do everything from the keyboard: clip launching, view changing and recording. You can also access a variety of non-DAW functions, including scale and chord modes, and a deep arpeggiator, to help you express yourself. It’s a great device, especially considering the price, which is shockingly low.

It works with other DAWs such as Logic Pro X but it’s not as intuitively integrated. But if you’re an Ableton power user, Novation’s Launchkey MK III 61 is practically a requirement. (FL Studio producers, check out Novation’s FLkey 37, the world’s only dedicated FL Studio MIDI keyboard. )

Best budget: Nektar SE25

Why it made the cut: It’s lightweight, eminently usable, and so cheap it’s practically an impulse purchase.

Specs

  • Keys: 25 mini keys
  • Connectivity: Mini USB
  • Compatibility: Mac/PC/iOS

Pros

  • Very cheap
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Useful functionality

Cons

  • No knobs or sliders

Not everyone needs a MIDI keyboard that can sing and dance. Sometimes a budget keyboard is all you need. Sometimes, a small budget keyboard is just right. Tiny and cheap are even better. Tiny, cheap and quality are the perfect budget-friendly trio.

MIDI controller company Nektar offers a range of controllers but we’re particularly smitten with the SE25, a two-octave MIDI keyboard that manages to be just about everything you need in not a lot of space–and for an attractive price. At only 33.5cm x 10cm x 2.1cm, it’s not much bigger than the 25-key MIDI controller itself. It’s easy to set up on a desk and use a laptop to get to work. It’s also astonishingly lightweight, with its 400 grams and bus power making it a no-brainer for on-the-go production.

Although it doesn’t have any knobs and sliders, there is no room! It does have six buttons, which, when pressed in certain combinations give you access to a surprising amount of control, including MIDI channel changes, note harmonizations, and basic DAW integration.

This budget MIDI keyboard is well worth a look and a play.

FAQs

Q: How many keys should a MIDI keyboard have?

The number of keys a MIDI keyboard should have depends entirely on how you plan to use it. A full-size piano has 88 keys, or seven octaves and an additional three keys below bottom C. If you are a piano player or want a MIDI keyboard to learn to play piano, this is what you should be aiming for. Most synthesizers have 61 keys or five octaves, making this something of a standard MIDI keyboard size for electronic musicians and producers. Small and portable MIDI keyboards can go down to as low as 25 keys or two octaves. This is fine for portable devices, but it can be restricting for daily use, especially if your preference is to play two-handed chords.

Q: Can you use a MIDI keyboard without a computer?

The majority of MIDI keyboards are made to interface with a computer via USB. These keyboards may draw power from USB, so they may not function as a standalone controller. Some of these will work with other instruments and even iOS devices. These have their own power and different connectivity options. For example, five-pin DIN MIDI ports that connect to synthesizers or drum machines, and CV/gate that interconnects with older electronic instruments and modular gear. A MIDI keyboard that draws less current is required for iOS devices. For higher-draw MIDI keyboards, a powered USB hub may be an option.

Q: Can I use a synthesizer as a MIDI keyboard?

If you already have a synthesizer or two, you could probably use one as a MIDI keyboard. It will transmit basic performance data like pitch bends and trigger notes, provided it has MIDI. We use an old Roland Alpha Juno-2 keyboard controller because we love the action of the keys. It doesn’t have any knobs and sliders so it isn’t a perfect solution. Manufacturers of synthesizers recognize that musicians may wish to use their instruments for this purpose, so they may include control modes in the synths. However, this is not a common feature. The technology behind synthesizers has changed a lot in the five decades that they have been around. Older models may not be compatible with modern DAWs. Modern control and functionality are the main reasons MIDI keyboards remain the best choice.

A final word on selecting the best MIDI keyboard

While we have focused on performance and budget in this list, every instrument or device in your recording studio should contribute to the ultimate goal: making music. You should choose the MIDI keyboard that inspires you most creatively. Your circumstances will dictate whether you want flashy colors, minimal aesthetics, or one with every bell and whistle possible. Your MIDI keyboard is the musical conduit that connects you to reality. It should also fulfill that function.

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