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Gone are the days when you needed a whole team of composers to create music.
If you are serious about making music at home on your Windows or iOS device, you need to invest in a MIDI controller.
These piano-style devices can be plugged to your PC or tablet via USB, or connected via Bluetooth, and enable you to play with your digital audio software and synthesizer or your audio interfaces.
You will find a limitless range of MIDI controllers on the market these days. With so many options, selecting the best MIDI keyboard controller can be quite overwhelming.
In this review and buying guide, we have selected what we believe are five of the best portable MIDI keyboards.
Read on to find out about their specifications.
Best MIDI Controllers
BEST KEYPAD MINI CONTROLLER: Korg 25-Key MIDI Controller
|Size:||14.6 x 1.6 x 3.7 inches|
|Number of keys:||25|
|Compatibility:||PC and MAC devices. Supports numerous software titles including major DAW programs|
- Slim-line low-profile keyboard, best for use with laptops and notebooks
- Very portable and super light
- Fits easily in a backpack
- Equipped with advanced-design keys which enhances accuracy
- Velocity-sensitive keys
- Sustain button eliminates the need for a separate foot pedal
- Equipped with helpful LED status light
- Has a noticeable vibration even when it is being turned off.
- Some say the sound sometimes seems quite artificial and unclear and setting changes do not resolve this issue.
- The packaging is not great. The cable is hidden behind a cardboard partition and is difficult to see.
- Some users complain the knobs on the sliders can fall off after a year.
- There is no master volume.
- Some users say the MIDI keyboard stops working if your computer goes to sleep. To reconnect, you will need to quit your DAW, unplug the system, plug it back in and restart DAW, which can be very inconvenient.
- Sliders are not illuminated so some people may have visibility issues in dim conditions.
The Korg 25-Key MIDI Controller, also known as NANOKEY2BK, features an advanced and streamlined MIDI keyboard controller that has a great-feeling touch and an ultra-low profile that provides superior keyboard performance fort its size and class.
This MIDI keyboard also allows a quick fingering because you don’t have to move your fingers vertically, so it reduces fatigue. Both the black and white keys are of the same size and have the same sensitivity so you don’t have to adjust your finger pressure every time you alternate between them.
The keys also have plenty of space between them so that you do not hit the wrong note. The touch and velocity response has been fine-tuned by Korg, ensuring you get wonderful performance every time.
The MIDI keyboard is fun to play as the buttons that control octave location light up and go through color modes for every octave modification. Moreover, it has a sustain button which eliminates the need for a foot pedal.
The NANOKEY2BK is super-light and can be easily transported even in a backpack. However, some users think the plastic is too flimsy and gives it an unprofessional look. Plus, the device does not always produce the best sound.
However, if a small MIDI controller is what you need, the NANOKEY2BK saves you a lot of space and burden by getting rid of all but the most essential control features.
Although this attribute may not be everyone’s favorite, it makes it very easy to use. As such, this is a great MIDI keyboard for beginners.
Best MIDI Controller for Ableton: Akai Professional APC Mini MIDI Controller
|Size:||7.9 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches|
|Number of keys:||64|
|Compatibility:||PC, Mac, and most other devices. Premapped to Ableton devices|
- 8X8 MIDI clip matrix with three-color lighting
- Integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live
- 1 master fader and 8 assignable faders quickly maps to Ableton Live’s mixer for better mix control.
- Production software package includes Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, and Toolroom Record artist downloadable packs.
- Very portable
- Lightweight but made of sturdy material
- Equipped with lots of features
- Some users complain that Ableton Live Lite was not included. No CD or serial number of the software included in the box.
- Not the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio
As far as features go, the Akai Professional APC Mini MIDI Controller has been one of the best producing keyboards for years. The device is versatile, powerful, and dexterous and is the most portable Ableton controller solution (it can fit inside a backpack) that comes with Akai pro build quality.
The device comes with Ableton Live Lite software (though some people find this missing) and delivers almost all of the same functions as Ableton Live. It lets you simultaneously compose, record, edit, and remix your music in a single, seamless MIDI environment with unmatchable convenience and ease-of-use.
The Akai APC Mini also comes with Hybrid 3.0 high-definition virtual synthesizer that combines analogue synths with full digital manipulation capabilities. This offers you a virtual instruments with a wide set of adjustable parameters that can sound like a unique and distinctive synth.
The Toolroom launch pack brings you the most sought-after sounds of electronic music along with a collection of premium samples, drumkits, and curated instrumental loops, produced exclusively for Akai Professional.
RUNNER-uP: Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller
|Size:||30.5 x 3.5 x 10.6 inches|
|Type:||49-note synth-style keyboard|
|Number of keys:||49|
|Compatibility:||macOS 10.12 Sierra, Mac OSX 10.11, 10.10 , 10.9, Windows 10 , Windows 8 and Windows 7|
- Equipped with 16 full-color velocity-sensitive RGB drum pads, 8 knobs, control buttons and dedicated navigation system.
- Sustain pedal, 7-segment 3-character LED display, and pitch bend and modulation wheels
- Internal 8-track pattern-based sequencer.
- USB-powered and fully compliant. Works without power cables or drivers.
- Flexible range of analogue and digital controls
- Enables you to modify and mix tracks, make use of free keys and pad drumming tuition, and use neon-colors to lay down beats using color-coded sensitive pads.
- Software for PC and Mac, including Ableton Lite Live and XLN Audio Addictive Keys
- Seamlessly integrates with DAW
- Brings MIDI hardware and CV/Gate synths together.
- 2-year limited warranty on defective products.
- The new layout is not so great for live looping for previous MK2 owners.
- Some users say they are no longer dedicated buttons for features like “In Control” mode and switching through tracks.
- People with larger finger may find it difficult to play with the ¾ inch pads.
- Some users say the build quality seem very plastic-like and poor.
- The pads are only backlit and RGB color-coded when using Ableton Live
The Novation Launchkey 49 Keyboard Controller is a more basic device if you compare it to the all-time favorite Impulse that the company is famous for. However, limited features mean you save hundreds of dollars. With fewer functionality also comes a huge advantage; ease of use.
The set up is a breeze and you can quickly get started without spending hours experimenting with which button or knob offers what function. With USB input and class compliance, you can fire up this MIDI controller without worrying about external drivers or power provided by a computer.
The device is specifically designed for use with Ableton Live; however, its InControl technology feature allows it to map with other DAW software as well. The drum pads may be slightly smaller than Akai, but it is equipped with buttons, assignable faders, pitch bend and mod wheels.
As expected form Novation, the build and stability of the device is pretty good. Additionally, it comes with Novation V-Station and Bass Station bundle that is compatible with Mac and PC. It also comes with iPad-compatible Novation apps, so this is extra incentive if you depend on iOS for your music.
Best MIDI Controller With 25 Keys: Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-Key Controller
|Size:||14 x 9 x 1.5 inches|
|Number of keys:||25|
|Compatibility:||Mac and PC. Compatible with FL Studio 20|
- 25-note MIDI controller keyboard with slim design
- 8 high-quality pressure and velocity-sensitive pads with RGB backlights
- 16 rotary encoders, including 2 clickable ones
- Perfect pitch bend and modulation with 2 capacitive touch sensors
- Comes with Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab Lite and UVI Grand Piano
- Versatile range of analogue and digital ins and outs
- Compact, super-light and super-portable
- Beautiful and durable high-end Italian finish
- Comes with accessories like laptop stand and sheet music stand
- Too many VST control knobs which can be frustrating and confusing for users.
If you are looking for an affordable entry into Arturia’s suite of MIDI controllers, then you can’t do much better than the MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-Key Controller.
The Arturia mid-controller is a beautifully-designed and well-built MIDI controller with a slim 25-note keyboard. The device is equipped with two banks of 8 sensitive pads with RGB lighting. It also consists of 16 rotary encoders which offer plenty of scope to tweak the 500 Analog Lab synth presets.
For each sound, the encoders are automatically assigned to the most relevant parameters. Accompanied by 2 touch sensors, this device may be compact, but it is quite powerful.
It also comes with software packages including Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab Lite and UVI Grand Piano, which offer users over 500 synthesizer tones. Since it has a simple interface and seamless integration capabilities with the software it comes with, you don’t need to spend hours setting it up.
Because of its slim design and light weight, it is easy to carry around. With a very affordable price, this slim-key MIDI controller is perfect for users who are looking for a powerful, impressive, and reliable product at the right price.
Because of its easy to use functions, this is a great choice for newbies that are looking to dip their toes in music production as well as those who love performing.
RUNNER-UP: Alesis V25 25 Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
|Size:||9.6 x 24.6 x 4.5 inches|
|Number of keys:||25|
|Compatibility:||PC and MAC. Compatible with FL Studio and all the included AIR Music Tech Virtual Instruments|
- 25 full-sized, velocity-sensitive square front keys for playing virtual instruments
- 8 velocity and pressure-sensitive backlit pads
- 4 assignable knobs and buttons for music software interface
- Seamless visual feedback with brightly illuminated knobs and buttons
- Creative and expressive control with pitch and modulation wheels
- Access full keyboard range with Octave Up and Down buttons
- Comes with premium software, including pro Tools |First Alesis Edition, Mini grand, Ableton Live Lite 9, Eleven Lite, and Air Music Tech’s Xpand! 2 and DB 33
- Build quality is quite impressive
- Slim design means it is good for fitting into a workstation
- Full-sized keys give a more tactile and realistic feeling
- Keys have some resistance and need to be pressed harder than usual
- Unable to get soft dynamics because of keys
- Need two fingers to hit a pad, which can prompt double-triggering
- Pitch and module wheels are a bit small
- Keys are not weighted
Alesis V25 | 25 Key USB MIDI is a slimline keyboard controller, which still manages to fit in 8 production pads on the left of the keyboard. The best things about the pads are that they are full-sized which gives a more tactile feeling. Besides that, there are 4 assignable knobs that help you adjust volume, and trigger filters and effects.
The Octave Up and Down button enables users to expand their track to a full keyboard range while a pitch bend and modulation wheel allows you to adjust the pitch and get more creative.
One of the things that users are not happy with are the very light keys. Most users prefer at least semi-weighted keys but the present keys do have a more tactile feeling if you consider the price range.
The Alesis V25 comes with premium software, including pro Tools |First Alesis Edition, Mini grand, Ableton Live Lite 9, Eleven Lite, and Air Music Tech’s Xpand! 2 and DB 33.
The Best Portable MIDI Keyboard Controllers of 2020: Buying Advice
If you are new to MIDI keyboard controllers, there are some things that you need to consider before you hit the music store.
Figure out what type of music you want to make and what features you need so you can get a MIDI controller that fits your needs.
Here is some buying advice to help you buy the best MIDI keyboard controller for yourself.
If you are just starting out as a music producer, getting a smaller MIDI with small keypads is a good idea.
Small, compact-sized keyboard controllers have the advantage of being more affordable than their larger counterparts.
They are also more easy to use.
However, if you are one of those who are plagued with thick fingers, you may consider getting a keyboard with full-sized keys and pads so that you don’t hit a wrong note by mistake.
The best kind of MIDI keyboard controllers come with octave shift buttons which allows you to access a full range of note pitches even from a 25-key controller.
However, if you are an experienced or two-handed player, there are 32-key, 37-key, 49-key, 61-key, and 88-key controllers available.
- 25-key MIDI controllers are a good option if you travel a lot and want the convenience of using just one hand for music production.
- 49-key MIDI keyboards remain compact and portable while offering more features than the basic 25-key. It is a good option for people who are learning to play with two hands. It is also used popularly for making hip-hop and electro house music.
- 61-key MIDI keyboards are heavier and allow musicians to play more complex bits of music. They have large, semi-weighted keys so fingering is quite comfortable and realistic.
- 88-key MIDI controllers have the same number of keys as an acoustic piano and hence they may be good choice for pianists. However, this device is not very portable.
There are three major types of key actions which serve different functions.
- Synth action keys are found in almost all MIDI keyboards. These keys are made of plastic and are not weighted. However, they have a spring which helps them return to their original position after a key is pressed and released.
- Semi-weighted keys have a light-weight attached to every key. These keys aren’t plastic. Semi-weighted keys give you a stickier, more tactile feeling that is quite similar to a traditional piano. They are also not as fast as synth-action keys.
- Fully-weighted key-action keyboards are the closest to the keys in a piano. This key action is found in most digital pianos and the feel is almost like that of a traditional piano. Fully-weighted key actions are not found in most MIDI keyboards, though high-end controllers may have them.
All MIDI controllers can be powered by a USB port.
With so many people working on a single computer, you do not need a MIDI output necessarily, though some keyboard controllers do still come with 5-pin MIDI outports.
Additionally, smaller, minijack TRS MIDI outputs are becoming increasingly popular these days.
Complete DAW integration allows producers to adjust the parameters of your software instruments straight from your keyboard controller, rather than your computer.
High-end MIDI controllers come with full DAW integration, although there are many budget keyboards that also have the capability, which can be an added incentive to invest in them.
Many larger MIDI keyboards come equipped with extra features like knobs, buttons, faders, arpeggiators, and more, which provide superior performance control.
However, remember that the more features a keyboard has, the higher will be its price. So, music producers need to determine what features can be useful for them before they decide on a MIDI keyboard.
MIDI Controllers FAQ
What can you do with a MIDI controller?
A MIDI controller is an interface that gives music producer control over sounds, effects, and functions.
The device itself does not produce any sound because it uses sound from virtual studio technology or similar technology.
They are also known as software synthesizers.
MIDI controllers can give you full control over your software synthesizers and digital audio workstation (DAW).
Some are built for a specific DAW while others have some features for all kinds of DAWs.
We recommend using your MIDI keyboard for the specific DAW it was built for as it will allow you more control over functionalities and give you more options to play with.
Additionally, some producers experience bugs and issues when using DAWs that are not specifically designed for their particular keyboard.
How does a MIDI controller work?
MIDI controllers can be a bit hard for newbie producers to understand. When you use an MIDI keyboard and press a key, you send three different values to your computer.
These values are the note number, the velocity, and the note-on and they are just coding that relate to different sounds, not the sounds themselves.
MIDI controllers do not produce any sound of their own; they have control over the VST, which is what produces the sound.
The sound can be generated using VST from a laptop, PC, or another device.
Do all MIDI controllers have speakers?
A MIDI controller does not produce any sound on its own, which is the reason why it doesn’t have any speakers built into it.
When you want to hear a sound, you plug your MIDI controller to a device that will generate a sound, like your PC, laptop or a tone generator.
Then you hit a key and the MIDI will send a signal to the synthesizer software, which will generate a sound that can be heard through your computer speakers.
Is it easier to use MIDI controllers with keypads or keys?
A MIDI controller with keys is good for playing piano pieces and creating chord progressions and melodies.
However, if you want to use percussion sounds like drum beats, having drum pads can be quite useful.
Keypads are designed to hit out your beats more effectively than simple keys and controllers with keypads tend to be bigger in size, though they can still be light and portable.
You can also always use just keys to hit out your percussive sounds.
But the keys on the controllers have longer “key travel,” which is the distance and time it takes for a key at rest to go to full depression.
Keypads on the other hand are more responsive and are better for percussions.
However, keypads also come with a range of feels; some may feel more tactile and comfortable to use while others may not feel very good.
So you need to make sure if you are buying a MIDI controller that the keypads feel good on your fingers.
In the end, we believe that all of the above controllers in our list have strong reasons behind buying them.
Selecting the one that you want should rest on what features and functionalities you need.
Think about your workspace, music styles, and budget and see if the MIDI keyboard and controllers in our list are relevant to what you need.
You can find the best MIDI keyboard by method of elimination.
Hopefully, out reviews and buying guide can help you find the perfect MIDI keyboard controller.