What Exactly Are Midi Controllers?
If you’re new to the field of music production, you’ve probably already performed a preliminary google search to figure out exactly what tools you’ll need to get started.
While beat machines and DAWs such as ‘Fruity Loops’ may be sufficient for producing music that sounds like your favorite artists, do not underestimate the value and importance of one of the Best Midi controllers.
The key to understanding what a midi controller does resides in understanding midi itself.
Midi stands for ‘Musical Instrument Digital Interface.’
If you google up a Midi Controller, you’ll probably notice many images of keyboard-looking devices pop up.
The setup of a keyboard is done purposely for ease of playing. The keys on a Midi Controller correspond to that of an actual keyboard.
This allows for easier creation of melodies and chords when producing music as explained here. The additional benefit of a Midi Controller is that it allows you to synthesize different instruments with the device itself.
For example, you may select the sound ‘trumpet’ and press the key for A flat, and it will play the corresponding note in the tone of a trumpet.
However, there are devices that are designed similar to beat machines. Recent innovations in music technology have allowed many beat machines to double as a Midi Controller. This article will be specifically catered to Midi Keyboards as they are exclusively designed for the purposes of MIDI.
This article will help break down the best midi controllers in the industry for both beginners and experts alike using three criteria: aesthetics, hardware capability, and pricing.
- Aesthetics will examine the physical beauty of the device in question.
- Hardware capability will analyze things ranging from modulation ability to available presets.
- Pricing will be based on how reasonable the pricing is in relation to the controller.
All criteria will be rated on a score from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest possible score and 10 being the highest score.
List of the Best Midi Controllers
#10 – Novation Launchkey Mini MKII
Do not let the ratings on this Midi Keyboard fool you! The Novation Launchkey Mini MKII stands out as a great keyboard for those that are new to audio production. The aesthetic rating is based on the keyboard’s simplistic design. This is a solid introduction to our best midi controllers’ list.
Aesthetics – It only features 16 keys, a simple plastic black encasing with the stock piano keys. The design is fluid enough to be understood by beginners, however, making it a good starter keyboard for those that do not wish to be overwhelmed by complex designs for advanced hardware.
Hardware – The device’s hardware capability is average as well. It does everything necessary for a Midi Controller and nothing more. The device allows for simple connection with most DAWs, USB-connectivity, and a few nobs that allow users to modify instrumental sounds and re-assign different presets. Beyond this, there are no features of particular note.
Price – The keyboard’s current value is a steal at 79 USD. Most Midi Keyboards usually start at 99 USD, so this is a great offer relative to the market and what the keyboard presents for its user.
Overall, the keyboard is just decent. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but nothing exceptional either. This keyboard would be great for someone on a very tight budget or who is just beginning to practice audio production.
It does not require a very steep investment, and the hardware’s durability means that it can remain useful for years to come.
#9- Alesis V25 25 Key Keyboard Controller
Coming in at #9 on our Best Midi Controllers list, the Alesis V25 25 Key Keyboard Controller is a slight upgrade over the Novation Launchkey Mini MKII in that it features 25 keys, is slightly larger and more aesthetically pleasing.
Aesthetics – The keyboard represents a solid upgrade over the Novation. It features LED backlights for the eight additional pads on the side of the keyboard itself. The keyboard’s sleek all-black design gives it a more professional feel.
However, the basic keyboard layout in addition to the keyboard’s plastic frame itself is nothing to write home about.
Hardware – This keyboard’s hardware capability also represents a solid upgrade over the Novation. Like the Novation, it comes with an accompanying DAW, ‘Ableton Live Lite.’
The addition of the beat pads on the keyboard gives it extra functionality to assign different presets and pre-played loops.
The nobs are assignable as well and can be used to operate the hardware’s pitch shift capability. The device’s power source is nothing unusual – a USB that powers the hardware and also transfers the data directly from the device to the computer itself.
Price – The Alesis V25 provides a great value. At 89 USD, one could objectively say this keyboard is somewhat underpriced. It performs all the basic functionality of a midi keyboard with the addition of a couple of neat features.
#8- Yamaha PSRE253 61-Key Portable Keyboard
At #8 on our Best Midi Controllers list, the Yamaha PSRE253 is a great Midi Keyboard for those that have eclipsed the beginner stage and are now at an intermediate level. Featuring 61 keys, the keyboard has a much more dynamic range of notes for selected instrumentation. However, it does take a slight hit due to the size required to contain these keys as well as other aesthetic measures that will be discussed in the next paragraph. Overall, Yamaha lives up to their brand’s reputation of musical excellence with this product.
Aesthetics – The Yamaha was given a lower aesthetic score than the Novation and Alesis keyboards for a few reasons.
- The layout is ugly. There’s nothing stand out about its structure, and the monitor display in the middle of the keyboard is faintly reminiscent of the basic electric keyboards that children receive on Christmas.
In other words, it does not give off an air of professionalism that you may be seeking aesthetically from a midi keyboard.
- The keys themselves are nothing special either. It is a basic set of black and white keys with no uniqueness to their presentation.
- The device does not feature the nobs that the other two Midi Keyboards and several others contain to control modulation, octave and pitch shifting.
- The casing of the Midi Controller is plastic as well, giving it a plain feel.
Hardware – Regarding hardware, the device does well. It contains all of the hardware capabilities of the Novation as well as a few additional perks. The keyboard itself comes equipped with the ‘Yamaha Survival Kit,’ which contains headphones, a foot pedal, and a power adaptor.
The hardware also comes with over 350 preset instruments and voices, greatly extending the creative capabilities of its users.
Price – Price-wise, the Yamaha keyboard is somewhat of a deal at 119 USD. It is not a complete steal, but you can be sure you didn’t overpay for the keyboard.
For these reasons, we feel that the Yamaha is justifiably #8 on the list of best midi controllers.
#7- Roland A-49 MIDI Keyboard Controller
The Roland A49 Midi Keyboard Controller represents another shift in dexterity for its users. Its unique shape, iPad, and iPhone compatibility in addition to its use of the most modern Midi technology earns it the 7th spot on our list of Best Midi Controllers.
Aesthetics– The keyboard is beautiful to look at. It is silver, which is distinctly different from the typical black Midi Keyboards, and it is very compact. The device only weighs approximately 6 pounds, which is very light in the world of Midi Keyboards.
This is especially useful for musicians that find themselves traveling back and forth lugging massive amounts of equipment between various locations.
Hardware– The hardware on this controller is a little bit more advanced than its predecessors on this list. The keys are slightly more flat than those on other keyboards, making the touch a bit more sensitive.
The company states that other improvements built into the keyboard’s functionality help to reduce additional noise. The controller also features D-BEAM capability in addition to synthesizer control.
Pricing– The pricing isn’t bad with this one, but it isn’t great either. At 179 USD, it is somewhat expensive compared to what you may expect from other comparable keyboards, but it is still cheap in the grand scheme of Midi Controllers.
#6- M-Audio Code 25 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
At #6 on our Best Midi Controllers list, the M-Audio Code 25 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller is truly a gem to behold. Built for intermediate to advanced music producers, it comes with 25 keys, USB capability, and a small, compact frame that allows musicians and producers alike to transport the controller with no difficulties.
Aesthetics– The M-Audio Code 25 is beautiful. With a silver covering, a colorful array of pads, and a palatable use of nobs and faders, the M-Audio Code 25 looks like a beautiful controller worthy of being in any professional musician’s arsenal.
Hardware– The M-Audio Code 25’s hardware capabilities are amazing. The incorporation of both pads and keys allow for unlimited creativity as one can produce melodic harmonies as well as accompanying beats in one fell swoop, making the entire musical production process more efficient. The 16 beat pads also give users a substantial amount of freedom in creating the correct beat patterns. M-Audio Code 25’s placement of multiple faders and nobs allows users to tweak sounds and modulations until they achieve precisely the sound they are seeking. Did I mention that this device comes with a built-in LED display for the pads as well as USB connectivity for easy on-the-go access?
Pricing – Although the M-Audio Code 25 is more expensive than the other devices covered on this list, there is no doubt that you will get your bang for your buck with this device. It comes with several additional pieces of software such as; Loom and Hybrid 3.0 for synthesizing various sounds. This software in addition to the features and capabilities of the Code 25 itself allows users endless creativity in producing a musical masterpiece. Therefore, the price of 249 USD is very reasonable given the features and capabilities of the hardware.
#5- Akai Professional MAX49 USB/MIDI/CV Keyboard Controller Red
The Akai Professional MAX49 represents an entirely different level in MIDI controller devices. The controller’s design has served as the cornerstone for an advanced level of controller designed to be used specifically by those that have achieved a near-professional level of mastery at the use of such a device, making it a strong #5 on our list of the best midi controllers.
Aesthetics – Aesthetically, this is one cool looking controller! The controller itself is red, which stands in stark contrast between the silver and black colors of the other controllers that have been covered in depth within this article. The fact that the device can compactly present 49 keys for its user without compromising any necessary playing space is desirable as well.
Also, the device’s innovative orientation that separates the keys itself from the beat pad, oscillator and modulator controls, display board and nob is of substantial note.
Hardware – The features of this controller are magnificent. Its 12 MPC pads are integrated with the 49 piano-keys ensure that there is no deficit in creative control for its users. The controller’s automatic mapping software allows users to integrate all of their favorite music software and almost any VST plugin.
The device also comes with preset effects in addition to complete control of pitch manipulation and modulation as well as an arpeggiator for smooth, connected rhythmic phrasing.
The preset effects on the device allow users to EQ, delay, gate, and perform many other alterations to their input that they would have otherwise have needed a DAW to complete
Pricing – While being substantially more expensive than its predecessors on this controller review, the price is not unexpected given what users are receiving. The price is not exactly a steal either.
Therefore, the price of 7/10 stands. It is not unusual that we see companies that provide comparable hardware attempt to charge nearly double the price in an effort to sap the customer dry.
#4- Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S49 Keyboard Controller with KOMPLETE 11
The Native Instruments S49 Keyboard Controller represents the latest and greatest by Native Instruments. The company has a longstanding history with creating products that have revolutionized musical production, and this one stands as no exception.
Adopting the design formula for some of its other products, the S49 Keyboard Controller by Native Instruments is a beautiful, sleek and intelligent controller. If you have obtained this controller, then you are probably working with the same level of hardware as many critically acclaimed producers in the music industry. Bottom line, this device is legitimate and could not be left out of our list of the best midi controllers.
Aesthetics – What sticks out the most for me with this controller is the modernization of the key design. While almost every other controller on the list has provided keys that look very similar to what one could find on any standard keyboard, the S49’s keys have a different and more modern feel to them.
This modern feel in contrast with the device’s sleek, sophisticated black background gives it the aura and impressiveness that you would expect from such a controller.
Hardware– One of the main features of this Midi Controller is that it is accompanied by Native Instrument’s KOMPLETE 11 software. It is also accompanied by REAKTOR 6, UNA CORDA, INDIA, REPLIKA, STRUMMED ACOUSTIC, and KINETIC METAL. The partner software, KOMPLETE 11, is what makes this hardware so special. KOMPLETE 11 gives users the ability to create their sounds from scratch.
This advanced level of music production allows for the highest level of technical fluency in the field. Also, users can manipulate over 13,000 sounds and 155 GB of instrumental effects through the hardware itself. The parameters on this device are nearly unlimited and can serve as a powerful tool, only limited by imagination for the professional music producer.
Pricing – The price of 898 USD is not low by any means, but for such a top of the line controller it is a fair one. The hardware itself plus the addition of the KOMPLETE 11 software bundle package gives this item a fair value at nearly 900 USD. As mentioned before, you get what you pay for.
However, in this case, I firmly believe that you are receiving even more than what you what you pay for with this device.
There doesn’t appear to be any limitation in the device’s capabilities, and there is no level of professional music production that could not benefit from its use.
#3 – Arturia KeyLab 88 Keyboard Controller
Coming in at #3 on our Best Midi Controllers list, the Arturia KeyLab 88 Keyboard Controller is truly designed for the professional musician and does not compromise this intention in any way. With 88 keys, the device is a lot larger than other controllers. But this also allows for a much more dynamic range of play than other controllers.
Its elongated length also allows for straightforward playing, so that a professional pianist is not limited in any way by the capabilities of the hardware itself. Its elongated size does mean that it is slightly heavier at 28 pounds (13 kg), but this is not a device that is meant to be transported willy-nilly between shows! A controller of this nature is best placed within a fixed location such as a studio or musical museum of some sort.
Aesthetics – This a thing of beauty. From the wooden panels on both sides of the controller to the glossy smooth metallic panel above the keys that allow for a modernized, professional view – this controller screams professionalism and sophistication. The signature ‘Arturia’ logo in the middle of the device gives it a nice touch as well.
Aesthetically, the keys are nothing to write home about. But the organization of the nobs, pads, and modulators at the top of the device are of particular note. Despite the fact that the upper panel of the device is somewhat ‘clumped’ together, it doesn’t make you feel like your range of motion is limited or that you have a greater risk for accidentally pressing or moving nobs that you didn’t intend to.
Hardware – Perhaps my personal favorite part of this device would be the hardware. This controller is extremely sophisticated! It includes over 5,000 synthesizer presets, allowing the professional musician to create just about any sound that he or she can imagine with the controller.
This device allows its users to edit the dimensions of the presets too just in case the 5,000 presets aren’t sufficient!
The hardware also comes with the expected DAW and OS compatibility that is to be expected with modern controllers. The USB connectivity is essential as well, for easy connection and less fuss over millions of wires and such.
To reiterate, the editing features on this hardware are insane! Not only are there 5,000 presets which users can edit at will, but the controller also comes with the option to select through more than 200 patches that are classified by genre and select custom effects, delays, reverbs, etc., to manipulate a recording to sound exactly as you dreamed of in your head. There don’t seem to be any lack of parameters with this device.
Pricing – The device is flat-out expensive at 799 USD. However, that is to be expected because we are now in the territory of professional equipment. Anything that exceeds what this device provides regarding capability and hardware is probably beyond the realm of what a professional musician would need.
One must factor in the 88-keys being included in the device as well when assessing its price. Even the lower graded models on this list receive a substantial price increase directly proportional to the amount of keys on the device. Therefore, the price appears to be reasonable. In this case, you do get what you pay for.
#2 – Ableton Push 2 MIDI Controller
For those familiar with the DAW Ableton, it is no secret that they have long been considered one of the industry standards for music production software. Therefore, it stands to reason that a midi controller created by them should be excellent as well. If your thought pattern was like ours, then consider yourself correct. The Ableton Push 2 controller looks like a portal to the future of controller design and has deservingly made the #2 spot of the Best Midi Controllers.
Aesthetics – The most prominent feature of this controller is the high-definition scroll panel. Users can actually see, edit and manipulate the wavelengths of the samples directly from the controller itself. This highly sophisticated technology is unprecedented in the world of controllers, and at the time of writing, there is not another controller in existence that also offers this feature.
Instead of keys, it offers 64 different pads which may be disorienting for those that were expecting to use piano keys.
However, these 64 pads give the device the capability of infinite pattern combinations because each pad can be individually programmed with its pattern or corresponding sound that can be placed adjacent, simultaneously or in concordance with other beat patterns or sounds.
The placement of multiple nobs at the top and touch sensitive buttons elsewhere on the controller give it a beautiful, natural simplicity.
Hardware – The hardware itself is impressive. The built-in display scroll allows users a sense of control that has previously been given by a controller. Also, because of its association with Ableton Live, it works seamlessly with the software to make sampling, editing and general cooperation between hardware and software a painless process.
The hardware is powered by USB like many other controllers and offers users a futuristic glimpse with its reliance on tactile sensations to manipulate many of the main controls on the device.
Price – Given the amenities, features, and perks of this device, the price is excellent. 639 USD almost seems like robbery for the value that one receives from this product. If you’re on the fence about this product, make the purchase.
#1- ROLI Seabord RISE 49 MIDI Controller
The ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 is the quintessential MIDI keyboard controller. Its innovative design and functionality are what earned it the score of 10/10 and the #1 slot on our list of the best MIDI controllers. Quite simply put, this device is the crème de la crème of Midi controllers.
Aesthetics – The aesthetic of this device may be its strongest point. And that’s saying a lot, considering its significant innovations in the technological aspect. The sleek black keyboard may be the thinnest Midi controller on the entire market, despite its sophistication in design.
The keys themselves are not designed in a manner typical to other Midi keyboard controllers. In contrast, the keys themselves are covered with a silicone surface to help assist with the keyboard’s hardware features. There are no nobs or other related items on this device. Instead, it features a beautifully simplistic control panel that is utilized exclusively by its users’ touch.
Hardware – It’s possible to write about a book on all of the hardware capabilities of this device. To begin with, the device has wireless capability, which is an unprecedented in the world of midi controllers. It still offers USB capability as well. The hardware’s main feature, however, is its reliance on interpreting tactile responses to develop the controller’s output.
The hardware is designed with the ability to interpret output based on how one touches the keys. This allows for fluidity in playing that cannot be offered by any other Midi controller. This helps save hours of time that may have otherwise been spent using a controller’s editing parameters to manipulate the sound to mimic the desired product. The control panel allows for editing via touch rather than through the use of nobs. This innovation is a substantial advance in Midi Controllers and has further raised the bar on the standard for Midi Controllers. Both the hardware and layout of this controller earned its place at the top of the best midi controllers.
Pricing – The price of this item is undoubtedly expensive. At nearly 1200 USD, the controller is by far the most expensive one on the market and initially gave us pause to put it at the top of the list of best midi controllers. Although you will certainly get your bang for your buck with this controller, you will not necessarily sacrifice any crucial features if you were to opt for the #2 or #3 controllers on the list. For that reason, we could not give the controller a complete 10/10 on the pricing factor.