With the increase in electronic and digital music production, one of the standard tools of the trade has been established as the MIDI keyboard controller. With the MIDI keyboard, producers and musicians alike have a wealth of virtual instruments at their fingertips.
Here are the best MIDI Controllers that you can get started with without breaking the bank. Also they are mostly 25 keys which is the best size for beginners (Easy to fit on your studio desk as well).
Please note: I personally will be upgrading soon to a midi controller with more keys but that is only because I’ve used my Akai Professional for almost 3 years now.
You’ll know when to upgrade but right now, you just need this.
So in my mind, this is on the top of the list for the best midi controllers that are out there in 2017.
Akai Professional LPK25 aka ‘The LEGEND”
The non-wireless Akai Professional LPK25 contains 25 keys, and weighs only one pound, and measures thirteen inches in length. Given the LPK25’s compact size, it is extremely portable. With a USB connector that needs no driver installation needed, it can be used with your Mac and PC laptop for the production of digital music and audio engineering. It is ideal for use alongside studio programs as a result of its numerous functions.
For instance, it has an arpeggiator that is provided for simple sequencing, as well as creating versatile melodies. Compatible with multiple software, like Logic, Cubase, Reaper, Studio One, Pro Tools, Ableton, and Digital Performer, as well as needing no additional cable required for connection, you won’t be needing to lug around too many accessories (the LPK25 recharges through the USB connection with your computer!).
You are also given the option to raise and lower the octave, control the tempo with tapping, and it also has a sustain button. The Akai Professional LPK15 also comes with editing software that is also compatible with PCs and Macs. Though the LPK15 may not have all the functions and versatility of its big brothers and sisters, it still proves to have a good functionality emphasized by its small size, especially when you take into consideration that it has four different presets and sixteen MIDI output channels. At under $60, this MIDI keyboard controller proves to be light weight and customizable.
UPDATE: Comes with a wireless version as well. That is awesome because studio desks can get pretty cluttered fast.
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
Less than 13 inches in length and weighing under 2 pounds, the 25 key count MPK Mini can be easily toted around due to the keyboard controller’s small size, also leaving plenty of room on the audio producer’s “work” desk or music production space. No software or adaptor is necessary for use of the MPK Mini, due to its addition of a USB-MIDI. With this feature, it need only be connected to your computer for use, as well as for recharging its battery
The MPK Mini MKII comes with a variety of hardware tools in its kit. With these it can simulate a variety of instruments (all included in the compact package and available for download), create different effects, and be used with different digital studios.
The MPK Mini consists of a 4-piece thumb-stick to control modulation and pitch, eight MPC pads that are back-lit, and eight different velocity sensitive drum pads made of rubber, as well as eight Q-link knobs that re assignable for your needs. There are also buttons on this keyboard controller that allow for “note repeat”, “full level”, “octave up”, and “octave down”.
The software featured with the MPK Mini keyboard include SONiVOX Wobble 2, Preset Editor, Akai Pro MPC Essentials, and Air Hybrid 3. Considered a number one best seller in computer recording equipment, you can buy the MPK Mini for approximately $100 on Amazon. The MPK Mini MKII is ideal for small production spaces, or for the musician who is always on-the-go.
M-Audio Keystation 49
The Keystation 49 is tailored specifically for digital music creation. The M-Audio keyboard controller was created with a basic design in mind, though it is still powerful. Created specifically to use for music sequencing as well as recreating classic sounds with virtual instruments, this controller can be used with either you PC, Mac, or an iOS device.
It can even be used with your iPad, making it a versatile tool. With 49 keys, all full-sized and velocity sensitive, the Keystation 49 is meant to increase your opportunities for creative expression when it comes to music and digital audio engineering. With various controls to increase the capability of your notes, you can adjust and alter the octave and pitch of your keys, as well as with the aid of transport controls and modulation wheels.
The Keystation 49 will also give you access to the editing software Ableton Live Lite, and allow you to us the virtual piano tool, SoniVox Eighty-Eight Ensemble. This full-sized controller features a sustain-pedal input to give you greater ease of control with your music production.
The 49-Key comes to under $95on Amazon, and with no additional power supply needed (the Keystation 49 charges through its USB feature), it can be used to control your DAW. Though not as light weight as some mini keyboard controllers, it still weighs only six pounds at thirty-nine inches in length, still making it ideal for transportation on your trips to different studios and venues
Alesis VI25 Advanced Keyboard Controller
a MIDI keyboard designed for music composing, the Alesis VI25 Advanced Keyboard Controller comes with, as its name suggests, 25 semi-weighted keys, and is a full-sized keyboard controller at 24 inches, weighing seven pounds. With 16 RGB feedback pads that are back-lit in different colors, all velocity and pressure-sensitive with the attractive feature of an after-touch, the Alesis VI25 has a wide melodic range.
With this, you can perform different chords, melodies, and bass-lines by adjusting the up and down octave controls. With a full-set of 24 buttons and 8 knobs, the music producer that uses it is provided with the the ease with which to create their own musical content in their DAW.
When using this keyboard, they will also have the aid of virtual instruments and plug-ins. Intended to be used with your computer, the Alesis VI25 can be charged via the USB connecter, as well as a power adaptor for use with more complicated designs of studios. With this, the Alesis VI25 also provides you with the use of two different software for download, including Xpand!2 (by AIR Music Tech) and Ableton Live Lite.
With the hardware tools provided, you can finger-drum and launch clips on the Alesis VI25. As with other USB-powered keyboards, the Alesis VI25 does not require external battery charge, simply needing to be restored with the USB and your computer. The Alesis can also be connected to other external MIDI devices. The Alesis VI25 is a slightly higher-end keyboard controller, costing about $180 with the LCD screen.
Why do we need a MIDI Controller?
Since their development in the 1980s, the MIDI keyboard was designed so that live musicians could adjust more than one synthesizer with one keyboard. With the benefits that came with this, the MIDI keyboard controller has since been a huge success. Giving performers, audio engineers, composers, whether it be live or in their studio, full control to produce their creations, it’s no wonder that the MIDI has become essential so essential in digital music.
The standard set-up of a keyboard controller consists of either piano or synthesizing keys, with an array of buttons, sliders, and knobs. The controller transmits external sound modules, computer software synthesizers, hardware sequencers, or software sequencers. The majority of these keyboard controllers can’t generate their sound internally, rather intended as a control for a synthesizer or work station, allowing the user to monitor the range of other devices’ sound.
One of the primary benefits of the keyboard controller is that they are portable, as well as versatile. Able to control nearly ever aspect of modern music sound, both in hardware and software, it’s a huge bonus when you can also transport it in one laptop bag.
Faders, Knobs, Plastic Stuff Are All Part Of The Fun
As mentioned before, the keyboard controller expands beyond the collection of keys, possessing the knobs, sliders and buttons needed for your use in the top panels. With the transmitting of MIDI data, the control that the keyboard offers you over modules and software is significantly increased. Say you have your keyboard controller connected to your computer, and your DAW with your preferred soft synth.
Your controller’s sliders, knobs and modulation wheel allow you a physical sense of control over your the filter cutoff of your synth. As opposed to the experience you get while using a mouse, the keyboard gives a sensation reminiscent of an analog keyboard. Yo can even now acquire keyboard controllers that contain air-mapping technology, setting up faders and knobs to align with your particular software needs and applications.
Great for LIVE performances
The MIDI was originally intended to be a control panel for other modules. This proved to be extremely beneficial in concert. When performing onstage, by connecting your keyboard controller to your computer (or the rack of synth modules as well as effects processors) you could use presets in order to combine or split devices using only the buttons on your keyboard controller.
This became very popular with DJ’s. Being able to command these modules, adjusting the loop sequencer’s filter from your laptop, and all with a compact, 25-key controller, would be a life-saver under the pressure of performance.
Start With A Smaller Midi Controller
There are several factors that will determine the key count best applicable to you – do you play one handed, or two? Do you work in a professional studio, or a studio apartment? Do you do keyboard splits (or road-mapping)? Do you travel a lot with your controller?
With these in mind, take into consideration that keyboard controllers typically come with either a set of 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys. Occasionally you can find ones with a key count of 32, 37, 73, or 76. With these key counts they can range anywhere between twenty inches, and even more than fifty inches in length.
Midi controller with more keys are great for practicing chord progressions but if you don’t know what chords are then what’s the point right 🙂 So start off small, work your way up.
Keyboard Response Is Important
A feature of any keyboard controller you will come across is the keyboard action, defining how a key will respond to playing -it’s important that you feel comfortable with the controller. Even a slightly less-than-ideal set of keys can have a negative impact on your whole process!
Before I got the Akai LPK 25, I tested it out. It looked small but the quality and response of the keys felt good. Not ‘plasticy’ or ‘cheap’.
This makes action type extremely personal. It will be effected by what you are most accustomed to, your preferred style of music, which will likely demand one action type over another. You can decide from a list of three basic keyboard action types:
It’s All In The Weight
Semi-weighted shares some similar features to weighted hammer action, but contains aspects similar to that of your unadjusted electronic keyboard. A decreased resistance compared to that of the weighted action, the semi-weighted action keyboard is one of the more popular controllers for electronic musicians. If you’re not married to the authentic piano response, but aren’t a fan of the springy synth action, you will likely be comfortable with the semi-weighted action.
Importance of After Touch
The next time you watch a professional keyboardist playing a lead line on their synth that climaxes into a hair-raising vibrato, pay attention to their finger movements. Chances are, you will see a finger lean deeper into the key. This extra pressure is what creates an aftertouch event.
Aftertouch is a good way to add expression to your playing, while avoiding long-term strain on your digits. Another approach to this is to have your left hand rock your keyboard controller’s pitch wheel or joystick, although this cannot be done if you’re intending to comp under your lead. Aftertouch proves useful in this instance.
There are two different flavors of aftertouch: Monophonic (or, “channel aftertouch”) and polyphonic. Channel aftertouch uses a “rail” instigated by using any key. This sends out an average MIDI value for all the keys being held. Whereas polyphonic aftertouch will let you adjust a parameter on each individual note.
This is based on the pressure on the key, after the note has already been struck. Due to polyphonic forming a large amount of MIDI information, its expensive design, and the fact that the user will only be able to utilize it with a greater amount of dexterity than is average, this aftertouch is rarer to find on keyboards.
Connecting The Darn Thing with Input And Output Options
All modern keyboard controllers are able to transmit MIDI with USB, but in more complicated setups, you will find two more types of jacks that will simplify your whole experience. The typical 5-pin MIDI Din connects with your controller and other MIDI instruments so that you can control them. On top of this, the CV and Gate outputs let you control and modulate even vintage types of synth gear.
Most midi controllers come with USB’s now so you can get started in no time. I’ll be moving away from USB to connecting it all to my Tascam Audio Interface just so I have less load on my MacMini. Time to upgrade that sucker 🙂