A MIDI keyboard is an essential tool for your studio setup. As a creative instrument, MIDI keyboards offer a massive universe of sonic dimensions that stretches beyond the realm of acoustic instruments. DAW functions like MIDI capture, velocity, and modulation adjustment allow creative music makers to access an enormous range of timbres, tones, and textures without having to purchase $10,000 worth of gear.
Advancements in MIDI technology allow producers to plug their instruments directly into recording computers via USB or Bluetooth connections. These creative instruments give you the power to perform and record with your DAW’s native software instruments and any VST plugins you desire, and many double up as controllers for hardware synths, further cementing their ubiquity.
MIDI keyboards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and layouts. Additionally, many come with mapping templates for the major DAWs, which means you can control most of the primary functions of the DAW directly from your keyboard without needing to click or scroll a mouse. This feature simplifies the creative workflow and allows for more streamlined creativity – which is precisely what you want from your instruments!
Here you will find 5 of the top MIDI keyboards on the market today. While there are hundreds of MIDI keyboards to choose from, these 5 represent the main size ranges: 25-key compact keyboards, 32 to 49-key mid-range keyboards, and full-size 88-key keyboards.
Akai MPK Mini MK3 [Click Here]
- Number of keys: 25
- Key size: Mini
- Controls: Eight assignable encoders, eight MPC pads, full transport controls, 4-way joystick
- Connectivity: USB
The Akai MPK Mini MK3 features 25 velocity-sensitive keys with a 10-octave range, eight velocity and pressure-sensitive MPC pads with built-in aftertouch, and eight continuous rotary knobs. If you are looking for an affordable and compact MIDI keyboard for recording and live performance, the MPK Mini MK3 would be a great starting instrument.
The Mini MK3 includes options to control MIDI CC information and Program Changes from the pads, an A/B selector to switch between two pad banks, eight onboard preassigned presets, pad options for full velocity and note repeat, as well as an extensive onboard arpeggiator. The Mini MK3 relies on a thumb-operated joystick for pitch and modulation adjustment, which is not as user-friendly as control strips or wheels.
However, the joystick can control up to 4 different CCs at one time.
The Mini MK3 comes bundled with Akai’s Complete Music Production Starter kit, including Air instruments Hybrid 3, Mini Grand, and Velvet, everything you need to launch your lo-fi production career In addition to Akai’s proprietary MPC Beats DAW and five MPC sound packs, all of this is more than enough to get you started creatively.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 [Click Here]
The traditional pitch and modulation wheels have been replaced with a pair of touch strips, which aids the portability of the keyboard. However, the eight touch-sensitive control knobs and four-directional push encoder remain full-size, perfect for browsing and manipulating plugins via the Komplete Kontrol software. The M32 also includes a Smart Play feature, enabling scale snapping, chord triggering, and arpeggiation – all features with substantial creative possibilities.
The Komplete Kontrol M32 comes bundled with Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol software. It is fully capable of operating Maschine and getting hands-on with the transport and mixer of your Host Integration-compatible DAWs including Logic, GarageBand, and Live.
Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3 [Click Here]
- Number of keys: 37
- Key size: Full-size
- Controls: Pitch and Modulation wheels, 16 RGB velocity-sensitive pads, eight knobs
- Connectivity: USB
The Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3 features 37 full-size keys, full-size pitch and modulation wheels located above the keyboard, 16 RBG velocity-sensitive pads, and eight rotary knobs. The Launchkey 37 is slightly larger than the Akai and Native Instruments models and is specially designed to pair with Ableton Live.
The Launchkey 37 includes a series of new features designed to take advantage of updated elements of Ableton Live. These features include a button to activate Live’s Capture MIDI tool, along with Push-style device-control, which here makes use of the eight rotary knobs along the top of each controller. The Launchkey 37 also includes great Chord, Scale, and Arpeggiator functions and MIDI outs so that the device can be linked with and control other hardware synths.
If you are an Ableton Live enthusiast, the Novation Launchkey 37 is an excellent choice for a MIDI keyboard. Just imagine the possible drum patterns with all those touch pads! Of course, the device features a fair amount of compatibility with other DAWs and can function well as a live performance device.
Arturia Keylab 49 MkII [Click Here]
The Arturia Keylab 49 MkII features 49 full-size keys, 6 RGB-backlit performance pads, an excellent control bank with nine faders and nine rotary knobs, as well as standard issue pitch and modulation wheels. The main selling point of the Arturia Keylab series is the inclusion of Arturia’s stellar Analog Lab synth modeling software, which includes 5000 presets from a wide range of vintage synthesizers, organs, and electric pianos. While the Keylab 49 is larger than the other models featured here so far, the added keys and features make it practical as both a performance-ready instrument and a handy creative tool in the studio.
The semi-weighted Pro-Feel keybed is fantastic and delivers excellent sensitivity across the full range of velocities. The metal pitch and mod wheels are light and responsive, and the keyboard includes aftertouch. The Keylab 49 also features five pedal connectors, including sustain, expression, and three assignable auxiliaries. MIDI in/out is now joined by five CV connections (pitch, gate, mod 1 and mod 2 and input), so you can both control your modular synths and also hook up one of their CV outputs to control something on your DAW. All these features combine to make the Keylab a serious creative/performance powerhouse.
Overall, if you are looking for a MIDI keyboard that is more like a real piano and less like a compact controller, the Arturia Keylab 49 is a perfect option. The combination of intuitive DAW integration, the strength of Arturia’s Analog Lab synth software, and the well-designed applications for both performance and studio creation make this instrument one to check out.
Nektar Impact LX88+ [Click Here]
The Impact 88+ includes extensive mixing and instrument controls, including pre-mapped control of mixer settings (level, pan, mute, and solo) and virtual instrument parameters (envelopes, filter, etc.). Knobs and faders have soft takeover, updating values only once reaching the current software value. Many common DAWs are supported, including Logic/GarageBand, Bitwig Studio, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Sonar, Studio One, Reaper, Reason, and Cubase/Nuendo.
If you are in the market for a full-size studio workstation at a reasonable price and with great built-in features and excellent DAW compatibility, the Nektar Impact 88+ should be up on your list. The extensive controls and integrated features make it a great starting point, but some producers looking for an 88-key instrument may prefer hammer-action keys instead of the semi-weighted keys on the Impact. Nonetheless, for the studio musician on a budget, the Nektar Impact 88+ will provide more than enough creative fuel to get you moving in the right direction.