A MIDI keyboard controller is the perfect tool for interacting with your music. No longer do you need to scroll and type – you can press, turn, and dial in with MIDI.
So, let’s talk about the yen best MIDI keyboards that professional music producers are using so you can begin to elevate your music production sessions. We’re exploring hardware from brands such as Alesis, AKAI, Arturia, and a few more manufacturers that make awesome hardware for music producers, so let’s take a look at the best ten MIDI controllers available today.
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88
- Native Instruments Maschine MK 3
- Novation 49SL MK II
- AKAI MPK Mini MK 3
- Arturia KeyLab 49 MK II
- M-Audio Keystation 49 MK 3
- AKAI MPC Studio
- Alesis VI 61
- Arturia Keystep Pro
- Nektar Panorama T4 49
1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 – best MIDI controller with 88 keys
Up first our favorite MIDI controller in 2023 is the Komplete Kontrol S88 MIDI keyboard from Native Instruments. In short, this is the best MIDI keyboard around right now because it’s one of the most versatile tools available to music producers and independent artists.
For example, its 88 hammer action keys offer a true piano feel, meaning you can write as if you were sitting behind the keys of a real concert piano. Coupled with its smooth integration with virtual instruments, VST plugins & DAWs, these keys will allow you to unlock creativity previously unimaginable. Oh, and two assignable pedal inputs make expressing yourself that little bit more fun. In fact, you can even use the Light Guide to see where sounds, key zones, switches, scales, and more are sitting your on keyboard.
Furthermore, you can use the two high-res color screens on the S88 MIDI keyboard to browse presets and instruments all without looking at your computer screen! A 4-directional push encoder knob allows you to easily navigate these screens while global transport controls to the left of the screens make it easy to record and edit in Ableton, GarageBand, Cubase, Nuendo, and more!
More controls include rubberized pitch and mod wheels, an assignable touch strip, octave shift functions, and even velocity controls. Moreover, the S88 features eight encoder knobs that are pre-mapped to Kontakt and NKS instrument parameters, though you can adjust these MIDI mappings yourself.
Connect your S88 to your computer via USB, and you can connect the device to other MIDI hardware such as analog synthesizers, modules, and so on.
Of course, being a product of Native Instruments means the S88 MIDI keyboard has deep integration with Maschine – NI’s flagship beat production software. Access Scenes, Patterns, and more directly from the controller, and it also comes bundled with Komplete 14 Select with 16 premium software instruments and effects.
2. Native Instruments Maschine MK 3 – best MIDI pad controller
Speaking of Maschine, next we have another popular MIDI controller from Native Instruments – their infamous Maschine MK3 pad controller and standalone instrument.
Maschine MK3 builds on the NI’s classic groove box workflow and offers more intuitive features in both hardware and software. For instance, the 16 pads are bigger and are more sensitive to finding presses than before, and the onboard 96 kHz / 24-bit audio interface offers a dramatically professional sound. In fact, Maschine MK3 can act as the central audio interface in your studio setup!
Like the S88, high-resolution screens on the Maschine hardware make it easy to see everything you need without the need for looking at your computer screen. Further, the reimagined hardware layout streamlines your workflow so you can build your beats and songs faster with different modes for programming rhythms, melodies, and chord progression. Meanwhile, Maschine’s “Lock” tool allows you to take “snapshots” of your custom parameter setups, so you can literally build your own workflow and change parameters however you like.
In practice, Maschine’s touch-sensitive knobs and deep DAW integration allow you to assign parameters from your DAW and virtual instruments by touching a button on the Maschine hardware, while function buttons for note repeat and fixed velocity make drum programming & melody writing fun & interactive.
3. Novation 49SL MK II – best MIDI sequencer
In our third spot, we have the 49SL MK II MIDI keyboard from Novation. Coupled with Intuitive DAW integration, the 49SL MK II’s eight-track polyphonic sequencer removes much of the thinking when building melodies so you can focus on fleshing out your musical ideas.
Easily play & edit your sequences directly from the keyboard while choosing from the menu of velocity curves, and record custom parameter automation straight onto the sequencer! Moreover, its onboard arpeggiator offers multiple modes and sync rates, and you can adjust the length and pattern of notes on the MIDI keyboard too.
Speaking of keys, the Novation 49SL MK II offers a semi-weighted key bed with MIDI aftertouch, and the RGB backlit keys allow you to view scales, available composition modes, and sample zones. Meanwhile, the 8 velocity-sensitive RGB pads offer polyphonic aftertouch and allow you to program drums and launch clips, but they can act as steps in the onboard sequencer!
Finally, the Novation 49SL MK II offers deep integration with Ableton Live, and a selection of customizable templates makes it easy to build your own workflow easily.
4. AKAI MPK Mini MK 3 – best Best MIDI keyboard for beginners
Next, we have a 25-key MIDI controller that almost every budding producer & songwriter owns – the AKAI MPK Mini MK 3. Coupled with its 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys, the MPK’s 8 MPC velocity pads & 8 encoder knobs give you every tool you need to write chords & melodies, program drums, and record automation! All while its small OLED display makes it easy to see exactly what settings and presets you’re tampering with, as well as useful feedback on controller data and MIDI channels in real time!
Though the MK 3 retains many features from the second version, this third AKAI MPK MIDI keyboard does have some big differences from the MK 2. For instance, the key bed is more responsive yet quieter, and the 8 knobs are 360-degree encoders that feel much better than the 270-degree pot knobs found on the MK 2. And the velocity-sensitive pads are more sensitive too, making for a better finger drumming performance, and the A/B bank selector expands the 8 pads into 16!
Furthermore, the MPK MK3 retains the joystick-style pitch bend/modulation control – a feature that separates the MPK Mini from other controllers. And its onboard arpeggiator lets you get stuck in writing melodies and chords straight out of the box while function controls options for fixed velocity, note repeat, and more reside in the pads.
The overall design of the MPK Mini MK3 has changed slightly too. The USB over MIDI port is found on the back of the unit, and the layout of the buttons has also changed too. But controlling MIDI CC messages and Program Changes from the pads is as it was in the MK2.
Included is a generous bank of over 1,500 sounds to play with, and bundled software includes MPC Beat in addition to 6 virtual instruments.
5. Arturia KeyLab 49 MK II – best for live performance
Coming in hot for our fifth choice of the best MIDI keyboards in 2023, Arturia’s KeyLab 49 MK II offers the same key bed found on their infamous MatrixBrute and MiniBrute 2 hardware. And the KeyLab’s pre-mapped 9 encoder knobs make recording automation simple, while its 9 faders let you control your signal levels without looking at your computer screen.
Equally intuitive are the 16 backlit RGB performance pads and the selection of assignable buttons. Also available are different performance controls for bending notes, modulating sounds, and transposing your keyboard by semitones or full octaves. Then you can see any and all changes and modulation information on the LCD screen displays!
If you don’t know much about Arturia, they’re a brand that focuses its tools largely on creative sound design & production. That’s why the KeyLab 49 MK II allows you to send and receives control voltage information from external MIDI gear in expansive hardware setups. In practice, you can set up an automated sequence in your DAW and send it out to a Eurorack setup through the Keylab MIDI keyboard! Alternatively, you can compose full arrangements with the available chord mode too!
6. M-Audio Keystation 49 MK 3 – best for film scoring
M-Audio is a brand that has resided in the top leagues of music production gear for a long time. With 49 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys, and deep VST integration, their Keystation 49 MK 3 MIDI keyboard demonstrates why they’re a renowned brand.
The MIDI keyboard offers various controls like transport and directional controls, octave range buttons, pitch and modulation wheels, and a volume fader that all make it easy to navigate DAWs & plugins alike. Each of these buttons and the fader, however, is fully assignable, meaning you can create custom MIDI mappings and build a workflow that works for you.
Furthermore, the Keystation 49 is compact and lightweight. It may not be the best for making music on the go, but its build is durable enough to take a few knocks. In any case, with USB and iOS connectivity (with the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter), M-Audio’s second iteration of the Keystaton MIDI controller is made to serve a broad audience of music creators.
Finally, the Keystation comes with Ableton Live Lite and MPC Beats in addition to seven acoustic piano sounds! And what better way to take full advantage of those piano sounds than with the 6.3 mm jack input for sustain and expression pedals?
7. AKAI MPC Studio
AKAI is back, taking the seventh slot in our list of best MIDI controllers. Their MPC Studio offers 16 RGB backlit, pressure-sensitive MPC pads – all fully assignable with the Pad Bank buttons.
You can navigate your way through the hardware settings, recording software, and the 100GB of included sound content with the encoder knob while all information is displayed OLED display too. Further, you can record automation and modulate your sounds with the assignable touch strip.
Moreover, a plethora of controls for controlling and building your arrangements are neatly presented on the front panel. Connect external gear with 1/8″ MIDI I/O ports, and connect the device to your computer via USB.
The AKAI MPC Studio MIDI pad controller comes bundled with a nice software package too. It gives you the MPC2 software suite (which acts as the host DAW for the hardware )and access to software synthesizers and keyboard emulations like Hybrid, Odyssey, and Mellotron. Of course, a small selection of effect plugins is always welcome and the Studio comes bundled with AIR Vocal Suite – a set of plugins designed for professional vocal mixing.
8. Alesis VI 61
In our eighth spot comes a brand that has built a strong reputation by creating some of the best electronic drum kits and MIDI gear on the market.
The Alesis VI 61 MIDI keyboard offers 61 full-size, semi-weighted keys with MIDI aftertouch. Additionally, 16 RGB backlit velocity-sensitive pads make drum programming and clip launching easy, and a whopping 48 assignable buttons will streamline your music production process and remove the clicking and menu scrolling within your DAW.
Meanwhile, 16 assignable knobs and the pitch and modulation wheels are perfect for recording automation and modulation, while the LED screen, with its own illuminated navigation buttons and knobs, makes DAW navigation seamless.
Connect the MIDI keyboard to your computer via USB, or expand your existing hardware setup via the 5-pin MIDI Out port. Finally, bundled software includes Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech.
9. Arturia Keystep Pro – best for controlling external MIDI gear
The Keystep Pro from Arturia is a 3-octave keyboard… with a lot more. Specially made for connecting external gear in one MIDI chain with unparalleled MIDI, CV, and USB connectivity, the KeyStep MIDI keyboard gives you a 24-part integrated drum sequencer, and 5 encoder knobs with LEDs for adjusting pitch, gating, and velocity, as well as dialing in time shift and randomness to your sequences.
In fact, the Keystep Pro gives you a comprehensive step editor where you can play with sequence functions and adjust semitones, the ordering of patterns & scenes, and so much more – all without looking at your computer screen, thanks to the neat LED display.
Moreover, the MIDI keyboard has 4 independent polyphonic sequencers that can control whatever hardware synth, module, or drum machine you connect! There are 16 patterns per track and a pattern can be up to 64 steps long with 16 notes per step. Oh, and you can link up to 16 patterns together and create phrases or whole songs!
Additionally, global controls allow you to add swing, adjust the tempo of the sequence, and easily make edits to your project. And the neat LED, which has its own LED-illuminated controls, displays information about the parameters you’re adjusting.
10. Nektar Panorama T4 49
The final MIDI keyboard in our list of best controllers is the Nektar Panorama T4 49. 49 synth-action keys with aftertouch and 8 velocity-sensitive pads perfect for programming drums make this keyboard a mighty fine choice for all of your composition needs.
Further, the keyboard has a multitude of functions such as note repeat, velocity, and more, with separate settings for the keys and pads. Trigger up to 6 notes from one key or pad with chord mode, use “Hold” to sustain notes, and use the expression pedal socks to add some more personality to your music.
You can customize MIDI mappings and layer up to 8 plugins with the onboard volume, pan, mute, solo, and select mixing controls, and even browse patches directly from the hardware. You’ll also get instant access to Nektar plugin control in any DAW too!
Whether you’re looking for your first MIDI controller keyboard or are looking to upgrade from your current hardware, our list of the top ten MIDI keyboards will help you find the best controller for you.
This list of 10 MIDI keyboards & controllers is full of hardware commonly used by music producers in various scenarios. Whether you need a MIDI controller for live performance, your studio, or for on the go; this list of 10 MIDI controllers should be your one-stop shop.
I hope you found this article useful. And it would mean the world to us if you shared this post with your friends online if you did!