A MIDI keyboard is the ideal piece of equipment for modern music production. Unlike regular piano keyboards, MIDI keyboards allow you to fully utilize your digital audio workstation (DAW) software with a potent combination of keys, dials, drum pads, and switches. Whether you like producing rap beats, EDM tracks, or atmospheric samples for your podcast, these MIDI keyboards are perfectly suited for the task.
Why buy a MIDI keyboard?
MIDI keyboards are one of the most user-friendly methods for producing quality beats from the comfort of your home. These days, you can purchase high-quality MIDI keyboards with a wide variety of features for a low price. Also, with the right DAW and instrument suites, MIDI keyboards can produce just about any sound you can imagine, from crunchy bass lines to smooth, jazzy saxophones.
What should you look for in a MIDI keyboard?
- Functionality: MIDI keyboards come with a variety of configurable controls and features. While all MIDI keyboards offer piano-type keys, some come with additional features such as customizable pads, faders, and knobs. Consider these features if you’re looking to maximize what you can accomplish hands-on with your MIDI keyboard without having to fuss with your DAW.
- Compatibility: Be sure that your MIDI keyboard can connect to your computer and your DAW. Some MIDI keyboards use Bluetooth to connect to a computer, but most use MIDI ports or USB. Many keyboards also include software downloads, which help to simplify your initial configurations.
- Size: If you are stationed at home, a larger and heavier MIDI keyboard will work well. However, if you find yourself frequently traveling with a MIDI keyboard, a compact, portable one may suit you better.
What other features should you look for in a MIDI keyboard?
Unless you’re looking for a very basic MIDI keyboard, you’ll probably want a model that includes easy-to-use transport controls, which will allow you to play, stop, rewind, and record tracks from your MIDI controller. If you plan on using your MIDI controller with another piece of hardware, such as a digital synthesizer, you’ll want to ensure it includes a “MIDI Out” port. Finally, be sure to consider the action type of your keyboard, as there’s a world of difference between weighted, piano-like keys and lightweight, synth-action keys.
An affordable MIDI keyboard with integrated drum pads and assignable buttons.
Pros: Featuring an intuitive layout that will be familiar to musicians who have used an entry-level MIDI keyboard in the past, the Alesis V25 stands out for its springy, velocity-sensitive keys and easy-to-use design. This MIDI keyboard is surprisingly durable despite its affordable price tag, making it a great option for on-the-go use. It also has a lot of nifty features for the price, including eight drum pads, pitch and modulation wheels, and plenty of assignable buttons that can be set up in a pinch. If you’re seeking a powerful MIDI keyboard that won’t break the bank, look no further than the Alesis V25.
Cons: It might give you some sensitivity issues to contend with right out of the box. While this makes it slightly less user-friendly than comparable MIDI keyboards, it should be fairly easy for most users to adjust velocity and sensitivity to their liking via their DAW software and the Alesis editor.
Bottom Line: Those seeking a solid MIDI keyboard that gives you plenty of features for a fair price will likely love the Alesis V25. That being said, while this MIDI keyboard’s build quality is well above average, its keys lack the weighted feel of premium MIDI keyboards. However, compared to similarly-priced options, it’s hard to fault this product in terms of the feel or spring of its keys.
M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3
A slim, full-sized MIDI keyboard with semi-weighted keys.
Pros: Sporting a full suite of 88 keys, the M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 offers a premium feel with a suitable degree of resistance for those who are comfortable playing a piano with weighted keys. While this MIDI keyboard offers a fairly simple interface compared to other models, it comes equipped with a sustain pedal input, plug-and-play USB port, and a handy volume fader, among other basic features. That being said, its quality feel, slim design, and competitive price point make it a great choice for those seeking a full-sized MIDI keyboard.
Cons: Those seeking a MIDI keyboard with drum pads, assignable buttons and knobs, and other premium features will likely be disappointed with this product’s basic offerings. However, those who prefer the feel of a premium, full-sized keyboard will feel right at home when standing over the Keystation 88 MK3.
Bottom Line: While this isn’t the most affordable 88-key MIDI keyboard on the market, it’s probably the best you can get at its price point. If you’re seeking a full-sized MIDI keyboard with enough resistance to give it a traditional feel, this product’s plug-and-play simplicity and nice array of basic features are well worth the asking price.
A compact MIDI controller that's easy to pick up and play.
Pros: If you’re looking for something portable, the Donner DMK25 checks off all the right boxes. This MIDI keyboard is fairly feature-rich for such a compact device, and its assignable faders and convenient transport buttons make it easy to create intricate loops without relying too heavily on your computer’s mouse and DAW. Donner is known for making user-friendly MIDI controllers, and thankfully the DMK25 doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Factor in its affordable price point, and you can see why this is a popular entry-level MIDI keyboard.
Cons: While this MIDI keyboard’s interface and functionality make it easy to pick up and play, its somewhat unorthodox key sizing and lack of resistance may take some time to get used to. As such, those seeking a MIDI keyboard that has the feel of a piano will likely want to pass on this product and seek out an alternative with weighted keys.
Bottom Line: Seeking a versatile 25-key MIDI controller that handles like a synthesizer? The Donner DMK25 is a great option. However, those who are used to playing a piano with weighted keys will likely struggle with this MIDI keyboard due to its synthesizer-like feel. That being said, this MIDI keyboard’s wide compatibility with popular DAWs, programable memory banks, and backlit drum pads make it a solid choice for beginners and seasoned musicians alike.
A budget-friendly MIDI controller with a simple design and sturdy build quality.
Pros: Featuring an unbeatable price tag and user-friendly design that won’t scare beginners away with complicated features or a cluttered layout, the Midiplus AKM320 is the way to go for musicians on a tight budget. Despite this product’s low price, its build quality is surprisingly solid, with sturdy keys and durable casing. While this keyboard won’t blow you away with next-level features, it’s a great choice for musicians looking for an affordable MIDI keyboard that’s lightweight and dependable.
Cons: In terms of features, this product sports a sustain pedal input, a quality volume slider, and wheels to control pitch and modulation. However, it lacks transport buttons, a drum pad, and other features that tend to come standard on most MIDI keyboards. That being said, its straightforward design will appeal to some users.
Bottom Line: Given this MIDI keyboard’s bargain bin price tag, its solid build quality and dependable design make it well worth the price for those seeking a basic, no-frills MIDI keyboard. However, suppose you’re the type of musician who likes to customize your sound via a MIDI controller’s interface instead of your DAW. In that case, this MIDI keyboard’s simplistic control offerings will probably leave something to be desired.
Novation Launchkey 37
This feature-rich MIDI keyboard integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live.
Pros: Featuring a rich set of features that are tailor-made for Ableton Live users, the Novation Launchkey comes in various key counts and is pretty easy to pick up and use despite its advanced functionality. This MIDI keyboard comes with handy Scale and Chord modes which make it easy for those who aren’t trained musicians to find the perfect sound without hours of tinkering. Even better, both of these functions (not to mention its nifty arpeggiator) can be used without a computer, so you can jam with friends or at a gig using nothing but hardware via the Launchkey 37’s “MIDI Out” port.
Cons: While this MIDI keyboard’s feature set goes above and beyond your average MIDI keyboard, this is reflected in its price tag. Seeing as how this product’s build quality is pretty much on par with a number of budget-friendly MIDI controllers, those looking for something basic can save some money by opting for an alternative device.
Bottom Line: If you’re seeking a MIDI keyboard that gives you a ton of customizable options right at your fingertips, the Launchkey 37 is just about as good as it gets at this price point. While this MIDI keyboard was designed with Ableton Live in mind, reviewers using DAWs such as Logic Pro and Garage Band also often give this product their seal of approval.
Shopping for a new MIDI keyboard can be daunting since choosing the wrong model is sure to present you with a setback when creating the music you love. Thankfully, finding a great MIDI keyboard is not difficult, and this is an excellent place to start.