You’ll be hard pressed to find a studio these days that doesn’t have at least one MIDI keyboard for music production. With extensive sound libraries available and more sound packs than we know what to do with, so much production has become controlled by the use of a MIDI keyboard – one touch of a key, and you can trigger any sound that you like. Given this versatility, and that pianos are such a fundamental instrument to have in any studio, it’s easy to see how MIDI keyboards have become so popular, and why they’re here to stay for a long time.
But which MIDI keyboard should you pick? And what sort of things should you even look for in a MIDI keyboard? That’s what this article is here for – I’ve compiled a list of the most popular MIDI keyboards on the market today in 2020, based on price, functionality, and their features. Let’s dive in.
What Makes a Good MIDI Keyboard?
You’ve probably seen pictures of MIDI keyboards with rows and rows of knobs, faders, dials, modulation wheels etc…. For some, all those features make it a great keyboard. For others, like myself, I really only use the keys function of a MIDI keyboard, so a good keyboard for me is a lot more simple. It’s important to narrow down which features you’re looking for, but here are some main highlights of a good MIDI keyboard:
- Key touch – The feel of the keyboard needs to be to your preference, whether that be weighted keys or not. The key touch can make or break the playability of the keyboard for you. Some keys are also velocity sensitive, meaning they can track the attack of your key strike, which is a nice feature to have.
- Integration with your DAW – Make sure to research, read up on reviews, or ask others to see if there are any compatibility issues with your DAW and a MIDI keyboard of interest. The set up should not take hours… if it does, there’s probably a better option out there for you.
- Software – Most MIDI keyboards come with software (like drivers or VST), so make sure to check any potential software compatibility issues with your computer, and how frequently the software might be updated or phased out.
The Best MIDI Keyboards on the Market Today
- Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 (Great All-Round Keyboard) – This keyboard from Arturia is very popular and renowned for its convenient features, helping increase your workflow as a producer. It features 61 velocity sensitive keys, 9 assignable faders and knobs which work in real-time with your computer, as well 8 backlit velocity sensitive trigger pads. One particularly handy composition tool includes the keyboard’s Chord Function, which allows you to trigger more complex chords with the press of one note. Most Arturia products come with certain VST’s from Arturia, though these change from product to product over time. You can expect some great samples and classic synths though.
- NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII (Another Great All-Round Keyboard) – If you’re a producer, chances are you’ve heard of Native Instruments, whether it was for their popular samples/sound libraries, or their studio gear. And if you’re a user of NI sounds already, then naturally, their Komplete Kontrol MIDI keyboard would be a great choice for you. It’s got 88 hammer-action keys which feel great, assignable knobs and faders, pitch bend and mod wheel, and a touch strip which can be great for adding expression to your playing. The keyboard has great connectivity with major DAWs too, including basic tracking functions integrated directly into the keyboard. A cool organization feature that’s included is the use of RGB light indicators above the keys, which can be used to help group or organize instruments assigned across the keyboard. It also comes with NI Komplete 12 Select, which features some great instruments and effects.
- M-Audio Hammer 88 (MIDI Keyboard Most Comparable in Feel to a Piano) – For some producers, especially those who are primarily pianists, they need a keyboard that gives a realistic playing experience, comparable to a real piano. The Hammer 88 from M-Audio is one of the best MIDI keyboard options in this category. It’s got 88 incredibly realistic and responsive keys, as well as 3 pedal inputs. An important mention is its very simple design – the only onboard controls you’ll find are a pitch bend and mod wheel, and an assignable master fader. For some, this is a plus, but if you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with lots of features, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.
- Akai MPK Mini MkII (Great Compact MIDI Keyboard) – If you’re a producer that needs portability in their setup, or someone who doesn’t want the footprint of a larger keyboard, then the Akai MPK Mini is one of the most popular compact MIDI keyboards out there. It’s got 25 velocity sensitive mini keys, with an octave up/down feature to extend to a full keyboard range. Even though it’s a small keyboard, it’s got many features packed in. There are 8 MPC backlit velocity sensitive drum pads (with an A/B bank feature to allow up to 16 sound samples), a thumb stick that pairs as a pitch bend and mod wheel, a built-in arpeggiator, note repeater, and 8 assignable knobs. It also comes with a pretty extensive software pack, including MPC Essentials for beat production, and two great synthesizers: Sonivox Wobble, and Air Music Tech’s Hybrid 3.
- Alesis V61 (Great Budget MIDI Keyboard) – Don’t let the under-$200 price tag of the Alesis V61 fool you; this is a quality MIDI keyboard. It’s got 61 full size semi-weighted keys in a very streamline keyboard design, and while the keys might not feel similar to a weighted piano key, they feel better than most in its price range. There are also 8 sample pads, 4 assignable knobs, and pitch bend and mod wheels – basic features to cover most of your keyboard needs.