14 Best MIDI Controllers in Early 2016
Grown out of your old MIDI controller and looking to get a new MIDI controller to start the year? We’ve seen some great new MIDI controllers in the recent NAMM show, so here’s a list of recommended MIDI controllers which we think is the best to go for this year. We’ll tell you why they are the best too.
In 2015, we featured 10 worth buying MIDI controllers. They controllers that made it to the top lists were:
1. Samson Carbon 49
2. Korg microKey
3. Novation Launchkey
4. CME Xkey
5. Behringer U-Control UMX610
6. M-Audio Keystation 88 Keyboard
And under the higher priced category:
1. Akai MPK 249
2. M-Audio Axiom AIR 61
3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
4. Nord Lead A1 Synth
Check out last year’s best MIDI controller list: 10 MIDI controllers worth buying in 2015
Or check out the latest update for 2017, Best 16 MIDI Controllers in 2017 & find a suitable controller.
Prefer to read our top list for last year? Read on.
This year there are some new notable MIDI controllers that are worth a mention in this post.
What is ‘Best’?
When I mention ‘best’ MIDI controllers, I take a few points into consideration.
Firstly, how usable & practical is a MIDI controller is? Some controllers can look really nice but is it good for making music and will you be more productive with it?
Secondly, what’s the price tag of the particular controller? Expensive doesn’t always mean better. Don’t be a brand snob.
Thirdly, are they build to last you a few years? Do they break after a few uses or get its technology (functions) phased off after only a few months?
Best MIDI Controllers For Starters
Now that you know what ‘best’ meant for MIDI controllers, here are the best MIDI controllers you can buy in early 2016.
1. M-Audio Keystation 49 II – $99
The basic keystation 49 is my all time favorite because of the amazing touch and response of the semi-weighted keys. The price tag on the Keystation might be a littler higher if compared to other basic MIDI controllers in the market. However, I found most of the other budgeted MIDI controllers to have a far less inferior touch, compared to the Keystation 49.
The design of the keystation is sleek and very low-profile with most of the clutter taken off, resulting in a thinner and lighter keyboard controller. You’ll love this if you have a tight working space, tour a lot and appreciate non-bulky keyboard MIDI controllers.
Keys are solid and not noisy when played. Still the best thing about this controller is the amazing semi-weighted touch. You can get really expressive playing and recording on the Keystation.Check out the Keystation II
2. Novation Launchkey 49 – $199
The Novation Launchkey seems to appeal to producers who use Ableton Live as their main DAW. Part of that is because of the hardware controls that allows producers to launch clips, start/stop transport controls and record without having to reach for your mouse.
That is not to say you can’t use the Launchkey with the other DAWs as well. A really powerful MIDI controller, it offers integration with many other DAWs to be an ultimate controller with some simple mapping out of the box.
Extremely versatile, the Launchkey also works with the iPad, so you can always stay creative no matter where you travel with the Launchkey 49.
The only little downside to the Launchkey that annoys me is that the build feels a little like cheap plastic. You might want to be a little careful of bumping your MIDI controller around if you’re touring with the Launchkey.
The Launchkey comes in a few size variants, I’d suggest going for the one with more keys if you want more options and go for the model with fewer keys if you only program little synths and find yourself traveling/touring a lot.
A good buy. Check out the Novation Launchkey 49
3. M-Audio Oxygen 61 MK IV 61 – $219
The M-Audio Oxygen series has been a popular hit among producers and composers since it’s early days from the very first version. M-Audio even produced a few Oxygen MIDI controllers which were wireless, however, the wireless models weren’t as popular as the models which connect to the computer with the standard USB cable.
The keys and drum pads found on the Oxygen 61 is nice and firm without the plasticky feeling. Faders & transport controls mean you’ll have a better experience working on your music. You can also use the knobs creatively, for example, to control filters and LFOs in your synth plugins.
Another plus is the ease of mapping the onboard hardware controls to your DAW software, no matter which DAW you primarily use, from Logic X, Pro Tools, Cubase, and more. Because of that, the drum pads can be used for clip launching in Ableton besides acting as drum pads.
The Oxygen MK IV comes in a 25-key and 49-key model as well. If you have the budget and want to future proof your MIDI controller, go for the 61-key model.Buy the M-Audio Oxygen for your studio here
4. Samson Graphite 49 – $179
I’ve owned the Graphite 49 for over 3 years now and have finished many arrangements with it.
I’ll be honest with you, the drum pads on the Graphite are nearly ‘unusable’. The faders and knobs are decent though the maps that come inbuilt in the Graphite doesn’t exactly live up to expectations. (I had to map the knobs and faders myself).
Why would I list it as a great MIDI controller for starters then? First off the touch is a huge improvement over the Samson Caron 49 which feels a little artificial, despite the really nice price. The Graphite is also built to last. My Graphite took lots of beatings on the keys especially when programming drums, but through all of that, has continued to be sturdy.
It’s also inexpensive, which makes it great for the beginner. The Samson Graphite has aftertouch as well, which I found more suitable for live performances rather than programming in the studio. That depends on your style as a producer, though.
I’m using this love-hate MIDI controller currently! Give the Graphite 49 a look
Go Big And Premium
5. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series
Got the budget to bring something better into your studio? The Kontrol S appeals to producers who use the Native Instrument products such as Kontakt, Maschine and Komplete Ultimate itself.
What really shines in the controller is the function of shifting scales and using the light guides especially when using the controller with Kontakt player. Basically, it’s nice to have guides to know where your key switches, sound samples, and patches are on the keyboard.
Smart play allows you to play chords with single notes. While I prefer to play my own chords manually, smart play was indeed helpful when it comes to discovering new chords and sounds. It also allows you to map the keyboard to different musical scales which was a godsend when I was composing for different music genres like world music.
All 4 of the Kontrol S-series are built excellently and you’ll love the Fatar keybed which is built to last. Fatar keybeds are known to be of high quality and would take lots of key beating. You’ll also entitle yourself to save up on Komplete when you buy the Kontrol S series, so I’d really recommend going for the S-Series if you have the budget and mainly use lots of products from Native Instruments.
There is a few nuisance you should take note of though. The Kontrol S is NOT compatible with 32bit DAWs on a Mac. Also, the Komplete Kontrol software isn’t quite as hyped up as it is promoted to be and takes some time getting used too. However, Native Instruments is constantly throwing out software & firmware updates which you can take advantage of.
Kontrol S-series comes in 4 size variants. The S25, S49, and S61 are semi-weighted keys with monophonic aftertouch and the S88 with true fully weighted, hammer touch keys.
Love this series of controllers. They are a little expensive though.See the full series of the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol
6. Akai Professional Advance 49 – $499
Last year we featured the Akai MPK249, which stills stands to be one of the best keyboard controllers you can get from Akai. I actually recommend that you stick with the Akai MPK249 if you already have it but if you’re looking for a new controller and like the new VIP software on the Akai Advance, give this controller a look. VIP stands for Virtual Instrument Player. Basically, the software allows you to directly control your software plugs with the controller.
If you’re a producer who likes to control your plugins and VST’s with a hardware controller, the Akai Advance controller is made for you. Unlike Native Instrument Kontrol which favors software from Native Instruments themselves, using the Advance means you can use it to its fullest potential on most major DAWs in the market.
A well built MIDI controller with a higher price tag that might not be appealing to producers like me, but definitely a great one for those who loves jamming, tweaking and controlling effects in real-time.
If you already have a working MIDI controller, continue using it. Still feeling itchy? Buy the Akai Professional Advance 49
7. Novation Impulse 61 – $359
A premium MIDI controller with great value, the Novation Impulse 61 has one of the best touch keys in the market. Semi-weighted and build solidly, playing piano riffs and larger patches like strings to be a breeze on the Impulse.
The Impulse also features an automap feature which allows you automatically link the controller to the different DAW you’re using on your computer whether on the Mac or PC. Most prefer mapping automatically rather than to painfully do it manually, so this is a great feature.
At this price, it’s amazing to see aftertouch function that is actually usable built in the keys and also the pads. The knobs on the Impulse can feel a little bit wobbly and loose, which will turn Ableton Live users down but overall the Impulse is a solid build with amazing keys.See the Novation Impulse 61
8. M-Audio CTRL 49 – $499
MIDI controllers with at least 49 keys make the most sense to me. You might argue that you’re not a piano/keyboard player but you’ll appreciate the extra keys you have on a MIDI controller.
M-Audio has been a household name for MIDI controllers for over several years now and their new products do not disappoint. The interface on the CRL 49 does look fancy as though they’re trying to match up with the Komplete Kontrol series. However the one great function that comes with the M-Audio CTRL 49 is the ability to use a VIP (Virtual Instrument Player) software to access VSTi instruments, effects and to set up splits on the keyboard.
The faders, knobs, transport and the pads can also be quickly & easily mapped to different DAWs parameters giving you the ability to control your DAW without touching the mouse. This saves you time and gives you more creative freedom when you’re not constantly only clicking in your DAW.
The Smaller Mobile Gadgets
Like many of you, they are many producers who like taking their music on the roads and in cafes as well. Here are some notable mobile MIDI controllers that are actually usable when it comes to making serious music.
9. CME Xkey – $99
The CME Xkey is sexy and yet very functional. The keys on the Xkey are ultra slim and flat but packs polyphonic aftertouch in them. Made out of the same material used to make Macbooks, the Xkey does seem like an accessory by Apple.
At first glance, the keys of the CME looks almost unplayable but you’ll be surprised at how responsive they can be and how smooth you’ll be able to play scales on them after you get used to it. This is because the keys on the Xkey are full sized just the same size as keys you find on a regular piano.
It won’t replace a fully weighted keyboard controller and probably won’t be too useful for a serious pianist, but playing synths, basslines and other lead instruments was a breeze and fun experience. Additionally, you’ll find helpful buttons on the Xkey from a sustain pedal button, pitch up & down button, octave and modulation button. The Xkey is perfect for musicians who wants to write and arrange music on the road. It also appeals to stage musicians who like having multiple keyboard setups when performing.
The latest Xkey is a Bluetooth version that connects wirelessly to your computer, iPad or iPhone. Say goodbye to messy cables!Check out the new CME Xkey!
CME Xkey Air is currently on Indiegogo (At time of writing)
10. Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note – $99
If you love the Novation Launchkey, you’ll love the mini version of it! The Launchkey mini makes it fun to produce music. It’s made to integrate with Ableton Live where you could use the Launchkey mini to trigger samples and clips. Again, that is not to say it doesn’t integrate with other major DAWs such as Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, FL Studio and more.
There are many ways you could use the Launchkey, either as a MIDI controller you take along when you tour, as an additional MIDI controller to trigger patches in the studio or even as an additional control surface on top of your existing controllers in the studio.
Key and pad response is great on the Launchkey mini and you really cannot find another controller with provides you with all these features at this low price.
Value for money product. Grab the Launchkey Mini and start making music
11. Alesis V Mini
Another portable 25-keys controller that gives you pads and knobs as well, the Alesis V Mini is a great controller that will satisfy your writing and producing needs when you travel a lot or have little space in your studio.
The V Mini is USB powered like most MIDI controllers, has 25 synth-action mini keys, 4 blue backlit sexy looking pads, 4 very usable knobs, the usual pitch bend, sustain, modulation and octave buttons and includes the Xpand!2 virtual instrument software by AIR.
The Alesis V Mini looks like a MIDI controller that would get the job done. At a projected price tag of $70, it’s worth every penny.
12. midiplus AKM320 – $36
Want the cheapest most functional MIDI controller in the market? The midiplus triumphs above them all.
The quality of the midiplus controller amazed most of us. The keys are decent and they work well for programming in MIDI notes. You’ll find some negative reviews online but I felt that the reason for that is because the keys on the midiplus are mini-sized. If you have big hands, you might need to take some time getting used to playing on the small keys.
It also has a sustain pedal input which is great because some mini MIDI controllers do not come with a pedal input. MIDI controllers that do not have a sustain pedal input, frustrates me a lot because I find myself using the sustain function quite a bit when programming instruments on my DAW.
Definitely recommended if you want something small at a great low price. Check out the midiPlus. It’s the cheapest thing controller ever!
13. Arturia Keystep – $149
The Keystep aims to redefine the portable MIDI controller experience for producers. In fact it’s more than just a MIDI controller, it’s also a sequencer where you could use it to control any digital or analog synths all from the Keystep itself.
32 Slim keys for extra portability, the keys also have polyphonic aftertouch built into them. You can get really musical with the Keystep as well with the onboard arpeggiator.
The Keystep definitely wins over other mobile MIDI controllers with its features and flexibility alone. If you like the idea of being able to control your DAW and other analog/digital gear with your mobile controller, the keystep is for you.
14. Akai Professional MPK MINI MKII 25-Key – $99
A remarkable little MIDI controller that deserves to be mentioned, the Akai MPK Mini includes very playable synth-action keys and it also has a sustain pedal input at the back. (Thank you, Akai!)
The pads are backlit and improved in the MKII version of the MPK Mini, so expect the pads to be more responsive.
The Mini works great with every major DAW and has everything you’ll need to produce great music – knobs, pads, sustain, octave buttons, pitch & mod bending and faders. Priced below $100, this is something most producers shouldn’t go without.
Don’t go without it. Grab the Akai Professional MPK Mini now
Let me know what you think should be added to this list. Do you have a MIDI controller in your studio that you absolutely love and would recommend to fellow producers?
Comment below because we’d like to know.