16 Best MIDI Controllers in 2017
Choosing a great MIDI controller for music production shouldn’t be hard. After tonnes of research and reviews, here are the 16 best MIDI controllers in 2017 you can consider buying for your recording studio.
A MIDI controller has become an important component of the studio. You will do just fine with clicking notes in your DAW.
But if you want musical expression in your music or if you’re a film scorer, you need a MIDI controller.
The thing about MIDI controller is when you purchase one, it sort of fits into your studio setup and workflow.
In my case, my production workflow is around the M-Audio Keyrig 49, Samson Graphite 49 and a Korg SP170 digital piano for when I’m in the studio. And the Korg microKey Air when I’m travelling. This setup I have isn’t a luxurious one, but it works for me.
So if you are looking for a new MIDI controller as a beginner or perhaps you’re looking for one because its time to upgrade, here is the top 15 best MIDI controllers you can buy in 2017.
Best MIDI Controllers For Beginners in 2017
I assume you won’t be spending a fortune on your first MIDI controller if you’re a beginner. You need something that works and will last.
Lucky for you, we’ve got that covered. Here are the best MIDI controllers you can get for below $300.
1. midiplus AK490+
Admit it, do you really need all the fancy knobs, buttons and faders on the controller? Truth to be told, you’d probably be using only keys most of the time.
Priced only at $74, the midiplus AK490+ is a great pick if you’re starting out. Playing on this MIDI keyboard feels great, and you can get very expressive with its semi-weighted action keys. Compared to the past version, the key-action has been improved on the AK490+.
There are also two MIDI out ports on the AK490+, making it a pretty versatile MIDI controller. You could use it to control hardware synths and sound modules if you have any lying around your studio. Additionally, the midiplus AK490+ can also be powered by a 9V battery. This means you can use it to control hardware synths without plugging it into your computer USB.
The fact that the midiPlus AK490+ is Chinese-made might scare you, but if you’re looking for something which is a bang for the buck, the midiPlus AK490+ is worth looking at.
Alternatively, you can consider the Samson Carbon 49, which is also near to this price point.
2. Nektar Impact GX49
The Nektar Impact GX49 is a simple MIDI controller that is all you need to make music. Priced at $99, it’s directly competing with the M-Audio Keystation 49 II.
The pros in the Impact GX49 is that while the keys have a nice deep travel and feel to them, there are also handy transport buttons onboard. The standard play, stop and record button, with an addition of a loop toggle and fast/rewind button. You can also use a shift button to access secondary DAW functions such as track up and down or smart controls with Logic X.
The Impact GX49 is powered via a USB cable from your computer or camera connection kit on the iPad. One thing I really like about Nektar is that it offers seamless integration with your favourite DAWs.
This is a kind of MIDI controller that gets the job done. However, if you want something with more faders and knobs, then perhaps then you can consider the higher end keyboards.
Click here to check out the Nektar Impact GX49 >
3. Alesis V49
The Alesis V49 is a great MIDI controller that has everything a budding music producer needs. A semi-weighted 49-keybed gives you enough keys to create musical riffs and an addition of 8 velocity and pressure sensitive drum trigger pads for programming drums or triggering sounds.
On top of that, you also get 4 knobs and 4 buttons which are assignable to any plugin, virtual instrument or controls in your favourite DAW.
You might find this MIDI controller appealing if you have a small studio space or if you go on music tours regularly. It is built compact and lightweight, while still being surprisingly solid.
It also comes with a software editor, that allows you edit MIDI messages that are sent from the keyboard to the computer. For example, you could change the sensitivity of the keys, play around with the drum pads, change the sustain pedal’s function & more.
It’s worth mentioning that many beginners mistake the Alesis V49 for music that has its in-built sounds. The Alesis V49 isn’t one. It’s a MIDI controller meant for use with DAWs such as Logic, Ableton, Cubase, Pro Tools & more.
Click here to check out & buy the Alesis V49 >
4. Nektar Impact LX49+
The Nektar Impact LX49+ is a lower priced MIDI controller keyboard that is trying to beat the more premium MIDI controllers in the market. One of the best features about the Nektar Impact is that it is designed to offer a painless integration with major DAWs.
The integration of MIDI controllers to DAWs seems to be a challenge for some other MIDI controller brands such as Samson, but Nektar seems to have nailed it. Setting it up was pretty easy. Simply download an installer for your DAW and with just a few minor fiddling, the Impact LX49+ is ready for use with your favourite DAW. In our case, we were using Logic Pro X on a MacBook Pro.
The pads are extremely responsive and fun to play with, while the sliders and knobs feel very solid. The same can’t be said for the keys though as I’ve played on keyboards with better keys which feel more solid, however being less of a critic, the keys work fine.
A copy of BitWig 8-track DAW is also included with the Impact LX49+, but I chose to stick with my usual full-fledged DAW anyway. A downside to this keyboard is that there are no MIDI outs. That means you won’t be able to use it to control any MIDI devices. You can ignore that if you’re primarily making music within your DAW only, however, if you must connect to hardware MIDI devices, then this might be a turnoff.
Click here to check out the Nektar Impact LX49 >
5. Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller
The Novation Launchkey 49 deserves to be one of the best MIDI controller you can buy in the market today. Great responsive keys, plenty of faders, knobs and pads that have seamless integration with major DAWs, particularly Ableton Live. All of that with a price tag of only $199, it’s hard to find another MIDI controller that can beat the Novation Launchkey 49.
That said, you don’t need to be an Ableton user to take complete advantage of the MIDI controller. The onboard physical faders and knobs can be easily mapped to any DAW. The Launchkey even works power supply from an iPad, making it one great functional mobile music making MIDI controller.
The Launchkey also comes with a suite of loops, samples and extra software of over 2GB download. For beginners, you’ll be happy to find that a copy of Ableton Live Lite is also included.
The closest competitor to Novation Launchkey is probably the M-Audio Axiom series, but then again, the Launchkey 49 packs lots of value at a superb price point. A true value for money MIDI controller.
Click here to check out the Novation Launchkey series >
6. M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV
I recommend the M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV again in 2017 because it really lives up to the hype. This MIDI controller definitely is amazing when it comes to value for money. M-Audio is known to make keyboards with really nice keys. Most of the time, if you didn’t like the velocity sensitivity, that can be adjusted.
The 8 drum pads are also pretty handy if you prefer programming drums with pads. I prefer to hammer the keys instead, so I find myself leaving the drum pads unused most of the time.
I find that buying the Oxygen 49-key model is of best value and functionality. The 61-key model is nice, but the price hike does not quite justify it. If I needed more keys, I’d look into getting a full-size 88-key midi controller. The 25-key model is then too small to my liking. Then again, it comes down to the personal preference.
Click here to check out the M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV >
Best Premium MIDI Controllers in 2017
Need a MIDI controller which is more advanced? If you are looking to upgrade your current controller and looking for something new to inspire yourself, here are the best premium MIDI controllers to consider this year.
1. Korg Taktile 49-Key MIDI Keyboard
Going for something premium and want something that gives you the chills the moment you lay your fingers down? The Korg Taktile 49-key MIDI keyboard is a premium-built MIDI controller with in-built sounds.
You have everything you need to work with your DAW seamlessly without having to touch your keyboard, complete with transport buttons, faders, assignable buttons and pads. There is a nice Kaoss-styled X/Y pad that gives you a complete creative freedom when programming synths and effects.
You’ll also find the ribbon control can be used as a mouse to click on your DAW. The X/Y pad itself can be used as a trackpad to control your computer. Pretty crazy, considering the fact you can totally take your hands off your computer or laptop and spend most of your time creatively dabbling on the Taktile 49.
The keys on the Taktile is said to be the same of one of Korg’s high-end keyboard, the KingKorg keyboard, so you’ll find the keys on the Korg Taktile to be extremely responsive and a pleasure to play on. The pads feels solid and require a little hitting to trigger, so you might want to get used to that.
Together with the built-in arpeggiator mode & chord scale mode, the Korg Taktile 49 is simply one of the best 49-key MIDI controller that promotes ultimate creativity compared to many other MIDI controllers at this price range.
Click here to check out the Korg Taktile 49 >
2. M-Audio Code 61
The M-Audio Code 61 is an advanced MIDI controller that suits pro music producers better. The problem with a feature-filled MIDI controller is that you need a higher level of technical know-how to fully take advantage of every feature available. That is why you’ll find a lot of negative reviews on the M-Audio Code 61 due to users not knowing how to fully operate the MIDI controller.
So if you don’t want to spend time customising, fiddling and learning the controller, then you are best off getting a simple & straightforward MIDI controller. However, if you think you can be more creative with an advanced MIDI controller, then read on.
The M-Audio Code 61 controller is fitted with a semi-weighted key bed with aftertouch. You can set aftertouch to control anything from portamento, vibrato, volume or whatever you want.
You can also set zones on the keyboard to trigger up to 4-5 instruments on the keyboard. This is pretty useful especially if you’re planning to perform live with the Code 61. There is also a nice X/Y touchpad that allows you to control multiple parameters of your plugins and effects. You can even use the X/Y pad as a touchpad for your computer. Additionally, there are also MIDI ports on the back, meaning you can use the Code 61 as a standalone to control MIDI devices.
The M-Audio Code 61 works and integrates with major DAWs, but you might hit into some roadblocks when setting them up. Once you learn up the controller well and understand it, I can promise you that this is one solid MIDI controller you’re looking at.
$535 $349 (On sale now!)
Click here to check out the M-Audio Code 61 >
3. M-Audio Keystation 88 II
The M-Audio Keystation 88 II is an 88-key semi-weighted MIDI keyboard that is worthy of being mentioned again. M-Audio is one of few pro-audio brands that makes keyboards with seriously incredible key-action & touch.
Set up the Keystation 88 II in your home studio & you’ll begin to appreciate how well-designed this MIDI keyboard is. Unlike many other bulky 88-key keyboards, the Keystation-88 does not take up a lot of space on your desk. Place it on your mixing desk or a keyboard stand below your desk, and you’ll appreciate how compactly built the keyboard controller is.
Despite being built in a compact way, allowing you to reach for your computer and mouse when producing music, the M-Audio Keystation 88 also feels very solid. The M-Audio Keystation 88 II will appeal to music producers who primarily compose music with the piano. The full-size keyboard also makes it easy to trigger keyswitches when performing or recording music.
4. Studiologic Numa Compact 2 88-Note Semi-Weighted Keyboard
Studiologic might not be a too popular brand, but the keyboards they make have some substance in them. The Numa Compact 2 is an integrated digital piano and master MIDI controller built into one. With tons of connectivity options from MIDI in, MIDI out, audio inputs and outputs, the Numa Compact 2 is a powerhouse in music making and controlling MIDI devices.
There are also is also 10 soundbanks built-in, from 2 acoustic pianos, 3 electric pianos, Clavinova, 2 pads and 2 organs. Simply turn on the keyboard and start playing away. You can also split the keyboard to play on few instruments simultaneously.
The best yet is that the Numa Compact 2 only weighs 6.4KG and is built with ‘compact’ in mind. It won’t take too much space in your recording studio and is not extremely heavy to lug around for stage performances, practices or gigs.
A thing to note about the Numa Compact 2 is that the 88-keys are not hammer-weighted. Rather they are semi-weighted, making it easy to play quick lead lines and programming other types of instruments. But for expressive classical playing, you might want to stay away from this keyboard. Also, the Numa Compact 2 requires a power adapter to work, so you need a power outlet to use it.
Click here to check out the StudioLogic Numa Compact 2 >
5. Novation Launchpad Pro
Some music producers find themselves more creative when playing with pad-styled MIDI controllers, like the Novation Launchpad Pro. I recommend getting the Launchpad Pro versus the Launchpad MKII for a few reasons.
First, you get velocity-sensitive pads that allow you to program and perform dynamically. This means you can hit soft or hard to get the dynamics you want. Second, with Launchpad Pro, you get to use scale mode which opens up a door to limitless creativity in recording, where you’ll never hit a wrong note as opposed to playing on a keyboard controller. Furthermore, you can use scale mode with other synths and MIDI devices, using the Launchpad Pro as a standalone controller.
You might mistake the Launchkey Pro to be only good for playing drums and triggering live samples if you are new to pad-styled MIDI controllers. However, with the added features, it is also possible to play lead instruments, synths & chords, opening your limits to playing and recording music.
The Novation Launchkey Pro is one of the best grid style MIDI controllers you can buy in the market today.
Click here to check out the Novation Launchpad Pro >
6. Roli Seaboard RISE 49
The Roli Seaboard isn’t your everyday MIDI controller or keyboard. Only the adventurous one would pick up one, given its high price as well. Designed for creativity through ultimate expression, what you get is a revolutionary touch-sensitive keyboard interface and a custom-built synthesizer built in.
What makes the Roli Seaboard so special? See, programming some instruments like a guitar using a conventional MIDI keyboard controller will be tough, if not impossible. The Seaboard RISE unlocks this limit by providing you with playable expressions on a sensor embedded key wave surface, that you control with touch. You can create slides, vibratos and modulate sound as you like.
On top of that, the Seaboard RISE can be battery-powered and is also pretty solid, making it a great all-rounder MIDI controller for when in the recording studio or on stage.
The cons to the Roli Seabord is that it is exceptionally expensive and might take some practice to get used to. On the brighter side however, it seriously opens up a whole new world of playing and experimenting with sounds. Also, the reason I featured the Seaboard RISE 49 instead of the 25 key version is that I felt the 25-key version was too small for playability especially if you’re playing long lead lines and chords with the Seaboard RISE.
Get this if you’re feeling adventurous and have the extra budget!
Click here to check out the Roli Seaboard RISE 49 >
Best Mobile MIDI Controllers in 2017
1. Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-key Controller
A 25-key slim profiled MIDI controller that is designed for the travelling music producer in mind. The Arturia MiniLab MKII sits perfectly on your studio desk without taking too much space and is also good for making music on the go.
The well-built, solid enclosure ensures that the controller will last some heavy bumping and its small profile makes it perfect for making music in tight spaces, bus rides, at the cafe, in the plane and more.
You get 2 banks of velocity and pressure sensitive pads which illuminate when pressed. These are useful for triggering drum samples or triggering live clips when using Ableton. There are 16 rotary encoders that can be easily mapped to pan pots in your DAW or use them to record interesting automation. Ableton users will love this MIDI controller as there is a seamless integration option with Ableton.
I don’t quite like the pitch and modulation touch strips. I always find better control when using MIDI controllers with physical pitch & modulation wheels. Perhaps Arturia designed the Minilab with touch strips to save space on the MIDI controller.
The MiniLab MKII also comes with several light-edition software & VSTs, namely UVI workstation Grand Piano, Ableton Live Lite & Analog Lab Lite. At a $99 price tag, there close to no mini MIDI controllers that can beat the Arturia MiniLab.
Click here to check out the Arturia MiniLab MkII >
2. Akai MPK Mini MKII
A redesigned MPK Mini, the Akai MPK Mini MKII is designed to be ultra-compact and compact. Like many compact MIDI controllers, it requires no power adapters and powers up with a USB connection your Mac or PC. It easily fits into your backpack.
Compared to the MiniLab, the MPC-styled pads on the MPK Mini is bigger, making it more usable if you’re constantly hammering drum patches. The keys are synth-action, and while it’s playable, you might want to take a second look elsewhere if you are more used to playing full-sized keyboards.
The knobs and pads are all customizable and mappable to your favourite plugins and VSTs. While the controller comes with a bundle of production software and VSTs, I found the several software like the included MPC Essentials DAW that is barely any good. The editor software also takes some time to get used to but with some fiddling around you’ll eventually find your way around to mapping the controller.
Also priced at $99, get this if you prefer MPC-styled drum pads for programming drums and if you like the different colour theme!
3. CME Xkey 37 Air MIDI Mobile Keyboard
It seems like the trend for going wireless, has been caught up by many MIDI controller makers. And the CME Xkey Air is a mobile keyboard that does just that.
The CME Xkey 37 Air does fall into the ‘budget’ MIDI controller range, but it has its reasons why.
First off, upon unboxing the CME Xkey, you’ll notice how well built the controller is. It’s built in an extremely slim profile with the material used to build MacBook Pros. And boy, does it look sexy! Aesthetics aside, although the keys have very little travel down as you press on them, they are surprisingly easy to play with.
Personally, I found playing on the CME Xkey a pleasure though I prefer the 37-key version for the extra keys. Some music producers though have commented that playing on the keys of the CME Xkey to feel a little strange. I believe that falls into everyone’s personal preference but truth to be told, the keys are indeed playable.
The keys also have aftertouch to them so you can apply pressure to the keys and get pretty expressive sounds in the studio or when performing. Additionally, the inbuilt battery is also said to be able to last up to 10 hours of playtime. Latency is also very low on the CME Xkey Air as it uses a Bluetooth 4 technology to connect.
If your computer does not have a good Bluetooth adapter, you could also purchase the Wifi Bud, which works as a plug & play adapter.
A great mobile MIDI controller that is very playable but is in the higher price range. You can consider the 25-key version to save a few bucks, but if your budget allows, go for the 37-key model. The extra keys are worth it.
Click here to check out the CME Xkey Air 37 >
4. Korg microKey Air
Another wireless mobile MIDI controller, the Korg microKey Air runs either via USB cable from your computer or with 2 AA batteries. The keys feel really good but could be small for some users.
The microKey Air is also bulkier compared to the CME Xkey. That said depending on the size you get, it’s still small enough to fit into a backpack. Having tested this controller on a PC and Mac, I conclude that the latency is pretty low, almost less than 15ms. The microKey Air connects to your computer via Bluetooth, so before buying one, make sure your computer has a good Bluetooth adapter, especially if you’re on a PC laptop or computer.
Otherwise, the microKey Air is pretty versatile and affordable, being a wireless MIDI controller. You get the basic octave buttons on the controller with a sustain button and an interesting arpeggiator. If you need to use a sustain pedal with it, note that the 25-key model does not have a sustain pedal input.
The pitch & modulation are control with a joystick, which I find hard to operate. Other than that, the microKey Air is a nice mobile MIDI controller that you’d be glad to have in the studio.
Price: $99.99 / $129.99 / $159.99
Click here to check out the Korg microKey Air series >
Getting an expensive MIDI controller does not necessarily mean you will produce chart topping music. At the end of the day, what matters more is your skill and experience in music production. So don’t spend too much money on buying a MIDI controller. Instead, use the money to invest in yourself and get better at your craft.
Which MIDI controller are you using? Did your favourite one make the list?
If I missed anything out, please let me know in the comment section below.