The 7 best new MIDI controllers and sequencers of 2022, as voted for by you

Arturia Minilab mk3
(Image credit: Arturia)

We may have asked you to vote for the best new MIDI controller or sequencer of 2022, but the reality is that you may have been voting for both.

Confused? We’re referring to the fact that many of today’s new MIDI keyboards come with sequencing features baked right into them, meaning that you can do all your ‘controlling’ from a single device.

Others don’t even look or feel like standard keyboards, and some even have their own sounds, blurring (or perhaps even obliterating) the line between controller and standalone synth.

And, of course, as ever, the latest controllers come in multiple size options, with some even being designed specifically to be used with certain DAWs.

Which, though, is the best of 2022? Here’s what you think…

1. Arturia MiniLab mk3

The third-generation MiniLab is a similar offering to its predecessor, giving you a compact 25-note keyboard, various other control features and plenty of sounds courtesy of the tightly integrated Analog Lab intro software that comes included.

The slim keys are joined by pads, faders and knobs, plus touchstrips for pitchbend and modulation and a new OLED display. There’s also a built-in arpeggiator, a Chord mode and custom DAW presets for Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, Bitwig Studio and Reason.

The obligatory USB port, meanwhile, is now of the 'C' variety, and there's now a proper 5-pin MIDI Out, too.

As well as being built “with longevity and sustainability in mind” - a five-year warranty is evidence of Arturia’s confidence in the design and components - MiniLab 3 is also said to be “the world’s first eco-designed MIDI keyboard”. Arturia claims that it’s made with a minimum of 50% recycled plastic and generates less waste during production, while the packaging is said to be 100% recyclable.

So, this is a controller that could be good for both your music-making and the planet: a win-win.

2. ROLI Seaboard Rise 2

If you thought that you’d seen the last of ROLI and its Seaboard range of controllers, think again, as we now have the Seaboard Rise 2. 

Launched in 2015, the Rise was a more affordable version of ROLI’s full-size Seaboard MPE controller, but has been off the market for two years. The new version is easier to play, more durable, and comes with a better bundle of software.

The most significant improvement over the original Rise might well be the Keywave2 silicone playing surface, which provides ‘frets’ that enable players to more accurately judge the position of their fingers on each key. As well as making Rise 2 more playable than its predecessor, it's also easier for players accustomed to standard keyboards to get to grips with.

Rise 2 also offers a new platinum blue anodised aluminium chassis, giving it a more contemporary look. Build quality is said to have been improved, and you now get both standard MIDI and USB-C ports to ensure maximum compatibility with your software and hardware instruments.

Features inherited from the original Rise include the Touch Fader controls, integrated battery and Bluetooth MIDI support for wireless operation.

The Rise has truly risen again, then.

3. Joué Play Pro Option

Stray outside the mainstream of MIDI controller products and you’ll often find innovations from smaller companies. One is the Joué Play.

Developed by Arnaud Rousset and Pascal Jouguet (co-creator of the JazzMutant Lemur multitouch controller, best known for use by Björk), this is a modular system with a wooden baseboard, and up to four different control layouts, connecting to macOS, Windows, or iOS.

The board is made from French beechwood and metal, and feels more substantial than the average budget controller, with wooden elements reminiscent of Snyderphonics Manta, and Livid Instruments’ Ohm. 

The available layouts are: pian; (25-key piano); drum pad (16 drum pads with x-y area); keys (17-key alternative style keyboard with expression strip); and guitar (representing the first seven frets on a guitar neck). 

The Joué Play should attract newcomers and seasoned musicians alike. We also think this’ll be a kid-friendly instrument, finding a home in SEN teaching situations where individual students have different needs for how they play.

Read Joué Play Pro Option review

4. Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3

Novation’s Launchkey controller keyboards have been very successful. Now at version 3, they continues to provide a good balance of price and features, and in 2022 we got a new 88-key model.

It supports the HUI protocol, so you can use it with any suitably-equipped DAW. That said, custom scripting means it integrates best with Ableton Live. It also gets extended support in Cubase 12 via a pre-installed script, and there are user-installable scripts for Logic Pro and Reason.

Like most 88-key keyboards, the layout differs a bit from the smaller models, with the mod and pitch wheels on the top panel, and the controls spread out a little bit more. 

Nevertheless, you’ve still got the Launchkey core feature set of 16 backlit velocity-sensitive pads with selectable polyphonic aftertouch, four Ableton Live navigation pads, eight pots, nine sliders with accompanying buttons, a small LCD display and transport controls. 

The keyboard itself combines gloss finish white keys with contrasting satin finish black keys, and the semi-weighted keybed is a different design from the other Launchkeys. 

Offering a playable semi-weighted and a great set of features, Launchkey 88 Mk3 is a fine option at its price point.

Read Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3

5. Novation FLkey 37 and FLkey Mini

Billed as the first dedicated MIDI keyboards for FL Studio, the FLKey 37 and FLKey Mini integrate fully with Image-Line’s DAW, and promising "seamless music production and an intuitive workflow”.

As with many bespoke DAW controllers, the FLkey range enables you to do more without having to look at your screen and use your mouse or keyboard. You get direct access to the mixer and step sequencer, along with channel rack playability from the pads.

You can also control instruments and automation, browse presets from Image-Line plugins and assign custom controls.

The Mini is a flexible little controller that you can take anywhere and fits into the smallest nook in your studio or live rig, but if we were going to choose just one model, it’d be the FLkey 37. The display and the extra buttons, plus its expanded playing functions, make it worth the extra money and the extra space - recommended for any FL Studio user seeking keyboard integration and hardware control.

Read Novation FLkey 37 and FLkey Mini review

6. Akai MPK Mini Plus

2022 was the year that Akai upsized its MPK Mini MIDI keyboard and released a Plus version. This comes with an extended three-octave keyboard, a built-in sequencer, MIDI and CV/Gate connectivity, proper pitch and mod wheels, MPC pads, knobs, transport controls and more.

That’s a pretty comprehensive spec list, and one that puts MPK Mini Plus in direct competition with Arturia’s popular KeyStep 37 controller.

The 37 slim keys use Akai’s second-generation dynamic bed, while the polyphonic two-track sequencer - designed for creating melodic and drum patterns - comes with Step and Live modes. There are eight notes of polyphony per key step, 16 notes per drum step and an onboard arpeggiator.

As with so many modern MIDI keyboards, the MPK Mini Plus offers Chord and Scale modes - used for triggering chords with a single key and locking the keyboard to a selected scale respectively. Both modes feature plenty of options and there are 15 scale settings.

7. Akai MPK Mini Play mk3

Not only a super-compact MIDI keyboard controller (though it most certainly can be that), Akai Professional’s MPK Mini Play mk3 is also a self-contained portable instrument that offers 128 built-in sounds.

These cover acoustic/electric pianos, synths, pads, drum kits and more, and the fact that there’s a built-in speaker - a better, more powerful one than was in the original MPK Mini Play - means you can jam away without any other hardware. There’s also a 1/8-inch headphone jack so you can shut the world out when you need to.

Portability is further aided by a battery power option, which promises to give you more than 14 hours of runtime. You can also power the keyboard via USB.

The 25-note keyboard is said to be more playable than before, with improved velocity response. With just two octaves to work with, though, there’s not going to be a great deal of scope for giving two-handed performances.

The eight velocity-sensitive drum pads, meanwhile, are now officially ‘MPC-style’ ones, while the four parameter control knobs have been moved above them. There’s an arpeggiator onboard, too, along with an OLED display. 


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