Best MIDI keyboards 2023: Mac, PC and iOS keyboards for players, composers and producers

Close-up of Arturia Keystep keyboard controller
(Image credit: Arturia)

Owning one of the best MIDI keyboards will take your music production to another level. There are a huge number of different priced and sized models out there, but don’t worry, we have the ultimate guide you need, right here…

MIDI controller keyboards not only enable you to play and record tunes into your computer, they also let you control software - and in some cases, other studio hardware - so have become one of the most essential items for the modern music producer. They can be plugged directly into your computer or laptop via USB - or, in some cases, operate wirelessly over Bluetooth or connect to iOS devices to control apps. They are mostly used to let you play and record with your DAW's software instruments and any VST synth plugins you might have installed.

There are plenty of models to choose from. You can opt for a compact, portable MIDI keyboard that fits comfortably in a laptop bag, or you can go all-in with a full-size 88-note model with weighted hammer-action keys. Most options we recommend here also come with additional features such as knobs, pads, buttons and faders to boost creativity and give you even more control over your software. And talking of software, most MIDI keyboards include good value software bundles, and we have listed the highlights with each keyboard. Many of the best MIDI keyboards also come with mapping templates for the most popular DAWs - Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, etc - making it easy to get up and running and start producing music right out of the box.

You can get a perfectly decent cheap MIDI keyboard for way less than $/£100 if you shop around, but up your spend even slightly and you'll get your hands on a higher quality model with more features and higher specs. It might well be a little more rugged, too; something to consider if you want to take it on the road. And if you are a trained keyboard player, you might want to consider an 88-note model with weighted keys – we have also included some of these in our guide.  

Next up, we detail our top MIDI keyboard picks, after which we have more in-depth reviews of each of the models in our buyer’s guide to help you find the right one. Our price comparison widgets have found the best deals online right now, too. If you need more guidance, head to the buying advice section at the bottom of the page.

Best MIDI keyboards: Our top picks

MIDI controller keyboards tend to fall into size categories: compact, portable devices with 25 keys; larger, desk-based options with 49 or more keys; and then 88-note keyboards aimed at ‘pro’ players. 

In the compact corner, because of the sheer number of features crammed into such a light, small footprint, our first recommendation is the Novation LaunchKey Mini Mk3 (opens in new tab). It has instant support for Ableton Live, and handy creative tools like an arpeggiator and chord memory function. Next up, we also recommend the Akai MPK Mini Mk3 (opens in new tab). Put simply, it has everything you’ll need: decent quality keys, endless rotary knobs, and eight sought-after MPC-style pads for creating beats. The Arturia KeyStep Pro (opens in new tab) is also an excellent compact controller which can connect simultaneously to DAWs, hardware synths and even modular gear. Finally the Nektar SE25 (opens in new tab) has an almost crazy number of features given its size and price. 

If you're looking for a larger controller, we heartily recommend Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol S-Series, and in particular the Native Instruments Kontrol S61 Mk 2 (opens in new tab). They feature excellent keybeds, fantastic styling, wonderful twin colour screens and impressive functionality. Both the M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKV (opens in new tab) and Novation 49 SL MkIII also offer an excellent range of features for the money in the mid-sized area of the keyboard market. 

At the top end in terms of keyboard size and playing experience, you really should check out the Nektar Impakt LX88+ (opens in new tab), which offers an awful lot of playing and features for the money. Finally the Roland A-88MKII (opens in new tab) might be one of the most expensive keyboards, but does offer the best playing experience and, with MIDI 2.0 installed, is future proof to boot.

Best MIDI keyboards: Product guide

One of the best value MIDI keyboards

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC/iOS
No. of keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: velocity-sensitive
Controls: Eight assignable encoders, eight MPC pads, full transport controls, 4-way joystick
Connectivity: USB
Power: Bus-powered
Software: MPC Beats, Bassline, Tubesynth, Electric, Hybrid 3, Mini Grand, Velvet
Dimensions: 32 x 18 x 4 cm
Weight: 750g

Reasons to buy

+
Loads of control
+
Great bundled software

Reasons to avoid

-
Mini keys are certainly mini

The Akai MPK Mini Mk3 is, in many ways, the best MIDI keyboard for most people, particularly those looking for a quick and easy way to add melodies, basslines and simple chords to their projects. 

For us, what elevates the MPK Mini MK3 from a simple keyboard, is the addition of eight encoder knobs which can be easily mapped to practically any parameter of your DAW, and eight full-sized MPC style drum pads.

What you get, therefore, is a full-service production powerhouse which excels in many different playing and performing situations. It’s small enough to be thrown in a backpack, yet contains enough useful features and functions to make it a highly useful addition to any studio. 

Read the full Akai MPK Mini Mk3 review

2. Nektar SE25 MIDI keyboard

Professional, practical and portable playability for a paltry price

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
No of Keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity-sensitive
Controls: 6 function keys; assignable PB1 & PB2 buttons for pitch bend, transpose, volume, pan & track; assignable ‘Part Two’ button for octave, MIDI channel, transpose, layer & latch; S button for sustain & modulation
Connectivity: Micro USB port, sustain pedal input
Power: USB
Software: Bitwig 8-Track
Dimensions (mm): 335 x 100 x 21
Weight (kg): 0.4

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible value
+
Nektar DAW integration
+
Fits in a laptop bag

Reasons to avoid

-
It's very simple

If you’re someone who’s always making music on the move, a pint-sized MIDI controller keyboard that’ll fit in a laptop bag is an essential item. Nektar’s SE25 demonstrates firmly that features and playability needn’t be sacrificed for the sake of size and portability.

Only outpriced in the budget controller stakes by the ever-so-slightly cheaper Akai LPK25 (which doesn’t provide any form of DAW integration), Nektar’s new pocket powerhouse represents incredible value for money. We found the SE25 to be thoroughly impressive during testing, and while it's a simple, compact product, it does exactly what you need a small MIDI keyboard to do - no more, no less.

Where else can you get Nektar DAW integration for Bitwig, Cubase, Garageband, Logic, Nuendo, Digital Performer, Mixcraft, Reason, Reaper, Sonar and Studio One for a measly 44 quid?

Read our full Nektar SE25 review

Ableton-friendly supermini controller gets a sizable update

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS
No. of Keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: velocity-sensitive
Controls: Octave shift, Transpose, Pitch and Modulation strips, 16 velocity-sensitive backlit RGB launch pads, 8 rotary encoders, 10 function buttons
Connectivity: USB B port, 3.5mm TRS Type A MIDI out, Sustain Pedal input
Power: USB
Software: Ableton Live Lite, two months of Splice Sounds, AAS Session Bundle, Softube Time & Tone, Spitfire Audio LABS Expressive Strings, Klevgrand DAW Cassette and R0Verb, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, membership of Novation Sound Collective
Dimensions (mm): 330 x 172 x 40
Weight (kg): 0.69

Reasons to buy

+
Fantastic arpeggiator
+
MIDI Out
+
Brilliant integration with Live
+
Sustain pedal input

Reasons to avoid

-
No MIDI adapter included

Developed primarily for Ableton users and newly updated, this pocket powerhouse is just brimming with features, many of which were missing from the previous version, including - finally - pitch bend and modulation touchstrips, a hardware MIDI out on a TRS jack, an incredibly flexible and versatile arpeggiator, a chord memory feature, and a great, deal-sweetening software bundle.

Of course, the Launchkey Mini Mk3 isn’t exclusive to Ableton, as it plays perfectly nicely with other DAWs too, but if you’re a Live user, it undoubtedly represents the best solution at this price point.

As a general-use MIDI keyboard, we found the Launchkey Mini MK3 to be more than adequate for our dual-octave, travel-friendly needs. If you want a small, velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard with impressive connectivity, we don't think you can go far wrong with the Launchkey Mini MK3.

Read the full Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 review

A smart MIDI controller for your plugins and DAW

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 61
Key size: Full-size
Key type: velocity-sensitive with aftertouch
Controls: Pitch and Modulation wheels, touch strip, two high-res colour screens, Light Guide, 4-directional push encoder
Connectivity: USB
Power: USB
Size: 100 x 29.7 x 8.4cm
Weight: 6.55kg

Reasons to buy

+
Tight Komplete and DAW integration
+
Provides playing assistance
+
Spend less time with your mouse

Reasons to avoid

-
No sliders

The Komplete Kontrol S61 MkII is a smart MIDI keyboard controller that offers pre-mapped control of NI's Komplete instruments and any third-party plugins that support the NKS standard. In comparison to its predecessor, the the Komplete Kontrol MkII also adds two high-resolution colour screens, along with 17 additional function buttons. There’s tighter DAW and Maschine integration, too, making it possible to mix, navigate and edit projects from the hardware. 

As before, there’s a Fatar keybed and Light Guide, and we welcome the arrival of proper pitch and mod wheels rather than touchstrips. That said, a single horizontal touchstrip is supplied and can be used for additional expression. If you liked the idea of Komplete Kontrol the first time around, the good news is that there’s even more to like about it now. 

You can do so much more from the device itself, with better visual feedback and much deeper levels of integration front and centre of its workflow. If you’re already wedded to the Komplete software package, nothing will help you work with it as musically as Komplete Kontrol MkII.

Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MkII review

Feature-packed and creative keyboard, with many of the features of its more expensive Pro sibling

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 49
Key size: Full-sized
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: 8 velocity-sensitive trigger pads, 8 assignable knobs, 9 assignable faders, transport buttons
Connectivity: USB, sustain pedal
Power: USB
Software: Ableton Live Lite, MPC Beats, Skoove and Melodics instrument learning, Air Hybrid 3 and Mini Grand instruments
Dimensions: 81 x 24 x 9 cm
Weight: 2.9kg

Reasons to buy

+
Chord and Scale modes great for composition and production
+
Fully-featured arp
+
Deep DAW integration

Reasons to avoid

-
Less ergonomic and half the pads of the Pro

Oxygen 49 is the cheaper version of M-Audio's Pro 49, and while it lacks some of that keyboard's features, it's still a worthy MIDI keyboard controller. The OLED display of the Pro is replaced by a 3-segment LED display, while the 16 multi-coloured pads are stripped back to eight back-lit red ones, but are split into two banks of eight, so you still have access to 16 sound sources from the front panel when programming, just not simultaneously.

Also absent is the dedicated MIDI out port, but perhaps the biggest difference is that the Oxygen 49’s functions are mostly triggered via soft keys and via ‘secondary modes’ from the keybed itself. 

That all said, much of the tech introduced with the Pro is here, so you get Smart Chord and Smart Scale modes which aid songwriting and composition, an excellent arpeggiator, plus Beat Repeat so that stutters and repeats can be triggered from the pads. 

The Oxygen Pro 49 breathed new life into the Oxygen range and this sibling is also feature-packed and creative, with many of the features for less cash. 

Read the full M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKV review

One of the best MIDI keyboards for combined software/hardware control

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 49
Key size: Full-size
Key type: semi-weighted, synth-style, velocity-sensitive
Controls: Pitch and Modulation wheels, 16-full colour RGB backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, page and scene launch buttons, 8 continuous rotary knobs, 8 sliders, 6 transport controls, octave/transpose buttons, track buttons, 5 RGB TFT screens
Connectivity: USB, MIDI Out/Out2/Thru, Sustain and Expression pedal, Footswitch pedal, CV/Gate/Modulation 1 and 2, Clock out
Power: Mains power
Size: 81.7 x 30 x 10cm
Weight: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent, easy-to-use sequencer
+
Flexible range of digital and analogue control
+
Components system makes it easy to manage and edit template

Reasons to avoid

-
No per-channel swing

Sure, you can plug the SL MkIII into a computer and use it to control your DAW, but with an eight-channel onboard sequencer and multiple forms of digital and analogue output, this latest SL really can do much more besides. Novation has done an excellent job in making setup as hassle free as possible, but given how adaptable the SL MkIII is, you’ll still need to spend some time configuring it to best adapt it to your own setup. 

It doesn’t quite match the plug-and-play immediacy of NI's Komplete Kontrol system, but offers much more flexibility for interfacing hardware and software. The ability to sequence and control analogue hardware, MIDI-equipped instruments, plugins and your DAW all from one interface and clock source is excellent, and if you dig into the SL MkIII’s versatile workflow, and you’ll find that there’s a deep well of creative possibilities just waiting to be explored.

Read the full Novation 49 SL MkIII review

7. Roland A-88MKII

Great controller keyboard that is feature-packed and potentially future proof

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 88
Key size: Full-sized
Key type: Velocity sensitive with Escapement and Ivory Feel
Controls: 8 pads, 8 knobs, Pitch Bend/Modulation lever, 2 assignable buttons, 3 x pedals
Connectivity: 3 x TRS pedal jacks, MIDI in/out, USB Type-C, DC
Power: USB or external PSU (not supplied)
Software: Control software and Standard MIDI File player
Dimensions: 143 x 27 x 12 cm
Weight: 16.3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Excellently playable keyboard
+
Compact footprint and not too heavy
+
MIDI 2.0 support

Reasons to avoid

-
Controller section layout

The A-88MKII is a long-awaited update to Roland's much loved A-88 full-size piano action MIDI keyboard. The footprint is compact – good news if you’re using it in the studio, and at 16kg it's not too heavy for live use.

The control section has been overhauled with new backlit pads and knobs. Further features include two assignable Control Change buttons, Transpose and Octave selectors, as well as Velocity Curve options and an onboard arpeggiator. Pitch-bend and modulation are handled by a combination lever, and the keyboard can operate in up to three layers or three split zones. A88MKII is also MIDI 2.0 ready so ready for the extras that this advanced communication protocol brings. 

A88MkII has a great design, with Ivory Feel keys, 3-sensor key detection and key-specific progressive hammer action, which all deliver the feel of a real piano. Overall it's very capable and a competitively priced update, but its winning feature is that the piano action is class-leading at this price point. Given that this isn’t the sort of unit one changes that regularly, it’s also great to be future-proofed with MIDI 2.0 support.

Read the full Roland A-88MKII review

A piano-sized controller at a great price

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS
Number of keys: 88
Key size: Full-size
Key type: Velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted
Controls: 8 potentiometers, 9 faders, 9 assignable buttons, 6 transport buttons, 8 velocity-sensitive pads
Connectivity: USB, MIDI Out port, 1/4-inch TS jack footswitch input
Power: USB or mains
Size: 127.6 x 27.9 x 8.9cm
Weight: 8.2kg

Reasons to buy

+
A full-size keyboard
+
Solid but portable
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Keys aren't hammer-action

Today’s buyers of keyboard controllers are spoilt for choice, but if you’re looking for a full piano-size 88-note MIDI controller, said choices are more limited. One great option is Nektar’s Impact LX88+, which combines an 88-key semi-weighted USB-powered keyboard with extensive DAW control via nine sliders, nine buttons, eight knobs, eight pads and transport controls. 

Despite the number of features, the LX88+ is reasonably compact and light enough to be portable. What’s more, the keys feel good and the mechanical noise is quite low. The LX88+ won’t suit everyone, and some 88-key users will be after a full weighted hammer-action, but at this price it’s a bargain and well worth testing. 

Read the full Nektar Impact LX88+ review

A great all-rounder that fulfils your sequencing and I/O needs

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS
No. of keys: 37
Key size: Slim
Key type: Velocity and aftertouch sensitive
Controls: Four-track controller/sequencer, with arp and drum sequencing modes. I, 4x CV voices w/ pitch, gate and mod/velocity outs, clock in/out/reset
Connectivity: USB, sustain in, speaker and line output
Power: USB or mains
Dimensions: 589 x 208 x 38mm
Weight (kg): 2.7

Reasons to buy

+
Handy mix of analogue and digital I/O
+
Lots of creative sequencing tools
+
Arp and drum modes are lots of fun

Reasons to avoid

-
Mini keys unlikely to appeal to serious players
-
Mod and pitch touch strips are a little small

Between their ‘Step’ and ‘Lab’ devices, Arturia has a pretty broad range of controllers, ranging from the simple, budget-friendly MicroLab MIDI keyboard to the multi-format sequencing tools of the BeatStep Pro. Now the KeyStep Pro arrives to fill one of the few remaining gaps in that line-up; combining the cross-format analogue and digital sequencing of the BeatStep with a 37-note keyboard making it better suited to melodic work.

The KeyStep Pro features four sequencing channels, each of which can record a sequence of up to 64 steps. Each of these is polyphonic, up to 16 notes per step. Tracks 2, 3 and 4 are each equipped with an arpeggiator, while track 1 doubles up as a 24-part drum sequencer. 

For melodic sequencing duties and flexible hardware control, this is easily one of the best do-it-all controllers out there right now. Its compact size may deter serious ‘players’ – Novation’s SL Mk3 remains the best CV-equipped device on that front – but modular and hardware-loving musicians will likely lap this one up.

Read the full Arturia Keystep Pro review

A great choice for Ableton Live users

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 37
Key size: Full-size
Key type: Velocity-sensitive
Controls: Pitch and Modulation wheels, 16 RGB velocity-sensitive pads, 8 knobs
Connectivity: USB
Power: USB
Size: 258 x 555 x 77mm

Reasons to buy

+
Tight control of Ableton Live
+
Decent compatibility with Logic Pro X
+
Nice compromise between size and functionality
+
MIDI output, custom modes allow use with external hardware

Reasons to avoid

-
You might not like the pitch and mod wheels above the keyboard

Common to all of Novation’s ‘Mk3’ Launchkey devices (there are 25-, 37-, 49- and 61-key variants) is a sleek, matte-black look and low-profile design, along with a series of new features designed to take advantage of updated elements of Ableton Live.

These include a button to activate Live’s Capture MIDI tool, along with Push-style device-control, which here makes use of eight rotaries sitting along the top of the controller. These latest Launchkeys also gain excellent standalone Chord, Scale and Arpeggiator modes, which can be used with or without a computer. All controllers in the Launchkey range get a hardware MIDI out, so users can take advantage of these features to control hardware synths, too.

Other than that there are 16 backlit, velocity-sensitive pads, a compact parameter screen and a decent crop of buttons for browsing and transport control. Both the pads and the keyboards themselves have been upgraded for this generation, and both feel great with decent velocity response (although no aftertouch).

Ultimately, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better Live-centric keyboard, and there’s little here not to recommend.

Read the full Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3 review

Versatile MIDI keyboard with neat tricks of its own

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 37
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: Four assignable encoders, transport controls, touch strips for pitch and modulation
Connectivity: USB, clock sync, CV gate/pitch/modulation
Power: 12v DC or bus
Software: Ableton Live Lite
Dimensions: 55 x 35 x 15 cm
Weight: 1.6kg

Reasons to buy

+
Sequencer and arpeggiator offer a lot of creative potential
+
Strum functionality is very fun!

Reasons to avoid

-
DAW mapping can be temperamental

Sitting nicely between the Keystep and Keystep Pro, the Arturia Keystep 37 has enough features of its own to be classed as an upgrade over the original - and much-loved - model. The expanded 37 key section allows more complex patterns and melodies to be played, while adding four assignable encoder knobs - with visual feedback - offers real-time feedback on your DAW parameters.

The sequencer was a joy for us to use, with the ability to program up to 64 steps directly onto the keyboard itself. This, along with the arpeggiator, can be used within your DAW or to control external hardware or modular synths making it a versatile studio workhorse which suits several different workflows.

Read the full Arturia Keystep 37 review

The Komplete Kontrol experience at a great price

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 25
Key size: Full-size
Key type: semi-weighted
Controls: Pitch and Modulation wheels, transport buttons, 4-directional push encoder, eight touch-sensitive knobs
Connectivity: USB
Power: USB
Size: 48.8 x 25.7 x 8.9cm
Weight: 2.4kg

Reasons to buy

+
Top-notch build quality and keybed
+
Works great with Komplete Kontrol
+
Decent software bundle

Reasons to avoid

-
Comparatively bulky

Available in 25-, 49- and 61-key versions (we received the A25 for review), the A-Series borrows many of the S-Series’ best features (see above), including the 4D Encoder (a joystick/rotary control/button combo) for software navigation; eight touch-sensitive knobs for plugin parameter control; beefy pitch and mod wheels; and most of the same backlit buttons, albeit laid out slightly differently. 

There are, however, two major cuts: the dual colour LED screens (or alphanumeric LEDs on the S25, which still languishes at Mk1), and the unique per-key Light Guide LEDs. Even with those things taken away, though, and the reduced level of Maschine integration, we’re still very much blown away by the value proposition presented by the A25 and the A-Series keyboards in general. 

We felt that the Komplete Kontrol A25 was potentially needlessly larger than other 25-key units - albeit incredibly well-built and wonderfully playable. Native Instruments delivers up the Komplete Kontrol experience at a truly irresistible price. 

Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A-Series review

The best MIDI keyboard you can buy for compact music creation

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 32
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity-sensitive
Controls: Eight touch-sensitive control knobs, two touch strips, four-directional push encoder
Connectivity: USB
Power: USB
Size: 47.5 x 16.7 x 0.5cm
Weight: 1.45kg

Reasons to buy

+
Portable
+
More keys than your average mini MIDI keyboard
+
Tight software/hardware integration

Reasons to avoid

-
Mini keys

Delivering almost the exact same functionality as the Komplete Kontrol A-Series (see below), this eminently mobile USB 2.0 bus-powered keyboard manages to squeeze 32 mini keys and the full complement of Komplete Kontrol... controls into its tiny frame. 

The pitch and mod wheels have been replaced with a pair of short touchstrips, but the eight capacitive knobs, 4D encoder and numerous buttons are uncompromised in their size and feel, giving the full experience when it comes to browsing and manipulating plugins, operating Maschine, and getting hands-on with the transport and mixer of your DAW. 

The surprisingly informative OLED display from the A-Series is also in place, as is the Smart Play feature, enabling scale snapping, chord triggering and arpeggiation. And, of course, it also works as a regular configurable MIDI controller keyboard with any other software. 

For us, the mini keys were the only real downside. We felt that we could live with them after some getting used to them, so if you can live with them too, this is the best portable and affordable MIDI keyboard you can buy.

Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 review

A premium keyboard that works with your PC and beyond

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac
Number of keys: 49
Key size: Full-size
Key type: Velocity-sensitive with aftertouch
Controls: 16 RGB-backlit performance pads, control bank with 9 faders and 9 rotary knobs
Connectivity: Expression, sustain, CV/Gate, MIDI, USB and 3 assignable auxiliary pedal inputs
Power: USB mains with optional adapter
Size: 79.3 x 29.7 x 5.3cm
Weight: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Three well-executed operational modes
+
Tight integration with Analog Lab 

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey

KeyLab is Arturia’s flagship controller keyboard, and the MkII comes in 49- and 61-key versions in black and white. The MkII’s keyboard and pads are bolstered by DAW controls and deep integration with Arturia’s bundled Analog Lab 3 software. Although similar in layout to the KeyLab Essential, the MkII is a very different unit, with a higher pricetag and more upmarket feel. 

We found the aluminium case to feel reassuringly robust, and the Pro-Feel keybed felt fantastic, delivering excellent sensitivity across the full range of velocities. The metal pitch and mod wheels are light and responsive. KeyLab MkII is operationally intuitive, with three distinct modes: DAW, Analog Lab and User (there are ten user configurable presets) - selected via dedicated mode buttons in the centre. 

The KeyLab MkII not only delivers fine playability, but also tackles DAW control and synth editing with aplomb. Throw in CV connection capabilities and standalone operation and the price seems justified. 

Read the full Arturia KeyLab MkII review

15. Korg microKEY2 Air-25

A compact MIDI keyboard that works wirelessly

Specifications

Launch price: $139/£86/€99
Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS
Number of keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity-sensitive
Controls: Joystick, Arpeggiator button, Sustain/TAP button, Octave Shift buttons
Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth
Power: USB or batteries
Size: 39.5 x 13.1 x 0.52cm
Weight: 0.67kg

Reasons to buy

+
Works wirelessly
+
Decent Natural Touch keyboard
+
Very compact

Reasons to avoid

-
Mini keys aren't for everyone

The microKey 2 Air range includes 25-, 37-, 49- and 61-note models, all of which have the advantage of working wirelessly over Bluetooth. If you want to use this feature you'll have to install a couple of AA batteries, but these last for a good length of time and good old USB bus-powering is also an option. 

The microKey 2 Air 25 isn't the most controller-packed keyboard, but it gives you the basics and plays far better than many of its rivals. In testing, we also found that It's easy to set up and operate, so if you want to free yourself from the tyranny of cables, you've found the MIDI controller keyboard you need.

Read our full Korg microKEY2 Air-25 review 

A great MIDI keyboard controller and audio interfaces in one

Specifications

Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS
Number of keys: 49
Key size: Full-size
Key type: velocity-sensitive, synth-action
Controls: 2 slider strips for pitch and modulation, octave, program change and transport controls, 5 programmable touch-sensitive knobs, 8 velocity-sensitive pads
Connectivity: USB, Neutrik combo line/instrument/mic input jack with 48V phantom power, balanced stereo and headphone outputs
Power: USB or batteries
Size: 69.3 x 20.8 x 6.5cm
Weight: 2.18kg

Reasons to buy

+
MIDI control and audio I/O in one
+
Impressive bundled software

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one mono input
-
Entry-level keyboard

The iRig Keys I/O combines a MIDI controller keyboard and audio interface into a single unit, and is designed to be as compact as possible without compromising on playability. It also comes with a seriously impressive line-up of bundled software. 

The unweighted keys are light and responsive, with satisfying travel and minimal lateral movement. The onboard audio interface operates at up to 24-bit/96kHz, and sounds good doing it. 

The iRig Keys I/O 49 is small enough to find a space on even the most hectic of studio desks, equipped to handle basic recording duties and general purpose MIDI control on stage and in the studio, and pretty good value. What's more, it comes with a knockout software bundle.

Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Keys 49 review

17. IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini

A small-form, very well-priced keyboard with lots of features and controls

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: Volume, Octave up/down buttons, Program up/down buttons, Setup button, assignable data push encoder, 4+4 assignable knobs, Modulation
Connectivity: MIDI in/out, micro-USB, 1/8" headphones output
Power: USB
Software: iOS SampleTank, Syntronik Pro-V Cubasis LE. Mac/PC: SampleTank 4 SE plus one of your choice from seven titles
Dimensions: 32 x 14 x 5 cm
Weight: 0.58kg

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of features for the cash
+
Decent build quality and playability
+
Good software bundle

Reasons to avoid

-
No pitch and mod wheels

Keys 2 Mini 25 is the smallest and cheapest model in the iRig Keys range, with 25 mini keys. The range also has 37 mini key and Pro (37 full-sized key) options. Mini 2 25 is small enough to place on any desktop, sturdy enough to stay in place there, and features direct connectivity to iOS devices. 

As well as the controls we've listed above, you can delve deeper with an Edit Mode to assign MIDI options and more, using the keyboard keys to select parameters. Program buttons, assignable rotaries, a Set button and useful assignable push-button data knob complete a good set of controls for a keyboard this size.

The keyboard is not exactly a player’s dream but it’s solid and well sprung. There are no dedicated pitch-bend and modulation dials, but if this is important, there are workarounds when you dig deeper, again with Edit Mode.

We criticised the bigger iRig Keys 2 for being a tad expensive, but this offers much of the functionality of that over a smaller footprint, and represents a well-spec’d keyboard controller for less cash, and there’s a decent software bundle too.

Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini review

Superb controllers for FL Studio and essential for live and studio use alike

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 37 (25 for Mini)
Key size: Full (mini for Mini)
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: Pitch and mod wheels, 16 RGB backlit pads, 8 knobs, an LCD display, and 24 buttons (Mini has just 10 controls, no display)
Connectivity: USB, MIDI out (1/8” for Mini), 1/4” sustain input
Power: USB
Software: Six-month trial of FL Studio Producer Edition, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Kievgrand Reverb and DAW Cassette, AAS Session Bundle, Spitfire Expressive Strings
Dimensions: Flkey 37: 55.5 x 25.8 x 7.7 cm
Dimensions: Flkey Mini: 33.0 x 17.1 x 4.1 (cm)

Reasons to buy

+
Access to the most important FL Studio functions.
+
Clear control layout
+
Pads are great to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Not keyboards that you’d use for multiple DAWs

Novation’s FLkey 37 and Mini keyboards are both dedicated controllers for the popular FLStudio DAW. We have both the FLkey 37 and Mini in for review - we’ll focus mainly on the 37, and refer to the Mini only when there are differences between the two models. They are directly comparable to Novation’s Launchkeys, which cater mostly for Ableton Live users.

The FLkey 37’s keys are of the full-size synth-type variety, and they’re part of what makes this such an enjoyable controller, contributing to the out-of-the-computer vibe. The pads are velocity-sensitive, and change colour depending on the job at hand for added visual feedback. The knobs are large enough to get a decent hold on, and all of the buttons are backlit so they’re identifiable in a shady environment.

The Mini has its compromises, but the functionality’s still there; still good for instruments, finger drumming (and velocity sensitive), as well as button functions.

What we have here are two very nice keyboard controllers that we think will become the no-brainer de facto hardware controllers for FL Studio. As with the best of these controllers, it feels like the software has broken out into the hardware world. If we were going to choose just one model, it’d be the FLkey 37 – that display and the extra buttons, and the expanded playing functions, make it worth the extra money and the extra space, and we'd recommend it for any FL Studio user seeking keyboard integration and hardware control.

Read our full Novation FLkey 37 and FLkey Mini reviews

19. M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3

Maximum keys, minimum money from M-Audio

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 61
Key size: Full-sized
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: Octave Shift, Pitch bend/modulation wheels, Transport button for DAW control, 1 Fader
Connectivity: DC Power, USB port, MIDI Out, sustain pedal input
Power: USB or DC
Software: Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition, Ableton Live Lite, AIR Mini Grand, AIR Velvet, AIR Xpand!2
Dimensions: : 99.5 x 18.9 x 6.8 cm
Weight: 4.1kg

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of keys in a slim profile
+
Excellent pedigree
+
DAW transport/navigation buttons

Reasons to avoid

-
Few assignable controls

If you need five octaves and can squeeze an extra few notes out of your budget, M-Audio’s venerable Keystation range of MIDI controllers offers this 61-key beauty for just a shade over the $/£100 mark.

The Mark 3 version listed here offers a full-size, semi-weighted five-octave board of the kind of quality you’d expect from M-Audio, plus the option to control your DAW’s transport via dedicated buttons.

There’s the usual trade-off between the number of keys versus breadth of features, but if you’re looking for sheer playability without all the bells and whistles, this a great budget keyboard, especially when you consider that there’s also an 88-key version available for around a measly $/£150

Solid performer and great standalone controller but best used with compatible DAW

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 88
Key size: Full-sized
Key type: semi-weighted
Controls: 16 velocity sensitive pads, 9 faders, 8 pots, 9 fader buttons, transport controls
Connectivity: USB port, MIDI Out, sustain pedal input
Power: USB or PSU (n/s)
Software: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive and offerings from AAS, Spitfire and Klevgrand
Dimensions: 127.0 x 25.8 x 8.7 cm
Weight: 8.3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Semi-weighted keybed with good action
+
Velocity sensitive backlit pads with aftertouch
+
Extensive features like arpeggiator and selectable scale

Reasons to avoid

-
Works best with supported DAWs

Novation pitches Launchkey as a DAW-ready device that provides keyboard, keypad and DAW control. It has a pretty decent set of onboard standalone features and, in addition to a USB port for connection and power, there’s a regular MIDI out and sustain pedal input.

You can use it with most DAWs but 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.

You get a great selection of velocity-sensitive pads, eight pots, nine sliders with accompanying buttons, a small LCD display and transport controls. The keyboard action is fast and positive. There are plenty of onboard features – the most powerful being its arpeggiator and scaling options – making it an ideal standalone controller. 

Overall, Launchkey 88 Mk3 is a solid update. It offers a great set of features for the price and is particularly attractive for those using the script-supported DAWs.

Read our full Novation Launchkey 88MK3 review

21. Alesis V49 MKII MIDI keyboard

An affordable MIDI keyboard for smaller work spaces

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 49
Key size: Full-sized
Key type: Velocity sensitive, synth action
Controls: Pitch bend/modulation wheels, 8 velocity-sensitive backlit pads, 4 assignable rotary encoders and buttons
Connectivity: USB port, sustain pedal input
Power: USB
Software: V Editor, Ableton Live Lite, xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech
Dimensions: 95.5 x 24.4 x 11.4cm
Weight: 4.3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Lively keyboard action
+
Controllers are easy to access
+
Good performance capabilities

Reasons to avoid

-
You may want more controls

The Alesis V49 MKII MIDI controller offers a decent balance of full-size, firmly-sprung, synth-action keys and assignable hardware controls for not a lot of money at all, making it a good contender for the top cheap MIDI keyboard.

This newly redesigned keyboard sees substantial changes in the layout of the extra controls. Where the original placed its additional controllers (a set of eight pads, function buttons, pitch bend and modulation wheels and four rotary encoders) to the left-hand side thus making for a wide, thin instrument, the MKII opts for a more traditional configuration.

Want to use your new MIDI controller to make beats? Well, you are in luck! The Alesis V49 MKII comes bundled with the incredibly easy to use MPC Beats music production software.

Read our full Alesis V49 MKII review

Best MIDI keyboards: Buying advice

Close-up of Arturia Keystep controller

(Image credit: Future)

What key size do I need?

For simple inputting of drum beats, simple bass and melody lines and basic chords, smaller MIDI controllers with mini keys should do the job just fine. These have the advantage of being cheaper and more portable than their larger brethren and take up a smaller footprint on your work surface. These days, some people find that mini keys can be just as responsive and easy to play as full-size versions.

If, however, you’re coming from a piano or keyboard background, you will possibly require the more traditional playing experience provided by full-sized weighted keys. Thankfully, there are options for everyone.

How many keys do I need?

The best MIDI keyboards featured here come with octave shift buttons, meaning that the full range of note pitches is accessible even from a 25-key device, just by pressing a couple of buttons. That said, if you’re a more advanced player, or want to learn how to play two-handed, it’s better to go for a four octave (49-note) or five octave (61-note) keyboard. If space isn’t an issue, you can even opt for an 88-key, piano-sized controller if desired. For basic melodies and chords, a smaller keyboard will work just fine though.

Connectivity: what you need to know

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With a lot of producers now working ‘in-the-box’ on a single computer or laptop, you don’t necessarily need a MIDI output unless you have some hardware MIDI synths to connect it to, but some controllers do come with traditional 5-pin MIDI out ports. Smaller, mini jack TRS MIDI outputs are also becoming more popular and offer the same functionality. All controllers in this guide can be powered via the USB port, and if you want to play proper piano parts, a sustain pedal input is a must.

Understanding DAW Integration

Being able to control the transport of your DAW and adjust the parameters of your software instruments from your keyboard rather than your computer is always handy. Once you’ve added remote transport – i.e. via a physical keyboard or controller – you’ll struggle to go back to your mouse for actions like playing, pausing and record arming. If you stick to one DAW and find a controller which boasts deep integration – and many do nowadays – then you’re in for a treat.

How we test MIDI keyboards

MIDI keyboard controllers come in all shapes and sizes, from small-form desktop units with few controls, right up to 88-note larger keyboards with weighted piano-action style keys. Obviously price is a factor, so we weigh up all of the controls – knobs, sliders, pads and keys – versus the price paid and what style of player the keyboards are aimed at. This can range from the mobile producer, who just needs a small wired or wireless keyboard to throw into a shoulder bag, to the more advanced player who requires the aforementioned professional standard keyboard and where mobility is not so paramount. 

Like audio interfaces, MIDI keyboards should be easy to set up – hopefully plug and play – and many also come with software bundles to get you up and running in music production. Again we'll look at each of these bundles which usually represent hundreds of $/£ of software, seemingly thrown in for free, to see how they really do shape up. 

Finally, of course, the actual controls and keyboards are also tested to see how responsive they can be. Keyboards, particularly at the lower price point, can be very cheap in feel so we also test how well they play for velocity (volume) and aftertouch (when you press the keys down further to trigger different sounds and effects).

It's fair to say that the more you pay, the better and more piano-like this response, and the more controls you get, although as with cheap audio interfaces, there are some great controllers out there for less than $/£100.

Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar