A good MIDI controller keyboard is a studio essential; and the best MIDI keyboards will take your recordings to another level. Not sure where to start? We've got all the guidance you'll need right here.
These ubiquitous devices can be plugged directly into your PC or laptop via USB - or, in some cases, even operate wirelessly over Bluetooth - and enable you to play and record with your DAW's software instruments and any VST synth plugins you might have installed. Some also double up to offer control over hardware synths, making them a central performance hub for your studio.
There are plenty of options to choose from, dependent on your needs. 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.
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.
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.
We’ve presented our picks in price order to help you find the right one for you. Our price comparison widgets have found the best deals online right now, too. If you need more guidance, hit the ‘buying advice’ button above.
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Best MIDI keyboards: Our top picks
MIDI controller keyboards tend to fall into two main categories – compact, portable devices with 25 keys and larger, desk-based options with 49 or more keys. In the compact corner, because of the sheer number of features crammed into such a light, small footprint, our recommendation right now is the Novation LaunchKey Mini Mk3. As well as offering instant support for Ableton Live, the Launchkey Mini also provides pads for clip launching or drum tracks, and handy creative tools like an arpeggiator and chord memory function.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for a larger controller, we heartily recommend Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol S-Series boards, and in particular the Native Instruments Kontrol S61 Mk 2. They feature excellent keybeds, fantastic styling, wonderful twin colour screens and impressive functionality – these 49, 61 and 88-key offerings are very hard to beat and will reduce the amount of time you spend interacting with your computer via mouse or trackpad.
Elsewhere, you really should check out the Nektar Impakt LX88+, Novation SL49 Mk3 and the Arturia KeyStep Pro, which can connect simultaneously to DAWs, hardware synths and even modular gear.
Best MIDI keyboards: Product guide
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.
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?
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. What elevates it above a simple keyboard, however, is the addition of eight encoder knobs which can be 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
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.
Read the full Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 review
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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. Mini keys are the only potential downside, but if you can live with those, this is the best portable and affordable MIDI keyboard you can buy.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 review
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. It's also 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.
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 is a joy 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.
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.
Incredibly well-built and wonderfully playable, they deliver up the Komplete Kontrol experience at a truly irresistible price.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A-Series review
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
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
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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
It might share a note layout with other controller keyboards, but ROLI’s Seaboard Block is a different animal altogether. Like the more expensive Seaboards, it's a pressure-sensitive, continuous surface that responds to even subtle gestures.
Using its 24 'keywaves', you can shape notes as you play, adjusting the character of the sound with your finger movements. As a wireless, portable, multitouch controller for gigging, travelling, or in the studio, Seaboard Block is a godsend, and retains the upmarket feel of its bigger siblings in a more affordable form-factor.
Couple this with its expandability, via other products in the Blocks range, and you've got a performance tool that turns heads and offers high quality throughout. Inspiring, innovative and addictive!
Read the full ROLI Seaboard Block review
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
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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.
The aluminium case feels robust and the Pro-Feel keybed is 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
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
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
Best MIDI keyboards: Buying advice
What key size do you 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 is enough?
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
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.
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.