Best MIDI keyboards 2024: Mac, PC and iOS keyboards for players, composers and producers

Quick menu

Arturia KeyStep Pro

(Image credit: Future)

1. The list in brief
2. Best overall
3. Best for Ableton
4. Best for value
5. Best for NI users
6. Best for wireless
7. Best for budget
8. More options
9. Expert buying advice

How we test
We personally research and test the latest MIDI keyboards to provide unbiased recommendations. In our tests we weigh up all of the controls - knobs, sliders, pads and keys - versus the price and what style of player the keyboards are aimed at. Read more about how we test here.

Fact: 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, this is the ultimate guide to finding the right one for you, compiled by experts.

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 alongside an audio interface and laptop or PC. 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 MIDI keyboard that fits comfortably in a 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. Most MIDI keyboards include good value software bundles too, 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.

Best MIDI keyboards: Quick list

Below you’ll find a round-up of our top choices for the best MIDI keyboards. You can also jump to a more detailed review of every pick, and better yet, our price comparison tool will help you find the best deals.

The best MIDI keyboards available today

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Below you'll find full and detailed write-ups for each of the best MIDI keyboards in our list. We've tested each one extensively, so you can be sure that our recommendations can be trusted.

Best overall

Best MIDI keyboards: Arturia KeyStep Pro

(Image credit: Future)
The best all-rounder MIDI keyboard

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 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 has arrived 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, we found this to be 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

Best for Ableton

Best MIDI keyboards: Novation Launchkey Mini MK3

(Image credit: Future)
The best Ableton-friendly supermini controller

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

Best for value

Best MIDI Keyboards: Akai MPK Mini MK3

(Image credit: Future)
The best MIDI keyboard for value

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
-
Thumb sticks not for everyone

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. We found it to be 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

Best for NI users

Best MIDI keyboards: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MkII

(Image credit: Future)
The best 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 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 in our tests we welcomed 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 for wireless

Best MIDI keyboards: Korg microKEY2 Air-25

(Image credit: Korg)

5. Korg microKEY2 Air-25

The best compact MIDI keyboard that works wirelessly

Specifications

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 in our tests these lasted 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 

Best for budget

Best MIDI keyboard 2019: M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3

(Image credit: M-Audio)

6. M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3

The best for number of keys on a budget

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

More options...

So those are our top picks, but there are many more great options to choose from that offer something a little different in terms of features and performance. We've selected some more of our favourites below.

Best MIDI keyboards: Nektar SE25

(Image credit: Nektar)

7. Nektar SE25 MIDI keyboard

The best for portability

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 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

Best MIDI keyboard: M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKV

(Image credit: M-Audio)
The best for pro features on a budget

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

Best MIDI keyboards: Novation 49 SL MkIII

(Image credit: Novation)
The best 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. 

We found that 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

Best MIDI keyboards: Roland A-88MKII

(Image credit: Roland)

10. Roland A-88MKII

The best for future-proofing

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 we found this to be a 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

Best MIDI keyboards: Nektar Impact LX88+

(Image credit: Nektar)
The best piano-sized controller

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, we found the LX88+ to be 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

Arturia MiniLab 3

(Image credit: Arturia)
The best mini keyboard controller

Specifications

Compatibility: Mac/PC
No. of keys: 25
Key size: Mini
Key type: Velocity sensitive
Controls: 2 banks of 8 velocity & pressure sensitive pads with RGB backlighting, 8 rotary encoders, 4 sliders, 2 capacitive touch sensors for pitch bend and modulation wheel
Connectivity: USB, MIDI out, input for pedal: sustain, expression, or footswitch
Power: USB
Software: Analog Lab Intro, Ableton Live Lite, UVI Model D, NI The Gentleman
Dimensions: 35.5 x 22.0 x 5.0 cm

Reasons to buy

+
Quality construction and stylish design
+
Good DAW support
+
High quality smooth knobs and faders

Reasons to avoid

-
Not necessarily worth upgrading from Mk2

MiniLab 3 is the latest incarnation of Arturia’s 25-mini key MIDI controller keyboard. 

The new overhauled top panel is now graced with eight ultra-smooth continuous controllers, four sliders and a mini display with accompanying push action rotary encoder. You also get eight velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB backlit pads with a 2-bank configuration.

Connectivity and power is via a USB C connector and the box includes a 2m USB C to USB A cable with handy angled USB C plug.

The build quality is impressive, but it’s also important that it integrates properly with your software, and this is an area that Arturia has focused on. MiniLab 3 has two factory modes: DAW (for DAW transport and other control) and Arturia (to go with Analog Lab), plus five user configuration memory modes.

If you already own a MiniLab MkII and are thinking of upgrading, you’ll need to weigh up the extra options such as MIDI out and the reconfigured panel. For new users it’s definitely one of the best controllers in its class and offers fantastic value. 

Read the full Arturia MiniLab 3 review

Best MIDI keyboards: Novation LaunchKey 37

(Image credit: Future)
The best 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

Best MIDI ketboards: Novation LaunchKey 37

(Image credit: Future)
The best for versatility

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

Best MIDI keyboards: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25

(Image credit: Future)
The best 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

Best MIDI keyboards: Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII MIDI keyboard

(Image credit: Future)
The best for PC compatibility

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

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.

MIDI controller 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.

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

Detail of a Nektar Impact GX49 MIDI controller keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

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

Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

With contributions from