The top new controllers for 2021

Behringer BCR32
(Image credit: Behringer)

GEAR EXPO 2021: Take control in your studio with the hottest physical controllers for the latest software.

Last year was a bumper year for clever and creative controllers that put the power of your DAW and plug-ins right there at your fingertips, and 2021 is off to a flying start. We’ve lined up the latest and greatest for you below.

Alesis Q MKII MIDI keyboards

Alesis Q MKII MIDI Keyboards

(Image credit: Alesis Q MKII)

Alesis’s Q series MIDI keyboards offer an amazing price-per-key ratio being one of the most popular (and affordable) MIDI set-ups around. New for 2021 we have two updated models – the Q49 MKII and Q88 MKII – and the all-new Qmini.

The Q49 MKII and Q88 MKII are familiar in style, offering  full-size keys and proper pitch/mod wheels along with cosmetic and hard-wearing updates for 2021.

They both plug-and-play over USB, with the Q88 MKII’s 5-pin MIDI port also enabling standalone operation (providing you plug in a power supply). This largest model also benefits from semi-weighted keys with the Q49 MKII being synth-action keys.

Totally fresh for 2021 comes the Qmini designed for portability, ease of use and a keen price. Here also get octave, transpose, pitchbend, modulation and sustain buttons.

The Qmini Q49 MKII and Q88 MKII are available now priced at £40, £75 and £180 respectively. Find out more on the Alesis website.

Behringer’s BCR32 MIDI controller and sequencer

Behringer BCR32

(Image credit: Behringer)

You might not have been around the first time the BCR series did the rounds but take our word for it – they're solid gold classics and Behringer shifted tens of thousands of the things.

The Behringer BCRs got into the controller game early, just as MIDI CCs became 'a thing' and hardware manufacturers started lopping off their buttons and sliders in the pursuit of being ever more 'hi-tech' (and perhaps saving a few pennies too).

The Behringer BCR2000 and subsequent improved BCR32 put the knobs back onto countless pieces of MIDI gear and made them sound all the better for it.

Now the legend continues with a new, tougher, sleek-looking 2021 remake that seems set to do likewise at the same too-good-to-turn-down pricepoint. And this time it's packing a sequencer too.

The onboard Zaquencer from ZAQ Audio uses the 32 knobs to control 32 steps of a sequence – something the old BCR32 could only dream of. And this time there's even CV/Gate control too.

Incredibly Behringer are able to deliver all this power and fun for only $149. Available soon.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32

Native Instruments M32

(Image credit: Future)

The baby of Native Instruments Kontrol keyboards cuts through the overblown chaff of the range to deliver the goods in reduced form factor that offers giant usability.

Previously NI's Komplete Kontrol keys were hugley well-specced with the power to browse their own Komplete software collection and any NKS-ready software libraries without lifting a finger to your DAW. Two touchscreens on the previous models made the job even easier.

However it turned out that NI had rather lost their way, as faced with sizey price tags and one more complicated bit of software/hardware to learn, music makers started to wonder just how hard was it to lift their chin a bit and look at their screen…

The M32 takes all that's good about Kontrol and makes it cheap. That's to say it's brilliantly built, has all the on-hardware browsing power of the bigger versions (with a tiny OLED replacing the touchscreens of the MKII) but is able to team tiny portable size with reduced, affordable-at-last price.

If you can endure the reduced keyspan it's well worth your $139/£99/€119.