A decent MIDI controller keyboard is critical for any studio. What is a MIDI controller, you ask? MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Basically, it’s a piano keyboard that you can plug into your PC. These devices bring your musical recordings to a whole new level.
You can connect them to your PC via USB, and some of the newer models even feature Bluetooth capabilities. This means that you can play/record using your DAW software and other VST synth plugins that you have on your computer.
There are so many options on the market, depending on what exactly you need. You can choose a compact, portable keyboard that will fit in your laptop bag or you can get a full-size 88-key model. Additionally, you’ll have options that can boost your creativity when it comes to music creations, such as pads, knobs, faders, and buttons.
You can spend as little as around $100 to get a basic MIDI keyboard- but you might want to take some time to do some research. You definitely get what you pay for in this category. So if you want quality, you’ll need to spend a little extra.
Finally, most MIDI keyboards come with mapping templates for DAWs, which means that it will be easy to get up and running. You’ll be producing music as soon as you pull it out of the box.
Arturia is known for creating software emulations of synthesizers. However, with this device, they decided to focus on expanding their product line. This is a portable MIDI controller that is for those who are fond of using laptops and are always on the go.
The reason this one is on the list is for how it feels. The keys are smaller, but they feel really nice and have a good amount of spring in them. This legitimately feels like a keyboard when compared to similar products.
While it’s true that 32 keys aren’t many, it’s better than the 25 keys offered by some of the other brands. Keep in mind that this is meant to slip into your laptop bag with your laptop, so you don’t want it to be huge. This keyboard was made with connectivity in mind, and has several options available.
The biggest drawback with the Arturia KeyStep is the lack of controls. Additionally, pads are absent- but this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. It just depends on what exactly you’re looking for.
Nektar was founded to produce MIDI controllers that integrate well with DAWs, which gives you the best experience. You can play without having to focus so much on your computer screen. This keyboard has 49 keys, which gives you better playability than the 25- or 32-key options.
This one does not have a pad and it only has pitch and mod wheels, a fader, and 4 buttons. Therefore, if you want lots of controls, this may not be your best option. Still, even though they are so few, the controls that are present are high quality.
This keyboard is definitely one of the best unweighted keyboards on the market. On this keyboard, you can play the organ, piano, and synth without issue. The biggest advantage of this keyboard is its price, it is one of the most affordable ones on the market.
If you are a musician that likes a lot of knobs and buttons on your MIDI keyboard, then this is definitely the best option for you. This is the second Arturia keyboard on our list, so you can be sure that they are one of the best manufacturers in the industry.
Arturia’s KeyLab series is divided into two subcategories: Mainline (KeyLab 49, KeyLab 61, and KeyLab 88) and Essential (KeyLab Essential 49 and KeyLab Essential 61). The primary difference between the Mainline and Essential series is that the Essential line has fewer controls.
Arturia has taken the KeyStep design and improved upon it for the KeyLab series. You get a full-size keybed, additional controls and a robust build with beautiful wooden sides.
The keybed feels wonderful and is basically the same, no matter which one of Arturia’s keyboards you are playing. Additionally, the keys feel great and work well for a variety of play styles, once you get used to them.
The pitch and mod wheels are very responsive and feel a lot like a full-size professional keyboard. There are pads included on this one, unlike some of the other options on our list. The pads are also very responsive, and most people enjoy playing with them.
The knobs, buttons, and faders feel professional, and it even features an LCD screen to give you visual feedback when you need it. Finally, Arturia even allows you to change the descriptors on your buttons by providing you with printed labels that you can use.
Though some might be scared off by the price, many would agree that this one is the best option in this category. After all, there are other keyboards with fewer features that cost more. Basically, you get what you pay for.
Novation is another MIDI controller manufacturer that’s been in the industry for many years. They are most known for their Launchpad line, featuring simple 8×8 pad controllers, which were quite successful for performances.
While many people might discount them as being simply “the Launchpad company”, their reputation speaks for itself. They are familiar with what their customers are looking for and they can make it happen.
The Impulse is an older MIDI controller, but probably one of the best you’ll ever play. In fact, it comes pretty close to surpassing semi-weighted professional keyboards.
The keys are weighted and you can get the Impulse in 25-, 49-, or 61-key options. The semi-weighted keys feel a lot like light piano keys. This means they’re a great mid-point between synth-action and weighted keys. Additionally, the velocity response and aftertouch are almost perfect.
Of course, the keys are not the only advantage to this MIDI keyboard. It also features a fair number of controls, such as buttons, faders, and pads. On the other hand, it does feel a bit dated. The built-in Automap software does work well for most DAWs and plug-ins, though you may find that more recent plug-ins are not supported.
Basically, the Impulse is a quality keyboard at a decent price.
Kawai has been around since 1927 as a digital piano and acoustic instrument maker, so they need no introduction. For a very long time, people were using actual digital pianos to replicate the feel of playing a piano. While it’s perfectly fine to do this, as long as it has good reviews, the best way to get responsive sensors and wooden keys is to be willing to pay top dollar.
Unfortunately, this keyboard is very limited in terms of controls. There’s a power button, 5-pin connections, USB MIDI, and a full-sized keyboard with 88 keys. There are no faders or buttons.
While the price tag may make you need to stop and catch your breath, once again, you get what you pay for. The keys on this keyboard are not plastic blocks. They are beautiful wooden keys. They are very similar in length to a standard piano, and combined with the seesaw action, feels very real.
This package comes with a triple pedal set up, which provides damper, soft, and sostenuto in one. Plus, you can use the VPC editor to customize your own velocity curves.
This is most likely the best midi keyboard that you can get with piano-style, weighted keys. Of course, you’ll need good software, so make sure that you do your research and figure out what would work best for your needs.
While it may seem that faders, buttons, and knobs are a bit on the archaic side, they are a great way to interact with the parameters of sound and to add some expression to your music. However, Roli has chosen to go up against that and create keyboards with no knobs or buttons.
So, what do they do instead? They employ the concept of aftertouch and add other dimensions to their keys to enhance performance. You can control the cutoff point of the synthesizer’s filter by moving your finger up and down on the keys. You can control the pitch by moving your fingers horizontally.
If you’ve ever used Kaoss Pads from Korg, the concept is basically the same here- only in keyboard form instead of pads.
The name of the game here is touch, and Roli has even created their own software to help users take full advantage of their keyboards. The software is a bit complicated, but it’s totally worth it to make the effort to figure it all out.
The major issue with this one is the price. It costs a lot more than many of the other options, and is really mostly appropriate for the advanced user. As we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to invest a lot of money into something when you’re just starting out and aren’t sure it’s something you’ll want to continue doing.
When it comes to choosing a keyboard for PC, there are a few basic things that you need to consider. The main things are:
Of course, these are just the very basic factors that you need to keep in mind. However, there are a few other things that you might want to give some thought to.
Typically, more keys equals a higher price- and it’s not as portable. If you’re not playing classical pieces, you probably don’t need an 88-key keyboard. Basically, 49 keys is sufficient for players focused on the synthesizer aspect. For those who need organ-style keys, a 61-key keyboard will be better.
The most common key type for these is the synth-action type keys. However, you can also get weighted and semi-weighted as well. Of course, the semi-weighted keys are not as common as either the weighted or the synth-type- but they balance responsiveness and versatility.
Knobs and buttons can be a good thing- and they’re easy to assign software functions to- but most people really don’t need a full mixing board. If you do, you’d probably buy something else entirely. You must know what you need when it comes to knobs and buttons.
Pressure sensitivity is what tracks how much pressure you’re putting on the key when you press down on it. On the other hand, aftertouch indicates how hard you’re pushing until you let go.
In some cases, you’ll see MIDI controllers marked as “USB only”, which means they don’t offer the MIDI connection. This isn’t a major deal breaker as long as you’re wanting to directly connect to your laptop. It does however decrease your tabletop options.
These are fun to have, but not a requirement. Basically, they’re better buttons. Of course, some people do prefer finger drumming over keyboard-drumming. This is a decision that is entirely your own.
Just like regular digital pianos, most of these keyboards do have a pedal jack. This is an option that you’ll definitely want to have as you learn to play.
There are some that come with their own software or are made specifically to be used with certain software. Make sure that you do your research and figure out exactly what type of software you need before making your purchase.
The options are 25, 49, 61, and 88. You need to decide which one you feel like you need, the more keys it has, the higher the price tag. Experts do recommend that you start on the lower end of the spectrum if at all possible. After all, you don’t want to invest a lot of money and then figure out that it’s not something you enjoy after all.
The difference between a MIDI keyboard and a piano is that software is what generates the sound and controls the MIDI keyboard. On the other hand, a piano is played in the “real” world. Most hardware synthesizers and standard keyboards can also be used as MIDI keyboards.
While it’s not exactly a requirement, it is quite useful to have a MIDI keyboard if you’re a serious music producer. A MIDI keyboard allows you to be efficient and creative in your production process.
A MIDI keyboard is a piano-style keyboard that typically has other buttons, sliders, and wheels for sending MIDI signals/commands over MIDI 5-pin or USB connection to the computer or other musical devices.
One thing is for certain, MIDI controllers are all about giving the user full control. As you can see, there is a lot to think about when it comes to choosing a keyboard for your PC. While each one of them have the same basic features, there are some features that are on some and not on others. You have to take the time to do your own research and decide which one is most desirable for you.
Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.