Almost all of the music being produced today uses a midi keyboard to some extent. Whether tracking a lead hook or simply filling in some background noise, midi keyboards have become a helpful tool on and off the stage. But because of their importance, every musician will have varying degrees of preference, so it’s crucial to know the different features and properties behind midi keyboards. Consider this your guide to the best midi keyboards.
Usually, the data is sent to a digital audio workstation (DAW), where sounds/synths/instruments can be placed over the data which can take the shape of anything from a drum set to a cello. This versatility allows musicians to have an entire arsenal of instruments within a tiny keyboard.
Keyboard action is an extremely important, and often overlooked, feature on a midi keyboard. Action on a keyboard is simply the way the keys respond to your playing, and generally come in 3 types: Weighted, Semi-weighted, and Synth.
- Weighted keys will feel the same as real piano keys, by feeling a bit harder to hit and taking more time to bounce back. Weighted keyboard action on a midi keyboard is a ideal if you intend to play a lot of piano parts, but not necessary for most of a midi keyboard’s uses.
- Semi-weighted is a nice balance between the real thing and a synth action. Semi-weighted will have a faster spring than weighted, but you’ll be able to still ‘feel’ the keys.
- Synth action is the fast, electric, and springy alternative to the rest. There will be essentially zero ‘weight’ to the keys, and they will return to place right away after being pressed. This can come in handy if you’re not an adept piano player, or if you need to play quickly. But can feel a bit ‘plasticy’.
Price: Simple midi keyboards will go for a little less than $100, and more expensive models going for more than $500 – depending on quality, size, and build. Ultimately, it comes down to the needs of the musician.
Durability will matter the most if you intend to play your midi keyboard live on stage. With wear and tear from traveling and live performances you’ll want a keyboard with a solid build. If you just use your midi keyboard in-studio, durability won’t necessarily be paramount.
Controls: Extra controls such as faders, buttons, and pads can all be helpful tools to getting your sound just right. However, a lot of what controls do can also be accomplished in your DAW, so it really comes down to preference
Best Midi Keyboards
Akai MPK Mini MKII
Cons: Only available in 25-key
Features: Synth Action; Velocity sensitive; 12.5” x 7.13” x 1.75”
The Akai MPK Mini MKII is easily the best midi keyboard if you’re on a budget.
25 synth action keys, 8-drum pads, 8 control knobs, an arpeggiator, full DAW compatibility, and 2 octave up and down buttons, are just some of the features on this portable-friendly keyboard. There’s also put a joystick in place of a pitch-wheel to save space, but once you get used to it it’s worth the space that was saved.
You might feel like the keys on the Mini are rather small (we did), so if you’re going to be playing full piano parts it might not be the best midi keyboard for you.
All in all the Akai MPK Mini MKII is a fully loaded midi keyboard in a travel friendly package – all for an incredible price.
Novation Impulse 49
Cons: Cheap knobs
Features: Semi-weighted; Velocity sensitive; 33.3″ x 13″ x 3.93″
The Novation Impulse 49 is one of the best fuller-sized midi keyboards on the market today.
Some of the numerous controls on the Impulse include pitch and mod wheels, octave up and down buttons, low-profile faders, 8 pads, 8 knobs, and a nice screen to keep track of your templates. But the real star of the Impulse is the great feel of the semi-weighted keys, which allow you to write intricate hooks in comfort. Furthermore, you can split the keyboard into 4-sections, allowing you access to 4 different instruments at the same time.
Be sure to keep in mind that there is no power button on the Impulse, so USB is the only way to power it.
Cons: Tiny keys
Features: Synth action; Velocity sensitive; 13.3” x 3.8” x 1.3”
The Akai LPK25 is perfect when space is limited or you’re on the road.
I’ve actually owned the LPK25 for a little over a year now, and I’ve been impressed with its durability and versatility. No, it doesn’t have the features of the Novation or Akai Mini, but that’s not the LPK25’s intention. It’s a simple, sleek, ready-to-use design, that’s offered as a small and reliable alternative to larger models.
Despite its tiny size it still has a few features to offer: arpeggiators, octave up and down buttons, USB plug-in, and a neat sustain button that comes in handy. I mostly use it for simple percussion and synth to add depth, but it can do a lot more – and at lowest price point on the list.
Cons: Keys lean Synth, despite being semi-weighted
Features: Semi-weighted; Velocity sensitive; 7.7” x 3” x 31.9”
The M-Audio Keystation is a simple design at a great price point.
With only a few features (pitch and mod wheels, volume faders, and octave buttons), the Keystation is for any one who wants a simple midi keyboard like the LPK25, but don’t want to go so small.
We recommend the Keystation to anyone who needs a midi keyboard for mostly notation.
Cons: Pads need to be hit hard
Features: Semi-weighted; Velocity sensitive; 37.6” x 9.6” x 4.5”
The Alesis-V49 has 4-knobs, 8-pads, octave up and down buttons, pitch and mod wheels, and beautiful blue back-lights which come together to make an elegant, yet practical keyboard. The keys are full-sized, and have a good feel if you’re coming from a piano background.
Comparing price to features ratio, it’s difficult to find better.