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The 10 best MIDI keyboards and controllers for 2023

A great MIDI controller is often the centerpiece of any music production setup, and choosing the right one is vital. So, we’ve put together a list of our top picks for the best MIDI controllers.

Our list includes the best MIDI keyboard and pad controllers on the market. We made our picks based on performance and value for money to find something to suit every budget and setup/space.

testing the best MIDI keyboards and controllers
Arturia’s KeyLab Essential range in our test

We’ll also discuss which controllers are best for specific software/plugins, DAWs, and musical genres.

These are the best MIDI keyboards and controllers on the market right now:

  1. Akai MPK Mini Mk3
  2. Arturia KeyLab Essential 49
  3. M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro
  4. Akai MPC Studio
  5. Arturia KeyLab 61 Mk2
  6. Novation 61SL Mk3
  7. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
  8. Arturia KeyStep Pro
  9. Nektar Impact LX88+
  10. Akai Fire

Akai MPK Mini Mk3

The best mini keyboard controller

We regularly place the latest version of Akai’s MPK Mini at or near the top of our lists because it’s incredible value for money. It’s the best compact MIDI keyboard controller for beatmakers, producers, and songwriters.

The quantity and quality of assignable controls and features are unmatched, and it’s the perfect choice for small spaces or creating on the go.

Akai MPK Mini Mk3 25-key MIDI controller Image by Akai Professional Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The MPK Mini Mk3 is a 25-key controller suitable for beginners or professionals. Each generation of MPK Mini has seen significant improvements, and the Mk3 has the best keyboard feel to date.

The improved keyboard still features mini-keys, like previous models, but the action is noticeably better, which enhances the overall performance.

Despite its small size, the MPK Mini Mk3 fits in eight assignable encoders, eight MPC-style pads, and an OLED display.

The assignable encoders are endless, which makes them far more flexible when switching between plugins/sounds because they aren’t limited to a physical position.

We say the same thing about the pads on every MPK: they are the best we’ve seen on any small keyboard controller. The pads are responsive and don’t feel too flimsy for more intense finger drumming.

The OLED display is small, but it improves your workflow dramatically over older models.

Two more noteworthy features are the built-in arpeggiator and note-repeat function. Beatmakers and EDM producers commonly use both features often. It even comes with a handy software bundle, including the MPC Beats DAW.

The MPK Mini Mk3 is the ideal blend of value for money, portability, a speedy workflow, great features, and build quality.

Check out our full Akai MPK Mini Mk3 review

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49

The best budget all-rounder

The KeyLab Essential 49 might be a budget-friendly version of Arturia’s flagship controller, but it’s an incredible keyboard in its own right.

You’ll struggle to find a more feature-packed controller for the same price elsewhere. It has everything you need to make it the ideal control center for your production setup.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MIDI keyboard controller Image by Arturia Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The KeyLab Essential range offers various models/sizes, but we’ve chosen the KeyLab Essential 49 because it’s the best value for money.

This sleekly-designed keyboard controller has 49 velocity-sensitive keys, and while they don’t feel premium as such, they are well above average for the price range.

The KeyLab essential 49 delivers the complete package starting with transport controls compatible with all major DAWs. The hands-on workflow doesn’t end there, there are nine assignable rotary knobs and nine assignable faders.

One of the things that we love most about the KeyLab Essential 49 is that the assignable controls allow you to add more expression to your performance than you typically could without weighted keys. You also have pitch and mod wheels for additional expression and control.

It also features eight velocity-sensitive backlit pads that, we can confirm, remain responsive after extensive use. We often say that Akai does pads better than anyone, and that’s still true, but Arturia isn’t too far behind.

Arturia is also amongst the best when it comes to onboard features, and this controller offers useful production tools like the smart Chord function. It also comes with a great software bundle.

M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro

The best value full-size keyboard controller

We were big fans of the original Hammer 88, and the Pro is even better. It has one of the best hammer-action keyboards in any MIDI controller, and now it’s packed with features. It’s also competitively priced, considering how much it offers.

M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro MIDI keyboard controller Image by M-Audio Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The Hammer 88 Pro is a full-size 88-key MIDI controller that M-Audio released after the success of the original Hammer 88.

The main selling point of the Hammer 88 Pro is still the fantastic keyboard feel, which is, perhaps, heavier than many controllers, but it’s perfect for more authentic piano playing. Once you get used to the weight under your fingers, it’s as expressive a MIDI keyboard as you’re likely to find.

The Hammer 88 Pro has an OLED display and a range of assignable controls, including eight knobs, eight buttons, and nine faders. There are enough assignable controls to give virtual instruments a hands-on workflow, which feels far more intuitive than the point-and-click approach.

Using faders to control drawbar organ settings or synth parameters can dramatically improve your performance. It also has 16 RGB backlit, velocity-sensitive pads that you can use to trigger samples and loops, etc.

As far as features go, it has aftertouch, a built-in arpeggiator, and new smart modes: Smart Chord and Smart Scale. Smart Chord lets you trigger complex chords from a single note, and Smart Scale has 16 selectable scales.

We love the Hammer 88 Pro as a real workhorse for Logic Pro X. If you don’t need assignable controls, it might be worth checking out the original and cheaper Hammer 88.

Check out our full M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro review

Akai MPC Studio

The best budget pad controller

The MPC Studio is the ultimate portable controller for MPC fans. That might be an obvious statement, but if you want the feel of genuine MPC pads without the expense of a standalone unit, the MPC Studio is the perfect option.

It’s ultra-lightweight but packed with powerful production features, and it’s incredible value for money for beatmakers/producers.

Akai MPC Studio drum pad controller Image by Akai Professional Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The MPC Studio might not be a standalone unit, but it comes bundled with the MPC2 software, making it a complete music production package. MPC2 is a powerful production environment, offering a 128-track sequencer and creative sample manipulation options.

The MPC Studio is a slimline unit, but it still has 16 genuine MPC backlit pads that feel fantastic. There are four pad banks that are easily switched for longer performances.

You get plenty of hands-on functionality through transport controls and dedicated buttons. Dedicated buttons cover some of the most used functions for beatmakers, like Quantize and Sample Start/End.

You can also adjust many parameters using the OLED display rather than your computer screen, which makes it feel more like a typical MPC.

The most common MPC features are here, like Note Repeat, Full Level, Pad Mute, etc. But there’s something you might not expect, and that’s a multi-function touch strip that you can use to control various parameters while recording or performing.

Along with the MPC2 software, you’ll get over 100 instruments and effects.

Arturia KeyLab 61 Mk2

The best premium all-rounder

If you have the budget to step beyond the KeyLab Essential to the flagship model, it’s worth the investment. Arturia KeyLab controllers are exceptionally well-built, with abundant features and assignable controls.

We chose the KeyLab 61 because it’s the perfect size to cover various performance/production styles.

Arturia KeyLab 61 Mk2 MIDI keyboard controller Image by Arturia Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

Arturia’s KeyLab 61 is a premium keyboard controller with 61 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch. Aftertouch is one of the key features that you don’t get with the cheaper Essentials models. We also call it a premium controller because it has an aluminum chassis rather than plastic.

The KeyLab 61 is all about a hands-on workflow; it has transport controls, nine large assignable faders, and nine rotary encoders. All controls automap to Arturia software, and it has a DAW Command section complete with magnetic overlays.

The impressive build quality extends to the controls too, which feel noticeably better than the average controller.

Another step up from the Essential model is that you get 16 RGB backlit performance pads instead of eight. The extra pads can make a massive difference if you use your controller for live performance.

Beyond the usual expression features like pitch and mod wheels, you’ll also get five expression control inputs. It even has four CV output jacks, which opens up a new level of creative possibilities.

Arturia provides an impressive software package, including Analog Lab and Ableton Live Lite.

Novation 61SL Mk3

The best for Ableton Live

Novation has gone all-out with the 61SL Mk3; it’s got everything you can think of and more, and it’s not cheap. Although there are some things we prefer on other controllers, it’s an absolute powerhouse.

If you make any sort of electronic music, you’ll love the 61SL, and it’s probably the best MIDI controller for Ableton.

Novation 61SL Mk3 keyboard controller Image by Novation Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The 61SL Mk3 has a 61-key synth-style, semi-weighted keybed with assignable aftertouch. It’s a very expressive keyboard with on-key LED feedback to highlight scales, modes, and zones.

Along with assignable buttons/encoders, nine faders, and transport controls, the 61SL has multiple color LED screens, giving it the workflow of a hardware synth or workstation.

One of the best features of this controller is the internal eight-track, pattern-based, 16-step sequencer. Again, it adds to the hands-on workflow and is a powerful electronic music production tool. It also has a built-in arpeggiator with selectable velocity curves.

There are 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads with polyphonic aftertouch. We love the aftertouch and number of pads but don’t like how they feel as much as some alternatives.

Connectivity is another area where this keyboard controller shines. It offers MIDI in/out/thru, analog clock out, CV pitch, Gate, and Mod outputs. It also comes with Ableton Live Lite and a considerable collection of Loopcloud samples.

Check out our full Novation SL Mk3 series review

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61

The best for NI Komplete instruments

Native Instruments might have started the trend for these smart controllers with on-key LEDs, and they do it very well. We think the S61 is great, and while it’s not at the top of our list, it’s undoubtedly a high-end keyboard controller.

Our issue is that it might not represent the same value for money to every user, but if you rely heavily on Native Instruments plugins/software, it’s the best.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2 MIDI controller Image by Native Instruments Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The S61 is the best keyboard controller for Native Instruments plugins/software. It has a premium Fatar keyboard with 61 semi-weighted keys and aftertouch.

Despite having a very minimalist design, it still offers a range of assignable controls, including eight touch-sensitive knobs and a four-directional push encoder.

The S61 has an assignable touch strip in addition to the pitch and mod wheels, both of which feel great. This controller offers advanced control over most popular DAWs, including functions like quantize, metronome, loop, and mute/solo.

However, it’s in the deep integration and auto-mapping of Native Instruments software that the S61 excels. It has two large high-quality displays that allow you to browse sounds/instruments by type, tag, etc. Navigating through the instruments in the included Komplete Select 14 is quick and easy.

Komplete Select 14 contains some of the best free instruments you’ll get with any MIDI controller, such as The Gentleman, Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass, and Vintage Organs. You also get a copy of Ableton Live Lite.

Check out our full Native Instruments S series review

Arturia KeyStep Pro

The best for portable hardware integration

The KeyStep Pro might be compact, but it delivers huge performance. It’s not without its drawbacks, like certain settings can only be adjusted via the software, but the good far outweighs the bad.

If you want a small controller/sequencer that lets you spend more time on the keys than looking at your computer screen, it’s this one.

Arturia KeyStep Pro 37-key MIDI controller Image by Arturia Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

Arturia’s KeyStep Pro is a 37-key (mini keys) controller with velocity-sensitive keys and aftertouch. It does everything you’d expect from a standard controller; it integrates with your DAW and provides more expressive mini keys than most.

However, the KeyStep Pro isn’t your ordinary controller; it’s more about intuitive performance and bringing hardware together. Its most significant selling points are its onboard sequencer and extensive connectivity options.

It features a four-track, polyphonic step sequencer and a dedicated drum sequencer, both of which are creative performance tools you can use without a DAW. It also has a built-in metronome and OLED screen.

The extensive connectivity we mentioned includes configurable CV/Gate/Mod outputs, which you won’t find on many small controllers. You get additional hands-on control via transport buttons and touch strips.

Nektar Impact LX88+

The best budget 88-key controller

Despite nearing the bottom of our list, the Impact LX88+ has much to offer. We chose it because it provides 88 keys and assignable controls on a budget.

It might not be the most premium controller, but pound for pound (or dollar for dollar), it’s a heavy hitter. It’s also an ideal keyboard controller for beginners who want to go full-size.

Nektar Impact LX88+ MIDI controller keyboard Image by Nektar Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The Impact LX88+ is a full-size keyboard controller with 88 semi-weighted keys. It won’t give you the feel of a real piano, but it will provide a decent compromise on a budget.

It provides a wide range of assignable controls, including nine faders and eight knobs. We have to say, we aren’t overly keen on the faders, they don’t feel as good as others on our list. But we also must keep reminding ourselves what’s on offer for the money here.

The pitch and mod wheels feel good enough, our slight complaint is the positioning above the keys instead of to the left. You get a complete set of transport controls with easy integration with major DAW software.

The Impact LX88+ has eight velocity-sensitive RGB performance pads, which are surprisingly good. Again, they aren’t like MPC pads, but they are better than some more expensive controllers. There aren’t many more features to mention, but you get the basics, like keyboard zones and modes (split/layer).

Nektar includes a copy of Bitwig 8-track DAW, but it’s just as effective for Pro Tools or for Studio One, etc.

Akai Fire

The best for FL Studio

We love Akai controllers, but admittedly, the Fire isn’t one of our favorites. It’s one of those products that was a bit hit-and-miss with its target audience.

We decided to include it because it’s purpose-built for FL Studio, and that makes it potentially the best controller for FL Studio. You’ll love it or hate it, but for the right user, it deserves to be on the list.

Akai Fire MIDI controller for FL Studio Image by Akai Professional Available at: Sweetwater Amazon

The Akai Fire is a grid controller for FL Studio. It’s the first dedicated controller for FL Studio. It features a powerful 4×16 matrix with velocity-sensitive pads. The layout mirrors what FL Studio users will already be used to, making it a smooth transition.

Instead of looking to add new functionality, the Fire controller aims to provide as close to a mouse-free experience as you can get. You can navigate menus, the channel rack, the browser, and the toolbar without touching a mouse.

It has a small but useful display and dedicated transport controls. The transport controls are handy when overdubbing, allowing you to jam over previously recorded parts until you are ready to record again.

The velocity-sensitive pads are small and take some getting used to, especially in performance mode. Performance mode lets you play instruments in real-time, as you would with a MIDI keyboard. Sequencing is far easier, and that’s where the Fire has the most value because it’s such a time saver.

Conclusion

We’ve picked 10 of the best MIDI controllers available in various shapes and sizes. Our list has everything from compact keyboard controllers to full-size hammer-action keys and everything in between.

We’ve also catered to different DAWs and budgets, so there’s something to suit everyone. Whatever you need, it’s probably on this list.

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