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MIDI controller reviews: Keyboards/pads bought and tested

MIDI controllers come in many shapes and sizes, with the most common being MIDI keyboards. You might hear us refer to them as keyboard controllers, too.

Some MIDI controllers go for pads, buttons, and grids rather than keys, which can be great for triggering samples or loops.

Whatever you need a controller to do, we can help because we review all types to help you make the best choice.

You can check our recommendations for:

Arturia MicroLab MIDI controller
Arturia MicroLab MIDI controller | Image: Higher Hz

Reviews by brand




Native Instruments



How we test and rate MIDI controllers

How we review and rate MIDI controllers is a little different from how we work with regular keyboards or digital pianos. The main reason for this is that MIDI controllers don’t generate or process any sound. So, we have to take sound quality off the table straight away and focus on other areas.

MIDI controllers function by triggering sounds/responses from software or MIDI-compatible hardware. We can pretty safely assume that most people who buy a MIDI controller are interested in production or performing (or both). That’s why we put a lot of focus on how well MIDI controllers perform in the studio and on stage.

We start by going through the features on offer. But, to score well, the features should be things that enhance your workflow or add performance elements. Typically, features that score well are responsive pads and assignable controls, etc.

Next, we focus on how well a controller integrates with popular DAWs and plugins. A good MIDI controller should be compatible with all major DAWs, and in some cases, they will even auto-map controls. If they don’t auto-map, then the process should be as straightforward as possible.

Synido TempoPad MIDI controller
Synido MIDI pad controller | Image: Higher Hz

Once everything is set up, using the controls should be intuitive, not complex. If a MIDI controller looks fantastic but isn’t easy to use, we will make it clear in the review.

How a MIDI controller performs in the studio and on stage are two of the most critical areas. In the studio, it’s about how much you can do from one controller. On stage, it’s about how playable the controller is as a live instrument, which includes how the keys/pads feel.

As MIDI controllers don’t make any sound, we like to highlight the software bundles. Quite often, people who buy MIDI controllers are setting up a first home studio and doing it on a budget. Being able to make music right out of the box is very important, and it’s a significant factor in our overall score.

Like everything else we review, price and value for money play a leading role. We could easily score a cheap controller 5.0 and an expensive controller 4.0 or less.

There are many reasons we might do that, for example, the expensive controller may have hammer-action keys that should feel better for the money. On the other hand, the cheap MIDI controller might be the one that enhances your workflow most.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 closeup
Arturia 88-key MIDI controller | Image: Higher Hz

Ultimately, the best MIDI controller is the one that helps you make the most music. If you are very piano-driven, weighted keys might be a priority. But, if you have limited space or like to make music on the go, you aren’t going to fit 88-keys in a backpack.

Never buy a MIDI controller because it’s the biggest and most expensive; buy it because it’s the right one. That’s what our MIDI controller reviews are all about.