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Keyboard MIDI Controllers for Every Studio or Stage Rig

Buying Guide: Keyboard MIDI Controllers

Are you recording with DAW software? Do you have virtual instrument plug-ins? The key to getting the most out of your software is a MIDI keyboard controller! Connect one of these versatile keyboards to your computer, and tap into a limitless library of sounds.

Scroll down for Questions to Ask Before Buying a MIDI Controller Keyboard »

In this buying guide, you'll find our favorite controllers in the most popular keyboard sizes. For producers that like to play one-handed leads and bass lines, we've got controllers with 25-37 keys. Next up, you'll find 49-key controllers that are perfect for the versatile organist or keyboardist. For the pro pianist, controllers with 61 to 88 keys give you the widest range.

For each size of keyboard, we've picked inexpensive MIDI controllers that are "Best for Beginners," as well as high-end models with all the bells and whistles that are "Best for Pros." Follow this buying guide to find the right MIDI controller for your rig!
25-Key and 37-Key Controllers
Best for Beginners: Need an affordable 25-key MIDI controller with full-size keys? The M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV is an excellent value. If you're OK with mini-keys, go for the Korg microKEY -- it's about 15.5" wide and gives you 25 very playable mini-keys, just like those found on the MicroKORG XL. If you're looking for a mini-keys MIDI controller small enough to fit in your laptop bag, check out the Novation LaunchKey Mini MK2 or the Akai MPK mini MKII -- they're both under 13" wide and USB bus-powered, with velocity-sensitive drum pads and assignable knobs that map to your software.
25+ Keys for Beginners:
Korg microKEY25 USB MIDI Keyboard, 25-Key
or 4 payments of $18.75
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Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 USB MIDI Keyboard ...
or 4 payments of $25.00
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Best for Pros: A high-end 25-key MIDI controller can give you tons of hands-on control without the hassle of lugging around a bulky board. If you're into analog synth sounds, check out the Arturia KeyLab 25 -- this wood-and-aluminum beauty comes bundled with Analog Lab software with over 5000 tweakable preset sounds. If you like to launch clips and make beats with trigger pads, check out the M-Audio Code 25. If you produce with the Maschine, then the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S25 is perfect for you, with tight integration with your KOMPLETE software instruments and a semi-weighted Fatar keybed. Then there's the ROLI Seaboard RISE -- a reimagined keyboard with a soft silcone surface for continuous-touch control. Check it out if you're looking for something more organic-feeling than the usual black-and-whites.

25 Keys for Pros:
M-Audio Code 25 USB Keyboard Controller, 25-Key
or 6 payments of $49.84
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ROLI Seaboard RISE 25 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller, ...
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$684.95
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or 8 payments of $100.00
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49-Key Controllers
Best for Beginners: 49-key controllers are the most popular size -- they're big enough to play with both hands, but small enough to fit on your studio desk. One affordable entry-level choice is M-Audio's Keystation 49, which comes bundled with a great piano virtual instrument: SONiVOX's Eighty-Eight Ensemble. For more realistic-feeling semi-weighted keys, score the Samson Carbon 49, which also includes a convenient slot to hold your iPad. The Alesis V49 controller adds MPC-style drum pads for triggering samples. When it comes to bang-for-buck, it's hard to beat the Behringer MOTOR 49 -- it's got those assignable knobs and buttons usually found on higher-end controllers, and it comes bundled with 300 MB of Native Instruments sounds for your computer.

49 Keys for Beginners:
M-Audio Keystation 49 MKII USB MIDI Keyboard ...
or 4 payments of $25.00
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Alesis V49 USB MIDI Controller Keyboard, 49-Key
or 4 payments of $32.25
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Best for Pros: The Komplete Kontrol S 49 is a solid choice if you're using Native Instruments KOMPLETE. Akai's MAX49 gives you genuine MPC drum pads and cool touchstrip faders, while the Akai Advance 49 adds a large color display and Akai's VIP software -- perfect for keyboardists that use lots of VSTs. And if Reason or Bitwig is your DAW, the Nektar Panorama P4 is the ideal controller, with a color 3.5" display for deep visual feedback. With tons of drum pads, knobs, sliders and transport buttons, these full-featured 49-key controllers are designed to deeply integrate with your DAWs and software instruments.

49 Keys for Pros:
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Keyboard ...
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$469.95
Save 21%
or 6 payments of $83.17
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Akai MAX49 USB MIDI Controller Keyboard, 49-Key
 
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$379.95
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Akai Advance 49 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller, 49-Key
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$404.95
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or 6 payments of $83.17
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61-Key and 88-Key Controllers
Best for Beginners: Affordable 61-key MIDI controllers like the Samson Carbon 61 and M-Audio Keystation 61 give you 5 octaves -- enough space to play most two-hands piano arrangements without having to hit that octave button. For the most affordable 88-key controller out there, try the Alesis Q88.

Another great value is the Novation Launchkey 61, which includes 16 velocity-sensitive pads for laying down beats and triggering samples, sliders that map to your virtual instruments' organ drawbars, knobs to control filter cutoffs, and dedicated transport buttons (play, pause, record) for controlling your DAW.

61+ Keys for Beginners:
Samson Carbon 61 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller, 61-Key
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$119.95
Save 33%
or 4 payments of $32.50
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M-Audio Keystation 61 MKII USB MIDI Keyboard ...
or 4 payments of $42.50
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Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 USB MIDI Keyboard ...
Like New
$199.95
Save 33%
or 6 payments of $41.67
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Alesis Q88 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller, 88-Key
or 4 payments of $49.75
Free 2-Day Shipping
Shop all 88-key MIDI controllers »

Best for Pros: With these high-end MIDI controllers, deep DAW integration is the name of the game. For Reason and Bitwig users, we recommend the Nektar Panoraman P6. If you're navigating the vast virtual-instrument playground of Native Instruments KOMPLETE, check out the Komplete Kontrol S61 -- its glowing Light Guide can help you find your way.

If you want to rock a huge collection of software instruments, check out the Akai Advance 61 controller -- it comes with Akai's Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) software to help you navigate and sort your VSTs and switch instruments right from the keyboard's large color screen. For classical pianists, there's the Kawai VPC1. With 88 wooden keys and a 3-pedal unit included, it's about as close to an acoustic piano as a MIDI controller can get.

61+ Keys for Pros:
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Keyboard ...
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$589.95
Save 15%
or 6 payments of $99.84
Free 2-Day Shipping
Akai Advance 61 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller, 61-Key
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$504.95
Save 27%
or 6 payments of $99.84
Free 2-Day Shipping
Shop all 61-key MIDI controllers »
Questions to Ask Before Buying a MIDI Controller Keyboard

What's a MIDI controller, anyway?

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology lets musicians play a single controller keyboard to trigger sounds from multiple synthesizers and samplers. Developed in the 1980s, MIDI has been an established industry standard for decades -- and it's more useful than ever. Today, a performer can play a MIDI controller to drive virtual instruments on a laptop or tablet. With a single lightweight MIDI controller and a hard drive full of samples, you can easily bring thousands of sounds to the gig.

How can I use a MIDI controller in my home studio?

MIDI is a powerful tool for music production. For example, you can record MIDI data while monitoring the sound of one particular synthesizer, then instantly switch to another sound when the recording is done. Most DAW software includes MIDI sequencing tools that let producers edit notes individually on a piano roll, quantize to a metronome, time-stretch, transpose, and on and on. To use these tools, you'll need a way to capture your performance in the first place -- like one of the MIDI controller keyboards in this guide, plus a MIDI cable or a USB cable to connect the controller to your computer.

How many keys do I need?

If you like to play one-handed synth leads or basses, 25 keys may be all you need. If you're looking to play piano arrangements, you'll want 61, 76 or possibly all 88 keys. The most popular size for MIDI controllers is 49 keys -- big enough to play two-handed, but not too big to fit on your studio desk. Most compact keyboard controllers have octave buttons that let you scroll up and down to access the piano's full 88-key range.

Weighted vs. semi-weighted vs. synth-action keys -- what's the difference?

These terms all describe the keyboard's action -- the way in which the keys respond to the player. Fully weighted keys feel the most like an acoustic piano. Since the keys have counterweights on the far ends, they require a bit more force and finger independence to play -- and the keyboards themselves can get very heavy! Synth-action keys, on the other hand, are light and springy and offer little resistance. Synth-action keys are found on lightweight controllers, entry-level keyboards, and most electronic organs. If you find fully weighted keys too heavy, but spring-loaded synth-action keys too light, semi-weighted keys are the perfect happy medium, and are commonly found on professional controller keyboards.

What does "hammer action" mean?

In an acoustic piano, pressing a key lifts a damper off the piano's strings and "throws" a hammer to strike them. The harder you press the keys, the harder the hammers hit, and the louder the sound. Of course, in an electronic keyboard, there's no need for strings. However, in their quest to replicate the feel of the acoustic piano's action, manufacturers can build a version of this elegant hammer mechanism inside higher-end electronic keyboards -- and refer to it as hammer action. Keyboards with graded hammer action require a heavier touch on the lower notes and a lighter touch on the higher notes, just like an acoustic piano.

What is escapement?

Try pressing an acoustic piano key as softly and slowly as you can, and you'll feel a slight bump of resistance about two-thirds of the way down. This is the "point of sound." Consider what's happening inside the piano: a hammer momentarily hits the strings, immediately bounces back so as not to interfere with their vibration, and is ready to strike again. The mechanism by which that hammer strikes the strings once and immediately "escapes" (even if you keep holding the key down) is called the escapement. You'll feel the subtle resistance of the escapement on all acoustic pianos -- it's part of what gives a piano its distinctive "feel." A keyboard with escapement will feel more natural to the player that's used to playing an acoustic piano.

What is aftertouch? Do I need it?

If you use a keyboard to play horns, winds, strings, organs, synths, or any sound capable of a long sustain time, aftertouch can help you add expression to your playing. On an aftertouch-sensitive keyboard controller, once you've already struck the key and are holding the note, you can apply more pressure to trigger an aftertouch event. Lean into the keys to widen the rotary speaker effect on an organ, add vibrato to the end of a string part, open the filter on a synth lick, make a saxophone "growl," and so on. While aftertouch may be unnecessary for the classical pianist, it's an ergonomic way for synth players to control those cool, expressive effects without having to reach for a modulation wheel, joystick or extra foot pedal. Aftertouch is a feature that's usually only found on higher-end MIDI controllers, but once you've used it, it can be tough to go without!

Performance pads -- do I need them?

Want to use your MIDI controller to play percussion sounds? While it's possible to trigger drum samples on keyboard keys, some producers prefer the natural feel of velocity-sensitive performance pads. Many keyboard controllers include a bank of 8, 12, or 16 pads that are perfect for laying down beats and launching loops. You can also add a standalone pad controller to your setup.

Now that I have a MIDI controller, which software instruments should I get?

Once you've connected your MIDI controller to your computer and fired up your DAW software, you're ready to start triggering sounds! While most DAWs come with a few software instrument plug-ins to get you started, you can expand your musical palette by installing third-party virtual instruments. Need a few great sampled analog synth sounds? Check out the Arturia V Collection 5. Need a lot more sounds to choose from? Make room on your hard drive for IK Multimedia SampleTank 3, a go-to sample-based software instrument with everything from stately orchestras to spaced-out synths. If you're looking for a virtual instrument that lets you design original sounds from scratch, or import your own samples and mangle them into something new, you have to check out Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 -- don't worry, it's also got lots of presets to get you started. And for the producer who just can't get enough virtual instruments, there's KOMPLETE 11 Ultimate -- Native Instruments' all-encompassing collection of virtual synths, samples and effects plug-ins that ships on its own USB hard drive. Shop all software instruments »
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Software Synthesizer
or 6 payments of $79.84
Free 2-Day Shipping
IK Multimedia SampleTank 3 Software Instrument
or 6 payments of $58.33
Free 2-Day Shipping
Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate Software
or 6 payments of $199.84
Free 2-Day Shipping
Shop all software instruments »
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