5 Best MIDI Controllers for Music Production

Best MIDI Controllers for Music Production

The best midi controllers for music production are those that cater to a producer’s specific needs, offering flexibility, compatibility, and functionality. When assessing “best”, factors such as user interface, integration with popular digital audio workstations (DAWs), and overall build quality come into play. Keyboards, pads, and knob controllers represent the primary types of midi devices, each with its strengths depending on the genre or production style. Brands like Akai, Novation, and Native Instruments have gained recognition in the industry for their robust offerings. As technology advances, midi controllers are also evolving, with features such as touchscreens and integrated software becoming more prevalent. Hence, determining the best controller requires careful consideration of one’s production goals, software preferences, and budget.

Overview of the best MIDI controllers for music producers

  1. Akai MPK Mini MKII: Akai’s MPK Mini MKII stands as a compact and versatile MIDI controller tailored for producers on-the-move. This device showcases 25 synth-action mini keys complemented by 8 backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads, enabling dynamic beat production and sample triggering. Its 8 assignable Q-Link knobs facilitate seamless parameter adjustments, while the onboard arpeggiator with adjustable resolution, range, and modes enhances melody creation. Integration with the bundled software suite, which includes titles like Hybrid 3, further augments its appeal to both novice and seasoned producers seeking a portable, yet powerful, control solution.
  2. Novation Launchkey MK3: Novation’s Launchkey MK3 is characterized by velocity-sensitive keys and pads, accentuated by dedicated rotary knobs and control buttons. Designed primarily for Ableton Live, its versatility extends to other DAWs. Offered in multiple key configurations, it caters to varied studio preferences. The addition of MIDI out promotes standalone operability, enhancing its utility in diverse settings.
  3. Arturia Minilab MKII: This MIDI controller boasts 25 slim-keys, augmented by touch-sensitive controls and 16 multi-color performance pads. Its deep integration with Arturia’s Analog Lab software facilitates instant access to an extensive preset library. The Minilab MKII’s compact design is tailored for mobile producers, with its robust construction ensuring sustained durability.
  4. Komplete Kontrol S-88: Komplete Kontrol S-88 is a comprehensive 88-key MIDI controller featuring a fully weighted hammer-action mechanism. Optimized for the Native Instruments software suite, it provides immediate control over a vast sound palette. The distinguishing Light Guide feature, utilizing RGB indicators, offers visual feedback, enhancing learning and production efficiency.
  5. Arturia Keystep: Arturia’s Keystep is a versatile 32-key MIDI controller, boasting both velocity and aftertouch sensitivity. A standout feature is its polyphonic step sequencer, coupled with an arpeggiator and chord mode. Its broad connectivity, encompassing MIDI, Sync, and CV/Gate, ensures compatibility with a multitude of hardware and software platforms. Especially notable is its appeal to modular synth enthusiasts, credited to its CV capabilities.

How to choose a MIDI controller

1. Determine the Purpose: Define the primary objectives for the MIDI controller: live performance, studio production, or casual jamming. Live performance demands portability and responsive pads, studio production requires versatile parameter control, while casual jamming benefits from a user-friendly interface and diverse sound presets. Clarifying purpose ensures optimal alignment with intended activities and workflows.

2. Decide on Key Count and Size: Evaluate available space and musical requirements. Choose among 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys based on needs. Opt for 25 keys for portability and limited space, 49 keys for versatility, 61 keys for extended range, or 88 keys for comprehensive piano emulation.

3. Select Key Type: Opt for semi-weighted, fully-weighted, or synth-action keys. For a piano-like feel, consider fully-weighted keys.

4. Evaluate Additional Features: Determine if pads are required for drum programming or triggering samples. Consider rotary encoders and faders for software parameter control. Decide if modulation and pitch bend wheels are essential. Pads enable drum programming and sample triggering, while encoders and faders offer precise software parameter manipulation. Modulation and pitch bend wheels provide nuanced expression for realistic instrument emulation and performance.

5. Check Software Integration: Ascertain compatibility with your preferred Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Evaluating software integration ensures seamless interaction between the MIDI controller and chosen DAW, enabling efficient workflow and minimizing compatibility issues during music production. For Ableton Live, a controller like Ableton Push provides seamless integration.

6. Review I/O Ports: Examine the midi controller’s connections: traditional MIDI ports, USB connections, and/or CV/Gate outputs. This analysis is to ascertain compatibility with various devices, software, and signal routing configurations, thus enabling seamless integration and versatile control capabilities.

7. Assess Portability: If mobile setups are preferred, evaluate the controller’s weight and dimensions. Compact controllers, such as the Arturia KeyStep, offer better portability.

8. Determine the Power Source: Opt for controllers powered by USB, external adapters, or batteries based on your setup.

9. Examine Build Quality: Investigate material and durability. Review user feedback on product longevity.

10. Set and Adhere to a Budget: Establish a budgetary limit. Balance cost with desired features and functionalities.

Top Picks for Best MIDI Controllers for Music Production

Akai MPK Mini MKII

The Akai MPK Mini MKII emerges as a potent MIDI controller tailored for both the traveling musician and desktop producer. Its standout feature is the seamless integration with the Akai Pro VIP3.0 software, facilitating a dynamic link between hardware and VST instrument and effect collections. This cohesion enhances creativity by providing a tactile feel of hardware with the dynamic processing ability of virtual instruments.

Diving into the specifications of the MPK Mini MKII, it boasts 25 velocity-sensitive synth-action keys, designed for expressive playing and recording. The device is further accentuated by 8 backlit MPC-style pads, which are adjustable through two banks, and 8 assignable Q-Link knobs. These specifications highlight the MPK Mini MKII’s adaptability and dynamic control during production.

Connection avenues for the MPK Mini MKII include:

  • Plug-and-play functionality, offering USB-MIDI connectivity for both Mac and PC.
  • Four memory banks that allow easy storage of hardware/software presets.
  • A full-size sustain pedal input jack augments the expressive capabilities of the device.

The bundled software suite amplifies the device’s utility, featuring tools like Hybrid 3, MPC Beats, and an array of virtual instrument plugins. This provides a comprehensive production environment, simplifying the creative process.

Quality-wise, the MPK Mini MKII leverages its compact design without compromising on functionality. It adeptly caters to both novices and seasoned producers, striking a balance between ease of use and detailed features that cater to diverse music production needs.

For those in the market for an ultra-portable yet professional MIDI controller, the MPK Mini MKII presents a harmonious amalgamation of essential features and advanced capabilities. Complemented by its software package, the device streamlines music creation, recording, and performance tasks. Emphasizing its commitment to customer satisfaction, Akai Professional backs its products with robust customer support.

Novation Launchkey MK3

The Novation Launchkey 49 presents a comprehensive suite of features tailored for dynamic music creation, predominantly with Ableton Live. One standout characteristic is its semi-weighted keybed, ensuring tactile feedback apt for nuanced play. Another intriguing inclusion is the Scale and Chord modes, which offer musicians the capability to stay in key and trigger complex chords effortlessly.

Examining the specifications of the Launchkey 49, it boasts essential transport controls, nine 45mm faders, and eight rotary encoders, granting users the liberty to shape their sound meticulously. The controller is crafted with velocity-sensitive pads, adept at generating nuanced beats and sample triggers. Furthermore, the in-built arpeggiator propels creativity, aiding in the rapid generation of melodic sequences.

When discussing integration avenues, the Launchkey 49 delivers:

  • Full optimization for Ableton Live, ensuring unparalleled access to its myriad functions.
  • Seamless integration with DAWs like Logic, Cubase, and Reason, with added compatibility for Studio One and Pro Tools via HUI.
  • Standalone operation, allowing it to fit into diverse music-making setups, with or without a computer.
  • Bundled software comprising of Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, AAS Session Bundle, Spitfire Audio LABS Expressive Strings, and tools from Klevgrand.

Quality-wise, the Launchkey 49 employs a set of features that nurture creativity, facilitate flexibility, and elevate the overall music production experience. The controller is designed for both novices and professionals, striking a balance between ease of use and advanced features catering to intricate music production requirements.

For users seeking a versatile yet professional-grade MIDI keyboard controller, the Launchkey 49 offers a harmonious amalgamation of essential features. It is further complemented by the bundled software, enhancing the music creation, mixing, and routing processes. Notably, with its compatibility with various DAWs and standalone functionality, Novation emphasizes its dedication to user adaptability.

The overarching design and feature set of the Launchkey 49 solidify its position as a valuable instrument for diverse music applications, be it in home studios or more professional environments. Its versatility, adaptability, and user-oriented approach render it a commendable choice in the MIDI controller market.

Arturia Minilab MKII

The MiniLab MkII is a compact MIDI controller designed for portability. It integrates with a range of software tools, allowing for a broad application in music production.

Features of the MiniLab MkII include:

  • USB-powered functionality, eliminating the need for an external power source.
  • Control options that facilitate VST management and sample triggering.
  • Compatibility with software platforms such as Ableton Live Lite.
  • Inclusion of Analog Lab Intro, which provides access to various vintage keyboard sounds.
  • Integration of UVI Model D, a recreation of the Steinway Model D grand piano.

In terms of construction, the MiniLab MkII is built to withstand regular use. Its design aims to cater to both novice and experienced music producers. The controller is accompanied by a software suite intended to aid in music production.

In conclusion, the MiniLab MkII is a MIDI controller that combines portability with a range of features suitable for diverse music production tasks. Its build quality and software integrations make it suitable for various studio settings.

Komplete Kontrol S-88

The KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 is equipped with a range of features designed for diverse musical applications. Notably, it integrates a Fatar keybed with 88 fully-weighted, hammer-action keys. Additionally, the Light Guide feature utilizes RGB lights to indicate drum cells, scales, chords, and related functions.

Regarding the specifications of the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88, it is compatible with major DAWs, suitable for music production environments. The device includes a high-resolution color display for operational tasks such as browsing and mixing. The 4-directional push encoder facilitates efficient sound navigation.

Connectivity options for the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 include:

  • MIDI in/out for interfacing with additional equipment.
  • USB 2.0 compatibility, supporting both macOS and Windows platforms.
  • Advanced functionality with specific hosts such as Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and GarageBand.
  • Software package comprising KOMPLETE KONTROL software, MASCHINE Essentials, and a selection from KOMPLETE 14 Instruments and Effects.

In terms of design, the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 has been structured to cater to a wide range of users, integrating both basic and advanced features. The emphasis on DAW integration enhances its utility.

Overall, the design and capabilities of the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 position it for use in various musical creation environments. Its functional attributes and integration capabilities are noteworthy in the context of MIDI controller equipment.

Arturia Keystep

The Arturia KeyStep is equipped with a range of controls suitable for various musical applications. It has a custom Slimkey keybed with velocity and aftertouch capabilities. It also features an arpeggiator mode with options such as Up, Down, Inclusive, and Exclusive.

The specifications of the KeyStep indicate an 8-mode polyphonic sequencer capable of 64 steps, with each step handling up to 8 notes. The interface has rate control, tap tempo, REC, PLAY, and STOP buttons for performance control over the sequencer and arpeggiator. The design also includes capacitive-touch pitch bend and mod wheels.

The connection capabilities of the KeyStep include:

  • CV/GATE outputs, with CV supporting modes like 1Volt per octave, Volt>Hz.
  • USB MIDI for computers and Arturia’s MCC editor.
  • SYNC I/O ports are compatible with various syncing methods, including pulses per step and DIN syncs.
  • Firmware updates, such as 1.1, provide new sequence length controls and randomness options.

In terms of quality, the KeyStep contains features for control output. The interface is designed for both novice and experienced musicians, with a focus on functionality.

For users seeking a multi-functional keyboard controller, the KeyStep provides a range of features. It is compatible with both analog and digital equipment, including software. The firmware updates further enhance its technical capabilities. Arturia’s design emphasizes functionality and efficiency.

The design and feature set of the KeyStep position it as a tool for various musical applications, suitable for both live and studio settings. Its functional capabilities and design make it an option in the music controller market.

What are the top 5 MIDI controller brands for music production?

Here are five well-regarded MIDI controller brands that are commonly recommended:

  1. Akai: Renowned for its hardware and software contributions to the electronic music domain, Akai Professional has introduced a series of MIDI controllers, notably the “Akai MPK” series. This series exemplifies the integration of velocity-sensitive keys, MPC-style pads, and multiple control knobs, providing users with a comprehensive toolset to manipulate virtual instruments and DAW functionalities.
  2. Arturia: Arturia’s footprint in the MIDI controller sector can be recognized through their “KeyLab” series. These controllers often incorporate premium keybeds, high-resolution encoders, and extensive DAW integration. Moreover, Arturia MIDI controllers frequently include bundled software, such as the “Analog Lab” software, which comprises a vast array of synthesized sounds derived from iconic synthesizers.
  3. Komplete (by Native Instruments): Native Instruments, through its “Komplete Kontrol” series, has engineered MIDI controllers that excel in deep software integration, especially with the brand’s own extensive library of virtual instruments and effects. These controllers typically offer features like light-guided key zones, touch-sensitive knobs, and a clear visual display, streamlining the music production workflow.
  4. Novation: Novation has been a significant contributor to the MIDI controller domain, particularly with the “Launchkey” and “SL MkIII” series. Novation’s products prioritize immediate DAW integration, providing users with RGB pads, faders, and rotary controls. Notably, the brand’s controllers often incorporate a “Scale” mode, optimizing the input for melodic content and reducing erroneous note inputs.
  5. Roland: Not mentioned in the prompt but crucial to consider given its historical significance in the electronic music equipment industry, Roland has released a range of MIDI controllers under the “A-PRO” series. These units are characterized by their durable build, dynamic pads, and assignable knobs, facilitating intricate software parameter adjustments.

How much do MIDI controllers cost?

Entry-level midi controllers typically range from $50 to $100, while professional-grade models can range from $500 to $1,000 or more. The price of the controller will depend on factors such as functionality, number of keys, build quality, and brand.

Are MIDI controllers necessary for music production?

For those looking to have a tactile and hands-on approach to music production, MIDI controllers can be an invaluable tool. They allow producers to physically interact with software instruments, effects, and digital audio workstations, which can lead to a more intuitive and creative workflow.

What are the worst MIDI controllers?

MIDI controllers that exhibit suboptimal performance typically possess characteristics such as limited velocity sensitivity, inconsistent or non-responsive key action, and a lack of aftertouch capability. Additionally, such controllers might have inadequate integration capabilities with digital audio workstations (DAWs) or lack essential connectivity options, thereby restricting interfacing opportunities with external hardware or software. Furthermore, poorly designed user interfaces or limited programmable controls can reduce the efficiency and versatility of the controller. The presence of subpar build quality, coupled with limited software support or infrequent firmware updates, may further detract from the overall user experience.