In the world of electronic music production, few pieces of gear are as versatile as the humble MIDI keyboard. Like the piano and synthesizer after which they’re modeled, the best MIDI keyboards are relatively lightweight and portable with easy-to-play keybeds of anywhere between 25 and 88 keys. They also generally don’t produce their own sounds and are instead used as controllers by producers and musicians for interfacing with recording software, hardware, and software synths, samplers, and other sound-producing devices. Whether you’re looking for a keyboard that will optimize your entire composition and beat making workflow or a basic design that’s perfect for practicing, this list of the best MIDI keyboards has you covered.

Best Overall: Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII
Best Weighted: M-Audio Hammer 88
Best Budget: M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3

How We Picked the Best MIDI Keyboards

When compiling this list of the best MIDI keyboards on the market, we considered brand reputation, build quality, feel of play, and extra features to help us make our picks.

Brand: Both our best weighted and best budget picks come from M-Audio, a reputable longtime manufacturer of MIDI keyboards with a wide range of models, including several that have been redesigned and improved over time. Our best overall pick comes from Arturia, a company known for manufacturing high-quality hardware synthesizers, recording interfaces, software, and other music production equipment.

Build Quality: MIDI keyboards undergo plenty of use in most production, composition, and performance scenarios, so we opted to choose models with a track record for durability to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Feel of Play: Nothing is more important than the feel of a keyboard, instrument, or other control device in a performance setting, so we heavily considered the feel, ease of play, and reactivity of the keybeds on all our picks in each award category.

Extra Features: The inclusion of extra features can quickly increase a MIDI keyboard’s price, but they can add plenty of value and flexibility while saving users valuable creative time. While our best weighted and best budget picks are purposely minimalist with a focus on great feel and basic functionality, our best overall pick from Arturia includes drum pads, faders, encoders, and transport controls for maximum versatility.

Best MIDI Keyboards: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII

Utility Player. Arturia

Why It Made The Cut: The Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII offers the best balance of versatility and portability thanks to a lightweight design, huge sound library, and abundant control options.

Specs:
Weight: 15.4 pounds
Dimensions: 2.1 inches H x 34.5 inches W x 11.7 inches D
Number of Keys: 61
Pedal Inputs: 1/4-inch sustain, 1/4-inch expression, three 1/4-inch auxiliary
Controls: Pitch wheel and modwheel; nine encoders; nine faders; 16 pads; four 1/8-inch CV in, CV out, Gate out, Mod 1, Mod 2

Pros:
— Includes Analog Lab library of 6,500 synthesizer and keyboard sounds
— Lightweight design with plenty of I/O, encoders, and pads
— Integrated DAW controls for quick audio editing workflow

Cons:
— Keys are synthesizer length; shorter than standard piano keys
— Pads could be more sensitive to changing velocity
— Pitch wheel and modulation wheel placed above keys

The Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII is an expandable and lightweight MIDI keyboard with plenty of easy-to-access control options that make it one of the best overall options for beat makers and musicians on stage and in the studio. Its 61-key design features nine faders, nine encoder knobs, and 16 velocity-sensitive pads while weighing in at just over 14 pounds to strike a perfect balance between portability and flexibility. The KeyLab 61 MKII features a standard USB connection and MIDI I/O for use with computers and other USB-controlled devices, but it also features dedicated 1/8-inch CV, gate, and modulation jacks that make it an appealing option for users of synth modules and other advanced gear. A dedicated bank of transport controls on the KeyLab 61 MKII also allows users to perform mute, solo, and other recording functions within their computer’s digital audio workstation without the need to use a mouse and keyboard, making this MIDI controller an excellent tool for streamlining creative workflows.

As a portable synth-style MIDI keyboard, the KeyLab 61 MKII’s keys are shorter than those found on a standard piano. If you want to access the same flexible controls and I/O but with the performance and feel of a standard piano, the Arturia Keylab 88 MKII is a suitable substitute. One gripe we had with the KeyLab 61 MKII’s design is the placement of the pitch bend and modulation wheels, which sit above the keybed instead of in the conventional location alongside the keys. This allows the keyboard to have a smaller and more portable footprint, but it takes some practice to use comfortably. The pads on the KeyLab 61 MKII also feel less responsive than those on the AKAI Professional MPK261, which you might want to check out if you’ll be making lots of beats.

Best Weighted: M-Audio Hammer 88

Classic and Durable. M-Audio

Why It Made The Cut: The M-Audio Hammer 88 offers some of the most responsive and realistic hammer action available in a MIDI keyboard paired with durable, roadworthy build quality.

Specs:
Weight: 38.5 pounds
Dimensions: 5 inches H x 55.9 inches W x 11.9 inches D
Number of Keys: 88
Pedal Inputs: 1/4-inch sustain, 1/4-inch expression, 1/4-inch damper
Controls: Pitch wheel and mod-wheel; master fader; two assignable buttons

Pros:
— Tough medium-density fiberboard and metal construction for durability
— Comfortable and responsive piano-style hammer action at an affordable price
— Preset editor allows customization of velocity curve and other parameters

Cons:
— Barebones design lacks extra faders, encoders, and DAW controls
— Large and heavy compared to synth-style MIDI keyboards
— No pedals included

If you’re looking for a controller that will primarily emulate the experience and feel of playing an acoustic or electric piano, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is one of the best weighted MIDI keyboards for the job. Unlike MIDI controllers with smaller and faster synth-action keys, the Hammer 88’s full-size keybed offers a realistic weighted response that allows for more accurate and responsive performance of piano and electric piano samples. It’s also constructed from a rugged combination of metal and medium-density fiberboard, giving it a durable build quality that’s suitable for use in studios and on stage. The Hammer 88 features three rear 1/4-inch jacks for sustain, soft, and expression pedals, and an included software editor grants users the ability to change the keyboard’s velocity curve and MIDI mapping for a more customized feel and workflow.

Because it’s a full-size MIDI keyboard, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is a bit bulky and heavy, weighing in at just under 40 pounds. This is par for the course when dealing with full-size weighted keyboards, but it’s something to keep in mind if you plan on taking it on the road. The Hammer 88’s design also lacks faders, encoders, pads, and other features normally found on other MIDI keyboards, but the M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro is a great alternative step up that includes all those features if you need them. While the Hammer 88 offers a great combination of value and performance for a weighted MIDI keyboard, it doesn’t represent a one-to-one emulation of an acoustic piano’s keybed. If you require the best and most accurate weighted action available and have the extra cash to spend, the Kawai VPC1 is a top-of-the-line alternative that won’t disappoint.

Best Budget: M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3

Great Value. M-Audio

Why It Made The Cut: The M-Audio Keystation 49 is a lightweight, budget-friendly MIDI keyboard with everything you need for basic control of software synths and digital audio workstations.

Specs:
Weight: 4.72 pounds
Product Dimensions: 2.68 inches H x 32.36 inches W x 7.44 inches H
Number of Keys: 49
Pedal Inputs: 1/4-inch sustain
Controls: Pitch wheel and modwheel; master fader; transport controls

Pros:
— Very lightweight design and small footprint
— Includes convenient transport buttons for DAW control
— Comes with software pack to jumpstart music production

Cons:
— Key movement can sound “clicky”
— Lightweight build can feel delicate and fragile
— Custom MIDI mapping is complicated and lacks a software tool

The M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 is a cost-effective MIDI keyboard with a lightweight design and fast synth key action that make it one of the best budget options available for recording, performing, and learning piano. Its barebones design is perfect for use in small studio spaces and for taking on the road: The KeyStation 49 features convenient transport controls, a volume fader, and pitch and modulation wheels for performance versatility and streamlined control of recording software. The keystation also includes licenses for a suite of music production software including Ableton Live Lite, making it a solid choice for beginning music producers, composers, and beat makers. While its small footprint makes it a great choice for travel and use in small spaces, you might want to consider a larger option from the line like the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 or the M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 if you require more octaves. 

That said, the build quality of the Keystation 49 can feel a bit flimsy when being put through its paces due to its lightweight design, and its keys tend to produce audible clicking when they’re hit harder, making it less ideal for use in quiet spaces. Its system for customizing MIDI mapping is also a bit convoluted. The system requires a series of button presses instead of using a software companion like the M-Audio Hammer 88, which can be time consuming if you’re looking to access that advanced functionality. Still, if you’re willing to flex around its design limitations, the Keystation 49 offers one of the best combinations of value and versatility available in a MIDI keyboard.

Things to Consider Before Buying a MIDI Keyboard

Built-in Sound and Speakers: MIDI keyboards are controllers, meaning that they’re designed primarily to send pitch, velocity, and other information to a secondary device that produces sounds. If you require a standalone MIDI keyboard that’s capable of producing its own sounds, make sure you select a design with built-in instruments and an onboard speaker like the Casiotone CT-S500.

Space: Keyboards aren’t always the most portable instruments, especially if they offer a full range with 88 keys. MIDI keyboards come in a variety of sizes and key counts, and you’ll want to carefully measure your creative space and performance area before selecting a specific keyboard. A 49-key MIDI keyboard offers the best balance of performance versatility and compact footprint, but consider a 25-key design like the M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV if you’re extra short on space.

Extra Features: One of the best creative perks of a MIDI keyboard is the potential for alternative methods of data input in the form of drum pads, knobs, faders, encoders, and other controls. If you have the extra space and budget to spring for a MIDI keyboard that includes these extra features, you’ll get access to easier workflows for beat making, software synth control, and music production without the need for additional hardware.

FAQs

Q: How much does a MIDI keyboard cost?

MIDI keyboards cost anywhere from around $100, like the M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3, to multiple thousands of dollars, like the Kawai VPC1. The best MIDI keyboards for most uses in terms of quality and versatility usually cost around $500, like the Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII or AKAI Professional MPK249.

Q: Do I need an 88-key MIDI keyboard?

You don’t need an 88-key MIDI keyboard unless you need access to the full 7-1/4 octave range of a traditional acoustic piano. If a 49-key MIDI keyboard is too limited in its range for your specific composition or performance needs, a 61-key MIDI keyboard like the Casiotone CT-S500 or the Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII offer a good balance of portability and playable range.

Q: Can you learn piano on a MIDI keyboard?

You can definitely learn piano on a MIDI keyboard, but you’ll need extra computer software like GarageBand or Ableton Live to produce the actual audio of the keyboard. If you’re looking for a standalone MIDI keyboard for learning piano, a design that includes built-in sounds and an onboard speaker like the Casiotone CT-S500 is the best way to go.

Final Thoughts

The Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII is one of the best overall MIDI keyboards for composition, production, recording, and beat making, thanks to its wide range of controls combined with a versatile size and weight. If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with a keybed that feels like a traditional piano, the M-Audio Hammer 88 offers great performance in a roadworthy, no-frills package. For producers and musicians working on a budget, the M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 offers impressive value in a lightweight and easy-to-play package that won’t break the bank.

Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


Share This Article