Best MIDI Controllers On The Market

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If you have a home recording studio, you might wonder if you need a MIDI controller. 

While this isn’t always necessary, it can be highly beneficial to you as a musician or producer.

Korg, 25-Key Midi Controller (NANOKEY2BK)
Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live, 49-Note MK2 Version
M Audio Oxygen 49 IV | 49 Key USB/MIDI Keyboard With 8 Trigger Pads & A Full Consignment of Production/Performance Ready Controls
M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV | USB Keyboard and Pad MIDI Controller Featuring Pad/Velocity - Sensitive Keys
Alesis V25 | 25 Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller with Backlit Pads, 4 Assignable Knobs and Buttons, Plus a Professional Software Suite with ProTools | First Included
Our Rating
9.5
9.2
9.0
8.7
8.5
MSRP
Price not available
$169.99
$199.00
$139.00
$89.00
Dimensions
14.6 x 1.6 x 3.7 in
30.5 x 3.5 x 10.6 in
9.6 x 32 x 3.7 in
19.4 x 9.6 x 3.7 in
9.6 x 24.6 x 4.5 in
Weight
0.8 pounds
8.16 pounds
6.39 pounds
3.96 pounds
3.86 pounds
Connectivity
USB
USB
USB
USB
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
PC, Mac
PC, Mac
PC, Mac
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
25
49
49
25
25
Korg, 25-Key Midi Controller (NANOKEY2BK)
Our Rating
9.5
MSRP
Price not available
Dimensions
14.6 x 1.6 x 3.7 in
Weight
0.8 pounds
Connectivity
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
25
More Information
Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live, 49-Note MK2 Version
Our Rating
9.2
MSRP
$169.99
Dimensions
30.5 x 3.5 x 10.6 in
Weight
8.16 pounds
Connectivity
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
49
More Information
M Audio Oxygen 49 IV | 49 Key USB/MIDI Keyboard With 8 Trigger Pads & A Full Consignment of Production/Performance Ready Controls
Our Rating
9.0
MSRP
$199.00
Dimensions
9.6 x 32 x 3.7 in
Weight
6.39 pounds
Connectivity
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
49
More Information
M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV | USB Keyboard and Pad MIDI Controller Featuring Pad/Velocity - Sensitive Keys
Our Rating
8.7
MSRP
$139.00
Dimensions
19.4 x 9.6 x 3.7 in
Weight
3.96 pounds
Connectivity
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
25
More Information
Alesis V25 | 25 Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller with Backlit Pads, 4 Assignable Knobs and Buttons, Plus a Professional Software Suite with ProTools | First Included
Our Rating
8.5
MSRP
$89.00
Dimensions
9.6 x 24.6 x 4.5 in
Weight
3.86 pounds
Connectivity
USB
Compatibility
PC, Mac
Number Of Keys
25
More Information

What’s a MIDI controller? 

It’s a device that creates and sends data to another device that’s connected to it so that you can do more tasks. 

A MIDI controller can do many things to make your sound production process much better and more enjoyable.

These include allowing you to play notes softer or louder, depending on your preferences, as well as using a keyboard to schedule instrument sounds. 

Let’s take a look at the best MIDI controllers on the market to see what all the hype is about.

Korg 25-Key Midi Controller (NANOKEY2BK)

25-Key Midi Controller

This NanoKey MIDI controller is part of Korg’s Nano series and it takes things up a notch from previous models that were released by the company.

Benefits

  • For the first time in Nano series history, this MIDI controller boasts sustain and modulation buttons, which enable you to change from one key to another within the same musical piece.
  • This MIDI controller is great for using with your laptop or netbook, which makes it much more versatile. You can use it easily on the go, such as when you’re going to your bandmate’s house for a practice session.
  • Its keys look sleek and modern, but they’re also tailored to make using them more accurate. The keys are velocity-sensitive, so you can play them softer or louder. While this has become standard in many MIDI controllers on the market, it’s always an important feature.
  • This MIDI controller has octave up and down buttons so that you can easily use the full range of musical notes, which is always a solid feature to look for in the best midi keyboard.

Extra Features

  • This small midi controller is nice and compact, with a weight of under one pound that makes it really easy to carry around. To make it extra portable, it’s USB-powered, so if you’re looking for portable midi keyboards, this one’s worth considering.

Drawbacks

  • The sliders on this MIDI controller aren’t illuminated, which makes using it in a dark room quite difficult.
  • The keys, which are made of silicone, are prone to getting stuck sometimes.

Buying Guide

You can get a new Korg MIDI Controller from Amazon for just under $55. With all its great features, it’s really the best midi controller to consider if you want to purchase one for your home studio. 

The price tag also makes it great if you’re keen on entering the world of MIDI controllers without wanting to spend a lot of money.

Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live

Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller

Before we go ahead and look at the Novation Midi Controller, we need to touch on what Ableton Live software is all about. 

So, Ableton Live is a software digital audio workstation and music sequencer that can be used on Windows and Mac. 

What makes it different from other software sequencers is that it’s been created for live performances in addition to being used in the studio to record, master, mix, and compose.

This Novation MIDI Controller is said to be the easy-to-use one released by the company and it makes use of Ableton Live – you get Ableton Live Lite included with it! 

Let’s take a look at its features in a bit more detail.

Benefits

  • You get to choose between 25, 49, and 61 keys when using the controller.
  • The velocity-sensitive pads have color-matched feedback so when you launch clips or create drum beats, you can have a more user-friendly and organized experience. This feature makes the Novation Lauchkey one of the best midi keypads out there.
  • This MIDI keyboard controller makes it really easy for you to connect to other software because you can do so right from its buttons and pads, thanks to its InControl function.
  • It comes with eight rotary knobs so you can adjust and experiment with different effects and instruments. It’s also got nine faders so you can have more control of your mixer.

Extra Features

  • It’s extremely versatile – you can power it with USB and it’s class compliant so you don’t need any drivers to use it. In addition, you can say goodbye to having to use a power cable, which is a nice bonus.

Drawbacks

  • The size of the keys are smaller than what you’ll find on some high-end keyboard models, but that might not necessarily be an issue for you.

Buying Guide

This Novation MIDI Controller costs $169.99, which is a reasonable price for all the benefits you get from it.

It even has some frills included, making it great for the more serious musician.

M Audio Oxygen 49 IV

49 Key USB/MIDI Keyboard

Another MIDI controller that boasts some nice extra features, at its core the M Audio Oxygen 49 IV has all the basics that you want in this type of music tool sorted.

Benefits

  • It has velocity-sensitive keys and modulation wheels to make you more creative in the studio.
  • It’s got nine assignable faders as well as eight assignable knobs, which means you have more control to tweak and manipulate your sound.
  • You can record in DAW right from your keyboard controller, thanks to its track-up and track-down buttons that enable you to stop, play, and record.

Extra Features

  • It’s really easy to set up, as you can power it by USB. It’s also class compliant.
  • It comes with Ableton Live Lite included to increase your music production.

Drawbacks

  • The drum pads are quite hard and stiff to use instead of being responsive, so if you use them a lot this could prove problematic.
  • If you’re looking for a MIDI controller that’s portable, this one might not be right for you. It’s a bit on the large side. That is also something to consider if space is a concern in your home studio.

Buying Guide

This MIDI Controller costs under $200, so it’s reasonably priced and has what you need. The inclusion of Ableton Live Lite is a nice extra touch that makes it even more appealing.

M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV

M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV

One of the best things about this MIDI controller is that your music production will be smoother with it. 

Let’s take a look at some of its features and benefits that make this happen.

Benefits

  • This MIDI controller comes with 25 full-size keys that are velocity sensitive. You also get modulation wheels and pitch bend to increase your creativity.
  • It comes with eight trigger pads that are also velocity sensitive, and these are great for clip launching and the production of beats.
  • This MIDI controller has what’s known as a DirectLink feature. This basically enables you to integrate DAWs that are quite popular, such as Ableton Live, right out of the box. Best of all, it does this automatically.

Extra Features

  • What really sets this MIDI controller out from the pack is that you get a lot of software included with it. This includes Ableton Live Lite, Air Music Tech Xpand, and SONiVOX Twist, which is worth more than $100 combined. This is also Mac and PC-compatible, which is a nice bonus if your home studio computer is focused on either one or the other.

Drawbacks

  • The buttons on this controller require you to press them quite hard when using them.

Buying Guide

The M-Audio MIDI Controller costs just under $130. If you consider everything you get, it’s really a bargain.

While it might not have a lot of extra features, it is a solid MIDI controller that can benefit you in your home studio.

Alesis V25

Alesis V25

The Alesis V25 is a MIDI Controller that is all about catering to your comfort levels so you can find what suits you best. Let’s take a look at all the features it has.

Benefits

  • It has square keys in the front of the controller that are velocity sensitive. These make it more enjoyable and comfortable to play virtual instruments.
  • You can change the velocity curves of both the keys and pads so that you find a way to play that makes it most comfortable. This is one of the best features of the controller.
  • The eight pads on the controller are both pressure and velocity sensitive. In addition, they’re backlit for more user-friendly production.

Extra Features

  • You get a bunch of software with the Alesis V25: First Alesis Edition, Eleven Lite, Ableton Live Light 9, Mini Grand, Xpand!2, and DB-33. So, whether you’re a beginner or serious artist, you’ll have lots of software at your disposal.

Drawbacks

  • The pads on this MIDI controller feel good to use, but they don’t all respond in the same way according to sensitivity. So, you might have to press one pad a bit harder than another even though they’re set to the same sensitivity level. This is a bit of a downside.

Buying Guide

This MIDI controller costs $89.00, so it’s really budget-friendly, plus the software you get with it is a game-changer when it comes to your music production.

It’s definitely a must if you’re building a home recording studio.

MIDI Controllers FAQ

USB MIDI Controller

What can you do with a MIDI controller?

A MIDI controller can be very useful to you if you create music, whether on an amateur or professional level. 

It’s usually known for its ability to play musical instruments and trigger musical sounds, but a MIDI controller has many other uses. 

These include controlling devices that are compatible with MIDI, such as guitar effects devices, digital audio mixers, and even stage lights during a performance.

Now, you might wonder if having a MIDI controller in your home studio is really worth it. The answer to that depends on what you need to do. 

If you do all of your own recording and you don’t need to sequence keyboard parts or drum parts, then you might be okay without buying one.

That said, the thing is that many people who make and record music will need to be able to make use of keyboards, and in this case a MIDI controller can be useful. 

We’ve mentioned what MIDI controllers can do, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

One of the best things about MIDI controllers is that they enable you to edit your music after it’s been recorded. 

So, if you make a mistake when recording yourself playing guitar, for instance, you can use a MIDI controller to change the mistake and even delete it without having to re-record the performance.

Now, here’s where things get even better. If you realize you’d prefer to have used a piano sound instead of a guitar sound, you don’t have to worry because having a MIDI controller means you can reassign the music notes to a completely different instrument, giving you much greater control over what you’re doing.

How does a MIDI controller work?

If you have a MIDI controller, you should also have a keyboard that you can hook it up to, as Music Radar reports. 

This might sound strange if you don’t want to use a keyboard in your music production, but it can really make a difference in the music you’ll be able to create. 

A MIDI keyboard means that you’ll have a more musical experience because you’ll be able to make use of the MIDI keyboard keys, which are velocity sensitive. 

This means that you can play certain notes softer or louder, thus enriching your overall sound quality.

Right, now that we’ve mentioned that, let’s look at how MIDI controllers actually work. A MIDI controller looks like a MIDI synthesizer but it doesn’t release sound on its own. 

It has to generate data that’s been translated by a computer. You can find MIDI controllers that are basically keyboards. 

These have faders and knobs so that you can change the sound of instruments to your liking.

To get your MIDI controller set up, you’ll need sequencing software that basically copies tools and functions of a recording studio on your home computer, as How Stuff Works explains. 

Once you have sequencing software, you can connect your MIDI controller to your computer in a really easy way: simply use a five-pin MIDI DIN connector. 

This is attached to the joystick port of your computer’s sound card. Another way to get connected is to use a MIDI USB.

Some people want to connect more than one MIDI device to their computer, and this requires something a bit more complex. 

You’ll need a multi-port MIDI interface in order to achieve that.

Can MIDI keyboards play without a computer?

Earlier we touched on the fact that a MIDI controller on its own won’t produce any sound. 

So, although you can use a MIDI keyboard without connecting it to your computer, that doesn’t mean it can just work on its own. 

It will need to be connected to some other device.

What are your options? 

If you’re not using your computer, you can connect your MIDI keyboard to a tone generator, otherwise known as a synthesizer. 

This is done with the use of a MIDI Sound Module that has a USB port so that you can easily hook up your keyboard. 

There’s also a MIDI Input that can be used instead of a USB port. 

Finally, you’ll be able to use the audio output so that you can link up your speakers (or headphones, if that’s what you prefer), as Make That Beat explains.

Can I use a MIDI controller as a keyboard?

Keyboard As MIDI Controller

Maybe you’re not concerned with connecting your MIDI controller to a keyboard – maybe you want to use it as a keyboard. 

Is this possible? 

Again, the issue comes down to the fact that a MIDI controller can’t be used on its own simply because it doesn’t produce a sound. 

It doesn’t have its own sound system. It’s basically just a controller, so it has to be hooked up to an external source that produces sound.  

However, you can use a MIDI keyboard as a piano, and it’s worth mentioning here that a MIDI keyboard is not the same thing as a MIDI controller. 

Basically, a MIDI keyboard can be similar to an electric keyboard, or it can be a synthesizer. The latter is more expensive. 

It will have faders and knobs, and they’ll have to make use of external speakers.

People sometimes mistake a MIDI controller for a MIDI keyboard but a controller won’t make its own sound because you use it as just one device in music production. 

On the other hand, a keyboard MIDI plugs into your PC and can be used to produce music. 

Therefore, the biggest difference between a MIDI controller and MIDI keyboard is that a MIDI controller can’t be used on its own, but a MIDI keyboard can. 

You can even learn to play the piano on a MIDI keyboard, even though it might not be ideal because you’re not getting the authentic experience of playing.

If this sounds appealing to you, then a MIDI keyboard can be a valuable asset in your home recording studio. 

And, in case you’re wondering, how a MIDI keyboard works is that you press its keys and it sends a MIDI signal to the device that it’s plugged into. 

Do all MIDI controllers have speakers?

MIDI Controller Connected With Laptop

A MIDI controller doesn’t have speakers. By its design, a MIDI controller can’t produce any sounds so it won’t have in-built speakers. 

You’ll have to use it with another device, such as a computer, so that you can create and listen to sounds. 

That’s why although you can use a MIDI controller without your computer, this will limit you in terms of what you can do.

If you want something that’s more of an “all in one” product with which you can produce sounds, then a digital piano or best producing keyboards are probably a better idea. 

This is because they will have sounds built in as well as speakers.

Conclusion

As can be seen in this article, there are many good reasons why you should buy a MIDI controller if you record music, whether on an amateur or professional level. 

As can be seen in this buying guide, many MIDI controllers come with some standard features, such as having keys and pads, but it’s how they’re presented that makes all the difference.

For example, if you want to change the sensitivity of the pads on a MIDI controller, then a controller such as the Alesis V25 will be a good choice. 

On the other hand, if you like the idea of having lots of software included with your MIDI controller, a product such as the M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV probably sounds very appealing.

Before you go ahead and buy a MIDI controller, it’s worth reading our buying guide and looking for those specific features that will enhance your music production. 

Ultimately, that’s what a MIDI controller is supposed to do.

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