Choosing a MIDI Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard is an almost irreplaceable tool in music production. It doesn't matter, whether you plan to play sophisticated instrumental passages, program beats or control your DAW, a keyboard is your excellent assistant in composing and performing music.
In the previous article we examined the types of MIDI controllers and their general features. Now we will go through a sort of checklist that will help you narrow your choice, also we'll compare several MIDI keyboards that you should consider first.


1. Define your budget. MIDI keyboards may cost from just $70 to as much as $2000 and even higher. If, from the beginning, you define your maximum price tag that you can afford when choosing a controller, you will significantly narrow down the number of options to consider.

2. What are your goals? Depending on the goals you pursue, your choice may be different. Are you a piano player, bitmaker, music producer, sound engineer or you're all at once? Do you need keys only or having pads, faders and knobs is also a must?

If you like to control most of the elements using a computer, then having just the keys will be sufficient for you. But if one day you'd want to expand your musical production capabilities, you'll have to buy extra devices.

If you need a universal tool that will enable you not only to play melodies, but also to program beats, control effects' modulation in real time and be much less tied to the computer screen, then you won't get along without additional controlling hardware.

3. How many octaves do you need? Most piano players will prefer a full size 88-keys keyboard. But not everyone needs to simultaneously access all seven and a half octaves. The commonly accepted options for both studio and live performance are 49- and 61-keys keyboards. If you're sure you won't play within more than 2-3 octaves, then 25 or 37 keys may fit your needs.

4. Do you need a mobile or stationary version? There are situations in which you better choose a compact MIDI keyboard, for instance, when you work while traveling or have frequent and long gigs, if your home studio is a small place. Some touring musicians own 2 separate instrument sets, i.e. a home set fully configured for convenient work, and a portable and light travel set.

5. What kind of feel you expect to experience while playing? If you want to get close to the feel of a real piano, then the harder the keys are, the better. In this case the ideal option is choosing hammer-action mechanics. But take note, such keyboards are always much more expensive. Please also note that even the keyboards not imitating real piano keys are sensed differently. However, if the feel is less critical for you, you may decide to buy a flat keyboard, there are excellent options to choose.

6. Compatibility with a DAW. These days, practically all the controllers on the market are working very well with the most popular workstations. But there are devices specially tailored for the use with certain DAWs. Therefore, if you are a dedicated user of a certain software, you definitely need to pay attention to this point on your checklist.

7. Which brand do you prefer? We intentionally put this item as the last one on the list, because if you're planning to buy your first controller, you can hardly have an objective opinion about any brand. But nevertheless, pay attention that each manufacturer follows its own distinctive trend. For example, some manufacturers tend to produce multifunctional devices, while others pay more attention just to key mechanics.

Here is the list of several controllers, which, in our opinion, are the best in their category:

M-Audio Keystation

It's an excellent combination of price and quality. A relatively simple but well-made instrument tested by thousands of musicians with a medium-hard, so-called synth-action keyboard which can suit both electronic musicians and traditional piano players.

Available in 4 options: 32, 49, 61 and 88 keys.
Main specs:

Full size synth action keys (except 32-key version)

Velocity sensitive keys

○ Pitch bend and modulation wheels

○ Octave transpose buttons

○ DAW control panel

○ An input for a sustain pedal

○ Comes with SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble software

Akai MPK2

MPK MIDI keyboards from Akai have quickly become favorites in the field of musical MIDI equipment. They are very stable and functional and, what's more, they come with an impressive set of software. The keys are of a very high quality, the pads are RGB backlit and velocity sensitive

Available in 4 options: 25, 49, 61 keys and a mini 25-key version.
Main specs:

○ Full-sized semi weighted keys with aftertouch (except the mini version)

○ 16 velocity sensitive RGB backlit pads

○ High resolution LCD screen

○ 8 assignable faders, buttons and knobs

○ Pitch bend and modulation wheels

○ Octave transpose buttons

○ Comes with Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3.0, SONiVOX Twist 2.0 and MPC Essentials software

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series

This MIDI keyboard from Native Instruments isn't the cheapest one. But if you read its characteristics and functionality, you will understand, it is worth it. This controller is an ideal choice if you use the Komplete software because it's literally made for it. You can still use this keyboard with any other VSTs, however, it's probably not the best use for the money you paid, because the major part of the price is charged for the seamless integration with the Native Instruments software.

Available in 4 options: 25, 49, 61 and 88 keys where the latter is equipped with high-quality hammer-action keybed.
Main specs:

○ Full-sized semi weighted keys with aftertouch (except S88 model with hammer-action keybed)

○ Robust design

○ Easy-to-Browse buttons to navigate the Komplete software

○ Automatic parameter mapping functionality

○ Light Guide technology to illuminate certain keys in chords

○ 2 multipurpose touch strips

○ Arpeggiator

CME Xkey

This is one of the most compact keyboards available at the moment. It's 2 or 3 octave size and it's is literally flat. Design-wise it strongly resembles Apple products. Although the keys are just several millimeters high, they are velocity sensitive. There is a modification connectable via Bluetooth which scores another point for those who work on the road.

Available in 25- and 37-key options.
Main specs:

○ Full-sized keys

○ Pitch bend and sustain buttons

○ Octave transpose buttons

○ Supplied with Xkey Plus software enabling to adjust the keyboard to your needs

ROLI Seaboard RISE 49

Someone may argue if this device is correctly attributed to MIDI keyboards, but we couldn't miss to add it to our list because we believe it's one of the most innovative keyboards of our time. The main feature is that the keyboard recognizes the 'Five Dimensions of Touch', i.e. it responds to the key Strike, Press and Lift (key release), and is sensitive to Glide and Slide which allows to play with extra expressiveness depending on the way the keys are touched.

It can be connected to a computer via Bluetooth, looks amazing and has advanced sensor technology onboard.

Available in two 25-key modifications as well as 49 and 88-key options.
Main specs:

○ Full-sized Keywaves keys

○ 'Five Dimensions of Touch' control

○ 1000+ free sounds

○ Connectable wirelessly over Bluetooth

○ Supplied with ROLI Equator special software, Strobe2 and Bitwig 8-Track

Of course, what we have described here is only the tip of the iceberg, and maybe your future ideal device is not mentioned in this article. But the main idea we wanted to express is that first you need to define all the requirements and only then start searching. We hope this article will ease up making your choice.

If you already have ready tracks, for which you want to receive a reward, then we are waiting for you on the ExpertMusic portal. We provide content for background music of different establishments, as well as for production: commercials, movies, YouTube-videos, games, etc.

Wishing you to find your dream keyboard!
ExpertMusic team.

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