Compared to keyboard controllers, pad controllers are generally more diverse. They could be single-function compact devices as well as large controllers fully integrated with your DAW.
Let's closely examine which MIDI devices are currently available in the market.
1. Define your budget. MIDI keyboards may cost from several tens to several hundreds of US Dollars. 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. You need to clearly define what you need to make your work comfortable.
If it is crucial for you to mix the material using physical faders, then the knobs that replace physical faders in compact devices will not be the right choice for you. If you want to use pads to launch samples or create drum loops, then you need a controller with high-quality pads.
If you're in need of using various functionalities, then you probably need to buy several single- or dual-functionality devices instead of looking for an "all-in-one" device.
3. Number and size of pads. Depending on the purposes of using the pads, you'll have different options to think about. If you only need the pads to launch samples, clips or scenes of your live session, then small pads may well suit you.
If you plan to use the controller in live performances or for composing of drum lines, you'll need a device with larger pads. It's also advisable to try and foresee from the very beginning, how many pads you'll need. The number of pads on the controller should, of course, not be necessarily equal to the possible number of samples in your drum rack, because you can always navigate between drum rack pages using special buttons. But if it's important for you to be able to access all individual samples at any time, then you better consider the controllers with the 8x8 pad matrix.
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 gear sets, i.e. a "home" set fully configured for convenient work, and a portable and light "travel" set.
5. Will you use the controller in live performances? The quality of device components and the overall assembly quality is, of course, important also if you work in a studio only. But, if you know that you'll need to constantly travel and pack/unpack the controller, then you'll definitely need to pay special attention to the device durability. It's also important if you often move from place to place and work on the stage, it's when the chances to occasionally hit or even drop the device are higher.
6. Compatibility with DAWs. 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. Some manufacturers closely cooperate with certain DAW developers, which ensures easy hardware setup and its perfect interaction with the software.
Now, let's go on and consider several options of MIDI controllers of different types and produce: