For a few days now you have been evaluating the purchase of a new MIDI keyboard , to integrate your Home Studio with a product that perfectly meets your needs. Or maybe you would like to replace the one you currently have, because it is not suitable for carrying out certain functions that you had in mind and which have become essential to carry on your musical projects.
So you started doing your first research but you realized that you still don’t have clear ideas about the various models that are on the market and, above all, about the different characteristics of each of them. I have good news for you! I have prepared this guide specifically to help you in your search for the best MIDI keyboards . A few minutes of reading will be enough and you will immediately have more clarity on the type of keyboard that’s right for you!
In the following paragraphs I will show you the main elements to take into consideration for a weighted and satisfactory choice, then I will suggest the models that I believe have an edge. You just have to sit back and read this guide carefully. At the end of the article, I assure you that you will have the clearest ideas on which model to buy.
How to choose a Best MIDI keyboards [2022-2023]
Let’s begin by clarifying what MIDI is : it is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface . This term indicates both the protocol that regulates the connection between electronic musical instruments and the computer, and the hardware interface (keyboard, controller, sound card) used to produce music.
In fact, the MIDI keyboard does not produce sounds , but digital signals which are then processed and interpreted by a special music production software, commonly called DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and converted into the selected instrument. If you are interested in the subject, I suggest you read my guide on programs for making music.
There are many parameters that help to understand how to choose a MIDI keyboard , and it is advisable to know them all to make the best evaluation and thus have the papers in the rules so as not to run into a wrong purchase. In the following paragraphs you will find everything you need to know.
Size and number of frets
The first parameters to take into consideration are certainly the size and number of keys . We start from the very small dimensions of a keyboard with 25 keys (two octaves), then 32 or 37 (three octaves), 49 (four octaves), up to the larger ones of 61 (five octaves), 76 (six octaves ) and 88 keys (seven octaves — basically a piano).
Having said that, it is necessary to reflect on two aspects: the use you plan to make of it and the space available . If your need is, for example, to create a bass line, a drum loop or insert simple combinations of electronic sounds, a reduced keyboard could be fine. Otherwise, if you intend to produce more complex compositions, made up of chords and phrasing, you will certainly have to look at models with at least 61 keys .
The availability of space inside the house and the need to transport the instrument (for example for a live performance) are other elements that cannot be ignored. Carefully evaluate the actual measurements and weight of the chosen keyboard before buying it, for a matter of practicality.
Weighting of keys
The best MIDI keyboards compete to look as much like their analog instruments as possible. It follows that some of them are equipped with a key weighting system that intervenes decisively in defining the dynamics of the notes produced, i.e. their intensity and ability to respond coherently to finger pressure.
We can therefore differentiate them taking into account this characteristic.
- Synth action keyboard . It is a non-weighted keyboard , therefore suitable for producing flat sounds, such as those of synthesizers, which do not require particular expressiveness. The pressure of the key is light, the sound response immediate and almost unchanged compared to the force used to play it.
- Semi-weighted (or semi-weighted) keyboard . It represents a middle ground between synth-actions and weighted ones and they are the most widespread, as they allow for the right mediation between the different stylistic needs. The semi-weighted therefore gives a good feeling of control when pressing the key and, consequently, on the sound. Furthermore, it has internal mechanisms for managing the weighting of the key that are not particularly elaborate, so they are lighter than the weighted ones.
- Weighted (or weighted) keyboard . Here we get very close to a real piano. If you have trained as a pianist and you don’t need to be particularly eclectic in your sounds, it’s definitely the right choice for you. It is therefore not particularly suitable for playing fast synth passages, as its weighing mechanisms are very hard and elaborate, which also makes it quite heavy.
The latest generation MIDI keyboards are often equipped with a whole series of accessories which, in addition to stimulating creativity, make them increasingly similar to real controllers , increasing their versatility of use. Many of these do not have a specific function, but can be configured in various ways, through the software used for music production.
Obviously, the presence of one or more of these extras affects the final price, so it is necessary to carefully evaluate the need to have them available. Below I list what they are and their functions.
- Knobs . Also called rotary potentiometers, they are very useful for managing the volume and intensity of any effects assigned to the sounds.
- Faders . They are vertical scrolling commands, used to intervene on various parameters of the sound, such as tone , sustain , attack .
- Pitch and Modulation . These are wheels (in some cases joysticks) that are used to modulate the pitch and intonation of the notes during execution. Essential especially in electronic music, they are now present in practically all models
- pad . Some keyboards feature a convenient pad with backlit buttons, which you can use, for example, to create drum loops and rhythm patterns .
- Octave . The Octave button is essential on smaller models with few keys, as it allows you to virtually increase the octave range of the keyboard.
Two other functions to take into account are the aftertouch (that is the possibility of activating a midi control with a second, harder pressure of the key) and the arpeggiator , which generates a sequence of notes, starting from the one played, in the scale selected.
Finally, I suggest you also take a look at the software that is almost always included in the sale of the instrument. Often these are basic versions of the main music production programs on the market, expansions or virtual instruments, which can be very useful and interesting.
Connectivity is another element to take into strong consideration . In fact, a MIDI keyboard can be equipped with various options for connecting to an external device. All have a USB port for connection to a computer using the supplied USB cable. Some also have a MIDI out port , for connecting to an interface equipped with MIDI in .
The Sustain Jack and the Volume Jack are, on the other hand, two sockets to which a sustain pedal (which simulates the right pedal of the piano) and a volume pedal can be connected, respectively. The latter is very useful if you want to manage the volume without using your hands, so as not to interfere with the performance.
In high-end keyboards there are also outputs called CV (Control Voltage) , which allow you to connect them to a second synth to double the sound output, or to drive some functions.
Finally, some are also equipped with the predisposition for connection with iOS devices , for which, however, the Apple-USB camera adapter must be purchased separately .
A few models are equipped with a Bluetooth wireless connection , for remote control , through the use of special apps on mobile devices .
Which MIDI keyboard to buy
It’s time to take action! You’ve now learned all the essentials to determining which MIDI keyboard to buy . Without hesitation, read the models I have chosen, divided by price range in order to make it even easier for you to identify your next MIDI keyboard.
Best Cheap MIDI Keyboards (Under $100)
There are various models of cheap MIDI keyboards on the market , which you can take home for less than 100 euros. However, we are talking about models produced by brands that have always been synonymous with guarantee and quality in this area. I have selected a few that are worth evaluating carefully.
32. Alesis Qmini
This entry level 32 key Alesis keyboard is a little gem. Extremely portable, it is as essential as it is practical. If you are looking for a compact model for your music productions, surely this is worth considering. It has a control area with a few but essential buttons, such as Octave, Transpose, Pitch and Volume. It is com
M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3
Still in the segment of the 49 economic keys, I cannot fail to mention the Korg microKEY2 . The essential style must not mislead: it is a model with limited dimensions, but which makes the naturalness of the touch its true strength. In addition to pitch and modulation knobs, it allows you to connect a sustain pedal. This keyboard is also ready to connect to iOS devices via a separately sold Apple-to-USB Camera Adapter.
AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
Let’s go back to an extremely compact 25-key keyboard, the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 . This model has more professional characteristics than others in the same segment: it is, in fact, enriched by the presence of numerous Controller -type accessories , including a pad for rhythm production and a comfortable joystick for 4-way pitch and modulation management . The built-in arpeggiator, then, is a gem for models of this range. To this we must add the presence of a small but very useful display. In short, a concentrate of innovation and versatility.
Best mid-range MIDI keyboards (between 100 and 300 euros)
Let’s go up a step to take a look at the best performing and professional keyboards. In the mid-range there are models that start from 49 up to 88 keys, some synth-action and others semi-weighted, equipped with a multitude of really interesting controls.
The Alesis VI49 has 49 semi-weighted keys for a range that offers even more elaborate playing possibilities. The top panel features a good range of knobs and buttons, allowing you to easily control filters, sounds and effects. On the left it has 16 backlit pads and the ever-present pitch and modulation wheels. The limit of the VI49 is in the outputs, as it only has MIDI and USB ports.
If you have a piano approach, you are not particularly interested in accessories and you don’t want to spend an exaggerated amount, I suggest you consider this Alesis model with 88 semi-weighted keys. In fact, it has a few but essential controls, such as pitch and modulation, USB ports, MIDI and a sustain pedal. Furthermore, the weight is not excessive and this is undoubtedly another strong point of this model.
M-Audio Oxygen 49 IV
The Oxygen 49 IV has 49 keys but, compared to others in this segment, they are synth-action. For the low cost, however, it has a good assortment of accessories: 8 pads, 9 faders, 8 freely assignable knobs, the two pitch and modulation wheels, a USB port and one for the sustain pedal. Compatible with all software, it also includes a package of free programs for macOS and Windows.
M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61
I invite you to carefully evaluate this M-Audio too, also from the Oxygen line , with 61 semi-weighted keys and a rich set of controls. In addition to 16 pads, 9 faders, 8 knobs and pitch and modulation wheels, this model is embellished with an auto-configuration button, which allows automatic mapping of parameters with music production software. It is also equipped with two interesting technologies: Smart Chord , which allows you to obtain a complete chord by pressing a single note and Smart Scale, which automatically excludes the “wrong” notes, i.e. not belonging to the selected scale. It also has aftertouch and arpeggiator and, in terms of connectivity, USB, MIDI and sustain pedal outputs. All in all, there’s a lot to experience with the Oxygen Pro 61 .
Best High-End MIDI Keyboards (over $300)
In this segment you will find professional tools, which basically adapt to all needs. Particular attention has been paid to the mechanics, materials, software and extra features in these keyboards.
AKAI Professional MPK261
A 61-key semi-weighted with aftertouch from Akai. Equipped with 24 controls, divided between 8 potentiometers, 8 faders and 8 switches, it has an internal software that allows simple and intuitive management of their assignment, via a large and backlit LCD screen. The 16 pads can be virtually associated with 4 memory slots, for a total of 64 possible combinations. The arpeggiator, virtual instruments and effects and a series of additional functions for tempo management enrich a very complete software framework. From the point of view of connectivity, we have both USB and MIDI ports, 2 jacks for sustain and volume pedals, predisposition for connection with iOS devices (the Apple-USB camera kit must be purchased separately). Compatible with all major DAWs, it is supplemented by a software package from the MPC line, produced by Akai Professional,
M-Audio Hammer 88
Certainly a model with 88 weighted keys could not be missing in this segment. The M-Audio Hammer 88 keyboard is ideal for both professional musicians and students looking for an experience as close to that of a real piano as possible. It has the essential pitch, modulation, octave and volume controls as well as USB, MIDI and pedal jack connectivity. The offer is completed by a very interesting professional software package.
M-Audio Hammer 88
Novation 49SL MkIII
Novation is certainly one of the more qualitative brands in all respects. This model is compatible with all DAWs, but is particularly integrated with the Ableton Live software, thanks to the close collaboration between the two houses. At the same time, the very rich endowment of integrated software and an advanced sequencer also makes it perfect as a stand-alone keyboard , without the need for connection to a computer. The control expressed through the multitude of pads, knobs, faders, buttons and wheels is truly impressive. USB connectivity, MIDI, volume and sustain pedal jacks, is completed by the presence of a clock out output for synchronizing the metronome with other instruments. The keys are semi-weighted, with aftertouch.
Arturia KeyLab 61 MkII
Arturia keyboards have always been an example of quality and robustness. The Keylab61 MkII has 61 very dynamic and sensitive semi-weighted keys, capable of capturing the nuances of touch. The top panel is entirely occupied by a rich variety of accessories: 8 faders, a command center for the DAW with 16 buttons, another 4 dedicated chord management, two wheels for sound modulation and 16 pads.
The central display, equipped with a knob, allows easy navigation of the internal menus. In the rear connection panel there are several options: in addition to USB and MIDI outputs, it has 5 accessory outputs for pedals and 4 CV outputs. The software equipment is also precious, with Ableton Live Lite and some virtual instruments.