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The Press Desk 26th November 2016 12:38 AM

Ten of the best MIDI/USB Keyboard Controllers
 
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Ten of the best MIDI/USB Keyboard Controllers

We have consulted with our members and trawled through many discussion threads to determine ten of the best currently available MIDI/USB keyboard controllers, so, for your convenience, here we go!



 Komplete Kontrol S88

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

Native Instruments are one of the very best (and most established) companies when it comes to virtual instruments, so it always felt like it was only a matter of time until they came up with a truly optimised keyboard controller - and this came to fruition last year with the Kontrol S Series keyboards. At the core of the Kontrol S series is the 'NKS' - aka the Native Kontrol Standard, which enables seamless integration between instruments and controller. Needless to say that none of this would matter if the hardware wasn’t up to task, which is definitely not the case - this controller comes with fully-weighted keys, an acclaimed Fatar keybed (with aftertouch), two multi-function touch strips, eight top-quality encoders with an informative touch-strip, a transport control, assignable buttons, lights above the keyboard to indicate the many possible mappings, different play modes, and connectors for USB (Type-B) MIDI (In/Out), expression/sustain (2 x 1/4” TRS) and DC power. Since this is a Native Instruments product one might expect it to come with a good collection of virtual instruments - and that’s exactly the case! The Kontrol S series ships with Komplete Select, a library of eleven virtual instruments, ranging from acoustic pianos to cutting-edge synthesizers, organs and exotic African instruments - all with great sonics thanks to the Native Instruments pedigree. With an amazing build quality and so many great features it’s easy to understand why this controller is so widely recommended by our users, so make sure it’s on the top of your shopping list when you’re looking for your next keyboard. Available in 25, 49, 61 (with semi-weighted keys) & 88 (featured, fully-weighted keys) versions.



 Remote 61 SL MkII

Novation Remote 61 SL MkII

If any MIDI keyboard controller can be called a “classic” it’s the Novation SL MKII, which has been a recurrent choice among our members since its introduction in 2009. The SL MKII series has it all: a very responsive Fatar keybed, assignable aftertouch, eight encoders, velocity-sensitive trigger pads, eight sliders, X-Y pad/joystick and a 144-character screen to show all the assignments. It’s also equipped with Novation’s trademark Speed Dial, a special encoder that will control almost anything under your mouse cursor. Finally, the SL MKII is fully bus-powered via USB (Type B) and equipped with MIDI (In/Out/Thru), sustain/expression connectors (2 x 1/4”) and DC-input for computer-less use. Despite its great hardware feature set, much of the SL MKII’s power comes AutoMap, a software solution that automatically lays down AU/VST plug-ins parameters to the keyboard’s controllers. If you’re not really a fan of such “automated” approaches there’s no need to worry, as manually programming the SL MKII is quite straightforward both with the provided software or on the keyboard itself. A proven and reliable keyboard that won’t fail to deliver. Ships with 4GB of Loopmasters content and three instruments for Ableton Live. Available in 25, 49 and 61-key (featured) versions.



 Seaboard RISE 49

Roli Seaboard RISE 49

The ROLI Seaboard is one of the most innovative instrument designs in a long time. The Seaboards are powered by the “5D” concept that can be summarized as “strike - press - glide (horizontal) - slide (vertical) - lift”, a truly revolutionary concept that enables an entirely new way of playing a keyboard, allowing for an unprecedented level of expression. Such unique hardware demands a special sound engine, which is provided by the 'Equator' software, which brings a hefty number of sounds that are designed especially with the Seaboards’ unique features in mind. It also works as a VST/AU plug-in for seamless DAW integration, and a desktop app allows for easy parameter and MIDI CC assignments. Besides the Equator, there aren’t any other instruments taking advantage of everything the Seaboard has to offer just yet, but with ROLI’s recent acquisition of FXpansion the sound palette is bound to be expanded very soon - hopefully third-party developers will jump on the Seaboard at some point too. It's definitely a very interesting choice if you’re willing to break new ground, but if that’s a bit “too much” for you the Seaboards can also work as 'regular' controllers to control any virtual instrument or synthesizer - as long as they accept MIDI. Connections: Power/MIDI Output on USB (Type B), 1/4" TRS continuous pedal input, DC-input and Type-A USB for charging peripherals. Ships with custom-made carrying case. Available in 25 and 49-key (featured) versions. For those looking for more keys, check out the Seaboard Grand.



 Advance 49

Akai Professional Advance 49

The Advance Series is AKAI’s latest proposition to the world of MIDI controllers and it tries to free us from the computer screen and all the often tiresome clicks that go along with their setup by implementing a 4.3” full-colored LCD display and a nifty software solution called “VIP” that integrates the Advance series keyboards with your favourite virtual instruments. At the heart of the VIP software is a robust tagging system that allows you to organize your patch library (which should be a lengthy one) so that synth presets and sounds can be easily accessed through the keyboard, which effectively allows you to stay focused on the keyboard rather than mousing around. VIP also offers parameter mapping and keyboard splits to accommodate a number of different performance scenarios. Needless to say the hardware is also a solid piece of equipment, with a sturdy build, eight big encoders, a very responsive keybed with aftertouch, velocity-sensitive trigger pads, generously sized modulation/pitch wheels, transport controls, navigation arrow keys, on board configurable arpeggiator and detented push-button encoder for easy navigation. Connections are provided on USB (Type-B), MIDI connectors (In/Out) and expression/sustain (2 x 1/4” TRS) and DC-input. The Advance Series also comes with a collection of sounds from the likes of AIR and Sonivox and it’s a great fit for any studio-loaded virtual-instrument. Available in 25, 49 (featured) or 61-key versions.



 Panorama P4

Nektar Panorama P4

What happens when you combine a DAW controller and a MIDI keyboard? The folks at Nektar decided to address that question and their answer is the Panorama range of keyboards. These clever units presents everything one would expect from a MIDI keyboard controller, such as a great keybed with very responsive keys, eight encoders, eight sliders, modulation/pitch wheels, twelve pressure-sensitive trigger pads and over twenty assignable buttons, and they also incorporate features from Nektar’s DAW controller, including a 100mm touch-sensitive motorized fader, twelve keys for transport or assignable functions and an useful 3.5” color TFT display for parameter mapping. For ultimate ease-of-use it ships with templates for basically every major DAW there is, allowing instant control of mixer channels through the fader, general software functions and it also supports Propellerhead's ReWire for easy swapping between Propellerhead software (Reason) and a chained DAW. MIDI outputs are provided on USB Type-B and MIDI connectors and two 1/4" TRS are available for the assignable footswitch/expression pedals. There’s also a Micro-B USB connector to power the motorized fader or external devices. A great choice for saving some space at the studio or to tackle both keyboard and audio workstation controller fronts with a single piece of equipment. Available in 49 (featured) and 61-key versions.



 Xkey 37

CME Xkey 37

If Apple ever made a MIDI keyboard it would probably look like the CME’s XKey range of controllers. This compact and very slick controller presents a very clean design with a chassis that resembles a Mac keyboard, presenting the keys slightly carved in a very slim aluminum body for superb portability. Despite its low footprint the XKey isn’t shy of features, it comes with velocity-sensitive keys with polyphonic aftertouch, regular push buttons for octave/sustain & pressure-sensitive buttons for modulation/pitch-bend. It’s fully bus-powered (requiring no external power supply) and further connections are provided through a clever breakout cable with dedicated connectors for the MIDI output and sustain/expression pedals inputs. And don’t worry - although its clearly inspired by Cupertino, it works on Mac, iOS and Windows, with all systems covered by its configuration app. If mobility is a must for you then make sure to give the Xkey a serious look. Available in 25 or 37 keys (featured) models.



 A-88

Roland A-88

It’s all about actual keyboard playing with the elegant Roland A-88 controller. Presenting a fully-weighted “Ivory Feel-G” keyboard and an uncluttered design, the A-88 has a strong focus on performance and on providing the user with a straightforward-to-use instrument that feels as realistic as possible. In addition to the stellar keybed, the A-88 comes with two assignable knobs, two switches, and Roland’s trademark D-BEAM pitch/modulation joystick. Buttons are provided for octave (up-down), transpose, dual/split functions and for integration with the INTEGRA7 Module or Jupiter 80/50 synthesizers. It’s also lightweight, bus-powered and works with Mac, Windows and also iOS, making it a very good choice for both studio and stage. Equipped with USB (Type-B), MIDI Output, Damper (1/4" TRS), Two foot-controllers (2 x 1/4" TRS) and DC power input.



 Keystep

Arturia Keystep

Arturia’s Keystep isn’t your regular keyboard, and don’t let the diminutive size fool you - this is a controller with some serious capabilities. Besides a 32-note keyboard with velocity plus aftertouch this rather portable unit comes with a highly programmable arpeggiator and a polyphonic sequencer, enabling more than regular key playing and providing very effective tools for the modern producer. The Keystep also has transport controls and three knobs (Seq-Arp Mode, Time Division and Rate) to control the onboard arpeggiator/sequencer. Also equipped touch-sensitive performance control strips for modulation/pitch, tap tempo pad, octave up/down keys and a shift button that enables a second layer of controls. Keystep can control basically anything, with simultaneous MIDI, USB output (micro-B type) and control voltage (CV) outputs, which should be very useful to integrate the whole studio and even add a modular synthesizer to the mix. It’s fully class-compliant, bus powered and small enough to be taken almost anywhere. All in all it's an excellent controller with some unique features that make it a very interesting choice for electronic musicians and producers.



 MPK88

Akai Professional MPK88

AKAI’s MPK range of keyboards are all about merging features of its iconic MPC units with the functionality of current controllers. The MPK88 is the top model in the series, presenting fully-weighted keys, a high quality keybed and it can control up to 72 parameters with its set of switches, sliders and encoders. At the centre are sixteen MPC-style pads with four different banks, enabling the triggering up to sixty four sounds with the option of running a built-in arpeggiator and MPC’s classic Note Swing, Note Repeat and Full Level functions. It’s also equipped with key-split, allowing for two sounds to be controlled simultaneously. Connections are provided on USB (Type-B) for computer/MIDI connection, MIDI Input/Output, and foot switches or expression pedals (3 x 1/4” TRS). The MPK88 can be bus-powered (DC-in is optional) and it’s fully class-compliant for wide compatibility. To sum up, it's a very solid workhorse controller for the modern producer. In case you don’t need or want this many keys and pads, AKAI also offers the MPK25, 49 or 61 models, which are also great choices that should reduce both footprint and cost.



 A-800 Pro

Roland A-800 Pro

If the Roland A-88 is focused on playing above everything else, the A-800PRO is made with the modern studio producer in mind and offers the usual mix of keys, trigger pads, faders, encoders and sliders. The A-800PRO is the result of a collaboration between Roland with Cakewalk, which hints at excellent hardware quality and robust software with which to drive it. Interestingly enough, this unit doesn’t house the connectors on the back side as is usually done - instead, it places them on the left panel for greater accessibility. This panel is equipped with USB (Type-B for MIDI Out, and a power supply), MIDI Input/Output, Hold/Expression pedals inputs (2 x 1/4” TRS), DC power input and two switches for power and MIDI merge. Assigning parameters should be easy with the provided editor app (Mac/Windows) that enables easy integration with both software instruments and DAWs. A great all-around controller and given the combined expertise of Roland and Cakewalk it should make a very reliable choice for any studio.



There's the list, with plenty of options to cater for most tastes, needs and pocketbooks. Despite some overlapping feature sets we can also see that there's a good diversity in controllers out there. Are you happy with what you have right now or on the hunt for a new controller? Anything you would like to see in terms of innovations? Please discuss!

For more on MIDI controllers, synthesizers and virtual instruments please visit our Electronic Music Instruments & Electronic Music Production board.

currentstatus 16th March 2017 01:28 AM

Best value weighted keyboard is Studiologic SL88.. best not to use it as a drum machine tho.

PaulOcchialini 19th March 2017 09:46 PM

Nothing for the feet

currentstatus 20th March 2017 12:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PaulOcchialini (Post 12514958)
Nothing for the feet

And that! :)

KV626 21st March 2017 12:52 PM

The MPK88 is a questionable choice imo, the keyboard is way too noisy, awful feel too, which is kind of surprising for a company like Akai.

I was expecting to see the Arturia Keylab 88 somewhere in this top ten. I would put it on top, right above, or below the KS88. Awesome controller for the price, excellent build quality.

login 16th April 2017 08:09 AM

Arturia, Akai, studio logic and NI all use Fatar key action which is considered inferior to Roland, Kawaii, Yamaha and Casio among digital pianos. It is a shame only Roland makes controllers, Fatar has little competition.

ebatalha 24th April 2017 01:50 PM

Actually I have a Roland A-33 (on the shelf), a Yamaha Reface DX and a Korg Triton Taktile 49. I'm about to buy another one and it's mixed up. I'm looking into the Akai Advance 61, the Nektar Panorama P6 and a Studiologic Numa Compact 2 - this latter one a different kind of keyboard.
I've read that the Akai won't play any AU plugin, that's what I use most. Does anybody knows if this issue has been solved? Any update on this?
As for the Nektar I know it works flawlessly with Logic Pro X and Mainstage, always my choice. I also know that the Akai has no ability to control an external midi device, let's say the Reface DX.
Any thoughts on this, please?
Thanks in advance

mlien 27th September 2017 11:00 AM

Surprised not to see the Doepfer LMK4+ in your list.

Dallon426 3rd November 2017 12:03 PM

Studiologic sl88 takes the W for me.

PRAJNAIMMOVABLE 3rd November 2017 03:05 PM

notice alot of BS posts on here lately like THIS one , i own a m-AUDIO CTRL49 and it is by far the BEST KEYBOARD controller on the market currently. :synth:

joh 5th November 2017 06:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PRAJNAIMMOVABLE (Post 12939279)
notice alot of BS posts on here lately like THIS one , i own a m-AUDIO CTRL49 and it is by far the BEST KEYBOARD controller on the market currently. :synth:

M Audio is crap. The USB connector fell apart after 2 years, although I rarely disconnected it from my computer.

I then bought the AKAI MAX49, which is built like a tank, but the implementation with logic is bad and the faderstrips don´t work for mixing at all...

So I think my next buy will be doepfer - instead of all this asian plastic garbage.

Accompianist 6th November 2017 07:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PRAJNAIMMOVABLE (Post 12939279)
notice alot of BS posts on here lately like THIS one , i own a m-AUDIO CTRL49 and it is by far the BEST KEYBOARD controller on the market currently. :synth:

Both the CTRL and Code series have great keybeds.

But be careful using them live, especially with aftertouch heavy patches. There's an ongoing issue with aftertouch causing a MIDI freeze up.

Dallon426 9th November 2017 05:00 PM

It's pretty clear here that the majority of people don't know what a good controller feels like and does. Just because something has features and pads does not make it the best. So many other factors

varun213 13th November 2017 09:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dallon426 (Post 12949515)
It's pretty clear here that the majority of people don't know what a good controller feels like and does. Just because something has features and pads does not make it the best. So many other factors

What do you think of the Roland A-88?

For me that has been the best full size weighted midi keyboard I've ever used. Absolutely love it. But I can imagine there are better keyboards out there for the weighted key lovers.

Dallon426 13th November 2017 04:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by varun213 (Post 12955619)
What do you think of the Roland A-88?

For me that has been the best full size weighted midi keyboard I've ever used. Absolutely love it. But I can imagine there are better keyboards out there for the weighted key lovers.

Hmm, I can't say about the Roland, however, I can say my studiologic sl88
is fantastic. It's lightweight and feels really nice!

I had problems with studiologic in the past. They basically dogged me on the nano 88. They had numerous people complaining about the keyboard not working after a firmware update and mine stopped working altogether. The customer service was terrible etc. But, I think they are a lot better now. At least the studio logic sl88 is great

varun213 13th November 2017 05:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dallon426 (Post 12956108)
Hmm, I can't say about the Roland, however, I can say my studiologic sl88
is fantastic. It's lightweight and feels really nice!

I had problems with studiologic in the past. They basically dogged me on the nano 88. They had numerous people complaining about the keyboard not working after a firmware update and mine stopped working altogether. The customer service was terrible etc. But, I think they are a lot better now. At least the studio logic sl88 is great

Nice will have to check it out

RyanC 13th November 2017 08:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by login (Post 12569199)
Arturia, Akai, studio logic and NI all use Fatar key action which is considered inferior to Roland, Kawaii, Yamaha and Casio among digital pianos. It is a shame only Roland makes controllers, Fatar has little competition.

Important to note that fatar has a bunch of actions though. The (I believe TP40) in the kontrol S88 is great, much better than the MPKs that I have played. I do like rolands, and the couple kawais that I have played as well, but IMO the better fatar stuff is pretty good.

Dallon426 13th November 2017 11:23 PM

If they fixed the action on the mpk and updated it, made it lighter then it would be the best IMO. It has a lot of features. But it's heavy and the keys are really stiff and loud.
Same with Arturia, it's a beautiful controller but it's **** action and terribly loud

Space1999 15th November 2017 02:48 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dallon426 (Post 12956108)
Hmm, I can't say about the Roland, however, I can say my studiologic sl88
is fantastic. It's lightweight and feels really nice!

I had problems with studiologic in the past. They basically dogged me on the nano 88. They had numerous people complaining about the keyboard not working after a firmware update and mine stopped working altogether. The customer service was terrible etc. But, I think they are a lot better now. At least the studio logic sl88 is great

I am with you on StudioLogic 88 key, semi-weighted SL88. It is a bohemouth of a controller!

On a surprise pick, I actually spent money for the first timer on a Behringer product. (Its the apocalypse, expect swarms of Locusts soon)
The controller I bought as a companion to the SL88 is called the Motor66.
Its a spongy 66 key controller with 8 assignable drum pads and 8 assignable rotary dials.
And it works.

I hope someday I will forgive myself :facepalm:

titetrax 19th November 2017 10:55 PM

In my opinion, you have to get TWO keyboards if you play live AND work with a DAW. The superior action you get from Roland, Korg, Yamaha, etc. keyboards, can't be compared to the inferior action of the M-Audio, Nektar, Akai, etc. keyboards, which have better features for working with your DAW. I have a Nektar Impact LX49+ that works quite well with SONAR Platinum for tracking on Pop, Reggae, R&B, EDM, and Hip-Hop projects. But for Gospel, Jazz, and Classical projects, I turn to my Yamaha P-120 or even my much lighter P-105. Of course my Yamahas also have speakers and sounds onboard so they're not just midi controllers.

Dallon426 19th November 2017 11:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Space1999 (Post 12959296)
I am with you on StudioLogic 88 key, semi-weighted SL88. It is a bohemouth of a controller!

On a surprise pick, I actually spent money for the first timer on a Behringer product. (Its the apocalypse, expect swarms of Locusts soon)
The controller I bought as a companion to the SL88 is called the Motor66.
Its a spongy 66 key controller with 8 assignable drum pads and 8 assignable rotary dials.
And it works.

I hope someday I will forgive myself :facepalm:

It's not semi weighted. It's fully weighted

Hitrate 21st November 2017 11:15 AM

Half of this list is a joke.

DistortingJack 21st November 2017 12:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hitrate (Post 12971381)
Half of this list is a joke.

Can you mention which half, and what you would suggest instead?
I mean, otherwise you can say that about anything.

Raymond888 28th November 2017 04:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hitrate (Post 12971381)
Half of this list is a joke.

Well perhaps you can enlighten everyone with your expertise by giving your own view concerning what is a good controller?

Far better to do that than make a comment that is empty of constructiveness.

Hitrate 4th December 2017 08:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Raymond888 (Post 12985745)
Well perhaps you can enlighten everyone with your expertise by giving your own view concerning what is a good controller?

Far better to do that than make a comment that is empty of constructiveness.

You're right. I just think I'm too specialized and fixated on some areas where as these type of articles try to embrace everyone and seem kinda biased around whoever is supporting them financially or whatever is the current hot seller in the music stores. All I can say is, do a lot of research. There are much better keys out there than any on the list.

DistortingJack 4th December 2017 08:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hitrate (Post 12996549)
You're right. I just think I'm too specialized and fixated on some areas where as these type of articles try to embrace everyone and seem kinda biased around whoever is supporting them financially or whatever is the current hot seller in the music stores. All I can say is, do a lot of research. There are much better keys out there than any on the list.

They didn’t ask you to toot your horn, just to mention some models lol

Hitrate 5th December 2017 02:37 AM

Arturia KeyLab 88 BE - Thomann Danmark

Studiologic SL88 Studio - Thomann Danmark

Kurzweil Artis SE - Thomann Danmark

Kurzweil Artis 7 - Thomann Danmark

Dallon426 5th December 2017 06:02 AM

While Arturia is a beautiful and functional piano
It has one of the worst action and loudest keybeds I've ever played. For that alone it should not be on the list

Hitrate 5th December 2017 03:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dallon426 (Post 12998558)
While Arturia is a beautiful and functional piano
It has one of the worst action and loudest keybeds I've ever played. For that alone it should not be on the list

Lol okay, same should be said about 8 out of 10 of the keyboards on the current list so ya. Since the Arturia uses Fatar TP/100LR keybed, for that alone it should be on the list.

DistortingJack 5th December 2017 04:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hitrate (Post 12999210)
Lol okay, same should be said about 8 out of 10 of the keyboards on the current list so ya. Since the Arturia uses Fatar TP/100LR keybed, for that alone it should be on the list.

See, it's a lot harder to defend a product than to diss one :cop: