10 Best MIDI Keyboards on the Market Right Now (Sep 2017)
After consulting dozens of musicians and hours of research, I can confidently say that these are the best MIDI keyboards on the market today:
- Akai MPK249 ($$$)
- Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 ($$)
- Akai MPK Mini MKII ($)
- Nektar Panorama P6 ($$$)
- M-Audio Code 49 Black ($$)
- IK Multimedia iRig Keys Compact ($)
Buying MIDI keyboards is never easy because of the range of options and price tags. You can splurge $3,000 for a Kurzweil or get a starter Korg for under $50.
I’ll walk you through the entire buying process for MIDI keyboards in this in-depth guide. I’ll show you the best MIDI keyboard controllers for musicians on a budget. I’ll also share the top options for high-end MIDI keyboards.
My Top Picks for MIDI Keyboards
Before I do a segment-wise deep dive, here are my top picks for the best MIDI keyboards at a glance:
Best high-end MIDI keyboard: Akai Professional MPK261
As one of the flagship models from one of the flagship manufacturers, the Akai Professional MPK261 is my choice for the best high-end MIDI keyboard.
Are there better keyboards in the market? Sure. Studiologic’s Numa-Nero comes to mind.
Are there more expensive keyboards in the market? Definitely. A good Kurzweil keyboard will cost you a good $1,500+.
None, however, combine the form, function and features of the Akai MPK261 in a sub-$500 package. For a “high-end” MIDI keyboard, this is surprisingly affordable, yet reassuringly effective.
Best mid-range MIDI keyboard: Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
The Novation Launchkey 61 is one of the most value-for-money products in the MIDI keyboard lineup. It has 61 keys, 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads and 8 knobs. Throw in seamless Ableton integration at a price tag under $200 and you can see why I ranked it as my favorite mid-range MIDI keyboard.
Best budget MIDI keyboard: Akai Professional MPK Mini MK2
There are some frighteningly competent MIDI keyboards in the sub-$100 range. Yet, none impress as much as the exceptionally popular Akai MPK Mini MK2.
The younger sibling of the MPK 261, the Mini has all the bells and whistles you need to start making music - 25 keys, 8 pads and 8 knobs. The entire package weighs under 2lbs and costs under $100.
Add in Akai’s generally superior craftsmanship and seamless integration and you can see why the MPK Mini is one of the best selling MIDI keyboards of all time.
In the next section, I’ll share my methodology for doing this review, my scoring criteria and things to look for in a MIDI keyboard.
10 Best MIDI Keyboards
Here are my top 10 picks for MIDI keyboards at a glance:
Nektar Panorama P6
Roland A-800 Pro
Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
Nektar IMPACT LX88+
M-Audio Code 49 Black
Akai MPK Mini MK2
Nektar Impact GX61 MIDI Keyboard
IK Multimedia iRig Keys Compact
M-Audio Mini Keystation 32
About Your Reviewer
My name is Ryan and I’m a professional producer, recording engineer and part-time DJ. I’ve been producing music since the early days of Cubase 5.0 (2000). I’ve dabbled in everything from electro rock to future bass and hip-hop, though my focus is mostly on drum and bass at the moment.
I’ve used and owned dozens of MIDI controllers, including most of the keyboards mentioned on this list. You can learn more about me and my musical adventures on the about page or get in touch via email.
The MIDI keyboard field is crowded indeed. What was a rather niche hardware segment a decade back is now filled with competitors out-innovating each other. From $50 M-Audio Mobile controllers to $3,000 Kurzweil Artis, there has never been choice in the MIDI keyboard segment.
This choice also makes reviewing MIDI keyboards incredibly difficult.
To narrow down my options, I followed this approach:
- I eliminated all synthesizers from my list (i.e. keyboards capable of working with DAWs) so I could focus only keyboards.
- I made a list of all the MIDI keyboards I’ve used
- I asked musician/producer friends about the MIDI keyboards they’ve used, owned or loved.
- I eliminated very high-end, niche keyboards in the $1,000+ range. My target for this article is everyday producers, not world-renowned artists.
- I eliminated poorly reviewed or hard to find keyboards.
At the end of the process, I had 24 MIDI keyboards on my shortlist.
From these, I selected the following 10 MIDI keyboards separated into 3 categories:
- High-end ($350+): Akai Professional MPK261, Nektar Panorama P6 61-Key, Roland A-800 Pro
- Mid-range ($150-$350): Novation Launchkey 61 MK2, Nektar Impact LX88+, M-Audio Code 49 Black
- Budget (under $150): Akai MPK Mini MK2, Nektar Impact GX61, IK Multimedia iRig Compact Keys, M-Audio Keystation Mini 32.
Further analysis follows.
How I Scored Each MIDI Keyboard
In my review, I focused on the follow criteria:
- Features & Technical Specs: Since features and technical specs - pitch bend, touch-sensitive pads, number of keys, software integration, etc. - are the number one reason to buy any musical instrument, I focused heavily on this criteria.
- Key Quality: The quality and feel of the keyboard is of paramount importance. This criteria got a heavy weightage in my scoring process.
- Durability: MIDI keyboards go through heavy, even abusive use. A competent keyboard should be able to withstand the rough and tumble of music production.
- Portability: Some of you will want to carry your keyboard to gigs. While not a deciding factor, portability was a factor, especially for smaller keyboards.
- Design: How pleasing is the product to look at? Does it feel nice? Is the build quality good? Is the layout user-friendly?
- Price: For obvious reasons, price is an important consideration in any MIDI keyboard purchase decision.
- Personal Impressions: What I feel about the product. This was based mostly on my personal, subjective impressions, not any objective analysis. Summarily, I gave this criteria a smaller weightage.
Since different factors matter for different buyers, I used the following formula for each segment:
High-End MIDI Keyboards:
Features (x 0.50) + Key Quality (x 0.15) + Price (x 0.15) + Design (x 0.10) + Durability (x 0.05) + Portability (x 0.025) + Personal Impressions (x 0.025)
Mid-Range MIDI Keyboards:
Features (x 0.45) + Key Quality (x 0.15) + Price (x 0.225) + Design (x 0.075) + Durability (x 0.05) + Portability (x 0.025) + Personal Impressions (x 0.025)
Budget MIDI Keyboards:
Features (x 0.40) + Key Quality (x 0.15) + Price (x 0.275) + Design (x 0.075) + Durability (x 0.05) + Portability (x 0.025) + Personal Impressions (x 0.025)
Similarly, I’ve focused more on features than price in the higher segments.
While it’s good to understand the review methodology, it’s doubly important to figure out what makes a good MIDI keyboard.
I’ll share a short MIDI keyboard buying guide below.
How to Buy MIDI Keyboards
Unless you’re an experienced musician (in which case, feel free to skip this section), buying MIDI keyboards can be confusing. It’s not always clear what each feature means and whether it actually impacts performance.
Here are some things to look for when choosing MIDI keyboards:
Type of Keys
If you look-up any MIDI keyboard listing online, you’ll see a mention of the key-type.
This an important criteria and will hugely impact your decision.
MIDI keyboard keys can be divided into three categories:
What keys you choose will depend largely on your playing style and what you expect from the MIDI keyboard.
- If you simply want to enter MIDI notes, pick synth-action or semi-weighted keys.
- If you want to use the MIDI keyboard as a piano, choose fully-weighted keys for better playability.
- If you want a balance of MIDI and piano capabilities, choose semi-weighted keys.
Keep in mind that fully-weighted keys are usually only available in professional or high-end equipment. If you want these keys, be prepared to pay a premium.
For 90% of people reading this, semi-weighted keys would be the best choice.
Number of Keys
The number of keys in a MIDI keyboard correspond to the number of octaves you can play. The minimum you’ll find is 25-keys. The maximum can be 88-keys for a full-scale keyboard (equivalent to a piano).
Most brands offer variations of each keyboard based on the number of keys. The popular variations are:
- 25-keys: Spans over two octaves. Ideal for portable keyboards and for playing short basslines. Can’t play bass and treble lines simultaneously.
- 49-keys: Spans four octaves. Strikes a good balance between portability and flexibility. This is the most popular variation.
- 61-keys: Spans five octaves. You can play most classical music with this (also has the same number of keys as an organ).
- 88-keys: Spans 7 octaves - same as a full-scale piano. Ideal for people who want to replicate the piano feel.
Some manufacturers also offer 32-key, 37-key and 76-key variants.
How many keys you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as:
Simple - if it has fewer keys, it is more portable. The Akai Mini MPK MK2, for instance, has just 25 keys and is small enough to fit in a laptop bag.
If you want to just enter notes, the number of keys is largely immaterial. If you want to play piano, choose a minimum of 61-keys.
If you want to just play basslines, a 25-key setup is more than enough. If you want to play classical or jazz music, you’ll need more keys (61-key minimum).
Generally speaking, cost goes up with the number of keys.
I recommend a minimum of 49-keys for most producers. This offers a good balance of portability, price and playability. If you have any music training, you might want to opt for 61 or 88-key variants.
For budget buyers just looking to enter MIDI notes, 25-key keyboards are a good starting point. These also offer exceptional portability.
A large number of MIDI keyboards today have built-in MIDI pads and knobs, like this Akai MPK Mini:
These pads essentially transform the unit from a MIDI “keyboard” to a “MIDI controller”. You can use these pads for anything - playing drums, setting off loops, or enabling FX.
The number of pads can vary from 8, 16 to even 32 pads in some models. Any good keyboard would have touch-sensitive pads (i.e. the harder you press the pad, the stronger the hit).
Some keyboards also include a number of knobs and sliders, like this:
These knobs are usually used for controlling FX. Use them to change reverb dry/wet levels, chorus size, delay time, etc. on the fly.
Whether you want them or not, MIDI pads offer additional functionality. They don’t hurt but they can definitely help. Regardless of your playing style, I recommend choosing something with built-in pads and knobs.
While number of keys, MIDI pad availability and key-type are the most important considerations, there are a few additional things you have to keep in mind, such as:
- Budget: MIDI keyboard prices are all over the place. You can buy something for as low as $30 (seriously - sort the results by price on Amazon) to as high as $3,000. Keep aside a budget of at least $100 if you want a competent keyboard. At $300+, you should be able to get something professional-grade.
- Portability: If you plan to take the keyboard to gigs, you need something small and light enough for easier transportation. Smaller keyboards also occupy less desk space.
- Software integration: Although most popular MIDI keywords will work out of the box with popular DAWs, if you use something more obscure, you might have difficulty with integration.Some keyboards are designed to integrate closely with a specific DAW (such as Ableton). This is an advantage if you use that DAW.
- Additional functions: Pitch bend, arpeggiator, etc. are some additional features you should look for. How important these are to you will depend on the kind of music you like to play and your playing style. But it’s always better to get something with these features than without - you never know when your playing style might change!
You now know what factors to consider when buying MIDI keyboards.
The question still remains: what are the best MIDI keyboards on the market today?
I’ll share some answers in the next section.
Best High-End MIDI Keyboards
Given the low starting price for MIDI keyboards, I classified “high-end” as any keyboard costing above $350.
There is a massive variety to choose from in this price range, from the wildly innovative ROLI Seaboard Grand ($2,999)...
...to the more workmanlike M-Audio Code 61 ($449).
If you’re looking at this segment, you are a serious musician and want more features, better key feel and the durability associated with higher-end products.
Keeping in mind the target audience for this article, I eliminated the ultra-expensive keyboards ($1,000+ range) from my shortlist. I also focused on conventional products as opposed to innovative offerings like the Roli Seaboard.
From this shortlist, here are my top picks for the best high-end MIDI keyboards.
Top Pick: Akai Professional MPK261
The 61-key variant from Akai’s professional line-up is one of the most popular MIDI keyboard among serious musicians. Packed with features and backed by Akai’s trusted name, this is the keyboard I recommend to anyone moving from “hobbyist” to “serious” status.
Between the 61-keys, 8 faders, 8 knobs and 16 pads, the Akai MPK261 is packed with features. It acts as much more than a MIDI keyboard; it acts as a full-fledged MIDI controller. For some of you, it will even replace your Ableton Push or Novation Launchkey.
Throw in Akai’s premium build quality and the $499 price seems almost like a steal.
What I like:
- Premium build quality: The Akai Professional MPK261 just feels premium. It’s apparent when you press the keys, turn a knob or press one of the 16 pads. I first used the MPK261 after years of using a cheap M-Audio Keystation and the difference was night and day. There is real heft to each key press and every component feels like it was thoughtfully designed.
- Full-fledged controller: You get 16 RGB pads (expandable to 64 pads via 4 separate banks), 8 knobs and 8 faders (a feature missing in many competitors). This turns the MPK261 into a full-fledged MIDI controller, not just a keyboard.
- Built-in screen that shows essential data such as track/sample information. Not groundbreaking, but nice to have nonetheless.
- Semi-weighted keys feel great: The 61-keys are semi-weighted and have pressure sensitivity. They feel great to touch and are responsive enough for piano players.
- Strong DAW integration: Since the MPK261 is one of the most popular and best-reviewed MIDi keyboards on the market, it is deeply integrated with nearly every DAW (though I’ve only tested it with Ableton).
Who is it for?
I recommend the MPK261 to anyone who is serious about making music. While it’s not necessarily for beginners, if you have the spare budget, I even recommend it as your first MIDI keyboard.
The MPK261 also makes a great upgrade for those of you who’ve used a budget keyboard and want something better. The semi-weighted keys are a marked improvement on the synth-action keys common in budget keyboards. And the overall finish will make playing the instrument much more enjoyable.
Do keep in mind that the MPK261 is not very portable. It weighs in at nearly 15lbs. If you want a simple keyboard for lugging around with your laptop, this isn’t for you.
At $499 for the 61-key version, this keyboard is also great value for money.
What if the Akai isn’t your thing and you want something more premium? In that case, you’ll love my next pick.
Key Counts Available: 25, 49, 61
Buy from Amazon
2nd Pick: Nektar Panorama P6 61-key MIDI Controller Keyboard
The Nektar Panorama P6 is a great looking, thoughtfully designed MIDI keyboard at a competitive price. Although not as popular as Akai’s offerings, it is competent, capable and in some cases, much better than anything within its price range.
What I like:
- Beautiful design: The white-on-black design of the Nektar Panorama stands out in a sea of black-on-black keyboards. It has a definite retro vibe which I particularly like.
- Responsive keys: The keys are semi-weighted and have a satisfying heft. The responsiveness is great for piano pieces.
Plenty of buttons: You get 9 faders, 12 pads, 8 buttons and 16 continuous rotary knobs. The pads are pressure-sensitive, as expected, though only 12 pads (instead of standard 16) is a bit strange.
- Motorized fader: Of the 9 faders, the final one (the ‘master’) is motorized. This gives you better control and makes for more satisfying operation.
- Thoughtful design: Small touches such as dedicated Mute and Solo buttons (which you’ll use a LOT) make this a fantastically designed product.
Who is it for?
The 61-key variant of the Nektar Panorama P6 costs about the same as the Akai MPK261. If you’re upgrading from a budget keyboard and, for some reason, don’t like the Akai, this would be a great alternative.
There is good DAW integration (though some users report issues with Logic Pro X) and the design touches elevate it over the competition. The 80s-inspired design also stands out, much to my liking.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a $500+ MIDI keyboard, the Nektar Panorama P6 comes highly recommended.
3rd Pick: Roland A-800 Pro
Roland is a name synonymous with synthesizers. Look at your favorite producers’ kits and you’ll find at least one Roland synth sticking out.
The A-800 Pro is one of Roland’s few MIDI keyboards (i.e. no synth capabilities) in this price range. Originally called “Roland Cakewalk”, it was changed to the current brand name in 2011. It brings Roland’s established synth expertise to the MIDI keyboard market and makes quite an impression.
At $350 ($399 to be exact) this is also the cheapest “high-end” MIDI keyboard on this list, making it all the more attractive.
What I like:
- Exceptional build-quality: The first time you use the Roland A-800, it becomes clear that this is a lovingly made instrument. The keys, knobs and switches all feel well-crafted. You feel the weight of every component. The build quality is exceptional, even better than the Akai.
- Roland-quality keys: Roland’s claim to fame is the quality of its keys. Sure enough, this quality is apparent here. The semi-weighted keys are firm, yet responsive with decent travel distance. My only complaint is that the keys aren’t wide enough. This saves space but leaves room for errors for fat-fingered players like me.
- Pitch/mod stick: This controller has Roland’s divisive pitch/mod control stick - standard in Roland’s synths. People tend to either love it or hate it. I happen to love its “stickiness”. You might (or might not) feel otherwise.
- Plenty of buttons: The A-800 comes with 9 knobs, 9 faders and 8 pads - standard feature for controllers in this range. However, the pads are disappointingly small, highlighting the unit’s primary purpose as a keyboad, not a MIDI controller.
Who is it for?
For Roland enthusiasts, this might be the best value-for-money MIDI keyboard on the market right now. It has all the bells and whistles of the Akai MPK261 at a $100 lower price tag. You don’t get as many pads as the Akai or an information screen, but the quality of the keys makes up for it.
If you’re upgrading from a cheaper keyboard or even buying your first one, this is a capable, professional-grade option. I would recommend it over several of the mid-range keyboards on this list based on Roland’s build quality alone.
I do have to warn you that some users have encountered software issues. Although it will integrate with any DAW, some people complain about Roland’s software not recognizing the device. Keep this in mind before you make a purchase decision.
$500 keyboards pack in a ton of features but for many of you, these would be either unnecessary or too expensive.
In that case, you can look at some of the mid-range offerings that offer plenty of features and strong performance at more approachable prices.
Best MIDI Keyboards: Mid-Range
Choosing an offering in the mid-range of any product category is always difficult. There’s always the urge to spend just a little more and get a high-end product. This is particularly true for MIDI keyboards where top-tier keyboards are available for $350.
For the purpose of this review, I picked my “mid-range” as keyboards within the $150-$350 price range. This gave me a large selection of products to choose from. Most of my selections fell in the middle of this $150-$350 range.
Just to jog your memory, here’s the formula I used to calculate scores for this range:
Features (x 0.45) + Key Quality (x 0.15) + Price (x 0.225) + Design (x 0.075) + Durability (x 0.05) + Portability (x 0.025) + Personal Impressions (x 0.025)
Buyers in this segment care about features, but purchase on price. Summarily, I de-emphasized features and over-emphasized price as compared to high-end keyboards.
Based on this formula, here are my top 3 picks for mid-range MIDI keyboards.
Best Mid-Range MIDI Keyboard: Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
The Novation Launchkey 61 is one of the best-selling mid-tier MIDI keyboards, and for good reason. 61-keys, 8 knobs, 16 pads, 8 buttons and 9 faders at a price under $250 makes it one of the best value-for-money buys in this category.
Add Novation’s trusted name and in-depth integration with Ableton/Logic into the mix and you have a terrific package.
What I like:
- Build quality is excellent for the price. It doesn’t feel as hefty as the $500 Akai, but at half the price, you can’t complain.
- Touch-sensitive synth-action keys: I’m normally not a big fan of synth-action keys, but the ones here are touch-sensitive and surprisingly responsive. Not as much fun as full-weighted or semi-weighted keys, of course, but best in its class nonetheless.
- Tight Ableton integration: I can’t speak for Logic or FL users, but the integration with Ableton is top-notch. Novation even highlights this in its marketing.
- Plenty of control options: 8 knobs, 16 RGB pads, 8 buttons and 9 faders turn the Launchkey into a full-fledged MIDI controller. My only complaint is the size of the pads.
- Dedicated pitch/mod wheels: Conveniently located dedicated pitch and modulation wheels - a missing feature in many of its competitors.
- Small form factor: Despite boasting 61 keys, the Novation Launchkey has a surprisingly small form factor. One of the few 61-key MIDI keyboards you won’t have trouble fitting on your desk.
Who is it for?
The Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 makes a great choice for a first-time buyer. If you’ve been playing around with electronic music and want to move from using the mouse to using a MIDI keyboard, this would be a great choice.
The features - which are robust - aside, this is one of the cheaper mid-range keyboards you can buy. At under $250, it is only $100 more expensive than some of the budget offerings. For this price, you get a lot more bang for your buck.
If you’re upgrading from a budget MIDI keyboard, however, I advise you to skip this and buy something with semi-weighted keys instead. Look at some of the high-end instruments above or the next option on this list.
2nd Pick: Nektar IMPACT LX88+ MIDI Keyboard
If the Nektar Impact was priced even $50 lower, it would be the only MIDI keyboard I would recommend to anyone.
Check this: you get 88 semi-weighted keys (not synth-action), 8 pads, 9 faders and 8 fully rotary knobs. There are dedicated pitch/mod wheels, a small LCD screen to show crucial data, and a space-saving narrow design.
The only reason I haven’t ranked this higher is that the $300+ price-tag puts it close to the high-end controller category, where better options await.
What I like
- 88 semi-weighted keys: This is the standout feature - you get a full-size keyboard with 88 semi-weighted keys. This gives you 7-octaves of playing range with fast, responsive keys that feel good. If you know how to play piano, this alone is reason enough to buy the Nektar Impact.
- Performance-ready features: Unlike most other controllers on this list, the Nektar Impact is designed for live performances. Summarily, you get performance-friendly features, such as a “layering” system to create up to 3 separate MIDI “zones”, each with its own presets. You can switch between zones quickly via dedicated buttons - great for live performances.
- Strong integration with leading DAWs. Nektar also includes mappings for popular plugins such as Massive, giving you complete instrument control from the keyboard itself.
Who is it for?
If you’re looking for an 88-key MIDI keyboard, this is the unit for you. It is competitively priced, boasts decent build quality, and unlike many 88-key keyboards, actually doubles up as a controller (i.e. has pads, knobs and faders).
The Nektra Impact is also a great choice if you plan to perform live (as you should). The 88-keys makes playing bass and melodies simultaneously easier. The performance-ready features such as MIDI “layering” are also welcome.
I don’t recommend this as your first MIDI keyboard, especially if you have no prior piano experience. The 88-keys will quickly become overwhelming (not to mention, space consuming).
In that case, you’d want to try something with fewer keys, like our next option.
3rd Pick: M-Audio Code 49 Black
M-Audio makes some fine mid-range keyboards and the M-Audio Code 49 is easily the best among the lot. Priced just under $300, this is one of the more expensive M-Audios on the market, which is best known for its cheaper controllers.
The design of the Code 49 is its standout feature. I’m a big fan of the hard square edges and the pad placement. The form factor is also surprisingly small for a 49-key keyboard.
If you’re looking for a more “premium” M-Audio, this is a great option.
What I like:
- Performance pads feel much better than competitors. They are also strategically placed to the left of the keys (where most keyboards keep their pitch/mod controls). The emphasis on the pads makes this a competent MIDI controller alternative.
- Space-saving design: The Code 49 is barely 2.5’ in length. This is one of the “tighter” designs in this category without compromising on the key width.
- Powerful preset editor: The included M-Audio MIDI editor makes it easy to create custom mappings. While plenty of manufacturers offer such software, M-Audio’s is a notch above the competition in flexibility and power.
- Unique XY pad: Ever wanted to change the frequency and chorus width with your keyboard? The touch sensitive XY pad will let you do that. The Code 49 is one of the keyboards offering this instrument. Not a gamechanger but definitely one reason to buy this keyboard.
Who is it for?
If you’ve been making music with just your mouse + computer keyboard for a while and know the basics of music production, the M-Audio Code 49 would make a great first-buy. The keys feel nice, the performance pads work great and the XY pad is a nice bonus. At $300, it is also in the “affordable, but value for money” range.
If you already own a budget controller, however, I recommend going for one of the higher-end keyboards on this list. While it offers a ton of features, the M-Audio Code 49 doesn’t have the semi-weighted keys that warrant an upgrade from a budget controller.
As for budget MIDI keyboard controllers, I’ll share my top picks in the next section.
Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Controllers
It is truly a great time to be alive if you’re new to music production.
Thanks to the popularity of digital music, you have hundreds of options to choose from.
You can get something as cheap as $39 for this midiplus AKM320…
...to a full-fledged 61-keyboard like the Nektar Impact iX61:
In fact, my hardest task was narrowing down my list of candidates. There are so many similar (and similarly priced) keyboards in the budget range that it becomes hard to distinguish between them.
Since features are limited in the budget range, I focused on price and build quality. A budget keyboard shouldn’t feel cheap and plasticky. Nor should you settle for poor quality keys.
Based on this criteria, here are my top picks for the best budget MIDI controllers:
Best Budget MIDI Keyboard: Akai MPK Mini MK2
Drop by any online store and you’ll see the Akai MPK Mini MK2 right at the top of the bestselling charts.
This nearly perfectly reviewed, perfectly priced offering from Akai is often the first MIDI keyboard musicians buy. It offers pretty much anything a beginner would want: compact size, fantastic keys, good build quality and a good number of pads and knobs.
But it’s not just beginners who love the MPK Mini. Experienced musicians swear by it for its portability. At just 1.6lbs, it is half the weight of a Macbook Air. The form factor is such that you can drop it into your backpack. And the build quality is traditional Akai; it will take a beating.
If you’re looking for your first MIDI keyboard or want a portable second keyboard, I can’t recommend the Akai MPK Mini enough.
What I like
- Build quality: The MPK Mini is tiny and competitively priced. Yet, it doesn’t feel plasticky or cheap when you use it. The keys (synth-action) have fast response and play well. The knobs and buttons are durable. You might even mistake it for a $200+ product.
- Keys + pads: Most controllers in the budget range compromise on either the keys or the pads/knobs. Not the Mini. You get 25 responsive keys, 8 touch-sensitive pads and 8 knobs with satisfying resistance. To offset the lack of keys, there are dedicated buttons to go up/down an octave.
- Unique thumbstick: Instead of conventional pitch/mod wheels, the MK2 has a unique thumbstick for controlling pitch and modulation. This is a new feature in the MK2 and solves one of the biggest complaints in the original Mini.
- Exceptional portability: As I mentioned above, it weighs in at just 1.6lbs. It is also just a foot long and half a foot wide - smaller than a Macbook. It takes little space on desks, and even lesser in backpacks.
- Integrations and included software: As one of the bestselling MIDI keyboards of all time, the Akai Mini integrates easily with most popular DAWs. It also ships with Akai’s own MIDI editor which gives you quick access to different mappings and presets.
- Perfectly priced: I’m a big fan of no-nonsense pricing. At $100, the Akai Mini fulfills this criteria perfectly.
Who is it for?
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is perfect for two kinds of buyers:
- Beginners buying their first MIDI keyboard
- Experienced musicians looking for a portable keyboard
From the features to the price, this is one of the best value offerings on the market. It doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but it does everything well enough. The pads and keys are good, the integrations are in-depth and the thumbstick is a welcome addition. Add decent build-quality and you have a product you can’t go wrong with.
However, if you like and want to play the piano, I wouldn’t recommend this for you. Although you get dedicated octave up/down buttons, it can be a pain to play complex, octave-spanning melodies on the Mini. You’ll do much better with a 49-key setup, like the next option on my list.
2nd Pick: Nektar Impact GX61 MIDI Keyboard
A full-sized 61-key MIDI keyboard for under $120 from a respected manufacturer?
I didn’t believe it at first. Surely, it would be a gimmick, a cheap plastic knockoff with unplayable keys and missing features.
Then I got a chance to try the Nektar Impact GX61 and was completely won over.
The GX61 is much closer to a digital piano than to a MIDI controller. You get 61-keys, two pitch/modulation wheels, and that’s it. There are no knobs, pads or faders.
Plus, if you’re in the market for a 61-key keyboard under $125, your priority is to play the instrument, not mess with pads and knobs.
If you know or want to play the piano, this would be the perfect first instrument.
What I like
- No-frills design: In a segment filled with manufacturers trying to cram even more features into their keyboards, this “purer”, no-frills approach is actually refreshing. It also means that Nektar can focus on improving the quality of the keys instead of spending resources on pads and knobs.
- Key quality: All the budget leftover from excluding pads and knobs finds its way into the keys. For a $120 keyboard, the GX61’s keys are fantastic, with fast response and decent weight.
- Full 61-keys: It’s hard to find a full five-octave of range in the budget keyboard category. The GX61 even includes dedicated buttons to shift the octave -3/+4, giving you even more range.
- Integrations and included software: You get a free copy of Bitwig 8-track. I’m not a huge fan but hey, it’s free! Besides the standard integrations, the GX61 is also iOS compatible, so you can even hook it up to your iPad.
Who is it for?
The GX61 is not for everyone. If you’re a beginner looking for his first MIDI keyboard, the Akai MPK Mini would serve you much better.
However, if you want to play piano or have any music training, the Nektar Impact GX61 should be your first choice. The key quality and range is excellent. Instead of fiddling with knobs and pads, you can use it as a digital piano and make music, distraction-free.
What if you want a happy medium between the two-octave 25-key setups and the 61-key keyboards?
The next option would be perfect for you.
3rd Pick: IK Multimedia iRig Keys Compact MIDI Keyboard (37 Keys)
One of the challenges of buying MIDI keyboards in the budget range is settling on a key configuration. The 25-key setup is too limited while the 49 or 61-keys are too expansive for beginning players.
The 37-key setup (3 octaves) offers a happy medium between the two.
And in this configuration, you can’t go wrong with the effortlessly portable iRig Keys Compact keyboard.
This is another no-frills keyboard. You don’t get any pads, knobs or buttons. Instead, you get 37 touch-sensitive keys and two wheels - one each for pitch and modulation control. There are no hidden bells and whistles; you get nice keys and that’s it.
If you want a portable 37-key setup, this one comes highly recommended.
What I like
- No-frills: As you probably saw above, I’m a big fan of no-frills, “less is more” design philosophy in the budget range. The iRig Keys Compact excels in this regard. The keys feel great and there are no pads or knobs to distract you from serious music making.
- Very portable: At under 2lbs of weight and 6” of width, this is one of the more portable keyboards on the market. The only other MIDI keyboard I would recommend for portability over this is the Akai MPK Mini.
- Velocity-sensitive keys: Though the keys are synth-action (can’t get sem-weighted keys in this range), they feel nice and play swiftly. They also don’t go soft quickly.
- Low power consumption: Some MIDI keyboards hog up all the resources when on USB power. Not this one. It doesn’t consume any more power than an external type keyboard.
Who is it for?
The iRig Keys Compact keyboard is best for people who value portability over features. It is also ideal for people who want a keyboard, not a full-fledged controller. The pared away, sparse design emphasizes the keyboard. You won’t find any pads, knobs or buttons on it.
At under $100, this compact keyboard is also perfectly priced.
If you want more keys than the Akai Mini and don’t care about the pads, this is the right keyboard for you.
4th Pick: M-Audio Mini Keystation 32
The M-Audio Mini Keystation 32 was the cheapest keyboards on my shortlist. Surprisingly, it was also one of the most popular keyboards among my musician friends surveyed for this review.
Part of the reason for the Keystation Mini’s enduring popularity is the combination of price and portability. This thing is tiny.
Surprisingly, the keys are fast and responsive - a rare feat for a keyboard that costs less than a new video game. If you’re looking for a cheap and portable MIDI keyboard, the M-Audio Mini Keystation comes highly recommended.
What I like
- Portability is off the charts: This keyboard weighs just 1lb. That’s the same as an iPad (which it is compatible with, by the way). It is also just 4” deep - just an inch more than the iPhone 7+ width. It’s the lightest, most portable keyboard on my list.
- Better than expected keys: The 32-keys are velocity-sensitive. They won’t blow you away but for the price, they feel surprisingly well-made.
- Pitch/mod buttons:The keyboard includes dedicated pitch/modulation buttons - rare in this price category.
- Price: As I said, this thing costs less than a new copy of a AAA video game. You can’t really go wrong with that.
Who is it for?
Two kinds of people will love this keyboard:
- Beginners who want a cheap, no-frills keyboard
- Experienced musicians who want a second portable keyboard
If you’re on a budget, I recommend this as your first keyboard. On some promotions, you can get it for even $50 or lower. You don’t get any pads or kobs, but for the price, this is still massive value for money.
I also recommend it if you are an experienced musician and want a no-frills second keyboard for carrying around. The weight and dimensions are a big plus. You also get iOS compatibility to make music with your iPad on the go.
That concludes my list of the best MIDI keyboards. I can confidently say that you can pick any keyboard off this list and not be disappointed by your purchase.
Picking a MIDI keyboard can be tough. You have to figure out how many keys you want, which features to look for (and which to ignore) and find something that fits your budget.
To help you out, I’ve divided my list of the best MIDI keyboards into three price brackets. I’ve emphasized different things in each of these segments - features and design in the top-range, features and pricing in the middle-range, and pricing in the budget range.
Based on this criteria, here is a summary of all my top picks for each segment.
- Akai Professional MPK261
- Nektar Panorama P6 61-key
- Roland A-800 Pro
- Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
- Nektar Impact LX88+
- M-Audio Code 49
- Akai MPK Mini MK2
- Nektar Impact GX61
- IK Multimedia iRig Keys Compact
- M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
Based on your budget, you can pick any keyboard from this list. Your money will be well-spent.
Comments, doubts, questions? Let me know below!