After covering the best 88-key and 49-key keyboards on the market, it is only natural that we write about the best 61 key MIDI controller as well. Internally, we call this the “Goldilocks Controller – it’s not as large and unwieldy as the 88-key variant, nor is it too small and unplayable like the 49-key controller. In other words, the best 61 key MIDI keyboard is just right. And in this guide, we’ll show you which is the best one you can buy for your money in 2020.
25, 32, 37, 49, 61, 76, 88.
No, that’s not some cryptic Lost-like sequence of numbers; that’s the number of keys MIDI controllers are commonly available in.
And among these, 32, 49, 61, and 88 key configurations remain the most popular.
So much changes as you shift from one size to another. 32 keyboards are small and thus, emphasize portability in their features. 88 key keyboards are full-sized so focus a lot on replicating the piano experience. 49 and 61 key controllers fall somewhere in between.
The size of the keyboard doesn’t just impact how many octaves you have access to. It also impacts how much real estate the manufacturers have to add features and controls. A 32 key keyboard simply doesn’t have enough room to pack in more than 8 sets of pads and faders. On the best 61 key MIDI controller, however, you can pack in 16+ pads, 9 faders, dozens of buttons, and still have room to spare.
Keyboard size also impacts the kind of buyers they attract. Beginners stay away from 88-key keyboards (and they should). Tiny 25 or 32 key keyboards are either for rank beginners, or pros looking for a cheap portable controller.
61 key MIDI controllers tend to attract intermediate level players – perfectly aligned with the mid-range status of these keyboards. And the manufacturers know this as well – you won’t find pro-level piano keys on them, but you’ll get reasonable playability and enough features to satiate experienced players.
We’ve already shown you the best 49 key and 88 key MIDI controllers on the market. The question now is: what’s the best 61 key MIDI controller you can buy in 2019? What kind of features you should look for when choosing them?
I’ll answer all these questions and more in this in-depth guide.[toc]
The 7 Best 61 Key MIDI Controllers in 2020
If you’re reading this, there are a few things I can guess about you:
- You’re at least an intermediate level musician – beginners don’t spring for 61-key keyboards
- You have some piano playing experience – enough to want an intimidatingly large 61-key controller
- You know your way around a DAW
- You own (or owned) a smaller, beginner-friendly keyboard, likely with 25 or 32 keys.
Of course, I might be wrong on a few counts. But I’ve worked with enough musicians to know that 61-key keyboards represent a special use case. They’re not for beginners. And they’re almost never anyone’s first keyboard.
Simply put, if you’re in this market, you know your music and you’re looking to upgrade your playing experience.
Please note that if you’re looking for MIDI keyboards for specific DAW, you can find our best picks in these articles:
Keeping this in mind, I’ve picked the following as my top choices for the best 61 key MIDI controller on the market:
Best 61 Key MIDI Controller Overall: Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
- 61 synth-style keys
- 16 RGB pads, 8 knobs, 8+1 faders
- Powered by USB
- Includes Addictive Keys 2
- 2-year warranty
- Compatible with Novation InControl
2020 Update: Novation launched the MK3 version of the Launchpad Pro pad controller at NAMM 2020. The MK3 version of the Launchkey, however, has no set launch date. As things stand, the Novation Launchkey MK2 remains the best 61 key MIDI keyboard controller you can buy right now.
I ranked the 49-key version of the Novation Launchkey at #4 in my earlier guide to the best 49 key MIDI controllers.
The 61 key version, however, finds its place at the top of this list.
Part of the reason for this jump is more extensive testing with Novation’s target DAW, Ableton Live.
I’ve started making more of my music in Ableton over the last year. The Launchkey MK2 integrates with it wonderfully well, giving immediate control over loops, mixing, and beats. I never fully appreciated this keyboard until I started using it with Live.
That’s not to say that the keyboard underperforms with other DAWs. It has all the raw ingredients you’d want from a MIDI controller in this range – 61 synth-style keys, 16 RGB pads, 8 knobs, and 8 faders with 1 master. A tiny screen shows track information. Another set of buttons let you control the DAW.
You get two large, rubbery wheels to control pitch and modulation. Two tiny buttons on top of the wheels change the octave. All standard fare from controllers in this range.
Where the Novation Launchkey MK2 shines is in its build quality and close integration with Ableton Live.
61 key controllers present a tricky segment for manufacturers. They’re not large enough to attract high-end buyers (like 88 key controllers). And they’re not small enough to attract beginners who ignore low-quality components.
This is why so many manufacturers either inflate the prices of their 61 key keyboards (I’m looking at you, Akai) or skimp on the quality.
Not so much with the Launchkey MK2. Novation has packed in remarkable durability and build quality into this keyboard. And it has done that without inflating the price.
There are issues, of course. Integration with other DAWs isn’t nearly as good. And the pads are a little smaller than they should be – there is plenty of real estate leftover for more or larger pads.
But given the price, this is a great buy, especially if you use Ableton.
Best Performing 61 Key MIDI Keyboard: Akai MPK261
- Semi-weighted keys
- 64 pads (16 x 4 sound banks)
- 24 buttons/switches (8 x 3 sound banks)
- 8 + 8 faders and knobs
- Compatible with Akai VIP
Any MIDI keyboard list is always going to have that 800lbs gorilla right up front: Akai Pro.
This “best 61 key MIDI controller” list is no different. The Akai MPK261 finds its way here as well. Like our 49 key controller list, the MPK261 would have been at the very top here as well if it wasn’t for the price.
This is about as feature-rich as a MIDI controller can get. The keys are semi-weighted. Not as light and springy as synth-style keys but way closer to the experience of playing a real piano. Intermediate and advanced users will prefer it in particular.
The pads are slightly larger than Novation Launchkey’s and have the famed MPC-style touch quality. They also look better thanks to the edge lighting (instead of the full color lighting on the Launchkey’s). Plus, with four sound banks, you theoretically have access to 64 pads.
The faders and knobs sit on the right side of the instrument. This layout is far more accessible. You can tap out loops with the left hand and control their volume/mix with the right hand.
The faders and knobs are also better built. The only word I can think of for them is “delightful” – you like using them.
The pitch/mod wheels are located on top of the keys. While this reduces the device footprint, the location is awkward. I much prefer the wheels to be located alongside the keyboard so I can access the left-most keys.
Rounding up the feature list is an info screena dn DAW controls. Plus, you get a bunch of programmable buttons for launching clips or effects.
One of the better features is its compatibility with Akai VIP. This little tool gives you access to all your VSTs and effects from a single platform. Great for advanced players who can’t keep track of their virtual instruments.
On the whole, this is the keyboard you want if you have money to spare and care about the build quality of your equipment. Akai’s MPK line are an industry benchmark and will last you for a long, long time. If you can buy only one keyboard, make it this one.
Best Budget 61 Key MIDI Controller: midiplus i61
- 61 velocity sensitive keys
- USB powered
- Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
- 2x MIDI out ports, sustain pedal support
Just started and want to jump straight to a full-size keyboard? On a budget and need the full-size experience without burning a hole in your pocket? Just want a keyboard without all the frills?
In that case, the midiplus i61 would be the perfect choice for you.
The i61 doesn’t have much to offer. There are no pads, faders, knobs or buttons. You don’t get an info screen, nor do you get dedicated DAW controls.
What you do get, however, are 61 velocity sensitive synth-style keys.
These keys are a surprise to use. You wouldn’t expect such a cheap keyboard to have anything decent on offer, but the i61 is a revelation.
The keyboard also integrates well with most DAWs. Not that there is much to the integration – without control options, this is just a keyboard.
As a negative, the keys are narrowed than full-sized piano keys. While this makes the i61 highly portable, it also makes for slightly awkward playing. Especially if you’re like me and are used to piano keyboards.
On the whole, the midiplus i61 remains one of the cheapest 61-key MIDI controllers you can buy. It’s not perfect by any means, nor does it offer a ton of control options. But it is cheap, works well out of the box, and offers just enough for budget conscious buyers.
Best Beginner 61 Key MIDI Keyboard: Alesis V61
- 61 velocity sensitive keys
- Square-edged keyboard
- 8 velocity and pressure-sensitive backlit pads
- 4+4 assignable knobs and buttons
Alesis V61 is the perfect beginner-friendly MIDI controller. Despite 61 keys, it is small enough to not be intimidating. It has a handful of control options – enough for beginners to launch a few loops, but not enough to confuse anyone. And it comes at a price point that is perfect for newbies who are just exploring music production.
That’s the broad picture. Now lets’ dig into the details.
The first thing you’ll notice about the V61 is its hard edges. While most keyboards have waterfall style keys, the V61 has a square-edged keyboard. Combined with the hard edges of the chassis, this gives the V61 a chunky appearance. As a negative, the hard edges can dig into your wrists while playing.
Nonetheless, the keyboard itself is quite portable, clocking in at under 45″ in width and 10″ in height. It also weighs just a tad bit over 9lbs. You might not be able to pack it into your backpack, but you won’t have any trouble lugging it around gigs.
The small size also means that your control options are limited. Alesis packed 8 pads and 4 knobs in the tiny real estate that was still available. I personally would have preferred if the keyboard was taller had more control options on top of the keys, but this configuration works well too – especially for beginners.
As for the pads, they’re backlit and pressure-sensitive. Nothing close to Akai’s MPC-quality, but good enough to load up a basic drumset.
Also read: Our guide on buying the best drum machine in 2019.
This is far from the best 61 key MIDI controller, especially for advanced users. But if you’re new and want a larger keyboard, the Alesis V61 does everything right. It’s small, has decent quality keys, and most importantly, is priced low enough for newbies.
Best Wireless 61-Key Controller: Korg microKEY air 61
- Velocity sensitive narrow keys
- Bluetooth + USB connectivity
- Powered by AA batteries
- Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
- Low weight – just 5 lbs
Ask a musician what they hate the most in the world and the answer will usually be the same: wires.
When you’re producing music, dealing with wires and cables becomes second nature. You have XLR inputs running from your mics to your audio interface, line inputs from the guitar to the amp, and MIDI cables from the controller to the computer.
The more instruments you have, the bigger the mess.
But if you buy the Korg microKey air 61, there will be one less cable you’ll have to worry about. Because the air 61 works on Bluetooth.
The air 61 is one of the few wireless products in this category. It offers nearly the same performance as traditional cable-powered controllers, but without the clutter. It’s primarily meant to be used with your phone or tablet, but it works equally well with the PC as well.
Pop in a couple of AA batteries and the keyboard springs to life. Korg says that it requires about a “month” between charges, but in real-world performance, you’ll barely get more than 20 hours. Pair up the Bluetooth with your device and you’re off.
Sure, the latency is lower than what it would be with a MIDI cable, but at about 33ms, it’s not noticeable enough to register.
The key quality itself is decent. It’s comparable to a mid-range Casio, though nowhere close to a Yamaha. The keys are velocity sensitive, but have synth-style action.
As for controls, you don’t get any. This is all about portability, after all.
On the whole, the Korg air 61 presents a niche use case. It is tiny for a 61-key keyboard. And it works wirelessly. Works great with Garageband on iPad. Just make sure to carry spare batteries.
Best Ableton 61 Key Controller: Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII
- 16 pads
- 9 faders
- 9 fully-rotating encoders
- LCD screen + jog wheel for intuitive control
- 61 velocity and pressure-sensitive keys
- Multiple I/O options
Note: Arturia has launched an Arturia Pro MIDI keyboard at NAMM 2020. However, this is a 37 key keyboard and we haven’t been able to get our hands on one yet.
Astute readers would know that Ableton is my DAW of choice, especially for its ability to combine a loop-focused “Sessions” view with the traditional composition-focused Arrangement view.
And if you’re looking for a keyboard that works seamlessly well with Ableton, you can’t go wrong with the Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII.
Right out of the box, everything about the KeyLab feels premium. The white chassis with wood inserts in the side feels both retro and modern and far better than anything else on the market. The subtle pastel hues of the pads is a throwback to vintage ’80s synths. Even the layout is thoughtful – pads and transport controls to the left, encoders and faders to the right.
Build quality is rock solid. The chassis uses aluminum which gives it strength without adding to the weight. Arturia calls it “tour ready”. At just over 7lbs, it is also one of the lighter 61 key keyboards you can buy.
While the faders could be sturdier, the encoders are a delight to use. These aren’t knobs – you get full 360 degree rotation. Their chunkiness feels good to touch. Close integration with Ableton also means that they’re functional right out of the box.
The pads, meanwhile, look good but don’t have the responsiveness of Akai’s MPC pads. On the plus side, you get more than just transport controls – you can also toggle the metronome, record, undo, and save configurations from the keyboard itself.
The real star of the show is the central LED screen. Unlike the screns on Akai or Novation’s keyboards, KeyLab’s screen shows more than just the MIDI information, especially when paired up with Ableton. You’ll see patch information and mappings, and you can control things with the big rubber jog wheel in the center of the keyboard.
Speaking of Ableton, this keyboard ships with a copy of Live Lite. As such, integration with the DAW is fantastic. Plug it in via USB, start Live, and you’ll find that the first four encoders are already mapped to filter cutoff, resonance, and LFO rates and amounts. This creates a seamless user-experience.
Integration with other DAWs isn’t as robust. It works well out of the box with Logic Pro X, but it’s not nearly as well thought out as Ableton.
A plus is the included software – Arturia Analog Lab. This VST has over 6,500 sounds from vintage synths. You can even program it to split the keyboard into two halves so you play two sounds at the same time.
If I have any complaints, its about the quality of the keys. These aren’t semi-weighted like the Akai. While they are sensitive enough and have dynamic range to keep anyone happy, I miss the tightness of Akai MPK261’s keys.
Best for Intermediate Users: Nektar Impact LX61+
- Velocity sensitive narrow keys
- Bluetooth + USB connectivity
- Powered by AA batteries
- Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
- Low weight – just 5 lbs
Everything about the LX61+ says “ideal for intermediate users”. It’s not as expensive as a top-end Akai. Nor is it cheap and flimsy like a low-end midiplus. It has all the bells and whistles you’d want, but it also leaves you thinking that it could be a bit more.
In other words, users with moderate expectations and experience will love it.
Now as a brand, Nektar has traditionally been known for its high-end keyboards and their close integration with Reason. Nektar’s Panorama series – P4 and P6 – constantly rank among my top 3 picks for serious players.
In the last few years, Nektar has expanded the offering substantially to include cheaper offerings, especially with the LX line.
The LX61+, like its 88-key cousin, offers a taste of the Nektar premiumness at a budget price. You get 61 keys, 8 pads, 8 knobs, and 8+1 faders. You also get transport controls and 9 programmable buttons. Nothing extraordinary – you’d expect this much from any of the best 61 key MIDI controllers.
The keys are better than you’d expect. They’re semi-weighted, but don’t have the heftiness you generally associate with semi-weighted keys. There is a springiness that isn’t unpleasant. The dynamic range and feedback are impressive enough – you won’t feel stymied by the lack of responsiveness.
You can see the budget-conscious design decisions everywhere. Unlike the Panorama P6, you don’t get 360 degree encoders. Instead, you get rubbery knobs. The faders are flimsy. The soft rubber buttons, while not bad by any means, don’t have the satisfying clickiness of their counterparts on the Panorama line. And the screen displays only three characters as opposed to the full-fledged information powerhouse on, say, Arturia KeyLab.
This is expected, of course. You can’t get Panorama-tier quality at M-Audio tier prices.
Where the Nektar Impact LX61+ really stands out is its integrations. The way it works is you go to Nektar’s website, select your DAW, and download the installation files for your DAW of choice.
Nektar offers out-of-the-box integration installation files for Logic, Garageband, Cubase, Nuendo, Reason, FL Sutio, Sonar, Reaper, Studio One. Curiously, both Pro Tools and Ableton are missing from this integration list. Thankfully, Ableton users can download a script from Nektar’s website to setup the integration manually. Pro Tools users aren’t as lucky; you’ll have to setup integrations yourself.
The close integration means that you can get up and running within minutes on nearly any DAW (except Pro Tools).
Throw in the budget-friendly price, good build quality, and decent keys, and you can see why it ranks among my list of the best 61 key keyboards on the market right now.
So that covers our picks for the best 61 key MIDI controllers you can buy in 2017. There were a handful of other options on our original shortlist, including M-Audio Oxygen 61 and Novation Impulse 61. But apart from a few differentiating features, we don’t feel the need to recommend them over the ones on this list.
That still leaves us with a question – what should you look for in a MIDI controller?
We’re currently working on detailed buying guides for MIDI keyboards and controllers. But if you’re looking for quick answers, we’ll share some insight in the next section.
Questions to Ask Before Buying
Music production isn’t a particularly beginner friendly exercise. I remember the first time I fired up Cubase – it was a near-nightmare of complex jargon, menus, and scary-looking VST interfaces.
Buying MIDI controllers is no different. When you first enter the market, you’ll get hit with so many jargon-loaded terms that you won’t be able to figure out what you want and how to zero-down on it.
So to help you out, I’ve compiled a couple of questions you should have answers to before you go about buying the best 61 key MIDI controller for your needs.
Do you understand the basic jargon?
One of the first questions you’ll want to answer is you comfort level with different technical terms and jargon.
Any listing for a MIDI controller will have tons of terms like “DAW integration”, “velocity sensitive keyboard”, “octave controls”, etc.
You don’t have to know all of them, but at the very least, you should understand the following:
- DAW integration: MIDI controllers don’t make any sound of their own. You need to connect them to either a synthesizer, or load up a software sound in your DAW – Digital Audio Workstation (such as Ableton Live or Logic Pro). While technically you can use any MIDI controller with any DAW, the “DAW integration” defines what it works best with out-of-the-box. Ideally, you should choose a controller that integrates with your current DAW.
- Velocity/pressure sensitivity: Keys that are “velocity sensitive” respond to how fast you tap them. Those that are “pressure sensitive” will respond to how heavily you press them. Both these features allow you to play with more expression and responsiveness. It also makes you sound more natural as individual notes sound different based on how hard and fast you pressed the keys.
- Touch-sensitive pads: Just like keyboard keys, the pads on a MIDI controller can also be responsive to velocity and pressure. A touch-sensitive pad will respond differently based on how you touch it – hard or fast, soft or slow. This is a must-have feature if you want to use the controller as a drum pad and recreate the natural variation of real drums.
- Semi-weighted keys: Keys can be either “fully-weighted”, “semi-weighted”, or “synth-style” – in broad terms. Fully-weighted means they have built-in weights that mimic the action of a piano keyboard. Synth-style means they don’t have internal weights and thus, spring back into position when you press them. Semi-weighted keys are somewhere between the two. Usually, premium keyboards offer this feature.
- CV/gate: CV/gate is one of the more common input/output options you’ll see on MIDI controllers, particularly those at the top-end o the market. This is essentially a two port (CV and Gate) system of controlling analog synthesizers and drum machines. It was superseded by the MIDI protocol. Though rarely used today, most vintage synths still use the CV/gate protocol. Hence, if you want to use your controller with older equipment, you’ll want these ports.
- DAW controls: These are easy enough – DAW controls let you control start/stop, record, etc. options for your DAW. I consider these a must-have since they let you play/record without turning to your computer keyboard.
- Pitch/mod wheels: Ever heard your favorite musician “bend” a note? They’re using the pitch/modulation wheels. These allow you to detune a note by turning thick, rubbery wheels while playing a note. You won’t always use them, but when you do, you’ll be grateful with the wheels are easily accessible and have good responsiveness.
- Octave controls: Though you’ll rarely need them on large 61-key keyboards, these buttons essentially help you move up/down an octave. Consider them a must-have on smaller keyboards. This is what enables you to play low bass notes as well as high-treble notes, turning a little 32-keyboard into a full-fledged piano.
- Knobs vs encoders: A “knob” is exactly what you think it is – a little dial to control options such as volume, filter, etc. An “encoder” is the same, but has full 360 degree movement. That is, you can turn it all the way around to reach its original position. Encoders tend to be more functional and thus, are mostly found in premium controllers.
There is a lot more jargon to know – we’ll cover it in our soon-to-be-released keyboard buying guide.
How well do you understand your requirements?
The biggest reason for buyer regret in this category is usually a poor controller-requirement match. People either rush into buying a controller that’s too expensive and powerful before they need it. Or they underestimate their own skill and end up buying a cheap keyboard that doesn’t give them the flexibility and performance they need.
Thus, before you make a decision, ask yourself: what do I really want? What is my skill-level? How will my requirements change in the near future?
There are several parts to this question. Start by figuring out the following:
How good is your piano-playing?
Buying a 61-key MIDI controller just so you can tap out some notes or bang out a few drum patterns is a bad investment. You can do that with a cheap 32-key MIDI controller and pay under $100.
The right way to use a 61-key keyboard is to use it like an actual piano or synth. You should have enough skill and experience to take advantage of the full 5 octaves of range accessible to you. Or you should be taking enough lessons to do that in the future.
How do you intend to use the controller?
61 key MIDI controllers are unique in that they give you access to both a full-sized keyboard and lots of control options (pads, faders, knobs).
However, to justify the purchase, you should know how to put both these options to good use.
If you’re going to simply play piano notes, you’ll do better by buying a digital piano. Or if you’re on a budget, a key-only controller (i.e. with no control options).
On the other hand, if you want to just hammer out a few drum patterns and change mix volume on the fly, you’ll do better with a controller that focuses exclusively on pads, knobs, and faders (such as Akai APC).
Match your controller with your intention and you’ll always be happy with your purchase.
How are your requirements likely to change in the future?
Want to be happy with your controller purchase?
Then always buy for 12 months from now, not for today.
This means that your purchase should match your progress. If you’re taking piano lessons every week and are serious about improving your skill, buy a controller with a high-quality keyboard. If you’re using FL Studio right now but want to switch to the more “professional” Pro Tools, pick a controller that integrates with it. If you’re improving your production skills rapidly, then buy a more powerful controller that will serve you well in 12 months.
On the other hand, if your skills, interest, and equipment are likely to stay static, buy gear that matches your requirements today, not 12 months down the line.
Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t actively learning, taking classes, or improving your skills, don’t delude yourself into buying an expensive controller.
Evaluate your learning trajectory and match your purchase with it.
Are 61 keys good enough?
This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked over email.
Yes, 61 keys is good enough.
At 61 keys, you get 5 octaves of range. For most casual to intermediate users, this is more than enough. Unless you’re playing Chopin (in which case, get a digital piano instead), you can play practically every melody you want – with keys to spare.
Let’s not forget that before its current 7-octave avatar, the piano and its predecessors such as the harpsichord, had 5 or 6 octaves. This means that a lot of classical music actually uses just 5-6 octaves, not 7.
So while you can buy an 88-key keyboard (see our top picks for this category here), you won’t really get much utility from it unless you’re specifically training to be a pianist. Moreover, 88 key keyboards are far too large to fit onto a regular desk. A 61-key keyboard, on the other hand, has a much smaller footprint and is easier to use in a real-world setting.
For my money, 61-keys is not just enough, it’s the perfect size for a serious producer.
49 vs 61 keys
Yet another question I get asked a lot is choosing between 49 and 61 key keyboards.
I’m honestly divided on this front. 49 keys is more than enough for most people. It’s also a tad smaller so it’s easier to fit on a desk.
But there are times when you want to play bass notes as well as lead melodies. At 49 keys, you get 4 octaves (say, C0 to C3). This isn’t always enough to play bass and lead simultaneously.
A 61-key keyboard gives you much more flexibility. It’s rare to find a melody where you’ll go beyond 5 octaves.
Essentially, here’s my opinion on this topic:
- Choose 49 keys if you have limited desk space and don’t plan to play complex melodies
- Choose 61 keys if you have the room and budget to spare
They’re both good, but what you decide to go with will depend largely on how much space you have.
With that, we come to a close in this extended guide to buying the best 61 key MIDI controller. We’ve covered everything from the factors that should impact your purchase decision to a comprehensive list of technical terms you should know.
Just to recap, here is our list of the best 61 key keyboards, sorted by category:
- Novation Launchkey MK2 (Best overall)
- Akai MPK261 (Best performance)
- midiplus i61 (Best for budget buyers)
- Alesis V61 (Best for beginners)
- Korg microkey air 61 (Best wireless)
- Nektar Impact LX61+ (Best for intermediate users)
- Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII (Best for Ableton users)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!
- Our guides to keyboards of different sizes: 88 keys, 49 keys, and 25 keys
- Our top picks for MIDI controllers for different DAWs: Ableton, FL Studio, Garageband, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and Cubase