Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
Steinberg’s Cubase might not have the millions of videos on YouTube like Ableton or the sheer polish of Logic Pro, but it remains one of the more popular DAWs on the market. This lack of popular public appeal also means that finding the right controller for can be a challenge. Which is why we wrote this guide to help you find the best MIDI controller for Cubase, regardless of budget or need.
Fun fact: The first DAW I ever used was Cubase. This was back in the wild, wild days when FL Studio was still called “Fruity Loops” and finding tutorials online meant reading 10,000 word articles written in Comic Sans on Geocities hosted pages (you can probably still find some of them here).
Which is to say: Cubase has been around for a long, long time.
Because of its age, Cubase is still strongly favored in recording studios. There is an entire generation of pros who grew up using Cubase/Nuendo still prefer it over Pro Tools/Logic Pro/Ableton (not that you’ll find Ableton in any professional studio).
However, because its popularity is largely localized to either older musicians or recording studios, there isn’t a massive selection of MIDI keyboards/controllers designed specifically for Cubase. Manufacturers, after all, chase profits. It is far easier to sell a beginner keyboard to someone starting his first four bar loop on Ableton than to create something that meets the exact requirements of a small number of professional users.
That said, there are a few makers that still proudly display the Cubase logo on their products.
We’ll look at some of these best MIDI controllers for Cubase in the section below.
The Best MIDI Controller for Cubase: Our Top Choices
You saw our picks for the best MIDI keyboard for Cubase above.
In this section, we’ll do a deep dive into our top picks, why we chose them, and what’s the right option for you.
Best Overall: Nektar Panorama P4
- Built-in support for Cubase
- 49 semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch
- 1x motorized fader
- 4 keyboard zones
- 12 velocity + pressure sensitive pads
- 16 encoders and 9 x 45mm faders
- 10 assignable LED buttons
As the only mainstream MIDI keyboard that natively supports Cubase, the Nektar Panorama P4-P6 was always going to be one of our top picks.
That it not only integrates well but also offers fantastic features, a great keybed, and tons of control options makes it our favorite pick for the best MIDI controller for Cubase.
Let’s start with the most important consideration: integration. While technically you can use any MIDI controller or keyboard with Cubase (or any other DAW for that matter), you will have to sit through an agonizingly long and boring process to map each key and button to the right function. Some pros might prefer this – it gives you a lot of control over your usage style – but most would much rather make music than spend a week dealing with controls.
Which is why the Nektar Panorama P4 (the 61 key variant is called ‘P6’) is such a game changer. The P4 integrates directly with Cubase, Nuendo, Reason, Reaper, and Logic Pro. There is even a dedicated page for the Nektar-Cubase integration on Nektar’s website.
This in-depth integration means that using the Panorama P4 (or P6 – should you get the 61 key variant) is as effortlessly easy as possible. You can literally plug this MIDI controller into your computer via USB, install the necessary drivers (if Cubase doesn’t recognize it), and start using it as a DAW controller immediately. No lengthy configuration process to sit through.
Integrations, of course, are only one part of the experience. But you’ll be pleased to know that the Panorama passes muster as a MIDI controller as well. Chief among the many reasons why we love it are:
- Fantastic keybed with velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys and Aftertouch
- A massive number of control options, including 20 buttons, 12 pads, 9 faders, and 16 encoders
- Very useful motorized fader for automations
And although looks are subjective, I daresay the Panorama P4 is one of the best looking MIDI keyboards on the market. The black-white combo looks absolutely stunning when you see it in flesh.
What we don’t like
Some important issues that we’d like to get addressed:
- The build quality is mediocre. You’ll feel it the most in the toughness of the aftertouch keys and the jittery feel of the rubberized pitch/mod wheels.
- The tiny 3″ x 4″ display is too low resolution and offers very little in the way of useful information. At a time when Akai and Native Instruments are offering multiple high-res screens, this is a little disappointing.
- The pads, while nice, aren’t exactly in the same ballpark as some of the better quality pads like on Ableton Push or Akai MPC
Best Performance: NI Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2
- 49 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
- Large pitch/mod wheels
- Innovative touch strip for expression control
- 2x high-resolution screens to browse/preview sounds
- Integrates with most popular DAWs
- Smart backlit function keys
As we wrote in our guide to the best MIDI keyboards for Pro Tools, the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 often goes under the radar in online discussions. Blame its price tag, but this keyboard is usually limited to only the most serious of pros.
And for good reason. As a pro-grade MIDI keyboard, few can offer the incredible performance of the S49. It has not one but two gorgeous screens that make it a breeze to browse through sounds, monitor key parameters, or make changes on the fly. If you’re a hands-on kind of producer, you’ll love the monitor-free production it allows you.
The keybed is fantastic as well. The semi-weighted keys are at par with some mid-range Yamaha pianos. The aftertouch is particularly responsive and not at all tough like the Panorama P4 or Akai MPK249.
Moreover, the keybed on the S49 is backlit. This allows you to easily create different “zones” on the keybed based on your playing style. It’s also a great visual aid when you’re playing your melodies.
Lastly, every component used on the Komplete Kontrol S49 feel truly superior in quality. Little things such as the rubber on the pitch/mod wheels feel smoother, sturdier, and in general, better quality. It’s hard to describe it in words – you know it when you see it.
What we don’t like
Price aside, our biggest complaint with the S49 is the Cubase integration – or the lack thereof. Although there is some limited integration baked in (see the list of controls here), you can’t really perform any advanced actions without spending hours, even weeks fiddling around with the configuration settings. When compared to the Panorama’s P4 ease of use, it’s a serious con.
There are some other issues you should know about as well:
- Huge footprint. You’ll need a large desk to accommodate it
- Loooong key travel can be a problem for producers used to shallower keys
- Only 8 pads is too few to get much use out of
- Lots of complaints about Native Instruments’ customer support
Best Multipurpose Controller: Akai MPK249
- 49 semi-weighted, aftertouch keys
- 16 RGB MPC pads
- 24 Q-link controllers (faders, switches, knobs)
- Backlit LCD screen
- MPC-style note repeat, swing, etc. for rhythmic manipulation
It’s hard to unseat Akai from any list of the best MIDI controllers. And this one is no different.
There’s no denying it: the Akai MPK249 (or the 61-key variant – MPK261) is a workhorse. It offers everything you’d want from a MIDI controller – good keys, tons of control options, fantastic pads, robust build quality, and reasonable price. Barring the odd lemon, we’re yet to see anyone truly regret buying the MPK249, which is why we’ve heavily recommended it in the past (see our review here).
Integration with Cubase is far better than expected. You have to first change your preset settings on the MPK device to ‘Cubase’, then select MPK249 from Cubase’s device setting. It’s not as instantaneous as Panorama P4 and some controls aren’t mapped automatically, but you can get about 80% of utility without ever fiddling around with the configuration screen.
Even better, the MPK249 integrates equally well with most other DAWs. Should you switch over to Ableton or Logic, you’ll find that this MIDI controller works equally well with your new DAW.
What we don’t like
Some of our chief complaints about the MPK249 are:
- While MPC pads feel great, their small size limits their utility. We would have preferred larger pads, just like on Akai’s MPC units
- The TFT screen feels like a major downgrade after you use the hi-res color screen on the Komplete Kontrol S49
- Semi-weighted keys don’t feel quite as nice as on the S49
- Not the best looking of MIDI keyboards on the market
Best for Budget Buyers: Alesis VI25
- 25 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
- 16 RBF pads
- 24 assignable buttons
- 8 assignable knobs
The baby Alesis VI is one of the best performance MIDI keyboards you can buy under $200 as long as you are comfortable with just 25 keys. From semi-weighted keys to 16 pads and tons of control options, this little keyboard offers everything a producer could want.
But first, let’s talk about Cubase integration.
Alesis VI25 doesn’t integrate neatly with Cubase. You can control some basic options out of the box, but for anything more complex or intuitive, you will have to work on the configuration files. Fortunately for you, plenty of people have done this for you. You just have to download these configuration files and you’re ready to start producing (download a configuration file here).
So integration, out of the box, is a negative. What about the keyboard itself?
You’ll be pleased to know that as the “pro” version of the popular Alesis V25 (read our review of the 49 key variant here), the VI25 has a better keybed, more pads, more knobs, and more buttons. It is, in every sense of the word, an upgrade over the V25.
The keys on the VI25 are semi-weighted and come with aftertouch. Granted, this doesn’t feel nearly as good as the S49, but for the price, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better keyboard in this category.
You also get a full array of 16 pads, 24 assignable buttons, and 8 knobs. That’s enough for any producer to get complete control over the DAW in a studio setting.
On the whole, while the Alesis VI25 might not have the best integration, the largest number of keys, or the most control options, it offers everything you’d want in a very compact and affordable box. For producers on a budget, it’s a fantastic buy.
What we don’t like
Of course, there are negatives too.
Chief among the dislikes is the poor integration with Cubase. As good as this controller might be, this is an article on the best MIDI controller for Cubase. The lack of a plug-and-play integration means that you will have to fiddle around with the configuration file extensively.
The aftertouch on the keys also feels tough and unresponsive. If you’ve used a mid-range Yamaha, you’ll be disappointed by how unintuitive it feels.
We also missed a good screen on this unit. The tiny screen built into it offers very little utility.
Finally, we’re not huge fans of the square-edge keys. Although it’s a space saving design choice, the keys drop abruptly which makes it difficult to use them as a proper piano. Your fingers will likely get tired over an hour or so of use.
It’s not easy buying MIDI controllers for Cubase. Few keyboards integrate neatly into Cubase. And among that do, there are hardly any good controllers at the beginner or intermediate level.
If you’re looking for buying advice, pick any one of the controllers we recommended above and you won’e be disappointed.
Just to recap, here is our list of the best MIDI controller for Cubase sorted by category:
- Nektar Panorama P4 (Best overall)
- Akai MPK249 (Most versatile)
- Alesis VI25 (Best budget)
- NI Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2 (Best peformance)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts?