What’s The Best MIDI Controller for Logic Pro X?
We’ve looked at controllers for Ableton, so it’s only natural that we answer a question so many of you have been asking: what’s the best MIDI controller for Logic Pro X?
Despite the rumble of Ableton and the murmurs of FL Studio, Logic Pro retains a top spot in the DAW market alongside Pro Tools. Part of this has to do with history – Logic Pro was one of the first fully-fleshed out DAWs.
But a more important reason for Logic’s enduring popularity (besides the features, of course) is its Apple support, and the integrations that earns you. When you’re owned by the biggest company in the world, you can bet that manufacturers and software developers alike will bend over backwards to support you.
All this means that as a musician, you’re spoiled for choice as far as picking the best MIDI controller for Logic Pro X goes. From pad controllers to keyboard controllers, there are options to fit every budget and need.
I’ll share my list of the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro below. We’ll start with a quick overview of my review methodology before sharing my list of the top ten picks. I’ll end the roundup with a short guide to buying the right MIDI controller for Logic Pro.
My Review Approach
Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I usually test products either in mine or friends’ studios. Much of the insight comes from experience using different keyboards and pads and controllers over time.
In case I’m not able to test a product personally, I rely on a meta analysis of reviews online or insight from friends in the industry. It’s not ideal but it at least gives me a fair idea of what to expect.
For putting together a list of the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro, I had a few requirements:
- The controller must integrate easily with Logic Pro X. Controllers built for other DAWs (such as Ableton Push) were thus removed from consideration.
- The controller can be either a keyboard controller or a pad controller. The ratings for both are organized separately.
- The controller must be a commercially available production model, not an obscure custom brand.
I shortlisted 18 MIDI controllers based on these requirements. Of these 6 were pad controllers and the rest were keyboard controllers. I had first-hand experience of 13 of these controllers.
I evaluated these controllers based on the following metrics:
- Build quality and design
- Key quality (for keyboard controllers), and pad quality (for pad controllers)
- Value for money
- Logic Pro X integration
Based on these metrics, I assigned a score to each controller like this:
I divided this further into sub-categories (best for beginners, best for professionals, etc.) to help you make the right decision.
I’ll share the complete list and my top picks for the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro X below.
The 6 Best MIDI Controllers for Logic Pro X
Barring a few Ableton specific controllers, you’ll find that my list of the top Logic Pro MIDI controllers is the same as the rest of my list of the best MIDI keyboards.
This shouldn’t be surprising, of course. A keyboard that works with Ableton or Pro Tools is also going to work with Logic Pro X. The MIDI interface is, after all, about interoperability.
So keep this in mind when you’re in the market for a Logic Pro controller. Any controller will do the job, even if it doesn’t have clear integration with the DAW.
MIDI controllers make a greater number of control options available to you, but they’re not necessary. If you’re on a budget and already have access to a device with a MIDI port, consider using that instead of buying a new MIDI controller.
With these caveats out of the way, let’s look at my top picks for the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro X:
Best Overall: Akai MPK249
- 49 semi-weighted keys
- 16 RGB-illuminated MPC pads
- 24 assignable Q-Link controllers include knobs, faders, and switches (8 of each)
- iOS compatibility
- MPC Note Repeat, MPC Swing, and arpeggiator for advanced rhythmic and melodic manipulation
- Pitch bend, modulation, and octave controls for expressive recording and performing
- Includes VIP 3.0 and MPC Essentials
It’s a rare best-of list that doesn’t have the ever-popular Akai MPK249 right at the very top. This powerful, splendidly built keyboard has been my favorite ever since the launch of the revamped MK2 version.
It ticks all the right boxes: classic retro design, 49 keys, 16 responsive pads, plus a whole range of faders, knobs, and buttons. Throw in a sharp LCD screen and semi-weighted keys and you can see why it tops the popularity charts.
But the hardware isn’t the only place where the Akai MPK249 shines. It also boasts some great software features. The standout among these is Akai’s MPC Essentials software. This brings MPC-like workflows to your device – MPC swing, note repeat, etc. These features turn the MPK249’s 16 pads into much more than clip launching buttons. Rather, you can create complex grooves with them.
Another favorite software feature is Akai VIP 3.0. This tool lets you club together up to 8 virtual instruments + effects into a digital “performance” rig. Switching between VSTs, especially in live settings, is never easier.
The only complaint I have is the price. Otherwise this is as good as any MIDI controller can get.
- Exceptional build quality and classic retro design
- Best-in-class semi-weighted keys
- Great software bundle – MPC Essentials and VIP3.0 in particular
- Tons of control options + highly responsive pads
- Pricey, near the top end of the MIDI controller range
- Pads are slightly small
Best Pad Controller: Akai Professional APC40 MKII
- 8×5 pads, 8+1 faders, 16 knobs
- Pads are RGB backlit for color coded clips
- Complete DAW control without using keyboard/mouse
- Assignable A/B crossfader for mixing on the fly
- Shift button expands grid capabilities
If you’ve used Logic Pro for any length of time, you would know that it is primarily a sequencing tool. You can’t use it to launch clips the same way you can use Ableton’s session view.
This essentially reduces the impact a pad controller can have in your studio or live performance environment.
This is the reason why top pad controllers support Ableton out of the box. You can remap them to support Logic Pro, but it requires a bit of effort. And even then, you’re unlikely to get the same utility out of them as you would on Ableton.
Keeping this in mind, I don’t recommend buying only a pad controller for Logic Pro X. You’ll see better mileage from a mixed controller that combines both a keyboard and a decent number of pads.
If you did have to buy a pad controller, however, I would recommend nothing but the best of the best – Akai APC40 MK2.
Akai’s pad controllers have legendary standing among musicians. The company’s MPC controllers revolutionized music production in the late 80s and 90s. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there would be no hip-hop if the MPC didn’t make production-grade drumming and sampling available to the masses.
The APC40 continues on that robust tradition with one of the best designed and best-built pad controllers on the market. Everything about this unit screams quality. The pads have a MPC-like responsiveness. The faders have a heft that’s missing from cheaper alternatives. And the knobs have a clickiness that makes using them a delight.
Compared to the original MK1, the APC40 MK2 is sleekier and stealthier. This has also led to a reduction in pad size, which are now RGB backlit (i.e. they will show the colors of your clips). The unit retains the 8+1 fader layout, as well as the 16 knobs. There is a huge array of buttons below the pads, plus a set of directional arrows to control the DAW.
The major issue (which is true for most pad controllers) is poor Logic Pro integration. The APC40 integrates right out of the box with Ableton, but to get it work with Logic, you’ll have to switch things around in smart controls (here’s a guide).
On the whole, I wouldn’t recommend you get a pad-only controller, but if you do want one, nothing could be better than the Akai APC-40 MKII.
- Excellent build quality
- Tons of control options – 40 pads, 8+1 faders, 16 knobs
- Compact size and high portability
- Poor Logic Pro integration out of the box
- Buttons are not velocity sensitive
Best Keyboard: Roland A-500PRO-R
- Velocity-sensitive 49 keys with channel after touch
- 45 assignable controls: knobs, sliders, buttons, transport and more
- USB Bus Powered – no AC adapter required
- 8 Dynamic Pads for finger drumming and MIDI triggering
- Sure-grip Pitch Bend/Modulation Stick
- Sustain and expression pedal ports
There are few brands I trust more to make high-quality keyboards than Roland. Their controllers are never quite as jazzy as the latest Nektars, nor quite as hyped as Akais, but they always deliver where it matters the most: key quality and playability.
The 49-key version of Roland’s mid-range controller, the A-500Pro – is no different.
49 fully-sized velocity sensitive keys with aftertouch feel better than most keyboards on the market. Instead of the clickety plastic found on so many cheap MIDI controllers, the A-500PRO uses ivory-like plastic found on concert pianos. This not only feels better, but also has a non-slippery surface – great when you’re sweating after a long jamming session.
That’s not all. The keyboard has custom velocity settings. You can adjust the velocity curve to match your playing style. Turn it high if you really like a fast, responsive keyboard. Turn it low if you like to dig your fingers in and belt tracks out.
The keyboard isn’t the only thing on offer, of course. The Roland A-500PRO also boasts 8 faders, 8+1 knobs, 8 dynamic pads, and an array of buttons. Plus, you get dedicated DAW controls and a tiny LCD screen to give you track and MIDI information.
Not everything is perfect, of course. The dynamic pads are tiny, and the knobs move a little too freely. The faders also don’t have the mechanical heft of the keys.
For the price, however, this is one of the best keyboards for Logic Pro X you can find on the market right now.
- High-quality keys with aftertouch and custom velocity sensitivity
- Decent number of control options
- Roland’s famed build quality
- Small pads and lower quality knobs
- No Logic Pro-specific integrations
Best Value for Money: Nektar Impact LX49+
- 49 expressive synth-action keys
- On-board pitch/mod wheels
- 8 hyper-sensitive backlit pads
- Mac, PC and iOS compatible
- Software instruments automatically mapped to controls
- Includes Bitwig 8-Track DAW
49 full-sized keys, 9 faders, 8 backlit pads, 8 knobs, 9 buttons, DAW controls, a LCD information screen, and a price tag that’s surprisingly affordable.
What more could you ask for in a MIDI controller?
The Nektar Impact LX49+ isn’t the best MIDI keyboard controller on the market. Heck, it isn’t even the best on this list. But it does everything that you ask of it, and it won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
I like to think of the LX49+ as the perfect intermediate-level MIDI controller. If you’re at this level, your needs aren’t basic enough to be fulfilled by a mini controller. Nor do you know enough to make full use of an expensive Akai or Nektar Panorama. You know full-sized keys and JUST enough controls to make making music more intuitive.
The LX49+ delivers on all counts.
The keyboard is synth-action and velocity sensitive. It doesn’t have the feedback of semi-weighted keys, but for intermediate level players, the keys are sensitive and springy enough.
The 8 backlit pads are small but highly responsive. Despite the limited soundbanks and small size, they make finger drumming possible.
The faders and knobs don’t have the chunky resistance of higher-end controllers, but they get the job done. The faders are also auto-assigned to the mixer by hitting the ‘mixer’ button.
Built-in integration with most common DAW – including Logic Pro – free you from the tyranny of the keyboard + mouse.
The LCD screen displays basic information such as track BPM. Not a killer feature but useful (and missing from several competitors in this range).
It’s not all perfect, of course. The build quality is nothing to write home about. The key action will disappoint serious piano players. And durability remains questionable.
But for the price, this is one of the best “functional” MIDI controllers for Logic pro you can buy right now.
- Great value for money
- Lots of control options; decent keyboard
- Good integration out of the box with Logic Pro X
- Durability and build quality are questionable
- Small buttons and pads
- Synth-action keys feel too light and springy
Best for Portability: Korg Nanokey 2
- Small footprint and low weight
- Configuration options: 25 keys, 8 faders, or 16 pads
- 25-key variant has sustain button for piano parts
- Pad controller includes X-Y touchpad
There are times when you need a 3′ long MIDI controller dominating your desk.
And then there are times when you’d rather have something tiny that can squirrel away in a corner of your desk.
The Korg Nanonkey2 is for those times.
The Nanokey2 is one of the smallest MIDI controllers on the market. It’s just about a foot long and is so light that its official weight is in ounces, not pounds (FYI, it’s about 0.9 lbs).
You can buy the Nanonkey2 in three variants, depending on your needs:
- Slim-line USB keyboard, which includes a set of 25 “keys” (more like elongated pads) and octave, mod buttons.
- Slim-line drum pad controller, which includes 16 pads and an X-Y touchpad.
- Slim-line USB controller which has 8 faders and DAW control buttons.
Which variant you buy and how you use it will vary a lot. A lot of producers I know use the 8 fader variant as a makeshift mixer. Others use the key variant as a highly portable keyboard. Given the price, you can even buy all three and change them around based on what you need at the moment.
There some obvious flaws on the Nanokey. The silicone buttons tend to get stuck. The “keys” are glorified buttons and can’t be used for anything other than entering notes in a piano roll. And the faders are plasticky.
The Nanokey won’t replace a full-fledged MIDI controller. But it will complement one nicely. But it if you want something highly portable, or if you already have a full-sized keyboard and want something to complement it.
- Extremely lightweight and portable
- Cheap; the lowest variant is barely the cost of two movie tickets and a large popcorn
- Build quality is much better than you’d expect
- Silicon buttons tend to get stuck
- Pads aren’t sensitive enough to trigger samples on the fly
- Can’t “play” anything on the keys; only useful for entering MIDI notes
Best for Beginners or Budget Buyers: Akai MPK Mini MK2
- 25 synth-action mini keys
- 4-way thumbstick for dynamic pitch and modulation control
- 8 backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads
- 8 assignable Q-Link knobs
- Built-in arpeggiator
- Dedicated Octave Up and Octave Down buttons
I have a long love affair with the Akai MPK Mini MK2. The MK1 version was one of the first MIDI controllers I ever purchased. Despite its flaws, it worked wonderfully well for my needs at the time.
The MK2 improves on every aspect of its earlier iteration. The end result is a astonishingly well-built and capable controller at a price tag that’s affordable for virtually every musician.
Let’s start with the keyboard. The keys are “mini” in keeping with the portability theme. Yet, they are quite comfortable. You don’t get aftertouch but you do get three touch sensitivity settings. You won’t enjoy playing Chopin on it, but for studio production, the keyboard works perfectly well.
The baby MPK comes with 8 rubbery, velocity sensitive pads. They’re not as large and sensitive as Akai’s APC controllers but they get the job done.
Apart from the pads, you also get 8 programmable knobs. You can also choose between two sound banks.
A clever innovation is the joystick which replaces the pitch/mod wheels. You get the same functionality while saving space.
Akai essentially packs in a huge number of features into a tiny device. Its dimensions are smaller than a laptop’s and it weighs just about the same as an iPad Pro.
Then there are the software features. The MPK Mini MK2 is VIP3.0 compatible, which really opens up live performance options. It also comes with an optional upgrade for MPC Essentials, which brings MPC workflows to the MPK Mini.
There are plenty of flaws – the keys aren’t great for playing and the pads could do with an upgrade. But for a beginner or someone looking for their first device, this is one of the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro X on the market.
- Excellent portability and low weight
- Akai build quality and classic retro design
- Good all-around pads and keys
- Great value for money
- 8 pads limit usability
- Knobs are lightweight and “loose”
- Joystick isn’t as satisfying as dedicated pitch/mod wheels
So that takes care of my roundup of the best MIDI controllers for Logic Pro X on the market. In the next section, I’ll share a quick buying guide to help you make better decisions.
How to Buy the Best Controller for Logic Pro X
The criteria for buying a Logic Pro MIDI controller is the same as buying any MIDI controller. Namely, have good (and the right number) of keys, have plenty of controls, and integrate well with Logic Pro.
Beyond that, it all comes down to individual preferences.
If you’re in the market for a Logic Pro controller, here are a few questions you should answer first:
How do you plan to use the controller?
As I mentioned earlier, MIDI controllers come in three flavors:
- Pad controllers, which have large drum pads, faders, knobs and buttons.
- Keyboard controllers, which have traditional piano keys.
- Hybrid controllers, which have both traditional piano keys and a set of drum pads, faders, and knobs.
Most MIDI controllers on the market fall into the third category, such as the Akai MPK249.
What kind of controller you choose will depend on how you plan to use it.
Keyboard controllers are great for composition. You get full-sized piano keys that makes it easy to play chords and melodies. If you have piano playing experience and don’t care much about launching clips, this should be your first choice.
Pad controllers are great for launching clips and creating spontaneous compositions. If you want to hammer out a few drum patterns or take control of your music on the fly, you should choose this option.
Having said that, Logic Pro X isn’t particularly conducive to spontaneous composition. There is no sessions view like in Ableton, which limits what you can do with pad controllers.
Hybrid controllers offer the best compromise between controls and composition. A good hybrid controller would give you between 8-16 pads as well as full-sized keyboards. This way, you can launch clips, hammer out drum patterns, and compose entire tracks – all from the same controller.
Unless you have extensive piano playing experience, I would recommend that you stick to hybrid controllers.
Another option – which a lot of pro producers follow – is to get a regular keyboard controller and pair it up with a dedicated pad controller. Think of a setup like this:
This would give you the best of both worlds – a full-sized keyboard for composition, and a pad controller for controlling your DAW.
What kind of keys should you get?
If the controller you’re buying has a keyboard, you have another thing to worry about – what kind of keys should you get?
Keyboards come in three varieties:
- Fully-weighted: Fully-weighted keys mimic the action of a traditional piano. That is, they have a built-in weight that gives significant resistance when you press the keys. The weight is also variable – lower octaves are heavier while higher octaves feel lighter. This makes them harder for beginners but very satisfying for experienced piano players.
- Semi-weighted: A popular option in high-end MIDI keyboards and mid-range digital pianos, semi-weighted keys have a combination of synth-action (see below) and fully-weighted keys. This creates significant resistance – the keys don’t spring “up” as quickly as they would on synth-action keys. A great option if you like to play the piano but don’t want the weighty resistance of fully-weighted keys.
- Synth-action: Synth-action keys are common in most budget MIDI controllers. These keys use springs instead of weights to move the keys back into position after being pressed. Since the springs don’t have variable resistance, the keys immediately move “up” after being pressed. This makes them easier to use since there is very little resistance. On the downside, the keys feel cheap and don’t offer the natural movement of piano keys.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find fully-weighted keys in MIDI controllers. Even if you do find them, I don’t recommend buying them, unless you explicitly need the performance of a piano (in which case, you’re better off buying a digital piano).
Your best option is to spring for semi-weighted keys. These tend to be on the expensive side but offer better playability and comfort. If you have even a few months of piano playing experience, you’ll enjoy semi-weighted keyboards far more.
Synth-action keys aren’t nearly as fun to play but have a lot more functionality. If your goal is to just enter MIDI notes and play out a few chords or melodies, synth-action keyboards will work perfectly fine.
To sum it up:
- Choose fully-weighted keyboards if you want a piano-like playing experience
- Buy synth-action keyboards if you want a functional MIDI controller and don’t have much piano playing experience.
- Buy semi-weighted keyboards for a good combination of playability and functionality
How many keys should you get?
MIDI keyboards come in a range of key sizes, going all the way from 25 keys to full-sized 88-key keyboards. Even within the same model, you’ll have size variants, such as the Akai MPK249 (with 49 keys) and MPK261 (with 61 keys).
To figure out how many keys you should get, first answer the following:
How important is portability to you?
It’s simple: the smaller the keyboard, the more portable it is. Anything beyond 32 keys makes it difficult to keep the keyboard size and weight low enough for lugging around.
But portability comes with its own compromise – smaller keys. Most portable keyboards reduce the width and length of keys to fit them into a small form factor. This greatly impacts their playability, especially if you have fat fingers as I do.
I usually recommend people to get a regular 49 or 61-key keyboard for their main studio use, and buy an additional mini keyboard for carrying around.
Some great portable MIDI controllers are:
How much desk space do you have?
The more keys the keyboard has, the more desk space it will occupy.
The Akai MPK249 (with 49 keys), for instance, is less than 30” in length.
In contrast, the Roland FP-30 (with 88 keys) comes in at over 55” in length.
That’s more than two feet of additional space.
Typically, 49-key keyboards top out at 3” or 3 feet wide. 61-key keyboards come in around 3.5’ to 4’ in width. And 88-key keyboards are typically over 4’ wide.
At over 4’, an 88-key keyboard requires substantial desk space. If you have a smaller desk, it could completely ruin your setup.
So before you spring for a larger keyboard, measure out your desk. You should at least have 3 feet of extra space before you even think of getting anything beyond 49 keys.
How much piano playing experience do you have?
As much as the idea of a full-size 88-key keyboard is appealing, it is just plain overkill for most musicians.
Let’s be honest, most bedroom producers don’t have the piano skills to make full use of an 88-key keyboard. Nor will the EDM or hip-hop pieces they produce ever involve complex melodies that require simultaneous bass and tenor keys.
Plus, larger keyboards are plain intimidating. It’s easy to lose track of note positions and scales when you’re confronted with 7-octaves of black-white keys.
On the flip side, anything below 49-keys also impacts playability. It’s difficult to compose complex melodies on a 25-key keyboard – you’ll end up hitting the octave up/down keys constantly.
For most people, 49-keys represents the ideal size. It gives you access to four octaves of range. If you need more, there are handy octave up/down keys on virtually every keyboard on the market.
If you plan on playing slightly more complex pieces, you can upgrade to a 61-key keyboard. But otherwise, 49 keys is more than enough.
What about control options?
What kind, and how many control options you need will depend entirely on your production style.
In my case, I rely minimally on keyboard controls. I use my desktop keyboard shortcuts for most things. The keyboard is used mostly for entering notes, practicing melodies, and playing chords. A MIDI controller with more than a handful of control options is just overkill for my taste.
However, if your production style is more hands-on, you’ll have substantial control options. With 8-16 pads, 8+8 fader/knob combos, assignable buttons, and DAW controls, you can essentially free yourself from the desktop keyboard + mouse combo. Great for people who like a more intuitive approach to their music production.
But production styles evolve. You might think that your style requires minimal use of controls, but that might change a year down the line. If you chose a controller with limited control options, you’ll feel straitjacketed.
My recommendation: get a MIDI controller with at least 8 pads, and at least 8+8 faders/knobs combo. If it has DAW control options built in, even better. This will give you enough room to adapt new playing styles.
What should be your budget for a Logic Pro X MIDI controller?
MIDI controllers aren’t very expensive as far as musical instruments go. If you’re used to $500 guitars and $1,000 digital pianos, you’ll be pleased to know that you can buy very competent MIDI controllers for Logic Pro X for under $200.
As a general rule, your budget will impact your choices as follows (with respect to 49 key controllers):
- Under $100: In this range, you’ll mostly find mini keyboards with a handful of controls. Nearly all keyboards in this budget are synth-action. Portability is a big focus and most offerings clock in at 5-8lbs.
- $100-$200: Keyboards in this range tend to be mostly synth-action. Some offerings at the top of this range ($200) will have semi-weighted keys. Most will have a mix of keyboard and controls. Most beginners and intermediate players should have a budget between $150-$200 to get a decent MIDI controller.
- $200-$300: MIDI controllers in this range generally boast extensive controls (8-16 pads, 9 faders, 9 knobs, 8+ buttons are common). At the far end of this range, you’ll also find semi-weighted keyboards. The build quality of gear at this budget is generally very good.
- $300+: The top end of the MIDI controller budget range boasts premium offerings from the likes of Akai and Roland. Their keyboards are usually semi-weighted and you get a full range of built-in controls. The build-quality of gear in this range tends to be exceptional. It’s not unusual to find a 15 year old $400 Akai working perfectly even today.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a great MIDI controller under $100. Go for this range only if you want a secondary controller that emphasizes portability.
Most beginners and intermediate players should aim for a budget between $100-$200. You’ll get a good mix of build-quality, key-quality, and controls.
If you’ve been playing for a while, think of splurging on a premium MIDI controller. Look for semi-weighted keys since this will improve the playing experience substantially. A $300 budget is great for finding some great picks.
A word about integrations with Logic Pro X
As one of the most popular DAWs, Logic Pro X is usually well-supported by virtually every manufacturer. And if your controller isn’t, there are usually scripts available only to easily map the controller to the software.
So as such, you don’t have to worry much about Logic Pro X integrations.
That said, there are some controllers that are designed for specific DAWs (such as Ableton Push – designed for Ableton). These controllers can be tuned to work with other DAWs, but they’ll work better with their assigned DAW out of the box.
Just keep this in mind when you make a purchase. If the controller specifically says that it supports a specific DAW, it might be a good idea to pick something else. Integrations won’t be a problem but will require more effort.
This has been a long article and I’ve covered a number of MIDI keyboards and pad controllers. You’ve also learned about the key issues to watch out for when buying the best MIDI controller for Logic Pro X.
To recap, here are my top picks for Logic Pro X MIDI controllers:
For recommendations, questions, or doubts, leave a comment below – I’ll jump in and answer as soon as I can.