What’s the Best MIDI Controller Keybed? Our Top Picks

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The quality of the keybed has a massive impact on the performance of a MIDI keyboard. We look at the best MIDI controller keybed in the market right now and what keyboard you should buy for your home studio.

Our Top Pick
Roland A-500 Pro-R: Fantastic keys from a great brand at an affordable price
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Of all the things that matter in a MIDI controller, the keybed is easily the most important.

We’ve reviewed keyboards that have horrible pads, clunky sliders, and cheap plasticky knobs, but we’ve stilled rated them positively because of the quality of the keybed.

After all, how often do you even use the pads and sliders compared to the actual keys?

Incidentally, getting the keybed right is also the toughest part of building a MIDI controller, at least from an engineering perspective. Cheaper keyboard brands haven’t been able to catch up to the quality of the keybed in a proper Yamaha digital piano for years, and it’s not for a lack of trying. Finding a balance between playability and authenticity is tough, especially in the context of a MIDI keyboard where user requirements aren’t always clear (unlike that for a digital piano).

So in this guide, we’ll look at the best MIDI controller keybed around and what you should buy right now.

Best Overall

Roland A-500 Pro-R

Roland, unlike a lot of brands on this list, is primarily a maker of digital pianos and synthesizers, not MIDI controllers. This shows in the pedigree of its MIDI controllers as well, such as our favorite A-500 Pro-R. Instead of countless bells and whistles, Roland focuses on what it does best: create fantastic keybeds.

While it might not have the quality of pads and sliders on an Akai Pro, this Roland keyboard is easily the best MIDI controller keybed right now for its price. There are better keybeds (as we’ll show below), but for a sub $500 product, you can’t get better than the A-500.

There is no shortage of USB controller keyboards on the market, and the Rolan A-500 Pro-R is another one of these. However, this particular controller keyboard offers more than mere output functions.

The design looks good with the keyboard meant for mobile use. It is lightweight and can be carried around without any hassle. It comes with a narrow profile.

This controller comes with sliders, dials that seamlessly assist you with the DAW of your choosing. Furthermore, it comes with pads for alternative note inputs.

The A-500 comes with a keyboard whose keys is responsive and reacts superbly to the player’s touch. If you are a serious player, you are bound to enjoy the decent performance on this keyboard. The 49 keys are velocity-sensitive, and during testing, I found them super comfortable and responsive. They feel fluid and have a nice bounce to them. The keys are also full-sized despite the portable size of the keyboard.

The keyboard comes with 45 assignable controls that allow you expand the range of your proficiency. As a controller keyboard, it has 8 dynamic pads that I found satisfactory. I could easily finger drum on these pads, and it was a breeze triggering the MIDI function. It allows you control synth parameters and DAW.

Unlike other keyboard controllers, it is compatible with different platforms and software. It easily connects to your PC, whether Windows or Mac OS.

What we don’t like

The instruction manual that comes with the keyboard is next to useless. If you want to set up the keyboard, simply go to YouTube as I did. Save yourself the stress of trying to make sense of the manual.

Recommended for: For music enthusiasts looking for a MIDI controller that offers remarkable value for its price.

Pros

  • Performance of the keyboard is fantastic
  • Durable and very portable
  • The buttons are very customizable

Cons

  • It is a tad difficult to set up; definitely not plug and play

Best Performance Keybed: Roland Juno DS-61

Key features:

  • 61 unweighted keys
  • Plastic housing
  • Microphone connector

The appearance of the Roland Juno DS-61 looks like the company put a lot of thought into the whole design process. It comes with 61-keys, and during testing, it seems that the essence of the keyboard is geared towards beginners and those just learning the instrument. It comes in a light and plastic housing, which makes it quite portable. You can even operate it with batteries.

The interface of the keyboard is honestly great. It is very well-organized. The keys are easy to identify, and beginners easily locate even advanced functions. The learning curve on this keyboard is not steep and compared to many keyboard geared at beginners; it is very easy to master. On the far left of the keyboard lies the versatile joystick. With the aid of this, I could set off different effects. Despite the fact that the main function of the joystick is for pitch-bending, the versatility is a great step forward.

The joystick is cradled by a set of knobs that are arguably the most important parts of the keyboard. With these knobs, you can quite easily control functions such as resonance, release, and cutoff. Why does this make a difference? Well, of all the keyboards I have tested, very rarely have I encountered one that ensures that editing a patch is a breeze. Furthermore, the knobs are completely customizable.

The keyboard comes with many sounds, which is surprising considering the price of the keyboard. It has about 4 instrument sounds: organ, string, acoustic piano, and synth. All of these, with the exception of synth, sound great.

The LCD screen is very helpful, although it is nothing special. I would have loved the screen to be brighter and crisper, but alas, we cannot always get what we want.

The keyboard comes with quite a number of connectors, and you won’t find anything you won’t see on other keyboards. It comes with I/O for the pedals, stereo, and MIDI connection. Of all the connectors, the one that exists here that took me by surprise is the microphone jack input. A useful connector and something you won’t find in other more expensive models like the Roland Jupiter 80.

The keys of this keyboard are unweighted and lack aftertouch. As a beginner, this is great. But for someone looking to get familiar with an actual piano, this is a bummer.

This cable doesn’t fit perfectly on some sound gears. It has high-quality components but poorly assembled. AmazonBasics XLR cable is not as sturdy as other microphone cables and requires extra care when plugging it in or out.

What we don’t like

As pointed out earlier, the keyboards are unweighted. Therefore as I wanted something I could use as a digital piano, this didn’t sit well with me. Furthermore, the LCD screen is dull and lacks a touchscreen.

Recommended for: If you are a beginner learning the keyboard, the interface and portability of this keyboard will appeal to you.

Pros

  • The instrument sounds are good
  • Fantastic keys
  • Has a microphone connector

Cons

  • The unweighted keys might put off professionals
  • The LCD screen is not a touchscreen

Best Budget Pick: Nektar Impact LX61+

Key features:

  • Compatible with nearly every DAW
  • 8 velocity-sensitive pads
  • 9 x 30 mm faders

The Nektar Impact LX61 comes with a bunch of features, knobs, buttons, and controls that deliver quite great performance. It comes with responsive knobs, faders, and buttons. It is very portable and durable.

During use, I found myself relying more on the knobs, faders, and overall controls than I did the mouse and keyboard of my MacBook. It is very easy to set up. It is also very compatible with a host of DAW Software.

The synth style and the almost embarrassing riches of controls offered by this keyboard controller ensure that you will find it giving you more value for money than you expect. It comes with 9 x 30mm faders that I found great to use. It was easy mixing tracks and adjusting the levels right from the keyboard controller.

The keyboard is a MIDI keyboard and works with Sonar, Bitwig Studio, Cubase, and a host of other DAW software.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the 8 velocity-sensitive pads. I found using these pads for playing instrument sounds and triggering samples was simple.
Furthermore, the sound quality from the keyboard is impressive, considering the size and price.

What we don’t like

I did not particularly appreciate the lightness of the actions from the keys. As a “proper” player, it took some time for me to adjust to it.

Recommended for: Anyone interested in a portable controller as a backup will enjoy using this keyboard controller.

Pros

  • Excellent value for money
  • Portable and durable
  • Compatible with DAW software

Cons

  • The action on the keys is quite light and requires an adjustment

Best for Home Studios: Komplete Kontrol A49

Key features:

  • USB 2.0 compatible keyboard
  • 1 TRS pedal input
  • Full VST support

For the price, I believe the Komplete Kontrol A49 is a wonderful keyboard controller. It might not be as robust feature-wise as the “S” series from the manufacturer, but it makes up for this with excellent performance.

It comes with an LCD that is at the top left of the layout. Since you can play any beats you desire straight from the keyboard; the A49 lacks dedicated drum pads. The keys on the keyboard are semi-weighted. Unlike most of the keyboards on this list, the keys are not aftertouch. It is quite clear that Native Instruments want to cut down costs as much as possible with this controller.

Nevertheless, it still offers satisfactory performance. It is compatible with all the major DAWs.

What we don’t like

The lack of an aftertouch on the otherwise good keyboard is a bummer.

Recommended for: It is ideal for anyone looking for a controller that, while it skips on bells and whistles, is cheap and delivers satisfactory performance.

Pros

  • Responsive keyboard
  • Compatible with major DAWs
  • Aggressively priced

Cons

  • The keyboard lacks aftertouch

Best for Professional Studios: Novation 49 SL MKIII

Key features:

  • 61-note controller keyboard
  • 8 x 8 polyphonic patterns
  • Semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
  • 16 Velocity and pressure-sensitive pads

When I opened the box, I was immediately struck by the solidity of the controller keyboard. It has an amazing layout, a lot of buttons, knobs, and faders for maximum functionality. It is a keyboard that will definitely appeal to beginners. The overall appearance of the keyboard is one of a powerful machine with a point to prove. It has a semi-weighted keyboard which appeals to professionals.

However, although most folks will find the keys comfortable, I don’t particularly like the way they feel.

That aside, a feature of the keyboard I thoroughly enjoy, and if I could, recommend to every keyboard manufacturer is the rubber padding just under the keyboard. A lot of times, I had been left annoyed by the way keyboards scratch my working surface. But with this feature in the Novation 49 SL MKII, there is no such thing.

During use, I enjoy the way the keyboard worked. As the keyboard is USB-connected, I connected my DAW to the keyboard and was thoroughly impressed by the seamless integration with the keyboard. With the “In Control” button on the keyboard, I could easily switch from the DAW to the keyboard hardware.

Aside from this, the built-in sequencer found in the keyboard is another seamless function that works impressively. It is made of a total of 8 polyphonic pads, has 16 velocity-sensitive pads, and each of the pads has up to 8 notes.

The SL MKII controls and sequences external hardware smoothly. Although this controller keyboard primarily controls through MIDI and CV, it also has a Template system that carries out the same function, and arguably more intuitively and smoothly. You can use this to control important parts of the gear. The device grants you 8 Template parts at the same time. That is simply stunning. You have the opportunity of sequencing up to eight different destinations at the same time and add any functions say, for example, arpeggiation to numerous synths. Incredible!

What we don’t like

The acute lack of iOS support is a bummer.

Recommended for: If you need to control different hardware at a time, this controller is great for you.

Pros

  • Seamless DAW Integration
  • Nice semi-weighted keys
  • It can control much hardware at a time

Cons

  • No iOS support impacts its portability; can’t use it with your iPad in live gigs

Best Entry-Level: Alesis Q49

Key features:

  • 49 keys
  • Square front keybed
  • 8 pads, 4 rotary knobs

Want the best MIDI controller keybed but on a strict budget? Then you’ll love the Alesis Q49.

This modest keyboard is a cheap keyboard that offers basic features. It is a USB-powered keyboard controller with an efficient design. It has a solid build, although I personally think a steep drop or two might end its life.

It is compatible with a number of DAWs, but I won’t rely too much on that. It has just 2 modes: play or control. The keys are light but manageably responsive.

What does set it apart, however, is the price-to-performance ratio. For its given price, you’ll have a hard time finding a controller with a more responsive keybed. Sure, the sharp front keys are an annoyance, but the keys are responsive enough to compete against keyboards $100 more expensive.

For this reason, we dub this the best entry level MIDI controller keybed.

What we don’t like

The build quality is cheap.

Recommended for: If you are looking to get into MIDI controllers but want to spend as little as possible while getting decent performance, then this controller is for you.

Pros

  • Great price-to-performance ratio
  • Portable design

Cons

  • Cheap build quality

Over to You

There you have it – our list of the best MIDI controller keybeds. Make key quality a priority when you’re buying a MIDI controller and you won’t be disappointed.

For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.

Also read:

References:

Changelog
  • October 21, 2019: Article published with 6 reviewed MIDI controllers.