Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
FL Studio has grown in popularity greatly in the last few years. Far from its original Fruity Loops days, FL Studio today is a powerful, richly-featured DAW that’s particularly popular among EDM producers. To help you produce music even better, we’ll look at the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio in this article.
Ableton, Logic, and Pro Tools are the “big three” of modern DAWs. Of course, countless studios still use Cubase, Nuendo, and Reaper, but pop into any up-and-coming producer’s studio and you’ll likely see one of these big three in use.
There is yet another DAW, however, and it’s increasingly popular among EDM producers: FL Studio.
If you’re reading this article, you likely either already use FL Studio, or are familiar with it. You might also know that FL Studio was previously called Fruity Loops and had to drop the name to avoid any confusion with the cereal brand. To most new producers today, it’s simply “FL Studio”.
FL Studio has grown in popularity thanks to its ease of use. Avid and Logic and to some extent, even Ableton can be challenging to beginners. But FL Studio feels downright welcoming with familiar green interface. The tons of built-in plugins also make it much easier to jot down ideas.
And of course, the price tag is low enough that anyone can buy it – even rank beginners.
Because of its burgeoning popularity, most modern keyboards integrate with FL Studio out of the box. You can pick any keyboard from our list of the best 25 key, 49 key, 61 key, and 88 key keyboards and it will work well enough with your DAW.
Some keyboards, however, will deliver better results than others. Which is why in this guide, we’ll walk you through our picks for the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio – by price, performance, and portability.
Here’s a quick recap of our top choices:
- Best overall: Akai Fire
- Best value: Akai APC 25
- Most portable: Korg NanoKey2
- Best drum pads: Novation Launchpad Pro MK3
- Best keybed: Novation Launchkey 25
The 6 Best MIDI Keyboards for FL Studio
We’ve reviewed some of the best MIDI controllers around on this website. After comparing dozens of models available at the moment, the following are our top recommendations for use with FL Studio:
Best MIDI Keyboard: Akai Fire
- 4 x 16 RGB pads
- DAW controls built-in
- OLED screen for sound/clip selection
- 4 banks of touch-capacitive knobs
- Designed specifically for FL Studio
A few months ago, one of the many offerings from Akai or Novation would have topped this list of FL Studio controllers.
But that all changed when Akai introduced the Fire at NAMM 2019.
Akai Fire is the first MIDI controller designed from scratch for FL Studio. In fact, Akai collaborated closely with Image Line (makers of FL Studio) to create the features and control options that would help producers make best use of the DAW.
And all that effort shows: nothing on the market comes even remotely close to offering the features, flexibility, and power of the Fire when it comes to using FL Studio.
While there is a laundry list of features, some of my favorite are:
- 4 x 16 RGB pads: Unlike traditional pad controllers, the 64 pads on the Fire are arranged slightly apart. This mimics the visual design of the Step Sequencer in FL Studio. Load up the sequencer with your clips and you can control them intuitively from the Fire. It’s such a delightful, hands-on experience that these pads alone make the Fire worth the price tag.
- Transport controls: Record, loop, play, pause, and move around the track with the built-in transport controls. This makes it possible to use FL without ever looking at your computer screen or using the computer keyboard/mouse. Coupled with the 64 RGB pads, this makes playing music truly intuitive.
- Audition/selection tool: A tiny OLED display coupled with a four-way select knob lets you audition and select clips, sounds, and effects right from the controller, no computer screen necessary. Again, this facilitates hands-on, intuitive production.
- Keyboard mode: Press a button and the Fire transforms from a pad controller to a keyboard (called “Note Mode”). Although it’s not as intuitive as a traditional black-white keys piano, it gives you enough playability to tap out chords and melodies.
Even more, you can string together four Fire controllers to get unprecedented control over your DAW. Just imagine what you could create if you had 256 pads at your disposal.
Not everything is perfect, of course. If you use the keyboard primarily to play notes, you’ll find the Fire’s pad-focused layout inadequate. The Fire also doesn’t integrate as well with other DAWs, so if you switch between DAWs, Fire might not be perfect for you.
But for those who use FL Studio exclusively, the Akai Fire is by far the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio in the market right now.
Best Cheap Keyboard for FL Studio: Akai APC Key 25
- 25 velocity-sensitive keys
- 40 tricolor RGB pads
- Low weight – just 1.7 lbs
- 8 assignable knobs
Although the Akai APC Key 25 is nominally an Ableton controller, it performs equally well with FL Studio. The 5 x 8 row of RGB pads coupled with the 25 synth-action keys give you a lot of flexibility in how you use the controller. Integration with FL Studio is a breeze – the APC Key 25 installs like any other keyboard. Plus, unlike the Fire, you aren’t limited to FL – you can use this controller with any other DAW.
That’s the big picture. Now let’s dive into the details.
The standout feature of the APC Key 25 is how it combines a large number of pads (40) with a set of keys in a tiny box. The 40 pads work well with FL Studio’s Step Sequencer. It might not be as intuitive as Akai Fire or Novation Launchpad’s 64 pads, but it gives you enough control to create complex beats.
The inclusion of a 25-key keyboard solves the biggest shortcoming of the Akai Fire – the ability to enter notes. You can enter notes just as you normally would in any keyboard, then switch to the Step Sequencer with the pads. It makes for a great workflow if you’re like me and use the controller as more than just a drum pad.
The third great thing about the APC 25 is its low weight and small dimensions. At just 12.3″ long and 7.6:” wide, it has roughly the same dimensions as a 13″ Macbook. Combined with the low weight – just 1.7 lbs – this makes the APC 25 one of the most portable key + pad controllers on the market.
While you don’t get complete transport controls, you can play/pause and record tracks from the controller itself. This makes intuitive, hands-on performance much easier.
If I can point to any downsides, it’s the small size of the pads. Akai had to compromise on both pad size and spacing to accommodate 40 of them into a small chassis. Be prepared for some mishits.
The synth-action keyboard isn’t perfect either. Don’t expect to play Chopin on it; use it just to enter MIDI notes or play simple chords and you’ll be happy.
But apart from these niggles, the Akai APC 25 is one of the most versatile MIDI keyboards on the market right now. Use it as a keyboard only, or use it as a pad controller with the Step Sequencer – the choice is up to you.
Best Mixed-Use MIDI Controller: Novation Launchkey 25
- 25 synth-action keys
- 16 RGB backlit pads
- 8 assignable knobs
- Low weight – 1.55 lbs
Novation’s Launchkey 25 usually jockeys against Akai MPK Mini MK2 for the top spot in our lists of mini/25-key MIDI keyboards. While I usually give the top honors to the Akai (mostly on account of the lower price and nicer pads), for FL Studio, I have to give the top spot to the Launchkey 25.
There are two reasons for this:
- The 16 pads work really well with FL Studio’s step sequencer. In contrast, Akai MPK Mini’s 8 pads feel inadequate
- Novation has a better integration with FL Studio, especially for the Launchpad/Launchkey series
Apart from the comparison with Akai MPK Mini, Novation Launchkey 25, on its own, is a very competent, all-around keyboard. The 25 synth-action keys are fast and responsive. While they’re not going to compete against the Yamahas and Rolands, they play really well for a mini keyboard.
Complementing the 25 keys is an array of 16 multicolor pads. Previously, I held the smaller size of the pads against the Launchkey, but in case of FL Studio, the small size works better – it aligns perfectly with 16th notes in the step sequencer.
Apart from the pads, you also get 8 assignable knobs. The size, at just 15″ long, is perfectly suited for portability, and at 1.55 lbs, the weight is next to nothing.
The biggest complaints against the Launchkey 25 are its lack of pitch/mod wheels, and the lack of onboard DAW controls. You will have to juggle the computer keyboard/mouse as you use this controller, which really kills the hands-on feel of dedicated FL Studio controllers like the Fire.
Nonetheless, if you’re on a budget and need an all-around mini keyboard that will let you control the step sequencer and play notes with minimum fuss, the Novation Launchkey 25 is for you.
Best Mini MIDI Controller: Korg Nanonkey2
- 25 button-like keys
- Dedicated octave up/down buttons
- Dedicated sustain buttons
- Pitch/mod buttons
There isn’t a lot to write about the Korg Nanokey2. It has barely any features save a dedicated arpeggio button. There are no pads, knobs, or other control options.
However, the Korg Nanokey does have two things going for it:
- It is extremely portable, weighing under 1 lbs with a length smaller than most laptops. You can tuck it into any backpack to make music on the go.
- It integrates extremely well into FL Studio, given that it is one of FL’s official “preconfigured controllers”. You can plug it in and start producing music right away – no configuration necessary.
So while the Nanonkey clearly lacks a lot of features, it does serve a niche: a tiny, easy to control, easy to use MIDI keyboard to use on the go.
That’s not all – Korg also sells dedicated pad and slider controllers (nanoPad and nanoKontrol respectively). You can combine these with the nanoKey to build a cheap, multi-function modular controller.
There are problems aplenty of course – the button-like keys don’t have the intuitiveness and familiarity of piano keys, and the lack of DAW/transport controls is a bummer (they are available on the nanoKontrol however). But given the small size and the even smaller price tag, this is a great keyboard for anyone who prioritizes affordability and portability.
Best Keyboard Controller for FL Studio: M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV
- 49 synth-action keys
- 8+1 sliders (8 EQ + 1 master)
- 8 assignable knobs
- 8 velocity-sensitive backlit pads
- Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
- LCD info screen
M-Audio’s keyboards have never been particularly high on our recommendations list. Although they’re always competitively priced, I’ve found that the keys tend to get loose and stuck after repeated use.
When looking for the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio, however, things are a bit different. Namely, M-Audio’s Oxygen line (including the 25 key and 61 key variants) are officially supported by FL Studio.
In real-world terms, this means that you can plug this keyboard in and start playing immediately, no configuration necessary. All the controls map automatically to the right feature, giving you complete control over FL Studio in seconds.
This ease of use makes up for most of the Oxygen 49’s shortcomings.
Apart from the integration, the Oxygen 49 is a fairly feature-rich MIDI keyboard. You get a lot of control options such as:
- 49 synth-action, full-size keys
- 8 + 1 sliders
- 8 customizable knobs
- 8 backlit velocity-sensitive pads
You also get dedicated pitch/mod wheels, both of which feel nice and rubbery.
However, the quality of the components is average at best. The keys feel a little plasticky and the knobs have a little resistance than they ideally should.
Furthermore, the 8 pads are, in this reviewer’s opinion, too few for FL Studio. 16 pads give you so much more control over the step sequencer.
With all this said, I would still recommend this keyboard for the easy integration and low price. There aren’t a lot of full-sized 49-key MIDI controllers priced in this range in the first place. The fact that the Oxygen 49 integrates seamlessly with FL Studio makes it one of our 5 most-recommended MIDI keyboards.
Best Pad Controller for FL Studio: Novation Launchpad Pro MK3
- 8 x 8 (64) pads
- Easy integration with FL Studio
- Brightly lit RGB pads
- Low weight – under 2 lbs
- Compact dimensions and shape
- Built-in sequencer
Update: An earlier version of this article listed the Novation Launchpad MK2 as our favorite pad controller. Since then, Novation has launched the MK3 which, to this reviewer, is an even better option and comes highly recommended.
Like the Novation Launchkey, Novation’s Launchpad line of MIDI controllers (which includes the Launchpad Pro and Launchpad Mini) are designed to be used with Ableton Live.
However, these controllers also feature in FL Studio’s list of official “preconfigured controllers”, i.e. they work equally well with FL Studio right out of the box.
It’s easy to see why: the 8 x 8 square grid is perfect for controlling the step sequencer. Quick integration means that you can load up your clips and start making music immediately. The pads are brightly lit which not only looks great but also helps you visually distinguish between clips and instruments.
The quality of the pads has been improved greatly compared to the MK2 model. The pads are highly responsive, large, and have excellent sensitivity. In my last review of the MK2, I mentioned how they can’t compete against Akai’s MPC pads, but with the MK3 version, the difference is less and less noticeable.
A key new feature is the built-in 32-track sequencer. You can now create entire tracks without even using a DAW. For production on the fly, this is practically some of the best you can get.
This is dedicated pad controller so there are no other control options – sliders, knobs, etc. You do get DAW controls via dedicated buttons aranged around the controller, including buttons to control sends and solo/mute tracks. This makes it possible to make patterns completely from the controller without even looking at the computer screen.
Another plus is the small size. The entire unit is roughly 9.5″ square and weighs under 2 lbs. Not only does this take low space on a desktop, it is also easy to carry around.
As a caveat, you’ll want to buy another keyboard controller apart from the Launchkey. Unlike the Akai Fire, there is no “Note Mode” on the Launchkey; you can’t use it to play melodies or chords. Factor this into your purchase decision. Even with an additional cheap keyboard, you’ll effectively end up paying nearly $200+.
That said, if you want to use FL Studio primarily to create sequences or launch clips, you’ll love the intuitiveness that Novation Launchpad brings to the table. It integrates easily, feels good, and looks stunning.
Guide to Buying a MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio
Before we do a deep dive into the top MIDI controllers for FL Studio, I want to make sure you understand what you should look for in your keyboard of choice, and whether you even need a keyboard in the first place.
If you’d rather skip this, scroll down to see our list of the 7 best MID keyboards for FL Studio.
Do you need a special controller for FL Studio?
The short answer? No.
All MIDI controllers, from a $35 midiplus to a $500 Roland use the MIDI protocol. This is a universal protocol that’s supported by every DAW and nearly every synthesizer (analog or digital) and audio interface.
As long as your controller supports MIDI, you can plug it into your computer and it will work with FL Studio.
In other words, you don’t have to buy a special MIDI keyboard for FL Studio; whatever you have lying around the studio will work.
Now for the long answer:
Some keyboards work better with FL Studio than others.
This can mostly be attributed to two things:
- Integrations: Some keyboards and controllers are designed specifically to be used with specific DAWs. Think of Ableton Push or the Akai APC Key 25, both of which were designed to integrate with Ableton. The close integration means that buttons, pads, and other controls are mapped automatically. Instead of dealing with custom configuration files, you can plug-in and start playing.
- Hardware choices and control options: Although most keyboards have the familiar design – 25 to 88 piano keys, a handful of control options, an array of pads – certain control options work better with different DAWs. Case in point: Ableton Push. The array of 64 pads work seamlessly with Ableton’s Session view and make music production faster and more intuitive.
So while technically you can use any keyboard with FL Studio, you will see significantly better results if you buy something that a) integrates seamlessly with FL, and b) has control options that take advantage of FL Studio.
I’ll cover some such keyboards in this guide.
Size, budget, and features: What to look for?
If you’re using FL Studio as your primary DAW, there are a few assumptions I can safely make about you:
- You work primarily in genres that use clips and loops, such as hip-hop and EDM
- You use FL Studio’s powerful step sequencer extensively
- Although it’s not always true, there is a chance you’re working with a smaller budget
Although you can technically use it that way, FL Studio isn’t really designed to work with a huge number of audio tracks. You won’t find a lot of professional studios using it t record hundreds of takes of dozens of audio tracks to say, record a rock band. Most professional electronic music producers prefer Pro Tools for it, simply because of how dominant it is in studios.
Given these constraints, what should you look for in a FL Studio? What features would work best with your workflow?
Here are some answers:
- Lots of pads: FL Studio’s best and easily the most widely used feature is the Step Sequencer. To take advantage of the step sequencer, you need a controller that has enough pads to give you control over 16+ clips at the same time. Unless you’re using FL as just an arranger, avoid controllers that don’t have any pads.
- DAW controls: Given that FL is often used to produce beats, you want a keyboard that gives you intuitive, hands-on control over the DAW. Nothing kills the beat-making process faster than switching between the computer and the controller. So you want a keyboard that lets you control the DAW (play, pause, record, transport, etc.) right from the keyboard itself.
- Support and integration: It goes without saying that you’ll have a better time with a keyboard that is supported officially by FL Studio. You can see a list of FL’s “prefigured controllers” here (or scroll down for a detailed list). These are controllers that have custom integrations for FL.
- Portability: Portability depends on three things: size, weight, and shape (i.e. whether it is too long/wide). While portability isn’t important for everyone, I’m yet to meet a FL Studio user who didn’t want to use his DAW on the go at least sometimes. A smaller, lightweight keyboard complements FL’s beginner-friendly production approach as well.
- Multi-device support: FL allows you to connect up to 16 MIDI controllers to the same DAW. It’s common for EDM producers to hook up several controllers at the same time to get quick access to different drum kits. Try to look for keyboards that can be connected together to create an “array” for controlling FL.
FL Studio preconfigured MIDI keyboards
Before we look at the best MIDI keyboards for FL Studio, I do want to mention some of the keyboards that are officially supported by FL. These keyboards feature special integrations to help you use FL’s features right out of the box, no custom configurations necessary:
- M-Audio Oxygen 25, 49, 61
- Korg Nanokey2
- Alesis Photon X25
- Korg MS-20
- CME UF Omnipotent
- Korg KONTROL49
- Novation SL MKII
- Korg microKONTROL
- Akai MPC series
- Novation Launchpad
There are a handful of more options that you can see here.
Does this mean that you should pick only from these controllers?
Of course not. For one, this list is outdated (it doesn’t even feature Akai FL Fire – designed by Image Line itself). And two, most manufacturers have their own custom integrations for FL Studio.
Nektar, for example, has a custom integration for its LX line of keyboards.
In other words, take the above list of preconfigured controllers as a guide, not a rule of thumb. As you will see below, there are far better keyboards on the market that integrate seamlessly with FL Studio.
Don’t buy FL Studio-only keyboards if you plan to switch DAWs
This is my number one piece of advice to anyone looking to buy a keyboard for FL Studio. If you’re not sure of which DAW you will stick with, I would highly recommend not buying something that works well only with FL Studio, like Akai Fire.
FL Studio is often the first DAW producers start with but for most – including yours truly – it is hardly the last. They usually graduate to a more “professional” DAW like Pro Tools or Logic Pro. That’s not to say that FL can’t be used to create studio-tier tracks – it can and has been used for that purpose. Blame it on industry standards, but most electronic music producers feel the need to upgrade as soon as they start hitting pro-tier production standards.
So while a keyboard like Novation Launchpad will work equally well with FL Studio and Ableton, an FL-specific controller like Akai Fire might not fare quite as well.
This brings our guide to buying the best MIDI keyboard for FL Studio to a close. I highly recommend our top choice – Akai Fire – for most customers. As the only dedicated FL Studio controller, the Fire is a revelation and really changes how you use your DAW.
Just to recap, here’s the complete list of out most recommended FL Studio MIDI controllers:
Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!
- Our guide to MIDI keyboards and controllers for other DAWs: Logic Pro X, Ableton, Garageband and Pro Tools
- Need a portable option? Check out our favorite portable MIDI keyboards here