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The best MIDI keyboards for Ableton can bridge the gap between the physical and the virtual, giving you a real-world instrument to control your DAW. In this roundup, we’ll take a closer look at the absolute best MIDI keyboards for Ableton we could find on the market currently, and help you select the right controller for your needs.
Our Top Picks
Best overall: Akai Pro MPK249/261
“Akai’s enduring quality and stellar integration makes the MPK an all-out winner”
Best for budget buyers: Novation Launchkey 49 MK3
“A competent alternative to the MPK249 at half the price”
Best keyboard: Roland A-88 MK2
“Roland makes some of the best keyboards on the planet. The A-88 is no different”
I’ve made no bones about my love for Ableton. Even though I’ve been a studio producer and used Pro Tools extensively, I use Ableton at home and recommend it to most people (I still consider Logic Pro to be a superior entry point if you only want arrangement, not production). With Ableton 11, the DAW is even further ahead of its competitors.
One of the things that makes Ableton so enjoyable is its wide and deep integration with a variety of controllers. Where with Pro Tools you have to go through a long checklist before buying a MIDI controller, Ableton enjoys solid plug-and-play support for most keyboards.
As good as this widespread integration is, it also makes it harder to figure out which keyboard to buy. After all, if you have a potential list of hundreds of keyboards to choose from, how do you settle on the right one?
Which is where this guide comes in. In the sections below, I’ll take a closer look at the best MIDI keyboards for Ableton. We’ll discover some obvious picks (hint: Akai’s lineup) and some not so obvious ones. Some of our best picks will surprise you.
If you’re new to using MIDI keyboards, I urge you to take a look at this video to learn how to integrate any keyboard with Ableton:
Next, see our list below to find the best MIDI keyboard for your needs.
Best MIDI Keyboards for Ableton
What makes a good Ableton keyboard?
Rock solid integration is obviously a plus. But given Ableton’s easy integration process, it’s not a huge bar.
Good control options – pads, knobs, faders, etc. – are also nice. But then again, we’re considering keyboards here, not controllers. If you want a controller, please see our guide to the best Ableton controllers here.
What truly sets apart a great Ableton keyboard is, well, the keyboard.
Most MIDI keyboards fail this basic requirement. Far too many use cheap synth keys that bounce up and down without the authenticity of real piano-like key action. Some others fail because they simply don’t have enough keys. When you’re writing complicated tracks, you quickly figure out that 2 octaves is simply not enough.
In choosing our top picks for this article, we focused on the following (in order):
- Keyboard quality
- Additional control options
- Ableton integration
Based on these factors, here are our picks for the best MIDI keyboard for Ableton:
Best Overall: Akai Pro MPK249/261
- Functioning USB-MIDI Interface
- High-quality 16 MPC-style pads
- Stress-free plug-and-play connectivity
- AU/VST Plugins supportive
The Akai MKP261 Midi keyboard is a master controller that works magic with software plugins and MPC workstations. Just like the Akai MPK Mini MK2, this Midi keyboard offers all-in-one control of multiple instruments and virtual effects. However, what makes the MPK261 a bit different is the software package plus. This added feature enables users to alter and customize DAWs, onboard instruments, and sound effect plugins.
Whilse playing the Akai MPK261 for the first time, its hypersensitive keypads gave me the feeling of a digital piano, not just a tacky MIDI keyboard. Staying in charge of the MIDI sequence could be quite a lot to handle on a Midi keyboard with lots of controls. However, this product allows me in charge of the MIDI sequence with the 5-pin Midi input & output. The MPK261 is suitable for both Mac and PC users.
Obviously, what got better in the MKP261 upgrade was the ability to have flexibility with the controls. I could easily navigate around multiple core MPC tools like the Tap Tempo, MPC Note Repeat, Time Division, and Arpeggiator. This Midi keyboard also helped give an all-in-one package experience with the over-the-chart production software.
I had access to SONiVOX Twist 2.0, Hybrid III, and Ableton live-lite all at my fingertips for a wild production experience.
What I Don’t Like
At first, I could not download extra production software to the MIDI keyboard without contacting Akai Pro support. I’d never had expected to need professional help when trying to download a plugin to my keyboard. I wasn’t trying to fly a jet, was I?
Budget Alternative: Novation Launchkey 49 MK3
- Ableton Live integration
- Spitfire Audio LABS
- Three-chord mode layout
- 49 Velocity-sensitive action keys
- Capture MIDI function
The Ableton live integration specifically built-in for immediate modification and input of ideas is a plus on this Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 keyboard. Trying it out for the first few times allowed me to actualize all my ideas and creativity in real-time. The Capture Midi function helps freestyle producers have a series of happy accident sessions to produce. Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 keyboard gives an overall creative performance with its easy-to-use virtual effects and instrument options.
This keyboard totally supports Logic & Reason and allows me to play around with a wide range of effects and plugins. Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 helps me explore my inner creativity production with DAWs like Cubase, via HUI and Studio One. The MIDI output port is compatible with Midi-supportive devices. This section consists of a 5-pin Midi output layout; so it supports multiple Midi devices unlike other brands with fewer pins.
I never stopped sharing with my community of Midi keyboard lovers the free software packages installed in Novation Launchkey 49 MK3. After purchase, I realized the product came with Ableton Live 10, several plugins that allowed me to create immediately, and free virtual instruments. This keyboard offers the perfect synchronization with Ableton Live 10. With the special button for initiating the Capture Midi function, I get all the benefits of Ableton Live 10.
Other additional functions like quantise, plus track arm, and click-and-loop controls help better the Ableton Live 10 experience. The user, fixed and scale modes on the Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 keyboard helped me produce a chord with one finger. This feature of the keyboard was probably the first thing that got me locked in my digital studio space for hours. The upgraded arpeggiator helps creativity with rhythmic tunes, harmonics, and new melodies.
What I Don’t Like
Not the best keyboard with hypersensitive keypads functions. The Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 almost has a similar action feel of a grand piano. It sometimes hurt on my fingertips after playing during a long production session.
Best Full-Sized Keyboard: Roland A-88 MK2
- Compatible with PHA-4 keyboard
- 8 RGB-lit compatible knobs
- MIDI 2.0 sequence upgrade
- USB-C connectivity output
This Midi keyboard comes in 3 user-definable cores that allow me to split and layer multiple sounds and instruments simultaneously. Sometimes I get carried with how I can blend two or more sounds and sway off my project for hours. Also, the Roland A-88 MK2 is an outstanding piece that keeps the users in charge of pitch/mod lever and pads. Anyone could always adjust their pitch of certain voices easily with the RGB-lit knobs.
The Roland MIDI keyboard uses up-to-date technologies that support a wide range of device compatibility. For convenience purposes, this product has a built-in USB-C port that helps macOS and Windows users pair directly with iOS. A plus on this Roland masterpiece is the extensive capabilities of the installed MIDI 2.0. This version offers new and interesting plugins and also makes switching between them a piece of cake.
Before playing on this keyboard, I had to confirm if the studio that had it was spacious enough to allow me to produce freely. Surprisingly, the Roland A-88 MK2 keyboard is specifically designed with space for personal studios in mind. It comes in a shallow and thin build-up while maintaining the ‘Roland’ elegant casing and dynamic playability.
Durability was also another factor considered when manufacturing this piece. Roland A-88 MK2 manufacturer had this casing made from specially crafted wood and premium materials for a long-lasting experience.
The chord memory on this keyboard performs amazingly well for every recording session played on it. This Roland piece has large memory storage of chord patterns ever played on the keyboard. Of course, this is a distinct feature as only a few Midi keyboards come with chord memory in them. Be ready to explore a wide range of creative tools, plugins, and sounds for your musical projects and production on this one.
What I Don’t Like
The Roland A-88 MK2 keyboard sometimes doesn’t support all production software and external plugins. I’m guessing it’s a way for the company to limit the number of plugins on every keyboard, hence, protecting the built-in software program. However, it’d be nice if everyone wasn’t limited to a few software.
Best Mini Keyboard: Akai MPK Mini MK3
- Velocity-sensitive response with after-touch
- High-quality MPC functionalities
- Seamless audio/MIDI Environment-friendly
- Singular MIDI sequence interface
- Hybrid 3 & SONiVOX Twist
The MK3 is the updated version of our highly recommended MPK Mini Mk2. The new upgrade improves pads, adds an informational screen, and gives the keys a tighter feel.
Experience the perfect virtual instrument and effect synchrony with the MPK Mini MK3 and VIP3.1 plugins. Interestingly, I discovered that this pocket-friendly midi keyboard offers a wide range of virtual effects and numerous instrument options. Finding my way around the Akai MPK Mini MK3 wasn't that much a deal as the user-friendly interface made navigating the features and MIDI sequence so easy.
One exciting feature that got my attention was the velocity-sensitive response offered by the keypads. Another interesting one is the newly upgraded octave up-and-down controls on the instrument. This onboard navigation enables players to switch to wide melodic range options easily. That section of the keyboard makes playing drum solos, piano harmonies, bass lines, and solo lead fun without stressing.
The Akai MPK Mini MK3 was just the up-to-date Midi keyboard I needed to keep me in vogue. It comes with a Hybrid 3.0 virtual synthesizer. Before this, it took a while to locate a keyboard engineered with the next generation in synthesis. The popular SONiVOX twist; integrated with a unique interface and onboard effects is a plugin on this version of the Midi keyboard. Being able to produce sophisticated sounds using simple controls has always been an experience I look forward to. This product offers just that!
Whatever genre of music to be produced, MPC Beats is fully equipped for a creative experience. With this keyboard, I could easily locate drum patterns, mixdown track samples, and edit audio files using the synthetic engines on the MPC's. The MPC Beats function also enables players to record audio using the built-in microphone and noise filter. Akai Professional MPK Mini MK3 comes upgraded with software packages of DAWs and easy-to-use effect plugins.
What I Don't Like
The MPK Mini MK3 seems to have a few interesting features and provides high-quality output. However, the fact that the Midi keyboard cannot be used without an amplifier was a major turn off for me. Also, what Midi keyboard doesn't come with a headphone plugin port these days?
Best for Power Users: Akai Advance 49
- Multi-color LCD screen display
- Wide-range download options
- 49-key virtual instruments
- Multi-core CPU
The Akai Advance 49 midi keyboard comes with a 2GB free storage space for the installation of external software. With this much space, I get to install and try out multiple production software and delete them if they aren't useful. Also, this midi keyboard offers a total of 20GB storage space for whatever installation that may be required like plugins, virtual instruments, storage-consumption effects, and so on.
The multi-color LCD screen on the midi keyboard allows players to see their changes in real-time. I get to alter my MIDI controls while watching the changes on the little LCD screen. Works perfectly on every Windows 7 operating system and other updated OS.
For macOS, this Akai Advance 49 keyboard supports Mac OS from version 10.8 upward. This Akai piece also makes manipulating virtual instruments and sound effects possible with easy-to-use controls. I made this selection among the other 25-key and 61-key sizes. Without a doubt, the keyboard serves every preferred choice.
This piece is known for its pressure-sensitive pads that help musicians and producers create hands-on tempo and beats. The MPC pads on this Akai Advance 49 keyboard gives me the feel of a live-in-concert experience from my studio space. Thanks to the RGB illumination feature, I can always access multiple sounds and virtual instruments on the pads. On this keyboard, there are series of controls including transport control, the pad bank button, performance controls, and octave buttons.
Designed with pitch and modulation functions, this Akai keyboard allows me to work on sound effects. I also get to edit and adjust the pitch and modulation frequencies from imported audio files on the midi keyboard. The tap-tempo buttons on this Akai brand make users create and input their tempo patterns without stress.
Also, the pattern arpeggiator allows me to sync tempo and virtual instruments perfectly without skipping beat counts.
What I Don't Like
I love upgrading my production gadgets from time to time, which is why I go for the best set-up. At the time I was going to make an upgrade, it was difficult to sell my Akai Advance 49 keyboard. Apparently, version 3.0 got outdated before I realized; and no one was willing to purchase such an expensive midi keyboard for the asking price.
Best Keybed (Budget): Roland Go:Keys
- Integrated with Bluetooth speakers
- Loop Mix function
- Wireless stream through onboard speakers
- Extended battery life with external battery
- Compatible with music production apps
GO:KEYS is by far one of the easy-to-use midi keyboards I've ever laid my hands on. With its Bluetooth connectivity feature, I can play along with songs on another device. I often try this when working on mastering lines from a streamed song online or my smartphone. Also, users get to take advantage of the keyboard's onboard speakers for playing their music. By pairing the smartphone with the Bluetooth user from the keyboard, you can play songs using the speaker.
The battery power on the GO:KEYS allows me to play songs from my device on-the-go. I need not worry about electricity each time I decide to create or play along with online music content. Another interesting feature about the GO:KEYS midi keyboard is the function of using mobile apps which meant I get to learn a new genre of music. For fun, I sometimes use my GO:KEYS midi keyboard during karaoke hangouts with friends.
Without external devices, GO:KEYS has over 500+ installed sounds for users to produce with. These sounds and virtual instruments are products of the popular Roland's pro synthesizers. For easy access to multiple instruments like brass, synths, pianos, and strings, I can always punch the intuitive buttons. GO:KEYS allows musicians and producers to edit and adjust loop mix jams. With this feature, I can always pick up a random song online, recreate and mix the production to my taste.
The GO:KEYS MIDI keyboard uses up-to-date technologies that support a wide range of device compatibility. For convenience purposes, this product has a built-in USB-C port that helps macOS and Windows users pair directly with iOS. This Roland keybed has the extensive capabilities of the installed MIDI 2.0. This version offers new and interesting plugins and also makes connecting with your mobile devices and other gadgets possible.
What I Don't Like
It was never included on their website that the midi keyboard never supports Android devices. This piece of information would have saved lots of users like me the time of ordering and having to request a refund because I don't use an iOS device.
Over to You
Buying the best MIDI keyboards for Ableton isn't easy. With dozens of options to choose from, it can be impossible to pin down the best keyboard for your needs.
Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out what's the best keyboard for your studio.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Our Ableton hub for finding all the best gear for Ableton.
- Our favorite controllers for Ableton
- Our recommended MIDI keyboards in 2021, regardless of DAW