Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
What’s the best mini MIDI keyboard for touring musicians? What kind of features you should look for when buying one? Should you choose the traditional wired keyboards, or should you spring for a wireless one? I’ll share answers to these questions and more in this detailed guide to the best mini MIDI controllers on the market in 2019.
Today, we have keyboards like the Akai LPK25 that weigh in at under 1 lbs.
Mini MIDI keyboards are arguably the most popular sub-category within the broader MIDI controller segment. This is mostly due to their non-intimidating size and low cost. Although their primary customers are supposed to be touring musicians and producers, tons of beginners also prefer them.
This effectively bifurcates the market. There are serious musicians who need a small keyboard to use on the go. And then there are beginners who just need something small, cheap, and non-intimidating for daily use.
In this review, we’ve tried to take both these markets into account. Our top choice should please everyone – serious musicians and amateurs alike. But at the same time, we’ve also covered gear that works better for amateurs as well as more professional equipment.
At a glance, these are my picks for the best mini MIDI keyboards:
- Best overall: Akai MPK Mini Mk2
- Best performance: Akai MPK225
- Best budget: midiplus AKM320
A Brief Guide to Buying MIDI Keyboards
To use the term “mini” keyboard is to essentially refer to keyboards that have between 25 and 37 keys, i.e. two to three octaves of range. By virtue of their limited key count, all such keyboards can be classified as “mini”.
That doesn’t mean that all mini keyboards are equally portable. Some keyboards might have a small size but use a heavier chassis which adds to their weight. The Behringer Deepmind, for instance, packs in a powerful synthesizer into the keyboard and weighs in at a whopping 15 lbs.
Not exactly something you can drop into your backpack and lug around!
So while I’m tempted to just direct you to our page for the best 25-key MIDI keyboards, I feel that there are a few things I should clarify about buying mini keyboards.
Who are mini MIDI keyboards for?
If you’re reading this, you likely fall into one of the two categories:
- You’re a beginner looking for a cheap, small, and portable MIDI keyboard to help you produce music. You will primarily use it on your desktop with a laptop, but you also want to be able to carry it around to a friend’s place for a jamming session. Cost and ease of use are your primary concerns.
- You’re a serious musician who already has one or multiple larger keyboards at home. However, you want something that you can carry around with you to gigs and jamming sessions. You already understand how to use MIDI keyboards well and hence, features, not price is your top concern. Since you want to lug it around to gigs, you also want
Because the market is divided this way, you’ll find that most mini MIDI keyboards fall into two camps:
- Cheap and easy to use: These keyboards will typically have light synth-style keys, limited control options, and will cost under $100.
- Feature-rich but expensive: These keyboards will feature better keys – even semi-weighted keys – and offer better quality pads, knobs, and control options. They’ll be heavier as well on account of the better construction quality. Most such keyboards cost over $200.
Which of these two categories you go for will depend on your needs, of course. In the next section, I’ll help you understand these needs better.
How to evaluate your needs?
Barring broken keys and non-functional pads, the number one reason why most buyers are unhappy with their MIDI keyboard purchase is because they bought something that didn’t fit their needs.
This is an easy mistake to make. You might overestimate your skills and buy something that’s far too powerful (and expensive) for you to ever use. Or you might underestimate your own growth trajectory and end up with something that’s too underpowered for anything serious.
To help you make sense of your needs, try answering these questions:
- Will you use it on your desk or carry it around to gigs? In case of the former, you can sacrifice portability for functionality. In case of the latter, low weight and small size should be your top priority.
- How much desk space do you have? An often overlooked factor is desk space. While mini MIDI keyboards are, as a rule, small, some are taller than they are wider. This requires more vertical desk space since you’ll want to keep a laptop/desktop behind the keyboard as well.
- Do you need pads? I almost never recommend getting a MIDI keyboard without any pads – you never know when you might need them. But in case you already have a great pad controller (like the Ableton Push) and need something just for playing melodies, you can safely buy a keys-only controller (like the Akai LPK25).
- Do you know how to play the piano? If you’re an experienced pianist, you’ll be disappointed with the loose, plasticky synth-action keys found on most low-end mini keyboards. Though 25-37 keys is hardly enough to play your best Chopin rendition, you’ll enjoy using better keyboards (especially with semi-weighted keys) a lot more.
- How many control options do you want? If you’re a beginner, you don’t want tons of buttons, knobs, and sliders on your keyboard. It will just end up confusing you. If you’re a serious musician, however, you’ll want to prioritize customizable controls so you can play the way you’re used to playing.
- How will you use the keyboard? Do you want to just play some chords and melodies? Then buy a keys-only controller. Do you want to tap out a few drum patterns? Then buy a keys + pad controller. Or do you want complete control over your DAW? Get a professional MIDI keyboard with extensive control options. Analyze your playing style and usage before you decide what to buy
- Is it your primary or secondary keyboard? This might be a moot point for beginners, but if you’re a serious musician who already has a handful of keyboards, you’ll want to ask this question. Essentially, you want your new mini MIDI keyboard to fill the gaps left by your other controllers. Don’t get another portable keyboard with limited control options if you already have one Akai MPK Mini tucked away in your storeroom.
- Are you learning new skills? Of course you are. But what you want to know is your “learning trajectory”. Essentially, you want to figure out how quickly you’re picking up new skills. You won’t buy a new keyboard every six months, so you want something that will still be powerful enough to serve you in 6 months, 12 months, or even 5 years.
What to look for in mini MIDI keyboards?
Now the all-important question: what should you look for in a mini MIDI keyboard?
The exact answer will, of course, depend on your specific requirements. But there are a few broad issues you should think about:
- Portability: Portability is a function of three things: size, shape, and weight. While size and weight are obvious (the lower the better, of course), shape is often overlooked. If the controller is overly tall or overly long, it will be difficult to keep in a standard bag. This is why some of the best mini MIDI keyboards like the Akai MPK Mini have roughly the same shape as a laptop.
- Durability: Durability is obviously important for MIDI instruments, but it is arguably even more important for mini keyboards. Why? Because you’re likely going to lug it around with you on tours and jamming sessions. A few dings here and there and you might find that the keys don’t work anymore or the pads don’t pop back after being pressed.
- Integrations: While technically you can make any MIDI keyboard work with any DAW or synth (the MIDI protocol is universal after all), you’ll have a far easier time if your controller integrates with your DAW out of the box. Look for keyboards that are designed specifically for your DAW. If you happen to use one of the popular DAWs – Ableton, Logic, FL Studio – this will be easy to find.
- Number of keys: Mini keyboards, by definition, are mostly limited to 25 to 37 keys. A few offer 32 keys as well. From experience, I find 37 keys to be a weird in-between two and four octaves of range. They also add to the size. Unless you absolutely need three octaves of range, I recommend going for 25 keys.
- Connectivity: Thankfully, nearly every modern MIDI keyboard offers USB connectivity. This means you no longer have to carry around your USB audio interface and a MIDI cable. However, a few modern keyboards also offer wireless connectivity via Bluetooth.
- Built-in sounds and speakers: Any keyboard that allows you to create your own sounds isn’t just a MIDI keyboard anymore; it’s a synthesizer and that’s a whole new product category. But a few MIDI keyboards, most notably the Akai MPK Mini Play, have a handful of built-in sounds and a small speaker. This isn’t meant to replace a full-fledged synthesizer. Rather, it’s meant to give you the ability to jam out some melodies without connecting to your computer. It’s a nice feature to have, but I don’t consider it a must-have.
- Mobile/tablet connectivity: Not a lot of serious musicians use their iPads or phones to produce music. However, if you’re a beginner with a free copy of Garageband or just want to have some fun, it can be fun to connect your keyboard to your tablet or phone and jam out some tunes. For this, you’ll need either a dongle to connect the USB cable to your mobile device. Or you’ll want the keyboard to support wireless connectivity via Bluetooth. If you intend to use your keyboard this way, consider this a must-have feature.
Should you buy wireless MIDI keyboards?
This brings us to a question that’s caused a lot of agony and heated debates among musicians in the last couple of years: wireless keyboards.
Wireless MIDI keyboards bypass the USB cable and connect to your computer via Bluetooth.
When they were first launched, wireless keyboards were mostly a gimmick. The Bluetooth protocol didn’t offer enough bandwidth to transmit MIDI signals with low enough latency. The end result was often hilarious as you would tap a note and only hear it back after a second (which, in latency terms, is a lifetime).
But as the Bluetooth protocol and batteries have improved, so has the potential of wireless keyboards. Modern wireless keyboards offer competent latency. Obviously, it’s not going to be as low as wired controllers paired to a powerful computer (the MIDI standard is designed for latency as low as 1ms), but it’s enough to be playable.
So the question is: should you buy a wireless MIDI keyboard?
Our stance on this is consistent: Only if you absolutely have to.
Wireless MIDI keyboards pose three big issues that stop me from recommending them wholeheartedly:
- Latency: Although it is improving, especially with Bluetooth 4.0, wireless just doesn’t have the bandwidth of traditional wired USB cables. Your latency is always going to be lower unless they develop a groundbreaking new wireless technology.
- Price: Wireless keyboards tend to be priced nearly twice of their wired counterparts. While it’s nice to be untethered, is the lack of wires really worth the much fatter price tag?
- Batteries: With wireless keyboards, you have to worry about yet another problem: batteries. You can plug your USB-powered MIDI keyboard and start playing right away. But with a wireless keyboard, you have to worry about keeping the unit fully charged. And who has time to take care of yet another thing to charge every day?
Our most recommended mini wireless MIDI keyboard – the CME Xkey Air 25 – has a battery life of just 10 hours (around 7-8 hours in the real world). That’s barely three jamming sessions. Is being wire-free really worth the hassle of getting your keyboard charged every couple of days?
Of course, there are advantages: you don’t have to worry about cables. And connecting to mobile devices becomes much easier. But the pros outweigh the cons.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the best mini MIDI keyboards you can buy right now.
The Best Mini MIDI Keyboard: In-Depth Overview
If you’ve gone through the above section, you have a fair idea of what to look for in mini keyboards and how to evaluate your own requirements.
Armed with this information, you can now pick the best mini MIDI keyboard for your needs from our list below:
Best Overall: Akai MPK Mini MKII
- 25 synth-style narrow keys
- 8 velocity sensitive backlit pads
- 8 rotary knobs
- 4-way thumbstick for pitch/mod controls
- Compact size
The keys are a little narrow, the pads not as responsive as they could be, and the build quality is a little suspect.
But despite all these flaws, Akai MPK Mini MK2 still ranks as our best mini MIDI keyboard and tops most bestseller charts.
The reason is simple: This Akai does nearly everything well enough. The keyboard is good enough to satisfy most people. There are enough control options for most musicians. And the size, price, and build quality is agreeable enough for anyone.
Which is to say, the individual parts might not be the best, but the overall package works really well together.
In terms of portability, the MPK Mini is perfectly sized. It is roughly the same size as a 13″ laptop and under 2″ thick, which makes carrying it around extremely easy. The weight is also under 1.6 lbs – less than a Macbook. You can throw your laptop and this keyboard into the same bag and not even notice the difference.
Besides the size, the other best feature is the number of control options you get. 8 pads, 8 knobs, and dedicated DAW controls make it easy to create complete tracks right from the controller without looking at your screen. Integrations are smooth as well, especially with Ableton and Logic (I didn’t get a chance to test it with FL Studio).
If there are any pet peeves, it’s the weird thumbstick that replaces traditional pitch/mod wheels. I understand that this was a space-saving compromise but it lacks the intuitiveness of conventional wheels.
Apart from these minor niggles, the Akai MPK Mini remains our top-most recommended mini MIDI keyboard. I recommend getting it in either black or the special edition red.
Best Professional MIDI Keyboard: Akai Professional MPK225
- 25 semi-weighted keys
- 8 MPC-style pads
- RGB-illuminated pads with 4 sound banks
- 8 knobs with 3 assignable banks
- 4 switches with 3 assignable banks
- LCD information screen with 4-way directional keys
Everything the Akai MPK Mini does, the MPK225 does better. For instance:
- You get semi-weighted keys instead of cheaper synth-action keys
- You get MPC-style pads instead of the rubbery APC-style pads on the MPK Mini
- The pads are RGB-illuminated
- You get 4 assignable banks for pads, 3 for the knobs, greatly expanding your control options
- The LCD screen packs in way more information and includes navigational keys
This is truly a “grown up” mini keyboard with all-premium components. Even the software is better, especially the accompanying MPC Essentials tool that gives you full MPC-like controls over the keyboard.
Where the MPK225 does falter is in its weight and size. At nearly 20″, the MPK225 can’t just be thrown into a backpack and carried anywhere (not that you’d want to treat a mid-$xxx device poorly). The 6.61 lbs weight is also similar to old school Alienware laptops. It’s not so large and heavy to make portability a challenge, but will certainly require some effort to carry around.
Apart from the portability concerns, there is little to complain about in the MPK225. Everything feels premium, from the aluminum chassis to the rubbery pitch/mod wheels. If you have the budget for it, this is a keyboard you’ll love to own.
Best MIDI Keyboard for Budget Buyers: midiplus 32 AKM320
- 32 velocity-sensitive keys
- Dedicated octave up/down buttons
- Dedicated volume control
- Low weight – just 1.6 lbs
- Plug-and-play connectivity with most DAWs
- Pitch/mod wheels
If you want a keyboard that offers the bare minimum at the bare minimum price, you’ll want the midiplus AKM320.
Designed as a no-frills keyboard controller, the AKM320 offers nothing apart from a set of 32 keys. You don’t get any pads, knobs, buttons or sliders.
Instead, you get just 32 keys along with two pitch/mod wheels, and dedicated octave up/down and transpose up/down buttons.
Given the lack of control options, the AKM320 is extremely easy to use. Just plug it in via the included USB cable and your DAW will (most likely) recognize it instantly. There is nothing to configure or change; just tap the keys and start playing immediately.
The key quality is as you’d expect in a keyboard at this price range: shoddy. The plasticky white keys feel loose and jump up inconsistently. It’s not a good playing experience. However, it does get the job done: give you a physical interface to control your music.
More importantly, the midiplus AKM320 does all this at a price tag that’s ridiculously low. Unless you buy something straight off Alibaba, you won’t find a cheaper MIDI keyboard in the market.
The dimensions and weight fit the portability requirements as well. At under 1.6 lbs, you can carry this keyboard around anywhere. And while it is longer than most laptops at 18″ length, the narrow width – just 4.9″ – and low height (1.2″) make it easy to carry.
Best Wireless MIDI Keyboard: CME Xkey Air 25
- 25 velocity-sensitive keys
- Keys feature polyphonic aftertouch
- Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth
- Low weight
- Slim keyboard
- 10 hours battery life
As I said earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of wireless keyboards. There are still some unresolved latency and battery life issues. Considering the premium you pay for them in terms of price, these issues have to be addressed before I can recommend them wholeheartedly.
Having said that, if there is any wireless keyboard I can recommend, it’s the CME Xkey Air 25.
CME isn’t a big name in the MIDI keyboard category, but this manufacturer does make some of the best wireless MIDI keyboards on the market right now. The Xkey Air 25 is their smallest and most affordable keyboard.
There’s a lot to like about this unit:
- You get 7-9 hours of battery life during actual use – good enough for 2-3 jamming sessions.
- The latency is ~30ms on my system. Slower than a wired keyboard but good enough that you won’t notice it much.
- Slim profile keys take up little desk space and look good
- Low weight – the entire unit weighs under 1.5 lbs
- Aftertouch keys are responsive and feel good to play
The low weight, small size, and wireless connectivity make this one of the most portable keyboards you can buy.
Of course, there are plenty of problems with this keyboard as well. There are no control options for starters – no pads, knobs, or buttons. You can only use it to play chords and melodies, nothing else. The price tag is also exorbitant, especially when compared to equivalent wired keyboards.
But with that said, there is certainly some joy in being untethered. A USB cable might not take up much space, but the freedom of being able to take the keyboard anywhere (well, within Bluetooth range) can make you think that the price tag is worth it.
Plus, Bluetooth connectivity makes it much easier to use the Xkey Air with a mobile device. If you like making music on your iPad with Garageband, you’ll love this keyboard.
Best for Portability: Akai Professional LPK25
- 25 keys
- Dedicated octave up/down buttons
- Dedicated arpeggio button
- Dedicated sustain button
- Plug-and-play integration with most DAWs
- Small size – under 14″ long and 4″ wide
When it comes to portability, you can’t go wrong with the bestseller in the category: the Akai LPK25.
The LPK25 doesn’t boast a lot in terms of features. Even its keyboard isn’t perfect.
But it does have a tiny size and incredibly low weight, plus a price tag that’s hard to resist.
Let’s back up a second though. The LPK25 has 25 velocity-sensitive keys. They won’t give a Yamaha piano a run for their money but they’re useful enough for their primary function: entering MIDI notes and playing chords.
As a caveat, the velocity sensitivity can be inconsistent at times. You might find that pressing the note doesn’t always yield the response you expected. This makes using the LPK25 in life performances an issue.
Moving on, you don’t get much in the way of controls save dedicated arpeggio and sustain buttons. There are no pads, knobs, or programmable buttons. Crucially, you don’t get dedicated pitch/mod wheels.
While I would have preferred some control options, I know that it would have also affected the portability. Which, after all, is this keyboard’s primary selling point.
With a length under 14″, 3.8″ width and just 1.1″ height, this keyboard is among the tiniest you can buy. It’s barely larger than my 13″ Macbook and fits easily into any backpack.
Add in the ridiculously low-weight – just 650 grams – and you can see why it ranks as my top pick for portability.
Integration is quite seamless as well, mostly because there are no control options to worry about. Plug it into your USB port and you can start using it immediately with most DAWs, no installation necessary.
For what it claims to do – effortless portability – the LPK25 definitely ranks as one of the best options on the market.
Best Keyboard: Roland A-300-Pro-R
- 32 velocity-sensitive keys with Aftertouch
- 9 knobs, 9 sliders, 8 pads
- Complete DAW controls built-in
- 8 programmable buttons
- LCD info screen with directional joystick
Roland makes some of the best pianos and synthesizers in the world. So it should come as no surprise to see the Roland brand name as our best keyboard pick as well.
The A-300-Pro-R is the smaller sibling of the popular A-500 (49-key keyboard). It packs in 32 keys, i.e. 2.5 octaves of range. Portability isn’t this keyboard’s strong suit; the unit weighs in at nearly 9 lbs and is 27″ long on its longest side. You won’t be able to drop it into your backpack and carry it to a gig.
The star of the show is the keyboard. Although the keys have synth-action (as opposed to the semi-weighted keys on the MPK225), they have Aftertouch. For the uninitiated, Aftertouch is responsible for the soft dulling of sound after you lift your fingers off the key. This creates a far more natural sound, plus improves the action greatly to give you an authentic piano feel.
This video should help you understand it better:
As great as the keyboard is, there are plenty of control options as well. You get:
- 8 velocity-sensitive dynamic pads
- 9 knobs
- 8 + 1 sliders
- 8 programmable buttons
Plus, you get complete DAW controls right on the keyboard itself. Combined with the built-in LCD screen and navigational joystick, it means that you can divorce your laptop screen and make music entirely from the keyboard.
There are some caveats, of course. The pads are small and don’t have the responsiveness of Akai’s MPC-style pads. The horizontally mounted pitch wheel is a bit more cumbersome than the traditional vertical pitch/mod wheels. The heavy weight and large size also make it one of the largest “mini” keyboards on the market.
Further, Roland’s integrations remain iffy at best, especially with the more popular modern DAWs like Ableton and FL Studio. And the price makes it difficult to buy for all but the most serious of musicians.
That said, as far as keyboard quality goes, the Roland A-300-Pro is one of the best mini MIDI keyboards you can buy right now.
Most Innovative Keyboard: Roli Seaboard Block
- 2 octave playing surface (24 keywaves)
- 5d touch technology
- 100+ free sounds via mobile app
- NOISE, Equator Player software
- Wireless connectivity
To call the Roli Seaboard Block a “keyboard” would be to severely undersell it; it’s far more than that – a powerful, innovative wireless music production center that will transform how you make music.
At the heart of the Roli Seaboard experience is Roli’s “5D Touch” technology. Instead of the conventional black and white piano keys, the Seaboard uses an innovative squishy, rubbery skin. It’s difficult to describe it in words; you’ll get a much better idea if you see it in action:
This 5D, squishy touch enables so many music making possibilities:
- Bending notes becomes far easier. You don’t have to wiggle around the pitch/mod wheels; just drag your finger from one note to the next
- You can get authentic sounding vibrato simply by wiggling your finger on a note
- Slide effects are far more natural – press a note, then drag your finger to the bottom and slide it to another note
The entire experience is particularly delightful for playing guitar, strings and wind instruments. If you’ve ever struggled to get authentic guitar sounds with your keyboard, you’ll love what the Seaboard brings to the table.
The squishy nature of this “keyboard” also makes it easy to use as drum pad.
Besides the innovative 5D touch, the Seaboard Block is also wireless and has a tiny size – it’s just 11″ long at its widest. You can connect it to your phone and get access to 100+ sounds over Bluetooth. This puts a complete music production center at your fingertips without worrying about DAWs and synths and integrations.
It’s hard to evaluate the Roli Seaboard Block. It is just so different than everything else on this list that you can’t really compare it to anything else.
What I can tell you is that the Seaboard Block – and Roli’s other instruments – are some of the most groundbreaking products on the market. Quietly and slowly, they’re changing the way we make music.
With that, we come to a close in this extended guide to buying the best mini MIDI keyboard. We covered everything from the features you should look for in the keyboard of your choice to the process for evaluating your own needs.
Just to recap, here is our list of the best mini MIDI keyboards, sorted by category:
- Akai MPK Mini MK2 (Best overall)
- Akai MPK255 (Best for professionals)
- midiplus 32 AKM320 (Best for budget buyers)
- Akai LPK25 (Best for portability)
- CME Xkey Air 25 (Best wireless MIDI keyboard)
- Roland A-300-Pro-R (Best keys)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!
Experts referenced for this article:
The following writers, DJs, producers, and audio engineers contributed their suggestions for this post: