Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
A keyboard doesn’t have to be large and imposing to be good – as our picks for the ‘best portable MIDI keyboard’ category shows. This guide will help you buy the tiniest, lightest, most portable MIDI keyboards to make music wherever, whenever. Use these in your dorm, your study room, the park, or even a cafe – they’re lightweight, and small enough to fit into any backpack.
MIDI keyboards, by default, are among the lightest musical gear on the market (barring your ukuleles and harmonicas, of course). The lack of internal sound systems means that MIDI keyboards have little to no “entrails”. Where you will be hard pressed to find a digital piano that weighs less than 20 lbs, under 5 lbs is the norm for MIDI keyboards.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that nearly all MIDI keyboards are “portable” to some extent.
Of course, some keyboards are more portable than others. They either offer low weight or small dimensions that makes them easy to carry around. If you want to carry your keyboard to a live gig, jamming sessions, or even to the local park to play some tunes on a weekend picnic, this portability is a massive advantage.
What exactly should you look for in a portable MIDI keyboard? What should be the bare minimum considerations when it comes to size, weight, and features? And what sort of price range, brands, and integrations should you consider?
Find the right answers and more in our guide to the best portable MIDI keyboard you can buy in 2020.[/su_column] [/su_row]
Overview: The Best Portable MIDI Keyboards
MIDI keyboards are just an interface to help you control your DAW. They lack the internals necessary to produce sound on their own (unlike digital pianos or synthesizers).
In other words, a MIDI keyboard is just a shell to control your software. In principle, they aren’t any different from a computer keyboard or mouse – simple equipment meant to help you control something more complex, such as an operating system, a DAW, or an analog/digital synthesizer.
This lack of internal features makes all MIDI keyboards “portable” to some degree. Even if they are large and unwieldy – such as any 88-key keyboard – they are almost always substantially lighter than similar-sized digital pianos or synthesizers.
Case in point: the ever popular Yamaha DGX-660 is nearly 50 lbs. You’ll be hard pressed to find any MIDI instrument that comes anywhere close.
Of course, portability is much more than just weight; it’s also a function of size, shape, and onboard features. I’ll discuss each of these features in the next section and help you understand how to choose the right gear for your needs.
What Features to Look for in Portable Keyboards?
There is a laundry list of features to look for in any MIDI keyboard. I’ve covered this extensively in our guide to MIDI keyboards. From the number (and quality) of pads to integrations and control options, a lot goes into making a great MIDI keyboard.
But with portable keyboards, your priorities are different. You of course need a good keyboard and lots of control options, but your top priority is portability – that is, low size, low weight, and features designed for easier use on the go.
Given the focus on portability, here are some of the top features you need to look for in any MIDI keyboard:
Number of keys
25, 37, 49, 61, 88 – MIDI keyboards are usually sold in configurations of 2 to 7 octaves. The bare minimum is 2 octaves, i.e. 25 keys. The largest you can get (or “full-size”) is 88 keys, which is the same as a traditional piano and gives you 7 octaves of range.
If your focus is on portability, you can’t really get a full-size keyboard, of course. An 88-key keyboard is just way too large to carry around anywhere. Even a small, portability-focused 88-key keyboard such as the Roland FP-30 is nearly 5′ long. That’s wider than most desks. You’re not going to be able to drop it into a backpack and take it easily to gigs.
So for the most part, buying the best portable MIDI keyboard means that you restrict yourself 25 or 37 keys. This gives you 2-3 octaves of range which, for most producers, is enough to create music.
I personally recommend getting a 25-key keyboard. This gives you 2 octaves of range which is enough to access bass, mids, or highs. At 25 keys, you can make the keyboard as small as possible while still being usable. 37-keys is in a weird 3-octaves range that is neither large enough (like 61-keys) nor small and portable enough.
Size and shape
Size, of course, is a big feature of portability. It’s hard to carry around a keyboard that’s longer than 2′. I generally recommend getting the smallest size that’s still usable, but that’s not a very useful guide.
A better visual guide is to think of your backpack and buy a keyboard that could – at least vertically – fit inside it.
A standard laptop backpack is between 16-20″ in height. This fits within the average length for most portable MIDI keyboards with 25 keys. Provided the keyboard is narrow enough, you could, technically, fit it inside your laptop (of course, I recommend buying a keyboard case and using that instead).
A more important – and often overlooked – consideration is the keyboard’s shape or form factor. The standard key-only layout means that your keyboard is going to be long and narrow. Add some control options to it and it will add to the keyboard’s height.
Now height affects not just portability, but how and where you can use the keyboard. If the keyboard is overly tall, you’ll have difficulty fitting a laptop/monitor on top of it. You’ll need a deep desk that’s at least 3′ deep to use both your laptop and keyboard next to each other. If you’re in a small studio, this might not be possible.
A good rule of thumb is to pick a keyboard that’s roughly the same size as a laptop. The ever-popular Akai MPK Mini, for instance, has the same rectangular shape as any 13″ laptop. Not only does this make carrying the keyboard around easier, it also means that you don’t have to buy a dedicated bag for it – you can just drop it into your laptop bag.
I don’t have to tell you that weight is important as far as portability goes. The heavier the keyboard, the harder it is to carry.
Fortunately, MIDI keyboards, as a product category, are already lightweight enough. You won’t find a lot of keyboards that are over 10 lbs, even for large 61 key keyboards. In fact, a vast majority will be under 3 lbs.
In fact, 3 lbs is a good threshold for any portable MIDI keyboard. That’s roughly the same weight as a Macbook Air. Some portability-focused keyboards, such as the Akai LPK25, weigh even lower – around 1 lbs, which is the same as an iPad.
I usually recommend that your weight threshold should be the same as the system you’re going to use with it. That is:
- If you’re going to use a Macbook Pro, keep 3-4 lbs as your weight threshold
- If you’re going to use an iPad, keep 1-2 lbs as your weight threshold
Altogether, you can put together a competent iPad/Macbook + MIDI keyboard setup for under 5 lbs. That’s nothing short of remarkable.
If you’ve ever looked at the market for portable MIDI keyboards, you might have noticed that most keyboards either offer mini or full-size keys.
This is nothing but a descriptor of the length of the keys (not their width). Mini keys are shorter, full-size keys are the same size as a standard piano’s. The iRig is a great example of the difference (mini keys to the left, full-size to the right):
Another you might have heard for keys is their width. Keyboard keys are frequently described as slim or narrow. As you might expect, these keys are thinner, which reduces the overall size of the keyboard.
Obviously, you want smaller keys if you’re looking for the best portable MIDI keyboard. But there is an argument to be made in favor of full-size keys, especially if you’re someone who plays the piano. Larger, longer keys are simply more comfortable to play. You’re also less likely to make mistakes on them.
Instead of choosing the smallest, narrowest keys by default, evaluate how you will use the keyboard and make a decision. Keep the following in mind:
- Choose narrow, mini keys if you need the keyboard just to enter some notes and you’ll be using it primarily as a DAW controller. In such a case, keyboard size and portability are obviously more important considerations than playability.
- Choose full-size keys if you need the keyboard to play complex melodies. This is particularly true for keyboards that don’t have any pads, knobs, or other control options. If you want it primarily to play the piano, it doesn’t make sense to constrain your performance by using smaller keys.
While the above are important factors in deciding which portable MIDI keyboard to buy, you should also consider the following:
- Built-in sounds: MIDI keyboards are not digital pianos or synthesizers; they don’t have speakers or the capability to create sound on their own. You have to plug them into a DAW + speakers to get sound output. However, a few MIDI keyboards, such as the Akai MPK Mini Play, have small libraries of built-in sounds and small speakers. This is mostly to help you jam out simple melodies when you get an idea. While not necessary (this is about MIDI keyboards, after all, not synthesizers), this can be a handy feature.
- Build quality: If you’re going to carry the keyboard around, you obviously want it to be sturdy enough. However, pick something too sturdy and you’ll add to the weight, affecting portability. While I don’t recommend it for higher end gear, plastic chassis can actually offer decent trade-off between portability and build quality.
- Thickness: Thickness isn’t as important a consideration as overall size and weight but it should definitely be on your radar. Thinner keyboards are more portable but also have lesser key travel. This can affect playability. I don’t recommend going for anything under 1.5″ as that won’t give you enough depth for comfortable playing. Ideally, your MIDI keyboard should be as thick as 2-3 of your laptops stacked on top of each other. The Akai MPK Mini, for instance, is 1.8″ thick – approximately the same as 3 Macbook Airs.
Of course, you should keep the normal things about MIDI keyboards in mind as well – integration with your DAW, quality of keys (semi-weighted is best, synth-action is fine), features such as Aftertouch, control options (knobs, pads, sliders, etc.), and quality of pads.
But if you’re in the market for the best portable MIDI keyboard, the above should be your top purchase factors.
To Wireless or Not to Wireless?
Before we look at the best portable MIDI keyboards in more detail, I want to answer a question so many of you have asked of me over email:
Should you buy a wireless MIDI keyboard?
As tempted as I am to take a diplomatic “it depends” stance, I will go out on a limb and say that you shouldn’t buy a wireless MIDI keyboard.
Three reasons why:
- Latency: Despite advancements in Bluetooth, wireless keyboards still underperform wired keyboards in terms of latency. For the same hardware, a wireless variant will underperform its wired counterpart by 2-4x. Even if you get the latency down to the point where its not immediately noticeable (under 30ms), it will still be below a wired keyboard.
- Battery: A wireless keyboard comes with yet another issue you have to deal with: battery life. Most wireless keyboards tap out at about 8-10 hours of battery life. For me, that’s about 2-3 jamming sessions. While it’s not a huge problem, keeping the keyboard charged is one more thing you have to worry about. And I’d rather just focus on making music than making sure that my keyboard is charged.
- Price: Wireless MIDI keyboards are almost always 1.5-2x pricier than their wired counterparts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t hate USB cables enough to spend an extra $100 to get rid of them for a slower keyboard.
Moreover, there aren’t a lot of great MIDI keyboard options on the market right now. And let’s not forget that if you get rid of the USB cable, you will still have to carry around the charging cable. Essentially, you’re replacing one cable with another.
All of this makes me reluctant to recommend wireless MIDI keyboards wholeheartedly. The technology is just not mature enough yet. Maybe in three years they’ll get the latency down to 10ms and the battery life up to 20 hours. But until then, stick to your boring standard wired MIDI keyboards.
With this out of the way, let’s look at our top picks for the best portable MIDI keyboards in more detail below.
The Best MIDI Portable Keyboard
Of the hundreds of MIDI keyboards available on the market at the moment, the following are my most recommended portable options. I’ve shown the length and height of each keyboard in the product image below so you get a better idea of their size/shape.
Here’s my list in detail below:
Best Overall: Akai Professional MPK Mini Play
- 25 synth-action velocity responsive mini keys
- 8 large pads
- 6 knobs
- OLED info display
- 128 built-in sounds
- Built-in speaker
- Thumbstick for pitch/mod controls
In design, features, build quality, and control options, the Akai MPK Mini Play is exactly the same as the Akai MPK Mini (which ranks as our top 25-key MIDI controller). Akai doesn’t have much reason to change things – the MPK Mini is the bestselling mini MIDI keyboard by a large margin.
What separates the MPK Mini Play from the Mini MK2 are two things:
- 128 built in sounds
- A tiny speaker built-in
This essentially transforms the Mini Play into a standalone audio device, and not just another controller. As far as portability goes, this is a game changer. You don’t have to connect it to a DAW or a computer; you can whip it out and start jamming out ideas right away.
Bear in mind that the Mini Play isn’t a synthesizer or a digital piano. You can’t create new sounds from it. Nor are the speakers or the built-in sounds anything remotely similar to what, say, a Yamaha digital piano can offer. You’re not going to compose symphonies with it.
But you can use the Mini Play to translate ideas into actual melodies. It’s also great for practicing your keyboard skills and scales, especially with the handy headphone jack.
To make the keyboard more portable, the Mini Play is powered by 3 x AAA batteries. Normally, I prefer rechargeable power but in this case, the AAA batteries work perfectly. You will use the Mini Play predominantly on your desktop anyway. The few times that you do take it with you on the go, the AAA battery power works great.
Besides this, you get the standard MPK Mini control options. The pads are large and comfortable to use. The knobs have the right amount of tightness. And the keys, while not being stellar, are usable enough. The size and shape are roughly the same as a 13″ laptop and the entire unit weighs barely over 2 lbs.
If there is anything I could change, it would be the quality of the speakers. The tiny speaker sounds very tinny and can be hard to hear in open or crowded spaces.
Another negative is the thumbstick and its placement. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of the four way thumbstick vs the conventional pitch/mod wheels. The placement in the upper left corner can also be hard to access if you’re playing the lower notes.
But these are minor quibbles. As far as the overall performance and portability goes, the Akai MPK Mini Play is easily an astonishingly light, small, and portable MIDI keyboard.
Best Mid-Range Keyboard: Alesis VI25
- 25-full sized keys
- Keys are semi-weighted
- 16 backlit pads
- 8 knobs and 24 buttons
- DAW controls and LCD info screen
Want a portable keyboard but need something that’s more capable than an Akai MPK Mini? Willing to compromise on portability in favor of better features?
Then the Alesis VI25 might be for you.
The elder sibling of the Alesis V25 eschews portability in favor of better performance. You get a far better keyboard, more pads, more control options, and better integration. In exchange, you have to make do with slightly larger dimensions and heavier weight.
Let’s focus on the positives first:
- Semi-weighted keys which mimic the action of acoustic pianos and are way more fun to use then synth-action keys found on most cheaper keyboards
- 16 large, responsive pads feel great and integrate seamlessly with most DAWs. Innovative features such as the “roll” function (which triggers a pad automatically at fixed intervals based on current tempo) enhance the usability even further.
- Lots of control options including 8 knobs (with 1 sound bank for a total of 16 knobs) and 24 buttons. You can trigger virtually anything you want right from the keyboard – no need to look at the screen.
- Built-in DAW controls make it possible to record, play, and transport the track right from the keyboard without using the mouse.
In terms of performance, the Alesis VI25 is as competitive as the higher priced Akai MPK2xx series. To this author at least, the VI25 also looks better.
There are some downsides as well, of course. The biggest one is the square front keys. While not a dealbreaker, the square keys dig into your wrists and can make extended use uncomfortable.
The biggest negative is the size and weight. At nearly 25″ in length, this is one of the largest keyboards on this list. The 6+ lbs of weight doesn’t help the portability either.
If you’re willing to compromise on the portability, however, the Alesis VI25 offers fantastic performance wrapped in an affordable, beautiful bundle.
Best for Professionals: Akai Professional MPK225
- 25 semi-weighted, full-sized keys
- 8 backlit pads with 4 assignable sound banks
- 8 control knobs with 3 banks
- 4 switches/buttons with 3 banks
- Detailed LCD info display
- 4 way navigational buttons for LCD screen
The Akai MPK2xx series has been a favorite of mine - and countless other professionals - for years. The combination of better quality keys, pads, and tons of control options makes this ideal for serious players who want proven performance.
As the smallest of the MPK2xx line, the MPK225 ranks as our best portable MIDI keyboard for professionals. It offers everything serious musicians would want and it comes at a price tag that isn't absurdly expensive.
Talking about the positives, here's what you'll particularly enjoy about the MPK225:
- Semi-weighted keys are much more responsive than synth-action keys
- MPC-like pads are a delight to use
- Tons of control options via assignable banks
- Info-rich LCD screen paired with 4-way navigational buttons means you can use the keyboard without using the mouse
- Stellar build quality with a sturdy aluminum chassis and tactile keys/control knobs
If you're a professional, these features should be a bare minimum. You can't show up to a gig with a keyboard that doesn't work or has broken pads.
Now for the negatives, the biggest one of which is the size and shape.
The MPK225 is not a light keyboard. The entire unit weighs nearly 7 lbs. While its dimensions aren't huge - it's under 20" long - it is considerably thick at nearly 4" in thickness. This can make the keyboard difficult to carry around to casual jamming sessions. I know a lot of musicians who just opt for a cheaper keyboard if they have to go to a friend's place than carry this little beast everywhere.
Apart from the portability (which is a big factor given that this article is titled the best portable MIDI keyboard), there is little to fault the MPK225. Maybe the price could have been a little lower. Maybe the pads could have been a little looser for beginners. But for serious musicians, this remains the gold standard as far as mini MIDI keyboards go.
Lightest: IK Multimedia iRig Keys Mini 25
- 25 mini keys
- Assignable octave up/down buttons
- Ultraportable dimensions and weight
IK Multimedia's iRig Mini is an ultraportable keyboard that also ranks as one of the lightest and smallest keyboards in the world. This thing is so ridiculously light that you sometimes forget that you're even carrying it.
So while the iRig Mini might not score much on the features or performance scale, it scores a 10/10 in portability.
Let's step back and look at this keyboard in more detail.
You don't get much in terms of control options or features. There are 25 mini keys, assignable octave up/down and volume buttons, and that's about it. Connectivity is via USB. The keyboard also ships with lightning and microUSB cables so you can hook it up to your iPad.
What sets the iRig apart from the competitors is its size and weight. At just 0.9 lbs, this thing weighs less than an iPad Air. The size is tiny - it's just 12.2" in length, which is less than the 2017 Macbook Air.
I used this keyboard with an iPad and it was so light that I didn't even notice it in my backpack. The combined weight of my production "setup" was under 2.5 lbs, which, when you think about it, is absurdly low.
Extreme portability comes with its cons, of course. The keys are clicky and feel spongy at the bottom of the key travel. It's not the most fun to play keyboard on the market. There are no control options either; you just get a keyboard and that's it.
But if you're after performance, this isn't the keyboard for you. It's portability first and everything else a distant second.
Most Affordable: midiplus AKM230
- 32 synth-action keys
- Dedicated pitch and modulation wheels
- Dedicated octave up/down buttons
Clunky keys that become loose after extended use. No control options. Loose pitch/mod wheels.
This doesn't sound like the resume of one of the best portable MIDI keyboard you can buy.
Yet, the midiplus AKM320 consistently finds a spot in our guides on account of a single thing: price.
The AKM320 is one of the cheapest MIDI keyboards on the planet. How midiplus managed to get the price to this level is beyond me; it shouldn't be possible to offer users 2.5 octaves of range and dedicated pitch/mod wheels for this low a price tag.
Somehow, midiplus manages to do both.
The lack of features also means that you get exceptionally low weight and size. The entire unit weighs just about 1.5 lbs and is barely 18" long and 5" wide. You can throw this into a backpack and take it wherever you want.
Sure, there's a laundry list of complaints. The keys tend to get loose over time and are audibly clicky. The volume control is loose and slides back by itself sometimes. The pitch/mod wheels have none of the rubbery tightness found in better keyboards.
But all of these complaints are made redundant by the tiny price tag and portability-friendly dimensions. There might be cheaper keyboards on the market, but they're not from a decently respected manufacturer like midiplus.
Smallest (and Most Versatile): ROLI Seaboard Block
- 24 "key waves"
- 5D touch technology
- Wireless performance
- Powerful production software included
Is it a keyboard? Is it a drum machine? Or is it a MIDI strings controller?
In truth, the ROLI Seaboard Block is all of the above, and so much more.
To call this a "MIDI keyboard" would be to grossly undersell it. ROLI's Seaboard series is literally a paradigm shift in keyboard technology.
Take the "key waves" as a start. The 24 waves roughly correspond to the piano keys you find in conventional keyboards. However, while conventional keys have to be pressed to play, ROLI's key waves offer a whole range of motion. You can press them, slide your fingers down or across them to create a glide effect, or tap/release them to vary the velocity of the sound.
This "5D touch" is a groundbreaking innovation and opens up a whole new range of playing experiences. The black keyboard top is soft and squishy, like a rubberised skin. Press a note, drag a finger to the bottom or top of the keyboard, and you can slide up/down notes - something you can't do with regular keyboards (and which works great for guitar).
The squishy key waves also means that the ROLI Seaboard easily doubles up as a drum pad. Load up your clips and tap any key to use them ad pads, not keys. This turns the Seaboard into a far more versatile production tool than anything else on the market.
Since we're looking for the best portable MIDI keyboard, I have to mention these three features as well:
- The Seaboard is wireless and connects via Bluetooth
- At just 11" long and 1" thick, this is one of the smallest keyboards you can buy
- ROLI's mobile apps give you access to a large library of sounds that you can play wirelessly
All of these combine to make the Seaboard one of the most portable keyboards you can buy right now.
That's not all. The Seaboard Block is actually just one part of a series of modular wireless controllers from ROLI. You can connect multiple Blocks together to expand the key count. Or you can connect it to the Lightpad Block M to tap out beats and draw melodies on the fly. Throw in any one of the three Control Blocks to get immediate access to production/performance/expression controls.
It's one of the most innovative products in the music industry at the moment and if you have the money for it, I can't recommend it enough.
This brings our guide to buying the best portable MIDI keyboard. You can pick any of the options on this list based on your priorities and not be disappointed.
Just to recap, here's the complete list again:
- Akai MPK Mini Play (best overall)
- Alesis VI25 (best mid-range)
- Akai MPK225 (best professional)
- iRig Keys Mini 25 (lightest)
- midiplus AKM320 (most affordable)
- ROLI Seaboard block (smallest)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!
Experts referenced for this article:
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