What is a MIDI Keyboard Controller?
A MIDI controller is a device that can let you sequence music and play virtual instruments on your Mac or PC. It is sending the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data to a computer or synthesizer, then interprets the signal and makes a sound.
A good MIDI keyboard makes your workflow faster and easier. But what are the essential controllers that a MIDI keyboard should have? What are the things that we need to consider before buying?
Number of Keys
As a pianist, we used to play the range of keys from an acoustic piano which contains 88 keys. So usually we will also try to look at a similar range of keys when we buy a MIDI keyboard as well, this is to make sure we can play pianistic even with a MIDI keyboard, it will not limit your piano playing and affect your creativity.
To add on to point No.1, as a pianist we used to play with heavy-weighted piano touch keys as well. Therefore we hope to have the same touch when searching for a MIDI keyboard. There are two separate touches in the MIDI keyboard, one is similar to the acoustic piano touch, another is a flat surface, which is lightweight. For pianists, it’s really hard to control with that lightweight touch.
As we are dealing with MIDI, we need to have full control of communicating with them. We need the faders to indicate where we should be playing software (crescendo/diminuendo), change of articulations, etc. Of course, the more faders the merrier, it can let us assign to more possibilities.
Not all MIDI keyboards are compatible with certain DAW software like Cubase, Logic, Digital performer, etc. But nowadays most of it can be used for all DAW software. Just in case, you have to double-check it.
Nowadays, media composers tend to travel quite often, so sometimes flexibility is another thing that they should consider. A full range of 88 keys is very hard for travel, but there are smaller and lesser ranges of keys available starting from 25 keys.
The company was originally engaged in designing software and hardware solutions designed to address the challenges of connecting MIDI, audio and computers together in a system in order to facilitate the composition and production of electronically-based music.
M-Audio now offers state-of-the-art products in a wide range of categories that serve both amateur and professional musical markets, including MIDI interfaces, keyboard controllers, drum machines, recording monitors and subwoofers, headphones, and microphones.
Hammer 88 Pro by M-Audio included some premium software suits, which are ProTools (First M-Audio Edition), Ableton Live Lite, MPC Beats, Hybrid 3.0, Air Music’s Velvet, Air Music’s Mini Grand, Vacuum Classic, Boom and DB-33. These premium software are good enough for beginners to kickstart the journey!
The Key Features that Hammer 88 Pro are
- 88 graded hammer-action keys with aftertouch and assignable zones
- 16 RGB, backlit, assignable, velocity-sensitive pads with Note Repeat for beat production, clip launching, and more
- 8 assignable knobs & buttons for controlling virtual instruments, mix plugins, DAW controls, and more
- 9 assignable faders for controlling virtual instruments, plugins, DAW faders, and more
- Preset and DAW buttons for auto-mapped DAW Controls & plugin paramters
- Smart Chord mode enables playing of enharmonic or custom chord voicings
- Smart Scale mode eliminates wrong notes making it easy to craft a perfect song
- Arpeggiator with Type, Octave, Gate and Swing controls
- Ergonomically designed pitch and modulation wheels & 3 footswitch pedal inputs and 1 expression pedal input
- USB-MIDI connection and 5-pin MIDI Input and Output for connecting to external MIDI gear
- Intuitive layout featuring and OLED Screen for quick control edits
- Includes music rest, MIDI editor software and a complete software production package.
56.0″ x 11.1″ x 5.0″
142.2 cm x 28.2cm x 12.7cm
Price: $449 (without Drum Pad, Amazon)
Nektar Technology, Inc was founded in 2009, and have been passionate about their mission to bridge the gap between powerful music software and controller hardware. Created by a team of experienced engineers who have worked in the industry forever and with more combined experience in the controller field than any other company, Nektar is well-positioned to fulfill the mission.
There are several series of keyboards from Nektar, the one that I am going to introduce is from the Impact LX+ Series and Impact GXP Series.
The Impact LX88+ is a unique USB MIDI controller keyboard designed for keyboard players looking for extra reach. It’s jam-packed with intelligent, expressive performance control and hookups automatically to your DAW! If you prefer to control MIDI hardware, use the built-in MIDI Out as well as the extensive MIDI programming options. Impact LX88+ does it all, and more.
Nektar DAW Integration, custom designed for most of the popular DAWs, takes Impact LX88+ way beyond functionality normally offered by a MIDI Controller Keyboard. With Impact LX88+ hard work is done, so you can focus on your creativity.
- Velocity-Sensitive Semi-Weighted Keyboard
- 4 velocity curves + 3 fixed
- Pitch Bend & Modulation Wheels
- Transpose Shift Buttons
- 8 potentiometers
- 9 30mm faders
- 9 assignable buttons
- 6 dedicated transport buttons
- 5 preset locations store control settings
- 8 velocity sensitive pads
- Each pad LED illuminated with 4 color options: Green, Yellow, Orange and Red
- Load or Save to any of 4 pad maps
- Clips and Scenes LED Buttons
Dimensions: 50 1/4″ (L) x 11″ (D) x 3.5″ (H)
Weight: 18 lbs
Whereas Impact GXP 88 series has the great performance with semi-weighted velocity and aftertouch-sensitive keys, instant access to performance controls and patches, real-time repeat engine, Nektarine support and Nektar DAW Integrations. It also included Steinberg Cubase LE and Retrologue 2 VST Synthesizer.
- 14 RGB LED Buttons for MIDI, note repeat and Nektarine features
- Pitch Bend and Modulations Wheels
- 1 push encoder for note repeat tempo control and Nektarine features
- Octave up/down buttons with LED indicators
- Transpose up/down buttons with LED indicators. Assignable to other functions
- 7 transport buttons for DAW integration or MIDI assignable
Dimensions: 134.5cm (L) x 23cm (D) x 7.2cm (H)
Price: $526.49 (Amazon)
Native Instruments is a leading manufacturer of software and hardware for computer-based audio production and DJing. The company’s mission is to develop innovative, fully-integrated solutions for all musical styles and professions. The resulting products regularly push technological boundaries and open up new creative horizons for professionals and amateurs alike.
Komplete Kontrol S88 combines the best-feeling hammer-action keybed around with vivid visual feedback and tight integration for your entire workflow. Browse and preview all your presets from KOMPLETE and hundreds of NKS plug-ins, sculpt your sound, and control your favorite DAW from the ultimate studio centerpeice.
It also included Komplete 13 Select, 5 expansions and Ableton Live 11 Lite.
- 88 key hammer-action Fatar keybed with true piano feel
- Intuitive integration with all your virtual instruments and effects
- Two high-res color screens and Light Guide for at-a-glance visual feedback
- Comes with Komplete 13 Select
Price: $1099 (Keyboard Only)
Keylab Essential 88
Keylab Essential 88 is the perfect combo of intuitive control and artistic inspiration. KeyLab Essential is packed with clever controls that help you make swift work of everyday tasks within your recording software.
- Velocity Sensitive keyboard with hybrid synth-piano feel
- Included Analog Lab software, Ableton Live Lite, UVI Model D
- 1 clickable encorder
- 9 encoders
- 9 30mm faders
- 6 transport switches
- 4 command switches
- 1 modulation wheel
- 1 pitch bend wheel
- 8 touch and pressure-sensitive pads
KeyLab 88 MkII Black Edition
KeyLab 88 MkII has the ultimate piano-feel master controller keyboard goes dark mode. Professional feel, deep integration, and absolute control over your performance.
- 88 note Fatar TP/100LR Keybed
- High quality, aftertouch, velocity sensitive, hammer-action, piano feel keyboard
- 16 RGB-backlit performance pads
- Control bank with 9 faders and 9 rotary knobs
- Control modular equipment with 4 CV/Gate outputs, controlling pitch, gate and modulations
- Included Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab, Wurli V, Vox Continental V and Piano V
Alesis has revolutionized the music industry time and time again with their ground-breaking studio recording, electronic percussion, keyboard and live sound gear. Their passion for innovation is unmatched, and they’re dedicated to creating gear that empowers musicians, producers and engineers at all skill levels to unleash their full creative potential at home, on-stage and in the studio.
Their products range from keyboards, synthesizers, hard disk recorders, iPod recording and playback devices, electronic drums, mixers, signal processors, effects units, amplifiers and speakers.
Alesis Q88 MKII Features:
- Velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys
- Octave/Transpose buttons enable access of the full piano range
- Pitch bend and modulation wheels for added expression
- Transport and directional buttons to control your software
- Assignable volume slider for quick control during performing and recording
- ProTools and MPC Beats included
If you’re just learning to play, or just want to sharpen your keyboard skills, the Q88 MKII also includes 60 free lessons from Melodics, the best way to learn piano.
Roland A-88MKII is supremely playable, with onboard creative tools for today’s musicians and producers. Their acclaimed hammer-action keyboard and built-to-last quality combine with modern features like USB-C Connectivity, RGB-lit controls, and MIDI 2.0 (coming soon) for the best performance in it’s class.
- 88 Keys (PHA-4 Standard Keyboard with Escapement and Ivory Feel)
- 8 pad controllers with illumination, assignable
- 8 knobs with illumination, assignable
- Pitch Bend/Modulation Lever
- 2 Buttons assignable
Dimension: 142.9cm (Width) x 27.4cm (Depth) x 11.9cm (Height)
How do you choose a MIDI Keyboard Controller that suits you?
In summary, I personally think that you need to ask yourself several questions to narrow down the possibilities.
- How much is your budget?
- Is 88 keys too much for you?
- Are you going to travel with your MIDI controller?
- Do you need any Faders or Pads? How much do you need?
- Do you need a semi-sensitive touch? Best if you are able to test it.
Hope this helps!