Having a MIDI keyboard for a producer these days is a must. There is no need to worry about how complicated MIDI technology is. Once you grasp the basics, mastering your MIDI controller won’t be an issue.
MIDI is a language developed a couple of decades ago to make music digitally. Back in the days, it was groundbreaking, and a few years have passed since it was fully-integrated into digital audio workstations yet.
These days using a MIDI controller is easier than ever. In this article, I’ll talk about the top 5 best MIDI keyboards for GarageBand.
All of them are plug-and-play, which means you don’t have to worry about installing drivers or having the right inputs for the device.
Moreover, every single controller is bus-powered – you won’t need another power outlet because it gets power from your computer.
Here are my rating of the GarageBand MIDI keyboards on the list!
Alright, let's get to the list boys!
1) Alesis V49
Check out Alesis V49 Review.
Alesis is one of my favourite brands out there. Even though I happened to own this MIDI keyboard, I’ll be unbiased in my review of the device. Alright, let’s get to it.
First of all, I love the design. It looks clean and neat, without any unnecessary add-ons.
The 49 keys the MIDI controller comes with are full-sized, which is a plus.
You can even learn to play piano with it (most songs don’t need more than 49 keys).
Pads and buttons are back-lit with blue neon light.
Pads, knobs, and buttons will help you learn new skills along the way with ease.
You’ll become a lot more flexible with what you can do, and there will be so much more space for your creativity to expand.
The plug-and-play function will make sure the integration of your MIDI keyboard with GarageBand is seamless and takes no longer than a couple of minutes.
The controller isn’t expensive but has so many functions and features that every music producer needs.
Once you get a grasp of the basics, you’ll have no issues pushing your digital audio workstation to its limits!
Overall, one of the best MIDI keyboards for GarageBand.
2) Akai Mpk 249
Alright, this keyboard is a powerhouse. Even looking at everything it comes with can be intimidating. Akai really went above and beyond when developing this bad boy.
The only limits here are your own imagination. However, is it a good keyboard for GarageBand?
Well, let’s see. First of all, it looks somewhat futuristic. Unlike the Alesis V49 clean design, this keyboard seems rather overwhelming with at least 3 times more additional controls.
And more components means it’s more fragile. For a 49 keys MIDI keyboard, it’s packed with features.
If you are looking to travel with your MIDI device, Mpk 249 isn’t the best choice. However, it’s a perfect fit for your GarageBand music studio.
As you’ve already noticed, it’s more advanced than the previous candidate (in fact, it’s the most advanced MIDI keyboard for GarageBand on the list!).
That’s why I don’t think it’s the best one for beginners who are still trying to learn the fundamentals.
It’s better to upgrade to this one once you need to automate more functions in your DAW. Once you get more serious and want more space to grow, go for it!
The advantage of investing in this Akai product is the fact that you won’t need to upgrade anytime soon.
With all the pads, faders, knobs, and buttons available, you’ll likely never run out of controls to use.
If you are serious about music production, Akai Mpk 249 can last you for years and years to come.
You don’t have to use every single component right away – rushing is the last thing you need when it comes to creativity.
To sum up, it’s a great GarageBand MIDI controller for determined producers who know what they are doing!
3) Akai Mpk Mini Mk2
Check out Akai Professional MPK Mini MK2 Review.
Once again, we got an Akai product. What can I say? The manufacturers know what they are doing.
Did you know that Mpk Mini is the most popular MIDI keyboard in the world? I can’t seriously tell why, but every third producer happens to own one!
Let’s talk about this bad boy now. First of all, the controller has a beautiful design and is very compact.
I am sure it’s praised by those travelling a lot. To keep it snack-sized, it comes with 25 mini keys instead of full sized.
Despite the size, it has quite a few controls – buttons, pads, and knobs.
They are perfect for assigning specific plugins and effects and tweaking the track directly from the keyboard.
Drum pads are all placed conveniently above the keys, which is excellent for creating drum loops and patterns with your fingers.
The previous version of Mpk Mini came with the traditional mod and pitch wheel, but that was replaced with a pitch and modulation thumbstick.
This saves space and actually makes things easier. I can’t recall another GarageBand keyboard with such a cool feature.
4) Arturia MiniLab Mk2
It’s been a while since I’ve stumbled upon Arturia Minilab MIDI controller. The build quality is impressive – the developers sure put a lot of work into that.
Its size is similar to the one of Akai Mpk Mini, but the layout is totally different. I still can’t get my eyes accustomed to so many rotary encoders (do we really need 16 of them?).
Alright, I am not going to rant about it. Let’s talk about the way it’s designed. First of all, it’s rather bleak compared to the other controllers on the list.
However, some may think of it as a clean and minimalistic design, which isn’t wrong either.
Moreover, it’s the most affordable keyboard on the list, so I can see how this will attract a lot of beginners. And as I said, the quality is excellent as well.
All the encoders are heavy duty and covered in thick rubber, and the mod and pitch wheels were replaced with slide pads. As a result, you have to try really hard to break something.
If you are into travelling, you’ll love this MIDI keyboard, and it’s one of the best for GarageBand, especially if you are using it with your MacBook laptop.
For the price, you can’t go wrong here, even if you really try!
5) M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3
I genuinely respect M-Audio as a brand. Their keyboards are beautiful, robust, and last a lifetime. Most importantly, the prices aren’t high.
You get a brand new quality product for half of what you’d pay for a used Yamaha.
The MIDI keyboard is a charm. It looks slick and professional. Not as flashy as Alesis V49 LED lights, or as bright as Akai Mpk Mini, but it carries a statement.
The 49 keys it comes with are semi-weighted! It’s hard to find a budget MIDI controller with anything but touch-sensitive keys, so that’s rather impressive.
If you want to learn to play the piano but can’t invest in a real one, you can start with this bad boy. Semi-weighted keys will do a great deal in training your muscle memory.
The instrument is relatively basic and only comes with the necessary features to get started.
You can easily use it to play all your favourite sounds and instruments in GarageBand.
Keystation 49 Mk3 is perfect for beginners who don’t want to get overwhelmed by all the buttons and switches all over the MIDI keyboard.
You get basic controls, and it’s more than enough to start producing!
Overall, beautiful and high-quality product that won’t cost you a fortune.
What To Consider When Buying a GarageBand MIDI Keyboard
While using a controller is incredibly simple, it’s still worth doing a little research. Here are the most common questions and suggestions!
1) How Many Keys Do I Need For My Keyboard?
The middle-ground is 49 keys. It’s not too big or too small. In fact, the keyboard I have in my studio is 49 keys.
25 keys are good to start with if you have no previous piano or keyboard experience. They are a lot more portable and affordable.
If you travel a lot or only have little space on your desk, 25 keys MIDI will be enough. All you need the keys for are usually chords unless you are a proficient piano player.
49 keys will give you a lot more flexibility in terms of chord progressions and melodies but take up more space.
If you have little experience playing the piano, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable having more keys.
61 keys are for producers who focus primarily on the piano roll when they make their melodies.
If I could play the keyboard better, I would’ve invested in one. I also think it wouldn’t have fit on my cheap Ikea desk.
88 keys are for pianists. Period. They usually cost twice as much as 49 key controllers and are much longer and fragile.
I suggest staying away from them unless you are a fantastic piano player and are able to justify the costs.
2) Is Your MIDI Keyboard Compatible With GarageBand?
These days most MIDI controllers are compatible with major digital audio workstations (and GarageBand is one of them).
If you happen to switch to FL Studio or Logic Pro X, you’ll have no issues using the keyboards with them as well.
The 5 on the list are fully-integrated with GarageBand, so you have nothing to worry about.
3) What Additional Features Does Your MIDI Come With?
While the products on the list are called MIDI keyboards, they all come with more features than simply a number of keys to simplify your workflow even further.
Depending on the device, they can also come with pads, knobs, faders, buttons, and more!
Pads will help you to create authentic drum rolls that feel “natural” because the velocity and tempo won’t be static as if you were to input them into the piano roll with your mouse.
Knobs are perfect for controlling digital effects — same thing with faders.
Buttons are usually used to switch in between banks.
If you need to switch the pitch of your keys an octave higher or lower (which is necessary if you have anywhere under 88 keys), the keyboard usually comes with 2 buttons as well.
Alright, so what’s the best MIDI keyboard controller for GarageBand?
Good question. While it’s obviously up to personal preference, one keyboard stood out. You want your MIDI keyboard for GarageBand DAW to be the best bang for the buck, right?
I don’t want to be biased (because I own the keyboard), but Alesis V49 seems like the best MIDI controller all around.
Akai MPK 249 comes with a lot more functions, but also costs a fortune.
MPK Mini comes with only 25 mini keys, but costs almost as much as Alesis.
Arturia Minilab is sweet, but the drum pads are all positioned in one raw right above the keys, which makes it uncomfortable to use with one hand.
Keystation 49 is not bad but doesn’t have any pads or knobs at all.
Alesis V49 is the golden middle and is perfect for beginners to learn all the ins and outs of MIDI keyboards for GarageBand and then move on to more complex devices.
Price-wise, it’s a little more expensive than the M-Audio MIDI keyboard, but once you get a feel for those pads and knobs and learn how to assign them to VST generators and effects, you’ll never look back.
Last update on 2020-12-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API