6 Best MIDI Keyboards For Beginners – Studio Essentials – Updated
So I realized that it’s not as easy to find a good guide on this as if you were looking for a computer or a microphone. Well, I can see why. How many people have you seen asking “Which are the best midi keyboards for beginners?” on forums?
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few, but there are only so many uses to a device like that. Unless you are a beatmaker, you probably don’t care that much.
When it comes to mics, there are singers and rappers, recording themselves, who look for condenser and dynamic microphones. There are bands recording both vocals and instruments, which are also doing their research. Many people do podcasts, so they need simple USB-microphones for them and their guests.
There are just so many uses to microphones. And I can give you examples of most of the essentials of a home recording music studios, such as headphones, monitors, even computers.
With MIDI controllers you mostly just make music on your workstation. Therefore, the demand is still there, but it’s not nearly as high.
Anyways, let’s get to the point and start our lecture on which controllers are a good fit when you are just starting out!
Best Midi Keyboards for Beginners
Let’s start by saying that they literally go from under $50 to almost a $1000. I did my research and there are some insane ones you can find for $500 to $900. Do you need to own one of THE BEST to make fire beats? Not at all.
Moreover, it will take you years until you learn how to utilize every pad, button, and knob to make it worth your money.
Have you ever heard the expression “you get what you pay for”? It applies to almost anything, and MIDIs too. Look, there are a few controllers that you can find under $50. Maybe I will even write a guide on how to build your studio for as cheap as possible in the future.
The point is, don’t start complaining when it breaks in a couple of months. Actually, that’s the worst case scenario. Most of them won’t break this quick. One key may fail, one knob will start disconnecting from time to time due to poor wiring. Hey, you got it for $30, what did you expect?
I want to make this list more about quality. It doesn’t mean you have to buy the cheapest keyboard if you are a beginner. If you can’t afford any budget MIDIs on the list, just save up, you know. It will pay off in the long run.
Also, they come in 25, 49, and 61 keys. Mostly, all companies offer the same product in 3 versions. However, sometimes you can find even 88 keys controllers. Crazy, right?
Alright, I am not going to bore you any longer, let’s roll!
I personally own an Alesis and couldn’t be happier with it. That’s why it’s the first one on the list. These guys make all kind of stuff for music production, and they are really established in the market. You can find many kinds of drum and sample pads, mixers, interfaces, studio monitors, and so much more.
That’s one of the reasons I went to Alesis, it’s all the trust they’ve built over the years. Please don’t think I am sponsored by them or something, I WISH. Then I will live my best life somewhere on the islands, you know.
Almost forgot the keyboard itself.
As you would’ve guessed from V49, it has 49 keys, which is quite a bit. It’s about 3 feet in length, so if you have a limited space on your desk, looked into the smaller, 25 key one. Who needs 61 keys? Well, maybe people who play complex melodies.
In my opinion, 49 is the biggest you should go for, but note that I’ve never played piano and mostly use it for chord progressions.
The keys are velocity sensitive, which can be annoying if you don’t know how hard to press. This also means that there are more options and opportunities in the long run, because you can tweak velocity, so some notes come out louder than other.
Weighted keys seem to be the thing many beginners spend a lot of time thinking about. Listen, if you never played piano, you will never notice. And if you did and think it’s worth paying more to get weighted keys, go for it.
I don’t think it’s a big deal overall, most MIDIs are made to make beats, not play in an orchestra.
Next neat feature, the drum pads.
You have probably seen them on DJ mixers/controllers. They are not at all necessary, but it’s a cool feature. I like how Ramzoid uses them when remixing songs.
You can easily just use the piano roll to add kicks, snares, hi-hats and whatsoever but using drum pads adds so-called human touch to all this.
With Alesis, you get 8 drum pads, which are both pressure and velocity sensitive and work great with drum VSTs. This is basically what adds the human touch. The velocity will be similar, but with a little variability. This usually makes tracks sound better.
The pads are also backlit, which just makes it a lot cooler, especially when you show the controller to your friends.
You have to use a plugin or manually assign each pad a sound, they don’t just magically know what you want them to be, but that’s incredibly simple to do, so don’t worry!
Lastly, we get 4 knobs, 4 buttons, and 2 wheels. They don’t do anything by themselves, you have to assign each one of them a certain task to do. As I said before, the only limit is your imagination.
You can “attach” them to literally any knob of any plugin – reverb, delay, compression, EQ, you name it. Once you are a little more comfortable with your DAW, you will find all these things extremely helpful.
To start, you connect it to a USB-port, find it in the MIDI section of your DAW, and that’s it, you are good to go.
- Perfect building block for music producer needing to control plug-ins and virtual instruments
- 49 full-sized, square-front keys with adjustable sensitivity
- 8 LED-backlit drum trigger pads respond to both velocity and pressure
- 4 assignable knobs, 4 assignable buttons, and Pitch & Mod wheels
- USB-powered with sustain-pedal input
Let’s keep going.
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII (25 keys)
I don’t know why, but so many of my friends own this particular MIDI keyboard. It’s funny, but you can almost call it a “budget music studio” standard.
I can see where they are coming from. Akai has been around since 1929, and they’ve made MIDIs since the early 80’s. The quality is outstanding as well, especially if you consider that you are buying a controller on the cheaper end of the price range.
Let’s see why it’s such a catch for so many beatmakers around the world.
Firstly, it’s very compact. This is one of the reasons. Being just a foot long and under 2 lbs, you can take it wherever you want. And it fits even the small desks. If you have a studio in your bedroom, and the space is very limited, Akai is the way to go.
For a comparison, my Alesis is 3 times longer. And besides the number of keys, it has everything you need. Moreover, maybe you don’t even need more than 25 keys at a times, because most people don’t.
When making your melody, you want it to stay in one octave, maybe two. Therefore, it makes sense to just have 25 keys.
It has 8 velocity-sensitive drum pads and 8 knobs, which can be assigned to any plugin. The pads also have 2 banks and a switch button to go back and forth.
It doesn’t have any buttons, but you have twice as many knobs as Alesis. Moreover, in my opinion, knobs have a lot more potential in them as well.
You can also buy a case for it, which can be quite handy if traveling.
Just a tiny note, it has mini-keys as opposed to full-sized keys. This can be a deal breaker for some.
Definitely one of the best ones on the market.
- Limited Edition 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Drum Pad & Keyboard Controller with sleek color change
- Compact keyboard controller easily fits backpack and studio production desk (12.4" long, 1.6 lbs)
- Powered by USB connection to computer, with free virtual-instrument download packages
- 25-synth-action mini-keys, 8 velocity-sensitive rubber drum pads with two banks, and eight assignable control knobs
- Includes VIP3.0 - the ground-breaking, award-winning music software platform that provides musicians and composers with a powerful hands-on control solution for their virtual instrument and virtual effect collection
Nektar IMPACT LX25+ MIDI Controller
This one is also a very popular MIDI, however, it’s a bit different from the previous two.
First, it’s compatible with IOS, so you can connect it to your iPad and use in Garage Band. Not a game changer, but something different. I am sure this particular function caught some producers’ eye.
The functionality is also a little different from your “average” controller. I would say it’s a little more complex, especially if you are just starting out.
Besides the 2 wheels and 8 drum pads, which we talked about a lot, it has a lot of other functions which are harder to wrap your head around.
In the previous version, you could just assign nameless knobs to whichever plugins you wanted. The 8 knobs on this one are to be used with synth, bass, and other generators mostly.
4 of them are set to tweak the oscillation tune, level, and 2 mods. The other 4 are to play around with cutoff frequencies, resonance, envelope amount and low-frequency oscillation.
It usually takes some time to learn how to use them to generate some cool sounds and make something unique. And by some time I mean a while.
I feel like a lot of people just use the native presets, or tweak things around just a bit. You have to be insanely knowledgeable to build a sound from scratch, trust me.
To finish up, Nektar IMPACT LX25+ is a great controller if you are fairly proficient in working with sound generators. You can definitely use it to make simple beats and tracks, but you won’t be using it to its full extent.
Now when I think about it, it can be a good idea to learn all this stuff if you buy this MIDI, as your knowledge will pay off eventually. As I said before, a lot of people don’t often use these knobs, so you can impress them with your knowledge.
Keep in mind that the learning curve is quite steep!
Also, it should integrate with most DAWs, but check on their website, just in case.
- Premium midi controller with 25 expressive synth-action keys, on-board pitch bend and modulation wheels for performances
- 8 Hyper-Sensitive backlit pads
- Mac, PC and iOS compatible
- Software instruments automatically mapped to controls
- Includes Bitwig 8-Track DAW
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
Generally, M-Audio is a reliable company that makes all kind of music equipment. This includes interfaces, mixers, midis, studio monitors, and a lot more. Therefore, they are trusted by thousands, if not millions of users all around the globe. Not bad, eh?
The controllers produced by M-Audio vary in price a lot. And I mean A LOT. From under $100, they go way over $500 if you go for an advanced one. The M-Audio Keystation tends to be the budget line of MIDIs they offer.
If you just need a simple controller, go for this option. It’s small and portable and does what a keyboard is supposed to do.
It has 32 keys (which is also a popular choice), but they are not full sized. You also get a volume knob, a sustain button (you can also buy a sustain pedal), and an option to modulate your sounds.
Nothing too crazy, but a lot of people like it because it’s fairly cheap. Literally, the most basic one you can from M-Audio, but does its job well.
If you want to write chord progressions and melodies, it will do just fine. All the knobs, pads, and switches are not required, they just make things easier.
If you don’t know whether you need a MIDI controller or not, this is a fine one to try because of its low price. Great for the beginning of one’s journey.
- Ultimate Expression | 32 low profile velocity-sensitive keys provide a natural feel that captures every subtle nuance of your performance
- Total Control | Selectable velocity curves match any playing style and pitch bend / modulation buttons add expression
- Immediate Creativity | Easy plug-and-play connection to your Mac or PC-no drivers or power supply required
- Unrestricted Performance | Octave up and down buttons for extended keyboard range, Volume knob delivers smooth control and Sustain button adds expressive capability
- Premium Software suite included | Pro Tools | First M-Audio Edition performance/recording software/DAW and AIR Music Tech Xpand!2 multitimbral all-in-one workstation
midiplus AKM320 MIDI controller
So you know how I when reviewing a product I would sometimes mention the company history? And then I say something like “they’ve been around for so long, you can trust their products quality”?
Well, this keyboard is something else. It caught my eye a while ago because it was literally the cheapest one I could find, no matter how much digging I did.
Therefore, I decided to mention it on this list.
First of all, I have never heard of it before from nobody, which was a little weird. I decided to do my own little research on the company.
When you google midiplus you see their website. And being honest, it’s one of the worst designed websites I’ve seen in my lifetime. How about you take a look yourselves? Here is a screenshot of their “About Us” page.
midiplus websiteI went to other manufacturers’ website just to see if they look-alike. Guess what? They all look a lot better than midiplus. And it’s not like you have to put thousands into this, you can get your own webpage for incredibly cheap these days.
Midiplus is fairly new, but even a free WordPress theme would’ve looked better.
Would I want to buy from a company with a website like that? No. If they can’t manage their website a.k.a their “face” on the internet, how would they be able to offer support if anything?
Luckily for some, they mostly sell through Amazon. Therefore, you can expect a good customer support + Amazon handles all the returns. And the price is the lowest on the market, which is very appealing for people who are just getting into music production.
I included this just to show you guys that you need to do your own research. Insanely cheap, but not necessary the best bang for the buck if you think long-term.
- 32-note velocity sensitive mid-size key keyboard. Pitch Wheel. Modulation Wheel. Octave Buttons(Up & Down). Transpose Buttons(Up & Down).
- Sustain Switch interface (sustain pedal does not include). USB B type: USB connect to Computer
- ATTACHMENT: USB cable
M-Audio Code 61
I just wanted to include something a little pricey (actually very pricey), so you can see what to strive for when you start balling.
It’s a 61 key controller with a huge number of features. If you have a beat store and it gets a lot of traffic, I can see you being able to use all the functionality of this MIDI. Otherwise, it’s obviously a waste of money.
Let’s go over the common things first. Two wheels, 16 assignable drum pads.
The really neat thing is that you can store the presets. This comes in handy when you are working on multiple tracks, for example.
We haven’t come across assignable 360 encoders yet. They let you manipulate your instruments and plugins in a very similar way to the knobs, but they have a lot more flexibility.
Another new feature is fully assignable XY pad to control multiple parameters in virtual instruments, for example. Almost forgot about 8 fully customizable faders.
And all the above features have different modes too. Completely overwhelming, even for experienced beatmakers (do you know how to make beats professionally?) who use the simple MIDIs. This is like an entire workstation itself.
Just wanted to show you how advanced they can get, you know? If you didn’t understand some above-mentioned functions of M-Audio Code, it’s okay. These things are really advanced, only very few producers actually use them.
- 61 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch and four assignable zones for splits and layering
- Fully assignable XY pad for HID control and a unique way for controlling multiple parameters in virtual instruments
- 16 fully assignable velocity-sensitive trigger pads for beat production, clip launching, and more
- 8 assignable 360 encoders for manipulating your DAW, virtual instruments and plugins
- Now Includes Pro Tools | First and Eleven Lite for all new and existing customers, as well as Virtual Instrument Player (VIP)
Conclusion: Best MIDI Keyboards for Beginners
Hopefully, this guide helped you a little. I used the last 2 MIDIs on the list to prove a couple points I always talk about.
You have to always do your own research. If something looks too good to be true (midiplus is so cheap), it probably is.
There is always a better version of a device you are using. Therefore, buying the most expensive microphone won’t make you the best singer. If you were to buy M-Audio Code, there is a high chance you won’t use even half of its functions.
Alesis, Akai, and M-Audio are my personal favorites.
If you don’t have a studio yet, take a look at my guide on how to build an affordable studio in your bedroom. It’s easy to follow and I cover all the must-haves of a budget music studio.
Last update on 2019-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API