Depending on what you require, your MIDI keyboard might need to offer a complete suite of full-scale DAW controls that remove the need to jump back and forth from your keyboard and mouse to your MIDI keyboard. Of course, that is not always the case.
As is part and parcel of MIDI devices, quite often the needs simply involve an interface connecting with a central hub of voice--a voice bank. As such, the customary demands of a MIDI keyboard may be greatly reduced in some respects while enhanced in others.
That is why we have put together a list of the 5 Best Midi Keyboards with a particular slant on the MIDI keyboard quality and less of the ancillary qualities.
The we also provide a helpful buyer’s guide, so you can navigate the myriad of features and find the MIDI keyboard that is right for you.
There are a number of ways to judge a midi keyboard. If you are looking for a midi controller, you will value different qualities more than if you are looking for Keyboard Workstation--even if both products make of use of many of the same features.
However, there are numerous Midi keyboards with a pared down feature set. That is because at their essence, Midi keyboards simply need to be able replicate the feel and sound of the Midi instrument better than its competitors. As such, the keybed is the most important quality in this broader niche.
The action refers to how accurately pressing a key on the MIDI keyboard emulates the feeling of pressing a real piano’s key. For workstations or MIDI keyboard controllers, different users will value this quality differently.
However, if you are explicitly looking for a MIDI keyboard, chances are you know how to play the piano proficiently.
These are the general standards of keyboard action in ascending order: synth, semi-weighted, fully-weighted, and graded hammer. Ideally, you should look look for fully-weighted as they can be both accurate and affordable. However, semi-weighted is more common.
On a real piano, the strength with which you press the key, the more expressive the volume and timbre of the tone. The velocity of a MIDI keyboard will be determined by how accurately the keybed replicates this effect. The quality of this function is generally graded on a curve.
The more points along the velocity curve, the more expressive you can play the keys. However, it is just as important that the velocity curve provides enough distance between the different points or else you may end up with key velocity that purports a gradually curved grade but truly adheres to the extremes like any other MIDI keyboard with sub-par key velocity.
For MIDI keyboards, this feature can either be seen as superfluous or necessary depending on the player. However, if you are looking for a MIDI keyboard, chances are you prefer a higher quality feel than those who might be seeking a keyboard controller or a workstation.
The feel itself will generally be determined by the material, shape, size, weight, and feel of the keys. Plastic is the standard material used of MIDI keys, but the molds and specific consistency can differ drastically.
However, white keys are generally about ⅞” wide and 6” long while black keys are about ½” wise and around 3 ½” long.
Depending on how you intend to use the MIDI keyboard, this is another quality that can either be vital or unnecessary. In fairness, there is a bare minimum of integration required for the keyboard to properly utilize its MIDI capabilities, but a full suite of integration may not be necessary.
While you may not require your MIDI keyboard to control your entire DAW, but you will require some type of voice bank to at least make sounds.
Keep in mind, MIDI keyboards do not come equipped with speakers and rarely include an expansive voice bank. However, if your MIDI keyboard includes other functions that you want to take advantage of, the software compatibility will become far more important.
In this regard, the standard software compatibility will involve a DAW. Keep in mind, unless you require advanced production options, the specific DAW compatibility of your MIDI keyboard is unlikely to matter much.
Still, if you do intend to produce a complete accompaniment, then the DAW of your choice may influence your preferred MIDI keyboard--or vice versa.
While compatibility generally refers to how the hardware interacts with a DAW or similar controlling software, the way that one piece or hardware interacts with another is just as important.
In fact, the drivers of a MIDI keyboard are arguably more important than DAW compatibility if your needs run more towards the keybed component.
Essentially, if your MIDI device cannot connect to your hosting device, it will not provide much use. Unfortunately, different companies are more proactive than others--both when it comes to continued upgrades as well as backwards compatibility.
The standard method of connectivity these days for MIDI devices is a USB connection. However, a MIDI keyboard can serve two major purposes--the controller or the slave device.
The former is fairly self-explanatory, but the later is a bit of a throwback role in contemporary MIDI functions.
Basically, a MIDI slave device is controlled by a separate piece of hardware. This occurs through a MIDI DIN jack. It is important to understand that many current pieces of MIDI hardware with a MIDI DIN jack may actually be able to serve as either controller or slave depending on the arrangement.
Any additional controls such as knobs, sliders, and drum banks are nice, but ultimately these features are a bit superfluous for the true function of a MIDI keyboard. Keep in mind, if your needs require complex DAW integration, then these features become far more important.
However, if your MIDI keyboard needs stop at the keybed and you utilize other controls from separate pieces of hardware, then the controls on your MIDI keyboard may be little more than decoration.
When it comes to MIDI keyboards, the Alesis is far from the most impressive product on our list. In fact, if you are a trained pianist, you may be better served investing a good chunk more change and getting a better performing keyboard in its mechanical functions.
That being said, if you are a beginner in the MIDI platform, this is easily the most budget-friendly MIDI keyboard on our list. On top of that, this keyboard is not without its benefits.
For instance, the fact that it has a MIDI input/output, a feature lacking on a few of the more expensive, means it can serve as a master or slave for various other pieces of MIDI hardware. Moreover, the Alesis at least features full-sized, semi-weighted keys.
Unfortunately, that is where the benefits of the keys end. First, the feel is fairly poor. The keys squeak when played and have a cheap feel to them. Furthermore, the velocity of the Alesis is all or nothing with little in between.
If you are looking for a midi controller, it is fairly difficult to find a better deal than the Akai. However, if you are looking for the best keyboard function on a MIDI devices, the Akai will find itself a bit lacking. Keep in mind, this is still an exceptionally high quality all things considered.
Still, a fair amount of the advantages and disadvantages focus more on the features outside of the keybed--which again, is decent, but not spectacular.
The velocity is quality, better than a number of the other entries on our list, and the keys are semi-weighted. However, it is the combination of solid key actions, software compatibility, and a MIDI out that makes this the best secondary MIDI keyboard.
In fact these qualities, combined with a couple disadvantages make it especially attuned to be a MIDI keyboard controlled by another device. Specifically, the drivers are a bit outdated and do not update all that quickly. Second, while the Akai features excellent DAW compatibility, it is a pain to set up.
M Audio is in a bit of a unique position. It offers a number of advantages that are primary considerations when selecting a MIDI keyboard for its keypad while most of its disadvantages are a bit auxiliary. Still, this entry may be one of the better options if the keyboard component is the most important.
For one, the M Audio features a high quality keybed. The keys feel solid and also provide aftertouch effects. While the velocity is not spectacular, much like the Akai, it is reasonably good in its own right.
Also like the Akai, the keys are semi-weights and full-sized. Ultimately the M Audio is one of the closer products to a digital piano with some controller features thrown in.
However, all of this quality comes at a couple costs. One of the more obvious costs is financial in that this is a fairly expensive MIDI keyboard. The other cost comes in space. This keyboard is one of the larger and heavier MIDI keyboards which means it is one of the least portable entries on our list.
Novation has recently become known as one of the best providers of relatively high quality MIDI controllers at an incredibly reasonable price. Of course, the Novation is not the least expensive product we reviewed, so it cannot be the best budget option.
However, it is still reasonably priced and offers a wider range of features than the Alesis. For one, the Novation is one of the few products on our list that not only connects with smart devices but does so fairly well.
When you add the fact that the Novation also offers an exceptionally wide range of DAW compatibility, this is easily the most compatible MIDI keyboard on our list.
Still, if you are looking for a MIDI keyboard with an excellent keybed, you will definitely want to look elsewhere. The entire product, including the case and keys, feels fragile, and the keys use a synth action--the lowest grade available. Finally, the velocity is substandard without some of the refinement that better keybeds offer.
As we mentioned in the buyer’s guide, the keybed is the most important part of a MIDI keyboard if you are not necessarily concerned about its controller functions. As such, the Native Instruments checks the biggest box on the list better than all of the others. However, the Komplete Kontrol does do too terribly much beyond that.
What makes this even more odd is that the Komplete Kontrol does feature a MIDI input. This means that the Native Instruments cannot control other MIDI devices.
This may not be such a big deal, but the Komplete Kontrol also suffers from some of the more restrictive limitations when it comes to DAW compatibility. Of course, none if this is helped by the significant price tag--which is the largest on our list.
Still, this is the only MIDI keyboard on our list to feature the best in the industry Fatar keybed. These keys are made to resemble real piano keys as accurately as possible. Their weight, size, and shape are made as accurately as possible.
On top of that, you can get the most expressive playing from the Komplete Kontrol due to the best velocity curve out of any product on our list.
In the end, the Best Midi Keyboards come with a multitude of features that will differ depending on what the person requires. That being said, the two primary consideration should likely be price and the keybed. Basically, but the best keybed you can afford.
Still, if you have the cash, your best bet will be the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol. The Fatar keybed with amazing velocity recognition is a bit of a no-brainer in this contest.
However, the Komplete Kontrol is almost fifty percent more expensive than the next most expensive product on our list.
Of course, if you are looking for a solid value at less of a cost, the M Audio does a decent job. While it cannot boast the same Fatar keybed as the Native Instruments, it still offers a solid velocity curve with keys that are both full-sized and semi-weighted.
Last update on 2018-04-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API