There are many different types of MIDI keyboard controllers. There are 49 or 61 key options, but the 88 key option is a full-sized instrument that offers a lot of sound crafting capability and a more realistic instrument feel.
If you are a serious songwriter or composer, this is the option you should be considering. In fact, you will probably want the weighted key model of the 88 key MIDI keyboards. But even with that decision tucked away safely, you still have a lot of considerations to think about. In this guide, I will be diving into the world of the 88 key weighted MIDI keyboards.
I will take a look at some of the most important information to have for a better-informed decision, as well as taking an in-depth look at some of the best 88 key weighted MIDI controllers of 2020.
I will start with the basics and talk about what an 88 Key MIDI controller is and will then move on to the things that make the best MIDI controller and how to choose one. I will also cover some frequently asked questions and end off with 5 recommendations of MIDI controllers that I believe to be the best on the market. Let’s get right into it.
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88 Key Weighted Midi Controller Reviews
Now that you have a good amount of knowledge in regard to what to look for and why a MIDI is such a great option, it is time to look at our choices for the best available on the market today. These all have been chosen using the criteria that I discussed in the buyer’s guide above. So, tune-up and get ready to find the 88 key weighted MIDI controller of your dreams.
1 – M-Audio Hammer 88
- Real piano feel (weighted keys)
- Music stand included
- Built-in pitch shift and modulation wheels (expressive performance)
- No zones
- No built-in display
- Lack of Aftertouch
The first MIDI controller I will review comes from a company that finds its place on the list multiple times. The M-Audio Hammer 88 is a hammer-action USB keyboard controller that comes with its own studio-grade software.
In order to craft a high-quality, superior performing MIDI controller, the engineers and designers at M-Audio concentrated on building an option that is feature-rich and offers a lot of functionality. Some of the features and functions that they added to the model are:
- Crafted with 88 full-size touch-sensitive keys
- Built-in USB power capability
- Easy to use input for DAW interface
- Compatible with multiple platforms
- Multiple easy to reach expression controls including pitch bend, modulation, volume and octave
- Control options for sustain, expression and soft-pedal expansion built-in
The Hammer 88 is fitted with hammer-action keys, and with its weighted keys gives this unit a real piano feel that some will definitely love. It is also constructed with a sheet music stand, which is a nice touch for those players that do classical performances. The built-in wheels that control pitch and modulation open up a world of creativity and allow superior control over sound crafting.
Then when you look at the fact that it is compatible with both Windows and Mac, you can see why it is easily one of the best options on the market. Now, even with all these positive attributes, there are still a few drawbacks that you should know about as you make your decision.
There are no zones, so there is a little detraction from the creative versatility of the model. It doesn’t come with an LCD screen like many of its competitors, and that takes away from the amount of control.
The last negative is that it does not come with Aftertouch. Even with all these features and functions, this model may not be a good fit for those composers/producers out there that are tech-savvy.
This MIDI controller, though, would be an excellent fit for the player that is playing multiple venues and is also potentially dealing with numerous musical styles. The virtual instruments included actually sound close to the real deal.
2 – Arturia KeyLab 88 Midi
- Hammer keys w/ aftertouch
- Wide range of creative choices and controls (9 faders, 12 rotary knobs & 16 pads)
- Multiple inputs for pedals (sustain, expression, AUX)
- Price is high for some
- Lack of split zones
- Not bus-powered
The next entry is a MIDI/USB hammer action hybrid keyboard controller from Arturia. This MIDI keyboard controller is crafted with precision and care, and for this reason, it is one of my choices for the best available today.
Though it is not as feature-rich as some of my other choices, this unit from Arturia is still a great choice. It brings with it a realistic feel when playing and all of these features:
- Designed with 88 keys w/ aftertouch
- Compatible with multiple platforms
- Software included (Analog Lab)
- Multiple built-in encoders (x13)
This MIDI controller is fitted with hammer-action keys with speed sensitivity and Aftertouch. With additional pads, faders, encoders, and buttons, this controller becomes a creativity bomb ready to help your ideas explode into the world. The wheels help with creative expression and playing with feeling.
This unit is fitted with a built-in sheet music stand that can be used to hold your iPad as well, which will help you to play easier. It comes with two types of software to enhance your production quality and allow you to get started quicker.
This unit also is built with many different connections to give it even more versatility of use. Its overall design, including its aesthetic look, is a nice touch to any studio.
There are a few negatives that need to be discussed so that you will be able to make an educated decision.
The price may be a bit high for some, although you do get quite a lot for the hefty price tag. The unit, though, does have a few build issues that may detract from its status.
The lack of split zones limits your creativity, and the fact it is not bus-powered could be problematic. Even with those few drawbacks, when you look at the advantages you will benefit from, you have to at least consider this as one of your options.
The weight will not be a plus for those artists that are traveling the road from gig to gig. It is quite heavy, and finding a case for it is very difficult. This will leave it unprotected and more prone to damage.
If, however, this is not a concern for you, then the KeyLab 88 is a great choice.
3 – Studiologic SL88
- Quad zone design
- Pedal connectors that are programmable (x4)
- Hammer action-weighted keys
- Not bus-powered
- Lack of pads
- Lack of pitch and modulation wheels (joysticks instead)
This entry is a lightweight hammer-action keyboard that is fitted with Aftertouch. Studiologic crafted a well-built high-performance 88-key MIDI that is one of the pre-eminent models available.
In order to make a pre-eminent model, there are certain features and functions that need to be included. These features include the following:
- Designed with 88 hammer-action keys w/ aftertouch
- Lightweight and compact build
- Fitted with 3 default velocity curves
- Multiple editable velocity curves (x6)
- Built-in LCD-TFT display
- Crafted with a magnetic rail system for use with Studiologic stand
- Software included
This controller is a simple-looking model that offers a lot of great controls to allow for the creative use of sound creation. The unit comes with assignable joysticks as well as dials for several aspects of sound crafting. There are also customizable buttons for specific functions.
The keys are hammer-action and come with Aftertouch for better expression control. The multiple zones allow for a more in-depth sound editing through the note ranges. There are 4 programmable pedal connectors as well. As a bonus, a sustain pedal is included.
The unit also comes with a rail system built-in that can be used to hold sheet music or a laptop. There are so many things to love about this unit, but to overlook where this model has a few weaknesses that could lead to more significant problems.
The first is the fact that you will need to use an adapter as it is not bus-powered. There is also a lack of pads and pitch/modulation wheels.
The flaws of this unit don’t take away from the pros, and that is why it is a great option when you are looking for a MIDI controller.
This controller is a great choice, especially for the studio musician. This is partly because it is large but also because it is fitted with multiple functions and is very reliable.
However, if you are a touring musician, the heft of this unit is a detriment, and it also may take time to learn how to control.
4 – Roland A-88
- Built with hammer-action keys for real piano feel
- Designed with connections for a sustain pedal
- Crafted with two-foot pedal inputs that can be assigned
- Lightweight and easy to transport
- Have to install drivers before using
- No wheel for modulation (uses lever)
The next 88-key MIDI keyboard is also a hammer-action designed controller. It is simply a feature-laden option that had to find its place on our list.
This is one of the higher-end options on our list, and with that hefty price tag comes a lot of great designed features and musical functions. These include all of the following:
- Built with hammer-action keys
- Inputs for both sustain and expression
- Buttons for both Octave and Transpose
- Compatible with USB and iPad
- Crafted with Roland SuperNATURAL-powered synths
- Multiple knobs and switches that are capable of being assigned
This model, unlike some of the other options on our list, is fitted with progressive hammer-action keys. This means they feel like real ivory and are connected to a sustain pedal as well as two other pedals that can be assigned to whatever effect you choose.
It also offers a split keyboard option that increases the creative capabilities of this control. The build of the keyboard is lightweight and very easy to transport. Aside from the design, there are also assignable switches and knobs that enhance the creativity level even further.
On top of these controls, the model also comes with octave and transpose buttons that the composer/producer can use to alter the range of the instrument.
The sustain pedal is included, and it is fitted to be powered through both an AC adapter and is capable of being bus-powered.
This unit is going to take a little extra time to set up, as you will have to download drivers before you can even get started. The only other drawback to this unit is the use of levers to control the modulation versus the traditional wheel dial.
These issues can be easily overlooked if you consider the versatility of use and the reliability of the performance. There is a lot to this MIDI controller, and despite the few drawbacks, all the pros are enough to make this one of my best choices.
This model is a plug and play option that is perfect for the pianist that doesn’t have room at home for a full-size piano. However, the size and weight of this model make this the wrong choice for gigging musicians.
5 – M-Audio Keystation 88 II
- Price is very budget-friendly
- Lightweight and portable
- Expressive performance with multiple controls (pitch shift, modulation, octave control)
- Built with 4 zones (4 channels on one instrument)
- Semi-weighted keys
- Lite version of Ableton software
The last option I chose for this list comes from M-Audio. This 88 key USB/MIDI controller offers synth action with enhanced sensitivity. This unit also includes high-quality software that is compatible with multiple platforms.
This unit has been created to give the player a real piano feel as well as to allow for creative sound creation. In order to do that, the designers and engineers at M-Audio included the following features:
- Crafted with 88 full-size touch-sensitive keys
- Built-in USB power capability
- Designed with two buttons for octave up and down for improved melodic control
- Wheels for pitch bend and modulation include in the build
- Easy to use input for DAW interface
- Compatible with multiple platforms
This is a lightweight budget-friendly option that uses a semi-weighted key design. The unit comes fitted with a pitch and modulator wheel for great control, which ends with a powerful capability to perform.
For a little extra control, there is an octave key included in the construction of this MIDI controller. The keys are sensitive and come connected to both the sustain and expression pedal.
There is also a volume control along with a record, play, and stop button. This unit can also be powered both through a USB cable and an adaptor whichever works for you and your situation. There are, of course, a few issues that could deter you from choosing this as your MIDI controller.
The first is that it is constructed with only semi-weighted keys. This will give you a slightly realistic feel while playing, but will not be as sensitive, nor give you a wholly real sound.
The last issue is that, though it does come with the software, it is a lite version of Ableton, and you may have to invest in a full version if you want full use of all the application features. Though both of these issues are not of universal concern, they may cause you to shy away from this unit. If that is the case, then you may want to take a look at some of the other options I have laid out for you.
The two issues that come with this model cannot take away from the fine craftsmanship and excellent performance of the Keystation 88 II. This model is especially great for the beginner, and it is also an excellent option for keyboardists that want to work on melodies or practice chords.
There is a lack of pads, and that makes this a poor choice for the producer looking to make beats.
These are the five best options that I have found and hope that by looking in-depth at each model, I have given you a hand up in your decision-making process.
Each of these options above has its strengths and weaknesses that, when paired with your needs, will reveal the one that is the best choice for you.
By considering your intentions and your venue, you will find that it is quite easy to whittle your choices down.
In the end, when you look at the options above, the most versatile option, and one that really hits all the points of our buyers guide above is the M-Audio Keystation 88 II.
This model, though not fully weighted like many of the other options, is chock full of expressions controls that allow for better creativity, and is reasonably priced for what you get.
- 88-key hammer action TP/100LR keyboard with After touch
- Compact, lightweight, extremely portable professional controller
- 3 default velocity curves and fixed curve with a programmable value; 6 editable user velocity curves
- Razor-sharp color graphic LCD-TFT display with 320 x 240 resolution; 3 XY stick controllers for real-time control; powerful new software editor
- Magnetic rail system works with Studio logic Magnetic Computer Plate and Magnetic Music Stand (each sold separately)
Though the final decision is really up to you, this is the one I suggest, especially if you are just starting out.
Although I suggested the Keystation 88 II from M-Audio, many of our other selections offer specific benefits for certain musicians. If you are more experienced and looking for a more authentic feel, the Roland A-88 is a great choice as well.
For those who are producers that need more customization and options when it comes to pads and buttons, the Arturia KeyLab 88 may be the right option for you.
On the other hand, if you are working in a home studio and need an option that is compact, lightweight and sounds like a piano, the StudioLogic SL88 is a great choice. So, as you can see, there is something for everyone on our list.
For a more realistic feel, you will want to invest in a full 88 key weighted option. This will help boost your creative options and push you to craft more expressive music.
There are a lot of options I have discussed above, and though the option I suggested depends on what you are looking for, I certainly hope that I have helped you narrow down your choice.
88 Key Weighted Midi Controller
Complete Buyers Guide
88 Key Midi Controller – What is it?
An 88 key MIDI controller is a keyboard-like instrument that is used in conjunction with a DAW or Digital Audio Station; this is software that is used in digital audio recording.
This musical tool can be programmed to produce multiple instrument sounds, which is dependent on the size of the controller.
Many pianists use this tool to help with transportability while still being able to produce the sound of a baby grand or, if solo, so they can produce multiple other instruments to fill out their sound.
It is also great for composers so that they can build and compose multiple parts of their song or score.
How to Choose the Best Midi Controller
The first thing you need to do before you even get into the weighted key option is to understand the main factors you should be considering during your decision-making process.
I have compiled a comprehensive list of features and functions you should use as a measuring stick to find the right choice for you and your musical needs. Here are the most important things to look at when choosing your MIDI controller:
The cheaper the MIDI controller, the less likely you will be getting a weighted key option. You may find semi-weighted options in the lower-end range that uses springs so that you get a somewhat piano-like feel. These will allow you to add a little creative expression to your music.
There are also hammer-action keys that use tiny hammers to give more weight to the keys. These are a part of a lever system and can give you even more expression in your playing capability. The last options are graded hammer-action keys.
These are the best choice if you want an almost piano-like feel to your play. Depending on your expectations, you will want to choose accordingly.
If you are a stage or studio composer or performer that wants a result as real as possible, then you will want to invest a little extra and go for the graded hammer-action keys.
Some MIDI controllers will be built with something called zones. These are groups of notes that are designated for a specific sound. If you want the freedom to assign different notes and note ranges, then you will want to find a MIDI controller that offers zones.
You may want to add certain effects to a set section of notes but not to another scale. The zones will allow you to do that, which will give you more control over your sound crafting capabilities and help build your own unique sound.
Bending your notes with a pitch wheel can elicit some pretty cool sounds. The modulation wheel can be used to add vibrato.
Each of these wheel options offers a level of flexibility to your sound that is hard to pass up. So, when looking for the right MIDI controller for you, you will want to look for a model that comes with both of these wheels.
There are many aspects of connectivity to consider when looking for the perfect option for you. The first has to do with powering via a USB port, which I will discuss further in the next section.
You will want to look for one with a designated USB connection. Along with that, though, you should also look for the model with the most connectivity options.
Some models will have MIDI ins/outs so that you can add other MIDI instruments and devices to your setup. There may also be extra connections for foot pedals.
Some of these models will have customizable ins/outs that you can assign to specific pedals. Finding a model that offers you as much connectivity as possible will lead to more creativity in your compositions.
You will most likely want to look for a bus-powered model, especially if you are looking to use your computer or laptop to power your MIDI controller.
You may also find models that use the traditional AC/DC adapter. Many models will offer both, but depending on your intentions, you should consider this aspect as a helpful decision aid.
If you are dealing with uncertainty about your main power supply, then a bus-powered option may be a lifesaver.
This is a feature that allows you to take MIDI data that has already been sent and add effects to the note.
You can add in a little vibrato or even up the volume. This allows for even more control over your composition.
If you want even more control over your creativity, then investing in a model that has this feature is crucial to the quality of your sound.
Lastly, and maybe one of the most important is to really understand what your needs are and what you are willing to pay for them. You may want to go a little less expensive and forgo things like Aftertouch so you can add in some pedals or even other instruments.
Knowing what you are willing to live with or without while considering your budget will help you thin out your choices and, in the end, make your decision a little easier.
Pros/Cons of a Weighted Midi Controller
Understanding the benefits and disadvantages of a piece of equipment you are looking to add to your kit is vitally important in your overall decision-making process so, here are some of the pros and cons of a weighted MIDI controller.
- Composing or sequencing with a MIDI controller is very nice. It has more options than working with a synth
- Even when using a MIDI controller, you still have access to the synth outside of the computer. This is created via the keyboard on the controller
- The higher the price tag, the more features you will have to play with when composing, though they are cheaper than other options
- The higher the price tag, the more features you will have to play with when composing
- If you have no access to your computer, the capabilities of a MIDI controller is limited
- Though you may be getting weighted keys and Aftertouch (on some models), it still doesn’t feel exactly like a real piano
What is the Best Use for an 88 Key Weighted Midi Controller?
The best use for these incredible musical instruments is to help build your creativity while developing your music and your sound.
This 88 key is a full-size keyboard with weighted keys to feel like a real piano. With this full-sized piano, you will be able to use all seven octaves as well as some models will offer higher or lower octaves to play with.
The wide versatility of note capability gives you a much larger field to play in when composing your music.
This is a great tool to have in your home studio as it is compatible with DAW. They are more compact than traditional keyboards and offer just as much versatility.
The MIDI controller is perfect for composers and songwriters that are working on multi-instrumental projects and need a reliable, realistic feel to make them feel more at ease will crafting their music.
MIDI Controller FAQ
Before I get into the actual reviews, I thought I would take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about MIDI controllers so that you will have just a bit more information under your belt as you begin to dive into my list of the best 88 key weighted controllers below.
Here are some of those questions:
What are semi-weighted keys?
Semi-weighted keys are features designed to give you a bit more or the traditional feel of playing the piano.
There are usually crafted using one of two types of mechanisms. The most common is a spring-loaded option. The other options are lightweights attached to the key.
This is primarily found in regular pianos. Most MIDI controllers will use the spring option when semi-weighted. These are great options if you want a little resistance.
What are fully weighted keys?
These are keys that use either a hammer action setup or something similar.
These are great for those that want a MIDI controller that can be played like and produce the sound of a traditional piano.
Can I use my keyboard as a MIDI controller?
It is possible to use your keyboard as a MIDI controller.
The only way that you wouldn’t be able to do this is if your keyboard does not have a MIDI output port.
Can you use a MIDI keyboard without an interface?
You can use your MIDI controller without a computer, but if you do, you will still need some sort of sound producer.
Your MIDI controller will not make noise without one.
This will mean you need a sound generator if not your computer, then maybe a synthesizer. You will also need speakers.
How many MIDI controllers can I use?
This depends on the model and the software you are using.
Some models come with multiple in/outs for MIDI instruments and devices, while others may require external devices to make this multi-MIDI configuration happen.
How do you set up a MIDI controller?
Setting up your MIDI controller will depend on the model you choose, but here are the basics that should be relative to most models:
- You will want to plug in your USB cable to your MIDI controller and your laptop/computer. The square side is intended for your MIDI with the other end in your laptop.
- If it is bus-powered, then your controller should have power at this point. If it isn’t, you will want to plug in the AC adapter that comes with the unit.
- Now you will want to launch the software and set your preferences and settings.
- If this has all been done correctly, you should be able to begin inputting or hooking up any other devices you intend on using and then get started creating some fantastic music.
For more information, you can check out this video:
How does a MIDI controller work?
MIDI controllers do not actually make musical sounds on their own.
The synthesizer built into the controller does this, and this is, in turn, amplified through a speaker.
These interfaces, like the keys of a keyboard, instigate the sound by creating MIDI data that synthesizer that then pushes through the speakers.
These units are usually then put through a DAW, and then you have your music.
Who invented MIDI?
The synth movement became big in the 1980s, and seeing that this type of musical exploration would need a stronger, more stable option, Dave Smith developed and released the first standard for MIDI in 1983.
Dave Smith was a founder of the legendary synth band Sequential Circuits.
This innovator saw that the future of music lived in the digital arena, and with this innovation, launched a musical protocol that would become standard in not only music but in film and television.