Whether it is at a live performance or in the studio, having to jump back and forth between the computer and your hardware can really impede your workflow.
It is no wonder that the best practitioners of controllerism often use their DAW only as a base and work directly from their MIDI devices, creating seamless live performances and studio jam sessions from these midi fueled beat machines and synth stations.
However, there are so many different types of MIDI devices available today, trying to collect every new piece of production gear that hits the shelves not just expensive, it is also redundant.
This makes the humble MIDI pad controller one of the best and most affordable assets to your studio on the market.
That is why we have put together a helpful buyer’s guide and a list of the 5 Best Midi Pad Controller on the market today.
- 1 Best Pad Controller – Buyers Guide
- 2 Top Midi Pad Controllers
- 2.1 1. Akai LPD 8 Review Best Budget Drum Pad Controller
- 2.2 2. Akai Mpd 218 Review Best All Around Value Mini Pad Controller
- 2.3 3. Arturia Beatstep Review Best Live Midi Pad Controller
- 2.4 4. Abelton Push 2 Review Best Professional Midi Pad Controller
- 2.5 5. Maschine Mikro Mk2 Review Best Amateur Midi Pad Controller
- 2.6 6. Novation Launchpad Mini Review Most Customizable Midi Pad Controller
- 3 Conclusion
Best Pad Controller – Buyers Guide
Top Midi Pad Controllers
1. Akai LPD 8 Review
Best Budget Drum Pad Controller
The first MIDI pad controller on our list comes from Akai, the brand that is all but responsible for the MIDI pad controller in the first.
While they may not have actually manufactured the first one ever, Akai did popularize pad based controllers with their MPC line that can be found in many of the most popular hip-hop songs of the 1980s.
More recently, Akai still carves a rather large slice of the MIDI controller market, though they have distinctly shifted from the top-tier market to the budding professional and consumer market.
Still, with a history in the industry, the LPD 8 seeks to follow its predecessors while filling a specific niche.
Specifically, the LPD 8 is the least expensive MIDI pad controller on our list making it our best budget option.
It is important to keep in mind that coming in at nearly half the cost of its next closest competitor does mean you will have to expect a sacrifice in functionality.
Thankfully, that does not mean you need to expect the same for quality of that function.[Green] The pads and knobs feel incredibly durable making use of the same high quality that most of Akai’s pads and encoders demonstrate.
The response is excellent with both the velocity and precision of pads and knobs remaining consistent.
However, this MIDI pad controller does feature the fewest pads on our list, and the dual lines of knobs are not the easiest to use.
Moreover, there is no display or transport controls, and the pad lights are minimal as well as reserved to red.
This means you will likely still have to refer to the DAW regularly to know exactly what is going on.
At least this stripped down model is incredible small and light, but its functional limitations may not be the best for live performances without another piece of hardware.
2. Akai Mpd 218 Review
Best All Around Value Mini Pad Controller
Following up the sparse offering of the LPD 8, Akai’s MPD 218 is a definite step up in terms of functionality.
In fact, this MIDI pad controller goes a step above and beyond by managing to compete with other controllers on our list that feature far more individual controls.
The Akai accomplishes this by providing a number of data banks.
[Green] With the sixteen pads and three data banks, the Akai technically offers forty eight pads and eighteen knob controls.
This latter amount is second only to the Ableton Push 2 which itself cannot be accomplished quite as quickly.
However, it might be the combination of these features with iOS compatibility–something that is still taking a surprising amount of time to see full implementation across the product market–at an incredibly reasonable price that makes this such a steal in terms of value.
Unfortunately, as with all values, the shoe must drop, and in this regard, it comes from a surprising place considering Akai’s reputation: pad encoding.
Quite simply, the velocity of the MPD 218 is well beyond what most users expect and can require many music producers to step their precision up to be able to use the MIDI pad controller without hours of additional editing.
Essentially, the MPD 218 is noted for producing double notes from a single push as well as ghost notes from buttons that are next to the one pushed.
This is an incredibly surprising flaw since Akai generally prides itself on making some of the most responsive and accurate pads on the MIDI controller market–regardless the hardware design.
Another surprising flaw is the absence of any true MIDI ports.
This means that the MPD 218 will not actually be able to serve as a “true” MIDI controller and will require a DAW to function.
Complete Product Reviews Akai Mpd 218 and the entire Mpd range.
3. Arturia Beatstep Review
Best Live Midi Pad Controller
Arturia may not have the same name brand recognition as some of the other products on our list, but that is likely because the company started as a budget-friendly, consumer market manufacturer of digital workstations modeled after classic analog synthesizers.
However, this initial entry in a relatively niche market, combined with their collaboration with synth pioneer Robert Moog, only placed a premium on quality.
Fast forward to modern day, and Arturia has begun to enter the MIDI market in full while still servicing its vintage-minded base.
The Beatstep and its companion Pro model were an attempt to branch out into pad markets.
As such, you should expect a few growing pains with Arturia while they still figure out exactly what current music producers demand from their equipment.
[Red] These growing pains are made most apparent when you consider that the Beatstep Pro offers amazing architecture with an absence of features seen as givens in today’s MIDI pad controllers.
The most glaring omission in this regard is the inability to save sequences.
While it offers two sequencers as well as a separate drum sequencer, you cannot save and layer previously created sequences.
Ultimately, this means that any sequence you make will require a hefty amount of interaction with the mouse and keyboard side of your DAW–exactly what MIDI pad controllers are supposed to alleviate.
All of this would potentially be overlooked if the Beatstep Pro did not also carry a heftier cost than lesser products with this one, basic, expected feature.
4. Abelton Push 2 Review
Best Professional Midi Pad Controller
If you are familiar with MIDI pad controllers, chances are you have already hear about the Ableton Push series.
When comparing this model to its previous iteration, the differences are immediately apparent.
In fact, the overwhelming number of differences between the Push 1 and Push 2 do amount to differences of appearance–however, this should not be taken as a shallow, superficial set of differences.
[Green] In fact, many of these changes are designed to either present more information in a readily digestible manner or allow using that information for an increased workflow.
For instance, the display of the Push 2 is impressive to say the least.
At 40mm of high-resolution, it is a full 33 percent larger than the first Push’s and blows the rest of the competition on this list out of the water.
Aside from the display, the 64 pads, each with solid response and a full array of RGB lights offer an easy and visual representation of the various samples and sequences in real time.
Combined with the 8 endless encoders, the Push 2 easily offers more controls than any other product on our list.
As icing on the cake, using these controls feels intuitive and changing them effortless–once you figure out how to do so.
This is actually the Push 2’s greatest downfall and is simply a consequence of its incredible capability–a double-edged sword if you will.
Customizing the Push 2 takes a great deal of time and familiarity with your DAW.
In another two-sides-to-every-coin issue, the Push 2 is designed exclusively for Ableton Live and does demonstrates severe bias in that regard making it less than ideal to use with other DAWs.
Complete Product Review Ableton Push 2
5. Maschine Mikro Mk2 Review
Best Amateur Midi Pad Controller
Native Instruments has developed a fairly solid reputation in the MIDI music production market and for good reason.
The brand consistently manufactures a high-quality product with excellent features and responsiveness.
However, Native Instruments also often suffer from a similar issue as the Push 2–they really like to push their own proprietary software onto their users.
Case in point, the Maschine Mikro Mk2 provides you with pretty much everything you need to start making music right out of the box.
With 8 GB of included software–that you do have to download from the site and upload into the MIDI pad controller–you do not need too terribly many plugins to start making music.
However, the Maschine also requires you integrate it with your DAW via a VST that does not always work as intended.
[Red] Aside from the fact that setup is both time-consuming and often fraught with glitches, if not outright crashes that force you to start the process over, there are no knobs or sliders.
When combined with only sixteen pads, the limitations on total control is lacking.
Ultimately, they will be returning to your mouse and keyboard far more than intended when you purchased a MIDI pad controller in the first place.
Still, the Maschine does offer an impressive display–though it is still far simpler and offers less information that the Push 2.
Moreover, the features that the Maschine offer can accommodate even experienced producers with sixty four steps per sequence.
This does make up for the fewer analog controls as the breakdown of patterns, groups, and scenes allows for some truly impressive finished products in the hands of a skilled producer.
6. Novation Launchpad Mini Review
Most Customizable Midi Pad Controller
Novation is not stranger to the MIDI market and has arguably captured a wide swatch of the beginners and budget consumers.
However, the is most certainly not the case for this MIDI pad as Novation seeks to strike a balance between features and price.[Yellow] Specifically, the Novation is an incredibly complex MIDI pad to learn how to use.
However, this is in a large part due to the nearly unparalleled level of customization that the Novation offers. Basically, if you want to customize all 80 of the buttons, you most definitely can.
The only problem is that you are liable to spend days, if not weeks, figuring out how to do so.
Unfortunately, this problem is only exacerbated by the fact that the Novation features little to no documentation.
Considering that the brand often makes it a point to appeal to the beginner market, this is a distinct departure from that philosophy and the Launchpad Mini is definitely a MIDI pad more suited to those who already know how to program various types of MIDI hardware with numerous DAWs.
Though, that last fact may not even be all that relevant as the Novation does not actually play well with too many DAWs.
While it comes with a stripped down version of Ableton Live 9 and can technically work with FL Studio as well, Ableton is the only reliable DAW to use with the Novation.
Moreover, the drivers for the Novation do not play well with Apple products either.
Sadly, there is no clear answer in the search for the Best Midi Pad Controller.
Different setups, levels of skill and experience, as well as intended use will drastically alter which one of these MIDI pad controllers is right for you.
For instance, if you are well-versed in the art of controllerism, the Ableton Push 2 is arguably the only MIDI pad controller on our list that can allow you to connect to your DAW and then ignore it completely while producing music.
In this round up to find the Best Midi Controller for 2019 the winner is the Akai Mpd 218.
This all in one pad controller meets the needs of both the newbie to the advance beat makers and music producers for both stage and studio with out breaking the bank, while still offering a solid feel and flow of its grandfather the MPC 60.