Best midi keyboard for live performance

If you are into music then you have probably encountered a MIDI keyboard. It is the game changer when it comes to producing music for live performances. The tool is versatile hence giving one the ability to edit and customize a variety of sounds.

The benefit of a MIDI instrument is that it allows communication between your musical hardware and software. With an MIDI device you can edit performances note by note and by doing this completely alter the sound that plays them.

It is not easy to choose the right MIDI keyboard for your live performances as you have to consider factors like software compatibility, portability, price among others. We have made the work easier for you by researching on some of the best MIDI keyboards for live performances.

Let’s get started!!!

Model
MIDI keys
Dimensions (inches)
Weight (pounds)
Check on Amazon
16 RGB
13.1 x 10 X 1.9
3.09
61 note
37.6 x 11.7 x 2.1
18.19
88 key
60 x 20 x 11
28
VMini
5.5 X 12.5 X 1.5
1.1
61 key
42 x 13 x 7
14

AKAI Professional MPD226

If you are a new producer and your interest rests in producing those hip hop beats then the AKAI MPD226 is your MIDI keyboard of choice. The keyboard comes in a some easy to use pads; described by the manufacturer as “thick fat”. Akai does not disappoint when it comes to the quality of the pads. In fact, this has been their domain for years. The controller has iOS connectivity and this means you do not require manual mapping for it.

The buttons on the AKAI are slick and you get a small screen on the top for more navigation. To help add to the natural sound of your music the controller comes with pressure and velocity sensitive features. If you are playing on stage you will find the RGB illuminated buttons a huge plus. The controller also comes with Q-Link buttons and faders, which come in handy when you are doing FX processing. The controller is a worthy investment as you can use it for more than 5 years without any problems.

The controller comes with a comprehensive suite of software for improved music production. This is a great device for both beginner and pros.

Key Features

  • 4 pad dedicated controls banks resulting in total of 64 assigned pads
  • 4 assignable q link knobs, 4 assignable faders, 4 assignable Q link buttons
  • Classic MPC note repeat
  • Ability to control iOS apps
  • Comprehensive software suite: Akai pro MPC, ableton live lite, big bag universal drums and Sonivox big bang

Pros

  • Sleek design
  • Easy to connect and use
  • Free production and editing software bundle
  • Great for hip hop beats

Cons

  • Lack of any feedback for the pads

 

View price on Amazon

 

Arturia KeyLab MKII (49-key)

This keyboard comes with 10 encoders, velocity-sensitive keys, 10 assignable switches and 9 sliders. It also has an aluminum casing, seamless software integration and 16 RGB performance pads. You have four key versions to choose from – Mini 25, 49, and 61. The DAW transport bolsters the playback pads in conjunction with parameter entry, DAW commands and the Arturia’s Analog lab 3 software.

The keyboard while made from aluminum is not as heavy as many assume it to be. It measures 297mm from the deep front to back and comes with a height profile of 53mm. To enhance the sensitivity of across your range of velocities it comes with a semi-weighted pro-feel keypads.

The Arturia connectivity is courtesy of five pedal connectors – three assigned auxiliaries, expression and sustain. For the MIDI in/out you have five CV connections – gate, pitch, input, mod 1 and mod 2. You can connect CV outputs to control stuff from your DAW. You can connect to a laptop through an anti-ground Loop USB splitter.

The Keylab operates through three distinct modes – analog lab, DAW, and user (here you get to choose from ten user confined presets). On the tip you have 16RGB pressure and touch sensitive pads. The pads can be used to choose trigger chords – chord transpose or chord memory. Users have access to ten DAW command buttons and six transport controls.

Key features

  • Five pedal connectors – three assignable auxiliaries, expression and sustain
  • Five CV connections
  • Aluminum case with 297mm front and black
  • Integration with Artuia’s Analogue lab 3 software
  • For power you have external PSU or USB
  • 16 RGB pressure and touch sensitive pads

Pros

  • Great quality and aluminum design
  • Seamless software integration
  • Analogue Lab software
  • Well executed operational modes

Cons

  • Comes at a higher price

 

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NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII

This great smart keyboard can be used to connect to most of your virtual instruments. It comes with pro-grade fatar keybeds with fully weighted, aftertouch and hammer-action keys. You can use the NI Komplete for demos to live performances; it handles exceptionally well. With the unit you do not have to worry about complicated setups as the Komplete is pre-mapped.

To help you identify various split groups the keys are illuminated by RGB lights. This allows you for example, to have your drums in a purple color while your synth sounds in another color like yellow. In addition, the keyboard has 88 hammer action keys with aftertouch. You also get 8 assignable knobs, transport controls that can be integrated with a majority of DAWs and pitch blend/modulation wheels.

This is an ideal keyboard for anyone who has been using NI plugins.

Key Features

  • Pro-grade fatar keybeds with aftertouch
  • Pre-mapped control for KOMPLETE instruments
  • KOMPLETE 12 select and MASCHINE essentials
  • Touch strip, pitch blend and modulation wheel

Pros

  • High resolution color screens
  • Pre-mapping prevents messy setups
  • Illuminated RGB lights
  • Aftertouch keys

Cons

  • No sample/drum pads

 

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Alesis V mini

If you are looking for something budget friendly while still getting some of the features in the high-end models then the Alesis V mini is your MIDI keyboard of choice. Firstly, it comes in a compact design. All its modulation, pitch and sustain keys are arranged in a neat design. In addition, you get the license to download editing software. The keyboard is perfect for those who want to play synth parts or switch patches while playing in band. It also comes with four programmable rotary knobs.

The V mini is quite small and lightweight when compared to its predecessor the Alesis V25. In addition it still has the same number of knobs and keys as the V25. The unit also comes with the Xpand!2 plugin from Air music. Here you will find a presets, thousands of sounds and considering that the software goes for almost $100 on its own you are getting a good bargain.

Key features

  • 25 velocity sensitive mini keys
  • Dedicated octave pitch blend modulation
  • 4 backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
  • 4 backlit assignable knobs

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • Xpand!2 plugin from Air music
  • Excellent set of drum pads
  • Velocity and key settings are setup outside the box

Cons

  • Does not come with DAW

 

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Roland 61-key MIDI keyboard controller

The Roland combines all the features you need for playing a musical instrument while still retaining the characteristic of connecting to modern technologies. You have 45 knobs, sliders, buttons, 8 dynamic pads for the finger drum and the ability to control your recordings. The keyboard has been designed with quality in mind and this can be seen in the velocity sensitive pads and keys. The keyboard is also very easy to use and with software integration, you can do a lot with it. It is also lightweight hence making it easy to carry around – especially when going for live performances.

Key Features

  • 8 pressure and velocity sensitivity pads
  • 45 assignable controls sliders, knobs, transport and buttons
  • 61 velocity-sensitive/synth-action/aftertouch
  • Cakewalk production plus pack bundled software
  • You can connect the keyboard to USB or optional power adapter
  • Connectivity is through 5-pin MIDI connectors (IN & OUT), USB, footswitch, DC IN jack

Pros

  • IOS compatibility
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Soft touch synch action keys
  • Bundled software

Cons

  • Mostly made from plastic hence users do question its durability

 

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Buying Guide

Factors to look out for when buying a MIDI keyboard for live performances

The reason you will find producers using MIDI keyboards during live performances is due to the portable nature of the items. You are also capable of producing any sound that you had previously used during recording. Popularity of the keyboards is mostly relegated to touring bands. You can program the MIDI through DAW like Logic or Ableton live. The best part about some of these keyboards is that they are not expensive.

Software compatibility

One of the first things you should be on the lookout for with the MIDI keyboard is software compatibility. Most of them will run with major DAWs.

Size and weight

If you are doing live performances then it is critical to consider how you will be carrying around with you the keyboard. Most of the keyboards suitable for live performances will be the 49 key. The keyboards are lightweight and are used a lot in recordings. These keyboards will often come with synth-action keys that are mostly curved out of plastic. The keys will have springs instead of screws and this further contributes to their lightweight characteristic.

Number of keyboard keys

It is equally important that you know how many keyboard keys you want. If you a musician and just want enough keys to produce some nice tunes then all you need is a 25 keyboard. If you are going for live performances and want the ability to play multiple sounds then having 61 to 88 keys will work just fine. The 88 comes with weighted keys but if you are looking for something moderately prized then go with the 49.

Power source

Most of the MIDI keyboards will come with a USB that you can easily plug in to your laptop. Some will come with their own separate power adaptor. Most of the USB powered MIDI keyboards will work well with your Windows and Mac laptops. The USB keyboards are mostly class compliant meaning they can operate with a variety of operating systems. You can also connect them to your iOS. The 5-pin MIDI keyboards will work with non-external hardware or standalone synths.

Auto mapping

If you are a beginner you will find the task of manually configuring your keyboard controller for enhanced personalization time consuming and frustrating. If you are unable to do this correctly then go for a MIDI keyboard that has auto-mapping. The auto-mapping can’t work for every DAW so you will have to be careful in the kind of software that you use.

Transport controls

It is frustrating moving in between your keyboard and laptop to control your DAW. The most convenient keyboards are the ones that come with dedicated buttons for fast forward, play, rewind or stop. In this instance, you do not have to incur any interruptions when you are switching in between your laptop and keyboard.

Pads/motorized knobs/faders

In this regards, you should consider purchasing a MIDI keyboard that has more mod wheels, pads, or motorized controls. This will give you more control over your DAW software and instrument. It is comes in handy to identify a keyboard with a host of faders or motorized knobs. The downside is that it clutters your keyboard layup hence acting as a source of distractions. It also comes at a price.

Price

Lastly, it is prudent to consider your budget when purchasing a MIDI keyboard. The price will largely be dependent on the make of the keyboard, features, software among other things. The more knobs, faders that you have available the costly it is. The number of keys will also determine how much a MIDI keyboard will cost.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument digital interface. The technology enables one to send velocity, pitches and notes over the device. You can send the data through USB unlike in the past where it was only done through MIDI cables.

Conclusion

It is vital that you choose the right MIDI keyboard when you are doing a live performance. During selection ensure you have selected one with the right number of keys and offers compatibility with your software. Also choose one that comes with an array of knobs and faders. The price will determine the kind of materials that your keyboard is made of. Most of the big brands like Arturia, Akai and Roland all have budget friendly keyboards for use.

Peter Smith

Welcome to MusicGearAdvisor! 4 years ago I rediscovered my passion for making music and began building my own home studio. As I have gone through my journey I realized that I am just as passionate about the equipment as I am about the music. I started MusicGearAdvisor as a way for me to share my learnings with others so you can get started making music that you dream of.

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