The best MIDI controller for hardware synths

Nowadays, you do not need a multitude of people to record your music tracks. All you need in your home studio is an iOS device or a computer, and a MIDI controller.

MIDI controllers are piano-style devices that easily connect to your iOS device or computer either via USB or wirelessly through Bluetooth, enabling you to produce and record with your DAW software. There are plenty of MIDI controller options available on the market. Whether you are looking for one that is compact or lightweight or one that is like a real piano with a complete 88 full-sized weighted keys, they are all available.

Here is a list of the best MIDI controllers for hardware synths. We have keenly picked those that are portable and have proper functionality.

The best MIDI keyboard for Hardware synths

Model name
Number and type of keys
Connectivity
Check on Amazon
Akai MPK Mini MK2 MIDI keyboard
25 velocity-sensitive keys
USB port
Arturia Minilab MKII 25 Slim-key controller
25 velocity-sensitive slim keys
USB
Akai MPK249
49 semi-weighted and touch-sensitive keys with aftertouch
USB MIDI
Novation Launchkey 49
49 velocity-sensitive and synth-action keys
USB
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV
49 full-sized and synth-action keys
USB

Akai MPK Mini MK2 MIDI keyboard – A super portable MIDI keyboard

As one of the best MIDI controllers in the world, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 MIDI keyboard possesses a decent set of features, proven and reliable performance, as well as a wallet-friendly price tag.

Specs

  • 25 synthesizer-styled keys that are velocity-sensitive
  • Eight drum pads and knobs
  • Buttons to select octaves and transpose
  • A 4-way joystick to control modulation and pitch
  • An in-built arpeggiator

Powered by a USB, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 MIDI keyboard is a portable and compact 25-key MIDI controller. This device is merely 12.5″ long and 7.3″ wide, which is smaller than most laptops, allowing it to fit in any standard backpack comfortably. It also weighs about 1.65 pounds, which is the same weight as an iPad Pro.

The Akai Mini MK2 has robust, large, and comfortable keys, meaning you can push things around confidently without worrying about breaking them. It has the basic keyboard design and only three touch sensitivity settings. The device is also positively chunky and possesses a definite ‘retro’ feel due to its thick ‘Akai’ font and soft-rounded edges that make it look like it is from the 80s.

Its eight fully programmable pads are velocity-sensitive and have a rubbery feel. Similarly, it comes with eight fully programmable knobs that are Q-link enabled, meaning you can use them to control filters, oscillators, and envelopes in your DAW. This controller also comes bundled with loads of software, including MPC Essentials, Serum, Koktakt, Massive, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, and SONiVOX’s Wobble.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Excellent design and performance
  • Portable with small dimensions and little weight
  • High pad and overall build quality
  • Loads of bundled software, including MPC Essentials and VIP 3.1

Cons

  • Its keys have limited velocity-sensitivity and have no aftertouch
  • Its eight pads limit usability and are not as responsive as Akai’s pad controllers
  • Lightweight knobs

Verdict

If you are looking for an affordable entry-level MIDI keyboard, the Akai Mini MK2 is an ideal option. It offers you a simple drum pad for uncomplicated drum kits as well as an adequate keyboard for entering chords and melodies.
 

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Arturia Minilab MKII 25 Slim-key controller – A premium quality MIDI keyboard

The Arturia Minilab MKII MIDI keyboard is a stylish and compact controller that is built to last and has a unique design. It is a small and portable studio that fulfills every producer’s dream.

Specs

  • 25 velocity-sensitive slim keyboard
  • Mass weight of 3.3lbs with dimensions of 14”*8.7”*2”
  • 16 rotary encoders
  • 8 top-quality pressure and velocity-sensitive pads with two banks and RGB backlighting
  • 8 user presets
  • Sustain pedal jack input
  • Octave up and down
  • USB-powered and USB MIDI class-compliant
  • Modulation and pitch bend wheel has two capacitative touch sensors
  • It comes with a Kensington security slot

Arturia Minilab MK2 MIDI controller has a wealth of compelling features at an affordable price. It comes with 25 velocity-sensitive keys that work exceptionally well in conjunction with its included UVI Model D Grand Piano. The controller also has a footswitch jack input for adding a sustain pedal.

The Minilab MK2 also features 16 rotary knobs, with two of them clickable, ideal for messing around with synth parameters. Its eight drum pads serve as preset selectors and integrate seamlessly with the Analog Lab software as well as Ableton Live Lite. The pitch bend and modulation wheel are touch-sensitive slide pads, ensuring you do not damage the keyboard as you remove it from your backpack.

Pros

  • Slim, compact, and premium quality build
  • Two touch-sensitive strips for pitch bland and mod wheel
  • 2 banks and eight drum pads
  • Comes loaded with bundled software
  • Affordable

Cons

  • No external power input as well as no MIDI in and out ports

Verdict

If you are looking for a versatile and highly portable MIDI keyboard, the Arturia Minilab MK2 is an ideal choice. It truly stands out from the pack with its 16 rotary knobs, eight velocity-sensitive drum pads with RGB lighting, as well as its solid construction.
 

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Akai MPK249 – A multipurpose MIDI keyboard

For the last several decades, Akai is known for making drum machines, keyboards, and production tools. Similarly, the Akai MPK249 is an independent music production house with in-built DAW controllers.

Specs

  • Total mass weight of about 13lbs and dimensions of 29”*12.25” (L*W)
  • 49 full-sized semi-weighted, and touch-sensitive keys
  • 16 pads with 4 sound banks
  • 8 sliders and 8 knobs
  • It has a variety of DAW controls
  • USB MIDI ports
  • iOS compatibility via Apple Camera Kit

The Akai MPK249 offers you everything you wish for from a MIDI controller. Whether it is its full-sized and semi-weighted keys or its aesthetically pleasing design or tons of control options, this MIDI keyboard has it all. It hosts 49 full-sized and touch-sensitive keys with aftertouch, 16 RGB MPC pads, a backlit LCD screen, MPC-style note repeat, and 24 Q link controllers, including knobs, faders, and switches.

The MPK249 integrates reasonably well with major DAWs available in the market, like Logic Pro, and Ableton. However, this MIDI keyboard requires you to preset its settings on the device and the music software’s database.

Pros

  • Keys are wide and comfortable to play for long periods
  • MPC-quality pads that enhance the music production experience
  • Plug-and-play functionality due to its DAW controls and high-quality LCD screen
  • Affordable
  • Impressive build quality

Cons

  • Its semi-weighted keys are somewhat tough to press and its aftertouch is not very responsive
  • small size of pads

Verdict

The Akai MPK249 has an excellent keyboard and is well-built. Its fantastic features ensure you have all you need to create the ideal home music studio.
 

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Novation Launchkey 49 – A powerful and advanced MIDI keyboard

If you are looking for a more sophisticated, powerful, and affordable MIDI keyboard for music production, the Novation Launchkey 49 is an ideal choice.

Specs

  • 49 velocity-sensitive and synth-action keys
  • 16 RGB backlit velocity-sensitive pads
  • Transpose and octave buttons
  • Eight knobs and nine sliders
  • USB-powered
  • Modulation and pitch wheels

The Novation Launchkey 49 is one of the best-selling mid-tier MIDI keyboards available in the market and for a good reason. Although it has plastic keys, they are full-sized, velocity-sensitive, and synth-action, making them stable and sturdy enough to handle hard strikes and hammering. The keyboard also features 16 RGB backlit drum pads, as well as a variety of control buttons, including octave up/down, track buttons, and modulation and pitch wheels.

By connecting the Launchkey 49 to your computer, either Mac or PC, via a USB cable, it seamlessly connects to most music software, including Cubase and Ableton. It has an In Control mode that allows you to use your keyboard controller with certain DAWs easily. With these InControl settings, you can automatically map all the controls in Launchkey onto DAW parameters. However, if your DAW software is not compatible with Launchkey, you may opt to use the Basic Mapping Mode.

Pros

  • Premium quality build
  • Affordable
  • Responsive RGB pads and sliders
  • Excellent software integration

Cons

  • Spring-action keys

Verdict

The Novation Launchkey is one of the best MIDI keyboards available for live performances as well as music production in the studio. It comes packed with amazing features and loaded with software bundles that are perfect for both the novice and experienced music producer.
 

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M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV – A wallet-friendly and all-round performer

Due to its versatility, compatibility, reasonable price, and efficiency, M-Audio’s Oxygen 49 MKIV is one of the most capable MIDI keyboards available in the market.

Specs

  • 49 full-sized, synth-action, and velocity-sensitive keys
  • Eight velocity-sensitive pads
  • USB powered
  • Weighs 6.4lbs and has dimensions of 32.04*9.56*3.7”

As one of the biggest names in the world of musical instruments, M –Audio has a remarkable reputation for producing top-tier musical instruments. It was the first company to introduce portable MIDI keyboards, the Oxygen series. However, today’s Oxygen MKIV is a lot different from the original Oxygen series.

The Oxygen 49 MKIV has a rock-solid chassis that is exceptionally robust and has good quality knobs, buttons, and switches. It also comes with 49 full-sized and velocity-sensitive keys, as well as eight trigger pads that are also velocity-sensitive. Its aux controls contain eight assignable knobs and nine fully assignable faders, which include mod and pitch wheels.

This MIDI keyboard is also compatible with numerous DAWs due to its set of fully functional transport buttons. Together with its impressive software suite, which includes Eleven Lite and Ableton Live Lite, the Oxygen 49 MKIV is definitely a consistent and reliable performer.

Pros

  • It comes with loads of bundled software
  • Plug-and-play functionality
  • Compact and ultra-portable
  • Keys offer a decent tactile response
  • Super easy on the wallet
  • Simple and effective design

Cons

  • Some people do not prefer the synth action of the keys

Verdict

The M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV is a big hit in the intermediate and beginner market. It comes with some beautiful pads and a keyboard that features sheer functionality and versatility.
 

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You can find a great variety of MIDI controllers for your hardware synth. Simply conduct thorough research and decide what features and functionality are most important to you.

Reviewing the best MIDI keyboard for hardware synths

What do you look out for before putting your money down?

Budget

One of the primary considerations when making any purchase is the budget. Beginner MIDI keyboards are surprisingly pocket-friendly, with prices ranging from $100 – $200. The more keys and features a controller has, the more its price tag increases. As a general rule of the thumb, stick to the higher end of your budget when buying MIDI controllers and do not spend on any additional extras that are not necessary.

Number and type of keys

Different MIDI keyboards come with a different number of keys, depending on the brand and its target market. The number of keys in a Midi keyboard range from small-sized MIDI controllers (25-key) to full-sized ones (49-key, 61-key, and 88-keys). A 49-key MIDI keyboard is more suitable for beginners as it has enough keys for them to play with both hands.

If you are always on the go, it is advisable to purchase the smaller-sized MIDI keyboards as they can fit comfortably inside a standard backpack. The size of the keys also matters when it comes to playing the instrument. Short and narrow keys are likely to leave your hand feeling cramped up when playing the instrument for long durations.

There are three main types of keys in a MIDI keyboard, including:

  • Synth-action keys – those that offer little resistance and will spring back to their original position almost immediately
  • Weighted hammer keys – keys that feel like those in a traditional piano
  • Semi-weighted keys – a combination of weighted and synth-action keys, meaning that they are less resistant than weighted keys but still possess tactile feedback

Software

If you are going to integrate your controller to Ableton Live or other popular DAWs, it is advisable to choose a MIDI keyboard with additional VSTS. It is also essential to know the type of bundled software in your preferred controller.

Conclusion

If you are looking for the best MIDI controller, it is best first to specify what you want. Determine the device’s most crucial functionality, your skill level when it comes to playing the instrument, budget, and your music software. With all these considerations, you are likely to choose any one of the MIDI controllers mentioned above.

 

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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