Our Top Pick for 2018: M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK IV 49-Key USB MIDI Drum Pad and Keyboard Controller
Read our full review.
Back in the 1980s a MIDI controller was used as a way to incorporate synthesized sounds into a live performance. That concept was loved by many musicians and today MIDI controllers are seen in most studios and other locations where music is created. If you are a performer who writes their own music, chances are that you use a MIDI controller to create a unique sound to accompany your lyrics. If you are just getting interested in creating your own music and you want a keyboard that can interact with your computer to bring you unique options, then a MIDI controller may be a great option for you. Before you jump into a purchase, there are a lot of aspects that you should consider. Take a look at our guide to help you select a quality a quality MIDI keyboard controller that will have you jamming for years to come.
Let’s Have a Quick Look of Our Top 4 Picks:
|M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV | 49-Key USB MIDI Keyboard & Drum Pad Controller (8 Pads/8 Knobs/9 Faders),...||183 Reviews||$169.00||Buy on Amazon|
|Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII | 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Drum Pad & Keyboard Controller with...||1,349 Reviews||$99.00||Buy on Amazon|
|Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version||275 Reviews||$99.99||Buy on Amazon|
|midiplus AKM322 mini size 32 keys USB MIDI Keyboard Controller||99 Reviews||$47.50||Buy on Amazon|
#1. M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK IV 49-Key USB MIDI Drum Pad and Keyboard Controller
The manufacturers of our gold pick, which is the Oxygen 49 MK IV from M-Audio, have been a well recognized name since their beginning in the year 1988. They started under the name MIDIman, but after a new line of products were released in the year 2000, the name became what we know today. Our gold pick is from the famous Oxygen line of hardware that is an amazing device that both amateur and professional musicians love to utilize in their music.
The MK IV is a device that is easy to transport and move from gig to gig. It is 9.56 inches long, 32.04 inches wide, and 3.7 inches high. This is one of the heavier MIDI controllers on our list, but it still only weighs in at a little more than six pounds. This device has 49 synth keys that can be used to create any sounds that you can imagine. There are eight velocity sensitive pads that can be preset to play an accompanying tone or drum beat. There are eight different encoder knobs as well that can be used to manipulate the instruments that can be heard in the final composition.
This MIDI keyboard controller has nine faders that will help you create a soothing mix with ease. In addition, there are two wheels that are located on this controller; one is designed to adjust the pitch of the notes being played and the other is for blending the sounds together. This gives you an easy method of streamlining your mix without using keys.
One feature that is useful to have is the sustain pedal output option. This allows you to connect a pedal to the unit and sustain any note that you play with ease. There is also a transport button that is designed to give you full control of your digital audio workstation (DAW) without the need to utilize a mouse. All of your information that is input into the controller will be auto mapped to save any tones or settings that you created.
This device is compatible with iOS enabled devices, so once the connection is acquired, there is a direct link mode that will automatically connect the device to the installed software. There is an LCD display on the MIDI controller that provides you with instant feedback about the button you are pressing and the settings that are linked to them. In addition, the unit is powered by USB, so there is no chance of losing power while you are creating a masterpiece.
The MK IV comes pre-loaded with software packages that represent a plethora of virtual instrument sounds; in fact, there are over 275 different options to select from. They range from keyboard and synth sounds to the sounds of guitars, woodwinds, and drums. To try all of these different sound options, you can simply test out the included software called Ignite. If you prefer to test out and hear chords, then try out Chord Player, which is another included software option. Other included software options include programs such as Ableton Live Lite, AIR Music Tech’s Xpand 2, and SONiVOX’s Twist, which will give you a large library of options to select from.
There is also a 25 key and a 61 key variation of this MIDI controller available, so decide which size will work best for you if you like the features of this device. Insofar as reviews, 86 percent of the users who gave a review for this product on Amazon rated it with a positive four or five star review. Many of the reviewers love the functionality of this MIDI controller and the fact that it comes with such great software options.
Here is an example of a five star testimonial from someone who is happy with the device: “As someone new to audio production, this keyboard hits the mark for everything I need. It integrates seamlessly into your digital audio workstation. The keys feel fantastic and balanced and the drum pads are tight and sensitive. I am very satisfied with this product.”
#2. Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Drum Pad and Keyboard Controller
Akai Professional has been a leading manufacturer of electronic musical equipment for over 20 years. They came into existence in the year 1984, and ever since then they have been striving to bring new and innovative music technology to the music studio at a creative level and the stage at a performance level. Our silver pick, which is the MKP Mini MKII, is designed with these goals in mind, so it is a top of the line piece of equipment that is loved by musically inclined customers and consumers alike.
To start, this MIDI controller is designed to be both compact and lightweight, so it is a bit smaller than our gold pick, measuring in at 12.5 inches long, by 7.13 inches wide, and 1.75 inches high. It only weighs a little over a pound and a half, so it will be easy to place in a bag or a backpack and carry with you to any location.
This MIDI controller features 25 velocity sensitive mini keys, eight customizable pads, and eight assignable knobs. This gives you plenty of options for creating a base line, adding in a drum beat, or creating an accompanying rhythm that can be added to your final composition. Since this is a relatively small device, there is a button that can be used to change octaves if you want to make that transition as well as options to change the tempo, pitch blend, and note repeat. There is also an option to connect a sustain pedal if you need. In addition, you will be able to utilize the four way switch that can change the modulation and the pitch of the sound you are creating.
As far as compatibility is concerned, there are plenty of options available to you with this MIDI controller. It is able to connect to any Mac operating system that was developed after OS 10.5. It can also be used with any windows PC as well. It will work with any operating system that was created after Windows XP, so Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows, 8, and Windows 10 are all options to use with this MIDI controller. This device is USB powered, so it will easily be able to connect to your laptop and complete the tasks you set forth to do.
There are a lot of software options included with the MKP Mini MKII. The Akai Pro MC Essentials package will give you access to a plethora of different instruments and sounds. There are also other software programs that come with the unit that you can downloaded as well, which include SONiVOX Wobble and Air Music Tech Hybrid 3 Synth. This MIDI controller comes with a 90 day warranty in case any hardware has issues during that period of time.
When it comes to the reviews of this device, you can find almost 500 testimonials on Amazon alone. Out of all of the reviews given by users on that site, about 75 percent of them have given the MKP Mini MKII a rating that consisted of four or five stars. Here is a five star review written by a professional composer who believes that this is a great device for beginners and professionals alike: “I’m a professional composer and wanted something I could control plug-in parameters with. This was on Black Friday for $80. The knobs turn smoothly (not graded) and while they are a bit small (mini), they feel solidly in there. The keys are tiny (again, mini), but seem to have decent enough resistance, and the drum machine pads are cool.”
#3. Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller
The Novation brand has been bringing top of the line electronic, computer enabled music technology for over 20 years. They strive to bring quality musical devices to amateurs and professionals alike, and the third selection on our list is an example of one of their creations. The Launchkey Mini is an exceptional MIDI controller that comes in as our durable and dependable bronze pick.
This unit is another small MIDI controller that is designed as a portable, compact device. It is 15 inches long, 8.7 inches wide, and three inches high. It is not the lightest option we have discussed on our list thus far, but it is only about 2.4 pounds, which means that it is a great weight to place in a backpack and carry from location to location without noticing the additional weight on your back.
This edition features 25 miniature keys that cover about a range of two octaves. There is also an octave swapping button that allows you to adjust the music an octave higher or lower if you desire to do so. There are eight different controller knobs on the unit that can be customized to your preference. There are also 16 velocity sensitive pads included on this unit. They can be pre-set to play any selection you choose. There are two sets of pads; the first one is designated to launching or activation your pre-set selections, and the second row is designed to stop them. The pads are also color coded using red, green, and yellow indications. The red indicated that it is not being used, the yellow a selection that was used recently, and the green is what is being used currently.
The Launchkey Mini is powered by USB, and it is compatible with Mac, PC, and iPad devices. There are many different compatible music software options that can be used for this device. This major music software integrates the music you are creating with the sounds that are made available in the software. Some of the most popular software options are FL Studio, Pro Tools, and Logic. There is also software that is included with the purchase of this MIDI controller. Ableton Live Lite 9 is one of the software options included, and the other is one gigabyte of Loopmasters samples of content.
When it comes to the reviews of this MIDI controller, they make this product stand out as a great option. In fact, 89 percent of all of the reviews posted on Amazon were given a positive rating of at least four stars , and 84 percent of them were actually given five stars. Here is an example of one five star testimonial that is available on Amazon from an individual that is able to produce a full live performance every week with this MIDI controller: “I use it at church for live performance because I’m pianist with no drummer and it works great. I can turn up and down the tempo, volume, etc. and trigger different drum tracks in Ableton and FL Studios easy. I usually would use the piano for a bass line but I already have another piano for that and FL Studios has a slow response rate while recording with MIDI.”
#4. midiplus AKM322 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
Making music can be rewarding, but starting out you will most likely be ballin’ on a budget. Some MIDI keyboard controllers can be a bit costly, but there are great options that will not break your budget. Our final pick is a device that was manufactured by Midiplus. It is the AKM322, which is a MIDI controller that is designed to be an extremely portable option that is dependable and durable on the road. The device measures in at about 18 inches long, five inches wide, and a little over one inch tall; in addition, it only weights about two pounds, which makes it a device that you may even forget that you are carrying in your bag.
This MIDI controller features 32 mini keys, one endless encoder, three customizable knobs, and 11 additional backlit pads. The unit is powered by connecting it to a USB, and there is also a sustain pedal option available to you. There are two wheels that are located on the left of the device that are designed to adjust the pitch to the level you need it to be at as well as the modulation. In addition, you can easily control the volume of this device as well as the octave at which the music is being played.
This unit has a semi tone transpose option that allows you to change the key that you are playing in while you are playing the current arrangement. There is a chord feature that assigned a specific chord to a single button press. You can also enter scale mode to give you more playing options that help you hit tones that are associated with the selected scale. The DAW is a MIDI controller’s typical layout, but there is an option that allows you to add a second layer of control to your piece. The buttons that can be utilized are the play, stop, record, overdub, cycle, tap, and metronome options. There are also buttons that allow you to play and stop clips of music, set a marker, and move it to a different location.
When it comes to the reviews of our ballin’ on a budget selection, there are not that many available on Amazon. If you take a look at similar sites that review this product, you will see more, but they also do not have a plethora of reviews. The good news is that most of the reviews seen on these sites are positive. Here is an example of one testimonial from an individual who expressed how great of a MIDI controller this is for a beginner: “I’ve been playing guitar for a while but I Just starting out with midi and DAW recording of my music. I’m still feeling my way around the software and learning what this midi keyboard can do. So far I’m very satisfied with this midi keyboard, especially for the money, it’s the perfect introduction midi keyboard for beginners.”
Number of Keys
The amount of keys you select will depend on the space you have for the MIDI controller as well as the different octaves that you will be using when you create your music. If you are just beginning to dabble with a MIDI controller, then you may not need more than 25 keys to experiment with and get your toes wet. A professional musician may need a controller that has 88 keys like a piano, but they may also prefer a smaller amount of keys as well. A MIDI controller can range from 20 inches in length to well over 50. Decide what octaves you will need to utilize in your play style before you decide how many keys you will need to have on the MIDI keyboard controller that you decide to purchase.
Type of Key Action
Performing on a MIDI controller is all about you being comfortable playing the unit, so you need to make sure that the type of key action that is featured on the device you are considering purchasing is right for you. There are three different types of key actions that should be considered, and they are:
• Synth Action – This means that the keys are light to press. They are often spring loaded to allow you to move across the keys very quickly. Synth action is perfect for a musician who does not typically play the piano. They may not have the flexibility to play a fast arpeggio or a intricate solo, so this type of key style will help them be able to press each key at the speed that is required.
• Semi-Weighted – A semi-weighted keyboard is the option that offers a middle ground when it comes to key responsiveness. You do not have a lot of resistance, but the keys are not spring loaded either. Many musicians prefer this style when they select a MIDI keyboard controller.
• Weighted Hammer – This option gives you the feel of playing on a traditional piano’s keys. They give you a bit of resistance when pressed that requires you to press each key firmly. This style may not be for some, but it is a great option for someone who plays the piano regularly.
Most MIDI controllers connect to a laptop using a USB port, but there may be other connectivity options that you are looking for as well. First, you need to make sure that the MIDI controller you select can be connected to the device that stores your music. In the world that we live in, most of us have tablets that we use to connect to the technological world around us, so make sure that your iPad or tablet is compatible with the MIDI controller you are thinking about purchasing. If you are more advanced in your MIDI controller usage, then you may want a five pin MIDI DIN jack that will allow you to connect the controller to an external instrument. Furthermore, CV outputs will give you access to vintage synth options that are not modulated for a MIDI controller.
Software and Drivers
MIDI controllers do not produce their own sound, so it is important to have the most up to date driver and software options available to you. This will be how you get your sound packages, so you do not want crashes or interference to stop you from producing the audio display you want to show. Some MIDI controllers have a wealth of software already downloaded on to the system, but make sure that the programs you utilize are compatible with the MIDI controller that you select.
Faders, Pads, and Extra Controls
These types of controls can give you virtual controls, drum insert samples, a faded melody option, and many other synthetic options that you can choose from. You can pre-record different aspects of a song into the MIDI controller, set them to a button, and have them play in harmony with your notes. This is a great way to get an advanced sound from one seemingly small device.
Consider the amount of space you have before you decide on which MIDI controller will be the best option for you. You will need space to play it, space to store it, and of course, space to put it when you travel from gig to gig. Remember the bigger the device is, the heavier it will be to carry around. One option to consider is purchasing mini keys instead of full sized ones. This can be a great space saver, but this decision may not be optimal for you.
In addition to the considerations we just listed, there may be a few other things you want to look into. First, do you need aftertouch on your MIDI controller? If you are not familiar with this term, this is a feature that allows you to personalize and add expression to your play style. This feature may not be important to a beginner, but it may be a consideration for a professional to consider. Pedal inputs are also a consideration to make, especially if you will be sustaining notes a lot or recreating the sound of a guitar.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
As you can see from reading this guide, purchasing a MIDI keyboard controller can be a testing experience. There are so many different features, connection options, and sounds available to you that you will want to make an informed decision instead of an impulse buy. Our four selections can help you make a decision, and if those options are not for you, then the pre-purchase considerations will be there to guide you through the process. In any situation, take the time to do your own research, compare your options, and find a MIDI controller that perfectly fits your musical needs.