Best MIDI Keyboard Reviews and Assessments by Professionals
The combination of a mouse and standard keyboard is perfect for most computer applications, however, while you’ll use this type of keyboard when navigating music software programs, the creative process can feel richer if you opt for the best MIDI keyboard controller to work alongside them. MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface and it’s an industry standard tool that’s been around for more than twenty years.
MIDI Keyboard Controllers Buying Guide
Back in the day, the MIDI was primarily used to connect to a variety of external hardware boxes such as samplers, sequencers and synths, but if you’re not savvy on a computer, all you really need to know is that a MIDI will allow you to send input info directly from the controller to your PC or Mac.
These days, you don’t need to purchase special equipment in order to connect this device because most models can be hooked directly to your PC via USB connection.
Regardless of the fact that you wouldn’t be able to play the piano if your life depended on it, it’s still recommended that the first MIDI controller you purchase should be a keyboard. Why you ask? Because once you use one your PC or Mac setup will instantly become more musical friendly.
While software instruments are pretty sweet, if you only have a standard QWERTY keyboard and mouse setup, you will need to either manually click on notes or attempt to play them on the same keys that you use for internet surfing and email correspondence, which isn’t very fun.
Once you have a MIDI, music production can instantly become more enjoyable and even basic two note basslines will sound better. Most models are velocity sensitive, which means you can play different notes quieter or louder. You are also able to use your keyboard programmed drums to trigger sample loops, and it’s all done in real time.
These keyboard controllers come in a variety of sizes from twenty-five keys to eighty-eight. And each model comes with different types of feature sets. A standard model will have just keys, but more expensive models will feature sliders, which are perfect for mixing. Some models also come equipped with knobs that you can use to adjust and perfect the virtual controls of your music production software.
Buttons and drum pads to control aspects of your software are often included. You may be surprised to discover how many features are packed into even the smallest MIDI.
That being said, you may decide later on that you need to use another MIDI, one that you can run in harmony with your keyboard. Full size effect and instrument controllers, mixing surfaces and drum pads that are very performance friendly are all on the table, as are models that come equipped with all the controls you could ever need if you wanted to DJ.
A MIDI is technically an optional accessory, so it’s totally doable to create music without one, but really, it’s an essential tool to use with your software and makes the music creating process much easier and user friendly.
Purchasing a Mini MIDI
Most folks can agree that bigger isn’t always better. And this is true when it comes to purchasing studio gear, especially if you need to transport your equipment from studio to studio. While you probably love your full size eighty-eight key MIDI because it features an amazing large sound set, it can be a huge pain to transport. In these types of situations, a smaller MIDI controller will come in handy. Because it’s small, you can easily incorporate it into your traveling setup.
There are several small models on the market these days and some of them seem to be more advanced and offer more features than their full size counterparts. Unlike a synth workstation, a MIDI doesn’t have sounds because you’ll be using your PC sequencer and software instruments, or you may have MIDI modules that make sounds for your music. The controller will simply send MIDI data.
Because of the fewer functions and fewer keys, many models of mini MIDIs are pretty affordable and they’re also an easy way to get started in this field. You can find models for under a hundred dollars that can work for you, as long as you have solid software programs. Just keep in mind that some lower priced models are priced very low for a reason.
Before you buy a full or mini model for your computer based recording studio there are some factors you should consider in order to adequately evaluate a MIDI and ensure that it fits both your budget and your needs.
Must-have MIDI Features The Pros Use
A lower priced controller will not be as touch sensitive as pricier models. A MIDI’s touch consists of whether it has after-touch or not, the presence of velocity sensitivity, the actual feel of the KB and its response to touch and whether the keys are unweighted or weighted. All of these variables when combined can make recording and playing music a real pleasure. As you look at models that go up in price you’ll find more of these important touch features included.
The velocity feature is also a key factor for many musicians looking for a new MIDI. The harder a person plays, the higher the velocity value that’s sent to your PC for any given note. Almost all software synths and samplers respond to velocity sensitivity. This feature is used to control the timbre and loudness of each note. The presence of this feature can make your music sound richer and more expressive. If you don’t have velocity the MIDI will send the same value of velocity for each note, which can make your music sound both flat and uninspiring. So be sure that the model you choose can transmit velocity sensitivity.
Another feature to look for is aftertouch. The user will engage in aftertouch by pressing a key down after an initial strike. The KB sends a range of a hundred and twenty-seven values as long as the user is holding the key down and modulating pressure. This is similar to turning a knob, when implemented well. Most synths don’t implement this feature, however, the higher quality ones often do. There are a couple of basic types of aftertouch, with the most common being mono, also referred to as channel pressure. Channel pressure involves a single stream of data of aftertouch that’s generated and it will affect every key on the MIDI. Polyphonic aftertouch is less common but it’s considered more complete and works harder to generate and implement much more MIDI data. There are currently only a few software synths that respond to this type of aftertouch.
Compact mini MIDIs don’t usually feature fully weighted keys, but you can find this feature in larger models. Weight is added to the keys and the key travel mechanisms in order to make them respond like the heavier keys on a piano will. This isn’t really a must-have feature on a compact model, when playing faster is often the preference. Unweighted keys don’t have much resistance. You can usually spot an unweighted model by simply touching it. The keys will feel very light and even a little springy. Many smaller MIDI boards will feature keys that are semi weighted. These keys also feature a lighter touch but offer a little more resistance.
Small boards will feature more controls than just the keys. At the bare minimum, you’ll find some kind of modulation and pitch controls. These controls can come in the form of a single joystick or a couple of wheels. There’s often an input located on the back of the device which allows you to connect a sustain pedal.
Some models also allow you to switch banks and programs, which can be important if you’re controlling synths, but it can be less important when using software instruments.
Models that feature drum pads will allow you to assign the pads to MIDI notes where the drums will often reside on keymaps. Usually, this is a crucial feature for musicians and producers who want a drum triggering dedicated surface.
Last of all, and maybe most importantly, a small MIDI will come equipped with touch pads, sliders and knobs that will send additional controller commands. Usually, the user can assign which controller commands the sliders or knobs send. This is a great feature because many software manufacturers often use different controller command values that control important instrument parameters.
Currently, there are approximately four methods a manufacturer will use to get the keyboard’s knobs to sync up with the parameters most software instruments utilize. These include: templates, manual assignment controls, auto mapping and auto learn. All of these methods have their own pros and cons and there really is no perfect controller out there for every software instrument.
The auto mapping feature is considered by many to be the most innovative approach when it comes to the hassle of assigning the knobs on a MIDI to software instruments. Most of the time you will want to adjust the filter resonance and cutoff, and you may need to spend a lot of time in the beginning adjusting the parameters for dozens of knobs, but it’s definitely worth the work.
Another option involves allowing you to call up and create templates that are preset for different types of instruments. Using a template will involve scrolling through your list and finding the right template before you tweak and play. This method is very effective when using certain programs such as Reason and many controllers often have a template specifically for this program.
There are even some programs out there that allow the software to learn controller values that are sent from the MIDI, a feature which is referred to as auto learning. All you need to do is press a button, touch the appropriate software knob, then touch a hardware knob on the controller and the software will learn this link. This is done in the software instrument itself and doesn’t have much to do with the controller.
It can be a tedious process to manually assign knobs to different software functions. When the user changes to a different synth that uses a different value, they will need to reassign the controller. Many software instruments use common controls, so simple manual assignments aren’t exactly difficult, but it can be a frustrating and time consuming process.
Midi Keyboard Comparison Chart
|Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII||Best Seller, inexpensive but limited in features||$$||3.9|
|M-Audio Oxygen MIDI Keyboard||Mid price point, decent features, good reviews||$$$||4.5|
|Akai Professional MPK249||Feature packed, excellent for pros or beginners, the best.||$$$$||4.4|
Akai Professional MKII MIDI drum pad and keyboard Review
The Akai Professional MPK mini MKII MIDI drum pad and keyboard features a lightweight, compact design for easy portability. Equipped with a thumbstick, backlit eight velocity sensitive MPC pads, eight Q link knobs and an extensive software package, this mini controller packs some serious power.
Akai Professional MPK249 MIDI Keyboard Review
Akai Professional MPK249 MIDI is equipped with forty-nine keys and comes with drum pad lighting, a sleeker design, MPC drum pads and semi-weighted keys for a richer sound. This model also features a larger LCD screen with high quality resolution and an exciting software package that comes with industry favorites such as Ableton Live. With flawless mapping options, a clearer user interface and improved functionality, if you’re a loyal Akai fan, this is one MIDI you can’t miss out on.
M-Audio Oxygen MIDI Keyboard Review
The M-Audio Oxygen MIDI is a sixty-one key model that’s compatible with PCs and Macs. Equipped with nine assignable sliders, dedicated track and transport and eight assignable knobs, this model removes all creative limitations and allows you to streamline your recording process with ease. With a perfect consumer rating this model is considered the best MIDI keyboard we reviewed and it has a ton of features both the pros and amateurs can take full advantage of in order to take their music to the next level.