Nektar Impact LX88+
- Semi-weighted keys don't feel like a real piano
- Tricky velocity curves take some getting used to
- Less straightforward integration with Ableton and Protools - manual mapping required
- Full-featured DAW controller while staying lightweight
- Excellent value for an 88-key controller with this many controls and pads
- Mechanical noise quite low for semi-weighted keys
The LX88+ may be light in terms of its weight and price, but it's a heavyweight in terms of its DAW controller functionality.
It provides deep DAW control including control over your virtual instruments. This upgraded version has standardized assignments for 100 popular VSTi plugins.
This beast of a controller will never leave you lacking control. It sports a plethora of mappable potentiometers, faders, and buttons. This includes the 8 LED illuminated multi-color velocity-sensitive pads. They serve as great percussion and drum pads with curve options, note learn and 4 savable pad bank presets. This feature makes it a multi-instrumentalist's dream. You just might be able to ditch your dedicated pad controller!
All this weighing in at only 18 pounds, it's light enough to carry around fairly easily. You can take this keyboard controller centerpiece wherever you go - if need be.
The LX88+ has so far impressed me with its comparatively low price. Which is quite special for a controller with all the bells and whistles of a full-featured DAW controller. It maps natively with most major DAWs too.
Conspicuously lacking though is right-out-the-box integration for Ableton and Protools. It still works with these platforms but you'll have to do a bit of manual mapping to get them to play nice together. It would've made sense for them to set up automatic integration with these 2 very popular DAWs.
It's surprisingly light for all the features packed into it. The keys feel quite good and the mechanical noise is quite low. These are factors that are often lacking in more affordable keyboards.
It's no surprise that the semi-weighted keyboard of the Impact LX88+ is no match for a hammer action MIDI Keyboard in terms of simulating an acoustic piano. But as a synth player, I'm quite happy with this keybed.
Of more concern is the default velocity curves taking a bit of getting used to. But it comes with generous 4 velocity curve options and 3 fixed velocity options. Still, it can be hard to get consistent velocity with these keys, I was overshooting or undershooting my dynamics regardless of the curve I chose.
The semi-weighted keys may not be to the liking of traditional pianists, but they are more than enough for a music producer. Those who are looking primarily for a keyboard that doubles up as a DAW command center will find this an excellent addition to their recording setup.
Get this if you're more used to using controllers with synth action keys. There are better options at higher price points if your priority is to have a more piano-like feel and response.
- Keys: 88 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys.
- Aftertouch: No
- Zones: Can send on up to 3 zones simultaneously.
- Pads: 8 velocity sensitive pads with 4 colors of LEDs sporting note learn and 4 velocity curves plus 3 fixed.
- Controls: 9 30mm faders, 9 assignable MIDI buttons 8 potentiometers, MOD and Pitch wheels, 6 dedicated transport buttons, 5 preset locations store control settings, and Page button (for Nektar DAW Integration only).
- Automap: It maps to the following software: Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Garage Band, Logic, Reaper, Reason, Sonar, and Studio One. A comprehensive list specifying mapping for each DAW can be found here.
- Power: USB bus power or optional AC adapter (not included).
- Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI out and USB MIDI. It also has a MIDI assignable 1/4” TS jack foot switch input. It connects to the iPad via the optional Camera Connection Kit.
- Dimensions: 50.25" (L) x 11" (W) x 3.5" (H).
- Weight: 18 Lbs.
- Bundled Software: Bitwig 8-Track DAW.
- Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.7 or higher and Windows Vista, 7 & 8 or higher.
|Sound On Sound||Simon Sherbourne||90/100|
|bonedo (German)||Christian Frentzen||90/100|
Here's a demo of the Impact LX88+ in action:
M-Audio Hammer 88
- Slightly heavy
- Not much in terms of extra MIDI controls (knobs, faders, or buttons)
- Great feeling hammer-action keys and solid overall build quality
- Great price for a hammer-action equipped keyboard controller
- Comes with a re-assignable volume fader, pitch wheel, and modulation wheel
The Hammer 88 controller offers the best value way to get a hammer-action keybed.
Hammer-action keys are usually seen higher up in price but I have found the M-Audio Hammer 88's keys to be a great equivalent to acoustic pianos.
As expected, the keys are velocity sensitive... but they don't have aftertouch. M-Audio chose to reserve this feature for the pro version of the Hammer 88, along with some other bells and whistles.
This includes a control panel (MIDI faders, buttons, pads, and knobs) and a graded hammer action keybed with heavier resistance on the low notes that gets progressively lighter as you go higher on the keyboard, much like a real acoustic piano.
But even with the release of the pro version (at around $300 more), the Hammer 88's value proposition remains intact. It gives you fully weighted keys at a great price, and not much else to distract you from your playing.
The Hammer 88 takes a more minimalist approach by choosing to focus on providing a high-quality key feel. But it also comes with some creature comforts such as re-assignable volume fader, pitch, and mod wheels.
Even with aftertouch absent on this keyboard, you can still use 3 pedals with it; sustain, soft, and expression. Classically trained pianists I've worked with prefer this traditional pedal control over aftertouch.
The standout feature of this keyboard is the hammer-action keybed. The playing experience is authentic and pleasurable, and its tank-like build quality makes it even more of a bargain for what it is.
To accommodate the nice feeling hammer-action keys and sturdy build quality, the Hammer 88 is quite heavy at 38.5 lbs. But not as heavy as the hefty Kawai VPC1.
My senior colleagues here at Gearank predicted in an earlier edition of this guide that the Hammer 88 was on its way to becoming a classic. And rightly so given how M-Audio is showing no signs of halting production and giving continuous updates to this keyboard. The Hammer 88 is easily the best value option for an 88 key controller with hammer-action keys.
For those used to the feel of a real piano, this is the best weighted 88 key keyboard for not that much money. I see this working especially well for teachers and students. Even if portability and weight are concerning, give this a shot and you may find that the feel is worth the compromise. If you need a ton of buttons, faders, and other control niceties, you'll have to look elsewhere.
- Keys: 88 velocity-sensitive hammer action weighted keys.
- Aftertouch: No
- Zones: Can send on up to 4 zones simultaneously.
- Pads: None.
- Controls: Pitch bend, modulation, volume, and ± button.
- Automap: No.
- Power: USB bus power or optional 9V DC 800mA adapter (not included).
- Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI out and USB Type-B MIDI. It also has 3 1/4" inputs for Sustain, Soft, and Expression pedals.
- Dimensions: 55.9" (L) x 11.9" (W) x 5" (H).
- Weight: 38.5 Lbs.
- Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Mini Grand virtual piano, DB-33 Tonewheel Organ, Velvet virtual electronic piano, Eight-Eight Ensemble (a 9-foot CD327 Steinway piano emulation), Skoove (interactive piano lessons), and the Hammer 88 Preset Editor.
- Compatibility: OS X 10.8 or later. Windows 7 SP1 or later. It is Class Compliant so it works with the iPad via the Apple Camera Connection Kit.
|Sound On Sound||Nick Magnus||85/100|
Here is a review from a pianist's perspective:
Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII
- Keybed is not the closest feeling to a real piano
- Highly generous amount of software instruments bundled in
- Aesthetically pleasing and reassuring build quality
- Several improvements over the previous version including the addition of CV/Gate connectivity, ability to connect five pedals, and better DAW integration
- Copious amounts of faders, buttons, pads, and knobs on tap while retaining a relatively lightweight
The Keylab 88 MKII is the second iteration of the model and it carries over several loved features. It also comes with the bundled Analog Lab software. Which includes virtual versions of synths such as the Mini V, Modular V, CS-80 V, ARP 2600 V, Jup-8 V, Prophet V, Prophet VS, SEM V, Matrix-12 V, Solina V, B-3 V, Vox Continental V, Farfisa V and more totaling over 5,000 available sounds.
It still comes bundled with UVI Acoustic Grand Piano which is a Steinway Model D Concert Grand model and Piano V which has 9 acoustic piano models.
What's new is in the layout and hardware with several improvements over the previous version. Quite notably the addition of CV/Gate connectivity, and provisions to connect a whopping five pedals to the keyboard.
This allows for three more than the mark I, including sustain, expression, and three assignable pedals. Another important update is its improved integration with popular DAWs.
Like its predecessor, the Keylab 88 MKII scores high marks for its sheer amount of software instruments bundled in. It also has an impressive "command center" of 9 faders and 9 rotary knobs. As a finger drummer, the 16 RGB-backlit performance pads almost make me want to ditch my MPC (but not really).
It's still compatible with many of Arturia's hardware synths as a controller. Other than that, the build quality is a step up over the previous version. The look of this keyboard is just stunning with its wooden accents. Also, the new layout feels more intuitive to use. The included sheet music stand and integrated laptop shelf are also cool low-tech additions. They have been implemented to my liking.
Though the Fatar TP/100LR keybed feels quite good when playing two handed, I still find it's not the closest feeling to a real piano. I feel some compromises have been made in this department to keep its weight down.
Specifications MKII is a stellar command center keyboard with beautiful aesthetics. It is then combined with industry respected Fatar hammer-action keys. This is the best way to control Arturia's Analog Lab software and hardware synths. If you want a modern MIDI keyboard close enough to a piano in terms of feel, this is for you. If you're still left hankering for something more realistic in response, you might be best served by the Kawai VPC1.
- Keys: 88 note Fatar TP/100LR keybed
- Aftertouch: Yes
- Zones: No
- Pads: 16 RGB-backlit performance pads
- Controls: 9 clickable encoders, 6 transport switches, 10 DAW Command buttons, 1 modulation wheel, 1 pitch bend wheel, Octave/Chord/Transpose encoders, 3 Pad mode buttons, 9 multipurpose faders, 7 Transport buttons, and 3 control buttons
- Automap: Automatically maps to KeyLab but you have to use the MIDI Learn feature for custom mapping.
- Power: External AC adapter
- Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI in & out and USB MIDI. Pitch/Gate/Mod outputs, Aux 1/2/3 Pedal Inputs, Expression Pedal Input, Sustain Pedal Input, CV In
- Dimensions: 50.9" (L) x 12.7" (W) x 4.4" (H).
- Weight: 32.4 lbs.
- Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab Software
- Compatibility: OS X 10.11 or later, 64-bit/Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit
|Strong Mocha||Thorsten Meyer||100/100|
|Sound On Sound||Simon Sherbourne||93/100|
Here is an overview of the controller:
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2
- No included pads, nudges multi-instrumentalists to get a Maschine
- Beholden to Native Instrument's "walled garden" approach - control for many DAWs is a bit tedious to set up
- Best feeling (and the only hammer-weighted) keyboard controller for the Native Instruments ecosystem
- Comes with 16 premium NI instruments and effects
- Unmatched visual feedback in the form of 2 high-resolution screens and light guides above the keys
- Included 5-Pin MIDI in & out feels like a bonus
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 is specially designed to go hand in hand with their KOMPLETE software and audio library.
But this 88 key MIDI Keyboard is not limited to just that. The Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 is versatile enough to work with other software including DAWs in a pinch.
It has 2 high-res color screens that allow you to browse sounds and tweak controls. This cool-looking feature also lets you mix and edit your NKS projects – straight on the hardware.
It has a light guide above the keys that can display lots of information on the fly such as scale, chord, and key zones.
This MIDI keyboard also comes with KOMPLETE 13 SELECT, a free taste of KOMPLETE. This app comes with 16 premium instruments and effects, including The Gentleman, Massive, Monark, Hybrid Keys, and Raum.
Also, buying this keyboard gets you a discounted upgrade to KOMPLETE 13 or KOMPLETE 13 ULTIMATE. So this is the instrument to get if you want to get deeper into the Native Instruments fold.
The Fatar hammer-weighted keybed adds great feel and response to the controller. It is tuned to feel weighty with fast recovery for repeating synth lines.
Hardware integration via MIDI enables you to control synthesizers while having a piano-esque feel.
This is the "pianoest-feeling" controller native (no pun intended) to the Native Instruments ecosystem. Having weighted keys adds to its expressiveness. And it also adds dimension to the many wonderful software instruments in the NI lineup.
One gripe I have is the obvious exclusion of any kind of pads. It's hard to not think this is purposefully done by Native Instruments so you go buy an additional Maschine pad controller from them. It is fully featured as a compositional and instrument suite. But the Komplete Kontrol "walled garden" is in full effect here.
You can integrate with most popular DAWs (NI lists Pro Tools, Bitwig Studio, Cubase/Nuendo, FL Studio, Ableton, Garageband, Logic Pro, and Studio One on their website) but be ready to take a couple of extra steps for even just the basic functionality such as transport controls via the KOMPLETE KONTROL plug-in (VST, AU, AAX).
If your compositional workflow revolves around the Native Instruments ecosystem and you want a controller that feels convincingly close to a piano, there are no alternatives to the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 for pure integration, control, and feel.
- Keys: 88 Fully hammer-weighted, velocity sensitive Fatar Keys with aftertouch
- Aftertouch: Yes
- Pads: no
- Controls: Pitch bend, Mod Wheel, Touch Strip Controller, 4-directional push encoder, 8 Touch sensitive knobs
- Automap: All of Native Instruments KOMPLETE software, Ableton Live, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic
- Power: External AC adapter
- Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI in & out and USB MIDI. 2 x 1/4" (sustain/expression, assignable)
- Dimensions: 54.7" (L) x 13.6" (W) x 4.5" (H).
- Weight: 29.1 lbs.
- Bundled Software: Komplete Select, Komplete Kontrol (downloads)
- Compatibility: MacOS 10.12 or later, 64-bit/Windows 10 Anniversary Update or later, 64-bit
|Sound On Sound||Nick Magnus||84/100|
Here is a demo of the Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2:
Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller
- Heavy compared to other MIDI keyboards
- No DAW control features
- Supreme wooden, simulated ivory-touch keybed that simulates grand piano feel with intricate physical mechanisms
- Comes with a three-pedal unit that includes a damper (with half-pedal support), soft and sostenuto
- Outstanding velocity curve presets approved by top piano software developers with granular customization via the included software
- Renowned, 95-year-perfected Kawai build quality and craftsmanship
The Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller is designed specifically for concert pianists who want a grand piano feel and action in a MIDI Keyboard.
Its ultra premium "RM3 Grand II action" keybed has some nice features. It has grade-weighted hammers and simulated ivory surfaced wooden grand piano keys. It also has a grand piano let-off/escapement function (that notch feeling you get when playing a grand piano very lightly). It comes with 3 sensors (1 sensor more than most premium MIDI controllers) for authentic dynamics and sensitivity and even counterweights to balance the weight of the hammers. That's a lot of mechanical intricacy for a digital instrument - they really pulled no stops with this keybed.
It has 5 outstanding preset velocity curves approved by some of the top virtual piano software companies. And there are more presets that can be loaded. The VPC1 allows you to edit individual key velocities and create your own touch curves. The included software also allows for extra granular customization.
All this is housed in a sleek aluminum, slab format case with a wide, table-like empty top surface perfect for placing other controllers, laptops, interfaces, or any other stuff you might need to aid in your music creation.
Aftertouch? Forget about it. The VPC1 is all about piano realism and to that end comes with a triple pedal unit that includes a damper (with half-pedal support), soft, and sostenuto.
The action is simply put, the closest to an acoustic piano of any MIDI keyboard I've ever played. This is expected from the brand that builds Boston Pianos for Steinway and Sons, the original purveyors of the 88-key standard back in the 1880's.
All this realism comes at a heavy cost - namely, its 65 pound bulk. Although nothing compared to the in-between 500 and 800 pounds of an upright piano (don't get me started with actual grands), you must really be a stickler for feel to lug this baby around. And since Kawai isn't really a software company, it should not be surprising that it doesn't come with any virtual instruments. Factor in the best of the best piano software instruments in your budget if you're looking to buy this beast, anything less and you should probably get another MIDI instrument as this would simply be overkill.
It's kind of cute that this tanky thing is able to be powered by USB bus power.
If you're a concert pianist who wants a MIDI keyboard with an action very similar to an acoustic grand piano, then this is definitely the best option for you. If budget, space, and mobility aren't issues, or if you can't lug around an actual grand piano and absolutely need that kind of action, abandon all hesitation and get it. This is as piano as a MIDI device can get.
- Keys: 88 wooden keys with Ivory Touch key surfaces and RM3 Grand II Graded hammer weighting + counterweights - Triple-sensor key detection - Let-off simulation. You can see an interactive demonstration of the key action here.
- Aftertouch: No
- Zones: No.
- Pads: No.
- Controls: 3 grand piano pedals - Damper, Sostenuto, and Soft.
- Automap: No.
- Power: USB bus powered (1.0 W) or AC adapter powered (3.0 W) - both USB cable and power adapter are included.
- Connectivity: 5 pin MIDI in & 5 pin MIDI out + USB MIDI
- Dimensions: 54 ⅓" (W) x 16 ¾" (D) x 7 ⅓" (H).
- Weight: 65 lbs.
- Bundled Software: VPC Editor - this lets you edit touch curves, edit individual key velocities, and change MIDI routing with the settings stored in one of the VPC1s 5 internal memory slots.
- Compatibility: VPC Editor runs on Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10 and Mac OS X 10.8+.
The following video review provides an excellent overview of the Kawai VPC1:
Things To Consider When Buying An 88 Key MIDI Controller
Key Size, Weight & Action. Nearly all 88-key controllers currently available have full sized keys. You'll have to settle for a shorter keybed if you prefer mini keys. But there are differences when it comes to keybed weight and action. Some have hammer-action keys and weights that feel like an acoustic piano. These are perfect for pianists and those who want better expressive control over the notes. The downside to them is their heft and bulk, but they are still more portable than a heavy acoustic piano.
Synth action keys are softer and easier to play, which many synth and music producers prefer. Semi-weighted keys give you some of the benefits of both. 88 key keyboards are ideal for piano players, but if you are primarily a synthesizer player, you may be able to get by with a smaller keyboard. Keyboards with fewer keys are more portable, which makes them ideal for performing musicians who need to move their equipment around frequently.
The benefits of a Weighted MIDI Keyboard"
Pianists can make the most out of a hammer action MIDI keyboard. But you don't have to be a pianist to appreciate its benefits. A weighted MIDI keyboard provides realistic feel and real time response, much like that of an acoustic piano. The weight of the keys provide resistance that allow for more expressive playing. Speaking of expressive, a weighted MIDI keyboard expands your dynamic and expressive range. The feel of the keys gives you more control over the volume and intensity of each note, which can be crucial in certain musical styles. Another benefit of a hammer action MIDI keyboard is versatility. It isn't limited to modern pop and synth styles, rather, it can handle the technical requirements of classical music and jazz. All things considered, it is an excellent investment to get a weighted MIDI keyboard, especially if you're looking to improve your playing technique.
Number of Zones. One of the features of full sized keyboards is that you can split them into multiple zones so that different zones send on different MIDI channels. For example, you can do your best Ray Manzarek impersonation by splitting the keyboard so that your left hand is playing a bass synth while your right hand is playing an organ synth.
Transport Controls. If you will be controlling DAWs frequently then you'll speed up your workflow by getting one with transport controls because these let you stop, play, record, pause, etc. on your DAW without having to use a mouse or trackball.
Pads, Mod Wheels, Aftertouch, Motorized Controls. Pads are often mapped to trigger drums and percussion samples. And this is the reason why they are sometimes called drum pads. Pitch and Modulation Wheel allow for expressive control over a note that's not possible on an acoustic piano, this includes slide, bends, tremolo, and more. After touch allows for more realistic control over the sound samples. Motorized controls aren't essential but they are good at providing immediate visual and tactile feedback of where your settings are. All these features are important for computer based musicians but not necessary for pianists who primarily want to control virtual pianos.
Auto-Mapping. Software integration is a major consideration for computer based musicians. If you're mainly going to be controlling DAWs, Plugins, and other software then pay close attention to the specifications to see if the keyboard you want has auto-mapping for the software you use. If it doesn't have this feature then you'll have to manually set your assignable controllers such as knobs and pads. Many MIDI keyboards come bundled with software that can be used to control virtual instruments and record music. So you should consider one compatible with your computer's operating system. Some keyboards come with more advanced software that includes virtual instrument plugins and digital audio workstations (DAWs), which are essential for music production. If you plan to use your keyboard for music production, it is essential to consider the software that comes with it.
Connectivity. In this era of computer based recording and live performances, connectivity is important. USB is now the baseline standard for keyboard controller. But note that using MIDI over USB is only applicable when using your controller in conjunction with a computer. If you are going to be controlling other hardware directly without a computer then you must ensure your keyboard has a 5-pin MIDI Out port. If you're planning on using older synthesizers, drum machines and sound modules, you'll need a controller with 5-pin MIDI support.
Power Supply. Although many can be powered directly via USB, more often, you will need an external power adapter. You'll also need a power supply If you're going to be controlling hardware sound modules or synths without a computer. The same applies if you intend to use your keyboard with an iPad.
Last but not the least, you have to consider your budget, because it will set the limit of features that you can expect. MIDI keyboards come in a wide range of prices, from entry-level models to professional-grade instruments. Entry-level keyboards are less expensive but have simpler keybed, connectivity and controller features. Professional-grade keyboards command premium price tags. They usually come with high-end keybeds, full-featured controls, and expanded connectivity options.
Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Selection Methodology
The first edition was published in 2016. The current edition was published on March 23, 2023.
We looked at all the 88-key MIDI controller keyboards widely available from US retailers and put 13 of them on the short list for producing ratings - you can see them in our Music Gear Database. We then collected reviews and feedback from retailers, YouTube, major publications and forums, and data that was used by the Gearank Algorithm to produce the Gearank Rating scores out of 100 for each one - over 3,600 sources were processed. Finally, we selected the highest rated options to recommend above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.
About the Author and Contributors
Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.
Lead Author & Researcher
I'm a drummer and former lead guitarist of the band Callalily, a platinum selling multi-awarded band from the Philippines. I also studied music for 6 years majoring in percussion and jazz studies with a minor in classical piano.
I studied music for 6 years majoring in percussion and jazz studies with a minor in classical piano. Although unable to complete due to an early start in my professional music career, my basic knowledge in piano has helped me arrange, produce and collaborate with some very accomplished local pianists in the contexts of musical theatre and contemporary pop music. 88-key MIDI controllers are the weapons of choice of the film composers and arrangers I have worked with and every professional studio should have one.
The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.
The individual product images were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation.