Choosing the Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards

Looking for a MIDI keyboard that gives you the full range of 88 keys? We’ve rounded up the best 88-key MIDI controller keyboards worth closer inspection.

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This is it. The Cadillac of the MIDI keyboard controllers – the 88 key.

These behemoth, 88 key MIDI keyboard controllers give you the full 7¼ octave range of a standard piano. They are built for pianists who want nothing but the best when it comes to music production and performance.

Strong contenders for the best 88 key midi controller often come fully featured: with premium feeling keys that range from the semi-weighted all the way up to actual hammer-action keys. They also come with a full complement of knobs, faders, and buttons afforded to them by the extra real estate.

They are the perfect instruments if you’re looking for a centerpiece for your arranging, producing, composing, and performing–an all-encompassing musical device if you will. This is the reason why many consider 88 keys to be the best MIDI keyboard controller option.

The Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards

Nektar Impact LX88+

89
GEARANK
89 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.
$319.99
Nektar

Cons

  • 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

Pros

  • 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+ is an 88 key MIDI controller that 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, 88 key controller version has standardized assignments for 100 popular VSTi plugins.

This beast of a MIDI 88 key keyboard 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 is out-of-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.

Specifications

  • 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 a 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.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Simon Sherbourne 90/100
bonedo (German) Christian Frentzen 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Here's a demo of the Impact LX88+ in action:

M-Audio Hammer 88

90
GEARANK
90 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.
$499.00
M-Audio
M-Audio Hammer 88 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Slightly heavy
  • Not much in terms of extra MIDI controls (knobs, faders, or buttons)

Pros

  • 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 88 key MIDI keyboard 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 creature comforts such as re-assignable volume fader, pitch, and mod wheels.

Even with aftertouch absent on this 88 key MIDI 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.

Specifications

  • Keys: 88 velocity-sensitive weighted hammer action 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.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Nick Magnus 85/100
MusicRadar Keyboard Magazine 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Here is a review from a pianist's perspective:

Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII

91
GEARANK
91 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.
$999.00
Arturia
Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII 88-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller
At publication time this was the Highest Rated 88-Key MIDI Controller Keyboard.

Cons

  • Keybed is not the closest feeling to a real piano
  • No built-in Arpeggiator, but can arpeggiate via software

Pros

  • 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 this 88-key MIDI controller.

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-wise, the 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.

It is also worth noting that Arturia has already introduced extra features in their MK3 Keylab 49 and 61. There are no exact dates when they're going to implement these features in Keylab 88 MK3, but it's also an important thing to consider.

Specifications

  • 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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Strong Mocha Thorsten Meyer 100/100
Sound On Sound Simon Sherbourne 93/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Here is an overview of the controller:

Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 mk2

91
GEARANK
91 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.
$399.00
Arturia
Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 88-key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Aftertouch is non-existent

Pros

  • Pre-mapped DAW integration
  • Compelling software bundle with sounds that work really well
  • Good, changeable velocity response

The word "essential" means different things to different people. They tend to expect something similar to "stripped down", "minimal" or "basic". The Arturia Keylab Essential 88, however, still looks like a full-featured MIDI controller.
Arturia's idea of essential still includes a whole suite of controls and software for music making, streamlined to make the learning curve more accessible and doing away with features that are rarely used.

Right out of the box, you have 8 pads and 9 assignable knobs and faders. They come pre-mapped to any of the DAWs like Logic Pro, Ableton, and Bitwig Studio. There's also an option to connect via MCU/HUI for DAWs that support this integration.
Features include backlit performance pads, assignable knobs and faders, and semi-weighted keys.

Action-wise, the semi-weighted keys are lean on the lighter side, almost like a synth action MIDI controller, but it still has a good weight to it. The knobs and faders have decent resistance for gradient control. The big dial for changing patches feels solid and well-constructed, giving you a premium feel each time you turn it.

This 88-key MIDI controller will work plug and play straight from the box. However, most of its features are best utilized with its software bundles like the Analog Lab V, UVI's model D, and NI's The Gentlemen. All of the controls, from the knobs to the faders, are pre-assigned to each parameter.

The Keylab Essential 88 also comes with a companion software called MIDI Control Center. This software allows you to control the routing, sensitivity, and velocity curve of your keyboard.
If you're looking for the best 88-key MIDI controller at an affordable price, then the Keylab Essential 88-key MIDI controller might be a good fit for you. This is for people who were piano trained and wanted an option to make beats and delve in to music production.

Specifications

  • Keys: 88 Semi-weighted Keys
  • Zones: No
  • Pads: 8 x Back-lit Performance Pads
  • Controls: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel, 9 x Rotary Knobs, 1 x Clickable Jog Wheel, 9 x Faders
  • Power: USB Bus powered / 9V DC positive center power supply (sold separately)
  • Connectivity: 5-pin MIDI out, USB MIDI, 1 x 1/4" (sustain),
  • Dimensions: 49.59" (L) x 10.26" (W) x 2.48" (H).
  • Weight: 18.7 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Analog Lab, Ableton Live Lite, UVI Grand Piano Model D
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.10 or later, 64-bit / Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit

Note: As of the moment, the Arturia Keylab Essentials already has an MK3 version.

Although this was previously on our recommended list, there are more highly rated options available in our guide to The Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards.

Demo

Here's an overview of the Arturia KeyLab Essential 88:

Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller

92
GEARANK
92 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.
$2499.00
Kawai
Kawai VPC1 Virtual Piano Controller - 88-key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Heavy compared to other MIDI keyboards
  • No DAW control features

Pros

  • 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. This MIDI 88 key keyboard 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 weighted midi keyboard.

This MIDI keyboard 88 keys 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.

Specifications

  • 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+.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Audiofanzine David Studhalter 100/100
YouTube PianoManChuck 85/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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.

    If you're interested in knowing how to use MIDI keyboard controllers, we've got you covered.

  • 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 88 key MIDI controller 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.

  • With this one, you have to have a good knowledge of how MIDI functions. We've dedicated an entire article on, What is MIDI?
  • 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 sampled sounds and one shots. 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. Modern OS understands What MIDI is, so MIDI devices are essentially plug-and-play if you're using USB, which 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.

  • Budget.

    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 February 29, 2024.

We looked at all the 88-key MIDI controller keyboards widely available from US retailers and put 13 of them on the shortlist 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 4,700 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 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.

Contributors

Allen Articulo: Supplemental writing.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing and editing.
Raphael Pulgar: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII and Kawai VPC1.

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.

46 thoughts on “Choosing the Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards”

  1. It’s beyond comprehension that the Arturia is the top rating here. Irrespective of numbers of controls etc. the No 1 feature of any 88 key weighted controller, first and foremost, is that the feel should be the absolute best – and I’m afraid that the Arturia keyboard has the worst feel of any 88 weighted keyboard I’ve ever played – and I tried for over a year with it. I say this as a gigging keyboard player of 30 years. It truly is spongy, totally inconsistent and none of the curves make any real difference to this. From this damning starting point, all the other frills and features mean absolutely nothing. If you’re a serious player, don’t waste your time on this – you’ll regret it!

  2. Publication of our June 2021 Edition resulted in the following keyboard coming off the recommended list above, but you can still see our analysis of it: Doepfer LMK4+.

  3. Is there any 88 keys Controller that Comes in the Middle
    in between the Heavy piano Keys and the Light Keyboard Feel
    with High Quality manufacturing ?

  4. I wish you asked me about the Doepfer. Like many other composers I bought one because you can take it out of its flight case and build it into your desk. I have one (wish I didn’t) but it has been a disaster. The velocity output from the black notes is higher that that of the white notes and you can’t fix that in a meaningful way. I don’t know the Kawai but Roland and Yamaha 88 notes keyboards are brilliant. The LMK4 was the worst purchase I’ve made since buying a Prophet 10 in the last century!! (PS don’t read anything into the fact that HZ uses one – he has the same issues as the rest of us!)

  5. I think Kawai VPC1 is an excellent piano, but pants as a midi controller especially for DAW set up. I think if this came out as up the list then your demographics are just wrong. All others have the NI S88 and Arturia at the top with StudioLogic a few places behind. Studiologic grand uses the top TP/40 Wood, slightly higher than the Doepfer mentioned. So I would question your pool of voters or where you perceive this data comes from

    1. There may be some confusion here over the term ‘controller’.

      We agree that the Kawai VPC1 is ‘pants’ as a DAW controller because it’s not made for that purpose and has no DAW controller features.

      However when it comes to being a controller that sends MIDI note information that can be used to trigger sounds generated by hardware or software, or used for recording MIDI, then it is an excellent keyboard.

      1. Special Mentions, Author’s/Editor’s Picks and Additional Items aren’t part of our main recommended lists and are included in our guides sometimes when we think they offer something the recommended list doesn’t.

        In this case we didn’t think we needed to re-include the special mention of the Korg D1 which can be used as a MIDI controller but is really a digital piano.

  6. Just a couple of comments on the above list.

    I had a Nektar LX88+ briefly last year but sent it back after noticing the keybed was sloped upward toward middle C like a wave. I wasn’t confident in the quality control of the company to order a replacement. One thing to mention is that you can buy a unit that will allow for a dual pedal but I believe it needs to be plugged into the USB port.

    I decided on a new Arturia Keylab MKii 88 which I have a love-hate with. For all the buttons and switches, there are not enough modifiers for assigning to effects such as Tremolo and Chorus on a Rhodes sample. Instead you have to enlist a pad that’s on the other end of the keyboard. I play grand pianos for a living so I’m less than satisfied with the action – although it’s the same as in my former Studiologic SL88 Studio, it feels slightly more responsive. However, I’m currently looking for an 88 controller with lighter action than the Fatar TP100 LR but heavier than semi-weighted. Starting to think I should pick up a used Yamaha DGX-660 which seems to be the right all around feel – but then it’s a digital piano with a ton of other sounds, which kind of mitigates all the work it takes to use MIDI in the first place.

  7. Like the reviews of the Kawai VPC1. However, does it make sense for composers vs. performers? Is it designed for use with DAWs like Cubase 10.0? Are it’s best features translatable when using it to compose orchestral compositions with Spitfire strings, brass or woodwinds? I love the way the piano sounds and the key action, however the piano is just 1 instrument in a multi piece orchestra. So I wonder if the Doepfer LMK4+ would be a better choice. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

  8. Wish I had found this earlier as it covered models I was considering, but were never all compared to each other in one place. In light of my use, I’m still happy with my choice of the Nektar LX+. I’m curious why no Native Instruments. However, since I already own Komplete why would I want to pay for it again? I may pick up an Akai, NI, or Keylab as well in the coming year.

  9. And nothing about Native Instrument Komplete S series !!!
    This is the best controller what exist !!!

    1. Avatar
      Jason Horton

      The Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk I was on our short-list but didn’t quite have high enough ratings for us to recommend it the last time we performed a major review of 88 key controllers – you can see our analysis of it here: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Meta Review.

      The Mk II version will be on our short-list when we next update this guide.

  10. Avatar
    Sjoerd W. Bijleveld

    Though I agree fully with the choice of VPC1 being one of the best digital keyboard controllers, I have one negative point to add: the lacquer (paint?) layer comes off way too easy! I have my VPC1 for a few years now and only used in my home studio, so no carrying around, and still by putting now and then another keyboard or computer keyboard/mouse on the top the paint wears off. I tried to contact Kawai about this, for a way to repaint it or whatever, but they never responded.

  11. I’ve owned and used a lot of the controllers mentioned including the Roland A88 and M Audio Hammer. I replaced both with two Doepfer LMK2+. The Doepfer hands down has the best action plus and this is a big plus it has after touch! I ended up hating the action on the Roland A88. It felt rubbery and overly heavy and sluggish. The action on the the Hammer 88 was quite good but still not in the league the Doepfer is. Finally, I’ve played the Kawai several times and while the action is great I can’t understand why they left off a mod and pitch wheel. That along with a rounded top which makes stacking keys problematic made it a deal breaker for me. The Doepfer is also great because you can put on the lid and it’s ready for the road. My setup is two Doepfer LMK2’s stacked on top of each other and a Behringer motor 61 on top. All are tied into a Steinberg midex8 going to Reaper which is the host to my VSTi’s. Loving my setup.
    BTW do not mix midi and usb midi using multiple controllers. I’ve found out the hard way they do not play nice. Just use a good Midi Controller like the Steinberg Midex 8 and forgo midi over USB.

  12. Hey, you seemed to have missed the Studiologic SL88 Studio/Grand. I own one and it’s brilliant IMHO.

  13. The following keyboard has been removed from our recommended list above because it’s been discontinued, but you can still read what we have to say about it: Roland A-88.

  14. Hi, I’m starting a film scoring course at university next year and I’d like to have an 88 key controller with a reasonable amount of DAW control. I’m not too bothered by semi-weighted keys as long as they aren’t synth action. The LX88+ seems like an ideal option, but are there any problems I should be aware of in the context I’ll be using it? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Ross,

      When it comes to film scoring, it’s more on how much your computer system can handle in terms of RAM if ever you plan to use multiple VST plug-ins in one project (ie. scoring with the use of orchestral instruments) and not really the MIDI controller itself. The LX88+ is a good choice since it is able to integrate with different DAWs and it has the essentials you need. As long as you are able to configure and map it properly depending on the DAW you are using, you are good to go.

  15. You should now add the Studiologic SL88 studio and SL88 Grand. They both have many reviews and are worth considering. I haven’t made a purchase yet but am leading toward these and would like to see them in your ranking. Thanks

  16. Good article. Good information. Just wondering what 88 note controller would be closest to the old Peavey C8. I don’t see any that come close to its features and flexibility. I loved the C8. But, it has been dead for awhile and does not seem to be repairable. Thanks for any opinions offered.

  17. Late comer to this conversation. I’m not looking to do anything fancy like editing touch curves. I’m just recording / editing basic piano in my home studio. Apart from having the full set of 3 grand piano pedals, is there any advantage to spending 3 times the $$$ for a Kawai VPC1 as a midi controller over, say, a basic Yamaha P-155.

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    Eric

  18. Avatar
    Wesley Lawrence Curry II

    Great article, read thoroughly. Buhut…..was hoping to find something about the STUDIO LOGIC midi keyboard controller 88 w/ weighted action. Have owned 3 M-Audio 88es Keystations in as many years. (Not the longest lasting velocity pads there) but the price was to good to pass on. Now, 3 years later, I could have spent the $600 I spent for the three M-Audio’s and gotten something with weighted action and durable to a pianists hands. Anyway….I like your outlook on these keyboards and it is a help to my research before buying.
    All the best,
    Wesley Lawrence Curry II

    1. Hi Wesley,

      Both the SL88 Studio and SL88 Grand were considered for this guide but neither of them had high enough ratings for us to recommend them, although the SL88 Studio came close.

      You can see all the StudioLogic keyboards we have examined, along with their Gearank scores, in the Music Gear Database.

      Cheers,
      Jason.

  19. This article is not mentionning the Lachnit MK22 Studio, the King with Fatar TP40 wood action keys, Lachnit light sensor technology, adjustable velocity curve, 4096 High Resolution MIDI dynamic with Pianoteq … a very expensive master controller for piano softwares, but worth the investment. Each key is polished and adjusted by hand by Peter Lachnit himself. It will last a few decades in your home studio at least.

  20. Avatar
    AzizKeys@gmail.com

    Nektar beats M audio hammer on faders and pads, they are needed for live performance, M audio beats nektar on the weighted hammer keyboard. Wish that M audio company would release the m audio hammer with faders and pads.

  21. Avatar
    Ellis L Abram

    I am interested in the Nektar. My biggest concern is making sure the keys at least feel like a piano. I am used to fully weighted keys.

    1. Both the Nektar Impact LX88 and the newer LX88+ only have semi-weighted keys which are never going to feel like an acoustic piano if that’s what you’re used to.

      We’re about to start the research phase for a 2017 update to this guide, so I’ll post back here if we find a reputable option with piano style action in a similar price range to the LX88.

  22. Thank you for all of this!!. I’d go with the Kawai for sure but unfortunately there is no way to buy it in my country. That’s a huge shame. So I’m thinking on going with the Roland one. I just wonder if it’s better, on piano key action, compared to my Yamaha P140.

    1. The Roland A-88 did get positive reviews for its key action so it does look like a good alternative to the Kawai VPC1 in your situation – probably not quite as good as the Kawai, but definitely acceptable compared with the Yamaha P-140 digital piano.

  23. Avatar
    LX88 Customer/User

    Thank you for the review.

    LX88 – not bad after almost year. However major problem is that black keys are more sensitive. No firmware patch available, even after latest release of the Plus model (which has the same issue). Sensitivity curve settings is not helping (well – fixed velocity helps). There is also no ‘key off velocity’ CC message generated.
    I do not recommend.

  24. Why is it that there are no 88 Key SYNTH ACTION Midi controllers. The Synth Action has soooooo much better control for orchestral software.. And why do all these manufactures think 8 channels is the most you will ever use on a controller. How about 16 (slider) channels on a controller. Even if you have to go to an AKAI box…everything STOPS at 8 channels. Pretty short sighted.

    1. The Nekter LX88 only has 1 footswitch which is MIDI assignable so you can only use it for 1 function at a time.

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