The Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers - Up To $1000

MIDI Keyboards

Drawing from our extensive research, we bring you a guide to the best MIDI keyboard controllers that caters to those with a specific budget in mind.

As the title suggests, this list features the best of what the sub $1000 market has to offer, divided into three popular price brackets for your convenience, the sub $200, sub $500 and sub $1000. This way, you can narrow down your selection to the best ones that you can actually afford.

Contents

The Best MIDI Keyboards

Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers Under $200

While portability is always a big consideration when it comes to MIDI controllers, our research shows that modern Bluetooth connectivity is quickly becoming just as important, as exemplified by the three controllers in this section.

Arturia MiniLab MkII with 25 Slim Keys

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Arturia MiniLab MkII

The Arturia Minilab MKII is a compact USB MIDI controller with an impressive array of controls, specifically designed to meet the needs of electronic musicians. What separates it from the pack is its 16 encoders, which allow for realtime controls over filters and other parameters, and add to that its built-in RGB lit pads, which expands your control options even further. Instead of using mechanical wheels, Arturia implemented two touch strips for controlling pitch and modulation, adding to the unit's futuristic appeal. All of these extras add to its 25 synth action slim size keys, which wraps up its instrument functions.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 25 Slim Synth Action Keys
  • Pads: 8 RGB Pads
  • Controls: 16 Encoders, Octave, Pitchbend, Mod Touch Strips
  • Octave: 4 Octaves (+/-)
  • Zones: 1
  • Automap: Yes (On some DAW Software)
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.7 (Up), Windows 7 SP1 (Up)
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 14" x 8.7" x 2"
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, UVI Grand Piano, Analog Lab Lite

Pros:
From its stylish appeal, to the feel of its keys, and even on to its robust build, response to the Arturia MiniLab MKII continues to be highly positive. Music Radar confirms what most users say by describing it this way: "Amazing build quality, great keyboard". The quality of the bundled software also got a lot of commendations. And while this keyboard is meant for electronic musicians, even those who are into other musical styles chipped in with their good feedback.

Cons:
There are a few who felt that the bundled software is a bit lacking, especially when compared to the previous version, but they are very happy with the improvements on the hardware.

Overall:
If you're looking for a compact yet versatile MIDI controller, then the Arturia MiniLab MkII, with its extensive control options, is highly recommended.

Korg microKEY AIR 49 with Bluetooth

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$175
Korg microKEY AIR 49 Bluetooth MIDI Keyboard Controller

With Korg's vast experience and good reputation in the musical keyboard area, it's not surprising to see many of their products enjoying popularity. The microKEY AIR 49 joins this list with its combination of portability, playability and the convenience of modern wireless connectivity. It is as straightforward as they come, with just the keys, mod wheels and octave controls, which means that if you're looking for something more electronic music friendly, you should skip this entry. Still, you are getting 49 Korg quality keys, which allow for more conventional piano playing style, while keeping the form factor compact and the price very affordable. In addition, with its built-in Bluetooth technology, this MIDI keyboard makes for an ideal mobile instrument to pair with laptops, tablets, phones and other mobile devices.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 49 Mini-Keys Natural Touch (Synth Action)
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel, Octave Control
  • Octave: 4 Octaves (+/-)
  • Zones: 1
  • Automap: Yes (On some DAW software)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.10 (Up), Windows 7 SP1 (Up), iOS 8 (up)
  • Power: 2 x AA Battery or USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 27.91" x 5.47" x 2.13"
  • Weight: 2.21 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: 2.21

Pros:
Most of the commendations that the Korg microKEY AIR 49 gets are from iOS users who love the convenience of wireless connectivity for mobile use. They appreciate how easy it is to connect and use with the iPad and even the iPhone. In addition, it has also made its way into home studios, many of which commend the unit accordingly.

Cons:
There are some users who are no too happy with the unit's overall build quality, with some specifically pointing to its plastic exterior as a concern.

Overall:
If you're looking for a simplified keyboard controller that's easy to setup and carry around, then check out the MicroKEY AIR 49.

Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers Under $500

MIDI Keyboards with quality pads, encoders and faders got the top ratings in this section.

Akai Professional MPK249 - 49 Keys

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Akai Professional MPK249

The Akai Professional MPK249 is a full featured MIDI keyboard controller that is still reasonably priced and portable. At its core are 49 full size keys that are semi-weighted for improved feel and response, and this is complimented by after touch control along with two wheels for adjusting pitch and modulation. While you can already make good music via its keybed, Akai Professional decided to add more control options, including RGB illuminated pads, multiple encoders, buttons and faders; all of which can be assigned to your preferred parameters. Other features include those that enhance workflow, including a built-in arpeggiator, MPC Swing and Note Repeat.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 49 Full-Size Semi-Weighted Keys with Aftertouch
  • Pads: 16 RGB Lit
  • Controls: 8 Encoders, 8 Buttons, 8 Faders, Pitch Bend & Mod Wheels, Octave, Transport/DAW Control Buttons
  • Octave: 3 Octaves (+/-)
  • Zones: Single
  • Automap: Yes
  • Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Windows XP/Vista/7/8, OSX 10.5 (Up), iOS
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 29" x 12.25" x 3.38"
  • Weight: 12.6 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3 Synth, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, Akai VIP3 Plug-in, Reason Lide DAW license

Pros:
Value for money is easily its most outstanding feature, as attested to by most of the reviews. Users are generally pleased with the overall performance of the keys, while others are impressed with its wealth of control options and its reliability. Reports of it working well with many different DAWs also fill up the comments.

Cons:
There are a few users who are not too impressed with the way the keys respond, while others wish for more features, which is quite surprising given the extensive control options that are already available.

Overall:
With its extensive control options and full-sized keys, the Akai Professional MPK249 is easy to recommend.

Nektar Panorama P4 - 49 Keys

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Nektar Panorama P4 49-key MIDI Controller Keyboard

With special emphasis on its deep integration and automap compatibility with popular DAWs like Cubase, Reason, Logic Pro, Nuendo, Bitwig Studio and Reaper, the Nektar Panorama P4 is specially designed for studio work. As a keyboard controller, it comes with 49 full-size keys, all of which feature Aftertouch and are semi-weighted. But more than that, it houses an extensive array of controls to ensure that you have access to most of the features of your DAW software, this includes 16 encoders, 12 pads, transport controls and more. With so many things that this keyboard can do, it is nice that it has a colored TFT display, which gives you good visual feedback of your settings.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 49 Full Size Semi-Weighted Keys with Aftertouch
  • Pads: 12
  • Controls: Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel, 16 Encoders, 1 Motorized Fader, Transport Controls,
  • Octave: +4/-3 Octaves
  • Zones: Up to 4
  • Automap: Yes (Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Reason, Main Stage, and Reaper)
  • Connectivity: MIDI Out, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.6 (Up), Windows Vista (Up), iOS
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 33.25" x 13" x 3.25"
  • Weight: 14 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: None

Pros:
A good number of users describe the Nektar Panorama P4 as the best MIDI keyboard for Reason, but its not just limited to that because there are also reports of it working nicely with other DAWs, some of the most prominently mentioned include Cubase, Logic Pro and Reaper. A lot of users also love the Panorama P4 for its convenient integration and ease of use. The feel and response of the semi-weighted keys also prompted many users to give this controller high ratings.

Cons:
While many appreciate its semi-weighted keybed, there are a few who find the feel to be too stiff, but this is most likely due to them being used to softer synth style keyboards. There are also some who caution that while the automap settings generally work, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the settings, or better yet personalize them to get the most out of the controller.

Overall:
If you're using any of the DAWs listed above, and you're looking for a studio friendly MIDI controller then get the Nektar Panorama P4.

Akai Professional MPK261 - 61 Keys

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Akai Professional MPK261 61-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Akai Professional's MPK series gets another spot in this list, secured by the high ratings of the 61-Key MPK261 MIDI keyboard controller. It is as feature packed as its smaller sibling, with the main difference being its longer 61-key configuration, having the same full-size semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch control. Pitch bend and modulation wheels are also present, along with other keyboard related controls including, octave up and down. For triggering samples in realtime, the MPK261 is equipped with 16 RGB illuminated pads, with each one having 4 banks, allowing for a wide selection of samples to utilize for your recording or performance. Other features include 8 encoder knobs, 8 faders, and transport control.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 61 Full-Size Semi-Weighted Keys with Aftertouch
  • Pads: 16 RGB Lit
  • Controls: 8 Encoders, 8 Buttons, 8 Faders, Pitch Bend & Mod Wheels, Octave, Transport/DAW Control Buttons
  • Octave: 3 Octaves (+/-)
  • Zones: Dual
  • Automap: Yes
  • Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Windows XP/Vista/7/8, OSX 10.5 (Up), iOS
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 35.63" x 12.25" x 3.38"
  • Weight: 15.1 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3 Synth, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, Akai VIP3 Plug-in, Reason Lide DAW license

Pros:
Reviews are replete with positive references to the Akai Professional MPK261's build quality and playability, with specific references to how solid the keys, knobs and pads feel. Some even go so far as hail the MPK261 as the best that they've ever tried. The playing feel of the semi-weighted keys also got a lot of good remarks, including from experienced players.

Cons:
There are no notable complaints, other than a few who prefer the softer feel of synth action keys.

Overall:
The Akai Professional MPK261 offers professional playability, reliability and functionality, while keeping the price tag accessible.

Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers Under $1000

With a higher price margin, these controllers offer semi-weighted or fully weighted keyboards, which unfortunately drew flak from some who prefer softer synth style keys. Still, these are the ones preferred by experienced pianists and keyboardists.

Nektar Panorama P6 - 61 Keys

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$600
Nektar Panorama P6

The Panorama P6 secures another spot for Nektar with its combination of a 61-key keybed, wide range of controls, and DAW compatibility. It's designed to control all DAWs but specialized in Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Reason, Main Stage, and Reaper. Because Nektar Panorama controllers are pre-mapped for these 5 DAWs, every control feature in your DAW software is accessible via the pads, faders, encoders. Finally, it has a central display that shows you what parameters you are controlling in real time.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 61 Full Size Semi-Weighted Keys with Aftertouch
  • Pads: 12
  • Controls: Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel, 16 Encoders, 1 Motorized Fader, Transport Controls,
  • Octave: +4/-3 Octaves
  • Zones: Up to 4
  • Automap: Yes (Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Reason, Main Stage, and Reaper)
  • Connectivity: MIDI Out, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.6 (Up), Windows Vista (Up), iOS
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Dimensions: 39" x 13" x 4"
  • Weight: 17 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: None

Pros:
Market response to the Nektar Panorama P6 continues to be overwhelmingly favorable, with most users commending it for its playing feel and solid build. There are many who report that this controller made a big impact in their workflow and productivity, while others are very pleased with how easy it is to set up via automapping.

Cons:
There are a few users who complained about the instruction manual, which they feel does not do the Panorama P6 justice. Some users caution that there will be a slight technique adjustment when you're used to synth action keys.

Overall:
With its reliable and versatile design, the Nektar Panorama P6 should be high in your list if you're looking for a 61-Key keyboard control in the sub $1000 range.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 - 61 Keys

84
GEARANK

84 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$699
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2

Native Instruments is well known in DJ circles because for the quality of their Traktor software, they also expanded into music hardware which includes the Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2, a 61-key MIDI keyboard controller. While it does not have many DJ friendly functions, it does retain the company's standard for quality, as evidenced by its many good ratings. To achieve its success, NI equipped this controller with a semi-weighted Fatar keybed, and paired it with essential controls that include pitch bend and mod wheels, 8 touch-sensitive knobs, a touch strip and a 4-directional push encoder. It doesn't have much else in terms of design features, but the keys themselves are more then enough to make it a viable top rated instrument.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 61-Key
  • Pads: Fatar Keybed Semi-Weighted
  • Controls: Pitch Bend Wheel, Mod Wheel, 8 Touch-Sensitive knobs, 4-Directional Push Encoder, Touch Strip
  • Octave: 2 Octaves (+/- )
  • Zones: Up to two (Split)
  • Automap: Yes (Via Software)
  • Connectivity: 5-Pin MIDI, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.11 (Up), Windows 7 SP1 (Up)
  • Power: USB Bus powered / 15V DC Power Supply (sold separately)
  • Dimensions: 39.6" x 11.7" x 3.3"
  • Weight: 14.4 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Komplete 11 Select Software Bundle

Pros:
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MKII continues to gather good reviews, most of which are from people who are impressed by the quality of its keyboard . Even those who owned its first iteration found that the MK2 brings with it significant improvements to their overall workflow and performance experience. A good number of users also commended it for the solid feel of the knobs, buttons and keys. And as expected, those who are already using Native Instruments' software are happy with easy it is to integrate into their setup.

Cons:
There are some complaints about keyboard mapping not working as they hoped it would. There are also a few who noticed that some of the Fatar keys produce unwanted mechanical noise as they release them.

Overall:
If you're using Native Instruments software, or if you're looking for a more streamlined 61-Key MIDI keyboard controller then check this out.

Arturia KeyLab 88 - 88 Keys

84
GEARANK

84 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$799
Arturia KeyLab 88 - 88-key MIDI Keyboard Controller

While the focus of this review is on the actual hardware, we can't help but mention that the Arturia KeyLab 88's main selling point is its great combination of hardware and software. The keyboard aspect by itself is already quite impressive, with its 88 Fatar hammer action (fully weighted) keys that even acoustic pianists will appreciate. Velocity sensitivity, pitch bend and modulation allows for even more control over the expression of each note. And it doesn't stop with just an impressive keybed, because it comes with DAW friendly pads, faders, encoders and other control options. On the software side, the KeyLab 88 is bundled with Arturia's Analog Lab 3 application, which greatly expands your sonic palette with over 6000 presets for a wide variety of virtual instruments and synths. And since both the hardware and software are from Arturia, you can expect seamless integration and quick setup.

Specifications:

  • Keys: 88 Fully Weighted, Velocity Sensitive
  • Pads: 16 Velocity Sensitive Pads
  • Controls: Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel, 13 Encoders, 9 Faders
  • Octave: 2 Octave (+/-)
  • Zones: Dual Split
  • Automap: Yes
  • Connectivity: 5-pin MIDI, USB
  • Control Hardware Directly:
  • Compatibility: OSX 10.8 (Up), Windows 7 SP1 (Up)
  • Power: 5V DC power supply
  • Dimensions: 50.82" x 13.89" x 4.25"
  • Weight: 28.6 lbs.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab 2

Pros:
Beautiful, terrific and awesome are just some of the many positive adjectives that reviewers continue to use to describe the Arturia KeyLab 88. And while most of the high ratings are from those who are impressed with the hardware and its traditional piano like playability, there are others who are just as impressed with its bundled software. Music Radar's Stuart Bruce concludes his review by saying: "An instrument that you will want to play, stacked full of great sounds, easily tweakable and with excellent performance control. We think you'll like it!"

Cons:
There are some users who report inconsistencies with the unit's velocity sensitivity, saying that some keys require more force than the others. There are also a few who feel that the price should be a bit more accessible.

Overall:
If you're looking for a versatile 88-key MIDI keyboard controller, then the Arturia KeyLab 88 is your best bet.

Things to Consider When Buying a MIDI Keyboard Controller

  • Keybed: Key Size, Weight, Action, Velocity and Aftertouch

    Not all keyboards follow the standard piano size and action because it's not always applicable, especially when considering portability. This is the reason why compact controllers come with slim size keys, which requires some technique adjustment for those who are used to standard size keys.

    Key weight and action refers to how hard you have to press the keys to trigger a sound. Synth action keys have the softest playing feel, while fully weighted (hammer action) ones need a bit more force, similar to an acoustic piano. Others offer something in between, which they call semi-weighted. Velocity sensitivity refers to how the keys respond to the dynamics of your playing or how forcefully you press the keys. While Aftertouch adds effects depending on the pressure you apply as you hold down a note.

    Your choice of size, action and sensitivity will boil down to your budget and preference, which is usually similar to what you are used to playing.

  • Number of Zones

    Zones let you split the keyboard into multiple sections which each transmit on separate MIDI channels. An example of this type of usage is when you have one sound module for bass sounds and another for piano or synth sounds and you split the keyboard so that your left hand plays the bass sounds while your right hand plays the other sounds. These days many MIDI controllers do not have this feature built-in, but DAWs and some plugins will allow you to set virtual zones to your preference. Note that you need this feature on the keyboard to do it when directly controlling hardware without a computer in the loop.

  • Mod Wheels, Pads and other Control inputs

    If you're looking for more control over your notes, you'll want a controller with pitch bend and modulation. Other features like encoders, buttons and faders allow for even more expressive control over parameters in real time, and they can be used to control your DAW software and plugins.

  • Controlling Hardware Directly vs Connecting to Computers

    Most are now using MIDI controllers to trigger virtual instruments in computers, and this is done mostly via USB, but there are some that allow for wireless use via Bluetooth. To trigger other hardware like analog synthesizers, you'll need a controller with a 5-pin MIDI cable connection.

  • Auto-Mapping & Software Integration

    While most MIDI controllers have auto-mapping, they are usually limited to specific software. And since DAWs and plugins can be very different - it will benefit you to get a MIDI controller that is designed to integrate well with your preferred music production software, otherwise you'll have to manually map the keyboard to your software.

  • Transport Controls

    Transport controls allow you to gain control of essential recording and playback controls right on your MIDI keyboard, this usually includes play, record, stop, forward, rewind - much like old tape machines.

  • Motorized Controls

    Some controllers come with motorized knobs and faders, which mechanically moves to match the current settings in your DAW. This is a convenient feature to have, but since it requires additional moving parts, it adds to the overall weight and bulk of the unit, and will generally add to the cost.

  • Power Supply: USB, Batteries & A/C Adapters

    If you are going for portability, look for MIDI keyboards with built-in rechargeable batteries. If you're going to use the controller on a fixed setup and you want to reduce cable clutter, then go for those that draw power from USB. If you're going for units that draw power from wall warts (AC Adapters), you'll need to ensure that you have enough nearby electrical ports to plug into. Note that if you chose USB power with an iPad then you may need to get an additional powered USB hub due to the iPads lower power output than standard USB allows for

  • Dimensions & Weight

    Balancing portability and functionality is tricky yet important if you want to be productive musically. If you're going to make music while on the move, you're going to want to sacrifice some features and go for something light and compact. On the flipside, you should go for bigger controllers if you're style of music requires you to play conventional piano style music - these are ideal if they are simply going to stay in your home studio.

Best MIDI Keyboard Controller Selection Methodology

Since we have published guides for top rated MIDI keyboards based on their number of keys, we decided to go a different path with this guide an have a specific focus on finding the best MIDI keyboard controllers within three popular price ranges: Sub $200, Sub $500 and Sub $1000. To achieve this, we gathered a huge amount data from relevant reviews, ratings and discussions that totaled to over 11,500 sources. All these data pertain to our not-so-shortlist of 74 MIDI keyboards and were fed to the Gearank algorithm. This process gave gave us the scores that we used to rank the controllers by price. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works

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