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The Best MIDI Pad Controllers

MIDI Controller Pads

MIDI Pad controllers are great tools, originally used for playing or sequencing drums and other forms of percussion. Today, musicians are finding creative ways to use these types of controllers where hitting a pad triggers sound samples and loops. This guide is for those who are looking for an alternative or supplementary tool for keyboard controllers.

Contents

The Best MIDI Pad Controllers

Things To Consider When Buying A MIDI Pad Controller

Pads

Pads on most good controllers are velocity sensitive, for additional control look for ones that are also pressure sensitive - this allows for the same kind of expressiveness you get from keyboards with aftertouch. For additional performance feedback also look for controllers with back lit pads.

Essential Controls

Ideally, you want your controller to feel like an extension of your DAW. This makes your workflow more productive when you don't have to reach for your computer mouse or look at your computer screen too often. Most MIDI pad controllers come with buttons that have transport, tempo and other control/navigation functions. Some controllers also have knobs and faders for controlling effects and parameters of the mixer on your DAW in real-time.

Power Supply

Most controllers operate via USB bus power. This may be a concern when it comes to draining your device's battery. Some controllers have adapters for external power supply, especially for controllers than can be used as a standalone unit.

Software Compatibility

Manufacturers tend to provide an editor application with their controllers so you can customize things like MIDI mappings, and some also come bundled with a DAW.. Most MIDI pad controllers work with most DAWs yet some are designed to integrate well with a particular DAW. Make sure you read the specifications to ensure any bundled software is compatible with your computer or tablet.

Size and Weight

Size usually correlates with the number of pads a controller has . If you want something easily portable to connect to your phone, tablet or laptop, then a smaller option with 8 (2 x 4) or 16 (4 x 4) pads would suffice. But if you prefer more functions and pads, most 64 (8 x 8) grid controllers are lightweight enough to carry around when used for live performances. In the end, it depends on where and how are you planning to use your controller.

CV Equipped Hardware

CV stands for Control Voltage. Many old analog synths (and modern recreations of them) use CV as a controller signal in much the same way that modern gear often uses MIDI control or Expression Pedals to control a parameter - usually it's to control pitch on a hardware synthesizer. Make sure the specifications of the MIDI pad controller you are interested in has CV output if you want to control this type of hardware.

Akai Professional LPD8

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$69
Akai Professional LPD8 Laptop MIDI Pad Controller

The LPD8 is a slim USB pad controller that's light-weight and small enough fit in your laptop bag or backpack. The 8 backlit pads have a similar feel to Akai Professional’s MPC line - after all they basically invented the pad controller concept. The LPD8 is also USB class compliant so it is plug and play with different versions of Mac and PC devices, and compatible with most DAWs.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 8 Velocity-sensitive drum pads –
  • Buttons: 1 x Program button, 3 x MIDI message buttons (Pad, Prog Chng and CC)
  • Knobs: 8 x Assignable knobs
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: USB bus-powered
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Compatibility: Plug and play USB for Mac and PC
  • Software Bundle: Akai Professional LPD8 Editor
  • Dimensions: 12.2" x 3.15" x 1.1"
  • Weight: 0.7 lbs.

The portability and small build of this controller are the main features users like. The rotary knobs provide a solid and responsive feel, which makes them great for controlling effects in DAWs. The LPD8 editor also allows you to customize different settings for each pad and knob. On the negative side, some users mentioned the pads were a bit stiff and would have preferred more sensitivity.

In summary, this is a great controller if you want an affordable, simple, and portable option.

Arturia BeatStep

86
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$99
Arturia BeatStep MIDI Pad Controller

Arturia's BeatStep is not only a USB MIDI controller, but also a standalone sequencer for MIDI or CV-equipped hardware and can store up to 16 different sequences with 16 steps each. The velocity sensitive pads provide expressive finger drumming while the encoders let you assign different parameters for real-time virtual instrument control. Its 16 customizable presets are stored in memory and can be recalled instantly with the "Recall" button.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 16 Velocity- and pressure-sensitive backlit pads
  • Buttons: 2 x MIDI Transport Controls, 2 x Mode Buttons, 1 x Recall button, 1 x Store button, 1 x Shift button, 1 x Chan button
  • Knobs: 1 x Data Knob, 16 x Assignable Encoder Knobs
  • Standalone Mode: Yes
  • Power: USB powered
  • Connectivity: USB, 5-pin MIDI Out Adapter included, CV/Gate Out
  • Compatibility: USB class-compliant
  • Software Bundle: Midi Control Center (downloadable from Arturia's website)
  • Dimensions: 15.75" x 7.1" x 2.44"
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs

Many users gave positive feedback on the durability of its build, particularly when considering the price. Its connectivity options are very handy when it comes to simultaneous use of a computer device and external MIDI equipment. The response of the pads are considered sensitive making them great for triggering drum beats. The rotary knobs have a solid feel while its parameters are flexible enough to customize via software.

One of the main issues some mentioned was the lack of visual display on the controller. Users would compensate by viewing and adjusting parameters on their DAW.

This controller is a good choice if you are looking for, not only a drum pad, but also an entry level hardware sequencer.

Akai Professional APC Mini

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Akai Professional APC Mini Pad Controller

The APC Mini is the miniature version of Akai's APC40 MKII. The 8x8 multi-color grid is used to launch clips and samples while providing visual feedback for live performance or remixing. Tracks can be mixed with its dedicated channel faders, volume, pan, sends, and device control. It's also compatible with most devices and is pre-mapped to Ableton Live once plugged into a computer.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 64 (8x8 grid) clip matrix with tri-color lighting
  • Buttons: 8 x Clip Stop buttons, 8 x Scene Launch buttons, 1 x Shift button
  • Other Controls: 8 x Faders + 1 x master fader
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: USB powered
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10; Mac with Mac OS X 10.5 or later
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, and Toolroom artist launch packs
  • Dimensions: 9.4” x 7.9” x 1.0”
  • Weight: 1.53 lbs

Reviewers praised this controller for its compact design and ease of use. Most of them found it easy to set-up with straightforward controls. The faders and knobs provide a very tactile feel for its price. Since it effortlessly synchronized well with Ableton live, a lot of users were able to use this controller for easy recording, looping, clip management and live improvisations.

Some Ableton users are bothered by its lack of session overview, which lets you navigate through your Live set quickly on Ableton without viewing the computer screen.

This is an exceptional controller as a supplementary unit for your set-up, or for beginners on a budget.

Novation Launchpad Mini MK2

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Novation Launchpad Mini MK2 MIDI Pad Controller

The Launchpad Mini is the compressed version of Novation's original Launchpad. With a lighter and more compact design, it features 64 multi-colored mini pads and 16 programmable buttons for triggering clips, playing drum racks, controlling your mixer and different types parameters. It's class compliant allowing you to connect with any PC or Mac device and iOS devices via Camera Connection Kit. Other than its automatic integration with Ableton, you can use the grid to control parameters in FL Studio’s performance mode.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 64 (8x8 grid) square multi-color backlit buttons
  • Buttons: 8 x System buttons, 8 x Function buttons
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Connectivity: Micro USB socket, Kensington security slow, Camera connection kit or lightning to USB camera adapter (not included)
  • Compatibility:
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite 9
  • Dimensions: 9.57" x 8.07" x 1.97"
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs

Despite its plastic construction, this controller is fairly durable for its price. Users have reported that it still works after mishandling, such as being dropped. Another main advantage is its size which makes it portable enough to carry around. For home or studio use, the controller doesn't take up too much space either on most users' desks or workstations. Many users gave positive reviews on its intuitive controls when it comes to launching clips or making beats, especially when used with Ableton Live. Its drum pads provide responsive and tactile feedback as well.

A few criticized its pads for not being velocity sensitive - some people compensate by adjust note velocity in their DAW.

This is a great choice for those who are looking for an affordable, small and compact controller to incorporate in their mobile rigs.

IK Multimedia iRig Pads

86
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$150
IK Multimedia iRig Pads MIDI Pad Controller

IK Multimedia's iRig Pads is a portable 16-pad MIDI controller designed for iOS devices, as well as Mac and PC. It allows you to easily set up and connect with an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with its included Lightning cable. Its small and lightweight build makes it easy to slip in your bag and carry around. Despite it being small, it has the essential controls for sequencing - two knobs, two push buttons, one slider and one pushbutton rotary encoder. Its 16 distinct MIDI maps or “scenes” can be customized, saved and recalled instantly with the iRig Pads Editor software.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 16 velocity-sensitive pads
  • Buttons: 2 x pushbuttons
  • Knobs: 2 x MIDI knobs,1 x Pushbutton rotary encoder knob
  • Other Controls: 1 x MIDI Programmable slider
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: USB
  • Connectivity: USB port, Expression/Sustain pedal input
  • Compatibility: Windows XP (SP3), Vista (SP1) , 7, 8, 10; Mac OS X 10.6 or later.
  • Software Bundle: SampleTank 3 SE
  • Dimensions: 7.5" x 8.1" x 0.9"
  • Weight: 1.8 lbs

For a small controller, users gave positive feedback on its velocity sensitive pads. They were impressed by how the pads were responsive and relatively large, which makes them ideal for MIDI drum playing. The controller itself has a pretty solid build. Both users and experts mentioned it integrates well with their own PC, Mac or iOS devices and there weren't any reported issues with the software editor that comes with it. In his Sound on Sound review, Simon Sherbourne said the controllers "were simple to hook up to my iPhone 5S and worked straight away with CoreMIDI-compliant apps."

A few others mentioned that it doesn't work well with third party apps, but it's only designed to work with CoreMIDI compliant apps on iOS. This led them to download apps that were compatible.

This controller is a great option for those who not only work with desktop devices, but also work with mobile iOS devices.

Arturia BeatStep Pro

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$249
Arturia BeatStep Pro MIDI Pad Controller & Sequencer

The BeatStep Pro showcases 16 drum sequencer pads and two other independent sequencers, with 64 steps per sequence. Its both a sequencer and controller that syncs with any computer via USB. Other connections include MIDI In/Out CV/GATE, drum gate, and clock sync connectivity - great for those who prefer working with external hardware, such as analog synthesizers.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 16 Pressure sensitive pads
  • Buttons 3 x Transport buttons, 1 x Shift button, 6 x Preset/project utility buttons, 4 x Roller/looper buttons, 16 x Step buttons, 16 x Sequence Control buttons, 4 x Project/Control modes, 1 x Tap/Metronome button, 1 x Sync button
  • Knobs: 3 x Swing/Randomness/Probability knobs, 16 x Encoder knobs, 1 x Rate/Fine knob
  • Standalone Mode: Yes
  • Power: USB, USB power adaptor for standalone situations
  • Connectivity: USB, MIDI In/Out, Clock sync with multiple standards, CV/GATE outputs, 8 x drum gate outputs
  • Compatibility: USB Class Compliant
  • Software Bundle: None
  • Dimensions: 16.3" x 6.4" x 1.4"
  • Weight: 3.20 lbs

The build quality and design of this controller exceeded a lot of reviewers' expectations for its price. The knobs and buttons overall provide a solid feel and are ergonomically laid out. Many users were impressed with the Beatstep Pro’s connectivity and sequencing capabilities, which allowed them to use it to trigger drum machines, play synths with both vintage CV and new MIDI gear. Experts found its "Randomness" and "Probability" feature a great addition to change and determine random note patterns. They suggested that many live performers may find it useful for improvisation purposes. In Paul Nagle's Sound on Sound review, he mentioned it "provides most of what a random direction would, with the added bonus that it won’t mess up synchronization".

Although there were some reported issues regarding its firmware, Arturia has released an updated firmware on their website for bug fixes.

This is an excellent controller for live performers and those who work in studios, especially for those who want a versatile controller that works both with computers and other external hardware.

Akai Professional APC40 MKII

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Akai Professional APC40 MKII MIDI Pad Controller

The APC40 MKII presents a more compact design to the original APC40. Other enhanced features include RGB clip-launching grid, reinforced fader design, and a revised knob lay out. The nine reinforced faders provide control over volume, pan and other parameters, while the eight channel control knobs provide visual feedback and let you easily access control options. With its Ableton integration feature, this controller is ideal for both studio use and live performance.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 40 (5x8 matrix) clip-launch pads with RGB feedback
  • Buttons: 5 x Scene Launch Buttons, 9 x Clip Stop Buttons, 9 x Track Selector buttons, 8 x Track buttons, 8 x Device Control buttons, 3 x Transport Buttons, 3 x Assignable buttons, 4 x Bank Select buttons
  • Knobs: 8 x Assignable knobs, 8 x Control knobs, 1 x Tempo knob
  • Other Controls: 9 channel faders, 1 Crossfader
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: USB-powered
  • Connectivity: USB Slot, Footswitch Input, Kensington Lock Slot
  • Compatibility: Mac with Mac OS X 10.5, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite with Puremagnetik Effect Racks, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX Twist, Prime Loops sample packs, and Toolroom Records artist launch packs
  • Dimensions: 16.7" x 10" x 1.8"
  • Weight: 3.97 lbs

A lot of users were delighted with its pads having LED color lighting, and how it mimics the Ableton session view. This helps users get immediate performance feedback when it comes to triggering clips, mixer, or fx processing without looking at the screen. Even with its number of controls and plastic build, users mentioned how light-weight and sturdy it is. In his Sound on Sound review, Simon Sherbourne said both performers and composers will appreciate this controller because of its user mode where you can utilize the user button to switch "the pots to generic MIDI controllers, allowing you to use Live’s MIDI Map mode to take control of any parameter. "

The downsides a few users found were the pads lack of velocity response, and would compensate by adjusting the velocities on their DAW afterwards.

This is a great music production device if you are looking for an arranger and mixer combined all in one unit.

Novation Launchpad Pro

85
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$300
Novation Launchpad Pro MIDI Pad Controller

The Launchpad Pro is more than a simple upgrade of the original Novation Launchpad. It features a ‘hackable’ open source firmware, which allows third-party developers and users to create, upload and customize codes or an 'app' to the device. Other than the automatic LED feedback, velocity and pressure sensitive pads, it has additional function buttons, and quick access mixer buttons for ease of navigation and control.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 64 RGB backlit velocity and pressure sensitive button grid
  • Buttons and Knobs: 1 x Setup button, 32 x RGB Backlit round mode buttons
  • Standalone Mode: Yes
  • Power: USB bus powered, 12V DC Power supply (included) and camera connection kit or USB camera adapter (not included)
  • Connectivity: 1 USB Connector, 2 MIDI sockets, 1 Power Supply Connector
  • Compatibility: USB Class Compliant
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite 9.5 music-making software, 4GB of Loopmasters sounds and samples, Bass Station VST and AU plug-in synthesizer, V Station VST and AU plug-in synthesizer
  • Dimensions: 10.3" x 1.1" x 10.3"
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs

Both experts and users found this controller to have a very intuitive interface as well as ease of integration with Ableton. They both praised its inclusion of additional controls, such as mixer buttons, which improved their workflow when it comes to accessing tracks. The build quality doesn't fall short either and has impressed many users. In his MusicRadar review, Si Truss mentioned the design's "combination of metal chassis with rubberised outer coating means that the Launchpad Pro is plenty sturdy and feels like it could happily take a regular beating on stage. The RGB buttons look very striking too, and provide clear visual feedback under all lighting conditions." The pads provide a natural, expressive performance when it comes to launching clips or creating beats.

This controller is a great investment if you are looking for a unit that's customizable for live performances or composing.

Ableton Push 2

91
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$799
Ableton Push 2 MIDI Pad Controller

Push 2 is a hardware controller made to work with Ableton's Live software. Its 64 velocity sensitive pads enable both playing in real time, step sequencing, and adjusting loop lengths, which makes the controller capable for both live performances and studio use. The pads also acts similar to a MIDI keyboard where its multi-color lighting shows key intervals and scales. As an upgrade of the Push 1, it showcases a bright, full-color, high-resolution screen display that lets you zoom in on specific details for warping and slicing samples.

Specifications:

  • Pads: 64 (8x8 grid) velocity pressure sensitive pads with RGB backlighting
  • Buttons: 31 x Navigation LEDs
  • Knobs: 11 x rotary encoder knobs
  • Standalone Mode: Yes
  • Other Controls: 17cm touch strip for pitch bend/scrolling
  • Power: USB Powered, 12V DC Power supply,
  • Connectivity: USB Slot, 2 x Pedal Inputs, Power Supply Connector, Kensington Lock
  • Compatibility: USB Class Compliant
  • Software Bundle: Quick Start Guide + Download version of Live 9 Intro Standard or Suite
  • Dimensions: 14.88" x 11.96" x 1.65"
  • Weight: 6.0 lbs

A lot of users benefited from this controller when it comes their workflow as it integrates seamlessly with the Live software and makes users view less of the computer screen. Many found it to be intuitive when it comes to step sequencing and programming synthesizers. In his Sound on Sound review, Nick Rothwell mentioned "the graphic display presents a lot more information at a glance, the display buttons contribute to a streamlined and flexible user experience, and the waveform visualisations open up a new world of audio improvisation and experimentation." The pads and buttons feel tactile and responsive, which makes it great for launching clips and triggering drum samples. The controller itself has a great build quality-built with sturdy materials and black matte design.

This is a great investment for those who want a controller that feels more like an instrument for live performances.

Best MIDI Pad Controller Selection Methodology

We looked at all the highly rated MIDI Pads available from major online American retailers and short-listed 17 of them for further analysis - you can see the list in the Music Gear Database. We then gathered ratings and reviews from retailers, forums, YouTube and blogs and major music gear publications, there were over 4,000 sources, and we processed those data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the customer satisfaction ratings out of 100 that we call Gearank scores. Finally, we selected the highest rated options to recommend above and also used the information we collected to provide the reports above about what users and experts liked and didn't like about each one we recommended. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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