The Best MIDI Pad Controllers

The Highest Rated MIDI Pad Controllers

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A lot of things have changed since the last update of this guide. Due to the global pandemic more people have made music at home than ever before and while a home studio is still a luxury, you can make great songs nowadays with just a laptop. A MIDI Pad controller augments this setup by enabling a whole new level of creative freedom by triggering clips, samples and phrases on the fly. This makes the electronic music setup more akin to a musical instrument than just a means to play back pre-arranged tracks. You can even make remixes on the fly!

When the songs are ready, you can also perform them live with a lot of improvisational possibilities open to you. It also makes for a more exciting experience overall.

So, rather than be stuck clicking notes one by one, arranging tracks by copying and pasting, why not get a MIDI Pad Controller to take your creativity to the next level?

In this July 2020 update, we have seen some of last years entries be superceded by new items. We have trimmed down our selection to ease option paralysis and give you more detailed descriptions for their specialties, pros, and cons to help you make the right decision, faster. We have chosen the highest rated products currently available plus a budget Honorable Mention for those who prefer using Ableton Live as their DAW.

The Best MIDI Pad Controllers

Akai Professional Fire

89
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$99
Akai Professional Fire

FL Studio has been around for nearly two decades now starting with it's first incarnation as Fruity Loops back in the early 2000s. Akai Professional introducing the Fire MIDI Pad controller is a long overdue hardware release that complements one of the most popular music production DAWs on the market.

The 4 x 16 layout matches perfectly with the step sequencer of FL Studio and up to 4 units can be linked to create an 8 x 32 grid.

Each sequence can be controlled to play in real time.

The Fire also has enough navigation controls for mouse-free operation.

Features:

  • Pads: 4 x 16 control matrix with velocity-sensitive RGB pads
  • Buttons: 15 x Navigation and Transport controls.
  • Knobs: 4 x Assignable, Touch-capacitive Knobs ,
  • Other: LCD display
  • Analog Inputs:None
  • Analog OutputsNone
  • Standalone Mode: No
  • Power: 15V DC power supply (included) / USB bus power
  • Connectivity: USB S
  • Compatibility: Windows 7 SP1 or later, OS X 10.11 or later, FL Studio 20.0.5 or later
  • Software Bundle: No Software included (controller only)
  • Dimensions: 12.44" x 6.55" x 1.69"
  • Weight: 1.68 lbs.

Pros

"Finally!" is the resounding cry of FL Studio users everywhere that bought the unit. After many years of coveting a dedicated controller for FL Studio, many users loved how fast it integrated into their workflow, enabling creative and performance optimizations they couldn't imagine before. The dedicated transport controls, multipurpose pads and navigation controls were praised by several users.

Cons

No velocity sensitivity. This was a massive dealbreaker for many who expected the pads to have this feature for drum programming.

Overall

While the controller is indeed a first effort into integrating with a well-loved DAW, It does have it's quirks. Get it if you are one of those that have been waiting for a controller for FL Studio and rely more on live arrangement, performance, and remixing. Look elsewhere if you're looking to primarily program beats.

Reloop Neon

89
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$150
Reloop Neon USB MIDI Pad Controller

The Reloop Neon is primarily a DJ focused MIDI pad controller that is plug and play compatible with Serato's DJ Pro software.

6 of the 8 large, backlit, velocity-sensitive pads can be used to trigger samples, while 2 can be mapped to other functions by MIDI via USB.

It can also be mapped for use with other software as well.

Features:

  • Pads: 8 Large Velocity Sensitive Backlit Pads. 6 for Drum samples and 2 multi-purpose pads.
  • Buttons: 8 x Function Buttons, 4 x Transport buttons
  • Knobs: 2 x Multi-purpose knobs
  • Other: none
  • Analog Inputs:none
  • Analog Outputsnone
  • Standalone Mode: no
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: MIDI via USB
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.11 or later , Windows 7 SP1 or later
  • Software Bundle: 8GB built in sample library, 25 GB Komplete 11 Select library
  • Dimensions: 12.6" x 11.85" x 1.61"
  • Weight: 5.9 lbs

Pros

Rave reviews (no pun intended) come from those who prefer to perform DJ sets with more than just playback. Triggering samples, cutting up beats and other improvisational techniques were easy to do on the Reloop Neon. As a MIDI pad controller for other DAWS, the Reloop Neon does a decent job as a supplementary sample pad for an existing setup.

Cons

While it is optimal for use with Serato DJ Pro, it was lackluster in integration with other software and needed further mapping manually.

Overall

If you're a performer centering on DJing that wants to do some sample triggering, slicing and some degree of sequencing, the Reloop Neon is a simple, but effective tool for your arsenal.

Novation Launchpad X

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Novation Launchpad X Grid Controller

While having an "X" in the name of any product signifies it to be edgy or hip, we speculate that the Launchpad X's designation comes from the fact that it's the 10th year that the Launchpad series has been in production.

The Launchpad X is slimmer, sleeker and more streamlined than it's predecessors.

In addition to the new form factor, the Launchpad X now features velocity and pressure-sensitive pads. This adds new layers of expression to your performances beyond just triggering clips and samples.

The Launchpad X also carries over some features from it's more expensive siblings like note/scale modes feature.

Features:

  • Pads: 64 Velocity and Pressure Sensitive RGB pads
  • Buttons: 16 x Multi Purpose buttons for transport, clip control and settings.
  • Knobs: none
  • Other: none
  • Analog Inputs:none
  • Analog Outputsnone
  • Standalone Mode: no
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: none
  • Compatibility: macOS 10.13 or later, iOS 9 or later , Windows 10 or later
  • Software Bundle: Klevgrand R0Verb and DAW Cassette, Softube Time and Tone bundle, and Sound Collective access and more
  • Dimensions: 9.48" x 9.48" x 0.68"
  • Weight: 5.9 lbs

Pros

One of the most praised new features from reviews has been the addition of velocity sensitive pads. Users were able to be more creative with their compositions without switching back and forth with other controllers. Other than that, the integration with Ableton Live is still a 1:1 affair since the Launchpad series was designed for it.

Cons

Full integration is only with Ableton. Some negative reviews are from users who purchased the unit expected some level of compatibility with other software.

Overall

If Ableton Live if your DAW of choice, the Novation Launchpad X is the best piece of hardware to control it.

Native Instruments Maschine MK3

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$649
Native Instruments Maschine MK3 MIDI Pad Controller

The Maschine MK3 is Native Instruments' flagship MIDI Pad Controller and Software.

Major improvements over the previous iteration include a completely redone front end with bigger pads, a screen and a hi resolution interface.

I/O features include balanced stereo inputs and outputs, Midi in and out, a microphone input with gain control, headphone output with gain control.

Features:

  • Pads: 16 Large Velocity Sensitive Backlit Pads (Linear Curve)
  • Buttons: 16 x Multi Purpose buttons, 21 x Function Buttons, 8 x Solo/Mute/Transport buttons, 13 x Pad function buttons
  • Knobs: 1 x Universal Multidirection Encoder Knob, 8 assignable encoder knobs with capacitive touch sensitivity
  • Other: 1 x Dual Touch Smart Strip, Dual high-resolution color displays
  • Analog Inputs:2 x 1/4" (line in), 1 x 1/4" (mic in)
  • Analog Outputs2 x 1/4" (line out), 1 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • Standalone Mode: Yes
  • Power: 15V DC power supply (included) / USB bus power
  • Connectivity: MIDI I/O, USB Slot, Kensington Lock Slot
  • Compatibility: Mac with Mac OS X 10.5, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10
  • Software Bundle: 8GB built in sample library, 25 GB Komplete 11 Select library
  • Dimensions: 12.6" x 11.85" x 1.61"
  • Weight: 5.9 lbs

Pros

The Maschine Mk3 receives general praise from users for it's updated workflow and playability. The resized pads and positioning of various functions make them easy to reach especially during live performances. Several people found the controller "Inspiring" and say it feels like you're playing a musical instrument instead of a piece of MIDI hardware.

Cons

Some users disliked the fact that additional sound packs have to be purchased separately given the price of the controller. Some people claimed to have gotten an "open box" unit that is unable to be registered. For this, the community suggests only buying from trusted retailers. While it has a mic in and functions as an audio interface, several reviewers felt like an XLR in with phantom power would have been better.

Overall

Native Instruments' Maschine is an ecosystem of hardware components and software. The MK3 version of the controller brings a lot to the table and integrates well with other hardware pieces you may already own. If you primarily produce using software from the Native Instruments catalog, the Maschine MK3 is the flagship.

Ableton Push 2

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$799
Ableton Push 2 MIDI Pad Controller

At publication time this was the Highest Rated MIDI Pad Controller.

The Push 2 is unique in a sense that it is a hardware controller designed by Ableton to work with their Live DAW.

Its 64 velocity sensitive pads enable both playing in real time, step sequencing, and adjusting loop lengths, which makes the controller suitable for both live performances and studio use.

The pads also act 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.

It also includes a touch strip for pitch or modulation effect control.

Features:

  • 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

Pros

While designed specifically for use with Ableton's software, reviewers note that the Push 2 was just as easy to integrate with other gear like turnables, step sequencers and other outboard gear. Users note that the Push 2 is their standard for MIDI controllers especially for Ableton Live users. 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."

Cons

There is very little to list in terms of cons that don't fall under user error, failure from wear and tear where a unit has functioned fine for 2 years before it stopped working and compatibility issues with computers. The learning curve is reported to be quite steep as well and people who are new to using controller pads should be ready for it or start with a simpler device.

Overall

The Ableton Push is a top-of-the-line MIDI Pad Controller that does just about everything you want while being able to integrate into any rig as an accessory or centerpiece. While it does come with a steep learning curve associated with the complexity and range of features that it offers, users patient enough to learn its every function will be in for a rewarding experience.

Honorable Mention

Akai Professional APC Mini

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Akai Professional APC Mini Pad Controller

The APC Mini earned a spot as an honorable mention in this list due to its status as a gateway MIDI Pad Controller for use with DAWs like Ableton.

In 2014, Akai released the APC Mini as the compact version of their 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.

Features:

  • 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

Pros

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 simple design allows for more manageable learning curve for people new to Ableton Live. Several people noted that it gives them a smooth transition between composing, arranging and performing. While it automaps its buttons in Ableton, tweakers love the ability to easily reassign buttons and knobs.

Cons

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. A few note that it works best with Ableton and not many other DAWS. Most low scores were from durability and the availability of software downloads.

Overall

If your DAW of choice is Ableton Live and feel it's a bit too early to spend higher for more advanced controllers, the APC Mini is a great choice on a budget with its Ableton-specific feature set. If you're looking to use other DAWs, it might take a little bit of mapping and tweaks under the hood.

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.

Best MIDI Pad Controller Selection Methodology

The first edition was published August 2017 written by Denise Azucena and latest edition was published on July 15, 2020 written by Raphael Pulgar with contributions from Denise Azucena.

We looked at all the highly rated MIDI Pads available from major online American retailers and short-listed 20 of them for further analysis. We then gathered ratings and reviews from retailers, forums, YouTube and blogs and major music gear publications. A total of more than 5,200 sources (over 1,000 more than last year's count) were then fed into the Gearank Algorithm to produce the customer satisfaction ratings out of 100 that we call the Gearank rating. 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 recommend. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

Comments

I don't understand the logic

I don't understand the logic of removing the BeatStep Pro but leaving the BeatStep. I thought this was a list of 'the best' controllers; are you seriously saying the BeatStep is *better* than the Pro? It's cheaper, I guess . . . it gives you 33% of the capability for 40% of the cost.

What we are saying is that

What we are saying is that the BeatStep has higher ratings than the BeatStep Pro.

Gearank ratings are based on statistical analysis of the opinions given by large numbers of users and experts rather than product feature sets - you can read more about this in How Gearank Works which explains why a budget product can get higher ratings than a more advanced product with more features.

In this particular case the BeatStep Pro only missed out by 1 rating point on being selected - but we always have to make the cut somewhere and this was where the cutoff point was on this occasion - you can see the ratings for both BeatSteps here.

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