2024 Best MIDI Pad Controller Recommended List

midi pad controllers

The goal of this guide is to shine a light on some of the interesting possibilities beyond MIDI keyboard controllers, featuring the best MIDI Pad controller units in the market today.

If you go to any list on the internet regarding the best MIDI controller keyboards, you’ll most likely encounter ones that have pads. However, if you’re interested in dedicated pad controllers, you will find our list here pretty useful. After all, we want to maximize our options.

MIDI is not a new thing in music. It’s like magic but can have a negative connotation with phrases like “It sounds MIDI” or “It’s not real music if it’s MIDI” getting thrown around by the less informed. When in actuality, MIDI doesn’t have a sound! It’s a universal control protocol.

At the end of the day, MIDI is all about about expression – turning your ideas into reality.

MIDI pads have a wide variety of uses, from triggering samples to being a percussion and drum controller. Let’s dive into the wonderful world of MIDI pad controllers.

Best MIDI Pad Controller Selections

Akai Professional Fire

Akai Professional Fire

Street Price:
$149
Manufacturer:
Gearank Opinion

This is an purpose-built pad controller for FL Studio, featuring a hardware representation of the iconic step sequencer view. It includes 4 touch-capacitive knobs and a 4×16 matrix of velocity-sensitive RGB MIDI drum pads.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Specifically designed for FL Studio, the first of its kind
  • Makes sequencing on the fly a breeze
  • Has the ability to chain up to 4 units for modular expansion, turning it into one big control surface.
  • Solid build quality while remaining light
  • Priced relatively affordably
Cons:
  • With only 2 velocity levels in the pads, velocity-sensitive is a rather generous way to describe them
  • Pad feel is mushy and not recommended for finger drumming
  • Lacks in-depth integration with the included Image Line VST instruments of FL
  • Underwhelming screen

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The Akai Professional Fire is a purpose-built pad controller for FL Studio, a popular DAW competing with Ableton Live in performance and creation.

It features a hardware representation of the iconic step sequencer view of FL, inherited from its Fruity Loops days.

More than fittingly, this collaboration between software company Image Line and hiphop hardware legend Akai (the company behind the MPC) has produced the very first hardware controller designed specifically for this DAW, featuring 4 assignable touch-capacitive knobs to go along with its 4 x 16 (64) matrix of velocity-sensitive RGB MIDI drum pads.

Fruity Loops just brings back memories! It is used by many prominent hip hop and EDM producers, including Porter Robinson, Madeon, Soulja Boy, Avicii (RIP), and Deadmau5.

The 20 dedicated function buttons are also backlit and pertain to many useful features inside the software such as navigation, transport and mute/solo functions although being quite a minimalist MIDI drum pad you won’t be able to ditch your mouse entirely.

From the makers of the MPC comes this solid offering for FL Studio intermediates. If you’re a fan of FL sequencing and you want to streamline your workflow, the Akai Professional Fire is the best MIDI drum pad for you.

Specifications:
  • 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.
Novation Launch Control XL

Novation Launch Control XL

Gearank Opinion

The Launch Control XL is a MIDI controller designed for production enthusiasts, featuring 24 rotary pots and eight 60mm faders. It integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live’s mixer view and pairs well with the Launchpad X for a complete portable music production setup.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Support for Mac, Windows and iOS (With the use of a Camera Connection Kit)
  • Fully customizable layout with included software editor
  • Easy to setup and fully integrated with Ableton’s mixer view
  • Sturdy construction with a small footprint
Cons:
  • Lacks a screen or other visual feedback requiring you to still rely on your computer monitor
  • Send knobs only customizable through the proprietary software and template
  • No dedicated MIDI ports, only MIDI via USB limiting its use with hardware synths without a USB-MIDI Host

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Description:

The first entry from Novation into this list is the Launch Control XL.

Veering away slightly from the pad performance form factor, this beast of a controller is designed for production geeks and laptop engineers alike with its mixer like layout.

Sporting 24 rotary pots with 300 degree motion and Eight 60mm Faders this MIDI controller is designed to integrate with Ableton Live’s mixer view.

Pair it with the Launchpad X and you get a fully functional portable music production setup fully capable to perform and create in countless situations.

Whether you’re a DJ, mixer or producer, the Novation Launch Control XL is a worthy little addition to your Ableton Live hardware outfit.

Specifications:
  • Pads: 16 assignable multi-color backlit pads
  • Buttons: 8 assignable backlit buttons, 2 backlit template select buttons
  • Faders: 8 60mm Faders
  • Knobs: 24 rotary pots with 300 degree motion
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: USB-B
  • Compatibility: Windows 7 SP1 or later, OS X 10.11 or later, iOS (Camera Connection Kit Required), Ableton Live (version 9 or later), HUI compatibility for mixer control in DAWs including Cubase, Logic Pro and Pro Tools
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite 10, 4GB Free LoopMasters Samples
  • Dimensions: 9.4″ x 9.4″ x 1.5″
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Novation Launchpad X

Novation Launchpad X

Street Price:
$200
Manufacturer:
Gearank Opinion

The Launchpad X, the third iteration of its line, is thinner, lightweight, and more streamlined. It introduces velocity and pressure sensitivity for improved expressiveness and carries features like note/scale mode from its pricier counterparts, offering a balanced and elegant pad controller.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Gains velocity sensitivity and core Ableton instrument workflows from the Pro, its more expensive sibling
  • New and improved slim design from its predecessors while retaining a high level of build quality
  • Incredibly sensitive pads with polyphonic aftertouch
  • New custom modes and excellent flexibility in pad configuration
  • RGB programming perfect for mesmerizing pad light shows
Cons:
  • No MIDI out to use directly with hardware synths
  • Toggling between modes is not as straightforward as other models in the range
  • Not suitable for mixing duties

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Description:

The Launchpad X is the third and current iteration of Novation’s discrete Ableton clip pad launcher.

Thinner, lightweight and more streamlined than the highly popular Launchpad, the X introduces velocity and pressure sensitivity greatly improving upon its predecessors’ expressiveness as a controller of light and sound.

It also carries over some features from its more expensive siblings like note/scale mode.

The Novation Launchpad X represents the evolution of an iconic pad controller line. Now better than ever, if pad performance is your bag – you would be hard-pressed to find a device as balanced in features and elegance as this one.

Specifications:
  • 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: Ableton Live Lite 10, Klevgrand R0Verb and DAW Cassette, Softube Time and Tone bundle, Sound Collective access and more
  • Dimensions: 9.48″ x 9.48″ x 0.68″
  • Weight: 5.9 lbs
Native Instruments Maschine MK3

Native Instruments Maschine MK3

Street Price:
$499.00
Manufacturer:
Gearank Opinion

The Maschine MK3 is Native Instruments’ latest 4×4 MIDI drum pad controller, integrated with its own software. It excels in sampling, sequencing, and VST synth triggering, featuring two color screens for an intuitive workflow. It includes an audio interface with multiple inputs and outputs, making it ideal for studio use.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Intuitive Workflow
  • Great beat pad for generating ideas
  • Excellent Screens
  • Responsive and good feel
Cons:
  • Steep learning curve for Maschine Software
  • Some basic functions require multiple “finger tapping”

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Description:

The Maschine MK3 is native instrument’s latest version of their 4 x 4 MIDI drum pad controller that comes with its own integrated software.

An absolute powerhouse in sampling, sequencing, VST synth and sound library triggering, this hardware is an extension of the Maschine 2 software similar to the MPC Studio series of Akai.

Sporting 2 vibrant color screens, this boasts a fast and intuitive workflow with minimal faffing and its no surprise to see it garner a top Gearank rating along with the Push 2.

However, there are some functions that sometimes require multiple pad tapping. You also need to familiarize yourself on the functionalities of the Maschine 2 software.

The generous inclusion of an integrated Audio Interface includes balanced stereo inputs and outputs, MIDI in and out, a microphone input with gain control and a headphone output with gain control making this device viable to be the centerpiece of your composition studio.

Native Instruments’ Maschine is a groovebox ecosystem of hardware and software. The MK3 version of the controller brings a lot of new improvements to the table for composers and beatmakers alike.

If you love using software and libraries from the Native Instruments catalog, the Maschine MK3 is the flagship controller albeit with a percussion twist in lieu of a piano keyboard.

Specifications:
  • 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
Novation Launchpad Pro MK3 MIDI Pad Controller

Novation Launchpad Pro MK3 MIDI Pad Controller

Street Price:
$350
Manufacturer:
Product Links:
Gearank Opinion

The Novation Launchpad MK3, essential for Ableton Live users, offers seamless integration with larger, responsive pads, flexible outer buttons, and two MIDI outputs. It includes a 4-track, 32-step sequencer and benefits from open-source firmware, enhancing user customization.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Responsive
  • Color-changing pads for easy assignability
  • Open-source
Cons:
  • No LCD screen

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Description:

The Novation Launchpad MK3 has been around for years now and has long become a staple for Ableton Live users. It first came out with larger buttons and a sleek and slimmer profile. It has delivered on its promise of seamless integration and playability since its release.

A quick note: There are some speculations regarding an upcoming MK4 version but Novation hasn’t officially announced anything yet. We will keep you posted for more updates.

The outer buttons added more flexibility with assignments while two MIDI outputs enable integration outside the box with your other hardware.

Novation also pointed out that the pads on the MK3 are their most responsive yet. This is important since Novation expanded the pads to be more than clip launchers. The Pads can be used as sample pads and even chromatic keys, where velocity sensitivity is important.

Like its predecessors, it integrates easily with Ableton Live with a few bonuses like track selection and capture.

This grid controller has a 4-track, 32-step sequencer designed to make it easy to arrange and modify notes. I’d say this greatest strength is the ability to see how the pads’ colors change depending on where you assign them.

Part of the reason why the MK3 is well-liked is due to the open-source nature of its firmware. Novation is also generous enough to provide resources for those who tinker under the hood.

The MK3 still doesn’t have a screen. With the built-in complexities of the unit, coupled with user-made customization, a screen would be the top priority of future upgrades in an eventual MK4.

“Don’t mess with a good formula” seems to be Novation’s approach in this third iteration of their Launchpad Pro line. It still retains everything people love about it while adding a few bonuses and small improvements for an overall better experience.

Specifications:
  • Pads: 64 Velocity and Pressure Sensitive RGB pads
  • Buttons: 40 x Multi Purpose buttons for transport, clip control and settings, 1 x shift, 1 x setup
  • Analog Inputs: 1 x 1/8″ TRS Type A (in),
  • Analog Outputs 2 x 1/8″ TRS Type A (out)
  • Standalone Mode: no
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Compatibility: macOS 10.13 or later, iOS 9 or later / Windows 10 or later
  • Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite, AAS Session Bundle, XLN Addictive Keys, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Novation Sound Collective
  • Dimensions: 10.55 x 10.55 x 0.71 inches
  • Weight: 3.96 lbs
PreSonus ATOM MIDI Pad Controller

PreSonus ATOM

Street Price:
$149.00
Manufacturer:
Product Links:
Gearank Opinion

The PreSonus ATOM Pad Controller features 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, 4 rotary knobs, and 20 function buttons. While it’s less user-friendly with other DAWs, it’s ideal for sample-based music and integrates well with Studio One and Ableton Live.

GEARANK
Incorporating 9850+ ratings and reviews.

Pros:

  • Great dynamic playing
  • Feature-packed
  • Responsive
Cons:
  • Piano mode is a bit clunky
  • Too locked in to Studio One and Ableton
  • Might be daunting for beginners

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Description:

Presonus products are best known for their Audio Interfaces and software like Studio One. Their ATOM Pad Controller is probably one of their lesser-known products and it gives you a plethora of features.

The PreSonus ATOM Pad Controller comes with 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, 4 assignable rotary knobs, and 20 function buttons for navigation and executing MIDI commands.

For its price point, the 16 pads deliver good gradient velocity. The pressure sensitivity here from 0-127 doesn’t jump around and follows dynamic playing accurately. Of course, I wouldn’t compare its sensitivity to an MPC, but for its price point, it works surprisingly well.

While finger drumming is with organic drums can work here, I’d say it best used for sample-based music, triggering drum grooves or loops in electronic music.

The piano mode of the ATOM pad, I do find that it’s a bit of a hassle to use. For virtual instruments, I’d stick to a keyboard controller instead.

The rotary knobs are also pretty useful. It doesn’t feel slid-y or jumpy and just works with no fuss.

This pad controller is mainly used for Studio One and Ableton Live and it comes with Studio One Artist, Ableton Live Lite, and Studio Magic Suite. However, I do find that it’s too “locked in” to just two of these software. Compared to other pad controllers, you might need to manually assign them in Logic or Pro Tools, just to name a few.

I also find that since it’s packed with features and customizability, it can be daunting for beginners who use other DAWs. But if you’re a Studio One user, you’ll probably have no issues using this.

It’s a good deal without breaking the bank.

Specifications:
  • Pads: 16 full-size, velocity- and pressure-sensitive RGB pads
  • Buttons: 20 assignable buttons; navigate and set more parameters faster
  • MIDI I/O: USB
  • Standalone Mode: no
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Compatibility: macOS version 10.14 or later, iOS 9 or later / Windows 10 20H1 (64-bit only) or Windows 11 (64-bit only)
  • Software Bundle: Studio One® Artist, and Ableton Live Lite, and Studio Magic software suite
  • Dimensions: 7.68″ x 7.95″ x 0.82″ inches
  • Weight: 1 lb

Things To Consider When Buying A MIDI Pad Controller

Pads

Most good MIDI drum pad 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 MIDI keyboards with aftertouch. For additional performance feedback also look for MIDI controllers with backlit pads. This makes it easier to remember which pads do which. And the lighting also makes the MIDI pad controller look more flashy, and pleasing to the eyes.

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. Other pad controllers work in tandem with software instruments or plugins as well. Also keep an eye out for those that have lear and intuitive displays, preferably those with OLED display. Having a good display makes it easier to make adjustments, especially when using the MIDI pad controller in live performance.

Power Supply

USB connectivity is now expected from most MIDI controllers. And many MIDI pad controllers operate via USB bus power. This may be a concern when it comes to draining your device’s battery if you’re working untethered to an outlet.

Some controllers have adapters for external power supply, especially for controllers than can be used as a standalone unit. Another option is to get adapters and power banks that will allow you to charge your device as you use it.

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. MIDI controllers are also great tools for DJs.

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. At the end of the day, 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. It functions 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 hardware instruments or synthesizers.

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 Controllers Selection Methodology

The first Edition was published in 2017. The current edition was published on July 11, 2024

We looked at all the highly rated MIDI Pads available from major online American retailers and short-listed 24 of them for further analysis – see the list in our Music Gear Database. We then gathered ratings and reviews from retailers, forums, YouTube, blogs, and major music gear publications. A total of more than 25,000 sources 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. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide’s production – click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

I’m a drummer and former lead guitarist of the band Callalily, a platinum-selling multi-awarded band from the Philippines. I also studied music for 6 years majoring in percussion and jazz studies with a minor in classical piano.
I’m also a music producer and computer musician who uses FL Studio, MPC Software, and Reaper to create music. My MIDI pad controller of choice is the MPC Studio

Contributors

Allen Articulo: Co-Writer and Researcher.
Jerry Borillo: Research and illustration.
Jason Horton & Alexander Briones: Editing.

Comments:

6 responses

  1. Avatar
    Jason Horton

    The following controllers were removed from the recommended list in the May 2022 Edition because they had been out-ranked by the higher rated options above:

  2. Avatar
    Jason Horton

    Publication of our June 2021 Edition resulted in the following model coming off the recommended list above: Reloop Neon.

  3. Avatar
    Jason Horton

    As a result of our July 2020 update, the following came off our recommended list above:

  4. Avatar
    Bart Anjou

    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.

    1. Avatar
      Jason Horton

      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.

  5. Avatar
    Jason Horton

    Due to the April 2019 update of this guide the following MIDI Pad Controllers came off our recommended list above:

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Research Process: How Gearank Works
2024 Best MIDI Pad Controller Recommended List

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About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

I'm a drummer and former lead guitarist of the band Callalily, a platinum-selling multi-awarded band from the Philippines. I also studied music for 6 years majoring in percussion and jazz studies with a minor in classical piano.
I'm also a music producer and computer musician who uses FL Studio, MPC Software, and Reaper to create music. My MIDI pad controller of choice is the MPC Studio.

Contributors

Allen Articulo: Supplemental writing and research.
Raphael Pulgar: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: By Gearank.com.

The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

6 thoughts on “2024 Best MIDI Pad Controller Recommended List”

  1. 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.

    1. 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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