A MIDI controller keyboard is sometimes overlooked as a device that you can use to trigger virtual instruments or external sound modules. However, in today’s world, they have become so much more. MIDI controller keyboards can not only be found in recording studio’s but also on stages and in DJ booths.
If you’re new to the realm of software synths, the MIDI controller is the interface between you and the machine. Essentially, it is a keyboard with no internal sounds but usually found with lots more control options. This incldues things like such as rotary encoders, slides and pads.
Some have been designed with experienced players in mind whilst others have options aimed more at programming and real-time manipulation of software. There are lots out there so where do you start? Let’s have a look at some of the best MIDI keyboards for beginners.
The Akai LPK25 Wireless – For the musician on the move
Beautifully simplistic, compact and with built-in Bluetooth connectivity, the Akai LPK25 Wireless MIDI controller takes the limits off of when and where you can create music. Got an iOS device? It’ll connect to it. PC or Mac? No problem.
The beauty of this micro machine is that you can begin making your sounds on the train home from work. Then finish your masterpiece once you get back to your home studio. With a built-in arpeggiator, it’s capable of creating some really complex and catchy lead and bass lines. So no need to have your grade 8 in piano.
Simply put in 3xAAA batteries, pop it in your backpack and you have a fully functional controller that can be used literally anywhere. It may not have all the knobs and dials of a heavyweight controller, but that’s all part of its charm.
The Alesis Vortex – For the performer
Tired of watching your guitarist taking all the glory while you humbly meander behind your keyboard stack? Worry no longer, the Alesis Vortex is here to free you! Not only does this controller have a superb 37-note keyboard with initial and after-touch, it also hosts all manner of pads and faders so that you can truly bring your performance to life.
As you would expect, the Vortex is wireless and battery powered so you have the ability to move around. But, if you want to hardwire it to existing equipment there is also a MIDI jack connection.
Add to this thumb controlled volume swell, assignable touch-strip, sustain button and octave control and you have a seriously cool looking controller with even cooler control features.
The Native Instruments A61 – For the purist
First of all…look at it! The A61 is without a doubt one of the best-looking controllers out there. But its talents are way more than skin-deep. With a simple but effective configuration, the A61 will deliver pure expression and style. A semi-weighted 61-note keyboard allows you to play much more expressively than on a lightweight controller.
8 rotary encoders lie in waiting on the top panel and can be assigned to any parameter that you wish. Of course, you get all the transport controls for controlling playback of your digital audio workstation without having to reach over to your PC keyboard, as well as pitch, modulation and octave shift controls.
The jewel in the crown of the A-series controllers is that they also come with a full suite of music production software. This includes Komplete Kontrol, Reaktor 6, Maschine essentials and even some virtual instruments! Just add your computer and you have a mean lean production machine.
The Alesis V125 – For the beatmakers
The V125 sits perfectly in a studio or next to a DJ controller. Whilst it boasts a semi-weighted 25-note keyboard its real party piece is the collection of 16 multi-coloured, velocity-sensitive trigger pads. These can be assigned to different samples in your software. Trigger one-shot sounds or build complex loops all using the included Ableton Live Lite software!
24 fully-assignable buttons and 9 rotary encoders can all be used to trigger and manipulate music in real-time. So when you have a beat on the go, you can send it into total meltdown with filters and crusher FX.
Connectivity is provided in the form of USB MIDI, traditional MIDI out for controlling retro gear and a connection for a sustain pedal. A very impressive little controller indeed.
The Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 – For the DJ
The LaunchKey Mini MK2 was optimised to work seamlessly with Ableton Live. However, thanks to the number of assignable controllers, it’s able to control any DAW you wish, including Reason, FL Studio, Pro-Tools, Cubase. Eight rotary encoders can be used to control filters, volumes, tempo and any other assignable functions too. As such, it can sit nicely with your DJ controllers and be used to manipulate your music in any way you see fit.
Further to this, the LaunchKey Mini MK2 comes with track -/+ buttons. This allows you to seamlessly navigate through your song and octave shift buttons so that you easily access to a full playing range. Similar to what you get with a larger keyboard, making it a great choice for newer players.
The M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 – For the home composer
The M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 is ideal for anyone who needs a compact controller that can sit comfortably at your computer desk at home. Gone are the bells and whistles and what remains are the essential controls and a 49-note velocity sensitive keyboard.
M-Audio have many, many years of experience when it comes to controllers and the Keystation 49 gives you that pure and simple quality that you can plug in and begin playing. It comes bundled with virtual-instruments and sequencing software so that you can easily begin making classical music without any fuss.
Sleek and stylish, the M-Audio is the controller to have if you want to keep things tidy whilst having exceptional control and expression.
Over to you…
Our little trip through the land of best midi keyboards for beginners shows that there’s something out there for of types of uses. Some of the models above also have different colour and key options too so keep checking our controller catalogue for updates and new products.
Rob Mather is a multi-instrumentalist and DJ from Huddersfield, England. Rob enjoys an active career as a performer and writer of many styles of music. Rob is also heavily engaged in providing sound and lighting support for live music events and theatre productions. Rob works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he relays his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons site.