DJ Gear

The Best Keyboard Controllers for DJs

When it comes to DJ equipment we know it is vital they have the best of the best to be able to perform their job functions with ease. This is no different when it comes to keyboard controllers.

That’s why we have spent the time to review many options in order to recommend the best keyboard controllers for DJs.

After carefully evaluating so many, we found our favorite keyboard controller. If you’re interested as to why that is our favorite and what other keyboard controllers competed for the number one spot, keep reading.

Top Pick: Akai Professional MPK261

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This all-in-one also has a drum pad. 61 full-sized keys, 16 illuminated drum pads, 8 knobs, 8 faders, and 8 switches, assignable via multiple banks making accessibility a breeze, plus included software.

Why You Should Trust Us

We know how difficult it can be to find the right buying choice that meet your needs in the music industry, especially online. That is why we take the time to carefully review every product before recommending anything to our readers.

It is important to us that our readers are satisfied with our recommendations. We want our readers to feel confident in choosing any of our recommendations and feel they truly are good picks for purchase.

When we began weeding through the top keyboard controllers for DJs we went through a ton of them. Many did not make the cut for various reasons.

However, the keyboard controllers that made it into this article we were satisfied with to share with our readers. We spent hours ensuring that our choices, especially our top choice, were suitable for our DJ readers looking for the best keyboard controllers to assist them in their work.

How to Choose a Keyboard Controller

Many DJs on a budget enjoy the option of a keyboard controller. They generally cost less than an all out DJ station. That’s why they are gaining so much popularity among DJs today.

It is still important to choose one that will meet your needs and isn’t just a cheap fix. That’s why we’re here to help you understand how to choose the best keyboard controller from you.

First, most DJs have a specific software they are comfortable with using. If you are an avid user of a specific software it will be important that any keyboard controller you consider is compatible with your favorite software.

If you’re more adaptable and are willing to try out new software options with your keyboard controller then your choices are more widespread. Beginner DJs have a great advantage as you more than likely don’t have an opinion on software options as of yet.

They come available in a wide range of prices and it’s important that you have an idea in mind of what you’re willing to spend.

Generally speaking, the higher the cost the more dependable the brand and the more options and features. This isn’t always the case, but it is the norm when it comes to the pricing on keyboard controllers.

What Do YOU Need?

As you’re looking for the best keyboard controller, remember it’s the best keyboard controller for you. This is generally classified by the features and options the controller has.

If you have experience as a DJ you should have an idea in mind of what features you would like to see your new keyboard controller have. Make a mental note of this as you browse.

Think about how many keys you would like it to have, sensitivity, knobs, faders, switches, and more. This will give you an idea of what you’re looking for.

Brand

The last thing you may want to think about as you’re on the market for a new keyboard controller is what brands you know are trusted. There are many different top brands when it comes to DJ equipment and it’s no different when it comes to keyboard controllers.

While a less well-known brand doesn’t necessarily it won’t be a good keyboard controller, it is up to you to decide what brands you will and won’t consider purchasing.

You might know a few other DJs who use specific brands or you may have experience in using a keyboard controller in the past. Either way, it’s up to you to decide what brands may or may not be a good fit for you.

Keyboard Controllers vs CDJs

There seems to be a lot of debate among DJs as to whether a Keyboard Controller or CDJ is better. While CDJs are most commonly found in clubs, keyboard controllers are also becoming a more common find in DJ booths these days as well.

Which is better? We think that’s all a matter of personal preference, but we will tell you our personal opinion and preference and why.

The first difference among the two is price. Keyboard controllers are more affordable, which is one reason why we prefer them over CDJs. We understand that musical equipment can be costly no matter how you add it up, but we do try to save our readers a little money by offering more affordable options when they are available.

That is why we are recommending keyboard controllers. It wouldn’t be fair to recommend something with such a high price tag to a new DJ as they’re just getting started.

CDJs tend to have a lot of features and options built in that can be overwhelming as it’s not all necessary. If you’re just looking for control with the use of your software then a keyboard controller is the perfect match for you.

You won’t be overwhelmed by having too many options. This is especially important for new DJs. IF you’re just getting started, you won’t want to feel like you don’t even know where to begin with your newly bought DJ equipment.

While CDJs do have a place in the DJ world for more experienced DJs, they aren’t a requirement. A keyboard controller can accommodate all of your needs as a DJ and provide you with the control you’re looking for without the hefty price tag attached.

CDJs may have been around longer, but keyboard controllers are gaining popularity for a reason.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.


InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Akai Professional MPK261
This keyboard is an all-in-one as it's not just a keyboard controller, but also has a drum padCheck on Amazon
Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller
Has USB connectivity with both Mac and PCOut of stock
Behringer U-Control UMX610
This controller adapts and functions well to most software currently on the market$179.99
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S25 Controller Keyboard
The beat-making and instrumental capabilities of this controller, which makes it perfect for any DJ$399.00
M-Audio Keystation 88 II
Satisfied with the quality and functionality of this keyboard controller$179.49
Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi Controller Keyboard
The channel aftertouch of the pads and keys are also a nice feature$249.99
Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller
This controller does work with Mac and PC, it does not work with iPad unless you use a separate USB dock with its own power source$199.99
Akai Professional MPK261
Especially pleased with the extensive amount of software that comes included right out of the box along with the controllerCheck on Amazon

Our Recommendation: Akai Professional MPK261

After careful evaluation, we can confidently label the Akai Professional MPK261 as our top pick. While the cost of around $500 may seem a little hefty, with all of the features and what’s included we feel that the price is reasonable.

This keyboard is an all-in-one as it’s not just a keyboard controller, but also has a drum pad. This is a great add-on for providing stellar performances and any in-studio compositions that may be done. It comes complete with 61 full-sized keys, 16 illuminated drum pads, 8 knobs, 8 faders, and 8 switches.

The pads, knobs, faders, and switches are assignable via multiple banks making accessibility a breeze. The control layout is also backlit with an LCD screen that can be powered by your laptop via a USB connection.

We really liked the extensive amount of control offered by this keyboard controller. Not only do we think it’s the the best keyboard controller currently on the market, but it also doubles as a performance pad.

With this controller there will be no need for an additional purchase of a performance pad later on down the road. So, that’s a nice money-saver.

What’s in the box is what really blew us away. Not only do you get a top of the line keyboard controller to go above and beyond meeting all your needs as a DJ, but it also comes with included software so you can put it to use straight out of the box.

It comes with Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and Akai Pro MPC Essentials.

It is supercharged with exceptional manipulating capabilities, effect integration through the use of plug-ins, DAW integration, and has the ability to plug-and-play with both PC and MAC’s. So, anyone who isn’t a comfortable Ableton user will also find this to be a great choice.

From the drum pad to the keys, faders, tuners, knobs, switches, and LCD screen this is an all around exceptional keyboard controller for every DJ out there. We truly do think it is the best.

While we found so many good things about this controller, we recognize that nothing is made without some imperfections. That is also true about this controller.

The installation of the software and mapping was a bit of a pain. You end up dealing with it, but it is a bit of a headache at first during the installation process.

Outside of that, we were very pleased with this keyboard controller by Akai and feel that any of our readers who are DJs would be beyond pleased with this controller.

Runner-Up: Novation Launchkey 49 USB

As we reviewed several different keyboard controllers, six made the cut to compete for first place. Our very close runner-up for our top pick was the Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller.

We were really pleased with the options of this controller. It has 16 pads, 8knobs, and 9 faders. The pads are RGB and velocity-sensitive laid out in two rows of eight for convenient accessibility.

The faders and knobs were so solid and smooth allowing for easier playability. With Ableton being a top software choice, we were very happy that this controller was made with Ableton in mind. This makes it nice to be able to plug-and-play with ease through the integrated Ableton Live.

While it is made for Ableton Live, it will work with other major music software using In Control. It has USB connectivity with both Mac and PC. Overall, we found this keyboard controller to have all of the features necessary for both performance and in-studio work as a DJ.

This controller is lightweight, which is nice for DJs who have to take the time to setup wherever they go. You won’t struggle carting this keyboard controller around and setup is plug-and-play.

There were just a couple of things that made it not rank as our top choice. First, while it does include Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station, and V Station with 4GB of Loopmasters samples, we felt the Akai Professional MPK261 came with more software.

While this controller does work with Mac and PC, it does not work with iPad unless you use a separate USB dock with its own power source. This seems like a little more hassle, which is why we weren’t too happy with it. You can make it work, but with a little more effort.

At a price of this controller of between $170 and $180, we were overall very pleased with this keyboard controller and recommend it as it has everything necessary. All of the features, options, and included software are nice for a DJ of any experience level.

Other Products to Consider:

We reviewed many different keyboard controllers before being able to carefully six that made the cut. We’ll give the pros and cons of each controller to help you see there are options out there for keyboard controllers that are suitable for DJs regardless of experience level.

Behringer U-Control UMX610

Credit: BEHRINGER

Above all, we were very pleased with the affordability of this keyboard at around $180. The functions and options included for that price also help to make this a suitable keyboard in our opinion.

The semi-weighted keys make it both convenient and comfortable during use. This controller adapts and functions well to most software currently on the market. It has been tested with Ableton Live, GarageBand, LogicPro, and Mainstage.

This controller functioned with ease with all of the tested software, which is nice when you don’t want to change the software you use. The fader, pitch bend wheel, mod wheel, and knobs all function smoothly and accurately.

While we did find a lot we liked about this keyboard controller, we didn’t feel it was a top notch controller with all of the features we would like. The sensitivity was something we felt could definitely be improved upon as there are only three levels and all three seem to be weak.

Also, we felt that while it was a lightweight option that it was also very fragile. The weight we felt came from it being made from cheaper plastic, so it’s something you have to be extra careful with to prevent damage.

While the keys are said to be semi-weighted, we don’t feel they are. They have very minimal weighting. With only 8 knobs and minimal buttons, we would classify this as a keyboard controller suitable for a beginner DJ.

In time, a more suitable controller with more complex controls will more than likely be necessary. To start off and for the cost this isn’t a bad keyboard controller.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S25

Credit: Amazon.com

This keyboard controller has some neat features we liked. We liked the beat-making and instrumental capabilities of this controller, which makes it perfect for any DJ. We felt this controller handled very well.

Shifting scales, the light guide, and synth key bed action are all neat features we enjoyed on this controller. Native Instruments is a very well-trusted brand, but there were still some things that knocked it out of the top spot.

The software installation was a headache. We felt that installing software should be much easier and not as complex as Native Instruments made it with this model. We also found that the feel of the knobs were not the same throughout.

Some of the knobs felt like they were high-quality and turned smoothly with good resistance while others seemed to have no resistance at all and felt cheaper than the others. We also weren’t pleased with there being no dedicated volume knob.

This took some getting used to and figuring out how to properly adjust the volume. We also found that this keyboard controller will only work with Komplete Konrol, which can be frustrating for someone who likes a different software out there.

While we do feel this is a good all-around keyboard controller, it just didn’t quite make the cut for our top pick. However, we do feel it is still a great choice currently on the market for keyboard controllers.

It is a little lower in price than our top pick at about $400, so that is another attractive perk of this keyboard controller.

M-Audio Keystation 88 II

Credit: M-Audio

First, we were very pleased with the price of this keyboard controller at around $150. We felt that made it a very affordable option for DJs on a budget.

We really liked that this keyboard includes Ableton Lite and an Eight Eight Ensemble. The software included makes it possible to plug-and-play right out of the box, which is what everyone is looking for.

Although it does come with Ableton Live, it worked with other software options like GarageBand as Ableton Live is a PC software and GarageBand is for Mac. The keys are solid and well-weighted.

This controller worked with PC, Mac, and iPad. We felt being able to work with all three made it a very convenient option, especially for DJs who don’t want to always travel with a bulky laptop.

One thing we did find about PC connectivity is that there are still some kinks to be worked out with Windows 10. We are hoping that’s worked out in the future as Windows 10 is newer.

The black keys are a bit more sensitive to velocity than the white keys, which makes playing certain sounds and music frustrating when the output comes across as if the black keys are being hammered.

Overall, we were satisfied with the quality and functionality of this keyboard controller. Most DJs could benefit from choosing this keyboard controller, but we didn’t feel it had all the bells and whistles to be ranked as our top choice.

Novation Impulse 49 USB Midi

Novation is a top brand, which is why two different Novation models wound up on our list od suitable choices to recommend to our readers. We really liked the semi-weighted feeling of the keys on this controller as they’re just more comfortable.

The channel aftertouch of the pads and keys are also a nice feature. The faders and knobs allow for full control over the output as well. While this a heavier and bulkier keyboard controller, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The weight of this controller is good for preventing careless damages that may occur with some of the lighter controllers. This controller keyboard is almost made for Ableton as all of the controls were easily mapped and functional with minimal.

That’s not to say it won’t work well with other software out there, but how it integrates with Ableton is just very convenient. We did notice it had issues in working with Logic Pro, so that wouldn’t be a recommended software for use with this keyboard controller.

We also found that it had stiff finger pressure, which makes it so you have to press much harder on the keys. All in all, we found this Novation model keyboard controller to be a good choice for DJs.

At $300 we found it to be fair in price, especially with how long-lasting this controller should be for most DJs.

Sources

Best DJ Controllers 2016: The Ultimate Guide. (2016, September 5). Retrieved from Passionate DJ, http://www.passionatedj.com/best-dj-controller-guide-2016/

Buying Guide: DJ Keyboard Controllers. (2016, July 28). Retrieved from The Hub – Musicians Friend, http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/dj-gear-buying-guides/the-dj-buying-guide-to-keyboard-controllers

Morse, P. (2012, March 19). Are CDJs Better Than Midi Controllers? Retrieved from Digital DJ Tips, http://www.digitaldjtips.com/2012/03/are-cdjs-better-than-midi-controllers/

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