MIDI

Best USB/MIDI Controllers

MIDI Pad Controller

As a producer, you may find yourself looking for the best USB/MIDI controller to work with your VSTs and/or hardware synth(s). While these controllers aren’t necessarily needed to create music, they provide an awful lot in the way of increasing workflow speed, experimentation and making the music creation process much more enjoyable. Consequently, this will likely be an important purchase, so a bit of research could only help you make a wise investment.

Keep reading to find out more about MIDI controllers and our top picks resulting from hours of in-depth research and testing.

Top Pick: Novation Launchkey 49 MK2
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The Novation Launchkey 49 will give you full control over your music. The included software integrates well. Top-of-the-line features included make it everything a controller should be.

We went through 30 or more controllers before we were able to narrow down the choices of qualified USB/MIDI controllers we felt were best for our readers. We spent hours scrutinizing each controller to ensure our recommendations only included the best of the best.

We care about our readers and would never want to steer you wrong. Research and evaluation are top on our list when we are recommending products. With our knowledge and experience in playing a few different instruments, we knew what to look for to satisfy your needs.

The Benefits of a MIDI Controller

The top benefit of having a USB/MIDI controller is the time you will save using one. A controller makes it so you can control a number of features in your chosen DAW directly from the keyboard. The controller will help your workflow in a way that is much better use of your time. You will spend more time on your music than putting things together.

Having so much control over your music with all of the options and features is also a great advantage. Putting your music together will become a breeze with the use of a USB/MIDI controller.

How to Choose a MIDI Controller

The number one thing you need to look for in a USB/MIDI controller is a reliable connection. When browsing for the right controller for you, evaluate what connectivity option you need. You can find wireless, USB, or Bluetooth connecting devices. You will want to choose a controller that connects easily so you can focus more on your music than getting your controller to connect.

As you’re considering features, think about faders, knobs, pads, encoders, aftertouch, sequencer, velocity, etc. Having a clear image in mind of what you want in your controller will make your search much easier. You will be able to narrow down your choices and choose the right controller that meets all of your needs.

When you’re looking for a MIDI controller, you want it to have the right feel.  The controls on your MIDI controller are what will make or break your experience, so it is important to find the controller that possesses all of the controls necessary to meet your needs and wants. Pay attention to the design of the controller. It is important you find one that is put together well and stands the test of durability.

Having well-built firmware is also a must in a MIDI controller. You don’t want to waste time messing with any technological malfunctions, so it’s important to know that the maker of your MIDI controller is known for using quality drivers that won’t cause any issues for you. You’ll also want to look for a wide range of control over the software included with your MIDI controller.

The Competition

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

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Novation Launchkey 49 MK2
In-depth 49 key controller with more than 50 physical controls that give you full control over your music$169.99
Akai Professional LPK25
25 Mini Keys: Equipped with 25 velocity-sensitive keys$239.99
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII 25-Key
Plug-and-play makes for easy setup$99.00
Novation Launchkey 49
Long-lasting MIDI controller$169.99
M-Audio Keystation 88 II
Plug-and-play, even works with Linux$190.99
Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless
higher key sensitivity makes for a fast action controller$239.99
KORG nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface
overlysensitive keys$42.13

Top Recommendation: Novation Launchkey 49 MK2

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After testing these five MIDI controllers, we have dubbed the Novation Launchkey 49 our top choice. It’s an in-depth 49 key controller with more than 50 physical controls that give you full control over your VSTs. The software included integrates well with iPad, Mac, and PC making it great for on-location and on-the-go music playing. All of the features included are top of the line and what every musician should strive for in a controller.

Top Features:

Integrated Software – The included software contains apps that are capable of working seamlessly with iPad, Mac, and PC.

Velocity Sensitive Pads – 2 rows of 8 velocity sensitive RGB pads for playing and sketching out your beats or working with loops. This controller is also capable of launching clips and scenes inside of Ableton Live.

InControl Technology – Connects to all major DAW’s for a full range of hands-on control in Ableton, FL Studio, Pro Tools, Reason, Logic, and Cubase.

50 Hardware Controls – Gain precise control with the 50 controls at your disposal. All controls are fast action and velocity-sensitive aiding you in creating touch and go music.

DAW Control – Gain full control instantly over major DAW controls without the need of an assignment.

Bus Powered – No matter how you connect, this controller is conveniently bus-powered. Just plug it in, and you’re all set without the need of batteries or power source.

Loopmasters Sample Pack – The Novation Launchkey includes 1GB of Loopmasters sample content for you to play with.

Ableton Live Lite – Launchkey is equipped with the feature-packed production Ableton Live software. Smooth handling of your music is key with the Novation Launchkey. With the extensive list of features and controls, this will be the only MIDI controller you will ever need. It improves and simplifies your music with ease. This controller knocked the other controllers we researched out of the ballpark.

While this is a lightweight controller, it stands up to our test of durability, making it what we would define as a long-lasting MIDI controller. One thing we can say may not be a positive for all users is that this controller is almost made for use with Ableton Live. It can be used with other major DAW’s, but it works better and easier with the already equipped Ableton Live.

Runner Up: Akai Professional LPK25

While we were extremely impressed with the Launchkey, we found one that was a close second for us. The Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless controller is our runner up. While it is smaller than the Launchkey, don’t let the size fool you. This MIDI controller is also packed with features, and its size makes it very convenient to grab and go.

Top Features:

Portable– While the size may fool you, it makes this controller easy to transport.

Dual Power Options – This controller can be powered by UBB or 3AA batteries. If you choose the battery option, your power supply will last for up to 12 hours.

Compatibility – You don’t have to worry about this controller not working with your device as it is set up to work with iOS, Mac, and PC devices.

Bluetooth Connectivity – The Bluetooth option provides you with the ability to connect to your instrument from anywhere in the room without having to worry about tangled wires.

25 Mini Keys – Equipped with 25 velocity-sensitive keys allowing you to take your music to the next level. It also features an arpeggiator, sustained pedal input, and tempo controls, and octave controls. As small as this controller may be, it still has features that will assist you in creating impressive music. The size makes it convenient, and it is also well-priced.

Other Controllers to Consider:

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII 25-Key

This 25 mini action key equipped controller is affordable and portable making it easier to transport from place to place. The price is appealing when you’re on a tight budget, but wanting to experience the use of a controller. It features many controls, programs, and banks. The plug and play ability makes for easy setup so you can use right out of the box.

While this controller would be a suitable choice for beginners, we weren’t impressed with it for those with experience. It is not compatible with Ableton or Logic Pro, two of the leading software brands out there for use with MIDI controllers. We also were not impressed with how many downloads were necessary for the software, drivers, and plugins.

M-Audio Keystation 88 II

Credit: M-Audio

This controller is one all musicians can grow with as it is great for both experienced and beginner players. This controller is very solid at an affordable price featuring 88 full-sized semi-weighted keys. It is plug and play and even works with Linux, which we found to be very impressive.

We did find it has some connectivity issues with Mac OS X 10.11.5. It is marked as compatible with OS X, but this version doesn’t seem to be supported. We also noticed that you need to adjust the velocity curve in your DAW for proper use, which can be a little time-consuming.

Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless

We already labeled this MIDI controller as our runner-up for top choice, but we wanted to highlight what we loved and what we weren’t so impressed with to show why it wasn’t our top choice. This controller feels like a real keyboard and is a great value for the money.

A tap is all the keys need with the sensitivity of them making it a fast action controller. Given the size, we were very surprised with how durable it was. One thing we weren’t impressed with was the included software. We also found the USB connector to be poorly constructed.

KORG nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface

Credit: Korg

This MIDI controller is well-built for the price. It is very affordable and durable. This controller has an attractive look to it and has the controls necessary to magnify your music making capabilities. We didn’t like how it wasn’t designed without a keyboard. While it is portable, it is just different to work with.

It has features that work, but not enough for advanced users. This MIDI controller will not last you as become a more advanced producer. We also found the keys to be extremely sensitive. This controller is at the bottom of the barrel for us, but it could work for a beginner who doesn’t mind it not looking like an actual keyboard.

Sources:

  • MIDI controller (2016). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI_controller
  • The beginner’s guide to MIDI controllers (2008, October 29). Music Radar. Retrieved from http://www.musicradar.com/tuition/tech/the-beginners-guide-to-midi-controllers-179018
  • Choosing A MIDI controller that works for you. (2015, September 13). Retrieved from AudioMentor, https://www.audiomentor.com/beginner/choosing-a-midi-controller-that-works-for-you
  • Sethi, R. Here’s how to choose your next MIDI controller. Retrieved November 20, 2016, from Ask.Audio, https://ask.audio/articles/heres-how-to-choose-your-next-midi-controller
  • Writing, A. (2015, September 24). Advantages and disadvantages of a MIDI keyboard. Retrieved from eHow, http://www.ehow.com/list_6028161_advantages-disadvantages-midi-keyboard.html
  • Ryan, B. (2013, August 7). 5 things you need in a MIDI keyboard controller. Retrieved from Roland US, http://www.rolandus.com/blog/2013/08/07/choosin-a-midi-keyboard-controller/

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