No matter what budget you’re working with, serious composers and music producers need a MIDI controller or keyboard compatible with their devices.
Home and mobile studios enable music producers to plug into their computers or work over Bluetooth, connecting to DAW software and VST synth plugins, as well as other installed programs that composers rely on to design their music.
From portable MIDI controllers to sturdy home setups, from minimalist designs to all the knobs and buttons anyone could ask for, composers and producers have a lot of options when it comes to MIDI controllers to buy in 2020.
This review list includes some that can be bought on a strict budget and others that are premium picks for high-end customers.
Either way, these are the best MIDI controllers available and provide the audio interfaces that any pro music developer needs.
Below the review list, we’ve assembled a buying guide to compare the main features that buyers need to be aware of when shopping for the best MIDI controllers.
Even if you don’t like the brands we’ve listed, you can use this buying guide to find your own, or compare the ones that you already have in mind by their main distinguishing features and compatibilities.
It has an intuitive relationship with Ableton Live, one of the most popular pro design suites out there.
Ableton Live on the Novation MIDI keyboard provides recording, macro-control, MIDI capture, and clip launching software.
Novation’s arpeggiator is intuitive but it isn’t simple: it allows designers to control beats, patterns, octaves, and more.
The MIDI keyboard has a fixed chord mode that helps with transposition. 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, 8 rotary controls, sustain input, and pitch touch strips make Novation a versatile design and sound clip manipulation device.
The primary appeal of the Novation Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard is its portability.
You can take the keyboard with you physically but can also send program changes and apps to other hardware, as well as adding keys directly over MIDI.
An affordable price as well as a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty make the Novation Launchkey Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard the best overall pick for MIDI controllers in 2020.
Ableton Live support
Intuitive arpeggiator controller
8 rotary controls, 16 RBG pads, and versatile design devices
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2 Keyboard comes in 25-key, 49-key, and 61-key variations.
The Komplete Kontrol keyboard connects to most virtual instrument systems. The Fatar keyboard is professional quality, featuring after-touch on its 61 semi-weighted keys.
Its pitch and mod wheels have an ergonomic design and offer touch strip technology for expression control.
The set of KOMPLETE instruments and the Native Kontrol Standard instruments all have pre-mapped control on the Native Instruments Keyboard.
The Komplete Kontrol is portable, offering more keys than average on this USB 2.0 bus-powered keyboard. Its design features 8 capacitive knobs, a 4D encoder, and a full range of control over the various plugins, transports, and mixers used by the composer’s DAW.
Its interface includes 4 assignable buttons and 4 knobs that interface seamlessly with most music production software. Its buttons and knobs are lit for ease of use.
It has octave buttons that give composers access to the full pitch range, which can be modulated with control wheels that help the Alesis V49 MIDI Keyboard deliver more creative control over sound clips.
Alesis also includes premium software already integrated, which is impressive at its low-end price. This composition software includes Ableton Live Lite 9 and Eleven Lite, Mini Grand, ProTools, First Alesis Edition, DB-33, and Air Music Tech’s Xpand!2 virtual instrument software.
Alesis offers 3 sizes that increase portability, with 25, 49, or 61 full-sized square-front keys that are velocity-sensitive and ideal for various professional virtual instrument suites.
8 backlit beat production pads
4 assignable knobs and buttons
Portable design in 3 keyboard configuration sizes
Pre-uploaded premium software
The drum pads are not the most sensitive on the market
A 4-way thumbstick gives you control over pitch and modulation.
Akai Professional controllers are built for customization with a built-in resolution control and arpeggiator.
Multiple design modes give composers and designers a range of options.
This keyboard controller requires no drivers, making it extremely portable. It’s powered by USB and backed by beat maker essentials, which are 8 backlit MPC drum pads with Note Repeat & Full Level control.
Control over virtual instruments and whatever DAW you’re using allows composers to trigger samples and take control of assignable Q-link knobs.
The Akai MIDI controller comes with different mixers, plug-ins, and pro production packages that include 1400 sounds.
Its suite is compatible with both Mac and PC and gives designers access to a wealth of design materials.
Akai Pro MPC Essentials, Air Music Tech, and SONiVOX Wobble are available for download with the Akai Professional MIDI Controller.
At a low price and a portable size, this controller is our pick for the best budget controller available.
Modulation and control options
8 backlit MPC drum pads
Downloadable software suites
Portable size and velocity-sensitive keys
Some Windows 10 incompatibility, with reports of scaling being a problem in simultaneous open programs in the Akai Professionals suite
Buying Guide for MIDI Controllers in 2020
This buying guide for the best MIDI controllers to buy in 2020 contains categories that should be compared between models to choose the best for any composer or sound designer’s needs.
These categories include features, construction, software compatibility, and cost.
MIDI Controller Features
There are many features unique to each MIDI controller in terms of design features and control.
It helps to know what kind of pitch and modulation control you need as a sound designer and what control scheme suits your work.
Some of these controllers have multiple control knobs and pitch controls, encoders, and plugins.
The Komplete Kontrol Keyboard even has an OLED display to help you use it on the go. Recording control, MIDI performance, drum pads, and rotary controls are all things to watch for.
The keys themselves should also be included in an assessment of the controller’s features since some have as few as 25 and some as many as 61.
The keys factor heavily into the MIDI controllers’ constructions as well. Whether they’re weighted or not can affect their sensitivity.
There are also touch strip-activated keys versus mechanical ones and this makes a huge difference depending on the designer’s preference.
Some of these controllers are portable, or USB 2.0 bus-powered.
If you like designing while you travel, it’s essential to find a sturdy MIDI controller keyboard that works on its own power or a long-lasting charge, with sturdy keys, and probably a shorter length.
Backlit knobs and controls can also be a concern when evaluating a MIDI controller’s design.
Control wheels, knobs, pitch controls, and pads differ between controllers so it pays to know what design features you prefer or what compositions you plan on manipulating before choosing a MIDI controller.
MIDI controllers are not always compatible with both Mac and PC. Designers that prefer one system over another need to know which controllers will work on their system.
Many of them also feature compatibility with various software suites, including ProTools and synergy with Ableton Live.
Downloadable sound packages and essential tools are available as software plugins on many MIDI controllers.
Those who want to work with specific suites can use this to guide their buying choices.
Designers that prefer a multifunctional design tool in their MIDI controller should research the software requirements and compatibility for their chosen brand of keyboard.
The cost of these MIDI controllers varies wildly, from just over a hundred dollars to nearly a thousand. Since the range is so great, music producers need to know the features they need for their work.
Often, a design suite, an extra range of keys, or a control knob can make a difference of hundreds of dollars in the finished MIDI controller model.
MIDI controllers differ by construction and this affects functionality.
Some have 25 keys with octave up/down switches and some are full 61-key keyboards.
Some are touch-sensitive, velocity controlled, weighted, or semi-weighted. Knobs, controls, drum pads, and other physical features can dramatically differentiate your MIDI controller of choice as a design tool.
Some also come with production packages, including software suites, extensions, protocols, and integration with common DAWs and sound controllers, including the Ableton Live program.
Those who want to manage their sound design suites from one controller should check for compatibility with their intended software suites, including basic compatibility with Windows, PC, or iOS devices.
Portability also makes a difference, as some designers may want to set up a high-tech home studio while others will prefer to take their design tool with them in transit.
Our pick for the best overall MIDI controller keyboard for 2020 is the Novation Launchkey Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard.
For its Ableton Live support, portable construction, and multifaceted controls (8 rotary knobs, 16 RBG pads, and more), the Novation MIDI Keyboard is an intuitive all-purpose MIDI controller.
Its low price and 3-year manufacturer’s warranty round out an enticing package.
Regardless of which MIDI controller you choose, design features, software compatibility, portability, and other controls make a huge difference in how sound designers and music composers can use it.
Use this series of reviews and this buying guide to choose between the MIDI controllers listed here or any that you find on the market.