mpe midi

Best MPE Hardware Rundown: MPE Synth VST Compatibility, Price, and Sound

Last Updated on March 11, 2024 by IDS Team

We’ve previously done an article on the best MPE software – namely, great synth VSTs that are compatible with MPE controllers such as the ROLI Seabord series – but what about the best MPE hardware itself?

This list spans both controllers and MPE-compatible synths. Due to the nature of MPE, hardware can range from individual machines to controllers that are meant to operate with a VST to full-fledged synths with keyboards. Read on for a breakdown of just some of the great variations within this category. Stuck choosing? This overview should help you see where you might get started if you want to add some hardware to your home studio… 

Best MPE Hardware Controller Overall: The Linnstrument

The Linnstrument has been going for quite a while and like the Haken Continuum (below) has been one of the pioneers in MPE hardware controllers. It takes the intuition of a piano keyboard and adapts it to the requirements of expressive playing more in the manner of a stringed instrument. 

This means you don’t get a classic octave or two of piano keys, instead, its unique grid layout of buttons is arranged in semitones so that the subtle bends and slides you may want for expressive composition are easier to achieve than ever. 

It has five dynamic and expressive modes of playing each individual button, which has informed later instruments such as the expressive E osmose, pioneering the idea that touch has more than one dimension and opening up the airwaves for more nuance in playing. These are: 

  • Strike velocity 
  • Pressure
  • Left Right
  • Front back 
  • Release velocity 

Again, these are an average selection of what some of the best mpe hardware fingerboards can do. But it’s a great reason why the Linnstrument still stands out as it’s one of the easiest and most iconic, and doesn’t take long to master these controls, even if you are a newbie.

Linnstrument Price: Averages 1000 – 1300 USD


Best MPE Hardware Classic Controller: Haken Continuum

The Haken Continuum may be old by MPE standards, but it makes this list due to it’s pioneering nature as well as the fact that it’s had recent updates with the arrival of the Continuum slim keyboard. All in all, the continuum does what it’s name suggests and is all about smooth, continuous analogue-style sounds. 

MPE is about getting the character and nuance that comes with playing analog plucked or keyed instruments to apply to digital synths. Think of the individual differences in volume of sustain that affect the keys on a piano as well as the slides and pitch bending of any great guitar player. The continuum is a keyboard set up to allow you to mimic this with as much sensitivity as playing a real guitar, piano, violin, or other instrument. It is available in either 70 half-step or 46 half-step versions. However, it also has its own internal sound engine, containing the following:

  • subtractive synth engine
  • physical modeling
  • spectral sets with micro analyzation
  • 330 microsecond scanning of keyboard surface for ultra sensitivity
  • EaganMatrix modular sound engine

Continuum Price: Ranges from 4000 to 6000 USD depending on the model. Yes, it’s not cheap! However, this is one of the original pioneer instruments in MPE – or at least an updated remodel – so you are really getting a bit of music history too.


Best Higher-Investment Keyboard Synth Crowd Pleasers: OB-6, Prophet 6

Now for two actual synths! These guys aren’t MPE controllers in themselves, but from Sequential, both the OB-6 and Prophet 6 are fully compatible with your MPE controller of choice. They also both come with keyboards.

If you’re just getting started and want something that hits the sweet spot, producing interesting yet classic sounds without being too experimental, both of these are for you. 

However, if you are stuck, here are the similarities and differences to see what great features you could be adding MPE to: 

OB-6Prophet 6
faithful recreation of the original Tom Oberheim ring modulator and phase shiftersemi-weighted 4-octave keyboard also features velocity and channel aftertouch
faithful recreation of the original Tom Oberheim ring modulator and phase shifterfresh, newly designed VCOs with variable, triangle, and sawtooth waves, 4 pole lowpass and two pole high pass filter
digital effects but entirely analog sound due to true bypasssemi-weighted 4 octave keyboard
one knob per functionmore complex programming, including unison mode. entirely analog signal path.
semi-weighted 4 octave keyboard also features velocity and channel aftertouchsemi-weighted 4-octave keyboard
x modulation, polyphonic step sequencer, filter cutoff and filter mode, sync steps to external MIDI clockArpeggiator also syncs to MIDI clock
500 factory programs, 500 rewritable user programs 500 factory programs and 500 rewritable user programs as well as live panel mode where sound and effects follow exact positions of knobs in real time

OB-6 Price: 2500 to 3500 USD


Prophet 6 Price: 3500 to 4500 USD


Best MPE Hardware Synth for Portability: Audiothingies MicroMonsta 2

As a desktop synth, the MicroMonsta, true to its name, is small and portable. It’s ultimately up to you which controller you use with it, but as it’s MPE compatible, it’s the perfect choice to add your Linnstrument, ROLI Seabord series, or more to. This is one of the best mpe hardware desktop synths and we’ve included it here as a cheaper option. However, it also shows just why you shouldn’t overlook desktop options in favor of more publicized mpe specific synths.

We like it for the best features to compactness and ease of use ratio. But if you have something specific in mind, the Micromonsta stands out with the following features for you to experiment with to my heart’s content:

  • 3 LFOs and three oscillator, lag, and multi-operators
  • deep modulation matrix
  • delay and reverb, 8 filter types with FM synthesis
  • per voice and per oscillator detuning for ultra-organic, authentic analog sounds
  • portable desktop synth that is easy to take on tour or to gigs
  • character parameters for filters – hard, soft, mean and so on

Price: 290 USD – definitely one of the cheapest pieces of gear on this list and just a small look at the great desktop mpe synth options.


Behringer UBXA: Best Classic Emulation

Behringer is known for making affordable versions of favorite instruments and this time is no exception. We include the Behringer UBXA because it’s an affordable version of a classic synth that is MPE compatible, bringing vintage sounds right into the era of present innovations. In this case, it represents the Oberheim XA Poly. It’s also one of the best mpe hardware options with a split keyboard, for creating walls of sound and cinematic layering, really exploring all the nuance mpe can do.

This is our choice for those who like a combination of classic and modern. Just some of the great features include:

  • VCOs and VCFs modeled off the original oscillator design chips of the classic Oberheim XA poly 
  • Faithful recreation 
  • Ability to split the keyboard and layer riffs and sounds 
  • 16 voices 
  • Velocity and aftertouch 

Price: 1000 – 1500 USD


Waldorf Iridium: Best Outside the Box Synth 

The Waldorf iridium works in much the same way as some of the other instruments on this list. It doesn’t have a keyboard of its own to realize MPE, but it’s compatible with any great MPE controller like the Seabord series or the Linnstrument. 

What causes it to make this list is its character and qualities as a synth. It’s not often that you get both the expressiveness of MPE compatibility with the following great features: 

  • Particle synthesis (both sampling and granular) 
  • Wavetable, waveform, and resonator synthesis
  • Kernel synthesis 

These give you, again, unprecedented sensitivity and nuance. One of the best things about the Iridium is that these kinds of synthesis are found less often. So, to have them available in such an intuitive synth WITH MPE compatibility is basically the cherry on top for an instrument that is very exciting and underrated anyway.

Price: Ranges from 1800 to 2000+ USD


Final Thoughts

So, we have a varied selection. We can’t include every great piece of MPE hardware here and it’s difficult to choose whether to get into the nitty gritty of different controllers or the synths you can attach them to. Overall MPE is a very broad category that ranges from cheap VSTs to highly expensive fingerboard controllers. However, we have endeavored to include a range of choices on this list so there is something for every level and budget.

Our criteria here range from features to playability to how well the sounds of a synth in question go with the possibilities unlocked by MPE. All in all, it’s a really hard decision, but we hope the choices here can show you an inspiring snapshot of some of what is out there. 

If you liked this, we have more in our great hardware section here. And if you want more on MPE, we have the guide to MPE software as listed in the introduction of this article, plus a comparison of different MPE gear here.