Best MIDI Controllers to Buy in 2020

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.

Reviews of the Best MIDI Controllers in 2020

Novation Launchkey Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard

Many MIDI controllers have synergy with apps and other subscriptions that music designers commonly use.

The Novation Launchkey Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard is no different.

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.

Pros

  • Ableton Live support
  • Intuitive arpeggiator controller
  • Portable design
  • 8 rotary controls, 16 RBG pads, and versatile design devices
  • Low price
  • 3-year warranty

Cons

  • The layout is not optimized for live looping

Novation 49SL MkIII, 49-Key MIDI Controller

This second MIDI controller from Novation comes in 49-key and 61-key variations.

It combines MIDI hardware and CV/Gate synths into one piece of premium hardware, which is our pick for the best high-end priced MIDI controller available in 2020.

The Novation MkIII perfectly controls with Ableton Live’s software and integrates easily with your chosen DAW.

It has an internal 8-track pattern-based sequencer with a high-resolution sequencer and recorder that lets composers selectively play and edit separate sequences from the keyboard.

The keyboard on the MkIII is renowned as a premium synth-style keybed with a high scan rate, aftertouch, and semi-weighted construction.

Its arpeggiator can be set for different types, sync rates, lengths, and customizable pads and design rhythms. It has 1 routable clock for control across the whole system.

The Novation 49SL MkIII, 49-Key MIDI Controller has a high-end price but the full keyboard is pro-grade and sturdy. For advanced systems at a premium price, this is our high-end pick.

Pros

  • 8-track sequencer
  • Premium semi-weighted synth-style keyboard
  • Advanced arpeggiator system
  • 3-year warranty

Cons

  • Premium price

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2 Keyboard

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.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol Keyboard has an intuitive OLED display for use with its Smart Play system. This allows composers to scale snap, trigger chords, and arpeggiate their tracks.

Being portable and configurable to most composition software, this MIDI controller keyboard is a fantastic high-end mini keyboard, though it has a premium price.

Pros

  • After-touch design offers intuitive control
  • Ergonomic touch-strip design
  • Completely bus-powered by USB 2.0
  • Compatible with plugins and various composing services
  • Configurable and portable

Cons

  • The mini keys aren’t for everyone
  • Above-average price

Alesis V49 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller

The Alesis V49 MIDI Keyboard Controller has 8 backlit pads that are pressure and velocity-sensitive that enable beat production and clip launching on a professional level.

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.

Pros

  • 8 backlit beat production pads
  • 4 assignable knobs and buttons
  • Octave keys
  • Portable design in 3 keyboard configuration sizes
  • Pre-uploaded premium software

Cons

  • The drum pads are not the most sensitive on the market

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII MIDI Keyboard Controller

This USB MIDI keyboard has a portable design with 25 velocity-sensitive keys and an up/down octave switch so you can work in multiple ranges in the limited space.

For complete virtual synthesizer control on the go, the Akai Professional Mini MIDI Controller is last on this list, but not least.

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.

Pros

  • Modulation and control options
  • 8 backlit MPC drum pads
  • Downloadable software suites
  • Portable size and velocity-sensitive keys
  • Budget price

Cons

  • 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.

Construction

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.

Software Compatibility

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.

Cost

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.

The Takeaway

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.

Odessa – MIDI sequencer and control suite for iOS by Bram Bos

Bram Bos – developer of Ripplemaker, Ruismaker and other cool music apps has released its new app: suite of MIDI Audio Unit Extensions:

[appstore id=1292546479]

Odessa Bassline: a monosequencer based on the popular Troublemaker sequencer. 

  • Transpose using MIDI keys
  • Lots of randomization and mutation features
  • 8 Patterns per sequence, with “Follow Actions”
  • Each Pattern can have up to 64 steps

 

Odessa X0X: classic step sequencer

  • exactly emulates the analog timing jitter of the original 808
  • support for triplets and polyrhythms
  • mutation settings per instrument
  • includes configurable key maps for most popular drum apps

 

Odessa LFO: 3x MIDI LFO generator

  • configurable MIDI CC output
  • optionally syncs to tempo
  • AU plugin, so it lets you run as many LFOs instances as you want

 

Odessa Rhythm: the popular Ruismaker Euclidean sequencer

  • Euclidean polyrhythms offer a ‘different’ way to program beats
  • disable LOOP SYNC for free runing polyrhythm mode
  • lots of mutation and randomization features

 

Odessa XY: configurable XY MIDI Control Pads

  • each instance gives you 2 x XY pads, a MOD wheel and a Pitchbend
  • assign any 4 MIDI CC controllers you want
  • flexible live control over any synth app

 

Odessa Arpeggio: adds an arpeggiator to any synth you own

  • automatic LATCH mode 
  • syncs to tempo
  • configurable accent behavior

 

 

Roli introduces new blocks: Seaboard and Touch

Roli has introduced 2 new blocks to its line of modular controllers called blocks. 

First and most impressive is Seaboard block which looks like a small copy of Seaboard Rise controller. It is larger than previous blocks – its size is slightly bigger than Apple wireless keyboard. But it is still small to take with your laptop. 

block is called Touch and it gives you additional control over Roli’s Seaboard and Lightpad controllers (ex. Octave switch). 

Bryan Eno shows his music production tricks

In this video shot by BBC Bryan Eno talks about different things but you can find really cool techniques and ideas on how you can use randomizers in your music.
At around 10:30 he is showing Logic Pro Scripter and his custom MIDI scripts he has programmed.
Logic Scripter was introduced in Logic Pro X and it is powerful environment where you can process or generate MIDI events by programming on JavaScript. And some nice useful script like Drum Probability Sequencer shown by Bryan in the video comes with Logic. You should definitely check it out and play with it if you have not already.

Audiobus 3 revolutionizes iOS music making again

Audiobus 3 has arrived bringing great new features:

  1. A totally new way to set up MIDI connections between compatible apps. All IAA instruments that are compatible with Audiobus will be usable as MIDI destinations. MIDI controllers will need to update to the newest SDK and support Audiobus 3’s MIDI system. We’re launching with a few of the best MIDI controller apps for that. And of course MIDI filters are a whole new category of apps, of which there will be a handful when we launch, made by Johannes Dörr, the creator of midiFlow
  2. Support for Audio Unit Extensions.
  3. A basic input mixer to adjust volumes of all sound generators
  4. Apps with the new Audiobus 3 SDK will launch into the background. All MIDI controllers and filters with the new Audiobus MIDI system will support this. Combined with Audio Unit Extensions and the new Audiobus MIDI system this turns Audiobus 3 into a really amazing place to set up your whole workflow, save it as an Audiobus preset and then restore it later on.
  5. Support for split view and slide-over on compatible devices so that you can adjust the volume without having to switch apps – just slide in the side panel and use the Audiobus mixer in that. It’s handy.

How to Control Ableton Live with Apple Watch

There are many different Ableton Live controller apps for iOS – from powerful Touchable app that mimics Ableton devices interface and allows you controlling literally every function of Live to flexible modern-looking Conductr.

Though if you are familiar with Ableton midi controllers you probably know very well Novation Launchpad – it is pretty cheap (comparing to Ableton push) midi controller designed to launch clips in session view but with new scripts it also acts as matrix-style midi notes keyboard (like Push or Maschine Jam). 

Based on advanced Launchpad script – developer Alexander Nowak has made iOS app that repeats functions of Novation Launchpad on a touch screen of an iPad or iPhone. 

And with the recent update the app brings Apple Watch support that shows part of the layout but still allows to play some notes/launch clips. 

Roli updates NOISE with all new interface and Blocks controllers support

ROLI – developer of innovative Seabord and Seabord RISE keyboards has introduced new controllers for their iOS music app – Blocks. And today they have updated their iOS app NOISE with the support of Blocks. And actually updated app looks like complete rebuild with the whole new concept of Blocks in mind.

Here’s how previous version looked like:

And here’s new version:

So it is a complete redesign – I don’t know why but ROLI has decided to take out old keyboard that had few modulation dimensions and few faders – and leave only new “Blocks” interface without much control over sound…

UPDATE from ROLI: “We’ve redeveloped NOISE from the ground up, and that’s why we’ve had to temporarily disable Seaboard View and other features. Not to worry, though! We will reintroduce them within a month. We apologize for any inconvenience that the temporary removal of these features may have caused.”

If you liked previous version and had some IAPs – don’t update – wait while they fix it.

The new version is more like Scram or Figure. It is very simple – you just touch the screen and music plays. No IAA, no AU, no Audiobus.

So the app is really basic though it sounds pretty good. All embed sounds (there are not many) are pretty playable especially while modulating them by moving your finger.

And new controllers are amazing I think. Watch these videos:

It is really cool set of modules. Really small but still playable. And with several modules you can create your own unique layout. I just wish ROLI either develop NOISE app to give more control over sound or open MIDI interface to control other apps.

[appstore id=1011132019]

 

Yeco – new multitouch controller for Ableton Live

When I first have seen Yeco picture – I thought that’s a new hardware controller with touch-screen, and next thought was “hm… why would anybody make new device when you have lots of ipads and androids”. But Yeco is something new.

Addressed for people with Touch-enabled displays on Win and Mac (well, that’s mostly for Windows because there are minority of people using touch displays with Mac) that app would work great on devices like MS Surface. I need to say that Ableton Live is almost unusable on the MS Surface comparing to touch-friendly DAWs like FL Studio or Bitwig. So a good touch-layer is something that most of Live on touch-screen devices would love.

The app itself is fully-featured controller with clips launcher, keyboard, hex-keyboard, drum-pads for drum racks, xy-pads, mixer and Live-devices controller.

Here’s short intro video to get an idea of how it works:

Though multi-touch is not officially supported in OS X there’s a workaround for that using Touch-Base driver.

As there’s no demo version available you can check out Yeco features with set of 12 tutorials:

Software is available from the website: yeco.io and it costs 45 EUR (no demo version is available). Yeco works with Ableton Live 9.x.

Some other solutions to control Ableton Live with multitouch screen require iPads and 2 of my favorites are Touchable (great push-like keyboard, intuitive interface for Live devices control, Live browser support and many other great features) and Conductr (highly customizable app with great user interface).

[appstore id = 385949475]
[appstore id = 686559982]

Roland Wireless Connect

Roland Wireless Connect is a new system that allows electronic musical instruments to communicate with the iPhone. Consisting of a wireless USB adapter and two new iOS apps, Roland Wireless Connect makes it easy for Roland users to enjoy their instruments with the popular mobile devices from Apple.

With the Air Recorder app, audio can be recorded from a Roland synthesizer or V-Accordion directly into the iPhone. Songs can be played from the iPhone and sent to the instrument, where users can jam along and record the result back in Air Recorder.

V-Drums Friend Jam for iPhone is an iOS version of V-Drums Friend Jam, the popular social practice tool for drummers. While the Mac/Windows version of V-Drums Friend Jam requires a USB or MIDI connection from a V-Drums sound module to a computer, Roland Wireless Connect provides a direct, convenient connection from the module to the iPhone. The app allows V-Drums users across the globe to interact with each other while improving their drumming skills with play-along audio songs and practice evaluation features.

The hardware portion of Roland Wireless Connect is a simple, compact wireless USB adapter WNA1100-RL (manufactured by NETGEAR and distributed by Roland) that plugs into the USB port on a Roland instrument. In order for the mobile device to communicate with compatible musical instruments, you need a wireless LAN access point with internet connection.

Compatible instruments (with firmware update) include:

Synthesizers: JUNO-Di / JUNO-Gi / JUPITER-80 / JUPITER-50 / Lucina AX-09
V-Drums Sound Modules: TD-30 / TD-15 / TD-11
V-Accordions: FR-7x / FR-3x / FR-1x