Best High-End MIDI Keyboard Controllers in 2020

Let us take a look at the perceived top 3 MIDI keyboard controllers based on real user feedback.

View the features and benefits we have summarized into helpful sections so that you can make an informed choice about what's best for your user profile.

Each controller features superb keybed action and a raft of useful features for both live and production use, some even including pad control – this is great for finger drummers!

Browse our buyer's guide and summaries.

1. NI Komplete Kontrol S series MKII

NI Komplete Kontrol S series MKII

These Native Instruments high-end keyboard controllers are available in a variety of keyboard sizes: 49 note, 61, and 88.

We're featuring an industry-leading Fatar semi-weighted synth-action velocity-sensitive keybed with monophonic aftertouch, two high-resolution color screens, and a light guide above the keys for visual feedback.

Mainly aimed at NI Maschine users, the keyboard also supports various DAW's such as Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Garageband, Cubase, Nuendo.

It comes with pre-mapped controls for various standalone and plugin software instruments and effects from NI themselves. NKS partners Arturia, Scarbee, Spitfire Audio, U-HE, Waldorf, and Waves, to name but a few.

Users can additionally manually map plugins and DAW features, using a free NI downloadable editor.

Pedal support via two TRS jacks (pedal, expression 2-way, or 3-way supported). USB bus-powered or external PSU (not included). This MIDI keyboard controller also supports USB MIDI and standard DIN MIDI out. It has continuous rotary dials for easy DAW position pickup.

Pros:
+ Fully mappable controls
+ Superb Fatar keyboard action
+ Supports range of DAWs
+ Visual feedback by use of two color screens and light guide
+ Semi-weighted

Why We Liked It - The beautiful design screams luxury with great keyboard action. It seamlessly integrates with popular DAWs and a wide range of NI and third-party plugin instruments. Though none of the keyboards reviewed here feature motorized faders for mixing, the NI continuous Rotary controls pickup each fader position according to bank selected.

2. Arturia Keylab 61 mk2

Arturia Keylab 61 mk2

Arturia mkII keyboard controllers are available in a variety of keyboard sizes, 49, 61, and 88. We will review the 61 key version here, but the other versions mentioned are fine, depending on your requirements. Piano players might prefer a minimum of 5 octaves though you can transpose up and down with any of them.

The Keylab 61 is a low profile velocity-sensitive 5-octave controller (with aftertouch) particularly optimized for use with Arturia's range of standalone and plugin software synthesizers and effects.

Users can also manually map plugins and DAW features using the freely downloadable Arturia MIDI control center software.

It comes with pedal support via three jacks (pedal, expression, and sustain), as well as CV input and four outputs for controlling legacy analog gear.

It's USB bus-powered or by using an external PSU (not included). It also comes with a 4 x 4 set of dynamic, backlit customizable pads, which can also trigger chords and chord memories.

This midi keyboard uses USB MIDI and standard DIN MIDI in and out. The bundled software includes Arturia Analog Lab, Ableton Live Lite, and Piano V.

Pros:
+ Fully mappable controls
+ Improved keyboard action over the previous version if a little bendy
+ Velocity-sensitive
+ Supports a range of DAWs
+ Dedicated buttons for instant selection of DAW, Instrument or External Hardware control modes

Why We Liked It - Due to its slim size, these midi keyboards fit neatly under an iMac screen. This maximizes your desk space, also the inclusion of the drum pad matrix.

3. Akai MPK261

Akai MPK261

Akai MPK series two keyboard controllers are available in a variety of keyboard sizes, 25, 49, and 61.

Building on the success of the original MPK series, these Akai V2 controllers bring in a few updates, such as a backlit red green and blue customizable 4 x 4 pad array, improved semi-weighted keyboard action (with aftertouch), a new LCD screen featuring QWERTY style soft controls and a reasonably comprehensive software package.

The MPK261 is excellent, and Akai claims it is built to last. There are four bank pad array, sustain, and expression pedal jacks.

This midi keyboard comes with easy assignment mapping, eight control knobs, eight faders, and eight backlit switches. It comes with MPC Note repeat, swing, full level, tap tempo, time division.

It uses USB MIDI and standard DIN MIDI in and out.

The bundled software includes MPC Pro essentials, Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 synthesizer from AIR music tech Sonivox Twist, and Sonivox 88 ensemble.

Pros:
+ Fully mappable controls
+ Improvements over the previous version
+ Supports a range of DAWs
+ Great selection of bundled software, including Ableton Live.

Why We Liked It - The MPK 2 series comprises a robust and colorful build with plenty of hands-on capability.

MIDI Controller Buyers Guide

What is a High-End MIDI controller?

MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. In music production and live performance, a MIDI controller typically comprises a keyboard, drum pad matrix and mixing device.

These are used to control various external functions, including editing and triggering sounds within a computer, tablet, phone, or an external MIDI-equipped sound module. The quality of a controller is reflected in the price. This review considers high-quality MIDI controllers.

What Is The Best MIDI Controller For Beginners?

The Arturia Keylab MkII controller is a superb choice for beginners as it's very well featured. It comes with a synth-action keyboard and a set of velocity-sensitive drum pads. The Arturia is also optimized for use with the supplied Analogue Lab software suite.

This controller has DAW overlays to suit typical recording applications. At the touch of a button, the controller can be instantly set up for use as a software synthesizer editor, a DAW interface, and an external controller for hardware MIDI instruments.

What MIDI controllers do famous artists use?

Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten often make use of NI Komplete Kontrol MIDI keyboards for their music productions as spotted in their studio tutorials and youtube clips.

Conclusion

The above MIDI controllers will satisfy most users dependent on their choice of DAW and preferred synthesizer suites.

The Native Instruments Kontrol MkII keyboards are tried, tested, and refined. For controller connoisseurs, we don't think you can beat the feel of a Fatar key-bed.

Expert Tip

Ensure you have a computer capable of meeting software and hardware minimum requirements. You must have a desktop footprint that will accommodate both the midi keyboard, the computer keyboard, and the mouse.

Did you know?

The Arturia Keylab MIDI keyboards are very slim at 53 mm and can, therefore, fit underneath the screen of an iMac.

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