14 Great MIDI Controller Solutions for 2014

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There have never been so many great options for hands-on control of your studio or for playing and recording performances on your virtual kit. But with great power comes great… potential confusion?

Besides the relatively clunky mouse and computer keyboard, your MIDI controller is the key physical/creative connection with your DAW and virtual instruments, so when choosing your controller it bears thinking about a little and considering at least a few options so that you find the right interface for your unique production style. It’s a very personal thing; there really is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution.

Fortunately we’ve put together our pick of the most inspiring, groundbreaking and intuitive MIDI controllers to help narrow the field and let you find exactly the right solution for your specific needs and preferred workflows.

MIDI Controllers: The Next Generation

Things have changed significantly in the controller market in just the last few years, with the classic piano-style MIDI keyboard now competing with DAW-specific pad controllers such as Abletons Push and true hardware/software hybrids like Native Intruments Maschine. And of course we’ve also seen the emergence of controller apps that turn your tablet or smartphone into a powerful pro-grade MIDI command station (that would have seemed absolute science fiction even 15 short years ago!).

Most of these MIDI solutions come with a range of slimmed down versions, which we’ve also included in the list, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find the ideal kit for any budget.

The Best MIDI Controller For You

Remember, there will always be a tradeoff: features and built quality vs. size/portability vs. price. Bear in mind that you generally do get what you pay for with controller hardware in terms of durability and features, so we obviously can’t, for example, expect a sub-£100 keyboard to have the same key action as a more fully-featured (and priced) master keyboard. However, if the most important thing for you is that you can fit the controller into a laptop bag so you can thrash out riffs, sequences and beats wherever you happen to be when inspiration strikes, clearly something like the LPK25 from Akai is going to be more useful to you than the most fully specced desktop monster. (And of course, there’s nothing stopping you upgrading later to a larger controller as your skills and needs increase.)

 Ableton Push

1. Ableton Push

Following several controllers from other companies designed specifically for Abletons Live software, such as the Novation LaunchPad and Akai APC20 and APC40, Ableton this year finally entered the hardware fray themselves with the Push. Needless to say, it’s tactile, intuitive and deep, and one of the few controllers that can provide both the speed and subtlety of expression necessary to feel like you’re actually playing an instrument. Very powerful.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


NI Maschine Studio

2. Native Instruments Maschine Studio

Released earlier this month, the Maschine Studio hardware controller also signals the arrival of the Maschine 2.0 software, which works with the entire hardware range: the original Maschine, the new Mk II, the streamlined Maschine Micro and the new flagship Maschine Studio.

Maschine is a ‘groove production studio’, reminiscent in looks and functionality to Akais legendary MPC series – but in a very 21st century way, very much representing a true hardware/software hybrid solution that blurs the line between conventional MIDI interface and the sort of deep editing and manipulation that we’ve grown used to with cutting edge software. It serves as a self-contained solution for drum programming, automation control and manipulation of all NI plugin effects and processors. If you’re after a seamless software/hardware all-in-one package that aids intuitive workflow and performance, and particularly of you’re already familiar with NI synths and plugins, Maschine is entirely worthy of consideration.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Akai MPK Mini

3. Akai MPK Mini

There are a lot of options for small MIDI keyboards and controllers under $100, but when I needed a portable solution to pack with a laptop for working away from the studio, this is the one I went for. It’s essentially an LPD8 and an LPK25 stuck together, offering just the right combination of keys, drum/trigger pads and rotary knobs that can easily be assigned to adjust any parameter in your DAW, software instruments or effects plugins. Compact but powerful. (If you like this but would miss pitch and mod wheels, also check out the MPK 25).

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


IK Multimedia iRig Keys

4. IK Multimedia iRig Keys

The original and best keyboard controller for iPad and iPhone musicians. Featuring mod and pitch wheels, it connects via USB or your iOS devices 30-pin socket. A very elegant solution.

If you’re primarily an iPad musician, you might also want to check out the similar Mobile Keys from Line6.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


M-Audio Axiom 49

5. M-Audio Axiom 49

While we love our Akai MPK Mini, this is our pick of the best keyboard controller in the slightly larger 49-key category (it’s also slightly better value than the smaller/cheaper 25-key version Axiom). With semi-weighted piano keys, mod and pitch wheels, and a healthy number of pads, rotary encoders and faders, this covers all the bases (with a nice slick design finish too).

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Arturia MiniLab

6. Arturia MiniLab 25

Arturia are the kings of virtual instrument emulations of classic hardware synths, and while their range of MIDI controllers can be used to operate any typical DAW and music software setup, the ace up the sleeve is their ability to combine with Arturias Analog Lab software: turning the humble MIDI controller into a virtual hybrid synth with access to thousands of sounds from some of the greatest hardware classics ever built. If you always wanted wooden cheeks on the ends of your controller to match the vintage sounds of your software emulations, but don’t have the budget/inclination to stock an entire room with temperamental analogue synths, this could be the perfect compromise.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Liine Lemur iPad App 1

7. Liine Lemur

The Lemur began life as a standalone hardware unit, and while it was clear that it was a cool device, it took the emergence of the iPad and the relaunch of the Lemur as an iPad app for the concept to reach its full potential.

Without doubt, the ultimate iPad MIDI controller.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Download from the iTunes App Store


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Livid Instruments CNTRLR MIDI Controller

8. Livid Instruments CNTRL:R MIDI Controller

A very classy hardware controller designed in collaboration with techno superstar Richie Hawtin. With its multicoloured LEDs, pushbutton encoders and intuitive layout, its clear that a lot of thought and experience have gone into making this controller a joy to use, whether in the studio or performing live.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Korg microKORG

9. Korg microKORG Analog Modeling Synthesizer with Vocoder

Get a bonus real ‘classic’ synth with your MIDI controller! With the current resurgence in interest in classic hardware synths and effects, you might be wondering how to integrate some of that analogue flavour into your predominantly computer-based setup (definitely check out Korgs new Monotron series too if this is the case). We don’t think you can go far wrong with the microKORG, a modern miniature ‘classic’ analogue-modelling synth that will double very well as a basic software/MIDI controller. With the included vocoder microphone and vintage controls and looks, its certainly different and a little more evocative than most plastic-bodied modern controller keyboard, and could be a great introduction to real synth programming too.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Nektar P4 Panorama

10. Nektar P4 Panorama

The best controller for Reason users, as it lets you use the Propellerheads DAW as though it were hardware! Cool design, intuitive layout and plenty of hands-on control options. Recommended.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Akai MAX49

11. Akai MAX49

One potential vision of the future of MIDI keyboard controllers, with some great nods to the past included: on one side you have 12 pads borrowed directly from Akais favourite MPC series, and on the other you have 8 touch faders with LED displays. All in a snazzy Ferrari red.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Akai SynthStation49

12. Akai SynthStation49

Staying with Akai, the SynthStation allows you to dock your iPad directly into the body of the controller for immediate and compact control of your iPad music software (via coremidi or akaiconnect apps). Like a full-on expanded version of the iRig Keys!

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Novation LaunchKey 25

13. Novation LaunchKey

We’ve already mentioned Novations LaunchPad for Ableton Live, but what if you want a traditional keyboard as well as all those pads? The LaunchKey will almost certainly fit the bill. Available in 25 and 49 key versions, and it ships with it’s very own LaunchKey iPad app for seamless integration whatever platform you’re working on.

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


Akai MPC Renaissance

14. Akai MPC Renaissance

It’s testament to the quality of the original concept that the MPC never really gets old. First released in 1988, the MPC60 drum machine/sampler became an icon of hip hop production with its crunchy sampling and and sequencing enabling whole tracks to be built quickly and with plenty of inherent character. Throughout the 1990s, new iterations in the series expanded the power and connectivity, but the core – those 16 pads – always remained. Now the MPC has literally been ‘rebirthed’ again, this time apparently going head-to-head with Native Instruments Maschine Studio in the hardware/software hybrid beat machine category… As we move into 2014, it’s clearly a good time for makers of beats everywhere!

(By the way, you can also grab those iconic pads on their own in the form of the Akai MPD18.)

Click the appropriate link below for price and additional info:

Buy from Amazon.com     Buy from Amazon.co.uk


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What’s your weapon of choice for MIDI control? Have you found a controller, or combination, that suits your production style perfectly? Let us know in the comments below!

4 Comments

  1. Good way of describing, and pleasant piece of writing to take data regarding my presentation focus, which i am going to present in university.

  2. Why aren’t there keyboard controllers with a lot of sliders and knobs for controlling a vst synth. They always have to little knobs and sliders, drumpads (which i never use). I only want to control different synth vst’s, like the the cs-80V, jupiter-80V and others.
    Thats why i have to build one myself, because manufacturers think that musicians using DAW all the time. So when i think about i, i make a keyboard controller with a pc inside, touch screen like the Korg Oasys and a lot of plug ins.

    • Million Dollar Baby on

      I’d love to see, and or, test, the finished product. Did you ever finish this project ?

  3. The best midi controller is the one that helps the beginner get started and complements the skill of a professional and helps him complete his creative activities.

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