Best Computer Recording MIDI Controllers in 2020



LTGEM Travel Hard Carrying Case for Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII & MPK Mini Play | 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Drum Pad & Keyboard Controller Review:


Very good case for the Akai MPK Mini. It is not super rigid so I would not recommend putting this in airplane luggage on it's own. But due to it's form factor it fits really nicely into a bigger suitcase. The padding is quite nice and the case seems to be very well put together. Something I've seen posted about other cases for the Akai MPK Mini is that they have this strong chemical odor that most likely comes from the cheap materials they have been made of. This is not the case for this LTGEM case. Right out of the box it is close to odorless. This was a huge relief to me since I was worried that it might have the same problem reported in reviews for other cases that are in the same price range. I don't know how they managed to offer a product made of better materials at the same price point as the other cheaply made ones, but kudos to LTGEM. Overall great case and I would highly recommend!



Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-Key Controller Review:


I’m an Arturia guy. I also have a MicroBrute, Keystep, Pigments and their V Collection 7. I got this as a desktop module for Ableton, and it’s pretty seamless for that purpose, allowing a great amount of built-in automatic control once you connect by MIDI (painlessly). The knobs are endless and have the right amount of pushback to offer refinement. The pads are tight for nice control. My one issue is that I wanted to take this on vacation to practice some songs. It’s great for one-handed use on stage, for sure. But any sort of two-handed playing is about 5 keys too short of any but the most basic one-octave riffs on the right, and too short for a standard G-chord on the left. So I ended up taking my Keystep instead (also one key short on the second octave right, but overall much more useful). I’d say if I want to “play piano” I probably have to size up to a wider bed. But for quick riffs where you can manually adjust the octave range up/down as you loop, this is great, super tough, comes with great software, and has nice responsive (springy) velocity keys.



Nektar (IMPACT LX25+) Review:


Great little keyboard, but with full-sized keys.

I have two other controller keyboards. Both M-Audio, one is 49 keys, one is 61 keys. They're good, but this is great. Actually also might make one a better keyboard player, by forcing you to concentrate on just two octaves, rather than noodling around the length of a longer keyboard. With just two octaves, you can "see" patterns and chords easier. Though you can go up and down to full 88 keys with buttons. But two octaves at once is a good teaching exercise.

And since it's smaller, it leaves room for a cat on my keyboard stand. And there's pretty much always a cat there now. (Stand is a board on a towel on a keyboard stand).

PROS:
--Solid build. Keys are good. Pads have an amazing feel.
--Can control your DAW - almost makes a soft synth into a hardware synth.
--You can sit across the room and play it, without being a slave to sitting at a computer. Once auto-mapped, you can change pre-set patches on a softsynth. And on some, you can control some of the parameters. Plus, play keys and drum pads. (M-audio is the other keyboard that can do that, but not nearly as easily and elegantly as this one does.)
--Easy to map your DAW (download software from manufacturer's site after registering)
--Pretty lights that change color on the pad when you play them! Looks trippy in the dark.

CONS:
--Keys are kinda stiff. Some people might hate it. Probably not good if you have hand pain issues. On the other hand, playing it may actually strengthen your hands.
--Keys are physically kinda loud when you press them. Make a dull thud sound.

EDIT AFTER 2 WEEKS OF PLAYING IT A LOT: The keyboard dull thud got much less after a little while. And I think the keys are still stiff, but my hands actually got stronger playing it (!), so it's not an issue now. I dig the feel.

Someone else here said it takes two buttons to remotely change synth patches but that's not true on Cubase. Just takes one at a time, going up or down the list in your DAW from this keyboard.

All in all I'm very happy with it. It's a heck of a lot of controller for 100 bucks.



Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version Review:


I absolutely love this product. I have considered getting a MIDI controller for some time as I played piano many years ago. I was hesitant to buy one because it's been so long since I actually played piano, I was afraid that the small keyboard would be too unfamiliar and limiting, However, even though I was never very advance in my piano playing to begin with, I have been able to quickly get to where I can create music that I am not ashamed to let others hear. If all you have ever played is a full size piano, this will take a small amount of getting used to, but you will quickly get the feel for it. Speaking of feel; my only complaint is the way the keys feel. Basically, the point in travel at which the key presses actually trigger the sound, feels too far from where the keys starts their travel. Once again, this is nothing you can't get used to, but the makers might want to focus on the keys for the next version. On the PLUS side, this comes with a copy of the latest version of Ableton Lite and the while I am sure this MIDI controller will work with most any DAW, Novation controllers are designed specifically for Ableton. This gives full features that other controllers may not offer in Ableton. If you are new to MIDI and Digital Audio Workstations, the learning curve for any DAW is steep, but Ableton is a solid program used by professional DJs and once you register your copy of Ableton, you will find plenty of free add-ons, purchasable add-ons and upgraded versions well worth buying if you are into creating music.
Videos online are your friends for help learning how to use both the controller and Ableton, but within a day or two, you will be able to start composing and playing music at home.
Because of the way the keys feel, I took it from 5 stars to 4. Even at that, I highly recommend this for someone just getting started.



Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live, 49-Note MK2 Version Review:


I have been a musician for more than 15 years, playing the mandolin in acoustic jam sessions, bands and home recordings. I have also produced amateur recordings for about ten years, using several different hardware based digital multi-track recorders. In the last year I switched to computer based recording, when I discovered the affordability and astonishing breadth of capability offered by software systems. My choice of software is Logic Pro X and Mainstage 3. As I became familiar with the OSX music production software, I realized the importance of a midi controller to make use of the numerous software instruments and other digital music production techniques. I have nearly no keyboard skill, so this meant learning, not only a new musicianship skill, but also learning the technical nuts and bolts of digital music production methods. After several months of familiarizing myself with the capabilities of Logic and Mainstage I felt like I was ready to make a reasonably informed decision about what might be my best first midi hardware gear purchase. In this review I list the features I felt I would need to best enable my progress toward some minimal level of competence and how well I believe this controller met my expectations.

First, I needed a keyboard that would not be a hindrance to learning to play a keyboard. I reasoned that I need full-sized keys, with velocity sensitivity, aftertouch, an adequate number octaves, a pitch bend wheel and a modulation wheel. Admitting that I do not have any experience against which to evaluate how this controller measures up against these criteria, I am very pleased with how this keyboard met my expectations. although not weighted, the key bed feels substantial and operates smoothly. Although far short of a full-sized 88-key behemoth, the Launchkey 49 seems completely adequate. The pitch and mod wheels are sturdy and responsive.

To have some flexibility in mapping screen controls, in Mainstage and assigning them to physical midi controls, I predicted that I would need a reasonable number of knobs and sliders. While Launchkey controllers are specifically designed to map to the Abelton Live interface, I have found this controller to be sufficiently flexible for a variety of Mainstage patch configurations with enough physical controls to manage a number of instrument parameters, effects sends, patch changes etc.

I anticipated that I would want several drum pads. I imagined using them, not so much for finger drumming, but for launching backing tracks, loops, drum sequences and one-shot clips. Short of buying a separate pad controller, Launchkey 49 offered enough pads to explore all these possibilities. The 16 drum pads are solid and responsive. They work beautifully for the functions I wanted them to serve in Mainstage. The pads have RGB back lighting, which have impressive plug and play functionality in Abelton, but I have not yet figured out if there is any way to use their RGB lights in Mainstage. At the very least, it would be helpful to be able to use the back lights to provide visual feedback on the pad or pads that are controlling an active clip or sequence.

I have used the controller a little to control the free Abelton Lite software, bundled with the Launchkey 49. In this software environment this is an awesome controller.

In summary, it seems that, as a beginning controller for a novice keyboardist and digital musician/producer, The Launchkey 49 provides a completely adequate keyboard and control surface for a very reasonable price. At this point I can say that I am very happy with this controller and anticipate that as I look to add gear to my rig I will likely not replace this controller, but keep it as part of an expanding rig.



Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII | 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick Review:


This is a great piece of equipment for a beginner musician, but there IS a learning curve, so please be aware of that when buying. What you are purchasing is a MIDI controller (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Unlike a synthesizer, MIDI controllers do not produce sound without software. It's basically just a tool to control computer software. So after you've downloaded the software and plug it in, you will still not have any sound generated until you've set everything up properly and loaded sounds onto the pads. So I feel it is slightly inaccurate to call it a "plug-in and go", as some people do.

Pros:
- Its easy to use AFTER you have learned how to set up and use it.
- Its fun.
- A good way to get into digital music making.
- Budget friendly.

Cons:
- The software setup is kind of intimidating but luckily there are easy-to-find tutorials to help you.
- Akai itself doesn't seem to have much assistance in actually using the controller. Every useful tutorial I found was by someone else, not the company. It would be nice for them to take the time to make more tutorials. Unless I just didn't find them? Everything I found just had to do with setting up the software, nothing really about HOW to actually use it.
-The software that is included is limited. You can't use the knobs with MPC Essentials, you need Ableton or something similar for that. Or rather, I should say, you can't use the knobs for effects in your track. I believe you can use it for other things but I still don't quite understand that part.

I am still learning to use this but it has gotten significantly funner to use as I have learned more about it and found sounds I like.

Just as a tip:
- Make sure you know where all your files are saved when you setup the software. You will need to know where your VST stuff is so you can load it into MPC Essentials.
-Use Program 2 when you're finally ready to start loading sounds in. Program 2 has the pads laid out in order in the software, so everything correlates properly.
-Read the manual and do a lot of research if you are new to it. It's worth the time, trust me.



Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE White | White, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick Review:




Novation Launchpad Ableton Live Controller with 64 RGB Backlit Pads (8x8 Grid) Review:


This thing is AWESOME for Ableton live, and doubtless good for other situations too. It follows the whole Ableton paradigm really nicely - scene buttons on the left, just like in the session view onscreen, useful controls around the other three sides so you don't have to go head-down into you laptop too much while performing live. When you go to Note mode, it goes into either a drum mode with a 4x4 pad arrangement lit up for finger drumming, or into a melodic note mode for synth performance, and it knows which mode to be in depending on what kind of track is active. It took me a while to figure out the note mode, as it's not at all like a piano keyboard, but after a while I suddenly realized that it's just like a bass or guitar fingerboard in that going up or down a row takes you up or down a fourth, so if you've played either bass or guitar, you'll get comfortable with note mode real fast. It has velocity on the pads, too, and even aftertouch, and the way the pads light up is awesome.

This may be my favorite piece of gear ever.



midiplus, 32-Key Midi Controller, 32-Key (AKM320) Review:


The first thing you are sure to notice about this keyboard is the price. Let's compare this to its closest relative, M-Audio Keystation Mini 32. The ADM320 is almost one third the price! So, what is the catch? What is wrong with this? Nothing! This has heavy duty pitch and mod wheels, not just buttons, so you get better control of those features, and it also has backlit octave and most notably, transpose buttons. Many much more expensive keyboards don't have transpose buttons and it is very useful to have them. Both the octave and transpose buttons work in the usual way and if you press both up and down at the same time, they return to neutral(and the backlights go off). There is also a useful volume slider that works very smoothly(do I have to tell you to be sure to keep the slider all the way to the right, which is maximum volume? Well, for those new to this, do it. You only move it to the left, which is lower volume, for effect). The volume slider can also be assigned to other tasks, such as pan, if you use "midi learn" mode in your software. It also has an input for a sustain pedal, surprising on such a small keyboard. One big difference between this and the M-Audio is that this cannot be programmed for different velocity curves and so forth. But the velocity curve it comes with is just fine. The fit, finish, and overall quality are absolutely first class. It comes with a heavy duty six foot USB cable( USB A to USB type B) and an instruction booklet which is very basic since there isn't much you have to learn about this keyboard. But the instructions do a good job of explaining everything for beginners. Comparing the size of this to the M-Audio, the white keys are a half inch longer than the M-Audio. Aside from the keys being a bit longer, the feel is close to the M-Audio, which is rather springy(my preference is less springy). Yes, you really get your money's worth with this! I am extremely impressed with this, especially the price. There is no reason not to choose this if you want a mini midi keyboard with a 32 key range. It also comes in an attractive sturdy box to keep it in. Before I bought this, I found a great demonstration on Youtube. It isn't in English(it is in Portuguese) but he does a great job putting it through its paces and it is easy to understand, so you can see it functions just as I have described.



Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE Black | Black, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick Review:


This is a great piece of equipment for a beginner musician, but there IS a learning curve, so please be aware of that when buying. What you are purchasing is a MIDI controller (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Unlike a synthesizer, MIDI controllers do not produce sound without software. It's basically just a tool to control computer software. So after you've downloaded the software and plug it in, you will still not have any sound generated until you've set everything up properly and loaded sounds onto the pads. So I feel it is slightly inaccurate to call it a "plug-in and go", as some people do.

Pros:
- Its easy to use AFTER you have learned how to set up and use it.
- Its fun.
- A good way to get into digital music making.
- Budget friendly.

Cons:
- The software setup is kind of intimidating but luckily there are easy-to-find tutorials to help you.
- Akai itself doesn't seem to have much assistance in actually using the controller. Every useful tutorial I found was by someone else, not the company. It would be nice for them to take the time to make more tutorials. Unless I just didn't find them? Everything I found just had to do with setting up the software, nothing really about HOW to actually use it.
-The software that is included is limited. You can't use the knobs with MPC Essentials, you need Ableton or something similar for that. Or rather, I should say, you can't use the knobs for effects in your track. I believe you can use it for other things but I still don't quite understand that part.

I am still learning to use this but it has gotten significantly funner to use as I have learned more about it and found sounds I like.

Just as a tip:
- Make sure you know where all your files are saved when you setup the software. You will need to know where your VST stuff is so you can load it into MPC Essentials.
-Use Program 2 when you're finally ready to start loading sounds in. Program 2 has the pads laid out in order in the software, so everything correlates properly.
-Read the manual and do a lot of research if you are new to it. It's worth the time, trust me.