So often these days, home recording is a one-man-job.
Because as technology improves, and more things can be “faked” with virtual instruments and software modeling…
Jobs that used-to require an entire team of people…
Can now be done with just you, your computer…and your trusty old MIDI controller.
Of course, some controllers are MUCH better than others…
Which is why in today’s post, we’ll look at 8 of the Best MIDI Controllers on the market to see just how they compare.
1. Alesis Q
For basic home studios, that only want something something small, versatile, and easy-to-use…
The first MIDI controller I’ll recommend is the Alesis Q.
Despite its super-low price, it has everything you’d expect from a keyboard controller, including:
- USB bus power
- pitch and mod wheels
- sustain pedal input
- Both USB-MIDI and traditional 5-pin MIDI out
While it may not have the fancy features we’ll see in some the later models…
If you don’t use that stuff anyway, it’ll only get in your way. So if you’d rather keep it simple, you’ll love the Alesis Q.
Click below to see the prices and reviews for each size:
2. Akai Professional MPD18
Besides keyboard controllers, the “other” common type of MIDI device you’ll find is the pad controller.
Made popular by the original Akai MPC’s from back in the 90’s…
These pads have since become standards for making drum beats, and controlling almost any type of percussion-based virtual instruments.
While the early MPC’s where intended as full “Music Production Centers“…
The one I’ll show you today: the Akai Professional MPD18…is more of a stripped-down “pad-only” version that offers:
- 16 velocity/pressure sensitive pads
- 3 sound banks/48 total sounds
- Plug-n-play USB connectivity
So for a cheap and simple option to pound-out some beats, I highly recommend the MPD18.
3. M Audio Oxygen
Rather than needing separate controllers for both keyboard and percussion…
Many people now use these new “hybrid” designs, which combine both functions into a single unit.
And many versions, such as the M-Audio Oxygen, even feature DAW control/plugin control as well, with a collection of knobs and sliders.
If you’re like most musicians and you hate programming MIDI…the M-Audio Oxygen is also great because it auto-maps to all major DAW’s.
And while most controllers these days have that feature as well, there are very few that have iOS connectivity for iPads, iPhones, and iPods.
But the M-Audio Oxygen does. Check it out…
4. Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
While MIDI controllers typically come in multiple sizes to accommodate different users…
There are some controllers designed specifically for the “mobile-musician”…
Like the Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII, which crams a wealth of great features onto a device so small, it fits your backpack.
In addition to the standard tools, the MPK Mini also offers:
- a unique onboard arpeggiator for synth users
- a one-of-a-kind thumbstick that combines both pitch and mod functions onto a single control
…and comes with the following software:
- Akai Pro MPC Essentials
- SONiVOX Wobble
- Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech
As you can see, the MPK Mini offers huge value for an incredibly low price. Check it out…
5. Korg NanoKey2/NanoPad2
Unlike the MPK Mini, which combines keys and pads onto one device…
The Korg NanoKEY2 and NanoPAD2 are actually two separate devices designed to work in-tandem…
Or in-combination with the “control surface” model in this series: the Korg NanoKONTROL2.
If you like small, you really can’t do much better than this “Nano Series” of controllers, which sit perfectly, right in front of your laptop.
To save even more space, the NanoKEY2 also has a sustain button, eliminating the need for a separate foot pedal.
As you can see, these models save on space (and cost) by eliminating all but the most essential control features. And while that can be bad if you need those features…
It’s great if you don’t, because the simple layout is insanely easy-to-use. Check them out…
6. Novation Launchkey
While most MIDI controllers are designed to work with all major DAW’s…
The Novation Launchkey is among the few designed for just one.
While its “InControl Technology” does automap to other DAW’s as well…the very best features of this controller are tailored specifically for Ableton Live.
The pads for example, can be used to trigger loops, call up presets, and conform to just about any control you want.
As a bonus, it includes an entire suite of software including:
- Launchkey/Launchpad iPad apps
- V-Station and Bass Station Soft Synths
- Ableton Live Lite
- Loopmasters Sample Pack
While I wouldn’t recommend the Launchkey to everyone, its the obvious choice for users of Ableton Live.
- 25 Key – (price/reviews)
- 49 Key – (price/reviews)
- 61 Key – (price/reviews)
- 25 Key Mini – (price/reviews)
7. Novation Launchpad
While you might call it the “pad-counterpart” to the Novation Launchkey…
The Novation Launchpad is really an entirely unique control surface, unlike any we’ve covered so far.
Despite its resemblance to MPC’s of decades past…the pads of the Launchpad aren’t really designed to play two-handed rhythms like you would with most pads…
But instead, are used more like buttons, to serve a wide-variety of functions such as:
- manipulating clips
- triggering loops
- firing-off effects
Just like the Launchkey, the Launchpad is intended primarily for Ableton Live…but also works well with other “electronic DAW’s” such as FL Studio and Reason.
Perhaps the greatest bragging right of the Launchpad is: it’s one of the few controllers regularly used by musicians with unlimited budgets…and is even used by many of the top names in music today.
For two similar options, also check out:
- Novation Launchpad Mini – (price/reviews), which offers most of the same features of the Launchpad S, but is significantly smaller.
- Ableton Push 2 – (price/reviews), which just came out recently with rave reviews, and is undoubtedly the most advanced (and also most expensive) pad controller on the market.
8. M-Audio Axiom AIR
So far, all the controllers we’ve seen were designed with the primary goal of “staying small“.
But in larger studios, where that isn’t a high-priority…
“Big” goes from being a problem, to a luxury…because more space also means more features.
And perhaps the best example of a controller “built-big” is the M-Audio Axiom AIR.
The latest generation in a long line of M-Audio Axiom controllers…the Axiom AIR is quite likely the coolest looking controller on the market, and backs up its good-looks with some impressive performance as well.
It has all the standard controls you’d expect from a full-featured MIDI controller, including a wealth of:
- transport controls
And its Hypercontrol automatic mapping technology easily syncs with all major DAW’s.
If you’ve got the space for it, there are few MIDI controllers out there as advanced as the Axiom AIR. Check it out…
Another good option is the Akai Professional MPK. Compared to the Axiom AIR, it has all the same basic features, but offers the added bonus of semi-weighted keys on ALL sizes. (The Axiom AIR 61 is only semi-weighted version).
And finally, also check out the Novation SL which has more controls than either of the two previous models, and many unique functions specific to Ableton Live.