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The 7 best MIDI keyboards for live performances and musicians 2021

Jules, in Music lessons
Oct 06, 2021 | 6 min read

What is a MIDI keyboard, controller, and MIDI board?

It is a device that you can connect to a computer and all differ in size to transform computer-based plugins into an entirely hands-on playing experience. It provides real-time control and feedback of all virtual instruments.

Sturdy vs. light-weight

Some MIDI boards are made for portability which is why they are extremely light and made out of plastic. But the downside is this can take away its sturdiness.

Features

MIDI keyboards come in various sizes, usually with either 25, 49 or 88 keys. Most models offer multiple key configurations, so you can pick the best one for your needs and portability requirements. For example, M-AUDIO’s popular model Keystation MK3 comes with 88-keys or you can choose their 49-Key or their Mini 32 MK3.

  • Software

    All MIDI boards are reliant on a computer and software in order to produce a sound. Most of the keyboards come with free software.

  • Editable functions

    The amount of variable control knobs depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to use it for performance, it’s better to have more knobs directly accessible to you during the show. Look out for pitch and modulation wheels. Expression pedals and footswitch inputs on the back of the keyboard for even more control.

  • Nice to have features

    Some keyboards have very sensitive keyboard aftertouch which will allow you to express the tiniest details.

Here are our top picks for MIDI keyboards for live performances and musicians:

With these MIDI keyboards, users can play and create music with much freedom and ease.

1. Akai Professional Advance 49

The Akai Professional Advance 49 often gets compared as the cheaper version of the Komplete Kontrol MIDI board. You can use it as a stand alone keyboard for a live gig using a MIDI out port and a power adapter.

Why we love it

  • USB Powered 
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheel, 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads
  • Great browsing user experience

Cons

  • Slow on the software update
  • Few problems working with Logic pro

Price: from US$260

2. Novation Launchkey 61 MK3 USB MIDI Keyboard

One of the most highly reviewed MIDI keyboards out there with a booming rating of 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon. They have options for 25 keys, 37 keys, 49 keys and of course 61 keys. The best part about it is its Deep Ableton Live integration which allows you to easily access all the controls.

Why we love it

  • It has a Deep Ableton Live Integration – giving you immediate access to all the controls 
  • Fancy lights on pads
  • Works well even with Logic Pro x

Cons

  • Beginners might have a difficult time starting with it
  • Keys might feel cheap, as its super light and shallow

Price: US$280

3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

If you are already way deep in the Native Instrument ecosystem then this is for you. Native Instruments has several models for MIDI keyboard but if you are serious about music production then this is for you.

Why we love it

  • Sturdy build
  • USB powered (less cables is always better)
  • Flawless DAW Integration Transport functions, knobs are automatically mapped and it just works.

Cons

  • Buttons may be clicky 
  • Reports of Logic Pro X incompatibility

4. M-AUDIO Keystation 61

One of the cheapest yet highly reviewed MIDI boards. It comes in 49 keys, 61, and 88 Keys. We love it for its simple layout – it removes all the pads and sliders which gives you that pro feeling. It has both a pitch and modulation slider.

Why we love it

  • Easy plug and play
  • Really cheap for what it can do
  • Very rugged and portable, won’t take up too much space

Cons

  • Keyboard may flex quite a bit as you play

Price: US$145.24

5. Komplete Kontrol s61

Once you’ve experienced the Native Instrument environment we feel like there is no going back. Komplete Kontrol users usually do an upgrade with S61. It has pro-grade Fatar keybeds with aftertouch – 61 semi-weighted keys with pitch and mod wheels. With pre-mapped control of Komplete instruments and hundreds of Native Kontrol Standard (NKS) instruments.

Why we love it

  • Visual Feedback with two high-res color screens
  • Integrates well with Maschine MK3 and Maschine software
  • Great keybed

Cons

  • Key travel is long

Price: US$779

6. M-Audio Oxygen Pro

If you’re serious about music and want a keyboard that can do it all, the Oxygen Pro is for you. M-Audio’s highest end offering comes with semi-weighted keys, meaning that it feels and plays like a real piano. Playing on the Oxygen Pro feels much more realistic and accurate compared to using a cheaper keyboard with hollow keys. 

You also get 16 customizable RGB-lit pads and 8 assignable knobs, along with 9 assignable faders and the usual pitch and modulation wheels. What’s even better is that the Oxygen Pro features Auto-Mapping, which means you can instantly map all the keyboard’s controls to your DAW without having to individually assign each function. 

The Oxygen Pro is available in a variety of key configurations, including the most popular 49 and 88 key versions.

Why we love it

  • Seamless DAW integration
  • Shortcut modes for easier music alternative
  • One of the cheapest option

Cons

  • Takes time to get used to
  • Shortcut modes for easier music alternative

Price: US$229

7. Arturia Keystep 37

Besides being a MIDI keyboard, Arturia’s Keystep 37 also functions as a sequencer, which means you can hook it up to your hardware synthesizers. This is great for musicians and producers who want to use more than just a keyboard to create their tracks.

Why we love it

  • Overall great sequencer
  • Perfect amount of keys

Cons

  • Might be too expensive

Price: US$199

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