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Blog overview

What is a MIDI keyboard and what is it used for?

Apple, in Music insights
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.


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 number 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 to 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


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

2. Genki Wave MIDI ring

An one of its kind gestural MIDI ring controller. You can wear the Genki Wave on your finger and use natural gestures moving your hand to control sound. This MIDI controller recognizes six gestures: Tilt, Pan, Roll, Vibrato, Tap, and Click.

midi controller

Why we love it

  • Adds a humanistic touch to controlling and expressing yourself through your music
  • Creates a visual experience for audiences that adds a dramatic flair to performances
  • Feels natural and easy to integrate to music expression in real-time, with little obstruction (no more buttons and sliders)


  • There is a learning curve and users may find it more challenging at the beginning
  • Can be quite pricey for beginners

3. 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


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

4. 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 keyboards but if you are serious about music production then this is for you.

Why we love it

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


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

5. 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


  • The keyboard may flex quite a bit as you play

6. 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 colour screens
  • Integrates well with Maschine MK3 and Maschine software
  • Great keyboard


  • Key travel is long

7. 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


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

8. 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


  • Might be too expensive

Bonus MIDI controllers!

1. Playtron

Playtron and TouchMe MIDI controllers

The Playtron MIDI Controller offers a unique way to create your own custom MIDI controller. It has the ability to connect up to 16 objects with alligator clips. This allows you to use it with several mobile apps, online synthesizers, or your favourite DAW.

From fruits to plants, and even toys, the possibilities are endless. Connect the clips from objects capable of conducting electricity to Playtron, and assign a different MIDI note (C1 to D#2 by default) to each object. Then, you can start playing and creating your own unique sounds!

Why we love it

  • A unique way to make music and you could add a very interesting/interactive aspect to your performance
  • Very affordable price for the several versatile features
  • Combine with other MIDI controllers or instruments to create complex arrangements and performances. 
  • Very portable (can be connected to your computer, tablet, or smartphone via Bluetooth for a wireless setup)


  • Not best for very precise control

2. TouchMe

TouchMe allows you to connect to objects in the same way as Playtron. However, this is a sensory device as it is set to react differently to the touch. Meaning, when the area of touch and intensity changes, the sound changes too, causing the pitch to go higher or lower!

Why we love it

  • Overall great sequencer
  • Perfect amount of keys
  • Combine with other MIDI controllers or instruments to create complex arrangements and performances. 
  • Explore the theremin-like sound generation potential of the TouchMe device to create dynamic and expressive music. 
  • Interact with other people in a musical creative environment.
  • Very portable (can be connected to your computer, tablet, or smartphone via Bluetooth for a wireless setup)


  • Not best for very precise control

Thanks for reading our article, what is a MIDI keyboard and what is it used for? We at Soundbrenner are dedicated to helping musicians stay focused on what truly matters: their music. By creating innovative devices, such as Soundbrenner Pulse and Core, our goal is to deliver the best possible practice experience for musicians. Click here to find out more.

Got a question about Soundbrenner wearables? Reach out to us at [email protected], we’re happy to help!

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