Best MIDI Keyboards of 2023
Keyboards are a crucial part of our interaction with music. If you have a DAW, you can control every parameter of your MIDI synths and instruments.
What Is a MIDI Keyboard?
MIDI Keyboards are MIDI controllers that mimic the structure of a piano.
First, let’s make sure we understand what MIDI is. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a protocol that allows musical instruments to communicate with a DAW, or a computer and its music editing software when recording or playing electronic music.
MIDI was developed in the early 80s. It was a way for manufacturers to make their music hardware compatible with other brands. The goal of MIDI was to find a way for instruments to communicate with each other seamlessly.
The protocol supports up to 128 notes, from C five octaves below middle C and up to G ten octaves higher. Initially, the transfer of MIDI data could only occur via MIDI ports that required a special MIDI cable. Nowadays, it occurs via USB ports.
How Does MIDI Work?
MIDI doesn’t send an audio signal. Instead, it sends a string of binary code that then combines into 8-bit messages. These messages transmit important information, such as:
- Which note was pressed.
- When a note was pressed and/or released.
- How hard the note was pressed (velocity).
- When the pressure changes (after-touch).
- Pitch bend.
What Is a MIDI Controller?
A MIDI controller is any piece of hardware that can generate and transmit MIDI data to other MIDI devices. They are used to trigger sounds and control different parameters during a musical performance.
The most common MIDI controllers are piano-style keyboards that you connect to your computer via USB.
Once the MIDI keyboard sends a MIDI signal, the computer uses the information to generate the sound. To do this, it uses different types of software, like Virtual Instruments, Kontact Libraries, etc. Most regular keyboards and synthesizers can double as a MIDI keyboard controller, so that is something to keep in mind when choosing one.
Most MIDI keyboards have knobs and sliders and can be programmed to control different parameters of different digital instruments, such as real-time volume.
What Kind of MIDI Keyboard Controller Is the Right One?
A piano or keyboard is at the heart of the musical interactions of voice over talent. MIDI and USB connections allow you to play any sound you desire in your DAW and control any parameter you want.
Whether you think of yourself as a musician or not, you can use MIDI to fulfill any need you may have in the studio, so the question is not whether or not you need a MIDI Keyboard controller, but what kind? The answer is that it depends on your needs.
Things To Consider When Choosing a MIDI Keyboard
There are several factors to consider when choosing s MIDI Keyboard controller:
How Many Keys Do You Need?
The number of keys will determine the size of your keyboard and the range. MIDI Keyboards can range from 25 keys to 88 keys, which is the size of a real-life piano.
What Kind of Keys Do You Want?
Keyboard keys come in different weights. Weighted keys emulate piano keys. Piano keys offer some resistance when voice actors play and are pressure sensitive; they feel the closest to a real piano but are the most expensive option, too. There are semi-weighted keys that offer some of the features of weighted keys but not all of them. Lastly, unweighted keys are the fastest of the three.
Do You Need Aftertouch?
Aftertouch is the MIDI data sent when you apply pressure to the keyboard. This feature is usually used to control vibrato, volume, and other parameters.
There are two types of aftertouch:
- Channel aftertouch: Also known as channel pressure, mono aftertouch, or mono pressure, this type of aftertouch transmits only the highest aftertouch value.
- Polyphonic aftertouch: It allows each key that is pressed to transmit a separate and independent aftertouch value. It can be difficult to control for less experienced musicians, which can result in transmitting unnecessary data. As a result, MIDI response time can become slower.
MIDI keyboards range in price from around $100 to thousands of dollars. Pricing depends on the features and the quality of the controller. Keep in mind that the fewer features, the more budget-friendly.
For a first-timer, starting at the lower end price-wise makes more sense, at least until you are sure of what you want and need. For the more experienced musician, spending more money might make sense if they can find a controller to fulfill all of their needs.
Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers of 2023
There are many quality MIDI controllers out there. The following list includes products to suit different needs and situations of voice over talent:
A portable MIDI Keyboard controller aimed at laptop users. It is a portable keyboard, with only 25 to 32 keys. Although small, it is the most compact controller on the market. It also has a 5-pin MIDI and CV/Gate support, but no knobs or buttons.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25
This controller is pre-mapped to control hundreds of Complete and NKS plugins. It also supports VST. The keybed comes in 25, 49, or 61 semi-weighted keys.
Integrations: MASCHINE ESSENTIALS, MONARK, THE GENTLEMAN, REAKTOR, PRISM, SCARBEE MARK I, full integration with MASCHINE, Logic Pro X, GarageBand, and Ableton Live among others.
Novation SL Mk III
It has a semi-weighted keybed. It controls your synths and modules easily thanks to its MIDI In, Out, and Out2/Thru; Analog Clock Out, and two sets of CV Pitch, Gate, and Mod outputs. It works with any InControl- or HUI-compatible DAW using the 61SL MkIII’s pads, buttons, faders, and knobs. It has an internal 8-track sequencer, built-in arpeggiator, and scales, modes, and zones.
Nektar Impact LX+
A USB MIDI controller that uses intelligent mapping to give you immediate control over a session. It has Mixer, Instrument, and Preset modes and labeled faders and encoders that show the assignments for default instrument parameters.
Audio Oxygen Pro 49
Audio Oxygen Pro 49 has excellent features at an affordable price. It is an ideal controller for professionals in a fast-paced environment that has a velocity-sensitive keybed with aftertouch-assignable zones.
It has 16 backlit, assignable, velocity-sensitive RGB pads with Note Repeat. It also has nine on-bard faders and eight programmable fades and buttons. It has a USB-powered chassis with an intuitive layout and an OLED screen that displays all the information you need.
Building your home studio
Are you looking to build your home recording studio? Now that you’ve discovered the best MIDI keyboards of 2023, learn about techniques to build a good studio.