MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes, but an 88-key keyboard controller will give you lots of room for making music. Whether you are using your MIDI controller to record at home, in the studio, or manage live music, you’ll want to pick the one that best suits your style, ability, and of course, your budget.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the seven best 88-key MIDI controllers. We’ll talk about their best features, their pros and cons, and talk about the criteria we used to select them. But first, let’s summarize the seven best 88-key MIDI controllers:
Arturia KeyLab Essential 88 MIDI controller keyboard is intuitively designed to keep the creativity flowing. The MIDI controller is hard-mapped, so you can easily plug it into your digital audio workstation and get right to work. It has 88 keys that are velocity-sensitive with aftertouch. In addition, the dedicated DAW command center means you can control your digital audio workstation right from the keyboard and the LCD screen helps you see exactly what’s going on.
This bundle includes your MIDI cables and sustain pedal, so you won’t have to guess what cables you need to get started. It also includes Analog Lab, which gives you access to thousands of different synth and keyboard sounds. Finally, it also includes Ableton Lite, which is an accessible digital audio workstation.
The M-Audio Keystation 88 is great for beginners because it connects easily to your favorite digital audio workstation via the USB port, which also powers the controller. You can also connect to your iPhone or iPad with an adapter (sold separately). You won’t need to download any additional drivers, just install the software package, and you are ready to record.
The M-Audio Keystation has a sleek design with its 88 full-size, velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys. This lightweight controller is as easy to take with you as it is to use in your home or studio. Its just a simple keyboard controller with a nice feel to it.
The Alesis Q88 MKII gives you big options for tiny budgets. Assignable controls allow you to use your DAW without taking your hands away from the keyboard. You can even assign the volume slider to any instrument or effect you need for your music. The Alesis Q88 is compatible with MAC, PC, and iOS. This streamlined MIDI controller is lightweight, portable, and easy to use.
You won’t get bogged down by too many bells and whistles on the keyboard. Still, you can integrate easily and seamlessly with your favorite digital audio workstation or any of the included software bundle.
The Nektar Impact LX88+ is a USB-powered MIDI controller. It automatically connects to your digital audio workstation, giving you full control over your creative process without a lot of set-up or hassle. It has 88 full-size keys that are velocity-sensitive but not weighted, making playing easy and light. The keyboard includes four velocity curves so you can adjust the feel of the keyboard to your playing style.
This controller integrates seamlessly with your DAW and has plenty of buttons, faders, and wheels for you to use with your favorite instrument effects. In addition, there are three assignable zones on the keyboard that you can program or layer.
The Kurzweil 88-Key Desktop Drive 4-Zone MIDI controller is all about the keys. This streamlined package has a few extra knobs and controls, but its primary function is to work as a keyboard. However, you can divide the keys into four different, recallable zones. You can also assign chords to individual keys for easy accompaniment.
You can control pitch and modulation from a joystick, and there are six switch buttons and one slider. It also includes MIDI out ports and USB B.
The Roland A-88 MKII is a professional quality MIDI keyboard controller with 88 fully-weighted hammer-action keys that you can adjust to fit your playing style. This beautiful keyboard is made from wood and other durable materials and has an unmatched feel when it comes to MIDI controllers.
Compatible with both MAC and PC, you can manage the features of this keyboard from the control app through MIDI 2.0 or USB-C ports. And, of course, the sleek design fits easily into homes and studios.
If you are looking for a live performance controller, this may be the keyboard for you. It features 88 fully-weighted hammer-action, velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch to give you the most musical nuance, control, and piano experience. Don’t overlook the 256-note polyphony or the included factory samples. It also consists of a 16-track sequencer for your recording needs.
If you are looking for a full-size MIDI keyboard, there are plenty of options to choose from. But how do you know which is the best one? We looked at a number of different criteria to size up 88 key MIDI keyboards. Here’s what you need to know about why we chose these particular ones.
Keyboards and MIDI controllers might look the same, but they have different purposes. Typical keyboards can be used as stand-alone instruments. They have built-in sounds to choose from, and they often have built-in speakers, too. At the very least, they will have a few built-in sounds and a headphone jack so that you can make music immediately when you turn it on. It is not unusual for a keyboard to also have some MIDI capability.
On the other hand, when you are talking about MIDI controllers, their purpose is to control other pieces of hardware or software, such as another keyboard. So a simple MIDI controller won’t have any onboard sounds at all. It will have keyboard keys, of course, and it may also have a variety of pads, buttons, knobs, and sliders that can be programmed to make different sounds and effects. There will be some kind of MIDI connector, such as a five-pin MIDI line in and out, Bluetooth, or USB connector so that you can use the controller to manage your digital audio workstation or other MIDI keyboards.
MIDI controllers are available in a variety of sizes, from just 21 keys to a full 88 keys. In this article, we’re covering MIDI controllers that have 88 keys. If you are creating classical music, you’ll most likely want a keyboard with this many keys.
Most MIDI keyboards have semi-weighted, synth-action keys. This means they have a little resistance when you play them, but they don’t feel like an acoustic piano. This keeps the cost lower and the weight down, as well.
However, if you are a traditional pianist, you might prefer the nuance provided by a keyboard that has weighted keys with the graded hammer standard. Weighted keys might be made of wood or synthetic material, and they have resistance when you play them, much like you would feel on an acoustic piano. However, this also makes them heavier and less portable.
Additionally, you might find the graded hammer standard. The graded hammer standard means that the lower notes on the keyboard will have more resistance or be harder to play, and the notes on the higher end of the keyboard will have less resistance or be easier to play. This mimics the feel of an acoustic grand piano because the lower notes have thicker, heavier strings, while the higher notes have lighter, thinner strings.
You’ll also want to choose a MIDI controller with some touch sensitivity. Some keyboards have multiple sensors in the keys to allow for the most musical nuance. Other keyboards are velocity-sensitive, which means the faster you play, the louder the note sounds.
Either way, you’ll be able to create dynamic expression and musical nuance.
MIDI keyboard controllers can control all kinds of sounds, from orchestral sounds to drums to synth pads. They also can manage different types of sound effects, instrument effects, and EQ. In addition, most of the controls on a MIDI keyboard controller are assignable. This means they can be programmed to manage almost any sound or effect that you have in your soundbank.
Depending on what type of music you are making, you may want to look for a controller that also has a variety of pads (to create drum beats), sliders, knobs, and pitch bend wheels. You may also want to choose a keyboard that has aftertouch. Aftertouch is an effect – usually tremolo- that you can put into action by pushing down even further on the keybed after you have played it.
The idea of the MIDI keyboard controller is to control other musical devices such as keyboards, electronic drums, or your digital audio workstation or soundbank. In order to do this, your MIDI controller will need a port.
Some controls use the standard MIDI 5 pin in/ out port. Others use USB so that you can hook them up to a laptop or computer. Some even have built-in Bluetooth to connect to your mobile devices.
Make sure you have the proper connections from your controller keyboard to your other keyboards or digital audio workstation. If you don’t have the right combination of ports, you might need to find an adaptor to connect them.
Generally, a MIDI controller keyboard will come with a dedicated sustain/effect pedal port. It may also come with a sustain pedal. If you don’t have one, you’ll want to get one to manage the sustain while you are playing. You may also want to find a MIDI controller that has room for the additional types of pedals that you would find on an acoustic piano.
Digital Audio Workstation Integration
Almost all MIDI controllers will work with your Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. However, some will integrate more easily than others. A few keyboard controllers on our list have dedicated buttons on the keyboard to interact with the DAW so you can start and stop recordings without having to click on your computer.
Budget is always a consideration when choosing a MIDI keyboard. You need to balance the budget that you have available to you with the features that you want and need. It may help to compare prices of different keyboards so you know what’s available at your price point.
You could spend a lot of money on a full-size MIDI keyboard controller. But you shouldn’t have to, which is why we chose Kurzweil 88-key Desktop Drive 4-Zone MIDI Controller as our favorite MIDI controller.
Granted, this controller doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as some of the other controllers. However, what it does have is a great piano feel, four assignable zones, and a few programmable controls. If you’re looking for an 88-note controller, chances are, you’re a pianist at heart, and this keyboard gives you a nice balance of acoustic piano feel, features, and a reasonable cost. You can even adjust the feel of the keys to suit your playing style.
Of course, it is compatible with MAC or PC, includes three pedal jacks, and works with your favorite digital audio workstation to create a musical flow so you can create your music without getting bogged down by the mechanics.
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