If you’re looking to drop a beat or two, a MIDI keyboard is going to give you the options and flexibility you need to create beats you love. Most MIDI keyboards will need to be connected to a computer or laptop with a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. They’ll have anywhere from 25 to 88 piano-style keys for laying down riffs and making melodies or chord backgrounds and a variety of knobs, sliders, and pads that you can program as drums, instruments, or effects.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 5 MIDI keyboards for making beats and talk about our pick for the best one. Let’s get started!
M-Audio’s Oxygen Pro Mini is a small package with a whole lot of recording and mixing power. With just 32 keys, it's great for making music both in the studio and on the go. It is USB powered, so you won’t need to fumble with extra power cables, either. And you’ll have an easy-to-read OLED screen, smart controls, and auto-mapping of midi sounds.
The Oxygen Pro Mini is great for keeping on your desk or packing in your gig bag. This compact keyboard has assignable knobs, sliders, and pads for creating beats and mixing music and effects without taking up a lot of space. If you need a larger size, though, it is also available with 49 and 61 keys.
The Novation 61 SLMK III is everything you need to make beats. It’s designed to control every part of your DAW, or you can use it as a standalone studio with its onboard 8-track polyphonic sequencer when connected to other keyboards. You can record both in real-time or step mode for precision and creativity.
Everything is customizable, so you can set it up to work like you do, then save the templates for future use. It will work with any DAW but was specifically created with Ableton Live software in mind.
Overall, the Novation 61 SLMK III is a well-rounded MIDI keyboard with plenty of functionality to make great beats using the backlit, velocity-sensitive assignable pads.
The Kronos is great for both live and recorded music with its synthesizer settings and MIDI controller settings. It will work on its own or with your favorite DAW. There are no onboard speakers, but you can use any speaker system or headphones that will work with the line out.
You can download extra, customizable sound banks or use the keyboard as a MIDI controller to manage other keyboards. Every sound is customizable with effects, and the color touch screen enables easy access to all of the features.
The Kork Kronos is a powerhouse MIDI keyboard for creating beats, sequences, and recording music. It is an extensive system to learn but will provide you with professional results.
The MPK261 is a full MIDI keyboard workstation. It features semi-weighted velocity-sensitive keys that have a nice, balanced feel. There are plenty of assignable pads, knobs, faders, and switches to control every aspect of your digital audio workstation. You’ll be able to create plenty of beats with the extra drum pads and bonus software programs.
The Arturia Keylab 88 is a lot of value for its price. This keyboard is exceptionally useful for pianists breaking into making beats. The keyboard is mapped to general MIDI standards but can be controlled and adjusted with your DAW. In addition, the drum pads are easy to use and configure.
A keyboard is an excellent tool for creating songs, loops, and of course, beats. However, you’re also going to need some kind of workstation, whether it is built into the keyboard or it is a digital audio workstation connected to a MIDI keyboard. Either way, you need to be able to record, edit, and add effects. Which you choose depends on your studio space, work style, budget, and the type of music you make. Let’s look at some of the criteria which helped us choose the top keyboards for making beats.
Check out our buying guide and reviews of the best keyboard workstations
One of the first considerations is the type of music you make. If you’re making beats, you’re going to need a keyboard or workstation that has excellent drum sounds and effects. But if you are going to be making music alongside of the beats, you’ll want to make sure there is some added functionality, as well.
Will you be adding synth pads to your beats? Do you need to recreate every instrument or just drums?
If you are a first and foremost a drummer, you may want a keyboard that has programmable pads that you can use to make your beats. Of course, you won’t be hitting your keyboard workstation with a pair of drumsticks (or at least you shouldn’t!), but you can tap the pads in real-time to create a more realistic drum feel and sound.
On the other hand, if you are first and foremost a keyboardist, you might feel more at home creating your beats on the keyboard. In this case, you’ll to make sure you have touch-sensitive and at least semi-weighted keys to give you some tactile feedback when you play. This will increase the musicality of your recording.
Onboard sequencing is another nice feature, especially if you won’t be using a Digital Audio workstation. Some workstations have built-in soundbanks and sequencers so that you can record and edit right from your keyboard. You may be able to assign and design sounds and record tracks right on the keyboard. On the other hand, you may want to be able to record in real-time with a metronome or step record.
Step recording gives you extra precision because you can return a single note or drum hit at a time. This is helpful if you’re just learning about making beats, you are creating complex beats, and it simply gives you more flexibility.
Some midi keyboards work great in the studio but not in live performances, while others are equally adept at both. If you’re going to be recording beats and then playing live along with them, you’ll want to make sure your keyboard can accomplish this.
Size may be an essential consideration for your next beatmaker. For example, if space is tight, you may need a smaller, more manageable workstation that fits on your desk and has just a few piano keys. Or, if you’ll be recording on the go, you might want a mini keyboard with 25 keys to make travel easier.
On the other hand, if you are going to be playing keyboard live or have plenty of studio room to work with, you may want a full-size keyboard to accommodate all of your music.
If you need portability, you don’t necessarily have to give up power and features. Instead, you’ll just need to choose a keyboard that has fewer keys or mini keys.
You can find all the different types of keys for your workstation. The higher-end workstations will probably have fully weighted or semi-weighted keys. However, workstations created for portability might even have mini keys to make them smaller and more portability without taking away features.
You’ll need to balance the type of music you are looking to make, such as beats, with the way you like to record.
How many controllers and pads do you need to accomplish your musical goals? For example, if you’re making beats, you may want lots of programmable pads for creating them. On the other hand, if you are making beats alongside different types of music, you might need faders and knobs to manage volume and EQ.
Entry to mid-level MIDI controllers generally tend to be reasonably priced since they don’t need to have onboard sound engines or sound banks. However, if you are looking for something that does both equally well, the price will jump up into a higher bracket. So overall, you need to consider what budget you have to work with and then prioritize the features you need for your price point.
How you connect your keyboard might be a vital aspect to consider. Newer, more modern keyboards use USB-powered ports because you’ll probably be connecting to a laptop or desktop. On the other hand, if you’re going to connect to and control other keyboards, you’ll probably want a controller with 5 Pin MIDI in and out.
If your keyboard has a USB power port, you won’t have a separate power cable. But if you are using a large, extensive keyboard, you’ll need a separate power cable to handle the power needs of such a large keyboard. A laptop battery won’t be able to provide enough to keep it powered up.
Most MIDI keyboards are compatible with just about any DAW, although some are made specifically to work well with certain kinds of software. For example, one keyboard on our list is meant to integrate seamlessly with Ableton Live, but it will still work great with other digital audio workstations.
Some software programs are easier to learn than others, but you can find plenty of tutorials online.
Budget is a big consideration when choosing a keyboard because there is such a wide range of prices, ranging from a few hundred dollars for a basic setup to a few thousand for a professional keyboard. Know your budget and what you are able to spend so you can choose which features are most important to you.
With all of the different options available, it is going to be a tough choice to pick just one. And with so many criteria, it's hard to know when is the most important.
There are keyboards aimed at those with a piano background and those without a performance background. There are keyboards that need a digital audio workstation, and there are those that have it built in. Some are more portable than others. So how do we choose?
Our pick for the best keyboard for making beats is the AKAI Professional MPK261. We like this keyboard because it does it all for a reasonable price. The 61 key keyboard is large enough to record most types of piano music yet small enough that it can still be pretty portable. Semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys are nice enough for pianists, but it also boasts 16 assignable drum pads to create those awesome beats.
This might not be the best choice for the famous professional, but this inexpensive keyboard workstation will take you really far, whether you are a beginner beat maker or someone with a little bit of experience. In addition, the 5-pin MIDI interface will give you the option to connect other keyboards so that you can use this for live performance or studio recording. And best of all, it works well with the included Ableton Live Lite, so you can get started making music right away.
mspot.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.