Best MIDI Controllers for Music Production in 2021

Although by no means essential, having a MIDI controller as part of your home studio setup can drastically improve workflow and increase your creativity. Using your hands to physically play notes, tap out drum patterns and adjust knobs and faders is a tactile experience that just can’t be replicated by programming beats entirely within your DAW.


So, what exactly is a MIDI controller, and how do you decide which one is best for your setup?


A MIDI controller is an interface that sends and receives MIDI information. MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which is essentially a standard that describes information about the notes being played (pitch, duration, velocity etc).


The controller doesn’t contain any built-in sounds, but instead sends your performance information to either your computer software, or on to other hardware instruments.


There are many different types of controller designed to suit a wide range of applications, studio setups and budgets. In this article I’ll give you an overview of what you need to consider when deciding upon which MIDI controller to buy, followed by a rundown of the Top 10 MIDI Controllers for Music Production in 2021.

Choosing the right MIDI Controller


Types of MIDI Controller


  • MIDI Keyboard Controllers - The MIDI keyboard is the most common type of MIDI controller. The number of controller keys, and the size and action of those keys should be important considerations when considering your purchase. If you are a piano player then you’ll probably want a wider key range and may want to consider weighted or semi-weighted keys. Alternatively, if you are just planning on doodling a bass-line or lead, a smaller range of non-weighted keys will probably be sufficient.


  • Pad Controllers - Some MIDI controllers don’t have any keys at all, but instead consist of velocity sensitive pads designed for triggering drums, and melodic samples. A famous example is the iconic Akai MPC which is a classic design dating from the late eighties. Great for finger drumming and getting creative with samples, these intuitive controllers are still really popular today.


  • Hybrid Controllers - Perhaps the best of both worlds, hybrid controllers combine a MIDI keyboard with pressure sensitive pads allowing you to play melodies as well as laying down drum patterns.


Controller Size & Portability


This may seem like an obvious point, but you need to consider how well the controller will fit into your current studio workspace. Ideally you may want a full-size eighty-eight key MIDI keyboard but check your desk space first. What about portability? If you’re planning on chucking your laptop and controller in a bag to take to a studio or go on holiday with you, then you’ll need to opt for a smaller more rugged controller, perhaps with a wireless connection for ease of use.


Compatibility & DAW Integration


Pretty much all MIDI controllers nowadays will work for both Mac and PC however you should still confirm this before you buy. Another consideration however should be the level of compatibility and integration with your DAW of choice. Some controllers such as the Novation Launchkey for example are specifically designed to work with Ableton Live. If you are using an alternative DAW, then you may have to go through additional steps to get your controller and software to play nicely together.


Bundled Software


The great news about MIDI controllers is that even the budget options come bundled with some fantastic music software. Many include virtual instruments or sample libraries, or even Lite versions of complete DAWs. If you don’t yet have an extensive collection of VSTs or haven’t yet decided on which DAW you want to use, then the contents of the included software bundle should be a major consideration when making your choice.


Budget


If you’re just getting started in music production, then it sometimes pays to not overcomplicate your setup. You may find that a simple inexpensive controller is all that you need. Generally however, the more money you pay, the more features and higher specs you’re going to get. With this is mind we’ve compiled a list of the best MIDI controllers based upon two budgets: One for under $100, and the other for under $300. Let’s go!


Affiliate Disclaimer

Better Beats Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services Associates Program. I may receive a small commission for purchases made through links in this article. I am however an independent blogger, and all reviews are based on my own opinions.

Best MIDI Controllers Under $100


M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 MK3

M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 MK3 MIDI Controller

The Keystation Mini 32 from M-Audio is an incredibly compact budget controller. However, despite its’s diminutive size you get some great features including thirty-two velocity sensitive keys, four assignable controls, as well as volume knob and pitch-bend modulation controls.


It looks great too, with stylish multicolour LED backlighting. The standout feature of this keyboard however is the generous software bundle which features a version of Pro-Tools and Xpand!2 from Air Music Tech.


Specs

Power: USB Bus powered

Inputs / Outputs USB

Dimensions (W x D x H): 418 x 105 x 20 mm

Weight: 0.45kg

Key Features: Pitch-bend / modulation control, assignable buttons, LED backlighting

Software Bundle: Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition, Air Music Tech Xpand!2

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Korg microKEY 25

Korg microKEY 25 MIDI Controller

The Korg microKEY 25 controller is another great entry level MIDI keyboard. The unit feels sturdy with decent build quality, with a solid key bed. Controls include arpeggiator and sustain button, octave switch button, and a mini joystick which controls pitch-bend and modulation.


Small enough to fit in a backpack, the microKey 25 also comes in a Bluetooth version (at extra cost) if you want wireless control whilst on the move. Bundled software includes the Korg M1 LE software.


Specs

Power: USB Bus powered

Inputs / Outputs USB

Dimensions (W x D x H): 395 x 131 x 53 mm

Weight: 0.65kg

Key Features: Arpeggiator, pitch-bend / modulation joystick

Software Bundle: Korg M1 LE Software Synthesizer

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AKAI MPD218

AKAI MPD218 MIDI Controller

The MPD218 is a sleek black controller, with a solid construction and rubberized pads to ensure it doesn’t move around on your desk. The sixteen velocity and pressure sensitive pads are satisfyingly chunky, with eye catching red backlighting.


The controller also comes with six endless controllers and sixteen preset slots. You can store three pad layouts and three encoder settings per preset, which gives you loads of sound options. In terms of value for money, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better pad controller at this price point.


Specs

Power: USB Bus powered

Inputs / Outputs USB

Dimensions (W x D x H): 237 x 200 x 39 mm

Weight: 0.65kg

Key Features: 16 pressure sensitive MPC pads, 6 assignable rotary knobs

Software Bundle: Ableton Live Lite

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Arturia Microlab

Arturia Microlab MIDI Controller

The Microlab is a ‘smart’ twenty-five key keyboard controller from Arturia designed to be used anywhere. Ideal for on-the-go production it has a protective rubberized case, and even features an integrated cable recess which means nothing will get damaged when packing away in a bag.


Controls include pitch-bend / modulation touch sensors, a sustain key, and a useful utility key.

It’s the included bundle though means this controller should warrant your serious consideration. You get a range of software including UVI Grand Piano, Analogue Lab Lite and Bitwig 8-Track. The Microlab also comes in a range of cool looking colours (black, orange and blue).


Specs

Power: USB Bus powered

Inputs / Outputs USB

Dimensions: (W x D x H): 414 x 130 x 37 mm

Weight: 0.77kg

Key Features: 2x pitch-bend / modulation touch sensors

Software Bundle: Analogue Lab Lite, Bitwig 8-Track, UVI Grand Piano Model D

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AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 MIDI Controller