The 5 Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers for Home Recording

MIDI keyboards are controllers that don't play any music on their own, but are rather used to control and play other electronic devices, like hardware synths and software synths installed in your DAW.

As you may expect, the market is filled with countless options at a variety of different price points, all promising their own unique feature sets. To help clear the noise, we've taken some time today to outline five of the best picks for anyone looking to add a MIDI keyboard controller to their home studio.

What is it? What makes it cool? What does it cost?
Arturia Keystep Redesigned slim keys outshine mini keybeds. $119
Akai MPK Mini MKII Most compact at a great price. $70-$100
Novation Launchkey 49 MKII Deep Ableton integration. $100-$150
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol The centerpiece of your bedroom studio. $200-$500
ROLI Seaboard Block Utilizes the expressive MPE protocol. $180-$300
Arturia KeyStep

The Arturia KeyStep is a solid, budget-friendly and portable choice for anyone shopping for a home recording studio controller. It features 32 newly designed, velocity-sensitive slim keys that offer players a comfortable middle ground between the full-sized keys of a more robust keyboard and the "mini" keybed alternatives of smaller units. (Fans of the KeyStep can upgrade to 49-, 61-, or 88-key versions of the company's KeyLab line.)

It's also equipped with capacitive pitch and mod strips, which are built without any moving parts, making the unit even more safely portable. The KeyStep offers a robust 64-step, eight-note polyphonic sequencer and an onboard arpeggiator for complex note arrangements. With its feature set and its price point, the KeyStep makes a great tool both for home recording and plug-and-play performances.

Akai MPK Mini MKII

The Akai MPK Mini MKII made this list because of how many rich features its able to pack into a backpack-friendly, portable package. Though about the same size as the KeyStep, the Mini MKII only features 25 velocity-sensitive keys and uses the extra space for a small, eight-pad MPC-style bank, great for triggering sounds or samples. (The MPK line also extends to include 49-key, 61-key, and more options with various pad and fader configurations.)

In addition to the pad bank, the Akai MPK Mini also features a four-way thumbstick for controlling pitch and modulation parameters, and like the KeyStep, it also features an onboard arpeggiator as well. With USB and MIDI connections and coming in at around $100 USD (or less, if used), the MPK Mini makes a great home recording controller that can just as easily accompany you on-stage for live performance.

Novation Launchkey 49 MKII

The Novation Launchkey 49 MKII was built specifically for integration with Ableton Live, so if that's you're DAW of choice, this might be the best controller for you. If you don't use Ableton, the lightweight and versatile keyboard controller is still a solid choice for any computer- or iOS-based production setup, giving players everything they need to mix tracks, tweak effects, program beats, play synths, and perform live.

In addition to the 49 synth action keys, the Novation Launchkey also features a bank of 16 velocity-sensitive, RGB-backlit pads that provide two-way feedback for even more seamless integration Ableton, whether you're trigging samples, playing drums, or launching clips. (Novation also makes the Launchpad line—which features full grids of pad controllers—for musicians that want to ditch the keyboard layout entirely.) Rounding out the features list, faders and a bank of eight macro knobs give players even more parameter control, perfect for any home recording setup.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49

The Komplete Kontrol S49 by Native Instruments is the most robust, feature-rich, and professional of the MIDI controllers on this list and consequently, is also the most expensive. It features a premium Fatar keybed with 49 semi-weighted keys, high-quality encoders, a gorgeous screen for displaying assigned parameters, and a unique lighting strip for displaying sequences, splits, and more.

Meant to serve as the centerpiece of your home recording studio, the Komplete Kontrol S49 also features in-depth integration with Komplete instruments and plays nice with non-Native Instruments software as well, giving musicians more of an ability to spend less time on their computer and more time on their music.

ROLI Seaboard Block

The ROLI Seaboard Block is one of the most unique controllers on this list and is the least expensive way to get your hands on controller utilizing the expressive, multidimensional MPE protocol. Rather than a traditional keybed, the ROLI Seaboard Block features a surface of squishy silicone that serve as its 24 keys, allowing users to further shape and modulate their notes by sliding their fingers in any direction across the surface of the Seaboard while depressing the key.

The Seaboard Block is also compatible with ROLI's wider series of blocks, like the Lightpad Block, via the connection points on its sides, which can make for a fluid performance rig if you're a ROLI fan. ROLI's dedicated NOISE app puts 200 sounds at your fingertips, and the Seaboard also integrates well with other DAWs, like Ableton and Logic.

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