5| Alesis V49
- Rating: 8.2/10
7|Arturia MiniLab mkII
- Rating: 9.2/10
8| Korg Taktile
9| AKAI APC Key 25
Using a MIDI Keyboard
The quick and easy fix to controlling your sounds, samples, hot cues and effects. A MIDI Keyboard is a portable command centre for editing and manipulating sounds during your live set.
MIDI keyboards are not synthesizers, in that they do not create sounds of their own accord. You will need a digital audio workstation to create and manipulate a sound. If you use DJ software, you can integrate your MIDI keyboard to your software and use the keyboard for hot cues, which enables much smoother ability to perform complicated DJ techniques such as tone play.
If you’re a producer, you’ll need a MIDI keyboard at some point. Using a computer keyboard for music production is unintuitive and uncomfortable. Every digital producer worth their salt should be using at least a MIDI keyboard for laying down rhythms and beats.
Back in the day, creating electronic music would involve a handful of MIDI keyboards, some synthesizers, drum machines etc, but now, with one MIDI keyboard that’s integrated to a DAW, you can build a perfectly good song.
9| Akai APC Key 25
Small enough to fit in your backpack, with enough buttons to put a man on the moon. The APC Key 25 is a powerful piece of kit. We found the number of pads to be slightly overkill, and like the Novation LaunchKey, a little difficult to quickly maneuver around without tripping over fingers, but the sheer number of them makes up for it.
With 25 synth-action mini keys, a 5×8 grid of clip launching buttons (you’ll be dropping samples for days), scene launch buttons and eight parameter altering knobs as well, the APC gives you a million options to edit your sound.
The 40 clip-launching buttons aren’t velocity sensitive and only come in three backlit colors (green, orange and red), which makes this MIDI keyboard a bit useless for music production, but that’s not why it was designed. The Akai APC Key 25 is ideal for live performing DJs, who need a wide range of added sounds – our turntablists rate this keyboard very highly.
So not ideal for the studio, but if you want to make beats on the go (this one is perfect for producing on the plane), or fire out some clips in a show, then the APC Key 25 is ideal. If you’re going to buy it, be aware that it’s very small.
8| Korg Taktile
If you’re looking for something stronger and have the budget to match, the Korg Taktile will really make your heart beat faster. Synthesizer experts, Korg, are delivering one of the most intuitive and powerful MIDI keyboards on the market today.
You don’t need to touch your keyboard once when working with this MIDI controller in your DAW. The Korg Taktile seamlessly integrates with any DAW. Transport buttons allow you to quickly navigate, whilst faders, assignable controls and pads give you huge creative potential during your live performance. You’ll even find a Kaoss Pad inspired X/Y pad, giving you more freedom when customizing synthesizers and effects.
The ribbon control can even be used as a mouse to click on your DAW, whilst the X/Y pad can be used as a trackpad, controlling your cursor. Korg have essentially made the Taktile to be your one-stop control for your digital workstation. Eventually, the Taktile feels like an extension of your own arms, and you’ll be navigating your DAW faster and with more creativity than you previously thought possible.
The keys on the Taktile are the same as you’d find on some of Korg’s other high-end keyboards and synthesizers – notably the KingKorg keyboard. Ultimately we found the keys on the Taktile extremely responsive, and felt intuitive. The pads are strong and require a fair bit of pressure to active them. This can take a little getting used to, but in the long run, the pads will outlast most other keyboards.
Alongside the built-in arpeggiator and chord scale modes, the Korg Taktile 49 boasts a huge variety of features. We note that it’s not the most portable MIDI keyboard on the market, but the sheer quality of the build and user-friendliness gladly makes up for it.
Our rating: 9.3/10
7|Arturia MiniLab mkII
The aptly named MiniLab is one of the most compact controllers we’ve seen to still feature a keyboard and all the controls you’d expect on a fully-functional MIDI keyboard. The mod and pitch bend touch-strips have been repositioned to the top left of the keyboard, making this MIDI keyboard much more compact compared to its predecessor. This does take some getting used to, as playing the lower notes with one hand, whilst bending the pitch or modulating the sound can make the keyboard feel busy.
The real mind-blower with this keyboard is the fact that it’s compact enough and sturdy enough to be transported in a backpack, making this little keyboard perfect for live performance. The metal chassis, whilst much more durable than most plastic keyboards around this price range, it is significantly heavier.
The MiniLab boasts 16 rotary controls, far surpassing the majority of its competitors, most of which have 8. Two of the sixteen rotary controls are clickable, which is excellent depending on which parameter you assign to the knob.
The 8 drum pads feel responsive and have a variety of uses beyond simple drum control. You can hold down the shift button, and use each pad as a preset selector, triggering a variety of effects, loops and samples. The pads easily integrate and synchronize with the Analog Lab software (the built-in software that comes with the MiniLab). The pads also integrate smoothly with the included version of Ableton Live (the lite version), making them ideal for live performance.
All in all, the MiniLab is a solid miniature MIDI keyboard. The compact design, wide variety of functions, sturdy build and low cost (we were surprised to see a metal keyboard at this price!), make this keyboard a top contender for us.
Our rating: 9.2/10
6|Nektar Impact LX49+
The Nektar Impact LX49+ is one of Nektar’s revolutionary new keyboards, designed to integrate fluidly with whichever DAW you use, minimizing software issues and eliminating fuss.
The LX49+ is more streamlined and affordable than it’s older brothers, making it ideal for touring and gigging. A wide range of features have been packed into a small, lightweight space, giving you maximum sound manipulation in a minuscule environment.
The 49-key, velocity-sensitive keyboard, you’ll find standard pitch and mod wheels, octave shifting, transpose buttons, a total of nine 30mm sliders, nine assignable buttons, six transport buttons and eight velocity-sensitive touch pads with four-assignable color options.
On the back, it’s kept simple with a 1/4inch footswitch input and a USB port to power up the LX49+ from your computer. There is even a low-power mode that allows you to play for longer, albeit without LED lighting.
The major downside for us, is that there is no MIDI Out, so you’ll have to use your DAW to control other pieces of kit. Despite that, the LX49+ is a great piece of kit with a lot of controls to choose from and a great keyboard.
Our rating: 8.3/10
5| Alesis V49
The Alesis V49 is a stripped back, minimalist controller, that has dropped features, dials and buttons to save on space and cost. Alesis produce a range of high-end controllers, and the V49 is one of the cheapest of the lot. For a controller with a 4-octave keyboard, you won’t find much better value.
The keyboard is a 49, fully sized, setup which takes up the majority of the controller. Most keyboards feature dials and knobs above the keys, but the V49 drops these to make it sleeker and save space to include full sized keys.
The V49 does include 8 backlit trigger pads for drum sequences, patterns, loops and samples, as well as 4 illuminated buttons and 4 backlit knobs that can be individually set to various functions within your DAW.
Keeping it simple, the V49 only features a USB MIDI for power, a MIDI-thru for connectivity and a sustain pedal jack. As far as a piece of performance kit goes, this is all you really need if you’re connecting to a DAW.
The V49 comes with it’s own included software, Xpandl2 which acts as a virtual instrument with over 2500 preset patches including drums, pads, strings, leads and keys. Xpandl2 organizes these presets by genre and type making them easy to find.
Lightweight, extremely functional and at an incredible price, we think the V49 is an absolute steal. Whilst it might not pack the same variety of functions as other MIDI keyboards, it still packs a punch.
Our rating: 8.2/10
the Komplete Kontrol S series is designed for the professional DJ in mind. Native Instruments are a brand favoured by many of the top DJs and producers across the world.
The build quality on the Komplete Kontrol series is second to none and the keys are extremely responsive. You simply have to play with it to see where the extra $150 dollars goes. We love the way they feel under our fingers and would argue that Native Instruments are one of the better manufacturers for keys out there. The customisable light-guide is unique to this keyboard and makes visualising notes, phrases, chords and arpeggios slick and easy. You’ll never hit the wrong key when performing live in a dark club again, that’s for sure.
(We’d even recommend the larger 61 key version for those learning to play keyboard).
Unlike some of the more streamlined keyboards, the Native Instruments comes with a plethora of features and controls, ergonomically designed for your fingers to fly across the keyboard.
- 25 velocity sensitive, backlit keys – all of which are semi-weighted with aftertouch.
- Seamless integration with Komplete Software (requires Komplete 9 or higher).
- Automatic parameter mapping.
- Custom colour assignments.
- Two ultra-sensitive touch strips.
- Built-in arpeggiator.
- Integrated scale mapping.
- Inputs for sustain pedals.
The touch strips take the traditional pitch and modulation wheel and turn them on their heads with full customisation. We found that we could create some incredible sounds when we combined the touch strips with a sustain pedal.
Unfortunately, the Komplete Kontrol doesn’t come with Kontrol 9 included, but that doesn’t matter too much as the Komplete Kontrol works with every major DAW and VST plugin.
Our rating: 8/10
The direct competitor of the M-Audio Oxygen series. Novation LaunchKey matches the Oxygen series feature for feature and is slightly more expensive at Novation are well known for being one of the pioneers behind grid-based performance controllers.
The Novation actually overtakes the M-Audio Oxygen 49, with 16 velocity-sensitive sample pads, as opposed to the Oxygen’s 8. The pads are backlit, sensitive to the touch and feel sturdy. Above the pads you’ll find 8 knobs for altering assignable parameters.
The Novation LaunchKey is specifically designed to be used with Ableton, so if Ableton is your DAW of choice, you may want this keyboard. It’s simple plug-in and play design works on both PC and Mac, and it comes with it’s own software and 4GB of samples.
We found the keys responsive and intuitive. They felt strong and sturdy, whilst also being light and fast-paced. The only gripe we had was that the layout is not as comfortable as the Oxygen series. Twisting knobs whilst tapping a rhythm on the pads simultaneously felt as though everything was a little too close together. If your fingers are nimble enough, then the Novation LaunchKey 49 is great, but you may want to consider 8 less pads and a much greater use of space in the Oxygen series.
If you’re a software junkie, we’d personally recommend the Novation LaunchKey, and if you love Ableton, then this is the keyboard for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking to play live, then you’re better off with the AKAI MPK25 or the M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV.
Our rating: 8.5/10
A fantastic build quality makes the M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV one of the premier DJ keyboards on the market. The strength of it alone makes this keyboard ideal for playing in pubs, clubs and abroad. It can take its fair share of knocks and bangs without any major damage. It’s ideal for serious DJs and producers who don’t want to break the bank. The keys are full sized and it comes with 25 keys and 61 keys if 49 is too big or too small for you.
The Oxygen 49 is compatible with most DAWs, including Ableton, Logic, FL Studio, Cubase and Garageband. Because it is a generic controller not targeted towards a single piece of software, you might have slight difficulty getting it set up in your DAW, but there are plenty of tutorials on Youtube to help you get it up and running.
The features with this keyboard are pretty standard for MIDI keyboards in the same price range:
- Velocity sensitive keys on all 3 sizes.
- 8 pressure sensitive drum/sample pads.
- 8 knobs for manipulating various parameters.
- 9 faders on the Oxygen 49 (the 25 key version only has a single fader).
- Transport controls.
- Sustain pedal input.
We found that the pads need a little more force than the AKAI MPK25, but that’s expected when the Oxygen 49 feels so sturdy. If you’re a little heavy-handed, you might prefer the Oxygen 49.
The layout of the Oxygen 49 is intuitive, ultimately making the keyboard easy to use and every control quick to access, which is essential in live performance.
When it comes to studio production, the Oxygen 61 MKIV is everything you could want. With 61 keys instead of 49, you have that extra room for quickly laying down a riff.
Some people have found that the USB connection can wear away after a while, but we found no such issue. It is something to bear in mind if you decide to take the Oxygen 49 out to live shows a lot. You may want to take care around the cables.
All in all, we’re happy with the Oxygen 49. Whilst it has more or less the same features as the LaunchKey, it’s more intuitive to use and feels sturdier underneath heavy tapping fingers.
Our rating: 9/10
We love the Akai Pro MPK25, it packs so many features into such a small space, that we think it’s essential for any touring or international DJand it is an ideal starting MIDI keyboard for any beginner DJ.
The Akai Pro MPK25 only has 25 keys, so might not be your first choice for studio production, but when it comes to live performance, it stands in a league of its own. Unfortunately, we did find that the keys are a bit smaller than you’d find on a standard keyboard, which can take some getting used to, but once your hands are accustomed to the keys, you won’t have any problem.
The sample pads are pressure sensitive and can be assigned to a variety of effects, hot cues and samples, and they’re backlit, so you’ll see them in even the darkest of environments.
A four-way thumb stick gives you full control over pitch and modulation, whilst 8 Q-link knobs can set the parameters for a variety of software effects. The MPK25 also has a sustain pedal input.
The MPK25 comes with AKAI’s own software – VIP, which does have a slight learning curve for those without much experience with Midi Keyboards in live performance. We recommend taking your time when you first get it – assign your favourite samples and load sounds on to the pads. Check out some of the tutorials on Youtube to get a handle on the software.
The MPK25 works with most DAWs on the market, and if you’re using it with your software of choice, then it’s simple to get yourself up and running.