Russell is a sound producer and songwriter. He deals with digital pianos and MIDI controllers on a regular basis so no wonder he knows everything about them.
Last updated: April 05, 2021
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Do you want the best shot at making the most of your blooming talent as a new musician? For electronic music, mixing tracks or composing, the best MIDI keyboards for beginners should be on your shopping list, and we want to help you pick yours. Why is this article and its reviews so important? Because your music will only sound as good as your equipment allows and not all MIDI keyboards are the same.
To find your key to enjoyment as well as musical success, browse our in-depth reviews, compiled through thorough research. We cover the different models’ ease of use, since this is essential for anyone who want to make their introduction to making quality music a smooth one. We also talk about connectivity and the number of keys to give you insight into each one’s capabilities. The buying guide will help you make an informed choice based on your unique needs and setup, while the comparison chart gives you an overview at a glance. Here’s all you need to know about this niche in modern music.
"An incredibly lightweight unit for its size, this MIDI controller features 25 keys with great sensitivity and plenty of controls.25 velocity-sensitive mini-keys.16 backlit velocity-sensitive pads.Long warranty."
"This Midi keyboard is able to work with all music applications and styles and sports many producing and mixing controls.25 synth-action keys.Manages your DAW from the MIDI controller.Software included."
"This model allows you to do much of the mixing straight from your MIDI controller thanks to a range of controls available.25 full-size synth-action velocity-sensitive keys.USB powered.Plug-and-play unit."
The MK3 model is our best MIDI keyboard for beginners because it’s an excellent example of getting almost all you need in one package. It’s a 25-key controller, which makes it compact, and since you can power if via USB, it’s portable and practical for use on the go. For a beginner who may take it somewhere to learn from others this makes for a practical investment.
Apart from the keys you have beat pads that give you versatile options to explore in your new hobby. You can discover which features you like best so you know what to invest in if you ever decide to buy larger equipment. This is further enhanced by the knobs that make mixing easier, so you can try out composition, mixing and more with just one purchase. Don’t forget the sustain pedal input, arpeggiator and velocity sensitive keys that create an overall professional feel.
The equipment also looks stylish, so if you use it for performances in future, you’ll already look like a pro.
Getting started is easy thanks to plug and play.
What we liked: You’ll receive a large amount of resources with this MIDI controller, including over 1,500 sounds and six virtual instruments. This gives newbies a lot to play around with, without the need for additional expenses. It creates the ideal environment to explore and learn what you like about music production.
What could be better: It takes some effort to get access to all the sounds and resources. You need to register an account, and configuring could take some time. But once you’re through that process, you have a lot to work with at least.
M-Audio is a trusted brand in the music industry, and this model offers great value for money since you’re getting a slightly bigger unit with more keys than our first option above. For those who enjoy piano playing specifically, this is usually a plus. You can even enhance the range further thanks to octave up and down buttons.
You also get resources included, the much-respected ProTools software being one of them in this case, so even beginners can start making music like professionals.
It’s easy to start thanks to plug and play, and because it will work with either Mac or PC, it’s an option for anyone.
Once again, this unit is USB powered, making it a portable option.
What we liked: It’s helpful that you can adjust the response, so you have a customized playing setup that suits your style. The keys are velocity sensitive, which once again benefits anyone who has played piano in the past, since it gives it an authentic feel. This unit comes at almost half the price of some others on our list, making it ideal if you’re a beginner simply trying out a new hobby.
What could be better: Note that certain adapters such as the Apple Lightning to USB camera cord aren’t included. This will be an additional expense if you need it for your particular setup.
If you want a USB powered unit instead of lugging around additional components, know that this is a starter MIDI keyboard favorite. A bonus is that it’s compatible with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. It’s very versatile because you can easily switch between bus power and the self-power mode. You may need to use a power adapter for best performance.
You don’t have the widest range of features, but as a beginner you’ll appreciate the neat and simple layout. Features include wheels for modulation and pitch, so you have the basics to start playing around with sounds. There are also transpose buttons, and you can extend an octave up or down, so you’re not too limited in options. The volume slider is within easy reach, and you do have the option of using a sustain pedal.
This unit is slightly lighter than some of our other models, which adds to its portability.
What we liked: It’s encouraging to see the market caters for those shopping on a budget, while still offering many features, even if it’s only the basic ones. It’s not overwhelming to start using this, since it’s another plug-and-play unit. Most users can start enjoying it within five minutes.
What could be better: It’s unfortunate that there aren’t any drum pads and certain components do feel cheap. There has also been occasions of the provided cables being faulty, so we hope the brand improves its quality check process in future.
It’s amazing what Alesis managed to build into this small unit, with multiple knobs and pads in its layout along with the 25 keys. It’s your choice how you want to assign the knobs and buttons, giving you the chance for a custom setup that suits your style. Whether you want to change volume, parameters or filters when working with virtual instruments or even plugins providing you with interesting effects, this simple MIDI keyboard can do it for you.
You’ll enjoy the smooth movements of the knobs on this controller. We just think the buttons and pads could improve in design, so you don’t have to press them twice sometimes.
It’s up to you to set the velocity curves of the keys, once again allowing you to adjust your equipment to your requirements. This will become valuable when you develop and learn your personal preferences.
This is another USB powered unit, so you can easily take your equipment to beginners’ classes or wherever you want to make music.
What we liked: The features such as the pads are backlit. If you pursue a hobby of performing on stage, this MIDI controller for beginners will be easy to use on stage in low light conditions too.
What could be better: Note that this purchase is slightly more expensive than many others on our list. At least you’re still getting value for money since you’ll find various software products included.
It’s impressive with AKAI managed to add to this beginner MIDI controller while still managing to make it portable. By placing all the buttons and knobs above the keys, you have a relatively short unit which makes it more practical for packing, if you plan to travel with your gear. This also makes it a welcome option if you have limited space in your studio.
In terms of functionality and quality, you’re working on equipment that comes from a leading brand, so you know you can trust it.
Your range of sound options is impressive, since it gives you 10 drum kits to pick from along with over 100 sounds. Access to the Pro Software suite and MPC Beats software further empowers beginners to create pro tracks. It can be tricky to install all this software, so ask an expert if you’re unsure.
When it comes to the keys, your personal preference may play a role. Some find the spring resistance in the velocity sensitive keys too high.
What we liked: Thanks to its built-in speaker and the option of plugging in headphones, you don’t even need much more than this to enjoy your playing or composing. Also, since you only need batteries as a power source, you can set up anywhere.
What could be better: Note that the speaker is not very powerful so you can’t really get the effect of the tracks you create. You may find it more appropriate to use headphones.
Even though this isn’t one of the smallest units in terms of size and length, an attractive feature is how light this MIDI keyboard synthesizer for beginners is. At only 1 pound, you won’t be weighed down when carrying your gear to a class or to a performance.
The buttons are attractive thanks to their different colored backlit feature. This turns your beginner controller into a showstopping piece of equipment if you perform with it on stage or want to impress friends at home.
You get a two-year warranty on this device, which shows the quality you’re investing in.
Unlike the unit above, it can’t produce audio on its own, so you do need additional equipment to hear what you’re producing.
You will enjoy using this model more than certain others, since it’s an upgrade on the brand’s previous models and they improved the pads’ and keys’ sensitivity.
What we liked: This controller also impresses with the number of pads, since you get 16 instead of the four or eight you see are common on many others featured on our list. So, if you’re a beginner focused on drumming sounds, this may be an ideal buy for you.
What could be better: Not all connections are possible out the box, since you’ll need to purchase an Apple camera connection kit adapter if you want to use this with an iPad.
The reason this model from Nektar stood out as our best starter MIDI keyboard for production is because you can use it for so many different music genres. This is because there are different velocity curves along with modulation wheels and other features. This allows different types of players to share their compositions while everyone will feel comfortable using this keyboard. So, if you and some friends want to explore your talents, this one can cater for you all.
Its diversity also lies in the range of options you’ll find on the control panel, so you can do a lot straight from your MIDI controller, without even working on a computer. This includes, rewinding, forwarding, recording, patching up or down and so much more. You can also control DAW mixer channels by using its LX+ encoders.
With five user presets, once again this model can cater for different users’ preferences, or you can use multiple devices during your music production, and switching between them will be effortless.
What we liked:
This is an advanced system that empowers you to do a lot, and luckily it’s fairly easy to use, such as mapping your DAW. Even beginners will hopefully get the hang of it quickly.
What could be better:
This one is on the heavy side and bigger than many others on our list, so it’s not the most portable. If you plan on only using it in one location, this won’t be a problem though. Note that the keys do make sounds when pressed, but this should go away after some use.
Here is another of our best models for beginners, that has a surprising number of controls on its interface. There’s a total of 16 encoders and it’s up to you how to assign them. Yes, this unit can also control your DAW, so you don’t necessarily have to sit in front of the computer when mixing tracks. This gives you more flexibility in how you want to set up your studio. The encoders are sensitive to pressure levels, giving you extreme control over your final product.
You’ll see that the multiple instruments as well as synthesizers are ready to use when you unbox it, so as a beginner you won’t waste time on setup.
The brand put in effort to improve on other models, so you now have a more impressive pitch bend and the control accuracy is also better. The brand even looked at small details such as not having LEDs flashing, since this tended to distract some users. Now they’re on continuously which looks great and won’t bother you while you’re busy composing.
Handy extras include an input for a sustain pedal.
What we liked: Aspects that you’ll find many people comment on are the quality of components like the keys. It also offers great responsiveness, making it more comfortable to use and beginners will get used to it quickly.
What could be better: The controls can be improved since some of the pads can feel very stiff and it may even keep on sending a signal as if you’re playing a long note, even after you’ve released a key.
If you know you’ll mostly use your MIDI controller for beginners at home or in a studio instead of looking for a portable unit, try this one. Firstly, it has a range of controls you can access straight from its surface, so working on your DAW isn’t even necessary—you do much of the mixing from your controller.
Secondly, this is a bigger unit, measuring much longer than some of the portable units on our list. That makes it more appropriate as equipment that remains stationary in one place most of the time. It’s also much heavier than units we’ve reviewed here, so you don’t necessarily want to carry this one around.
What we liked: Since it’s plug and play, it won’t take long before you’re ready to try it out. It’s also USB powered, making it easier to find the right setup for your studio.
What could be better: It has beneficial features that could take some time getting used to, such as how to adjust velocity in its settings. This could hamper beginners from fully enjoying their new equipment. You may also find that some of the keys are noisy when pressed.
This starter MIDI keyboard is last on our list, but still a wise investment since the brand built in multiple features into one unit. It’s a smart fusion of a MIDI controller and a keyboard that still makes you feel as if you’re playing on a quality piano or keyboard. Since the experience can add to your creativity at any given moment, this is important for beginner composers and producers. There are also features of a polyphonic step sequencer built into this unit. All of this is why it’s our upgrade pick. Perhaps after you’ve tried a standard MIDI controller you’ll want to invest in this, and since it comes at a very reasonable price, it’s still budget friendly to add this to your gear.
You’ll notice this one has more keys than most of the models on our review list that only have 25. While this makes it bigger, it also gives you a wider range for playing, a feature that could be valuable for those used to playing on standard pianos who now want to try out other aspects of music production.
With the unit having more keys and various features, including buttons for stop, play and record as well as other controls, it’s obvious that it’s larger and heavier than many portable models.
What we liked: The keys do offer a very authentic feel, and it’s comfortable to play on. The arpeggiator is a great feature to have, as is the sustain pedal input.
What could be better: Components like the sliders could be exchanged for wheels or a different type of slider. In the current design you may accidentally touch it while playing and add effects you don’t want.
Things to Consider
When you pursue a passion like music, your equipment should enhance your experience, not hamper it. We compiled this buying guide about beginner MIDI controller shopping, to help you make the right choice from the start. If you’re just getting into this business, this guide is what you’ll need. We cover everything from what these pieces of equipment are exactly, to identifying the best ones for your use. How much does connectivity matter and which features will ensure you get value for money? It’s important to truly understand these aspects, because each musician is different. You need to identify what will work for you in terms of key action, software, weight and many other features mentioned below. So, keep reading to shop like a pro muso.
How does a MIDI keyboard work?
Firstly, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) refers to a certain protocol. This was designed to help hardware like computers and musical instruments to communicate with each other.
With your MIDI controller sending data to your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) on your computer, you can simplify creating sounds during composing music or producing tracks. Easily add sounds by playing the notes on the keyboard or pressing the drum pads, instead of using your PC keyboard or manually writing in each note as MIDI information. With this tool you can edit, enhance and even replace sounds to suit you. Your MIDI will do it all.
Note that it’s not your controller producing the sounds; it simply sends data or information to your other equipment to create the sounds.
Features to consider in a MIDI keyboard if you’re a beginner
In our beginner MIDI controller reviews you saw that there are different models and types. Each one was designed to cater for a specific need and you need to determine which features will be most valuable to you. Here are the most important specs to consider and understand in order to make an informed decision.
Controls sets and options
The keys are the primary feature of a MIDI controller, but the more controls you have, such as the pads you find on the AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3, the better.
The most popular controls include:
Pads that usually relate to adding drum beats to your tracks. They should be velocity sensitive and if they have an aftertouch feature they will sound even better. Pads are valuable for anyone wanting to add beats to their music.
Knobs can usually be used for different features and depending on the model it may be up to you to assign the knob to a certain function. For example, they can help you adjust volume of notes or customize a filter you add to a track. Having a physical knob to turn rather than working with your mouse and PC makes the task faster and even more enjoyable.
Faders are similar to knobs in that they help you make adjustments to the audio. Once again, it’s much easier to get it just right by having the fader under your fingers than using your mouse. It also lends itself to help you feel more creative in the moment.
Most of our starter MIDI keyboard models above have 25 keys, but as you can see in the Arturia Keystep Controller & Sequencer, some have even more. There are different designs, usually being 25, 49, 61 or 88. But then you saw that it can also be 32 and even 37 is a common occurrence.
Having 25 keys is enough on a beginner MIDI controller and this also suffices if you’re looking for a portable unit or when your studio has limited space. However, when you progress you may want more keys to make it easier to create more elaborate tracks and use both hands at once. This is why many pros prefer 49 keys at least, especially if they don’t often travel with their gear.
Remember the number of keys doesn’t always limit you in how high or low your notes can be. For example, you have Octave up and down buttons on many models we reviewed.
Research the key action because it will impact how comfortably you play. There’s not necessarily a best type of action; it simply needs to suit your needs. The main types are:
Synth action: Here the keys pop back into place quickly after being pressed down. Synth action is an option in many MIDI controllers on the market. Some players find it best for fast playing.
Semi-weighted action: This is a more advanced design and there’s a weight attached to each key. This influences how it moves after being pressed down, since it will move back up slower than a synth action key after you lift your finger. This is closer to how traditional pianos react and some who are used to pianos may prefer this. It also is beneficial when playing fast pieces.
Weighted hammer action: This is the closest you’ll get to a ‘piano-feel’ when using a MIDI controller and will feel very comfortable for an experienced pianist. They’re not often integrated into 25-key beginner models like the ones we reviewed, but it may be something you can invest in in future for an authentic feel.
A MIDI controller on its own doesn’t offer you much, since it’s meant to use with other equipment. For example, it needs to be connected to your computer. Look at how it connects to your PC so you know you’ll have a simple setup. A plug-and-play unit usually doesn’t require much effort in terms of installing software or downloading sounds. You can simply switch on and start mixing.
Also see what you need to connect to, to power your controller. A USB powered unit is very handy since you won’t need an open wall socket to plug in yet another power supply. Simply link it to your computer and you’re ready. This also makes it portable and practical for taking your gear with you wherever you go.
Other connections include Bluetooth which can be handy but may be less stable than connecting via cable. And if you have inputs for headphones, sustain pedals and other devices they always come in handy.
DAWs and software
You can see that many of the models we reviewed have DAW and other software packages included. This supplies you with sounds and many mixing features right from the start, instead of having an additional expense to set up your studio. Look for software that’s known for its user friendliness and that will work on your PC. For example, GarageBand is popular music creation software, but it’s meant for Mac, not a Windows computer.
Other popular DAW options include Ableton and Pro Tools. If you have software that the industry uses, there will be no reason to upgrade later on, saving you money in the long run.
Dimensions and weight
The size and weight of your MIDI controller will determine its portability, which is very important if you’ll travel with your gear. This could be because you’re an aspiring performer using your MIDI on stage, or you may attend classes to improve your skills. This is where compact units like the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play come in handy. Designs like this one won’t weigh you down or take up much space. The latter is also important if you have limited space available in your studio.
A warranty shows a brand’s faith in the quality of their product, so it’s worthwhile comparing different models. You can get a warranty of up to 2 years on a model like Novation Launchkey Mini MK3, so don’t settle for too short a period of cover. Your controller may undergo a lot of heavy handling especially if you travel with it, and you don’t want to pay for a replacement too soon.
Pick a DAW that’s user friendly and also compatible with your PC. Not all software works on both Windows and iOS. Popular options include Cubase, Ableton, Pro Tools and GarageBand, with the latter being for Mac users specifically. A DAW like Ableton that allows for different views of your audio track, such as session views and arrangement views are very helpful.
The main difference between a MIDI controller and a synthesizer relates to the sounds they produce. While a synthesizer has internal sounds, this is not the case with a MIDI controller that usually only helps you manage virtual software by sending data to the DAW on your computer. You can see that you therefore need additional equipment to produce sound when you work on a MIDI controller and it must be connected to a computer with the right software. This is not necessary when using your synthesizer.
An interesting fact is that you can actually use a synthesizer as a MIDI controller. For this to work the synthesizer must be able to give an output of a MIDI signal, whether through an appropriate MIDI cable or a USB connection.
When you record audio, you’re capturing the sounds of an actual sound, generated by an instrument or equipment. In contrast, the MIDI data is simply information sent to a computer, so you’re not recording actual sounds. Advantages of MIDI files is that they’re easy to edit and add or remove effects. A drawback is that it’s not the solution to add dialogue or singing to a track, which is possible with recording normal digital audio files. But note that digital audio files are often bigger than MIDI files, so you’ll need more storage space.
It’s time to pursue your dream and improve your skills as a musician, composer or producer. Find the best MIDI keyboard for beginners among our list of options and you’ll be ready.
We suggest you try the AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3, since you can’t go wrong trusting an industry favorite brand. Also, this one is fairly compact while still giving you loads of features like its quality drum pads.
You may want more keys, in which case our Best Value option, the M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 MK3 is a winner. With plug and play it’s easy enough for any beginner to try out.
Make sure your setup is easy by picking a model like the Midiplus AKM320 with keyboard controller. With the USB hub you can power it up almost anywhere so your new hobby can be enjoyed wherever you go.
You have the insight thanks to our buying guide. Now, pick the best MIDI keyboard for beginners for your use.