Our top five professional MIDI keyboard controllers
Whether it’s your next DAW controller or something to control your synth, choosing the right MIDI keyboard can be tricky…
Here are our top five professional MIDI keyboard controllers that are currently on the market, and a little bit about who they are probably most suited for…
Novation SL MK3
What is it:
The new Novation SL MK3 series has been named the “Big Daddy” of professional USB MIDI keyboard controllers. It features all the bells and whistles one could expect in a premium MIDI controller, from the high-end semi-weighted keys with velocity and aftertouch, to the multitude of hardware outputs from actual DIN MIDI to CV/Gate for modular synths.
- Two channels of CV/Gate/Mod and a master clock output for controlling modular synths
- Circuit-style onboard sequencer with intuitive real-time editing, pattern chaining and recallable sessions
- Great user feedback on the five full-colour LED screens
- Built-in scales to snap to, light up keys to display notes
- Up to eight assignable key zones to trigger multiple instruments on different areas of the keyboard
- The Novation SL MK3 is highly customizable, you can store templates onboard and works great as a DAW controller or hardware controller
Novation SL49 MK3 – Retail USD $749 (Around R11k excl. duties)
Novation SL61 MK3 – Retail USD $879 (Around R13k excl. duties)
Native Instruments S-Series MK2
What is it:
The focus with the Native Instruments MIDI controllers are definitely on user experience for those using Native Instruments software, there are a ton of plugin developers who are releasing NKS-compatible versions of their plugins, but the idea is to streamline the production process. It’s less customizable than the Novation SL MK3, but they’re certainly taking the “it just works” approach.
- Very intuitive browsing experience
- Controllers are all pre-mapped for NKS-compatible software
- Built-in templates for a large number of popular DAWs
- Over 100 scales to apply and snap to
- Chord trigger mode
Native Instruments S-49 MK2 – Retail USD $669 (Around R9800 excl. duties)
Native Instruments S-61 MK2 – Retail USD $779 (Around R11400 excl. duties)
Native Instruments S-88 MK2 – Retail USD $1049 (Around R15400 excl. duties)
ROLI Seaboard Rise
What is it:
ROLI’s revolutionary Keywave technology probably needs no introduction, it has been making waves since its original release. The keyboard offers unprecedented levels of expression with true polyphonic pitch bend, aftertouch and more.
- Five dimensions of touch
- Touch faders and X/Y pad to assign parameters
- Bundled software with MPE capabilities
- Wireless MIDI via Bluetooth compatible
ROLI Seaboard Rise 25 – Retail USD $849 (Around R12500 excl. duties)
ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 – Retail USD $1199 (Around R17500 excl. duties)
Arturia KeyLab MK2
What is it:
Arturia’s new KeyLab MK2 are their most advanced MIDI controller yet, they feature all the ins and outs one could need in most studio situations, from pedal inputs to CV/Gate outputs for modular synths. The controllers ship with Arturia’s highly acclaimed software bundle, including Arturia Analog Lab, Piano V 2 and Ableton Live Lite.
- Intuitive browsing within arturia software
- Sturdy aluminium and wood construction
- Extensive inputs and outputs – CV/Gate/Mod1/Mod2 outputs, MIDI I/O
- Five pedal inputs
- Comes in Black or White
Arturia KeyLab 49 MK2 – Retail USD $449 (Around R6600 excl. duties)
Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2 – Retail USD $549 (Around R8000 excl. duties)
Arturia KeyLab 88 MK2 – Retail USD $1100 (Around R16200 excl. duties)
What is it:
The Akai MPK2 series has a definite focus on the MPC-style pads, it has a high-end keyboard but it’s definitely the option for those beat-makers and finger-drummers out there.
- semi-weighted velocity with aftertouch
- 4 banks of MPC-style RGB pads
- 8 assignable faders, knobs and buttons in 3 banks
- hardware MIDI i/o and hardware pedal inputs
Akai MPK225 – Retail USD $349 (Around R5200 excl. duties)
Akai MPK249 – Retail USD $499 (Around R7300 excl. duties)
Akai MPK261 – Retail USD $499 (Around R7300 excl. duties)
Which controller most suits you?
For those with a modular or hardware synthesizer rig, the Novation and Arturia are most likely the best bet for you. The Native Instruments Kontrol is great for those who want a “set it and forget it” controller, The Akai is geared more towards those who want high-quality MPC-style drum pads and the ROLI will give you that unprecedented musical expression, probably most suited to traditional musicians.