Last Updated: November 2019
With so many keyboard controllers out there, it can be difficult to decide which one works best with your setup. The last time we counted, more than 20 mainstream brands were making controllers and countless others are releasing new keyboards every month.
Since we test our products – and make music – with these tools every day, we thought it would be fun to compile a list of the best keyboard controllers on the market.
Let’s start with our most favorite: The entire series of Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol line is outstanding. The semi-weighted keys are some of the most responsive on a MIDI keyboard controller, and the S88 is fully-weighted which provides depth and accuracy.
The LEDs are color-assignable, which not only looks cool, but also provides helpful visual feedback for things such as key switches and octave ranges. Komplete and NKS midi controllers function seamlessly together and offer supported software (Fun fact: They work with all Output instruments).
While there aren’t any drum pads, Maschine hardware (which also happens to be NKS-compatible) is a great companion to this keyboard if you need them in your setup.
The Arturia Keystep is a new iteration of the previously-released Beatstep Pro. Instead of 16 rotary encoders and pads, you get a 32-note “slim keybed” with 3 encoders. The keys are velocity-sensitive with aftertouch, and there’s a 64-step polyphonic sequencer, arpeggiator and capacitive pitch bend, as well as mod touch strips.
With this little keyboard, you can control an entire synth rig by sending sequences, swing, gate length, and more – all synced to your laptop via USB. The options are endless – and impressive.
The Nektar Panorama brings a lot to the table: Semi-weighted keys, drum pads, sliders, rotary encoders, transport control, and a cool color display should cover all of your bases. What really sets this controller apart is its 100mm touch-sensitive fader – a super rare feature. You’ll find that this comes in extremely handy during the mixing process.
The Panorama is also automatically mapped to Logic Pro, Reason, Bitwig, and Cubase, which saves a ton of setup time. To improve on your home studio setup, our Output Platforms fit this keyboard controller (and just about every 88-key product) like a glove.
The Novation Launchkey is a compact, mid-level keyboard geared towards Ableton controller users and electronic composers, though it’s also compatible with all DAWs.
The RGB pads (located on the top of the keyboard) work as drum pads or clip triggers during Ableton Live sessions. With 8 knobs, 9 sliders, 6 dedicated transport controls, and a standard pitch bend and mod wheel, this keyboard also provides 1GB of sample loops to get you started.
ROLI has unveiled the Seaboard RISE 49, a new type of small keyboard controller that encourages musical expression in ways that were previously impossible with traditional keyboards. Using the so-called “5D Touch,” users are given access to Strike, Press, Glide, Slide, and Lift parameters.
I recently had a chance to play the Seaboard and was impressed by the keys’ response and versatility. This controller also features MIDI via Bluetooth, an XY TouchPad, 3-touch sliders, and the Equator (the ROLI Seaboard block’s companion software synth).
When it comes to mini keyboard controllers, it doesn’t get any better than the CME XKey. Super-thin, ultralight, velocity-sensitive, the wireless version works via Bluetooth. The XKey also includes a cool sustain key (since you won’t have a pedal) and octave, pitch bend, and modulation buttons.
We use them all over the Output office since they’re so convenient and take up minimal desk space.
Speaking of desk space, check out Platform – our studio desk with a specially designed tray to fit most 88-key controllers.
Sound Designer | Soundcloud
Josh Story is a music producer, sound designer and Grammy-award nominated recording engineer based out of Los Angeles, CA. Josh is also an amateur electrician, chef de cuisine, and all-around handyman.
Output Favorites: Keyboard Controllers by Josh Story
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