It’s not easy to choose the best MIDI pad controller when there are so many options available. Every year there are more bedroom producers, and it seems every manufacturer wants in on the drum pad action.
We have compiled a top 10 of what we consider to be the best MIDI pad controllers available in 2020. Each controller we review has something to offer producers and performers of all kinds. So, check out our top 10 and see which one fits you best.
Here are the best MIDI drum pad controllers 2020:
- AKAI MPC One
- NI Maschine MK3
- Novation Launchpad Pro MK3
- Arturia BeatStep Pro
- NI Maschine Mikro MK3
- Ableton Push 2
- AKAI MPD232
- Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid
- AKAI Fire
- NI Maschine Jam
1. AKAI MPC One
The best standalone/controller hybrid
The MPC One is the latest MIDI pad controller from AKAI Professional. It bridges the gap between the MPC Live and MPC X, but it’s considerably cheaper. Being an MPC also means it has the best MIDI drum pads there is, in our opinion.
The MPC one works as a standalone unit or as a MIDI controller, so it offers ultimate flexibility. It utilizes the same multicore system as the MPC Live and MPC X, which provides powerful audio processing and editing capabilities.
From live instrument recording to beat making, editing, and mixing, you can create complete studio-grade tracks. It has stereo line inputs, and four CV/gate inputs (eight outputs). So, it will integrate easily with other gear in your setup.
As a MIDI pad controller, it functions with the MPC 2 software or as a plugin inside your DAW. Despite being a small unit, it sports the same 7-inch multi-touch display found on the MPC Live. Whether in standalone or controller mode, the screen lets you quickly and accurately control every aspect of your workflow.
Any MPC unit needs to have the famous 16 pressure-sensitive pads, the MPC One has them, but they are slightly smaller to make space for extra Q-Link knobs.
|Image credit: AKAI Check Price on Amazon||
The MPC One is a fantastic addition to the MPC lineup. It has some functions that the MPC Live doesn’t, like CV/gate connectivity, while still being portable. It’s also even more user-friendly than ever because everything you need to create or edit a track is physically right in front of you. Whether it’s through the pads, Q-Link knobs, touchscreen, or even the new shortcut buttons, it’s a smooth learning curve even for beginners.
We can’t find any fault in having the vast standalone capabilities on top of the full MIDI controller mode; it’s the best new MIDI pad controller in some time.
2. Native Instruments Maschine MK3
The most improved drum pads
Maschine, in its previous incarnations, has been slowly, but surely becoming a vital part of many producers’ setup. The current Maschine MK3 continues to build on that momentum.
The most significant physical difference from previous models is that the 16 velocity-sensitive pads are now bigger and brighter. As well as being more prominent, they are now more sensitive to lighter touches, making them far more accurate for finger drumming.
Maschine MK3 has two high-res screens that let you decide what you see on each, much like you would do with dual studio screens. It now also comes with a studio-grade audio interface (96 kHz/24-bit), so it can now be the centerpiece of your setup, without the need for another interface.
Maschine MK3 has all the typical features of a MIDI pad controller, like note repeat, fixed velocity, and so on. But, the real value comes in its workflow, which is massively enhanced by the eight new touch-sensitive knobs. These knobs can be mapped to any parameter in your FX, instruments, or plugins for ultimate control while performing live or adding automation to recordings.
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Native Instruments seem to do very little wrong with each new Maschine release. If we had one constant criticism, it would be that the pads don’t feel as good as AKAI MPC pads, and that’s still valid, in our opinion. But, we have to admit, the Maschine MK3 pads are the best yet in terms of how they feel and how they respond.
The workflow is fantastic; the two screens are a big part of that. It’s easy to see why the Maschine MK3 is one of the most popular MIDI pad controllers amongst producers.
3. Novation Launchpad Pro MK3
The best controller for Ableton
Novation arguably kickstarted a new post MPC generation of producers getting into music. Now, the Launchpad Pro is their most powerful MIDI pad controller to date.
The Launchpad Pro is a 64-pad MIDI controller that integrates perfectly with Ableton Live and other external hardware. Unlike most pad controllers, you will see, these pads have polyphonic aftertouch that adds an extra dimension to your performance.
Launchpad Pro has a built-in four-track, 32-step sequencer with eight-note polyphony. The sequencer lets you chain patterns together to create longer sequences that can become full songs.
It’s not just triggering drum sounds or loops either; scale mode lets you play build melodies or basslines while keeping you in the right key. Similarly, there is a chord mode that allows you to trigger complex chords from your chosen scale with a single pad.
Aside from the pads, there are 42 tactile-click buttons, all of which are backlit for great visual feedback.
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If you are an Ableton user, you should have a Launchpad Pro; it’s that good. It’s not one you can compare to an MPC or Maschine, but it’s not trying to compete directly with them.
Novation has taken the most popular features of Ableton and made the perfect hardware companion for them. It’s not difficult to get the hang of, and scale/chord modes mean you can putt tracks together very quickly. Easy to see why it’s one of the best-selling MIDI pad controllers on the market.
4. Arturia BeatStep Pro
The best value for money
Arturia’s BeatStep Pro is a very intelligent little controller that will connect to just about any hardware you have. It’s possibly the best budget MIDI pad controller you will ever see.
It has two rows of eight velocity-sensitive pads (16 total) along with 16 assignable rotary knobs. It’s common in Arturia controllers to have such a large number of assignable knobs; they are well-known for providing incredible flexibility.
At the heart of the BeatStep Pro are two independent step sequencers, and a drum sequencer. Each sequencer has its own LCD screen and dedicated control section. The design is this controller has to be admired; the layout couldn’t be any better. Next to your sequencer sections are transport controls and some function buttons for note repeat, looper, etc.
As well as have thee fully customizable drum pads and knobs for MIDI controller use, the BeatStep Pro has perhaps the best connectivity you will find on such a small unit. Each sequencer has CV inputs; there are eight drum gate inputs, clock in/out, and MIDI. So, get your analog synths, drum machines, and anything else you can find, it takes them all.
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We absolutely love the BeatStep Pro from Arturia! The only reason it isn’t higher on our list is that it’s probably more of an acquired taste. For example, if you are only interested in MIDI control, the Maschine Mikro has better drum pads, and that would sway our decision. However, if you want to make use of the CV control, the BeatStep Pro is a superstar. It’s a bargain.
5. Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK3
The best drum pad controller under $300
The Maschine Mikro has been around for years as a cheaper alternative to the full-size Maschine. It doesn’t have the full feature range of the Maschine MK3, but it holds its own in the studio at a bargain price.
The Maschine Mikro is custom-built for creating music with a laptop, in both its small size and its features. It has dedicated buttons for commonly used functions, things like switching playing modes or selecting your favorite sounds.
The latest version of the Maschine Mikro is more expressive and responsive than previous models. Much of this is due to improved pad performance and features like the Smart Strip. The Smart Strip works like a ribbon you’d find on a synth, letting you bend, strum, or manipulate sounds.
Maschine Mikro uses a small LCD screen rather than a more interactive high-res display. The workflow, apart from the screen, is like the Maschine MK3; it’s quick and easy to navigate, so you can focus on making music.
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The Maschine Mikro doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. If we had to choose which is best, Maschine MK3 or Mikro, it’s obvious that we would choose Maschine MK3. But there are plenty of reasons for buying the Mikro, like it’s close to half the price!
It’s also far easier to learn thanks to dedicated buttons, so it’s suitable for a broader range of musicians. Plus, there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t make a hit record on the Maschine Mikro.
6. Ableton Push 2
The fastest workflow for Ableton
The Ableton Push 2 is all about enhancing the creative process by getting your ideas down quickly. It has 64 pads for finger drumming, playing instrument sounds, programming the step sequencer. The pads are small but responsive, and they feel better than we expected.
The thing that really shines with the Ableton Push 2 is the editing capabilities. There are eight super smooth rotary knobs above the wide color screen. Every aspect of your sound, from sample length to FX levels, can be adjusted via the assignable knobs with visual representation shown on screen.
Even beyond creating your track, you don’t need to leave the Push 2. You can mix your track using the encoders and color screen. What surprised us most is that it goes beyond merely adjusting levels; you can edit pans, sends, and more with precision.
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The Push 2 by Ableton is one of the best-selling MIDI pad controllers on the market. It’s particularly popular with EDM producers and beatmakers because it’s so quick to create full tracks. When it comes to Ableton users, it’s usually a choice between the Push 2 or the Launchpad Pro.
We actually prefer the Launchpad Pro overall, but the Push 2 does win in some areas. For example, the screen is fantastic, and you very rarely need to look at your laptop. If you make a high volume of tracks weekly, the Push 2 quick workflow is money in the bank.
7. AKAI MPD232
The best simple but effective controller
AKAI MPD controllers are often thought of as watered-down MPC’s, and that’s true in some ways, although it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The MPD232 pad controller has a 32-step sequencer and 16 pressure-sensitive drum pads. The best thing about the pads is that they are genuine MPC pads, so they feel fantastic. On top of that, you have four accessible banks, which gives you 64 pads in total.
It also has eight faders, eight Q-Link knobs, and eight Q-Link buttons, all of which are fully assignable. The MPD232 has some classic MPC touches, like the same note repeat, swing, and tap tempo functions.
It integrates quickly and easily with the most popular DAWs and comes with the MPC Essentials software. MPC Essentials is more than enough to make great music, but it’s now possible to upgrade to the MPC 2 software if you want something more in-depth. AKAI throws in Ableton Live Lite and some useful sound expansion packs. A budget MIDI drum pad that will get your creativity flowing much faster.
|Image credit: AKAI Check AKAI Professional||
The MPD232 is a bit of a blank canvas; it’s not littered with fancy features by any means. It’s a simple MIDI beat pad that gives you something physical to interact with rather than clicking a mouse. But that’s precisely the reason for buying it; it has plenty of assignable controls in a simple package.
The faders and Q-Link knobs are all very sturdy, too, which is not always the case with MIDI controllers. If you just want a robust control surface for your daw that doesn’t cost too much, it’s the MPD232. The fact it has genuine MPC pads just seals the deal.
8. Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid
The most versatile MIDI pad controller
The Toraiz Squid is something new on the scene from the team at Pioneer DJ. On the surface, it looks like a regular MIDI pad controller, but the Squid is potentially the thing that brings your whole studio together.
Squid has USB, MIDI, CV/gate, Clock, and DIN connectivity. You can connect and control up to 16 instruments. So, you end up with a blend of vintage analog gear and modern soft synths, samples, straight into your DAW.
It has 16 pads that are a little smaller than MPC or Maschine pads, but they have a nice feel to them. The pads can be used for finger drumming or to program the step sequencer. Here is where the Squid gets even more interesting, ever created a phrase by accident, then can’t remember it? Squid always records your performance data in the background, so if that happens, you can use Time Warp to go back and find your phrase.
It also has some really cool features like the ability to play your sequence backward or in random patterns, to come with crazy ideas on the fly. There is a harmonizer mode that helps you find the most suitable chords for your sequence and assign them to pads for instant recall along with some other intuitive time-saving functions.
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The Toraiz Squid is a difficult one to place; overall, it’s a fantastic piece of equipment. The issue is finding the right user for it because, on the one hand, it’s incredibly simple, but on the other, it can do extremely complex things. So, we wouldn’t suggest it’s the right MIDI pad controller for beginners.
Our opinion is that it’s not for someone who just wants drum pads, it’s for someone who wants to hook up their analog gear and get deep into it. If that’s you, then the Squid is a monster that will change your way of creating.
9. AKAI Fire
The best controller for FL Studio
As far as we can tell, the opinion on the AKAI Fire is pretty mixed. The main reason for that is that it appears to be a mirror image of your FL Studio sequencer, and people maybe expected something different.
Like FL Studio, you get a 16-step sequencer, now in the form of 64 velocity-sensitive pads. There are 20 dedicated function buttons, such as transport controls and pattern select, etc.
It also has four fully assignable knobs that make altering parameters a breeze. For example, to change the pitch on a hi-hat, simply hold the pad or pads you want to alter and use the knob to raise or lower the pitch, then let go.
You have note, drum, and performance modes for playing the pads in different ways. Note mode lets you use the pads as a keyboard and map out various scales to help you stay in key. Drum mode enables you to highlight a specific grid of pads to make up a drum kit, and performance is full step sequencer mode. There is a small OLED display, so you don’t need to consult the software too often for feedback.
|Image credit: AKAI Check Price on Amazon||
In all honesty, there isn’t a great deal to say about the AKAI Fire; it really isn’t much more than a physical representation of FL Studio’s sequencer. But, you have to keep in mind that producers/engineers will often buy a control surface with physical faders rather than adjusting levels via the DAW. Why do they do this? Because it’s faster, more intuitive, and it connects you to the music more.
The same can be said for the AKAI Fire, being hands-on is always better than point and click with a mouse. If you use FL Studio, it’s well worth the investment.
10. Native Instruments Maschine Jam
The best straightforward step sequencer
Like the Push was customized for Ableton, the Jam is customized to fit the Maschine software perfectly. So, the idea is that you can be hands-on with tactile control and have your laptop screen reflect everything you are doing.
It centers around a 64 click-pad matrix with dual-touch smart strips. There are eight smart strips, one under each column of eight click-pads. These strips allow you to bend, modulate, and completely change the texture of any given sound with a certain touch. They do so with accuracy that you don’t find on a regular touch strip.
If you have a bunch of ideas, but none are quite a complete track, pattern jamming lets you throw them together and see if anything fits. It’s just another way of inspiring creativity when you get a bit stuck in the mud. Jam also comes with over 29 GB of pro-grade sounds in the form of Komplete 12 Select.
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Everything about the Native Instruments Jam is meant to keep you moving, never let you get stuck in a creative block. From that point of view, we think it’s excellent, and it does its job well. If you want an authentic MIDI drum pad controller experience, this isn’t it. The pads could easily be referred to as buttons, but if you just want great results quickly, the Jam is fantastic. It can also be used in collaboration with Maschine MK3, and it would be the perfect way to get down the foundations of your song fast.
As we say with every bit of gear we look at, there is no universal best choice; it’s about how it fits your style. Because MIDI pad controllers essentially all serve the same primary function, it’s even more important that you focus on the aspects of each that will enhance your workflow.
If you just want a basic drum pad controller, don’t buy something with CV/gate control, and a steep learning curve. All that will do is slow down your creative process when the point of a good controller, so to speed it up. Choose the MIDI pad controller that offers the most for your workflow, budget, studio setup and style of music.
James is a writer and musician with a passion for audio production. He is a lover of all things tech, especially the latest keyboards, synths, DAW’s, virtual instruments, and effects plugins. Musical interests include jazz, funk, hip hop, blues, and rock.