One of the common deciding factors when choosing a studio keyboard is the weight of the keys. We take a look at what’s important when choosing the best weighted MIDI keyboard. We will answer some questions that should make your choice a little easier.
In this article we will be discussing:
We have compiled two lists to help you with your decision. The first is our top 5 fully-weighted MIDI keyboards, the second is our top 5 semi-weighted MIDI keyboards. We put together a short review of each keyboard to give you an overview of what they can offer.
Top 5 Best Fully-Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controllers
Here are the 5 best weighted MIDI keyboards 2020:
- M-Audio Hammer 88
- Arturia KeyLab 88
- Akai MPK88
- Studiologic SL73
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
M-Audio Hammer 88
The Hammer 88 is a personal favorite of ours, it’s one of the absolute best fully-weighted MIDI keyboards you can buy. If you are looking for a realistic, high quality playing experience this is the one for you.
This keyboard is purely about the feel, the 88 fully-weighted, hammer-action keys deliver incredibly responsive performance.
There are three dedicated pedal inputs for sustain, soft, and expression which enhance the realism. A unity-locking pitch wheel and modulation wheel have been included to add some versatility. The modulation wheel and the master volume fader can be mapped to any assignable parameter in your VST/DAW.
Other than that the keyboard has no other controls but as we said, this one is purely about the feel.
As we stated, this is one of our favorites but it’s not for everyone. If you want an all-rounder with lots of functions this isn’t for you but if a realistic piano feel is your main concern, you won’t beat this one.
Arturia KeyLab 88
The KeyLab range from Arturia is already well established in the MIDI controller market. This 88-key version comes with a hammer-action Fatar keybed and all the customization you’ll ever need.
Working with virtual instruments and DAW’s is an absolute dream with this keyboard. It comes with 16 drum/sample pads, nine assignable faders, ten assignable dials, and all the common transport controls. It also comes with a pitch wheel and modulation wheel.
Arturia supplies a full copy of their Analog Lab collection of premium virtual instruments – they sound amazing.
This is one of the best high-end keyboards on our list, it’s not the cheapest but that shows. It offers unrivaled customization with top build quality.
Akai Professional are better known for their MPC controllers than their keyboards but they do make some great MIDI keyboards. This one makes it onto our list as a combination of both.
It has 88 hammer-action keys and 16 genuine MPC drum pads which are by far the best pads around. The pads can access four banks which means you can easily access up to 64 samples at any time. The keys also have aftertouch for added expression and key split mode.
In total there are 24 assignable Q-Link knobs, buttons, and faders which can control up to 72 software parameters. The MPK88 also comes with Ableton Live Lite Akai Pro edition.
This is a tough one because the key action could be better but it’s not terrible by any means, there are just a few better options. However, when it comes to drum pads, no one does it better. If beat making and sampling are the priority, the MPK88 is a serious option.
First of all, we should confirm that for a realistic experience, M-Audio wins. However, this isn’t far behind and it does things slightly different which some players may prefer.
Rather than pitch and modulation wheels, Studiologic has gone with joysticks to control any assigned parameters. They have also designed some very useful software that allows you to easily set up your own split/layer presets which you can then access through the keyboards TFT color display.
Enhancing the realistic piano experience, the SL73 also has three pedal inputs for sustain, soft, and expression.
Similar to our verdict on the Hammer 88, this is a controller you buy if you want a realistic playing experience, not if you want lots of functions. The choice of joysticks over wheels offers something different and if you prefer that, this is a very good keyboard.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
Native Instruments plugins and virtual instruments are amongst the best money can buy, what better to control them than a Native Instruments MIDI keyboard? This is a top rated MIDI controller on any list.
The keyboard has 88 hammer-action keys with aftertouch and they feel very responsive. This one is definitely made with producers in mind, RGB lights highlight each key in a set color to indicate drum cells, key switches and more, much like you see in a DAW.
Komplete instruments are pre-mapped to this controller so you will always have the optimized setup. The keyboard comes with Komplete Kontrol and Komplete 12 Select which includes some amazing instruments and effects.
A touch strip adds further expression along with a pitch bend and modulation wheel, all of which are assignable.
There aren’t many downsides with this controller, it’s very good. My criticism would be that they could have added some Maschine pads but if that doesn’t bother you it’s worth checking out.
So, we have looked at five of the best fully-weighted MIDI controllers but that’s only a few of your options. Now we will look at some of the best semi-weighted MIDI controllers.
Top 5 Best Semi-Weighted MIDI Keyboard Controllers
Here are the 5 best semi-weighted MIDI keyboards 2020:
Studiologic Numa Compact 2x
This MIDI keyboard offers the best of both worlds, it’s a great controller but it has some amazing onboard sounds too. If you want a keyboard that you can take between the studio and the stage, the Numa Compact 2x is a little monster. We say little because it’s very light but it actually has 88 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
It comes with three sound engines, piano, tonewheel organ, and synth. The sound quality is beyond what you’d expect from a keyboard in this price range.
There are nine drawbars for the organ that can be used to control parameters from the onboard effects processors. Another rare feature is that it comes with built-in stereo speakers so you can literally practice anywhere.
It’s very difficult to say anything negative about this keyboard. It doesn’t have any drum/sample pads but other than that it’s just fantastic!
Even though it’s a bit of a hybrid, we still consider this amongst the best semi-weighted MIDI keyboards on the market.
The onboard sound engines are so good that they really could charge a much higher price, although we hope they don’t.
Nektar Panorama P4
This is one of the funkiest keyboard controllers you will ever see thanks to its cool looks and motorized slider. It has 49 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch and they feel great, especially for synth/lead sounds.
The Panorama P4 takes integration to the next level, it can be used as a general MIDI controller but Nektar has gone deep with integration in the following DAW’s: Cubase, Logic Pro, Bitwig Studio, Reaper, Main Stage, and Reason.
It has 12 drum/sample pads and 16 assignable encoders and 10 faders to vastly improve your workflow.
The Panorama P4 goes deeper with DAW integration than any other controller on our list, that alone makes it a top choice for many. It’s compact but still delivers a massive amount of control.
We have no real complaints here, this keyboard will improve your workflow dramatically.
Novation Impulse 49
This keyboard has been around for a few years but it seems to be more desired now than ever. It’s a semi-weighted 49-key controller with aftertouch and eight drum/sample pads. It also has a clever arpeggiator which allows you to change the rhythm by using the pads.
There is an automap feature that will set you up perfectly with Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Sonar, and more. This one gives you nine faders and eight dials, all fully assignable along with the usual transport controls. Novation provides a copy of Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech.
This controller won’t beat many others on our list in their specialist area but it’s definitely above average everywhere. So, that consistency across the board is what gets it onto our list. If you want a good all-rounder, this could work for you.
Behringer MOTÖR 61
The name MOTOR comes from the nine 60mm motorized faders which are very cool, and useful of course. It’s a 61-key semi-weighted controller with aftertouch and eight drum/sample pads. There is an automap feature which works for most major DAW’s and it comes with a Behringer software bundle.
The faders are assignable along with eight dials and buttons, this controller offers versatility on a budget.
This controller is all about value for money, it offers a lot of versatility and does most of it very well. The overall build quality is good but a few details let it down in that respect.
It’s a relatively cheap weighted MIDI controller for the amount of versatility it offers. For someone who produces many different styles of music, this would be a welcome addition to your studio.
This keyboard makes it onto our list for two reasons, firstly, it comes with 16 high-quality drum/sample pads. Secondly, it has 16 encoders, 16 knobs, and 48 buttons, all of which are assignable.
This is a crazy amount of assignable options that which you will either love or it will have you pulling your hair out. Either way, it deserves to be on the list.
It has 61 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch and comes with a copy of Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition.
The VI61 is generally a very good controller, the keys feel great and the pads are better than most. It comes down to personal preference when it comes to the number of knobs/buttons etc. For many, this will be a highlight, for some, it will be overkill.
We should say that many of the keyboards in our lists have multiple versions, 49, 61, 88-keys, etc.
How to Choose a MIDI Controller with Weighted Keys
It doesn’t matter if a keyboard has drum pads, faders or any other features if it doesn’t feel right to play. The weight of the keys is always the most important thing because it makes a difference to your performance.
Generally speaking, fully-weighted keys are better for playing piano sounds. They allow you to be far more expressive and articulate in your playing.
Semi-weighted keys are generally better for playing organ and synth sounds where subtle expression is not quite as important. It’s often about having the ability to play quickly with a fast action that allows for rapid note repeat.
These are general rules and should always be considered but not at the expense of personal comfort. Many players feel more comfortable with a certain weight of key no matter what sound they are playing and that should be your main priority.
Here are a few examples of what different types of musicians might need:
Composing for orchestra, film, TV, or games means you will need a full harmonic range to play with. For this kind of use, 88-keys will always be better because you don’t want to be working with octave buttons and lose the natural feel. Much of this kind of work will be based around a piano sound too so fully-weighted keys will give the most expression and dynamic range.
Beatmakers and EDM Producers
Studio setups for this style of work quite often have limited space so it’s unlikely 88-keys will be suitable. Producing in this way often means shorter projects and quicker output, sometimes several tracks per day. So, you want something that improves your workflow and lets you turn out quality work more efficiently.
When you spend as much time on stage as you do recording it’s good to have something that fits both scenarios well. It’s most likely 61-keys to 88-keys would be needed to give you enough range for live work. Unless you are looping sequences then you will be focusing more on keys when playing live which means pads and DAW integration might not be so important.
Whatever you decide is the best weighted MIDI controller for you, just make sure it fits what you do. As we said, a keyboard with a million features is only good if you are going to use all of those features.
When deciding between semi-weighted and fully-weighted keys use our suggestions above as a starting point then start to apply it to your situation. For example: How much space you have? Do you need to transport it easily? What kind of sounds do you use most?
Ultimately, there are no bad keyboards on our lists, they are some of the best MIDI controllers with weighted keys around but it has to be the best for you.