Every aspiring producer needs the best weighted MIDI keyboard controller they can get. Whether that’s fully-weighted or semi-weighted will depend on your style of music and your budget. We are picking out our overall top 10 MIDI controllers available in 2020. Our top 10 will cover 88-key models right down to 49-key controllers to suit every type of musician.
Here are the best weighted MIDI keyboard controllers:
- M-Audio Hammer 88
- Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII
- Novation 61SL MkIII
- NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII
- Arturia KeyLab Essential 88
- Studiologic SL73 Studio
- Studiologic Numa Compact 2x
- Nektar Panorama P4
- Alesis VI61
- M-Audio Keystation 61
1. M-Audio Hammer 88
The piano players choice
The Hammer 88 is a personal favorite of ours; it’s the absolute best fully-weighted MIDI keyboard you can buy. This controller is the ultimate MIDI keyboard for piano players.
Although, being number one on our list is purely based on how it feels because the Hammer 88 offers very little in the way of features. The keybed on the Hammer 88 is the best we have played on any weighted MIDI keyboard. Every single key from top to bottom is perfectly weighted to give a piano feel that you don’t expect from a controller.
It does have some useful connectivity with a 5-pin MIDI DIN port so you can trigger external MIDI gear. The MIDI output means the Hammer 88 can integrate with your wider studio setup rather than just be on the fringe of it. As far as hands-on control, there isn’t much, just pitch bend and mod wheels, and two buttons. All of which, along with the master volume fader, are fully assignable.
Adding to the realism of the piano experience, there are three pedal inputs for soft, expression, and sustain.
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If you are looking for a controller that does a bit of everything, you won’t find it here. Also, we will assume for some people that would mean the Hammer 88 wouldn’t be top of your list.
In terms of functionality and how it integrates with your DAW, it’s way behind some other keyboard controllers. However, as far as MIDI keyboards with weighted keys go, this is the one. We are placing the feel of the controller above all else, and in that area, the Hammer 88 beats all comers.
2. Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII
The one that does everything
Arturia’s KeyLab 88 MkII is their flagship MIDI keyboard controller, and it’s one for the hands-on producers. With 88 keys and the much-admired Fatar TP100LR keybed, the KeyLab 88 provides a realistic piano feel. The keys also have aftertouch, which is fantastic for synths, organs, and orchestral sounds.
We said it’s one for hands-on producers, and that’s because of the abundance of control offered directly from the keyboard. There are nine assignable knobs and faders, as well as transport controls that map to all popular DAWs. Arturia provides its Analog Lab 4 software, which contains over 6,500 outstanding sounds, from electric pianos to soaring synth leads. One of the coolest things about it is that the knobs and faders automatically map to the virtual instrument currently selected, making it feel more like a hardware synth.
The KeyLab range is known for its backlit drum pads, and the KeyLab 88 MkII has 16 of them that can trigger samples or clips (clips in Ableton Live).
Connectivity is an area where the KeyLab 88 MkII really shines. It has four CV outputs, and one CV input, so even those with an advanced analog setup can place this controller in the center of it. Adding to that, there are three assignable pedal jacks on top of the expected expression and sustain pedal jacks.
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Arturia has taken a MIDI keyboard controller that was already very successful and made it even better. The KeyLab 88 MkII is such a joy to use, the level of integration with DAWs, and VSTs takes away so much of that annoying back and forth between the laptop and controller.
The drum pads are slightly small, but they are responsive, and that’s the most important thing. It feels great, comes with over 6,500 premium sounds, and it’s built like a tank. If we wanted an all-rounder, that combines feel, function, and versatility well, we would call this the best 88-key MIDI controller available.
3. Novation 61SL MkIII
An Ableton producer’s dream
The Novation 61SL MkIII is an ultra-modern MIDI controller keyboard with lots of intuitive functions.
It comes with 61 synth-style, semi-weighted keys with assignable aftertouch. Each key also has RGB LED feedback to show scales, modes, and split zones. Impressively, the 16 velocity-sensitive pads also have polyphonic aftertouch. The pads are used to trigger samples, clips, and input steps to the onboard sequencer.
The 61SL MkIII has an 8-track internal step sequencer that adds a new dimension most controllers don’t offer. You can input notes as steps or record live straight to the sequencer. Now you can edit sequences straight from the keyboard and even record parameter automation on the fly.
There is also a built-in arpeggiator with adjustable velocity curves. As far as connectivity goes, you get MIDI in/out, CV/Gate, and Mod outs. The 61SL MkII integrates well with most popular DAWs, but it’s absolutely perfect for Ableton Live. When using it with your DAW, there are eight assignable faders, dedicated transport controls, and eight mute/solo buttons.
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If you are a Novation user already then, you probably work on Ableton Live, in which case it’s a no brainer. The 61SL MkIII will be the perfect controller for you. The keys feel great, especially for synth and electronic sounds. Having the internal sequencer lets you work faster without needing to leave the keyboard, too. It’s everything you want from a 61-key weighted MIDI controller and more.
4. NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII
One for Kontakt or Komplete users
Native Instruments plugins and virtual instruments are amongst the best money can buy, what better to control them than a Native Instruments MIDI keyboard? The Komplete Kontrol S88 MkII is one of the top-rated 88-key MIDI controllers with fully-weighted keys.
It comes with 88 hammer-action keys and aftertouch, considering Native Instruments are relatively new to hardware (compared to other manufacturers), they have created a great hammer-action MIDI keyboard.
The Komplete Kontrol S88 is designed very much in the image of Native Instruments software. It’s about creating a very specific workflow and aimed more at producers than performers. All Komplete software instruments are pre-mapped to the controller giving you the ultimate control from the hardware.
One rare feature of this keyboard is that it has dual color screens, which let you navigate your virtual soundbanks and functions in a way that isn’t possible with most controllers. There is another intuitive feature that shows Native Instruments background in software; each key has an RGB light that is color-coded to indicate drum cells, key switches, and more – just like you see in a DAW. A touch strip adds further expression along with a pitch bend and modulation wheel, all of which are assignable.
|Image credit: Native Instruments Check Price on Amazon||
The only surprising omission from this keyboard is some Native Instruments Maschine pads. But, if you don’t really care about pads or already own a Maschine, it’s not a deal-breaker. A potential downside is that while it’s clearly a high-end controller, it’s also a pretty expensive controller. The sounds that come from the Komplete 12 software are absolutely fantastic, too.
It’s one of the best 88-key weighted MIDI controllers around, especially for Native Instrument fans. Our advice is simple, if you use Native Instruments plugins already and want 88 keys, buy the Komplete Kontrol S88.
5. Arturia KeyLab Essential 88
The best value for money
We already have the KeyLab 88 MkII on our list, so you might think we don’t need another similar controller. But, there are some significant differences between the two, the most prominent being that the KeyLab Essential 88 is under $350.
As the name suggests, this keyboard is a stripped-down version of the flagship KeyLab, keeping not much more than the essentials. You still get nine rotary knobs and nine faders that are fully assignable. Even better, you still get 6000+ premium sounds that auto-map to the assignable controls. The transport controls and super-easy DAW integration are still present, too.
You’ll notice there are just eight drum pads rather than 16, which might be an issue for some people. The other cutbacks come mostly on the back panel, there is MIDI and a sustain jack, but no CV outs, and no assignable AUX pedal jacks.
Now, the biggest change that we haven’t mentioned yet is that you get semi-weighted keys, not fully-weighted. The keys still have aftertouch, and depending on what sounds you use most, semi-weighted may suit you more.
|Image credit: Arturia Check Price on Amazon||
As far as we can see, Arturia has packed in far more than just the essentials here. It’s crazy to think this controller is available for under $350. If you want the realistic piano feel, then you might be disappointed with the semi-weighted keys. Although, if you are more about synths and organs, you’ll love the feel of the keys.
Having fewer drum pads should only be a problem if you’re a serious finger drummer; for triggering clips, eight is plenty. It’s tough to say anything bad about the KeyLab Essential 88; it’s an absolute bargain.
6. Studiologic SL73 Studio
The alternative piano experience
The Studiologic SL73 Studio is an excellent 73-key weighted MIDI controller, and it’s a curveball in our list. It’s similar to the M-Audio Hammer 88 in that it’s a MIDI controller that feels like a piano.
While the SL73 doesn’t top the Hammer 88 for feel, it offers something slightly different that some players may prefer. There isn’t much in the way of controls, but interestingly, Studiologic has gone with joysticks instead of wheels for pitch/modulation. Three assignable X/Y sticks controllers can be used for various parameters.
Most fully-weighted MIDI keyboards that are built mostly for their piano feel don’t come with aftertouch. The SL73 has aftertouch and variable soft, medium, or hard keyboard feel. It also has space for six user velocity curves via the SL Editor software.
One big plus for the SL73 is that is has a TFT color display for quick and easy navigation through functions. As far as connectivity, there is MIDI in/out and three pedal jacks for an authentic piano experience.
|Image credit: Studiologic Check Price on Amazon||
If you choose the Studiologic SL73 Studio, it should be because you want a realistic piano MIDI controller more than you want loads of functions. In that department, it performs very well, indeed. We do place it behind the Hammer 88 in terms of the realistic feel, but it has aftertouch and assignable joysticks that might sway your decision.
The reason we chose the 73-key version rather than the 88-key version is the price; our opinion is that is you want 88-keys, the Hammer 88 is better value. If you don’t need 88 keys, the SL73 Studio is a winner.
7. Studiologic Numa Compact 2x
The ultimate hybrid performer
The Numa Compact 2x is a hybrid digital piano/MIDI controller that has some fantastic onboard voices.
It is an 88-key controller with aftertouch and 128-note max polyphony. Starting with what’s on board, there are 88 sounds, including acoustic pianos, synths, and organs. Two dedicated FX engines allow up to six effects simultaneously per voice.
The control surface is pretty busy but easy enough to get around. Nine faders bring the organ sounds to life; they can also be used to control FX parameters of any voice on the fly. Furthermore, they are fully assignable when being used as a MIDI controller. Each FX engine has a dedicated section, and next to the master volume is some EQ controls.
The keys are semi-weighted with aftertouch, and the entire thing is extremely light and portable. Studiologic even added some built-in speakers, so you can play anywhere, with or without a computer or an amp.
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We understand that the Numa Compact 2x won’t be on everyone’s mind when they think about a MIDI controller. It’s a bit of a wildcard pick, but it’s just too good to leave out. As a controller, it does everything you need it to, although not as intuitively as more dedicated controllers. But, the fact it has so much to offer as a stage piano, too, massively adds to its value.
If you want a keyboard for the stage as well as the studio, check this one out. We think it’s one of the best semi-weighted MIDI keyboards on offer.
8. Nektar Panorama P4
Deep DAW integration in a small package
The Nektar Panorama P4 is one of the coolest little keyboards you will ever play. It looks cool, and the first time you see the motorized fader, you’ll be hooked. More importantly, it’s not all style over substance.
It’s a 49-key controller with assignable aftertouch, which means the aftertouch can be assigned to control various parameters. The Panorama P4 comes with 12 velocity-sensitive pads, too, for triggering samples or finger drumming.
What will really surprise you about this keyboard is the deep integration with popular DAW software. Channel strip control lets you control a channel strip within your DAW directly from the controller. The large TFT screen displays what functions and settings you are editing, giving you instant access to EQ, sends, inserts, etc. There are 10 assignable faders, 16 assignable encoders, and two pedal inputs.
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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. Overall, it’s a top-quality 49-key weighted MIDI keyboard.
9. Alesis VI61
The control freak
The Alesis VI61 has more assignable buttons than any other controller in our top 10. For some people, it might be overkill, but it’s worth listing for the control freaks out there.
It comes with 61 semi-weighted keys with a square front and aftertouch. As far as being a keyboard playing experience, it pretty much ends there. The VI61 is all about software and plugin control.
There are 16 velocity-sensitive backlit pads that are as close as you will get to MPC pads outside of Akai products. On top of that, there are 16 illuminated, fully assignable knobs, and dedicated transport controls. Now the crazy part, it has a whopping 48 fully-assignable buttons so you can control anything and everything. The bundle includes Ableton Live Lite and its MIDI Editor software.
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The VI61 is generally a very good MIDI 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 others, it will be overkill. But, if that’s your thing, then the VI61 is a monster controller.
10. M-Audio Keystation 61 MkIII
Reliable control on a budget
M-Audio’s Keystation series of controllers have been around forever, it seems. The range has had multiple updates and facelifts, but it never goes away.
The Keystation 61 is sometimes thrown into the cheap and cheerful bracket, a little unfairly we should add. It has 61 semi-weighted keys, and not much else, but that’s the appeal of it. It’s incredibly lightweight, so if you need to take your MIDI setup from the studio to a gig, it saves you carrying heavy equipment.
There are some assignable controls in the form of a pitch/mod wheel, master volume slider, and octave buttons. It even has dedicated transport controls, albeit very basic ones.
It also comes with a pretty fantastic software bundle, including Ableton Live Lite, and Pro Tools First – M-Audio Edition. The package includes some awesome VSTs from AIR Music Tech, as well as Skoove sample content.
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When you buy any M-Audio Keystation controller, you are purchasing a budget MIDI controller. There are no surprises; you get what you pay for, no more and no less. While that might sound quite poor, they have been serving musicians very well for years. Due to their low price and reliable performance, they will continue to serve musicians well for many years to come. It’s also a great choice for beginners.
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 explore. 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.
Suggestion: We would suggest choosing one of the 73-key or 88-key controllers. Any extra features would be a bonus but focus on the playing experience (fully-weighted keys).
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 usually 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.
Suggestion: Anything in the 25-key to 61-key range should be more than enough; of course, if you have space, there’s no reason you can’t go higher. You should be looking for something with responsive pads to get beats down quickly and look for something you know will integrate well with the DAW that you use. Don’t just choose the one with the most sliders and buttons etc. Choose the one with features that you will use. Since this kind of work relies mainly on virtual instruments, any controller that comes with an excellent software bundle is a bonus.
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.
Suggestion: Something that has onboard sounds would be a huge benefit, so you don’t have to use a laptop and virtual instruments on stage. It’s easier, plus it takes away the risk of a software/computer/USB issue. If you do go for 88 keys, you’d want to make sure it’s still easy to transport.
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 useful 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.
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.