There are so many MIDI Keyboard Controllers out there it’s really difficult to decide which one is best for your setup. I counted 20 mainstream brands making controllers and there are countless others releasing new keyboards every month. Since we test our products and make music with these tools everyday, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of our favorites.
For the Composer
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol
We’ll start with our most favorite. The Komplete Kontrol series of keyboards are outstanding. The semi weighted keys are some of the most responsive keys I’ve felt on a MIDI keyboard controller and the s88 is fully-weighted for the composers out there. The color assignable LEDs that shine down upon the keys not only look cool, but also give helpful visual feedback for things such as key switches and octave ranges. Komplete keyboards also work with NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) supported software, like all Output instruments. No drum pads on this one… Although, the Maschine hardware, which also happens to be NKS compatible, is a great companion to the keyboard if you need drum pads in your set up.
For the Producer
The Arturia Keystep is a new iteration of the previously released Beatstep Pro, but instead of 16 rotary encoders and pads, you get a 32-note “slim keybed” with 3 encoders. The keys are velocity sensitive with aftertouch. There is a 64 step polyphonic sequencer, an arpeggiator and capacitive pitch bend and mod touch strips. With this little keyboard you can control an entire synth rig sending sequences, swing, gate length, etc all synced to your laptop via USB. It’s impressive.
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For those who need everything
The Nektar Panorama brings a lot to the table. With semi-weighted keys, drum pads, sliders, rotary encoders, transport control, and a cool color display the Panorama covers all of your bases. One of the coolest features that really sets it apart is the 100mm touch-sensitive fader. I haven’t seen this feature on any other keyboard controllers and it comes in very handy when mixing. The Panorama is also automatically mapped to Logic, Reason, Bitwig, and Cubase, which really saves on setup time.
For the Ableton Producer
The Novation Launchkey is nice mid level keyboard geared towards Ableton Live users and electronic composers, although, it is compatible in all DAWs. The RGB pads located on the top of the keyboard work as drum pads or as clip triggers inside Live sessions. There are 8 knobs, 9 sliders and 6 dedicated transport controls as well as standard pitch bend and mod wheels. If you haven’t tried out Live, this keyboard also Includes ableton live 9 lite, novation bass station, and 1gb of sample loops to get you started.
For the Experimenter
Roli Seaboard Rise
ROLI has unveiled a new type of keyboard controller that allows for musical expression in ways previously impossible via normal keyboards. Using “5D Touch,” as they call it, users are given access to 5 dimensions of touch expression. The 5 touch parameters are Strike, Press, Glide, Slide, and Lift. I recently had a chance to play the Seaboard and was very impressed by the response and versatility of the keys. The Seaboard Rise also features MIDI over Bluetooth, an XY Touch Pad, 3 touch sliders, and ROLI’s Seaboard companion software synth, Equator.
For the Traveller
When it comes to keyboards for travel, it doesn’t get any better than the CME XKey. It’s super thin, light, velocity sensitive and they even have a wireless version which works over Bluetooth. The XKey also includes a cool sustain key, since you won’t have a pedal, and of course octave, pitch bend and modulation buttons. We use them all over the office since they’re so convenient and take up a minimal amount of desk space.
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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, a chef de cuisine, and an all around handy man.
Output Favorites: Keyboard Controllers by Josh Story
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