A MIDI controller is often among the first things a producer buys for their studio, right after a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). This applies whether it's for a professional studio or a home studio. Here we have made a guide for you who are about to buy your first MIDI controller.

What is a MIDI Controller? 🎹

MIDI controllers come in many different sizes and styles. Most often they will be in the form of MIDI keyboards with keys, but can also be guitars, drum pad controllers, and even finger rings that convert motion into MIDI signals.

A MIDI controller is a jack-of-all-trades in your studio. It can be used to play software instruments, program drums, control your DAW, and automate parameters in plugins. The right MIDI controller can streamline your workflow when it comes to music production. You'll most likely discover new ways to produce music that are more intuitive than sitting and clicking with the mouse.

If we disregard the form of a MIDI controller, they work by sending MIDI signals to your PC or Mac. The MIDI signals tell the computer which notes to play and how to play them. A MIDI controller cannot function without a computer, just as a car cannot function without fuel.

In this guide, we will mostly talk about the more common MIDI keyboards and MIDI controllers with pads and buttons.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which MIDI controller is best. We all have different needs and means available, so you should choose the MIDI controller that best suits YOU.

If it's important for you to be able to take your MIDI controller with you when you travel, you may need to buy a lighter MIDI keyboard with 25 keys that can fit in a backpack. However, if you're a composer recording multiple octaves at once, you may need to get a full-size MIDI keyboard with 88 keys for your studio. 

If you aspire to master advanced and creative production methods like DJ and producer Fred Again, you may need to move away from MIDI keyboards and instead buy a MIDI controller with buttons and pads like Novation Launchpad.

How Much Does a MIDI Controller Cost? 💵

How much should you spend on your new MIDI controller? 

This can be significant for your choice, and you should of course choose something that fits your budget. MIDI controllers come in all price ranges. The price of a MIDI controller can affect many things. For example, the number and type of pads, knobs, and keys, the quality of the materials, and what extra features are available for live performance.

Budget MIDI Keyboard

The cheapest MIDI keyboard in our range is the Arturia MicroLab, which is available for only 577 kr. Arturia MicroLab features 25 keys, 4 function buttons, and touch strips for pitch bend and modulation. MicroLab can easily fit in a backpack and is compatible with Android and iPad, so you can produce music on the go.


Premium MIDI Keyboard

At the other end of the scale, for 3,945 kr. you can get the top model Arturia KeyLab MKII-61. Here you get 61 high-quality touch-sensitive keys, 16 RGB backlit pads, 9 faders, 9 knobs, and dedicated DAW and transport controls. With KeyLab MKII-61, you can control your entire DAW in an intuitive and streamlined way. KeyLab MKII-61 comes with thousands of sounds thanks to the included Analog Lab and Piano V software.


The Golden Middle Way

A suggestion for a good versatile MIDI keyboard for the price could be a Arturia MiniLab MKII, where you get both 16 knobs, 8 touch-sensitive RGB backlit pads, and 25 keys for 689kr. Pitch bend and modulation on this keyboard are in the form of two touch strips. MiniLab MkII has everything you need when creativity is unleashed in your home studio or on the go.'



In Summary

When you buy your first MIDI controller, it's important to think about what you want to use it for and what your budget is. This way you can choose a MIDI controller that fits your needs perfectly. Remember, the most expensive MIDI controller isn't always the best for you. However, the cheapest MIDI controller may lack the features you need for your music production.

Are you new to music production or need to be able to take your MIDI keyboard with you on the go in a backpack, you should consider settling for 25 keys. Here you should also keep an eye on the weight of the MIDI keyboard to make it as comfortable as possible to transport. For most beginners, 25 keys will be sufficient, as you can play a bassline or a melody that often does not span more than two octaves.

All MIDI keyboards have buttons to shift up and down in octaves, so you don't have to worry about there being some notes you can't play with 25 keys. The small MIDI keyboards can come with mini keys, which are slightly narrower than the keys on a piano. They make the MIDI keyboard more compact and it shouldn't be a problem if you just need to get your ideas quickly into your DAW.

Of course, you can buy a MIDI keyboard with more keys if you have the space and the need. However, most beginners often buy a MIDI keyboard with only 25 keys.

MIDI Keyboard for Pianists and Keyboard Players

Are you an experienced keyboard player or pianist who wants to play with both hands?

Then 25 keys are not enough for you at all. Producers with good piano skills often buy a MIDI keyboard with 61 or 88 keys, as it provides more room to express themselves. Here you should also pay attention to whether the MIDI keyboard comes with full-size keys, as these will feel more like the keys on a piano. MIDI keyboards with 61 and 88 keys also take up quite a bit more space than the small ones, so remember to measure if you have space in your studio.

MIDI Keyboard for Professionals

If you are a professional producer, you most likely already have a MIDI controller of some kind. But hopefully we can help you find the size of your next MIDI controller. As a professional, all sizes of MIDI keyboards can be relevant to you.

So here it is largely about the need to be fulfilled. If you need a MIDI keyboard when visiting other producers, you should look for one with 25 keys that doesn't weigh much. However, if you are looking for an upgrade to the studio, you can indulge yourself with a MIDI keyboard with 88 keys. These often come with a lot of buttons, knobs, pads, and faders, so you can control everything in your DAW as easily as anything while producing.

If you need something extra when performing live, it may not be about the size, but the build. Here something like a ROLI Seaboard RISE 2, with advanced aftertouch features, could be an option for you.

How Do You Make Music? 🎵

It's worth considering what your workflow usually looks like when evaluating which MIDI controller is best for you.

Do you play big chords and love to express your emotions with each key press?

So you should look more towards a MIDI keyboard with weighted or semi-weighted keys, which means they feel more like a real piano and register how hard you press them. If your MIDI keyboard is never going to leave your studio, you can also indulge yourself by buying one with 49, 61, or 88 keys, so you have plenty of space to express yourself. Just remember to be aware of whether you have enough space for the large keyboards in your studio.


Are you a producer who mainly makes electronic music or similar?

Weighted keys are not what you should prioritize the most. Here, most people will buy a MIDI keyboard that has drum pads for programming your drums and knobs for automating various parameters in your plugins. MIDI keyboards can also come with various forms of pitch-bend and modulation functions. If you use modulation to control, for example, an LFO, it is important that you investigate whether the MIDI keyboard comes with something you like. They can be both physical wheels and touch controls, etc.


Are you a beat-focused producer who always starts their production with the drums?

Then you should look for a MIDI keyboard that has pressure-sensitive drum pads. It will give you greater freedom to create your drumbeat exactly as you want it since these register how hard you press. Here you can also choose to completely depart from a MIDI keyboard and instead buy a dedicated beat pad controller, as previously mentioned, for example, Novation Launchpad. Here you will have many more options to compose beats live and really use your finger drumming skills.

Which DAW do you work in?

It's worth considering what DAW (Digital Audio Interface) you produce music in when looking at MIDI controllers. Most MIDI controllers are made to work with all the popular DAWs.

But a few MIDI controllers only work with one DAW, such as Ableton Push 2, which is made specifically for Ableton Live. So if you've already decided to go with Ableton Live, this could be an option for you.

Some MIDI controllers are primarily made for one DAW but still work with others. Here, the user experience will be more streamlined in the DAW the controller is made for, as they often will have buttons that correspond to the software's interface.