A keyboard MIDI controller can simplify the music creation process significantly. Beyond keyboard controls, the powerful MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) communications protocol can allow for incredibly flexible control over pretty much any parameter in digital audio equipment. This includes, notably, audio production tools in digital audio workstations, among many other instruments and computers.
So then, it makes perfect sense that there's a huge market for MIDI controllers. Typically these controllers will have triggers (buttons, pads and/or keys) and control parameters (sliders, knobs, wheels, etc.). With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to pick just one (or however many you need) for your setup.
There are plenty of important factors to consider when selecting your MIDI controller(s). The brand is not so critical, though knowing the top brands should help to point you in the right direction.
In this article, we'll discuss the top 11 MIDI controller brands with an emphasis on music creation. In other words, we'll emphasize keyboard-type and pad-type controllers. I feel the need to make this distinction because DAW controllers/control surfaces (they look like studio mixing boards) are also technically MIDI controllers (for the most part).
Okay, back to the article at hand!
The Top 11 Best MIDI Controller Brands Are:
- Akai Professional
- Native Instruments
Of course, any “best of” list is subjective by nature. I've done my best to make this as objective as possible. I've included my own bias and the opinions of others (in real life, in online forums, and by which brands professionals use).
We’ll get into each of these brands in greater detail to explain why they made this list. I’ll also include an example of a MIDI controller from each of the brands, along with a link to their official websites and info on the companies' histories.
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Novation makes plenty of superb MIDI controllers and has an ongoing relationship with the wildly popular DAW developer Ableton (makers of Ableton Live).
The company's successful Launchpad series was first introduced in 2009 with the original Launchpad. It was one of the very first grid-based keyboard-less controllers, which have become staples in the Electronic and Hip-Hop markets. Of course, samplers like Akai's line of MPCs were designed with grid trigger pads long before, but Novation brought this idea to the DAW MIDI controller.
The Launchkey line from Novation combines typical DAW control parameters (buttons, faders, pads, knobs, expression wheels) with keyboard controls for superb, top-of-the-line MIDI controllers.
Novation draws up its rich heritage and forward-thinking team to create devices, like MIDI controllers, that push technology forward while withstanding the tests of time (which is important as computer technology improves increasingly fast).
Notable MIDI Controller: Launchkey 61
I mentioned Akai's successful MPC line of samplers already. It makes sense that the company would go on to produce some of the world's best MIDI controllers as well.
Akai Professional has a long history to take ideas from, and plenty of great minds focused on producing the best music-making tools possible. The brand's MIDI controllers are intuitive and powerful, allowing users to get their ideas out quickly and effectively.
With so many controllers (both pad-centric and keyboard-centric), you'll certainly be able to find a perfect product for your studio setup with Akai.
Notable MIDI Controller: MPK261
Native Instruments is a leading manufacturer of audio production software and hardware. The company is perhaps best-known for its astonishing amount of software instruments and the incredible sound and functionality of said instruments. However, if you've been involved with music production for some time, you'll likely know that NI's MIDI controllers are also some of the best in the world.
Because NI's software products are so widely cherished in the music industry across all genres, the controllers may not get the credit they deserve. Rest assured that the same innovation and drive are applied to the company's MIDI controllers. The hardware has the same great attention to detail and design philosophy that stimulates creativity in whoever chooses to play them.
Notable MIDI Controller: Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
Nektar is a relatively young company on this list. It's a company focused on producing transparent and intuitive hardware controllers for the ever-increasingly powerful audio software. The goal is to provide musicians with tactile products that allow the seamless integration between hardware and software.
Nektar works toward this goal relentlessly, teaming up with various DAW software makers to produce both DAW-specific and universal controllers that integrate beautifully with the workstations.
The team of experienced engineers at Nektar has tons of experience in the field of audio hardware and software. Combing this know-how with the forward-thinking of the company has produced some of the world's greatest MIDI controllers.
Notable MIDI Controller: Impact LX61+
Arturia is a French company that specializes in both software and hardware for musicians. Their software instruments, surface controllers, synthesizers and MIDI controllers outperform much of the competition.
This brand offers some deeply impressive controllers. Even the smaller controllers are designed with superb functionality.
With a passion for sound and technology, the Arturia team members (being musicians themselves) are dedicated to producing inspiring and powerful yet user-friendly tools. The brand's awesome MIDI controllers reflect this dedication beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Notable MIDI Controller: KeyLab 88 MkII
Alesis is a brand that produces a wide variety of products, ranging from electric drum kits to PA Systems to headphones to MIDI controllers (and much more).
The company aims to deliver high-quality products at affordable prices to both amateur and professional musicians and technicians/engineers. The MIDI controllers are a perfect example of superbly designed tools that don't break the bank.
Alesis has drawn on its long history of keyboard design and studio recording equipment manufacturing to bring forth some of the best MIDI controllers on the market today.
Notable MIDI Controller: VI61
M-Audio is a big name in audio interface and studio integration solutions. In addition to the brand's superb studio monitors, microphones and interfaces are several high-quality MIDI controllers worth knowing about.
The Oxygen8, released in 2002, was M-Audio's (then “Midiman”) first portable 25-key MIDI controller. Though it certainly wasn't the first of its kind, the Oxygen8's popularity practically brought a whole new category of portable MIDI controllers to the market.
The company has a successful history of offering connection solutions between studio hardware and software and between MIDI, audio and computer devices. It's no surprise, then, that M-Audio's MIDI controllers are among the best on the market today.
M-Audio is continuously improving and building upon its legacy as a superb brand for MIDI interfaces and controllers.
Notable MIDI Controller: Oxygen Pro 61
Behringer can sometimes be a controversial addition to these sorts of lists. Love it or hate it, the company's MIDI controllers are on point and are priced competitively.
Behringer is one of those huge companies that has a ridiculous amount of resources at its disposal. For pretty much any tool you can think of in the world of music and audio, Behringer has a product.
When it comes to MIDI controllers, Behringer has several high-quality options. The question, then, becomes about which option would work best in your specific situation!
Notable MIDI Controller: U-Control UMX610
ROLI is a relatively young company. Made up of a multidisciplinary team of creators, ROLI is focused on producing the great musical instruments of the future. Along with these innovative instruments come innovative MIDI controllers, including ROLI's flagship product: the Seaboard.
This forward-thinking company continues to push forward, developing and improving new technologies to give musicians more creative control and freedom over their musical expression. These technologies can be found in ROLI's spectacular Seaboard MIDI keyboard controllers.
Notable MIDI Controller: Seaboard Rise 49
Korg is a multinational corporation based in Japan. It offers a huge variety of superb musical products to the amateur and professional markets. The MIDI controllers of Korg are among the best in the world.
The company has a long lineage of top-performing keyboards and synthesizers. It also has plenty of experience in designing interfaces and in device compatibility. This familiarity and history have given Korg a huge advantage in producing its MIDI controllers.
Korg is devoted to creating instruments that inspire great music and to making music performance/production fun. One way it does so is with superb user-friendly MIDI controllers!
Notable MIDI Controller: Triton Taktile TRTK49
Roland is another multinational corporation based in Japan. Like Korg, it produces many superb electronic instruments and certainly high-level MIDI controllers.
Roland's MIDI controllers are built to last and offer the tools musicians want and need to produce music more effectively. The company's focus on performance and advanced technologies make for some of the best controllers on the market.
Notable MIDI Controller: A-88 MkII
Choosing the right MIDI controller for your workflow and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive MIDI Controller Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next MIDI controller purchase.