Piano Keyboard Guide
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The piano truly is a great instrument to play, one of the classics. It’s an instrument that has been around for hundreds of years. Although it’s an old instrument, it has evolved significantly over recent years, especially with the technological revolution which we have seen.
If you are a really big into the electronic side of creating, playing, producing, and editing music, particularly piano music, you might be interested in getting a MIDI keyboard.
Today we will take a look at 5 of the best MIDI keyboards for playing piano. We’ve got a great selection for you to look at, as well as a comprehensive buyer’s guide to give you some tips.
5 Best Midi Keyboards for Playing Piano
It is time to take a very in depth look at the 5 best MIDI keyboard controllers on the market right now. We have done our best to provide you with a wide selection of products based on varying price levels and levels of functionality.
M-Audio Hammer 88 | Premium 88-Key Hammer-Action USB/MIDI Keyboard Controller Including A Studio Grade Software Suite
Although it may not be a real piano, what stands out about the M-Audio Hammer 88 MIDI Keyboard Controller is that it features weighted keys, hammer action velocity sensitive keys to be exact. This helps deliver the natural feeling you get with a real piano.
This MIDI keyboard comes with a driverless class-compliant connection, which means that it will seamlessly connect to your computer via USB, and it doesn’t require any special drivers to operate, thus making establishing a connection much easier.
This is a classic 88 key keyboard that comes with octave, volume, pitch bend and modulation controls which are conveniently located for ease of use. It also features dual keyboard zones to allow for easy layering, splitting, and 4 note chords, all with the single press of a key. It also comes with other expanded control options.
The fact that it is a full size 88 key keyboard helps to reproduce the natural feel and look of a full size piano.
To bring it all together, the M-Audio Hammer 88 MIDI Keyboard Controller comes with a comprehensive software performance package, both for Macs and PCs, with “instruments” such as air mini grand acoustic grand piano, air velvet vintage electric piano, a tone wheel organ, and more.
What’s also cool is that when you purchase this MIDI keyboard controller, you get a 3 month subscription to Skoove, an interactive piano educational tool which provides lessons for beginners and pros alike.
What’s also included with your purchase is a subscription to the 2GB Touch Loops sample library, which comes with over 500 sounds. Moreover, there is a wide variety of software included as well, such as ProTools M-Audio Edition, Eleven Lite, Ableton Live Lite, Velvet, and Eighty Eight Ensemble.
It might not be a small MIDI keyboard, as it does have some size and weight to it, but it’s very versatile in terms of what it can do. Moreover, beware that you will require Windows 7 or later, or Mac OS X 10.8 or later in order to connect the M-Audio Hammer 88 MIDI Keyboard Controller to your computer.
- Great responsiveness
- Great price
- True piano feel
- Comes with a variety of software
- Great for educational purposes
- Durable Design
- Many functions through software
- Not a huge amount of onboard controls
- Very large and heavy
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard
Here we have , a very versatile MIDI keyboard, the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard.
One of the reasons why it is so versatile is because you can choose from an 88, 61, 49, or 25 key MIDI keyboard, so you should be able to find the exact one to suit your needs. What’s really great is how the hammer action keys are weighted to feel like the real thing.
What can be said about this MIDI keyboard is that it is quite a technologically advanced option that comes with a lot of onboard controls. For one, it comes with a high-resolution color display, so you can create your own music while using the onboard screen instead of having to focus on your computer. In fact, it comes with dual color screens.
Moreover, it also comes with onboard controls such as Maschine Control, plus it has 8 touch sensitive knobs for the precision tweaking of all sounds. It also comes with onboard pitch, mod, and volume controls, as well as DAW transport control.
In terms of onboard functions, it appears to be one of the better options around. Having such a high level of control right on the keyboard, is a big deal, especially seeing as it comes with its own color screen, as well as the pre-mapped control of Komplete instruments, sounds, and effects.
There are 14 premium instruments and effects included, to be exact. It even comes with hundreds of Native Control standard plugins for leading instruments. The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard is also very simple to connect, and quite versatile in this manner, as it comes with easy bus power and USB connectivity, MIDI in/out, a Kensington security slot, and 2 assignable pedal inputs.
It’s also important to note that even though the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard comes with a full 88 key layout, it actually doesn’t weigh too much and it isn’t too bulky either.
Just remember that to make it work, you will need either Windows 10 or higher OR Mac OS 10.12 or higher, as well as USB 2.0 or higher, at least 4 GB of RAM, and a high quality graphics card.
- Compact and lightweight
- Very responsive design
- Weighted keys for a true piano feel
- High quality dual onboard screens
- Many onboard controls
- Very sturdy construction
- No drivers required
- Software can be buggy
- Customer support is not great
- Only works well with Ableton 10
Alesis VI61 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller with 16 Pads, 16 Assignable Knobs, 48 Buttons and 5-Pin MIDI Out Plus Production Software Included
If you are looking for a technologically advanced MIDI keyboard with a plethora of onboard functions, something that’s lightweight and compact, and can be easily connected to your computer for simple music production, the Alesis VI61 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller is a good option to look into.
Something to be aware of here is that you can choose between a 61 key and 49 key model. If you need something more versatile, the larger option is what you should aim for. Keep in mind that even the 61 key model is still very lightweight and compact, thus making it great for small spaces and for portability too.
Keep in mind that the Alesis VI61 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller comes with semi-weighted keys, so although it does not feel exactly like a real piano, it feels more like a real piano than a basic synth does. Some people like this semi-weighted key design, and some people do not; it’s a matter of personal preference.
What is also very convenient about this MIDI keyboard is that it is a plug-and-play controller, which means that you can plug it into your Mac or Windows computer using the USB connection, and it doesn’t require drivers to function. You can also use the 5-pin MIDI connector.
Moreover, you also get various pieces of music production software, with these being Ableton Live Lite, Xpand 2 by Air Music Tech, DB-33, Xpandi2, and Eleven Lite.
The range of onboard controls on the Alesis VI61 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller is quite impressive. For one, it features 48 assignable buttons, as well as 16 assignable knobs. You also get 16 velocity-sensitive trigger pads with RGB illumination for easy clip launching and production control. The included LED screen for seamless visual feedback can be a big help too.
Next, this model also comes with pitch and modulation wheels for a great degree of control and expressivity. The V161 hands-on controls also allow you to manipulate synthesizers, volumes, effects, and more.
- Simple connectivity
- Range of software included
- and comprehensive onboard controls
- Small, lightweight, and compact
- Comes with an LED screen
- Features velocity sensitive trigger pads
- 61 and 49 key options
- May have some issues with responsiveness
- Not known for its high level of durability
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard
If you are looking for a fairly versatile, lightweight, and easy to use MIDI keyboard controller, all for a decent price, then the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard is worth looking into.
Something you may like about the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard is that it comes in various sizes or key number options — you can choose from 61, 49, or 25 key options. What’s pretty cool is that even the largest one, the 61 key option, only weighs 10 pounds and is still quite compact, making it ideal for small spaces and portability.
Keep in mind that this MIDI keyboard comes with semi-weighted keys. It might not feel exactly like a real piano, but it certainly has a better feel than most other keyboards and synths.
What also stands out is how the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard features full integration with Komplete and NKS plugins, Maschine, Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and Garage Band; you get all of the software you need to effectively and efficiently produce your own music.
What’s really cool about the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard is that it features very simple USB-Bus connectivity, which means that you can connect this MIDI keyboard to your computer with nothing more than a USB cable; t doesn’t need a power source, as it uses your computer or laptop for power.
This is also a plug-and-play model with no drivers required. That said, be aware that you will require the latest edition of Windows 10, with Intel Core i5 or equivalent, as well as 2 GB of RAM, or Mac OS 10.12 or later with Intel Core i5, and 4 GB of RAM. Your computer will also require an internet connection to download the software, USB 2.0 or higher, and a graphics card which supports OpenGL 2.1 or higher. In other words, you need a fairly high-quality computer to utilize this MIDI keyboard.
In terms of onboard control, admittedly the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard is not the No. 1 choice around, but it does still hold its own. It comes with 8 touch-sensitive control knobs for easy manipulation, as well as pitch and mod wheels too.
To help make producing and creating your own music that much easier, you also get full DAW control. What also comes to light here is the informative OLED display which helps make navigation much simpler.
- Great software compatibility
- Simple connectivity
- Small, compact, and lightweight
- Decent amount of onboard controls
- OLED navigational display
- Decent price
- Semi-weighted keys
- Keys are a bit “clicky”
- No power switch – relies on computer for power
M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 | Compact Semi-Weighted 61-Key USB-Powered MIDI Keyboard Controller with Assignable Controls, Pitch / Modulation Wheels and Software Production Suite included
For a very affordable and low-priced MIDI keyboard for making, producing, and learning the piano, the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller is a fantastic option. This is one of the most affordable MIDI keyboard controllers out there right now, and certainly the most affordable on our list.
Of course, you get what you pay for, and with this low price also comes somewhat limited functionality, at least when compared to some of the other products reviewed today, but that said, it still holds its own and makes for a great beginner option.
Something you might like about the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller is that it weighs just over 9 pounds and features a very compact design. It’s perfect for portability, for storage, and for small spaces.
You can choose between a 61 and 49 key option, with the smaller one being a bit less versatile, but more affordable. The 49 key option is USB only, with only the 61 key controller featuring a 5 pin MIDI connector.
In terms of compatibility, this is another plug-and-play option. Just use the MIDI port or the USB port to connect it to your computer. It doesn’t require any drivers and should work fine simply by plugging it in. You don’t require a separate power source either.
The M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller gets its power from the connected computer. That said, just like all other MIDI keyboards reviewed today, you will need to have the latest versions of Windows or Mac operating systems to make it function, as well as a fairly high-quality graphics card too.
What stands out about the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller is that it comes with a full software suite. This includes pieces of music production software such as ProTools First M-Audio Edition, Ableton Live 9 Lite, Touch Loops, Xpandi2, Velvet, Mini Grand, Skoove, and Melodics. It comes with literally everything you need to create and produce your own music.
The M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller features semi-weighted keys, and whether or not you like them will be a matter of preference. Semi-weighted keys tend to feel much closer to the feel of a real piano than non-weighted keys, so most people should appreciate this.
This option does not feature an onboard screen, and admittedly, the range of onboard controls featured here is not spectacular. That said, you do get 2 sturdy wheels, pitch and mod wheels, as well as volume controls, and a couple of other buttons. However, when compared to the 4 other MIDI keyboards we reviewed, the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 MIDI Keyboard Controller’s onboard control don’t really stack up.
- Very affordable
- Small, simple, and portable
- User friendly design
- Semi-weighted keys
- Full software suite included
- Simple plug and play connectivity – no drivers needed
- Great for beginners
- Not ideal for advanced producers
- Somewhat limited durability
- Somewhat limited responsiveness
- Limited selection of onboard controls
MIDI Keyboard Buyer’s Guide
Before you go out and buy a MIDI keyboard, there are a few things which you should know about. Below is a list of the most important purchasing factors to consider before buying any such MIDI keyboard controller.
Number of Keys
The number of keys on the MIDI keyboard is always worth considering. Do you want to replicate a full-size 88 key piano, or will something smaller do? Generally speaking, your choice will include 88, 61, 49, and 25 key controllers. The more versatility you require, the more keys you should go for.
You will want to look for a keyboard controller that has a wide range of connectivity options. Some function using a classic 5-pin MIDI port, some connect using a classic USB connection, and some can do both. For full-scale music production purposes, although a USB does just fine, a MIDI-style connection is usually best.
Most modern MIDI keyboards do not require drivers to function when connecting to your computer. Most are simple plug-and-play controllers for easy connectivity and functionality. That said, some may require drivers, although these usually tend to be the higher end models.
Whether or not the MIDI keyboard in question is compatible with your computer is another big one to look into. These keyboards usually require a specific operating system, they have RAM and graphics card requirements. Make sure that your computer can handle the MIDI keyboard in question.
MIDI keyboards are all about playing, creating, and producing music. To do this right, you need good music production software. Some MIDI keyboards come with software, while others can come with a full suite of software. Always consider what your own needs are in this regard.
Key action refers to their weight. For instance, non-weighted keys will feel similar to synths and to regular electric keyboards. However, if you want your MIDI keyboard to feel like a real piano, you will want to go for weighted keys, or at least semi-weighted keys. These will make your playing feel more realistic.
Although this is not a huge purchasing factor, it is still worth mentioning. How large are the keys? Sure, smaller keys save space, but they can also be much harder to play because you might end up having to cramp your fingers together into a small space.
A MIDI keyboard with aftertouch features is always a cool thing to look into. Aftertouch means that the key will keep playing or sending data to your computer when you continuously hold it down.
Do you need a display or are you fine working with the display on your computer? A MIDI keyboard with an onboard display can come in handy for navigational purposes.
Size and Weight
Do you need a full size MIDI keyboard with all the bells and whistles, or do you prefer something smaller and more compact? Keep in mind that portability does come into play here, as well as your own spatial constraints. Generally speaking, larger and heavier keyboards will come with more features and also have a more solid build.
Onboard Controls and Features
You will also want to pay attention to all of the onboard controls and features. Adjustment knobs, trigger pads, control wheels, and DAW control are all features to keep an eye out for. The more comprehensive your production needs are, the more features you want to aim for.
The bottom line is that MIDI keyboards are very advanced in terms of technology and what they can do. Yes, there are many different purchasing factors, but if you pay attention to all of them, you should have no problems finding the best MIDI keyboard for piano playing for you.
Keep in mind that when it comes to MIDI keyboards for playing piano, you do get what you pay for, so, going for the cheapest option is not recommended. It’s worth it to invest a few extra dollars in a durable, functional, and feature-rich MIDI keyboard.
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