How to Choose a Midi Controller for Your Home Music Studio


A midi controller usually looks like a standard keyboard that is designed to control your virtual instruments in your DAW. There are different types of Midi controllers from a lot of different manufacturers. You might have a hard time deciding what the right Midi controller for you is. I wrote this article that reviews the different types and functions of a Midi controller so you can figure out what is the right one for your home music studio.

Choosing the right Midi controller for your home music studio will depend on the size, features, and the aesthetic that pleases you the most. There are a lot of different styles of Midi controllers nowadays so it might be hard to choose the right one. I suggest that you base your choice on the size, features, and the real feel of the keys and pads.

TYPES OF MIDI CONTROLLERS

There are a lot of kinds of Midi Controllers. They come in different sizes and features that can you can use in a variety of different ways. Some manufacturers make the Midi controllers a combination of different types, such as keyboards, pads, controls all in one package. Here are the different kinds of Midi controllers:

  • KEYBOARD CONTROLLERS

Keyboard controllers consist of keys and resemble a keyboard piano. You will need to connect the keyboard controller to a DAW to produce sound. Keyboard controllers come in different sizes. The number of keys will depend on the size of the keys and the size of the controller itself. Most modern keyboard controllers have a combination of keys, pads, and knobs.

  • PAD CONTROLLERS

Pad controllers consist of velocity-sensitive pads that you can use to trigger samples. Finger drumming is easier on pads rather than keys because of the bigger and soft rubber surface. You may also assign loops on the pads. Midi pads often have different banks so you can interchange the pads in the middle of a performance with a push of a button.

  • CONTROL SURFACE

Midi control surfaces is a midi controller that is used to adjust the volume and effect levels in a DAW without having to use your mouse and keyboard. You can assign certain functions on the knobs and faders such as HPF, LFO, delay, and reverb.  Having a control surface is very helpful in mixing and mastering a song in your DAW.

  • DJ CONTROLLERS

DJ controllers resemble turntables. You can play live DJ sets, as well as recording a DJ set with the use of a DJ controller. On a turntable, you will have to change the vinyl records when you want to switch through different songs. Midi DJ controllers allow you to switch between tracks with just a click of your mouse.

Streaming services such as Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud have integrated with DJ apps. This feature means you can buy a mobile compatible DJ controller and do a live DJ set without a massive sound library.

PURPOSE

The purpose of having a Midi controller in your home studio is to help make some features on your DAW easier to manipulate when recording or playing live. Midi controllers do not have a built-in sound engine. To produce sound, you have to connect the midi controller to a computer, laptop, or mobile device.

You can use a Midi controller to play virtual instruments such as piano and synths. A midi controller can also control the effects and automation on a track. Some Midi controllers can be used to control DJ apps and work as turntables. You can also play samples, and drum sounds with the use of pads.

FUNCTIONS and CHARACTERISTICS

On the list below, I will explain the different features and characteristics of a Midi controller you should consider before choosing one for yourself.

  • Size

Midi controllers come in a variety of sizes. It is best to purchase some of the mini keyboard controllers that fit inside your backpack if you want to carry them when you are traveling. A more significant sized controller will be suitable for your home music studio.  Another viable option is but two controllers. One for your studio, and one for recording and creating music on the go. Keyboard Midi controllers depend on the number of keys, pads, and features.

  • Weight of Keys

Some people are okay with the mini-sized keys on a keyboard controller. However, piano and keyboard players prefer the full-sized weighted keys that are similar to a real piano. This factor is an important aspect to consider when you are choosing the right Midi controller for your home music studio.

  • Velocity Sensitivity

Another characteristic to look at when choosing the right controller is how velocity-sensitive are the keys and pads. Velocity is the response of the volume when you hit the keys or pads. Most modern midi controllers have this feature.

  • Keyboard

If you want a keyboard to play the virtual instruments, you should get a midi keyboard that you think has the right number of keys and the right amount of feel. I suggest that you visit your local music store so that you can try out some of their Midi keyboard controllers before purchasing.

  • Pads

The feel of the pads differs depending on which controller. Some are rubber, which feels a lot better than plastic pads. Rubber pads are more durable and velocity-sensitive. If you will use the pads for finger drumming and creating rhythmic samples, get rubber padded Midi pad controllers.

  • Knobs/ Faders

Some Midi controllers have knobs and faders to control levels of volume and effects in your DAW. These are useful for tweaking and adjusting the levels to get the right sound and automation. Some controllers have several knobs and faders built-in the keyboard, and there are ones that are specifically just knobs and faders.

  • Arpeggiator

Arpeggiators are cool effects that play rhythmic patterns for the sound of your choice. It is a nice feature to have in a Midi controller. You can toggle the arpeggiator in your DAW with the use of a keyboard controller. It is a useful option turning the arpeggiator switch with just a press of a button on your controller.

  • DAW Compatibility

One of the most crucial aspects of choosing a controller is DAW compatibility. Make sure that the controller you purchase is compatible with your DAW of choice. Although, most DAWs nowadays almost all Midi controllers for computer recording, mobile recording, on the other hand, might not support most Midi controllers.

  • Midi Mapping

Midi Mapping is assigning specific controls of your DAW to the keys, pads, and midi knobs. Make sure you learn how to map your Midi keyboard. Use your DAW to maximize the use of a  controller you plan on buying. Some DAWs do not have this feature, but you can use the Midi editor software that comes with the controller to map out the controls.

  • Octave Switch

Most mini keyboard controllers have the octave switch feature that allows you to play on a particular part of the piano roll. Consider buying a Midi keyboard controller that has this feature, so you won’t have to use the mouse or trackpad of your computer to switch between keyboard sections.

  • Modulation and Pitch Controls

Most Midi controllers have this feature but consider what you would prefer. Some have modulation wheels, while others have a joystick for pitch control. When you are trying out controllers at your local guitar store, make sure you try out what feels right for you.

  • Durability

Controllers differ in the materials used in manufacturing. Plastic keys might break easily. I play keys for a rock band and have used the Akai MPK Mini MK II, because of how heavy my fingers are, I broke off the plastic keys in a few gigs. I love that controller, and I would surely buy another one for my home music studio. I will not use it for playing live rock shows. It may be able to handle light playing.

  • Price Range

The most critical aspect of choosing your Midi Controller is your budget. There are a lot of expensive but excellent controllers out there. If you are running pretty low on the budget end, there are tons you can buy for $100 and a lower price range. Though these controllers are cheap, it doesn’t mean they are not great.

SUGGESTED PRODUCTS:

MIDI KEYBOARDS

AKAI MPK 49

(Price: $400)

It is a combination of Akai’s best Midi features. The keys are semi-weighted for a nice piano-like feel. It is am excellent Midi controller with most of the features that you want in a controller. Right out of the box, you can select the DAW of your choice using the LCD selector, and it will map out the Midi functions automatically.

Key Features:

  • 49 semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys

The keys have a very natural piano-like feel to them. It is best for the piano players who are looking for a fantastic Keyboard controller.

  • 16 MPC PADS

The pads illuminate when pressed and can you can use as launchpads that you can set to loop, trigger, or hold.

  • 24 assignable knobs

The knobs are fully assignable to control the parameters from your DAW. Knobs and faders that have an excellent feel when you are tweaking levels.

  • 10 Octaves

This MIDI controller has a range of 10 octaves that you can switch quickly with a press of a button. Play around all the sections of the keyboard with the use of this feature.

  • Note Repeat

One of Akai’s trademark features, where you can hold down a button to play an individual note repeatedly. You can change the not speed with a press of a button.

  • Comes with over $200 worth of free software and samples

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as Ableton Live Lite, MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, and Twist 2.0.

AKAI MPK MINI MKII

(Price: $89)

If you want a smaller package of the Akai MPK 49, the MPK mini is the right one for you. It has almost all the same features of its big brother, but with fewer keys, pads, and knobs. This controller is great for just going out and creating beats and music. It can fit inside your backpack. You can connect this to a Laptop or mobile device.

Key Features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

At first, I never thought you would be able to play chords on such small keys, but I was mistaken. The small keys on this device are capable of anything you can do on a real piano. It only takes a little time to get used to small keys, especially if you came from playing a full-sized keyboard.

  • 8 assignable pads with two banks

The eight responsive pads are such a pleasure to use when finger drumming or just doing simple piano melodies and chords. It has two banks so you can have 16 pads for each user preset.

  • Arpeggiator

This controller also has a built-in arpeggiator so you can create rhythmic patterns. Your synth lines would not sound monotonous and repetitive with the use of this feature.

  • 8 assignable knobs

The MPK mini also comes with knob control. For its low price, this midi controller surely has it all.

  • Free software included

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, Wobble, and the Akai MPK Mini editor. The editor is used to set the value of the pads. You can use them with any of your favorite DAWs.

ALESIS Q49

(Price: $200)

The Q49 is a Midi keyboard controller that provides a surface for performing and writing music with your favorite DAWs. This keyboard controller offers total Midi control in a simple package. It does not have any pads and a lot of knobs. However, the weight of the keys is ideal or piano players.

Key Features:

  • 49 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys

The weight of the keys feels so incredible to play. The feel of the keys ensures a dynamic performance.

  • Pitch and modulation wheels

The standard pitch and modulation wheels roll smoothly for additional expression when recording and performing live gigs.

  • Octave up and octave down controls

Despite having a lot of keys, you can still switch up the octaves so you can play on any part of the keyboard bed.

  • Free software included

Ableton Live Lite and AIR software are included so you can create music instantly.

KORG MICROKEY 25

(Price: $99)

The KORG Microkey Air 25 is a more compact midi keyboard controller than the previous ones mentioned. Its Bluetooth features make it easier to use remotely. The device can connect to an iPhone effortlessly.  Like the Akai MPK Mini MK II, this device useful for synth and keyboard collection apps. The only difference is this device is much more compact and has Bluetooth connectivity.

Key Features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

The keys are beautiful and durable. For such a small keyboard, the keys are very responsive.

  • Pitch and modulation joystick

Just like any other synthesizer, it has a modulation joystick to manipulate pitch bends and effects at ease.

  • Bluetooth connectivity

The best thing about this portable keyboard controller is its Bluetooth connectivity. This feature makes this ultra-compact device super portable.

  • USB compatible

If the device you want to connect the MICROKEY to does not have Bluetooth, there is no need to worry. You can connect t any computer or laptop via USB.

  • Free software included

The Microkey 25 contains the essential software to get the sounds you need for playing.

ARTURIA KEYLAB MKII 61

(Price: $500)

The Keylab MKII is a 61-key keyboard Midi controller that introduces the aftertouch feature. It is a robust keyboard controller that has a pleasing aesthetic. The intuitive layout makes the controller very optimal to use for live shows as well as recording.

Key Features:

  • 61-note key bed with velocity and aftertouch

The aftertouch technology adds more expression to the playing of the instrument.

  • Analog lab software included

It includes a lot of software and virtual instruments that are mapped on the device, so you do not have to do any extensive Midi mapping.

  • Over 6500 TAE-powered preset sounds

With over 6500 presets, you will surely get your money’s worth when purchasing this controller.

  • 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads

The pads feel great for playing synth pads, chords, and drums.

  • 9 faders and 9 encoders

The fully mapped control surface allows you to modulate the sounds in real-time.

ROLI SEABOARD BLOCK WIRELESS KEYBOARD CONTROLLER

(price: $299.99)

The ROLI Seaboard Block is the best choice. Its elegant all-black design is perfect for a minimalist studio setup. The Roli has a block system, which means you can connect it to other Roli devices just like LEGO blocks to build a perfect keyboard rig.

Key Features:

  • Every movement counts

The keys work like any other Midi keyboard, but the 5D touch makes it more expressive like using vibrato on a string instrument.

  • Mobile compatibility

The Seaboard Block is compatible with most mobile apps and software

  • Expand your sound

This instrument can connect to a series of exciting devices made by ROLI such as the Lightpad.

  • Bluetooth connectivity

Connect to your computer or mobile device wirelessly with Bluetooth.

NOVATION LAUNCHPAD

 (Price: $150)

This device is a party machine. Great for EDM, Dubstep and trap music. Play live with this thing by triggering samples that match tempo so you would never miss a beat. This device is a fantastic Midi pad controller for launching music samples for playing live and recording music with an MPC style workflow.

Key Features:

  • Ableton Live connectivity

It can be connected to your Ableton Live software so you can load each sample on the pad and order you desire for easier accessibility.

  • 64 RGB pads with LED

Stunning lit RGB pads that make your live sets and recording sessions a lot more interesting.

  • Samples pre-loaded

The Launchpad is pre-loaded with the best high-quality samples so you can start playing right out of the box.

  • Assignable pads

You can assign your samples on the pads and arrange them for your live sets. This tool is best for playing EDM, Dubstep, and other electronic genres.

  • Loop machine

You can assign the pads to trigger loops or one-shot samples for a wide variety of playing styles.

  • Volume and pan knobs

There are volume knobs for different sections so you can play the instrument DJ style. Make your sets more creative with the use of the volume panning feature.

NOVATION LAUNCHKEY

(Price: $89)

The Novation Launchkey Mini is an excellent choice for more electronic-driven music. It is a combination of a midi keyboard controller and Novation’s Launchpad.  The Akai MPK Mini ant, the Launchkey Mini, are mostly similar in terms of features. The only difference is that the Launchkey has fewer knobs but more pads.

Key Features:

  • 16 fully assignable, LED indicating trigger pads

The LED lights on the pads on this device look fantastic.

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

The feel of the mini keys is similar to most mini keyboard controllers.

  • Eight fully assignable knobs

Assign specific parameters to your knobs for live tweaking and recording automation.

  • Free Software included

Free software included so you can start creating music instantly.

MIDI PADS

PRESONUS ATOM

(Price: $150)

The Atom is a tightly integrated drum pad system that is flexible in music production. You can produce and play virtual instruments from your computer software by triggering samples and loops.

  • 16 Pads

The 16 full-sized pads are velocity and pressure-sensitive. They also light up synced to the tempo, so you never miss a beat.

  • 20 Assignable Buttons

You can assign samples or chords to the buttons for performing full sets live.

  • Midi Keyboard Mode

You can adjust the velocity of the pads, switch out the aftertouch effects, and toggle note repeat to build up classic beat drops.

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS MASCHINE MK3

(Price: $650)

The Native Instruments Maschine MK3 is an integrated hardware and software system drum machine. The device includes a sampler, arranger, mixer, effects, and more. It is a stand-alone hardware drum machine and an all-around audio workstation. You can also use it as a Midi pad controller for your favorite DAW.

This device lets you effortlessly produce beats, melodies, and harmonies with the use of the premium sounds. The combination of the hardware presets and software instruments makes this device the ultimate producing machine. You can instantly transform your ideas into entirely produced tracks with high-quality samples.

Key Features:

  • 25GB KOMPLETE 11 SELECT

It includes a built-in sound library with thousands of samples to choose from.

  • Audio Interface

This device comes with a built-in audio interface that supports up to 24bit.

  • Touch Sensitive Knobs

The knobs for tweaking are touch-sensitive for expressive level adjustments.

  • Smart Strip

A smart strip is a tool for strumming notes, pitch bending, and adding different effects in real-time.

DJ CONTROLLERS

PIONEER DDJ-200

(Price: $150)

It is one of Pioneer DJ’s newest products. This Smart DJ controller is one of Pioneer’s first starter DJ controller. It is a beginner DJ controller that has almost all the necessary functions of a pro DJ controller. You can use this controller on an iPhone and laptop. The best thing about this DJ controller is the Bluetooth connectivity. It is an excellent minimalist controller. The response of this device is fantastic. The Bluetooth connectivity has little to no latency.

Key Features:

  • Smartphone Compatible

This DJ controller is designed for use with mobile devices. The WEDJ app has tons of built-in features for creating fantastic transitions. You can also use this controller with apps like DJAY and EDJING. If you use DJAY, you can access Spotify and use it as your sound library. You can also use it with REKORDBOX software.

  • Phrase Sync

The DDJ 200 introduces the phrase sync, which allows you to transition to a new song effortlessly easily. The seamless transition will get more people into DJing.

  • Ultra-Compact Style

The lightweight and ultra-compact style of this DJ controller makes it the ultimate mobile DJ device. The portability of this device complements the minimalistic side of being Bluetooth compatible.

NUMARK PARTY MIX

(Price: $99)

This controller is an example of a midi device that is not usually compatible with iPhones, but with the workaround, it will perfectly with the Edjing app and Djay app. If you are a beginner DJ, this is the device for you. You can connect it to your iPhone and use Spotify for your tracks. You can start partying with this controller without having an extensive music library.

  • Portable 2-Channel DJ Mixer

This portable mixer has most functions of a DJ controller including the two channels, and the mixer section so you can switch and transition through tracks.

  • LED lights synced to music

The awesome LED lights synchronize with the tempo of the music you play so your party will never get boring.

  • Four different pad modes

The various pads have different effects, such as filtering and echo.

  • Free software included

The necessary apps needed to use this controller can be downloaded for free, so you can start to DJ as soon as you open the package.

UNDER $100

Here are a couple of Midi Controllers that you can get for under $100:

AKAI MPD218

(Price: $99)

The MPD218 is an ultra-portable Midi pad controller that includes 16 pads for triggering samples, drums, and effects. It also includes 6 fully assignable knobs. The device has 6 banks for a total of 48 pads and 18 knobs altogether.

AKAI LPK25

(Price: $50)

The LPK25 is a simplified Midi keyboard controller that consists of only keys. It is very portable and useful for mobile recording. It has an octave switch and an arpeggiator.

ALESIS V25

(Price: $85)

This keyboard controller is excellent. It has 25 full-sized keys for a piano feel. If you are used to playing the piano, you can opt for this mini keyboard controller. It also includes four backlit knobs and eight velocity-sensitive pads. The design of this keyboard looks very modern and sleek.

ARTURIA MINILAB MKII 25

(Price: $99)

The Minilab is a portable and compact keyboard controller. It has a responsive keyboard that beats most of its competition in its category. The best feature of this device is the pre-mapped controls right out of the box.

IK MULTIMEDIA IRIG KEYS

(Price: $65)

IK Multimedia is well-known for creating innovative mobile-compatible devices. The iRig Keys is one of their prominent releases. For a low price, you get 37 mini keys instead of the standard 25 keys for its price range. It comes with all of the necessary accessories needed to connect to a mobile device.

RELATED TOPICS

WHAT IS FINGER DRUMMING?

Finger drumming is an effective way that producers as well as DJ’s use to record drums with a Midi controller or drum sampler. You can also master and use this technique for playing live and jamming with your friends. All you need to do is feel the beat and do what drummers do.  By using your fingers and a drum pad, you can emulate the pattern drummers do.

If you are a drummer and already know the flow of how to play actual drums, learning how to finger drum will be a breeze. If you are a non-drummer, all you need is a sense of tempo and rhythm, and your fingers will do the rest. If you do not have experience playing an instrument, you might struggle at first to play the rhythms, but eventually, practice makes perfect.

EXPRESSIVE CONTROLLERS

In the modern age of Midi controllers, Midi controllers are not just limited to the keyboard style. There are a lot of innovative devices that let you manipulate sounds in several mind-blowing ways. Technology is showing musicians off with all the modern innovations on musical gadgets and accessories. Sometimes it makes me wonder what kind of changes in music instruments will come ten years from now.

  • ROLI LIGHTPAD

(Price: $200)

The ROLI Lightpad M is only one part of a collection of innovative instruments created by ROLI. This device can build a song on one surface with the movement of your finger. You can play chords, beats, and melodies. You can tie all the sounds together to make an incredible multi-layered song in one device.

It has a 5D touch on the surface. There are a variety of gestures you can do to produce sound with this device. You can strike, glide, slide, and press the expressive Lightpad to create musical ideas. Explore a plethora of creativity with the Lightpad’s impressive features.

  • EXPRESSIVE E TOUCHÉ

(Price: $229)

The Expressive E Touché, just like the Lightpad, allows you to produce sound with the expression of your fingers. When you buy this device, it includes a massive library of professionally designed software instrument sounds. The sounds that come with the tool are fully mapped and ready to play right out of the box.

  • SKOOG 2.0

(Price: $200)

Skoog 2.0 is another innovative instrument that is designed for anyone from kids to adults. This device works with iOS apps such as Garageband, iTunes, and Spotify. You can play, jam, and create music right out of the box. The Skoog is initially designed for children who have Autism. However, it is a controller that takes innovation to the next level with its modern features.

GUITAR CONTROLLER

The Usual style and configuration of a Midi controller play and feels like a keyboard. However, if you are a guitar player, some companies released an innovative product that lets you play virtual instruments in the style of a guitar. If you are a guitar player, you would love how innovative these Midi controllers are.

  • ARTIPHON INSTRUMENT 1

(Price $399)

The Instrument 1 is a revolutionary Midi instrument. It won TIME MAGAZINE’s “Best invention of the year,” PCMag Editor’s Choice, and #1 instrument on Kickstarter. It is the first fretted digital string instrument with pressure-sensitive playability and low latency. This instrument is ultra-portable, and the battery lasts for up to 6 hours of playtime. The Instrument 1 has two built-in stereo speakers for jamming with a friend, and a headphone jack for writing music alone or for recording.

  • ZIVIX JAMSTIK +

(Price: $200)

The Jamstik + is like the Artiphon Instrument 1. It is a digital guitar that works wirelessly with your computer as well as your mobile devices. It has features such as interactive guitar lessons and works with most of your favorite DAWs and VST plugins.

CONCLUSION

The right Midi Controller for your home music studio solely depends on the purpose, your preference, and your budget. Most Midi controllers, no matter the price range, will have the same function but will differ in terms of feel and durability. The most important aspect of having a Midi Controller is the fact that it will help you make recording easier. I hope this article helped you choose what the Midi controller is the best for you. Don’t forget to go to your local music store to try out the controllers feel before purchasing.

For tips on how to choose a Keyboard/ Synthesizer for your home music studio, click here.

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