MIDI controllers are great to work with during the music production process because they usually come with several different types of encoders used for processing all sorts of sounds, effects, and samples within your digital audio workstation. As an avid Ableton Live user, I love using MIDI controllers and I use one for every single music session I do.
For some, MIDI controllers can be a problem, however. That’s because nearly every MIDI keyboard on the market is not weighted, meaning it doesn’t really feel like a piano. I’m a piano player; I’ve been playing for a long time, and I’ve played really heavy pianos and really light synths. For me, I don’t have a preference: all keyboards are created equal (well, to an extent) in my book. If it feels good and is useful, I usually love it.
But the problem is that a lot of piano players who want to use MIDI are in a bit of a pickle because they are so used to weighted keys. They need something that feels like a grand piano but can also double as a workstation for music production. Some people hate the plastic feel of keys on most MIDI keyboards and want something more like the Roland A-88.
Before moving forward, feel free to use our interactive table below to better help you find the perfect MIDI controller featuring weighted keys, as well.
|M-Audio Keystation 88|
|Novation Lauchkey 37|
|Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII|
Finding the Best MIDI Controller with Weighted Keys
So what are they supposed to do about that? Well, fortunately there are a handful great weighted MIDI keyboard controllers, and we’re going to go into depth about some that I’d recommend and why I think they are worthy of your consideration.
If you’re shelling out a lot of cash for a MIDI keyboard with weighted keys, you had better be sure you can find one that will last you for a very long time. In fact, if you’re in desperate need of a weighted MIDI controller that feels like a piano, you’ll need a controller that has the following:
- Weighted keys (well duh!)
- 88 keys
- USB to Host
- DAW compatibility
- Inputs for everything you might need
Below, please take a moment to view a list of some of the best selling MIDI keyboards available online:
|1) M-Audio Hammer 88|
|2) Arturia KeyStep Pro|
|3) Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII|
So with all this in mind, let me tell you about my 5 favorite weighted MIDI controllers and how they can help you in your time of need.
5) Yamaha P-125
A comforting sight for experience eyes, the Yamaha P-125 is technically a digital piano that can double as a MIDI controller. The reason I’m including this on the list is because it still fits as a MIDI controller and the keys feel too good to ignore.
So obviously, you have your standard CF sampled sound engine that Yamaha is famous for here, as well as its other core sounds: organs, strings, electric pianos, and vibes. It has speakers, but if you’re using it as a MIDI controller, you will only be able to hear the sounds on your DAW through your studio monitors or headphones.
So, I know what you’re thinking—you’re skeptical. Why would I include something that’s not exclusively a MIDI controller? Well, I’ve seen a friend use this thing as both a MIDI controller and a practice piano, and the more I think about it, the more I like its dual role.
For instance, if you want to practice some parts before your record them, you don’t have to arm tracks and solo the VST plugin synthesizing your piano sounds virtually. Instead, you just turn up the volume on the P-125. And the piano sound is so good that it’s almost better than a lot of the lower-end plugins like Addictive Keys anyway.
Plus the P-125 has inputs for pedals, a USB cable input for MIDI, and it just feels great to play. It’s also cheaper than a lot of the other MIDI keyboards on this list, and the other ones can’t play sounds on their own.
I don’t have much negative to say about this weighted MIDI keyboard (and digital piano), except that I feel like it’s a little narrow and slides around if you put it on a metal X stand. But you could put a towel or something underneath it. But it only weighs about 26 lbs. so it’s pretty portable.
Also, it doesn’t have any mappable parameters for music production stuff, which can be a problem for a lot of producers. If you want encoders, go with something like the Komplete Kontrol S88 or the Studiologic SL88.
I give it a 4.1 out of 5 stars in this context.
|M-Audio Keystation 88|
|Novation Lauchkey 37|
|Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII|
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4) Studiologic SL-88
Studiologic was a bigger deal a little while ago, but since then they’ve kind of drifted out of the spotlight and have made room for companies like Akai and Novation to dominate the MIDI sphere. Nevertheless, the SL-88 is still a great option for a weighted MIDI keyboard.
It doesn’t have much in the way of MIDI encoders, but it has a nice screen with a scroll wheel and a couple of assignable sticks. If I’m being perfectly honest, knobs make more sense than sticks in today’s digital climate. So if you’re looking for something that encodes better, go with something else. However, in order to get a MIDI keyboard that features weighted keys and perfect knobs, you’ll need to spend a lot more money in order to get something like the Komplete Kontrol S88.
However, the weighted keys are superb. They’re lifelike and convincing, and perfect for a piano player who needs something with weighted keys. The money invested in this keyboard goes straight toward the quality of the Fatar keybed, so it’s definitely worth the money. It’s wider than the P-115 so it feels really sturdy, and it weighs around 30 lbs. so you can probably carry it by yourself in a gig bag or something.
It doesn’t have any internal sounds like a hybrid MIDI controller would, but it controls everything inside the DAW just fine. It might not be a recognizable brand, but it’s still pretty great.
I give the Studiologic SL-88 a 4.3 out of 5 stars.
|Novation Launchkey Mini MK3|
|Novation Impulse 25|
|Korg microKEY Air 25|
|CME XKey Air|
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3) Roland A-88
I’m a big fan of Roland, but I promise the reason I put the A-88 on here is because it plays like a grand piano and is really quite nice. It’s got the same keys as Roland’s digital pianos, which is their patented Ivory Feel G technology.
It’s got a few necessary controls, although it doesn’t have any DAW transport controls (and for a MIDI controller you’d expect it to have some). It does have two knobs that are assignable, a full 88 keys, and a USB to host port for MIDI compatibility. It also has a few other controls, like octave, pitch, volume, etc. although for MIDI, you don’t necessarily need those.
My favorite thing about Roland keyboards are that the pitch and mod wheels aren’t wheels at all, but are actually a joystick you can use to change pitch and mod simultaneously. It’s brilliant because it only takes one hand to move both at the same time if you want to. Obviously the A-88 has one of these, and it works great. You can even assign different stuff to it if you want.
Some negatives? Only two knobs, and there aren’t any pads or anything like that, so it’s still somewhat limited as a music production machine. But I think when you demand weighted keys you have to sacrifice some of the production features on most of these MIDI controllers. Otherwise it’d weigh a lot more, and Roland A-88 already isn’t really light at 35 lbs.
I’d probably take this one over the Studiologic SL-88 because the controls are better. Although the keys feel about the same quality: they’re both great.
The A-88 gets a 4.4 out of 5 stars for me.
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2) Kawai VPC 1
For a weighted MIDI controller, the Kawai VPC 1 is about as realistic as you can get. That’s because it’s made by a company that pretty much only makes really high quality grand pianos.
For purists who want something digital, this one is the way to go. It’s hands down the closest thing to a real grand I’ve ever felt, and while the action is a little bit lighter than some of the other Kawai grand pianos, if you closed your eyes you’d think you might for a second be tricked into believing that you were playing an expensive grand.
Of course as a MIDI controller, your sounds are limitless, but if I was using this thing in my studio, I’d feel guilty not using a pure grand piano sound on it at all times.
Of course, the gorgeous design of the keybed and even the boxy frame (which looks like the top of an upright) is contrasted by a lack of controls, buttons, or anything useful for a producer. So that could be a major problem for a lot of people, and would turn away most producers.
So you probably have to decide what’s more important to you: perfect keys and no controllability, or more controllability and lower key quality.
It’s hard to decide, right?
Well for me it is, and I wouldn’t necessarily buy this MIDI controller because it’s very heavy (65 lbs.) and it has no controls, but for piano players who need that perfect key touch, I can definitely see the appeal.
And it is delightful overall, really, it just might not be the best for producers. The quality alone though is worth a high rating, and if it had everything a producer needed, it would top this list.
But instead, I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars because it’s amazing, just not perfect for everyone.
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1) Komplete Kontrol S88
In my very humble opinion, probably the best MIDI controller of all time is the Komplete Kontrol S88, regardless of the fact that it has beautifully designed weighted keys with LED backlighting. It’s hands down one of the most useful production tools out there right now, simply because of its workflow design and its flawless Native Instruments Komplete software integration.
What do I mean by software integration? Well, if you own a copy of Komplete, Native Instruments’ industry standard set of music production VST plugins, the Komplete Kontrol S88 automatically maps to the parameters designed by the plugin makers so you can make any sound customizable more easily than ever before.
The S88 has these really great knobs that already sync to existing parameters so you can edit sounds in real time, which is a producer’s dream. Of course you can map anything on the keyboard to non-Native Instruments plugins as well, so that’s a plus.
With the S88, you can select arpeggios, scales, and chord modes so you can create better melodies without worrying about playing wrong notes. The pitch and mod adjusters are touch screens, so you just run a finger up and down the zone to modulate the pitch or another effect. Very useful, and because it’s flat, you don’t risk breaking the wheels.
The screen is bright and easy to read, and the menus are so easy to get through, and the buttons for controlling the DAW and the menus inside any Native Instruments plugins are all there and are easy to use.
The S88 weighs around 37 lbs. so it’s very portable, and it’s definitely worth bringing along to a gig because the keys feel so sturdy and great to play. I should also note that the other S series keyboards do not have weighted keys; only this one does. So if you want weighted keys, you need to go for the S88.
If I had to find a complaint (and believe me, it was hard to find one) I would suggest that maybe on the next series of MIDI controllers they add eight pads and eight faders/sliders, just because that extra control would be nice. Native Instruments could even use the same pads they use for their Maschine. It doesn’t necessarily matter, but it would be nice.
Also, this MIDI is a little expensive too. It’s so easy to use that it’s a shame beginners might not be able to afford a $1,000 MIDI controller, plus the cost of the Komplete software, which is at least $400. Of course, you don’t need Komplete to use it, but that’s where this midi controller shines.
I don’t think they could have done a better job making a weighted MIDI keyboard that feels great to play, can control everything, and is easy to use.
I happily give it a 5 out of 5 stars.
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