MIDI Keyboard controllers are gaining more and more popularity as their technology is progressing and more of hybrid controllers with best of both analog and digital setups are evolving. Modern MIDI keyboard controllers are now frequently used for productions and enhancements like Bluetooth connectivity, auto-mapping, software integrations are enhancing the demands of these products. Overall usefulness, customization and cost-effectiveness of these machines is becoming unbeatable. With varied possibilities of effects and sounds, today, there are many options for buyers who wish to get the best ones on affordable prices.
What is a MIDI Controller?
A MIDI Controller is a keyboard that includes some additional buttons allowing user to have a completely customizable device that could be mapped with buttons and keys to produce a sound effect like any keyboard could produce. These devices can be connected to your computer system and with the use of software integration, offers a simple to use interface with enhanced features to produce beautiful, original and high-quality professional music.
Characteristics of Best MIDI Controllers:
Choosing the best MIDI Controller for you would typically depend upon your choice and preferences but listed here are features of some of the best keyboard controllers:
Key Size, Weight, Action & Sensitivity:
Size: As you search for MIDI controllers, you will find different options including the compact 25, 32, 37, 49, 61 and even 88 keys controller. For those who are looking for a look and feel of a real piano, the highest 88 keys would truly replicate the look and feel. However, some people consider compact, easy to carry ones such as 25 or 32 key controllers.
Weight & Action:
- Synth-Action Keys: Many of the popular keyboards have synth action keys equipped that are made up of plastic and springs instead of actual weights. These keys are designed to release original feel as you press and release them. They are lighter and quicker. This type would give you a feel of playing a synthesizer or electronic organ and it would be different from a real piano. These types of keyboards are more suitable for faster styles of playing.
- Semi-Weighted Keys: These are a combination of spring-loaded built with light built-in weight used for each key. The resulting action is somewhere in between the synth and fully-weighted keys.
- Fully-Weighted Keys: These are very much closer to the feel of playing a real piano but MIDI keyboards with fully weighted keys are more expensive models. These should be your choice if you are looking for a more realistic piano playing style and experience.
Making a choice would really depends upon who is playing and how they like to play!
Portability: Keeping a balance between portability and functionality features is difficult for music productivity. A compact MIDI controller may ask you to sacrifice for some features but would give you ease of producing music on the go. While on the other hand, if you have a home studio where you will be making music and are looking for a conventional style piano then bigger controllers should be the absolute choice for you.
AutoSoftware Mapping & Integration: Some popular products have auto-mapping feature but usually they are limited to some specific software. DAWs and plugins can vary and thus if you prefer some specific music production software, get a MIDI control that is designed to integrate with that software or you would need to do manual mapping.
Compatibility with DAWs: Many of the MIDI controllers introduced are compatible with most commonly used and popular DAWs. Some controllers may even have a software pack included that makes them a more cost-effective choice if you don’t already have DAW license.
MIDI Pads, Mod Wheels and Control Inputs: Many controllers are now equipped with drum pads that includes other sounds as well assigned to them, typically around range of 8 to 16 with 3 to 4 banks. Apart from these drum pads, other features for enhanced control over notes are included such as pitch bend and modulation, encoders, faders and other buttons. Additional control over parameters make music more expressive and these can be used to control plugins and DAW software. In some controllers, DAW software is controlled with motorized knobs and faders that move mechanically to match DAW current setting. This feature adds to the overall weight and cost yet it makes controlling more convenient. Many of the controllers are equipped with transport controls on the keyboard with which you can get control of recording and playback such as play, stop, forward, rewind and record.
Connectivity: Many of the controllers offer connectivity to computers. Most of them offer through USB while some also allow for wireless connectivity with Bluetooth.
Power Supply: MIDI keyboards also come with built-in rechargeable batteries. This feature can be important for you if you wish to reduce the clutter of cables within your setup.
Consider Budget: This question is important as MIDI controllers are offered within varied price range from under $100 to more than $500. Key count is the basic factor that increases the price however some additional perks would also add on to the price tag of these devices such as extra controls, software packages and more. As it is with other music equipment, for better build quality, better sound and additional features; you may need to spend a little more. But you will be able to find some amazing affordable controllers too and you don’t really need to empty your pockets out to get an absolutely exclusive one.
When it comes to MIDI controllers, there are several options. Each brand and model offer different set of features with a different approach. Have your priorities for features and specifications set and then choose the best one from different options according to your requirements. Right model for you would be the one that matches your exact preferences, needs and more importantly your budget.