The Best DJ Midi Controllers (Review & Comparison) of 2020 – Our Top Picks Reviewed
MIDI is a standard which producers, keyboard players and DJs alike have relied on for years. There’s probably no better way to create synthesised music and noise for editing via PC and Mac. That being said, what should you be looking for from the best MIDI controllers? We have compiled a list of The Best Midi controllers of 2020.
The goal of this review and buying guide is to help you make the best buying decision when you purchase a Midi controller.
The Products We Reviewed – Click to go
3 Midi Controllers You Must See – Our Winning Picks
The Best DJ Midi Controllers Reviewed
1. Novation Launchkey 49 MKII (#1 Top DJ Controller)
Size: 77.5 x 8.89 x 26.97 cm – Weight: 3.7 kg – Keys: 49 – Designed for Ableton Live
Heading up the other end of the budget scale, Novation is a brand which normally commands the prices they set. Don’t be put off right away by the price tag, as it’s likely MIDI and production beginners will find the intuitive controls and teaching functions pretty appealing.
This is one of a few controllers in Novation’s line which are perfect for use with Ableton software. This is no bad thing. However, if you do want to use it with other software and suites, you can. Mac and PC users will likely enjoy the plug and play design, as well as a layout which might make things easier for beginners. It seems that this Novation system is designed to welcome new MIDI users into the world of music creation, and that’s never something we want to discourage.
2. AKAI Professional APC Key 25 (#1 Best Value DJ Controller)
Dimensions: 19.41 x 31.19 x 4.29 cm – Weight: 0.84 kg – Keys: 25 – plug-and-play setup for Mac and PC
If you’re already into music production, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Ableton already as a leading name. AKAI’s compatible live controller offers 25 keys and a plug in and play system. Therefore, it could be a good option for anyone looking to get started with a simple MIDI controller as soon as possible.
However, as all good MIDIs should be, it’s simple on the outside, yet complex when you get to know it. DJs and producers on the go might appreciate the portability of the unit, while you can also tweak and adjust the sounds you send to your players with eight different control knobs. Any users unsure about moving to a small MIDI will likely be happy with switchable octave already on-board.
3. AKAI Professional APC40MKII (#1 Premium Pick DJ Controller)
Dimensions: 10 x 16.7 x 1.8 inches – Weight: 3.97- USB powered plug and play connectivity for Mac and PC
Let’s finish off with a final look at the AKAI Professional range. This behemoth device normally has a high price tag, and for anyone using Ableton, or at least wanting to control MIDI live, it might help you in terms of flexibility and triggers. Like any good mixer, the unit offers multiple faders, sliders, control dials and more. It’s built specifically for Ableton, which means anyone already au fait with the software could find working with this system a breeze.
What might appeal to many people getting started is the fact that software is included in the bundle. This means that anyone who is new to MIDI control and production can just leap in and get started. It seems to be a good all-around option for creators and performers, which means if you dabble in a bit of everything but need a little extra support, this could be a good choice for you.
4. AKAI Professional LPK25
Dimensions: 3.8 x 13.4 x 1.1 inches – Weight: 1 lbs – Keys: 25
Sticking with AKAI, let’s take a look at one of their keyboard MIDIs. A limited run of keys will appeal to anyone in need of space, and at the low end for price, it might be a good choice for musicians on a budget. What strikes us about AKAI’s range of MIDIs is how flexible they can be with different software and suites. We think a lot of people struggling to find an all-around controller for big-name software might enjoy the versatility of the LPK25.
There’s an arpeggiator built-in – this means it might be a good choice if you’re the sort of producer who likes exploring different melodies and chord patterns ad hoc. For those on the move, the wireless version might prove to be even more appealing.
5. AKAI Professional LPD8
Dimensions: 3.2 x 11.9 x 1 inches – Weight: 11.2 Ounces – Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC
Anyone daring enough to step away from keyboard MIDIs into the world of drum machines might find AKAI’s LPD8 to offer an affordable and lightweight alternative. This eight-knob system provides eight drum pads for users to create their own percussive soundscapes. It will probably appeal to people who want to create their own loops which can trigger at short notice.
The LPD8 has helped many people who have struggled to keep hold of their loops. There’s a small yet impressive memory bank feature on-board. It’s not that much to look at, but it’s likely to be a good pick for any musicians on the move in need of some new beats and loops. You’ll also be able to sync it up and use it with other virtual instruments. Plug in and play with software included.
6. Novation Circuit Groove Box
Dimensions: 16.7 x 11.2 x 3.7 inches – Weight: 4.85 lbs – Compatibility: macOS 10.12 Sierra , Mac OSX 10.11, Mac OSX 10.10, Windows 10 , Windows 8
The Novation Circuit Groove Box is a solid little MIDI controller which is perhaps a little different compared to what we’ve looked at already. This system doesn’t have a keyboard attached to it, but instead revolves around a grid system with a drum machine built in. This may well appeal to those people who are more concerned about beats than they are about hammering out a tune.
What many people might find impressive here is the number of ‘sessions’ or recordings that you can store. Producers could find it pretty appealing to store up to 32 different plays, all the while being able to transfer their sessions and samples for editing on their PCs and laptops. Anyone who enjoys fiddling around with effects might get a kick out of the variety of reverbs and filters built-in.
7. Behringer X-TOUCH MIDI Controller
Dimensions: 11.8 x 15.4 x 3.9 inches – Weight: 8.2 lbs – 9 Touch-Sensitive Motor Faders
It was only going to be a matter of time before Behringer made their way onto our list. It’s a brand that’s synonymous with some of the best mixers on the planet. Everyday DJs, producers and home musicians might find this landmark MIDI controller to be lightweight and easy on the budget.
Again, this is a system which does away with the keyboard. Anyone looking for flexibility and versatility will likely appreciate the remote control functionality, as well as the ability for you to use the controller across all of the major production applications. You’ll have access to eight different controls on-board, and while you only really get switches and dials here, there’s still a fair amount of diversity. Producers looking for quick setups will likely enjoy the pre-configured elements in play here.
8. Novation Launchpad Pro
Dimensions: 10.03 x 1.14 x 10.33 in – Weight: 2.65 lbs – Compatable: Mac and Windows 8 and above
Let’s take another look at what Novation has to offer us. The Launchpad Pro is a pretty colourful-looking beast which, again, leaves the keyboard to one side. This isn’t always a bad thing, though your tastes may vary. Anyone interested in using a grid-based MIDI for live performance might find this a seamless fit for their existing setup. Again, however, your mileage may vary on this one.
Ableton users might find this system particularly useful as it’s colour-coded to match the software’s interface. It can emulate a keyboard despite the lack of piano keys, and if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to trigger loops and beats as and when you need to, you might find the Launchpad Pro to be a bit of a revelation.
How We Chose The Midi Controllers In Our List
We didn’t want to limit our choices purely to those which offered keyboards or the classic piano setup. We understand that DJs and producers are looking for a variety of different tools and systems to create beats and to help build soundscapes.
The MIDI controllers we’ve listed here are those which we feel represent the needs of everyday users the most. We haven’t necessarily chosen the most affordable products all the way across, however, we do feel that there is genuine value in these choices. The perfect MIDI controller is diverse, easy to use and set up.
DJ Midi Controller Buying Guide
MIDI Controllers – What Do They Do?
Before you start shopping around for a MIDI, you should at least have some idea of what you’re buying into. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and as the name suggests, it revolves around creating artificial instrument sounds which you can use to create music. You can play this music and edit it via a suite on your PC, Mac or tablet. For many people, it’s the easiest way to get started in music production, especially when they may not know how to play many instruments.
One thing you’ll need to remember when buying a MIDI controller is that it won’t generate music on its own. The word ‘controller’ gives this away – it is more an input device than an instrument. If you want an instrument which will play music from its own hardware, you should consider buying an electronic keyboard.
But what should you be looking for from a MIDI controller? Let’s take a look.
Consider a Keyboard Controller
For most people, a good entry-level MIDI controller will have some form of piano keyboard as the basis. This is a very easy way for most people to start feeling their way around music. However, there are plenty of MIDI controllers with different modules and features, meaning that if you’re feeling confident enough to break away from the basics of a piano setup, you can. Keyboards tend to be the most common units available, as well as the most popular, on the whole.
Consider Your Keys
If you’re buying a MIDI keyboard, you’re going to need to think carefully about keys. First of all, think about the number of keys you are likely to need from a controller. While you can buy controllers which cover the full array of 88 piano keys, some controllers are much smaller. This is a factor of space and convenience, more than anything.
You can purchase keyboard MIDI controllers with half or even a quarter of the full 88. These will still perform to the standard you expect, however, be prepared to do a little tweaking if you want to access all the notes you’re accustomed to.
Sticking with keys, let’s think about action and pressure. Keyboard action describes how keys will react when you use them. Many people prefer a weighted hammer system, where a keyboard will emulate that of a traditional piano. This means you can press keys down softly or with more force to create different sounds.
Otherwise, you can choose synth action or semi-weighted systems. Synth action controllers offer none of the weighted effect of a piano, however, many people prefer them as they can bounce back quickly, and give instant feedback. For the best of both worlds, a semi model will be a good choice.
Do You Need a Pedal?
Pedals are, naturally, a mainstay of traditional pianos as well as their electronic counterparts. The same applies to most MIDI controllers. You will generally find one pedal to help you control sustain, while others will help you to control the power of your sound. The good news with many MIDI controllers is that they are flexible with a variety of external pedals, though do tread carefully – no pun intended.
Other Elements to Consider
There is much to consider when looking into the various features of a MIDI controller, and rest assured, we’ll explore everything you need to know in our frequently asked questions section, if not right here and now.
For example, you are going to need to consider purchasing a MIDI controller which gives you some control over velocity. It is a common feature, however, it’s important that a device gives you the ability to adjust sensitivity and playback as much as possible. The same applies to pitch bending. Some models will let you bend pitch with a flexible wheel, while others will let you fix and control pitch changes.
Not all MIDI controllers are complex or appear tricky to use. In fact, the very best are deceptively simple. Look for a MIDI controller which offers plenty of control, but which doesn’t lock you out of the process if you’re just getting started. If you’re new to playing and making music via MIDI, you are going to need to find a system which will plug in and play from the off. Luckily, most systems and controllers allow you to do this via USB, so do reconsider if you’re looking at an option which needs you to tangle around with unnecessary cables. However, complexity is something you’re going to need to weigh up for yourself.
If you’re buying a MIDI controller for the first time, you’re always going to have a few questions to ask. Here is a quick run through of what you might be exploring when shopping around.
Do I Really Need a MIDI Controller?
Plenty of DJs and producers find MIDI controllers to give them a pretty long leash. If you’ve got an ear for music but don’t necessarily know how to play instruments, a controller will let you put your skills to the test in a way that’s simple to understand and intuitive to control.
Do I Need Specific Software to Start Using a MIDI Controller?
It’s certainly a good idea to have some form of audio editing or music production suite ready to go. Some MIDI controllers will work cross-platform and cross-software. Others will be perfect for services such as Ableton. Some of the best controllers we’ve seen, at least those which are the most flexible, will come with software included.
Can I Use a MIDI Controller for Live Performance?
Yes! It is generally a good idea to get to grips with the hardware before you go on the road. However, providing you’re able to react quickly enough to be in time with music, there’s nothing to say you can’t hook up a MIDI and a PC for some gigs.
How Much Do MIDI Controllers Cost?
Admittedly, this is where things can get a bit varied. As you’ve seen, the best controllers tend to roll in at around $100-$200, though you can always pay more if you want the bigger, better brands. There are plenty of smaller MIDIS out there, such as Behringer’s pocket model, which you can pick up for much, much less.
Do I Always Need a Keyboard?
Not at all. As you can see from our list and guide, there really is no shape or form to the perfect controller. Some people prefer using keyboard MIDIs, while other prefer to use grid systems and touch controls. It’s a wide market, and it’s one worth exploring.
MIDI controllers can help to change up the game as far as playing and producing synthesised music is concerned. All good producers should consider investing in some kind of controller. You should be looking for hardware which works across various platforms and software suites, however, there’s nothing to say that the Ableton-only picks we’ve looked at are worth avoiding. Don’t always go with your budget – consider what’s easy for you to use, and consider the sort of music you’re going to want to create and play.