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Choosing a great MIDI controller for music production shouldn’t be hard. After tonnes of research and reviews, here are the best MIDI controllers in 2017 you can consider buying for your recording studio.
A MIDI controller has become an important component of the studio. You will do just fine with clicking notes in your DAW.
The thing about MIDI controller is when you purchase one, it sort of fits into your studio setup and workflow.
Best Mobile MIDI Controllers in 2017
1. Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-key Controller
A 25-key slim profiled MIDI controller that is designed for the travelling music producer in mind. The Arturia MiniLab MKII sits perfectly on your studio desk without taking too much space and is also good for making music on the go.
The well-built, solid enclosure ensures that the controller will last some heavy bumping and its small profile makes it perfect for making music in tight spaces, bus rides, at the cafe, in the plane and more.
You get 2 banks of velocity and pressure sensitive pads which illuminate when pressed. These are useful for triggering drum samples or triggering live clips when using Ableton. There are 16 rotary encoders that can be easily mapped to pan pots in your DAW or use them to record interesting automation. Ableton users will love this MIDI controller as there is a seamless integration option with Ableton.
I don’t quite like the pitch and modulation touch strips. I always find better control when using MIDI controllers with physical pitch & modulation wheels. Perhaps Arturia designed the Minilab with touch strips to save space on the MIDI controller.
The MiniLab MKII also comes with several light-edition software & VSTs, namely UVI workstation Grand Piano, Ableton Live Lite & Analog Lab Lite. At a $99 price tag, there close to no mini MIDI controllers that can beat the Arturia MiniLab.
2. Akai MPK Mini MKII
A redesigned MPK Mini, the Akai MPK Mini MKII is designed to be ultra-compact and compact. Like many compact MIDI controllers, it requires no power adapters and powers up with a USB connection your Mac or PC. It easily fits into your backpack.
Compared to the MiniLab, the MPC-styled pads on the MPK Mini is bigger, making it more usable if you’re constantly hammering drum patches. The keys are synth-action, and while it’s playable, you might want to take a second look elsewhere if you are more used to playing full-sized keyboards.
The knobs and pads are all customizable and mappable to your favourite plugins and VSTs. While the controller comes with a bundle of production software and VSTs, I found the several software like the included MPC Essentials DAW that is barely any good. The editor software also takes some time to get used to but with some fiddling around you’ll eventually find your way around to mapping the controller.
Also priced at $99, get this if you prefer MPC-styled drum pads for programming drums and if you like the different colour theme!
Price: $99 / $167
3. CME Xkey 37 Air MIDI Mobile Keyboard
It seems like the trend for going wireless, has been caught up by many MIDI controller makers. And the CME Xkey Air is a mobile keyboard that does just that.
The CME Xkey 37 Air does fall into the ‘budget’ MIDI controller range, but it has its reasons why.
First off, upon unboxing the CME Xkey, you’ll notice how well built the controller is. It’s built in an extremely slim profile with the material used to build MacBook Pros. And boy, does it look sexy! Aesthetics aside, although the keys have very little travel down as you press on them, they are surprisingly easy to play with.
Personally, I found playing on the CME Xkey a pleasure though I prefer the 37-key version for the extra keys. Some music producers though have commented that playing on the keys of the CME Xkey to feel a little strange. I believe that falls into everyone’s personal preference but truth to be told, the keys are indeed playable.
The keys also have aftertouch to them so you can apply pressure to the keys and get pretty expressive sounds in the studio or when performing. Additionally, the inbuilt battery is also said to be able to last up to 10 hours of playtime. Latency is also very low on the CME Xkey Air as it uses a Bluetooth 4 technology to connect.
If your computer does not have a good Bluetooth adapter, you could also purchase the Wifi Bud, which works as a plug & play adapter.
A great mobile MIDI controller that is very playable but is in the higher price range. You can consider the 25-key version to save a few bucks, but if your budget allows, go for the 37-key model. The extra keys are worth it.
4. Korg microKey Air
Another wireless mobile MIDI controller, the Korg microKey Air runs either via USB cable from your computer or with 2 AA batteries. The keys feel really good but could be small for some users.
The microKey Air is also bulkier compared to the CME Xkey. That said depending on the size you get, it’s still small enough to fit into a backpack. Having tested this controller on a PC and Mac, I conclude that the latency is pretty low, almost less than 15ms. The microKey Air connects to your computer via Bluetooth, so before buying one, make sure your computer has a good Bluetooth adapter, especially if you’re on a PC laptop or computer.
Otherwise, the microKey Air is pretty versatile and affordable, being a wireless MIDI controller. You get the basic octave buttons on the controller with a sustain button and an interesting arpeggiator. If you need to use a sustain pedal with it, note that the 25-key model does not have a sustain pedal input.
The pitch & modulation are control with a joystick, which I find hard to operate. Other than that, the microKey Air is a nice mobile MIDI controller that you’d be glad to have in the studio.
Price: $99.99 / $129.99 / $159.99