We’re all familiar with keyboards, especially seeing how prominent MIDI has become in our day and age. More and more producers and musicians have already switched over to an all-digital setup, myself included. One of the most popular and first pieces of gear individuals start out with when building a studio is a MIDI keyboard. It allows us to play custom sounds and trigger effects that are selected via our computer(s) — giving us a keyboard with endless mounts of possibilities. If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend reading our best MIDI keyboard controller that has received a lot of great feedback. Otherwise, continue on here as we highlight our favorite 88-key controllers.
To our surprise, only a handful of these exist today. That’s probably because not everybody can handle (or even need) that many keys at once. For those of who do know what we’re doing and need our room for various reasons such as scales and what not, we’re aware that 88-keys are the standard for real pianos, so it only makes sense to have that attached to our MIDI controllers. You’re making a great investment here and will be able to emulate a full piano in your setup.
How to choose your 88 key MIDI keyboard
There a few factors to take into consideration when shopping for your 88 key controller. Here’s our list to help you out:
- Your budget. Some can be a bit costly when compared to other key counts, but we were able to find a few that fell within budget-friendly terms. The more money you spend however, the more extra features you’ll have attached to it.
- Extra features needed? Some of these come with only keys and maybe a pitch bend and mod wheel, but others can give you some faders, knobs, buttons and more. Our favorite, the MPK88, even comes with drum pads — are these worth it to you?
- Software packages. Not too prominent in the 88 key realm as compared to others, but some of these come with VST’s, others with trials of music software and more. This could steer you towards a specific direction if you are needing something specific.
- Travel. It may be a bit difficult to travel with an 88-key but it is still possible. Just keep this in mind if you’re planning on doing so in the future.
Our top picks for best 88 key MIDI keyboards
M-Audio Keystation 88
This is one of the most simple, yet budget-friendly out of the bunch. Around the 200$ range, the keystation is perfect for those looking for no BS and just what they need — a MIDI keyboard with 88 keys without pizzazz. Although, you do get two pitch bend and modulation wheels for some spunk and a few transport controls to talk to your music software directly. It’s also a plus that it is compatible with a sustain pedal so you can add some more variance and natural-feel to your playing. Lastly, it comes with an OK software bundle as compared to others, with SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble (a simple piano sound VST, but worth around $150 retail in value) — so at least you can start using the keyboard out of the box. It’s also worth noting that this 88-key model isn’t too expensive as compared to the other Keystation models, as the prices only go up around $20-$25 each key count, so grabbing this is the best bet.
The Alesis Q keyboards have shown a very solid test of time and their reputation is great in terms of longevity. Another budget-friendly keyboard coming in around the same range as the Keystation, the semi-weighted and velocity-sensitive keys are great in terms of build while giving you a natural feel when playing. You get pitch and mod wheels as well, but also added are octave up and down buttons for even more extended note ranges (as if the 88 keys didn’t give you enough). Yes sustain input is included with Q88 and it is powered via USB only so it is very convenient when adding to your setup. I kind of like this software bundle more, and that’s where the decision comes between this or the Keystation — it comes with Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition (you’ll have to pay a few extra bucks for the full Ableton edition). So if you’re still looking for a DAW this could be right for you, otherwise you’re left with no VST to work with (although you may already have some).
M-Audio Oxygen 88
Here’s another 88-key MIDI controller worth looking at, and it has a bit more extra features than the previous two listed. It’s in between the budget-friendly controllers and our top pick which we speak about after this. With the Oxygen 88, you get a hammer-action key bed, dedicated transport and track select buttons for some DAW control, and lastly what separates it from the budget-friendly keyboards is the assignable knobs, faders and buttons. You can assign these to some effects for custom control, such as filters, reverb and gain. In our opinion these are a bit more useful for live performers but you can also use it to real-time record some fluctuations in your tracks in the studio. The keyboard is a bit better quality than the others listed so if you’re looking for that we recommend settling here. Otherwise, continue onto the Akai if you have the dough. This is a good middle-ground for those needing an 88-key controller with some extra control features.
Akai Pro MPK88
Now we’re talking. This thing is a beast, and when it comes to Akai Pro in our opinion the prices are always justified by the quality of the gear the put out. It’s the best MIDI keyboard with 88 keys in our opinion, and if budgets didn’t exist we fully recommend this if you’re shopping around. First and foremost the key-bed is extremely high quality — they’re fully weighted, hammer-action with aftertouch so it is one of the best emulations of a piano out there. You’ve also got some MPC pads attached (that are also pressure and velocity sensitive), so if you feel like thumping on some drums or stabs during your mixes you’re good to go. The pads also have four banks each so a total of 52 sounds can be programmed into it. A few other extras, too: note repeat, swing and arpeggiator to help with some extra spunk to your songs. It’s USB powered and supports a sustain pedal, too. You’re not missing anything here, and if you go with this you’re buying the best you can possibly find.