Sixty-one glimmering pieces of porcelain (well, most MIDI keyboards are made of a higher-grade plastic) awaiting the combination of your fingers and a smooth VST to make some beautiful music. If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard and have decided to go with the larger count of 61 keys, you definitely will not be disappointed. Although we feel that 49 can be sufficient in terms of having just enough, with 61 keys you are able to really play the keyboard fully and have a range of scales to choose from. There are some brands out there that offer some very high quality 61 key controllers and we’ve chosen our favorite in terms of build, functions and price.
The best 61 key MIDI keyboard controller
The Akai MPK261
Our pick as the best 61-key MIDI keyboard controller even after a few years still continues to be the Akai MPK261. If you’ve read our best 49 key MIDI keyboard controller article, we chose based largely on price. However, we feel that when it comes to 61 keys, you’re already looking to spend a decent penny, which is why we think that if you’re looking to invest in an important piece of equipment such as a MIDI keyboard, you need to spend the extra few bucks on a controller you know will last you 3-4 years and provide you with all of the necessary functions for music making. Not to mention the very solid build of the Akai MPK261 — the keys are semi-weighted and full-sized, giving you a very realistic feel when playing pretty much any VST you can think off. The drum pads are also decent (I’ve heard complains about drum pads in almost every MIDI keyboard…these are feasible).
Here are the additional capabilities the Akai MPK261 MIDI keyboard comes with: 16 RGB backlit drum pads (4 possible banks for a total of 74 sound combos), 8 faders, 8 knobs, and 8 buttons for a total 64 assignable processes. Pitch bend, octave and mod controls, sustain and expression pedal jacks, and a new and improved LCD screen for some on-board navigation. Mapping is also very flawless with this thing: we’ve heard it be fine with Ableton (comes with it!), Logic Pro, Reason, Cubase, Pro Tools, and FL Studio.
Another huge plus about this 61 key MIDI keyboard is the software included: Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble (very smooth sounding piano VST – $150 value), and their MPC Essentials software. This is one of the biggest upsides of this controller: if you’re looking for software or even a DAW to work with (we love Ableton), this is a must-buy. I understand that a lot of us have our setups already going, but if you need to add a synth and a few other VST’s, this bundle is solid — the Akai MPK261 takes our pick for this and various other reasons.
Other 61-key MIDI Keyboards to Check Out
M-Audio Oxygen MKIV
M-Audio music gear comes in our list with a very affordable keyboard that has pads as well. At around a few hundred bucks or so, the M-Audio Oxygen is more of a budget friendly 61 key MIDI keyboard but has some key features included: 8 velocity-sensitive pads (decent quality), assignable 8 knobs and 9 faders, as well as transport controls for DAW and other software control for some convenience. It’s also simple for setup with a single USB cable to provide both power and MIDI data. The pitch and mod wheels are a plus as well.
They’ve recently upgraded this with a whole new design and a better quality build (hence that “MKIV” label). In terms of a software bundle, the M-Audio Oxygen 61 comes with Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX TWIST, and AIR Music Tech Xpand!2. This is one of the better bundles out there in case you need a DAW and some FX. The downside is that it doesn’t come with any effects, VST’s or plug-ins; however, that’s all up to you to decide if it’s worth it. The key and pad quality aren’t as nice as the Akai (although it’s about $300 cheaper), so pick your sacrifice.
The Novation Launchkey won our award for best 49 key MIDI keyboard controller, and their 61-key version is just as good. At around $50 more than their Oxygen models, it packs a bit more of a punch and has additional software included. Some main features: 16 surprisingly good quality drum pads that are multi-color and velocity-sensitive. The keys are relatively standard quality (synth-style so they’re a bit more springy). Has your standard count of faders, knobs and rotary (50 total hardware controls). Mapping is great and I’ve heard success with Ableton Live, FL Studio, Pro Tools, Reason, Logic, and Cubase.
Another huge plus with the Novation Launchkey 61 is the software suite: Ableton Live Lite, Novation V-station synth, Novation Bass Station synth, Loopmasters sample pack, and a few of their Novation apps. Crazy bundle of synths and sounds, the Bass station is a beast. Here’s a cool video of the Launchkey in action.
The Alesis VI61 a new one out from from one of our favorite brands and has some very solid features for a surprisingly low cost. The 16 pads are LED multi-color backlit and are pretty good quality, it has 16 knobs and a total of 48 buttons, an input for a sustain pedal (no expression pedal), USB MIDI in and out, internal clock for sync, tempo and rolls, as well as mod and pitch bend wheels. In our opinion it has pretty much the necessities a 61 key MIDI controller needs. If you want to save money and still want a solid machine, I’d check this one out for sure. If you’re on a budget, this is half the price of the Akai but doesn’t have as nice of keys or pads and lacks a solid software bundle (it does come with only Ableton Live Lite 9). Your call on what you need. Check our full review of the Alesis VI61 MIDI keyboard for some more info.
Also look at their V61 MIDI keyboard which is only a few bucks cheaper but does not have drum pads.
Novation SL MkIII
The Novation SL MkIII is one of the most expensive 61-key MIDI keyboard controllers on the market, about a Benjamin above our choice of Akai’s MPK261. Here’s why: the keys (Italian made) and pads are extremely good quality, it includes a control software called Automap (proven to work flawlessly with Ableton, Cubase/Nuendo, Logic and Pro Tools), which is great for assigning sounds, VST’s and effects from your software to keyboard (helps a lot with the hassle), has a large 144-character screen and just looks slick. Also features 8 encoders, 8 pots with touch-sensitivity, 8 sliders, 32 buttons with LEDs, 8 ‘soft feel’ pads, an expression pad and stick, octave up/down, and template/edit modes.
The Novation SL MkII 61 also comes with the following software suite, which is another plus if you need sounds (who doesn’t?): Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station, Loopmasters sample library, and ‘Mike the Drummer’ drum loops and breaks. This is the cream of the crop.