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, especially in a home studio. 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 that much more accurately.
How to Choose Your 88 Key MIDI Keyboard
There a few factors to take into consideration when shopping for your 88 key MIDI keyboard controller. Here’s our list to help you out:
- Your budget – Some 88 key MIDI keyboard controllers 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. Don’t be afraid to save up some cash if you aren’t ready to drop the purchase yet — it may be well worth the wait.
- 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 software, 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 or gig with an 88-key but it is still possible. Just keep this in mind if you’re planning on doing so in the future, otherwise you can read our 49-key MIDI controller or even 61-key MIDI controller articles if you want to sacrifice some key counts for size benefits.
Our Top Picks for Best 88 Key MIDI Keyboards
M-Audio Hammer 88
This is a favorite of ours when it comes to the best 88 key MIDI keyboard controllers due to the fact that it delivers a solid piece of gear with no strings attached — just some nice quality MIDI keyboard keys, a pitch and bend wheel, and no other pizzazz to up the price ridiculously. With the wheels at hand, you can add some expression to your playing, whether it be a portamento or glissando, or perhaps even map the mod-wheel to a preferred parameter in your VST collection.
The keys are fully-weighted (huge plus there), velocity-sensitive and very easy to play. It’s USB-powered and also has multiple zones in the keyboard to split or create 4-note chords with a single key press. Essentially, that’s basically it — but for good reason. If you’re looking for a straight-to-the-point MIDI keyboard with 88 keys, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is a great one to check out.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88
After showing you a very simplistic 88 key MIDI keyboard, let’s turn the entire other way around and check out a beast here. Native Instruments gear are never simple — in fact, that’s why N.I. fans like them. If you want complex and new-age design and features that aren’t usually available in many other competitors music equipment, you’ve got here your pick here. The Komplete Kontrol series of MIDI keyboards has been out for quite a few years now and has proven to be very effective and live up to their name. This one here is their largest key count model with the same features as it’s little brothers and sisters.
Some highlights (and there are a lot!) include a count of 88 hammer-action Fatar keybed keys, integration with VST and FX (you need to be using N.I. software for the full effect), two high resolution screens and a light guide for feedback visually (browse and view presets or all of your VST and FX). It also comes with tons of instruments and FX, 14 to be exact. So if you’re looking for some sounds and FX and want a bang for your buck, this will make the investment a lot more worth it. Definitely the best 88 key MIDI keyboard in the market if you have the cash and want to make a long-term investment in a behemoth.
M-Audio Keystation 88
This is one of the most simple, yet best budget-friendly 88 key MIDI keyboards out of the bunch. Around the lower price-point range, the keystation is perfect for those looking for no BS and just what they need — a MIDI keyboard with 88 keys without pizzazz to up the price. 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).
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 (as much as you can get with a MIDI keyboard).
You’ve also got the famous 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. The Akai MPK88 is 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. Hopefully it’s still available in some places, otherwise we’ll be removing this the next time we update the article.