One of the better quality digital audio workstations (DAW) out there is Reason by Propellerhead. In order to fully optimize your studio setup, whether it’s home, semi-pro or professional, is investing in a solid MIDI controller. Whether it’s a keyboard with/without pads or merely an interface, you need to take quite a few factors into consideration if you’re staying within a budget yet at the same time want to invest for the future of your studio and/or live performances. We’ve used Reason numerous times (and loved it) and have done a lot of research around the net to find the best midi controller, interface and keyboard available today.
What to think about when choosing your gear for Reason
There’s a few elements to take into consideration when sifting through the numerous pieces of equipment out there. Here’s a little breakdown of the essential questions you should be asking yourself.
- Most importantly, what’s your budget range?
- What key count of your keyboard do you prefer? mini 25, 49, 61, or even the full 88?
- Do you want a MIDI controller with keys, pad, knobs, faders, sliders, or other functions?
- What brands are you a fan of?
- Is portability a necessity?
- Do you need some additional software with your purchase?
Our choice for top best MIDI keyboard or controller for Reason
The Novation Launchkey 49
This is a very budget friendly and powerful MIDI keyboard controller. First of all, we chose a 49-key model because it’s the most popular key count within the MIDI keyboard realm. If you’re interested in a different count, it also available in a 25-key with the Launchkey Mini or the 61-key with the Launchkey 61. They go either up or down in price in increments of $50, so it’s up to you if you want save some money or go a bit higher. Your preference.
The Novation Impulse works very well with Reason, not only for virtual instruments and effects but also as a controller with the knobs and faders, not to mention the additional pitch and mod wheels. It also won our best 49 key MIDI keyboard controller. You just can’t beat a MIDI keyboard that has pads and additional controls for only $200! The Akai MPK249 is around double the price and all you’re really getting is a slightly better build and a bigger, some extra functions, and more powerful software bundle (although that alone may be worth it to you).
We’ve also seen the Launckey mentioned in the FutureProducer’s best MIDI controller for Reason thread.
Mapping your sounds and effects with Reason
One of the biggest factors in finding a MIDI controller specifically for Reason is the ability to map the controls. We’ve learned that in this day and age, if a brand doesn’t have a keyboard or controller that doesn’t work seamlessly with the major DAWs (whether it’s Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic or in our case, Reason), they are a complete failure. The Launchkey works very well with Reason, as backed up by numerous positive reviews around the net.
We’re even more confident because they have a specific technology included with the rig called ‘InControl’, which basically gives you more controllability in terms of assignable sounds and effects to the controller. Mapping this thing with Reason is very easy.
Software bundle with the Launchkey
Even though you obviously already have your DAW picked out with Reason, some additional software never hurt anybody. If anything you can set it aside to mess around with if you have time, but the Launchkey actually has a decent bundle that comes in the box. You’ve got their Launchkey and Launchpad apps for iPads (I don’t use these), as well as the Novation V-Station and Bass Station synth plug-ins (works with both PC and Mac). There are some gem sounds in the two synths, so it won’t hurt to add it to your sound collection even if you think you’re set with VST’s (you’re never truly set, trust me). Other than that, the bundle is relatively standard and isn’t as impressive as some other MIDI controllers out there (like Akai which comes with a few more VST’s and Ableton Live Lite), but it’s not too big of a deal unless you really want some software.
Overall stability and build of the keys/pads/controls
What you’re getting with the Novation Launchkey 49 is a solid build of keys and pads. In terms of actual key make, they are synth-weighted, which means that they are a bit more springy than normal semi-weighted or real piano keys. These are actually preferred by a lot of producers because it means that the keys bounce back up quicker for when you play. This all does come down to preference, but the keys are very standard and you will be happy with them. The keys are also velocity-sensitive which is always a plus, giving your tracks a bit more of a natural feel. The only downside would be the lack of aftertouch with them, although we don’t think this is a make or break or anything.
The pads, knobs and controls are also good quality. The knobs and faders aren’t too cheap of plastic and they won’t break on you. I would however be careful if you’re planning on traveling with this thing, keep it in a safe spot wrapped in blankets or towels and don’t stack anything on it. I wouldn’t say the pads are MPC quality, but they get the job done. Not to mention they look pretty cool if you’re into aesthetics.
Other MIDI keyboards and controllers for Reason
If you have some different preferences, want to save some money or even go a bit bigger in terms of overall builds, controls and software bundles, here are some recommended options. Remember to take the questions we’ve listed into consideration.
This starts off our list of devices to take into consideration if it fits your needs. This is basically a piece of gear that lacks keys or pads but has all of the other additional functions a MIDI controller typically has. This is very specific in terms of what you’ll want, so if you need additional controls of Reason with out traditional keys and pads we would go with this. It features a track select and marker advance parameter, is USB-to-MIDI (and powered), and has numerous knobs, switches and faders for each of the eight channels. It also allows you to pan, volume control and mute/solo/record as well. Very simple if you need it.
It’s also available in white if you prefer a color.
Here’s a MIDI controller with only keys if that’s what you’re looking for. We’re huge fans of M-Audio and think the new Keystation is a great quality keyboard. M-Audio kept it simple here with full sized, synth-action velocity-sensitive keys, a transport control for a few control aspects, a sustain pedal input, pitch bend and mod wheels, as well as the SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble VST for good measure. This is our recommended Reason MIDI keyboard controller if you don’t necessarily need pads or a crazy amount of other control options.
This is one of our favorite MIDI controllers with just pads. The biggest determinant of this is the pad quality as well as the ability to use an SD card for easy uploading of sounds into the controller. If you’re looking for a MIDI controller that’s only pads to supplement your Reason setup, we’d go with this one. You can read our review of the MPX16 controller for more information, or you can check out their original Akai MPX8 which is about half the price. The MPX16 features some very nice feeling pads if you don’t necessarily need keys or extra control and can map very well with Reason.
A little step up from our best pick, Novation’s Impulse has gotten some great reviews around the nation. The keys are a bit nicer than the Launchkey, being semi-weighted as well as having aftertouch. It has the ‘Automap 4 software’ which is also great for mapping in Reason like ‘InControl’, not to mention some nice feeling drum pads and faders, knobs and buttons.
Grab this if you have an extra $100 and want a step up from Novation’s Launchkey, our ultimate choice for best. It also comes in at the Impulse 25 as well as a 61-key model that’s in increments of $100.
This is the BMW of MIDI keyboards, as some say it is a bit steep in terms of price but if you really do the math, it has pretty much everything a MIDI keyboard controller can provide you. If you have the money, the MPK249 has full-sized, semi-weighted keys with aftertouch, 8 assignable faders and control knobs, pitch bend and mod wheels, octave controls, an arpeggiator, and a great aesthetic look with RGB pads (which are standard quality many have reported). The software bundle is also very eye-catching, giving you Ableton Live Lite, MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3.0 synth, and SONiVOX Twist 2.0.
If you want to go the full nine, check this one out. You can read our full review of the Akai MPK249 for more information. Otherwise, we have a a great article called the top 10 best MIDI keyboard controllers if you’re still looking around.