We love MIDI keyboard controllers, especially when it comes to building a home studio that can give semi-pro or even some professional studios a run for their money in terms of the quality of music you produce. Nowadays, gear is becoming more advanced and accessible to all of us, and in our case, MIDI keyboards are continuing to rule the gear world. We saw some very impressive models in our best MIDI keyboard controllers article, but what about the smaller, compact versions of these? Surprisingly, there are a lot more mini MIDI keyboards than there are larger models, such as 66 and even 88-key controllers — probably because many of us like a snug fit in our studios, travel a lot and need something convenient, or really don’t need a bunch of keys, buttons and knobs to be able to make our beautiful music. What’s even better is the cost of these things (typically) fall under $100! Let’s check out what we’ve got below.
How to choose your MIDI keyboard
- Your budget – We’ve mentioned most of these cost around $100 or less, but if you want to save even more money some of them fall within the $80 or so range, so if that’s important to you it could steer you towards a specific direction.
- Want some extra features? The essential function of a MIDI keyboard is being able to assign a custom sound to your keys, but some of these come with other features attached to them. Do you need drum pads? Assignable knobs? Pitch and mod wheels? A sustain pedal input? Keep this in mind, since you may be able to save some more money if you can sacrifice a few features you won’t be needing.
- The number of keys – Most of these come with a set of 25 keys, but there are also a few with 32 or even 37. If you want a broader key range, going with a higher count is always best, but that all depends on your preference. Typically mini MIDI keyboards aren’t high in count (for a reason, of course).
- Software bundle included – Here’s another perk of MIDI keyboards nowadays: in order to compete with each other, a lot of brands are stepping up and collaborating with software makers. There’s a big range of plug-ins, FX and DAW’s that come with these things. For example, one comes with the trial of Ableton, while others with packages of sounds. Which are you looking for? You can always disallow this from being a decisive factor and perhaps download some free music software (or use the popular DAW trials) or other sounds, or even buy some VST software (virtual instruments, which are essentially the sounds you’ll be assigning to this thing).
The best compact MIDI keyboard controllers
There are probably twice this amount worth even thinking about when you’re shopping, but we went with the top 5 just to make it a bit easier to slim down your choices. One thing to remember is that these are mini MIDI keyboards — the keys are a mini make, so they’re relatively smaller than normal keys if that’s what you’re used to. Remember that it’ll take some time to adjust to it, but once you do, it’ll become second nature.
We rank them in terms of the absolute best regarding budget, overall features, stability, software, and longevity. Our favorite is the Akai MPK Mini, but there are a few other options to take a look at as well. Let us know which is your favorite, or if we helped you out, which you chose out of the bunch!
Akai MPK Mini MkII
The Akai MPK Mini MKII is our absolute favorite mini controller, and if we had to choose the absolute best, this would be it. Akai Professional is one of our favorite brands and this is the best because of how many people love it — it’s just simply backed up with a lot of user reviews who state to be very satisfied with the keyboard. You get 25 synth-action mini keys (springy and work well), a 4-way thumb stick for some cool, custom manipulation of your sounds (change the pitch and modulation control), Q-Link knobs that can be assigned to effects or other plug-ins (8 of them), and lastly, our favorite: 8 MPC-style pads (back-lit) to bang around with some drums or riffs you’ve got in your sample collection. Another plus is the software package: it comes with MPC Essentials (a decent DAW), SONiVOX Wobble and Hybrid 3 by AIR — great out-of-the-box sounds to start using the keyboard right away.
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
Another one of our favorite small midi keyboards is by M-Audio. Grab the M-Audio Keystation Mini if you want a 32-key small midi keyboard that’s a bit cheaper in price than others and gives you what you need. This is cheaper than the MPK Mini and also has 7 more keys if that’s what you fancy. The 32 keys is definitely unique but we love it because this thing is just raw — their Keystation models of keyboards don’t come with additional fancy features besides a large volume knob on the left paired with some octave up and down buttons and pad bank navigation. It’s USB powered by a single cable and is very compact and super easy to travel with.
The keys are velocity-sensitive so they’re pretty suitable for us looking for a cheaper alternative, it just lacks a few other extra pizzazz like the Mk2.
Novation Launchkey Mini
Another solid mini keyboard here that’s stated to rival the Akai Mk2 keyboards (they’re the same price). Check out the Novation Launchkey Mini if the software bundle, 16 drum pads and iOS compatibility seem attractive to you. This particular controller is great as we had seen in our Launchkey Mini review, it offers twice the amount of drum pads as the Mk2 and has a cool aesthetic look to them. The compatibility with iPads is great since Novation has their own apps to go along with it so if that’s how you make music this is the one to go with. It also has 8 assignable knobs up top with octave up and down controls. Another plus is the fact that it comes with Ableton Live Lite, one of the best digital audio workstations in our opinion, so if you’re still looking for some software to start making music with this could be a perfect opportunity for you to try it out.
It also comes with a Loop Masters sample pack — so the software bundle differs a bit than the Mk2 and this could be the deciding factor for you.
If you buy an Arturia MiniLab, you’re buying it for the crazy software of classic synthesizer sounds it comes with (comes with instructions to download it as opposed to coming with a CD). It’s decently priced at under $100, too. A lot of people swear by Arturia music gear and for good some reason; they’re a bit different in terms of how they spin their products. This is particularly perfect for musicians looking for some seriously sweet synth sounds. Not only does this small midi keyboard with 25 keys look slick, but it offers their Analog Lab software: hybrid synths with around 5,000 sounds (borrowing from some well-known machines; CS-80V, Jupiter 8V, Prophet V and more). They keys have been stated to be a bit less in terms of quality made as compared to other models out there and the sliders are so-so.
It’s nice and light — perfect for traveling or fitting into your smaller setup in the studio and it’s conveniently powered by a USB cable only.
Last but not least we have another relatively popular mini keyboard model made by Korg music. Grab the Korg microKEY37 if it fits the bill for your needs. Most noticeably is the 37 keys giving us some more room to work with paired up with only a pitch and mod wheel – just the essentials. It’s powered via USB cable and is one of the lightest and thinnest models we’ve seen around the market so if you’re looking for the most convenient small MIDI controller to have, this is the one to grab. The keys are pretty stable and have a nice Natural Touch incorporated into them. It has two USB ports so you can combine some other gear with it if you have any (such as a drum pad controller). There is however no sustain pedal jack so that may be a big deal to you.
It’s just super portable and one of the best compact MIDI keyboard controllers for those who travel a lot or want some more range with the 37 keys.