Today’s list covers the Top 12 Midi Controller/Keyboards with Semi-Weighted Keys. The leading brands in the Midi Controller market are truly going all out to evolve their instruments and bring groundbreaking features with every new iteration.
While the competition is heating up, all major players in the controller/keyboard market are trying to develop innovative strategies to get a bigger chunk of the pie. All of this, of course, is great news for us music producers as we get treated to some amazing features.
It’s no longer about a midi controller being a machine combined with a few plugins to give you decent-sounding virtual instruments. Instead, today’s midi controller must have automatically mapable controls compatible with all major digital workstations.
In addition, a typical midi control is now expected to have dedicated transport buttons to help you control almost all features of the DAW right from the unit.
Similarly, it’s not just the instrument itself but the value that the overall package provides to the tech-savvy music producer of today. So, for example, the Midi controller now must come with a DAW right out of the box.
Not only that, but it should also be accompanied by a software bundle that keeps in mind the requirements of keyboard players from different levels of expertise, preference, and genres.
Join us now as we look at the Top 12 Midi Controller/Keyboards with Semi-Weighted Keys, one of which could possibly be your next purchase.
Top 12 MIDI Controllers/Keyboards With Semi-Weighted Keys 2023
1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 (61-Key)
The 61 key variety of the Native Instrument Komplete Kontrol is feature rich.
Contrary to its smaller size, the S61 gives you all the main features you get in the more advanced, larger members of the Komplete Kontrol line. In addition, the control layout has some one-touch buttons that save you the trouble of struggling to find button combinations to make things work.
The dual display have unique functions and make navigation and sample selection a breeze. The Midi controller’s size adds to its portability.
There are many other goodies that you get along with the Komplete Kontrol s61 MK2, which adds value to the overall package.
- First Impression
The NI Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 comes in a rugged body with dimensions of 39.6” x 11.7” x 3.3”. It is very portable and weighs only 6.5kg. On the back of the Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2, there are a couple of inputs for your sustain and expression pedals. There is also an input for a Midi-enabled device and a Midi out to connect to a speaker system. The unit is bus-powered, which means that the Type B USB port is cable enough to power the unit when connected to a computer which is a good feature. Lastly, you’ll find a port for the power adapter.
The NI Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 has a Fatar key bed with 61 semi-weighted keys. The keys also have an aftertouch feature. In addition, you have a row of lights called guide lights over each key that gets activated to show different parts of the key bed in terms of applied features/sounds.
The controls are organized into three sections for easy access while playing. You’ll find a couple of wheel controls on the side panel to the left of the key bed. The S61 MK2 has a pitch wheel and a programmable wheel for modulation effects. You also get the option of a touch strip which can be assigned effects like volume so that you can alter the volume of any key by sliding on the strip from left to right. There are also two dedicated buttons for octave shift in this section. On the main control panel above the key bed, there are two colored displays with a row of corresponding buttons at the top and some knobs on the bottom. Most of the navigation is done through the multi-directional master knob, which makes selecting a certain sound from thousands of samples relatively easy. Through the knobs below the display, the user can first choose the category on the right and then select the group on the left display. Once the group is chosen, it is easy to pick the sound you want from the screen on the right, thanks to the preview feature that lets you hear what the sample sounds like before it is mapped to the keys. Once the sample is loaded, the 8 intelligent knobs automatically let you change the relevant parameters of the selected sound.
- Intuitive Functions
You can access other smart controls on the Komplet Kontrol S61 MK2, like the ability to assign chords to single keys. You can also restrict the key bed to a particular scale. The helpful guide lights over each key to help show the user the keys belonging to the selected scale, which can be a useful way to learn. There is also a separate button for the arpeggiator function that brings more creativity to your sound. All the necessary controls are laid out so that you don’t need to dig deep, as most of the navigation has been made easy through the dual display and dedicated one-touch buttons.
- DAW Control
One of the features of the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 is that, like most Midi controllers these days, the S61 can control certain aspects of your DAW directly from the controls on board. This gives you more freedom as you don’t need to go back to the laptop to tweak your effects, change your tracks, etc. The S61 is compatible with all leading DAWs, including Ableton Live, Logic, Garage Band, Nuendo, Studio One, and Cubase. Also, the VST sounds in your DAW can seamlessly be mapped to the S61 for quick sample work. You can also play or record through dedicated buttons on your unit and select and set the tempo of your metronome through the tap tempo feature. A useful quantize button can instantly adjust the timing of anything recorded using the unit.
- Software Bundle
The software bundle you get with the S61 gives you many tonal options. Massive, Monark, Reaktor Prism, and Retro Machines give you many synth sounds that cover different playing styles. The Gentleman and Scarbee Mark 1 have you covered in terms of piano samples ranging from acoustic piano sounds to some fascinating electric representations. If you’re more of an organ player, the Vintage Organs plugin has all the organ sounds you need. You can also access Drum Lab and West Africa for some authentic sounding percussions libraries. Finally, Replika and Solid Bus Comp give you plenty of reverb and compression effects to choose from. Many other plugins in the software bundle help you build your unique sound. You can use all these plugins after registering your instrument on the Native Instrument website.
The dual displays make applying samples and other features fairly easy and are good to see on a unit at this price point. The software bundle is a great value addition.
The dedicated one-touch buttons for some of the major features make toggling very easy while playing live or in a studio.
The software on the S61 is a bit buggy. If you’re using a compatible DAW with the unit and happen to close it and then reopen it, the S61 may refuse to recognize it. You may have to restart your computer to regain control.
Also, the guide lights may malfunction and flash randomly. The customer support also has some bad reviews. The response is slow and even non-existent at times.
2. Novation 49SL MKIII (49-Key)
The Novation 49SL MKIII comes in 49 key and 61 key variants.
Don’t judge this one by its size, as the 49SL is packed with features that can tickle the fancy of many a musician.
The user interface is densely populated with knobs, pads, and buttons, which may seem unnerving initially but Novation has done a good job in ensuring that they are are very easy to use.
Most controls have multiple purposes in different modes and also map automatically to show relevant features of the instruments plugged in the back.
There are plenty of input/output options to get the full use out of the unit. Being a smaller 49 key version, the 49SL is quite light and portable.
- First Impressions
The Novation 49SL MKIII is much smaller than the S61 MK2, with 32.16” x 11.81” x 3.9” dimensions and weighing just around 5.3kg. The back panel shows two Midi outputs and two Midi inputs. You also get a couple of CV, Gate, and Mod outs along with a Clock out. There are three pedal slots for an expression pedal, a sustain pedal, and a footswitch.
- Keys & Pads
There are 49 semi-weighted keys on the 49SL MKIII. In addition, the Midi controller has aftertouch and velocity-sensitive keys. Novation’s 48SL also has small LEDs laid across the key bed, which show when different features are activated on groups of keys. You also get backlit pads that are pressure sensitive and are aftertouch enabled.
- DAW Integration
The Novation 49SL MKIII can be integrated with Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Reaper, and Reason. In addition, there are dedicated controls on the control panel that help switch between regular use and DAW mode. When in DAW mode, the 49SL automatically maps 8 encoders and 16 buttons to different functions of your DAW. This is also a row of transport buttons, including the usual record, play, rewind, forward, and stop buttons. In addition, 8 faders bring more DAW controls to your fingertips.
The MKIII has a very versatile built-in sequencer which has been managed very well by an easy-to-comprehend control layout. Four colored screens are split into halves to show the eight inputs on the back panel of the unit. Whichever midi device/instrument is plugged into the 49SL MKIII will show on these screens and can be selected to make a sequence through the aforementioned 8 knobs and eight buttons for each input. There are 16 pads that can be used to create a pattern in a sequence. Each of these pads can be assigned a note, a sequence of notes, or chords. Pressing the pads reveals what sounds have been stored. Assigning something to a pad is just as easy. All you need to do is long-press the pad, play notes, and release the pad when done. An option button allows for fine-tuning each pad’s velocity or gate parameters. Through the multipurpose knobs, you can open new options menus that allow you to change any pattern’s starting and ending point in a sequence. Helpful lights on the pads light up to show this change. You can also change pattern directions to backward, forward, random, or ping pong. Sync rates of each pattern can also be easily changed, giving complete control over your sequences.
- Some more Goodies
There are some other very useful features on the MKIII’s interface. There are 2 customizable wheel controls for pitch and modulation. The onboard arpeggiator has tons of adjustments that can be done to your arpeggios, like changing their directions, changing their octaves, tweaking their sync rates, and setting the gate level and velocities. You can also change the lengths of the notes to add swing to your arpeggios. Multiple instrument sounds can be programmed across the key bed by creating zones. Zones can also be overlapped and easily detected thanks to the key LEDs that change color accordingly.
The sequencer layout is managed quite well, and there are loads of options and parameters to choose from. The customizable, multipurpose knobs, pads, and faders make sound changes easy. The arpeggiator is powerful, and splitting keys into zones is a cinch.
The 49SL MKIII already has plenty of display options, but it would’ve been useful to have digital representations of the knobs on the displays to see the exact values.
In addition, the integration with compatible DAWs is not rock solid and may cause the buttons and faders to act up uncharacteristically.
3. Icon Pro Audio iKeyboard 4X (The Only 37-Key Semi-Weighted)
The Icon Pro Audio iKeyboard range includes a variety of different sizes
The X series starts with the iKeyboard 3X, which has 25 keys and goes up to the 88 keys version known as the iKeyboard 8X. Most of the features are pretty much the same apart from the difference in size and portability. The build is solid as the 4X has a robust metallic construction.
The Icon Pro Audio iKeyboard 4X is a midi controller with ample transport buttons capable of controlling some of the leading DAWs available today. The layout is simple, and considering the price tag, you get a rugged controller with some nice features.
- First Impression
The iKeyboard 4X has 37 semi-weighted keys that provide a velocity-sensitive response. The unit has a size of 27.4” x 7.44” x 2.91” and weighs 3.2 Kg. On the back panel, there is a power button and a port for the power adapter, followed by Midi output to connect to an external synth or sound module. There are also two ports for sustain and expression pedal connectivity. The iKeyboard 4X is bus powered and can be powered through the USB port on the back panel. You also get a USB cable in the box so that you are ready to go.
- Control Panel
All the controls are nicely laid out on the left side of the key bed. The 4X offers two wheel controls in the shape of pitch bend and modulations wheels. In addition, there are two separate transpose buttons to move the key of a song up or down instantly.
- DAW Included
With the Icon iKeyboard 4X, you get Cubase LE, a lite or compact version of Cubase Pro, so you are ready to record and mix from day one. In addition, the iKeyboard 4X is compatible with all other big players in the DAW market, including Nuendo, Ableton Live, Logic, Samplitude, Bitwig, Reaper, Reason, Studio One, and Pro Tools.
- DAW Controls
With the slow shift in the trend, midi controllers are getting more equipped to manage much of the DAW functions directly from the onboard controls. On the iKeyboard 4X, you’ll find some transport controls with dedicated record, play, stop, rewind and forward buttons to control the DAW. You also get a loop button to loop your sounds and solo over them or add effects. A touch-sensitive strip can also be toggled on and off to adjust the levels or your tracks in the digital workstation. The strip can also be used with a navigation knob to change the panning of tracks and move around on the project timeline in your DAW. The DAW controls also include corresponding record, mute, and solo buttons for your tracks in the recording software.
Icon has its software for the Keyboard X series called iMap. The software is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems and gives you full control of your midi controller. iMap is quite easy to use as the interface is a digital representation of the keyboard. The software allows you to make key switches, adjust the keys’ velocity curve, and change the modulation wheel’s setting. You can also alter transpose and octave settings here. You can update your firmware directly through this software as well.
The build is solid. The unit is appropriately sized and quite light, and portable. Icon’s iMap software provides a good deal of customization to the keyboard. The inclusion of Cubase LE is a good touch as you don’t need to spend on purchasing a DAW.
The keys don’t feel like they are semi-weighted. Some of the more advanced players may not like the key response. The DAW controls are not iron clad and may sometimes feel a bit buggy. Incidents of automatically resetting to default have been noted when connected to a DAW.
A power adapter is not included, which is essential to update the firmware.
4. Alesis VI25 (25-Key)
Alesis offers Midi controllers starting from 25 keys to the 88-key version.
The people at Alesis have ensured they give you good value for your money by including a DAW and a comprehensive plugin app with many professional-sounding samples. Also, the Alesis VI25 is priced quite economically.
The controls on the Alesis VI25 are spread across the unit nicely. The Midi controller offers plenty of customizable knobs and buttons to have all your favorite sounds and effects ready at your fingertips. In addition, the backlit pads on the unit seem very useful when playing beats.
- First Impression
The Alesis VI25 has 25 semi-weighted keys that have aftertouch and velocity-sensitive features. The unit is entirely made of plastic because of which it is very light and weighs just over 3 kg with dimensions 20.9” x 10” x 2.8”. The Alesis VI25 is bus-powered, so you don’t need to plug it into a power source when connected to the computer.
- Input/Output Options
On the back panel, there is a power button next to the power port for the adapter. You also get a Midi out for connecting to a speaker system or Midi device. There’s also a USB port that can be used to connect to a computer with the help of the USB cable that is included with the unit. There is also one input port for the sustain pedal.
The controls are nicely laid out on the left and top panels of the keyboard. Starting from the left, you get a couple of wheel controls, including the pitch bend and programmable modulation wheel. The unit also has 16 assignable backlit pads for drums and melodic patterns. The pads are also velocity sensitive and show different colored backlight depending on the intensity with which they are pressed. The VI25 also has two buttons to change octaves, a roll button, and a button to change tempo. Some transport controls for the DAW include rewind, forward, stop and play. A handy led display shows the numeric values to indicate the programs you select from the up and down program buttons. The Alesis VI25 also offers 8 programmable knobs and 24 programmable buttons that can be used to assign filters or other effects. You also get a looper button on the control panel to loop sounds.
- DAW Included
Alesis makes sure that you have everything you need when you purchase the Alesis VI25 midi controller. The package includes Ableton Live Lite, a very capable DAW for your recording, mixing, and mastering needs. You also get a rich library of plugins.
You also get the XpandI2 software with advanced instrument sounds, including acoustic pianos, organs, and synths that you can assign to your VI25 controller. Not only that, but the XpandI2 also includes other instrument sounds, including guitars, sitars, flutes, marimbas, and more. You also get several drum loops in the software.
Alesis VI25 is very affordable. Its size makes it light and portable. Including Ableton Live Lite and the XpandI2 software is a good value addition. In addition, a plethora of customizable knobs and buttons allow you to have your unique setup per requirements.
The keys bounce as they move back to their position and make a sound. The build quality is a bit fragile. The keys do not seem semi-weighted.
The XpandI2 is known to give problems to Windows users to the point where a fresh installation of Windows may be required. In addition, the software for the pads seems buggy causing them to become unresponsive at times.
5. M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 (61-Key)
M-Audio offers some bestselling Midi controllers in the 25 to 88 key range.
The M-Audio Keystation MK3 is the 61-key version of the Keystation series. The MKIII provides a clutter-free user interface with streamlined controls on the side of the key bed. The back panel is just as simple and provides basic input/output options.
Like most other controllers discussed so far, the Keystation 61 also comes with a DAW and some useful plugins to realize the full potential of your midi controller.
In addition, the MK3 has some transport controls on the unit that can be used to control the included DAW.
- First Appearance
The M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 has a very sleek design. The unit weighs around 4 Kg and has dimensions of 39.2” x 2.68” x 7.44”. In addition, the MK3 boasts 61 semi-weighted keys which are velocity sensitive. The MK3 is also bus power and can take all the power it needs directly from the USB port of a computer.
- Input/Output Options
The back panel is almost identical to the VI25 in that there is one pedal input for the sustain pedal and a Midi output. The back also has a power button and a port for powering the MK3. A USB port allows connectivity with a computer. You also get a USB cable with the unit.
The controls on the Keystation 61 are grouped to the left of the key bed. There is a pitch bend and modulation wheel along with a volume fader. You also get a couple of octave buttons. There are a lot of different functions mentioned above the key bed, which can be accessed by pressing a combination of the advanced button and the corresponding keys like the transpose or octave change feature.
- DAW Integration
Also on the control panel are some transport controls for the DAW, which include a navigation pad and record, stop, and play buttons. The volume fader is customizable and can be used to control levels on the DAW or do a filter change on your sounds.
- Software Bundle
The software bundle includes a lite version of Ableton Live so that you can start working on recording projects right away. The bundle also includes some software like Velvet which is a powerful virtual instrument plugin by Air Music Technology. It includes more 350 presets and focuses mostly on classic electric pianos. There are also several effects available in the effects library, which include compressions, reverbs, delays as well 3 band and parametric EQs.
The rubberized wheel controls feel good. The software bundle offers classic electric piano sounds to get you going, and the inclusion of Ableton Live Lite helps you get started in the right direction. In addition, the control layout is simple and uncomplicated.
M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 has no aftertouch feature. Although the onboard transport buttons attempt to give you DAW controls, chances are that you’ll still find it more convenient to control your keyboard and mouse.
There are no drum pads available on the unit for those users who prefer playing their sequences and beats directly on the unit.
6. Nektar Impact LX88+ (88-Key)
The LX88+ is the flagship model of the Nektar Impact series.
The impact series also includes the 25, 49, and 61 key versions. The layout on the Nektar Impact ensures that you have all the necessary assignable controls at your disposal.
In addition, many major features can be activated through one-touch buttons, which makes working on the unit efficient.
A separate setup menu activates more features that can be easily selected by pressing corresponding keys on the key bed. The DAW controls are smart and intuitive.
The Nektar Impact LX88+ can easily adapt to all compatible DAWs, instantly mapping its controls accordingly.
- First Impression
The LX 88 weighs around 8 Kgs and is sized at 50.25” x 11” x 2.5”. The back panel has the option to connect a sustain pedal, a Midi out port for any Midi device or sound system, a USB port for connectivity with a computer, and a power button and power port for the adapter.
Being a full-sized 88-key version Midi controller, the Nektar Impact LX88+ comes with 88 semi-weighted keys that are velocity sensitive. The velocity sensitivity of the keys can also be adjusted. There are several settings to choose from, including normal, soft, hard, and linear, as well as three additional fixed velocity levels.
On the main panel, you get a pitch wheel and a modulation wheel, the latter of which is programmable. There is a separate button to split the keys into different sounding zones. You can also layer your sounds with ease by pressing the layer button. Transposing or changing the pitch of a song is also very easy by using the transpose up and transpose down buttons. 8 faders can be used to adjust the sounds on the midi controller and also control different aspects of the DAW. The faders have 8 corresponding buttons that are assignable. The LX88+ has a small display that shows the program number and has a few more buttons below it that change tracks and patches. You also get a snapshot button to save and recall your settings easily. The selection of different features is also made easy using the setup menu. Pressing the shift + patch buttons will mute the keyboard and enable the usage of keys to activate functions that are labeled over them. 8 pots above the transport buttons control different aspects of oscillation, resonance, cut-off, envelope amount, etc. There are also separate buttons for the mixer mode, preset mode, and instrument mode, which makes working on the unit very efficient without having to go through different menus and tabs. The page button helps switch between user and default settings, making the workflow smooth and streamlined.
There are 8 velocity-sensitive backlit pads that can also be mapped to notes or beats if you wish to create a drum sequence. There are also 4 velocity curves to choose from for the pads. Programming the pads is very easy. Using the shift + pad learn button will activate the pad learn feature. Selecting the pad and then playing notes or drums sounds will assign the sound to the pad.
- DAW Integration
The Nektar Impact LX88+ integrates with the most top-of-the-line DAWs available in the market. The long list includes Cubase, Reaper, Reason, FL Studio, Logic Pro, Garage Band, Nuendo, Studio One, Sonar, Digital Performer, and Bitwig Studio, which comes with the LX88. As soon as you connect the Nektar to your machine with one of the DAWs mentioned above, the unit automatically maps its controls accordingly. Hitting the mixer button automatically sets the 8 faders to the tracks on your DAW. The buttons under each fader can also perform functions on your DAW, like muting and soloing tracks. You get a row of dedicated transport buttons called global controls, which include record, play, stop, rewind, forward, and loop, which make managing your DAW directly from the unit simple and effective. Pressing the shift button activates alternate features mentioned under each button.
Has plenty of customizable options, including faders, buttons, and pads that can all be assignable. Compatibility with so many professional-grade DAWs is an added bonus.
All features are available on the controls panel, so there’s no need to dig deep to find stuff.
Some units have had connectivity issues with compatible DAWs. The software that backs the keys also acts up with some operating systems making keys respond erratically. The power adapter is not included.
Some sustain pedals may also not configure correctly with the unit. The black keys are slanted, which makes them hard to play if you’re not used to this.
7. AKAI Professional MPK 249 (49-Key)
The MPK 249 is the second iteration of its predecessor, the Akai’s Professional MPK 49
The think tanks at Akai have done their homework and seem to have improved the MPK 249 in many aspects that the MPK 49 seemed to lack.
For example, the 249’s semi-weighted keys have a much better response than the bouncy and springy touch of the key bed offered by the MPK 49.
As a company known for its ingenuity and innovation, Akai has considerably improved the functionality of the pads on the MPK 249 as compared to the older version.
You get 4 additional pads that are fully customizable and respond quite well to the touch.
- First Impression
The Akai Professional MPK 249 has 49 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch and velocity sensitivity. The dimensions of the unit are 29” x 12.25” x 3.38”, and the unit weighs around 5.7 Kg. The MPK 249 has a Midi input and a Midi output. It also has an input for an expression pedal and a sustain pedal. The power button and power port are also on the back, along with a USB type B port that can power the controller when connected to a computer.
- Control Layout
All the controls are laid out on the panel above the keys. Starting from the left, the unit has 2 strongly built, rubberized pitch bend and modulation wheels. The Akai Professional MPK 249 has 8 assignable buttons, 8 assignable knobs, and 8 assignable switches. These can be programmed to change different features of external Midi devices and your recording software. A separate preset button can be used to change the behavior of all these knobs, buttons, and faders. Presets can be loaded, saved, or renamed here with the help of a value dial and information that shows up on the Akai MPK 249’s display. The edit button lets you edit different parameters of the selected preset. The global button helps you change different variables that affect the whole unit rather than a specific preset. The program change button changes patches on the controller. The unit has two octave up and down buttons for quick access. A separate tempo button helps change the tempo of a preset. This feature can be used in combination with the onboard arpeggiator. The arpeggiator has a dedicated button for quick toggling. Another feature that supports the arpeggiator is the latch feature activated through the latch button. This lets you control how the arpeggiator behaves after the keys are released. A preview button allows you to check a preset before loading it into the system. A separate loop button allows you to replay your sounds indefinitely. This button works with the DAW as well as onboard sounds.
There are 16 programmable pads on the Akai Professional MPK 249 with their dedicated button controls. The pads are organized into 4 different banks that can be changed by the appropriately labeled bank A, B, C, and D buttons. This gives you a possibility of 48 pad sounds/beats. Here you also find a full level button that makes the pads play at a full velocity level of 127. A 16-level button allows you to vary the pressure sensitivity and number of notes the pads play. The pads have programmable backlights that can be changed to several colors. The pads light up when hit. Pads can also be grouped together by similar colored backlights.
- DAW Controls
The MPK 249 is compatible with Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3, MP Essentials, Twist, Bitwig, Reason, FL Studio, Studio One, ProTools, Cubase, Sonar, and Logic. Selecting any of these programs will automatically map the MPK 249’s customizable controls according to the presets of each DAW. Next to the wheel controls are some directional buttons labeled “DAW control”. These can switch channels, access the mixer, or change plugin windows. A row of transport controls comes in handy when used with a DAW and includes record, stop, play, rewind, and forward buttons. The Professional MPK 249 comes with a lite version of Ableton Live, which is fully compatible with the unit.
- Software Bundle
Apart from the DAW included, you also get several other fun stuff in the software bundle. SONiVox Twist 2.0 is a synth plugin with an advanced pattern generator and built-in effects for the synth player to explore. The Hybrid 3 is another synth sound generator that combines analog synths and digital sounds. The inclusion of VIP 3.0 organizes your virtual sounds and instruments, reducing clutter and enhancing workflow, while MPC Beats is your one-stop plugin for all things drums.
The DAW controls work nicely with the customizable buttons, faders, and knobs. You get plenty of sound options through the plugins included in the software bundle.
Dedicated function buttons make toggling features very easy. The pads are managed exceptionally well. The response is good, and separate controls help modify the functionality.
The build quality of the faders could be improved. Some Mac users have noted that the unit may not respond properly on some systems, while others have complained that it may be completely unrecognized by the operating system at times.
In addition, the after-sale support from Akai has not been great, related to this series of controllers.
8. Novation Impulse 25 (25-Key)
The Impulse 25 is the most compact offering from Novation’s Impulse series.
The Impulse 25 is very light and portable. It may be small in stature, but size doesn’t matter, considering the features packed in its diminutive presence. In addition, the Impulse 25 offers plenty of customizable buttons and controls to make the workflow your own and set things just the way you like them.
The interface is laced with controls to help you access key features instantly with dedicated buttons rather than looking for them in complicated menus.
In addition, a user-friendly help section can be activated to display information on how to use different functions of the unit, which makes life easy.
- First Impression
The Novation Impulse comes with 25 semi-weighted keys that are also velocity-sensitive. Thanks to its compact size of 20.67” x 13.07” x 3.94”, the Impulse 25 weighs only 3.5 Kg. On the back of the unit are Midi input and output ports. 2 pedal ports on the back panel allow connection of a sustain and expression pedal. There is also a USB type B port through which you can connect the unit to the computer using the cable that comes with the Impulse 25. There is no separate power port as the USB ac/dc adapter can be connected to the USB port for this purpose.
The Novation Impulse 25 have controls spread across the top panel and to the left of the key bed. It features a pitch bend and a modulation wheel. A pair of multipurpose buttons above the wheel controls can change octaves or keys of songs played on the instrument. There is also a master volume fader with a midi/mixer button below it to assign it to control the levels in a DAW or on a midi device. The Impulse 25 also has a small but useful display showing the chosen patches and features. There are some key buttons below the display. The setup buttons allow you to choose transmission type between Midi Machine Control (MMC) and Continuous Control (CC) depending on the preference of the DAW being used. Clock settings can also be adjusted here for features like the arpeggiator or roll button. A zone button helps split the keyboard into different sounding areas. The display shows the starting and end note of each zone. With the keyboard button, you can select the velocity curves of the keys as well as toggle the aftertouch feature.
- Assignable Options
There are 8 knobs that can be assigned to control different parameters related to plugins. The knobs are speed sensitive and can be used slowly for fine-tuning. The control button is crucial as it lets the user decide how the assignable controls will respond in different situations. The available drum pads can also be assigned notes or drum sounds.
- Drum Pad Functionality
The Novation Impulse 25 has 8 pressure-sensitive drum pads with backlights. The setup mode can be used to select the sensitivity curves for the pads. There are 4 curves to choose from. The pads section also has a separate button to arpeggiate the pads, which gives way to more experimentation. In addition, the roll button is very handy for filling in an automated drum roll between different sections.
- Help Section
The +/- buttons are multipurpose in that they not only allow the user to scroll through different features but pressing them together opens a help section. The help section is ideal if, at any time, the user needs more information and the user manual is not within reach. In addition, the help section has scrollable information about different controls and functions of the keyboard for quick access and assistance.
Novation Impulse 25 comes with Ableton Live Lite, so you don’t need to invest in a DAW. Ableton is fully compatible with the transport controls on the unit. For some top-notch sounds, you get different plugins. Novation’s own Bass Station has a ton of synth simulations and effects to sound mellow as well as loud and aggressive. Mike the Drummer has some professional-sounding drums and percussions to load up on the drum pads on the Impulse 25. The Loopmasters Sample Library gives access to thousands of musical and drum-based loops to get creative with your Novation Impulse 25.
Judging by the features this little unit has, the price is set nicely. The software bundle gives good value addition. The customizable controls add convenience and efficiency to workflow.
The general build quality is good, and the keys, pads, and knobs give a premium feel. The device is nicely sized and quite portable.
In a few instances, Novation’s Automap software has been a bit buggy when integrated with DAWs like Logic, Cubase, and Pro Tools.
The 8 customizable knobs and assignable drum pad controls don’t seem to act as they should at times. Also, the wheel controls change values on their own.
9. M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 (88-Key)
The 88 MK3 is the full-sized controller from the Keystation series.
Being a controller of its size and capabilities, the M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 is priced very economically. Add to it the software bundle and piano lessons included in the package, and you get a lot more for what you paid.
The simplicity of its controls may appeal to beginners and seasoned players alike.
The unit is quite light, and M-Audio has managed the access of some of the features very well by spreading them across the keys to avoid a clutter of buttons on the main interface. Being a full-sized controller, you would expect it to have heavier power requirements.
However, the unit is bus-powered and doesn’t need a power adapter.
- First Impression
The M-Audio Keystation has 88 semi-weighted keys. The keys have velocity sensitivity as well. The instrument’s dimensions are 54.24” x 8.52 x 2.88, and the 88 MK3 weighs slightly over 6 kg. The input/output options on the back panel include a power button and a power port, one Midi out port, and a pair of inputs for the sustain and expression pedals. The USB type B can be used to connect to the computer.
Considering that the M-Audio Keystation is a full-sized 88-key controller, you don’t get a lot of controls on the unit itself. The controls are set on the left side of the key bed. The wheel controls include a pitch wheel and a mod wheel that can have different modulation effects assigned to it. There is a pair of octave buttons to move the octave of a song up or down. The unit also has plus-shaped navigation controls for the DAW it connects to and a row of record, play, and stop buttons. You can also find a fader for the master volume of the unit. The volume fader can also control different functions in the DAW like panning and effects like attack, chorus, reverb, compression, etc.
- Edit Mode
An advanced button shifts the M-Audio Keystation 88 into edit mode. This mode can unlock dual features mentioned on the top of some keys. The black keys can then be used to select a particular function, while the white keys can give data commands regarding the selected function. These functions include octave selection, transposition to do key changes in a song, midi channel selection based on the preference of the midi device/software, and program/bank changes. You can also assign different tasks to the volume fader through the edit menu. Loading the mod wheel with different modulation effects can also be done here. You can also select your Daw’s preferred protocol (Mackie or HUI) using the directional navigation buttons through the edit menu.
- Software Bundle
The M-Audio Keystation comes with Ableton Live Lite, which can get you started on recording, mixing, and mastering. In MPC Beats, you get a beat-making DAW with professional-sounding drum samples that can be assigned to the M-Audio controller. If you want more beats and percussion libraries, you can explore Boom, which gives access to dance kits, classic electronic drums, and many urban kits. If you’re an organ player, the organ libraries of the DB-33 are sure to get you excited, while Velvet and Mini Grand will fascinate the pianist in you with some premium electric and grand piano sounds.
- Educational Software/Subscription
The M-Audio Keystation can be registered on the M-Audio website. Doing so will give you assess to a 3-month subscription of Skoove so that you can brush up on your old piano skills and learn ones too. You also get 40 plus lessons from Melodics that take you step by step through songs from artists from different genres and teach basic and advanced techniques in a friendly and professional manner.
The controls are very simple and easy to understand. For an 88-key unit, the MK3 is very economical.
The free lessons from Melodics and a 3-month subscription to Skoove will strengthen your skills in no time.
The software bundle gives you access to all the piano, organ, and synths sounds as well as drums and percussion libraries you need to get started.
A full-sized keyboard like the M-Audio Keystation should come with a power adapter. A rewind and forward button could be made part of the transport controls to avoid the usage of a mouse/computer keyboard to do the same.
The semi-weighted keys are quite light and respond very subtly to different keystrokes. The keys are also a bit shorter than other controllers, making faster key work challenging.
10. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 (25-Key)
The Native Instrument A series comes in 25, 49, and 61 key versions
The Native Instrument A25 is the most compact version of the series and offers more portability than its elder siblings without many deficiencies in the available features. The controls are spread nicely on the unit for easy access and play-ability.
The transport controls on the unit are powerful and intuitively map according to the DAW. You can also manually map the assignable controls to DAWs that the A25 may not be compatible with right out of the box.
The A25 has some futuristic touch-sensitive knobs which makes usage interesting and enjoyable.
- First Impression
The Native Instrument Komplete Kontrol A25 is sized at 19.2” x 10.1” x 3.5 and weighs under 2.5 Kg, making it the lightest controller on the list. It has 25 semi-weighted keys. The A25 has just one pedal input and a USB type B port for connecting to a computer and powering the unit.
The Komplete Kontrol A25 has controls spread over the panel above the keys and the space on the left of the key bed. Starting with the wheel controls, the A25 has the usual pitch bend and modulation wheel. Above the wheels is a pair of octave up and down buttons. A perform and edit section includes the shift button that activates the second function of some of the keys. This section includes a scales button that maps certain scales on the keys so that whatever notes you play, you stay in tune. The Arp button toggles the onboard arpeggiator. The Quantize button snaps notes according to a grid so that they are properly timed. The undo button lets you undo the last action performed, and an ideas button opens scenes and patterns in your DAW that can be created, saved, and recalled easily. A small display shows a couple of lines of information regarding the mode and different functions. A couple of preset up and down buttons help you get to the required presets. There are eight touch-sensitive customizable knobs on the top panel of the unit. These automatically adjust according to the mode or preset that is selected. Tapping on the top of these touch-sensitive knobs displays what the knob is currently controlling.
- Transport Controls
A transport section has six different buttons that can directly control the DAW. The section includes record, stop, and play buttons. You also get a loop button to loop your sounds and a metronome to help stay in time with a tap tempo button. There is also a 4D encoder that can navigate and select different features of the DAW. Pressing the browser button helps to choose between virtual instruments, available loops, one-shot samples, and effects on your DAW with ease. A separate plugin button helps to select plugins and control their features. Finally, pressing the track button allows you to control the tracks in your DAW. The Komplete Kontrol A 25 can fully integrate with Ableton Live Lite, Logic Pro, Garage Band, Maschine 2, Cubase, and Nuendo.
- Komplete Kontrol
The Komplete Kontrol software is fully compatible with the A25 and includes tons of instrument sounds, loops, and effects to unleash your creativity. All the sounds and samples are customizable through the software’s easy-to-use interface. Komplete Kontrol also has a smart play feature that lets you easily play chords and scales.
- Software Bungle
The included software bundle has something for every kind of keyboardist. For the synth player, the bundle includes Monark, which brings hundreds of analog synth sounds to your studio. Reaktor Prism gives you access to polyphonic sounds through its powerful synth engine. If you’re a grand piano enthusiast, you get all the dynamic sound quality of the classic grand pianos, thanks to the Gentleman plugin. Finally, Scarbee Mark 1 packs some accurate, professional-sounding electric piano libraries you can take advantage of. The package also includes a voucher for additional instruments and effects expansion packs.
The software bundle provides a lot of options in terms of sound libraries. The semi-weighted keys feel nice, and the size of the A25 makes it very portable. The transport controls on the unit tackle different DAW features very well. The customizable touch-sensitive knobs add to ease of usage.
It gets tedious to look for different patches on the tiny two-row screen. The unit could’ve benefitted from a bigger-sized screen. The display is also known to have screen burn problems. The keys feel a bit cheap and have considerable travel till they press down to the bottom, which may be a feel not preferred by many.
11. AKAI Professional MPK 225 (25-Key)
The Professional MPK 225 is the most portable version of the MPK series.
As you would expect, the unit is very light and compact, so you can carry it around when required. In addition, the semi-weighted keys have been done right by Akai and have an impressive feel and surpass expectations from a controller priced towards the lower end of the spectrum.
As with most Akai controllers, the drum pads are the highlight of the unit and give a premium feel. The screen on the unit may be small but provides all the necessary information through its easy-to-read four-row display. The MPK 225 is strongly built for its size. The unit
- First Impression
The 25 semi-weighted keys of the MPK 225 have aftertouch properties. Sized at 19.25” x 11.75” x 3.69”, the AKAI MPK 225 is quite portable and weighs just 2.7 Kg. The input/output ports on the back include a power port for the adapter, 2 Midi ports for input and output, and two inputs for sustain and expression pedals. The power button is also found on the back, along with a USB type B port which draws power from a computer when connected.
- Control Layout
Most of the controls on the unit are spread across the panel above the key bed except for the pitch and modulations wheels which rest on the left pane. The AKAI MPK 225 has a small but useful display with a width of four rows to let you know at a glance the presets selected and the values of some of the features. The display has a cluster of buttons below it. The preset button helps you save, load, copy and even rename presets. The edit button next to it is used to edit different parameters of the selected preset. A global button allows adjustments or changes to all the presets at once rather than just the selected preset. The octave up and down buttons help to set the octave range on the 25 available keys. Tapping the tap tempo button sets the tempo of the presets. A separate arpeggiator button is used to toggle the arpeggiator, which operates on the tempo set through the tap tempo feature. A dedicated latch button can be used to arpeggiate notes even after the keys have been released. Pressing a new range of keys will make the arpeggiate start afresh. A time division button can also be used with the arpeggiator to set the timing of arpeggiated notes or manipulate the latch feature. The multifunctional value dial, in combination with the directional buttons, does most of the navigation on the A25 and the linked DAW. The dial rotates and can be used to enter values.
- DAW Controls
The Akai Professional MPK 225 has 8 assignable knobs and 4 assignable buttons to perform various functions and change values of different features on an external Midi device or a DAW. In addition, a row of transport buttons, including record, play, stop, rewind, and forward are also available to take substantial control of the DAW you are using.
Akai controllers have been known to have exception functionality and features regarding pads. The MPK 225 has 8 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads. The pads are surrounded by some buttons, which further enhance their capabilities. There are 4 pad pages or banks, meaning you get 32 pads on the unit. The pads are assignable and can be used to trigger notes and beats on the unit or your DAW. A full-level button ensures that all pads trigger sounds at the highest velocity (127). A note repeat button gives the option of repeating every note that a pad triggers based on the tempo that has been set.
- Software Bundle
The people at Akai have ensured that even if the MPK 225 is the most basic member of its product line, it doesn’t fall short in the software department. The software bundle has been loaded with everything you need to get you, from assigning sounds to finishing your first project with the help of Ableton Live Lite. The Pro MPC Essentials will provide you with drum sounds beats from several genres and drum loops to practice and keep your songs in tempo. The bundle also includes Hybrid 3 and SONiVox Twist, providing a rich library of synth sounds, oscillators, and modulation effects.
The pads are very professionally made and have great velocity and pressure sensitivity. Some features like note repeat and full level make the pads even more fun to use. In addition, the arpeggiator has very detailed options like latch and time division features.
The MPK 225 does not have any faders, which allows more accessibility when using a DAW in the bigger versions of the MPK series. In addition, the package does not include a power adapter. Akai needs to improve its customer support, especially with the MPK series.
12. M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 (61-Key)
M-Audio’s Oxygen Pro series includes the 25, 49, and 61 key versions.
The Oxygen Pro 61 has many interesting characteristics. The layout of controls, although seemingly cluttered, brings several readily needed features to your fingertips instead of looking for them through menus and tabs. The unit is also bus powered and can draw power directly from the USB port.
Thanks to the sleek design, the unit is quite light for its size and doesn’t take too much of your workspace. There are plenty of assignable controls that serve to adjust functions on the controller as well as the DAW. In addition, the Oxygen Pro has built-in DAW presets for auto mapping these controls with ease.
- First Impression
The M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 has 61 semi-weighted keys with velocity sensitivity. The keys also exhibit after touch. The unit weighs almost 5 kg and is sized at 38” x 10.4” x 3.3”. The back panel has an input for the sustain pedal, a Midi output for an external Midi device, and a USB B-type port. The only other thing you see on the back is the power button.
The controls on the M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 are spread across the top pane. We start with the pitch and modulation wheel controls on the left. There is a pair of octave buttons above the wheels. The keyboard can go up to 3 octaves below and 4 octaves higher than the default octave on the controller. Editing and saving a preset can be done by pressing the preset button. The M-Audio’s display can be followed to see what changes are being made to the keyboard controls. The select/scroll encoder labeled “press to enter” can be used to navigate between functions, and by pressing down, the encoder selects the parameters you want. You can press shift with any other button to access its secondary functions. There is also a tap tempo button that can set the tempo of some of the functions of the keyboard, like the arpeggiator or the note repeat features.
The M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 has 16 velocity-sensitive pads that can be used to play notes or beats. These assignable pads can also be assigned the functions that the knobs are currently performing. The note repeat and latch functions can also be activated on the pads. Pressing the note repeat button will simply make each pad repeat the note assigned to it while pressing the shift and note repeat button activates the latch feature. The latch allows arpeggiating sounds even after the keys are let go. The select/scroll encoder and fader buttons can be used to control the time division of all these features. The pad row play is a handy feature that makes the pads in a row play whatever notes or beats are assigned one by one. In addition, 9 faders on the Oxygen Pro 61 can be used to manipulate user-determined features. There are also 8 assignable knobs above the pads that the user can customize. Finally, the function buttons under each fader can be used to select keyboard features, including (but not limited to) chords and scale assignments to one or more keys on the keyboard.
- DAW Controls
The DAW shift button helps to select from one of the DAWs listed on the display that is compatible with this unit. However, if you want to make your DAW presets, you can also do that by pressing the shift and DAW shift buttons together. The 9 assignable faders and 8 knobs automatically map themselves when a compatible DAW is selected. If the user has set the DAW presets manually, the customizable faders and knobs can also be set manually as per preference. A set of DAW controls on your Oxygen Pro 61 can help you control your digital workstation’s record, play, and stop buttons. The << and >> buttons can either rewind or forward a song in the software or move up or down on the DAW’s interface. A separate loop button can activate the loop feature of your DAW. The tap tempo button can also be used to set the tempo of the digital workstation directly from the Oxygen Pro 6. The pads can also trigger DAW shortcuts directly from the unit.
The software that comes with the Oxygen Pro 61 includes Ableton Live Lite to help you get started with music production right away. Also included in the package are Air Music Tech Virtual instruments, which include a great-sounding grand piano, electric piano, organs, bass, and synth sounds to observe the full potential of your Oxygen Pro 61. In addition, MPC beats gives you thousands of drum beats and percussion libraries for different music projects in your studio and live playing.
The DAW controls on the M-Audio Pro 61 are quite comprehensive. You can be sure of having plenty of customizable options at your fingertips due to a barrage of knobs and faders at your disposal.
In addition, the pads have some exciting notes repeat and latch features and can also be assigned to control DAW shortcuts.
Some units have had problems with their sustain pedal ports. The procedure of downloading the included software needs to improve. A separate software manager needs to be installed, which then gives you instructions on how to get the rest of the software. M-Audio is known for a poor response on their aftersales services.
As with any decision-making process, you need to assess your requirements. Several variables can make a certain instrument favorable for one music producer while unfavorable for the other.
You don’t want to spend too much and are just looking for something affordable for your studio. In that case, the Icon Pro Audio iKeyboard 4X, Alesis VI25, M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3, Novation Impulse 25, and Native Instruments, Komplete Kontrol A25 are all economical options.
Considering that all the instruments on the list come in different key sizes, this could be another variable influencing your decision-making.
Starting with the lower key size, you could take your pick between the AKAI Professional MPK 225, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 or Alesis VI25.
If you’ve already tried the 25 key controllers and are looking to upgrade to the next tier, you can consider the Icon Pro Audio iKeyboard 4X, Novation 49SL MKIII, and AKAI Professional MPK 249.
You can choose three 61 key options from our semi-weighted controller list, starting from the M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3, M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61, and Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2. The M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3 is the most economical of the three.
However, if you want to go all out and get the maximum-sized keyboard controller with the full 88 keys, you can choose between the M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3 and Nektar Impact LX88+.
Another way of looking at these midi controllers is by their features. If you’re in it for the drum pads, the Akai controllers leave the competition behind in pad features, customization, general feel, and management.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a sequencer with a great user interface, easily switchable modes, and good instrument management through assignable displays and control, the Novation 49SL MKIII is a clear winner.
Most controllers now provide various options to give you substantial control of your DAW with assignable features and dedicated transport controls on their control panels.
If that is the preference, the Alesis VI25, M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25, and the AKAI controllers do wonders in this area.
This time we selected a larger variety of semi-weighted midi controllers for you, which come in different sizes, features, and price ranges. Each instrument’s features, pros, and cons have been discussed in detail to make your decision easier. Hope you make the right decision. It’s all a matter of finding the right combination of options that appeal to you.
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Sultan Zafar is a guitar player from Islamabad, Pakistan. He has been playing music with various mainstream musicians for over 20 years. He is a song writer and music producer. These days he spends his time exploring different music genres and collaborating with fellow musicians on various projects. Read more..