Picking the right Midi controller can be tricky with all the available options and features out there. Different brands have different approaches to providing the best Midi controller to today’s pianist/keyboard player. This article looks at the 3 Best MIDI Controllers with Full Weighted Keys.
With technological advancements at such a breakneck pace, all major brands have had to continuously reinvent themselves to stay relevant in the market. The 88 Key versions of the Midi Controller are especially important in this regard as they are seen as the flagship offerings of these brands.
You will find that different Midi Controllers offer a different variety of key beds. For example, some have fully weighted keys, while others may have graded weighted keys. In addition, you may find that some key beds have velocity-sensitive keys, while some have keys with an after-touch feature or a combination of both.
Similarly, on some Midi players, you may find just a hand full of controls which increase their dependability on the apps and software bundles that come along with them. At the same time, other instruments may be loaded with onboard controls and multiple displays to help you navigate the menus and features.
It all comes down to the feel, the features, and sample sounds the user is looking for, so let’s help you decide by looking at the 3 Best Midi Controllers with Full-Weighted Keys. Read through the article to get a bonus right at the end.
3 Best MIDI Controllers With Full-Weighted Keys 2022
1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 (88-Key)
The Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 is the flagship of Native Instrument Keyboards.
Native Instruments have gone to great lengths to combine all the best features from the S88 MK2’s predecessors and more to pack the MK with some impressive characteristics. The keys are engineered in a way to give you the feel of an actual acoustic piano.
The controls layout is nice and detailed, yet simple to use. Introducing some intuitive colored screens makes the user’s experience more efficient and enjoyable.
Native Instruments also give you the added controls to access and use your DAW directly from the S88’s control panel.
- At a Glance
With dimensions of 54.7″ x 13.6″ by 4.5″, the NI S88 weighs around 13 kg. MK2 comes with 88 fully weighted keys on a state-of-the-art Fatar key bed. The keys are velocity sensitive and have an after-touch feature. The main controls include two high-resolution color display screens with dedicated controls. The keyboard also features a pitch bend wheel, a touch strip, and a modulation wheel. On the back panel, you get 2 pedal inputs, a midi input/output, and a USB type B connector for your laptop.
- Integration with DAWs
The Komplete Kontrol S88 is capable of integrating with some of the leading DAWs in the market. You can effortlessly use the latest versions of Cubase Artist, Ableton Live, Garage Band, Logic X, and Nuendo with your SL88. The advanced controls onboard let you access and make changes on your DAW directly from the unit’s control panel. Tracks can be selected with the help of the row of buttons available on the top of the display. Once the track is selected, your display changes to show different parameters, which can be adjusted with the help of the dedicated keys corresponding to different columns on the display. There is also a large scroll knob that can be used to navigate between different menus with ease.
- Browser Mode
The SL88’s powerful controls allow you to do most of your work directly from the unit rather than connecting to a laptop, although that option is also available. All you need to do is ensure that you have the latest versions of your NKS plugins and Komplete Kontrol Software, and you’re good to go. Connecting your laptop with the S88 MK2 will update the plugin library. You can go through Native Instrument’s library as well as a large variety of third-party plugins through the display screens. This can all be accessed through the “Brower” button. When entering the browser mode, you see all the plugins available on the unit on the left screen. The plugins are arranged in different categories, which you can scroll through using the knobs under the display. Each category opens up different sound options to choose from. Each sound is easily customizable according to the user’s requirements.
- Smart Features
The S88 MK2 is packed with smart features that make a musician’s life easier and add more innovation and playability to the unit. For instance, you have a record/playback feature and a loop mode to get those creative solos flowing. A metronome helps you stay on time. You get the option of assigning chords to single keys, which brings more freedom into your playing. You can also assign different scales to different keys, which can be a handy feature. A dedicated arpeggiator button brings depth and creativity to your music. Combining the arpeggiator with features like swing and octave gives you even more tonal options.
- Software Bundle
The S88 MK2 has 3 powerful software that caters to all your needs. The Komplete Kontrol software has all your presets, plugins, effects, and samples organized for quick recall and ease of use. With the Kontakt 6 Player software, you can choose from thousands of Native Instruments and foreign/third-party plugins. Finally, the Reaktor 6 Player software is backed by a powerful synch engine for all your synch and modulation sounds.
The Native Instruments and third-party plugins sound great. You can have a lot of fun with the browser feature and the array of effects at your disposal to get you the right sound for the occasion. The free software you get with the S88 has everything you need to start recording or play live.
Controlling your DAW through the controls on the unit can be impractical and annoying. You may still prefer the convenience of a mouse to control your DAW. In addition, the fully weighted keys may not suit everyone.
Also, there is a certain amount of noise that you sometimes get by pressing the keys.
2. Roland A-88 MK2
Roland owes its popularity to the innovative and groundbreaking instruments it manufactures.
The Roland A-88 MK2 takes innovation to the next step by becoming the first midi controller that introduces Midi 2.0. The Midi 2.0 is smarter and adaptable. This gives the Roland A-88 MK2 some exciting features in terms of connectivity with other instruments and music devices.
Roland has tried to keep the control layout simple and undaunting by arranging all controls to one side for quick and easy access. When combined with the onboard controls, a helpful control app makes saving and recalling scenes easy and efficient.
- At a Glance
The A-88 MK2 has a very sleek design. The device is mostly made of wood and weighs almost 16 Kg. The layout is simple and avoids clutter across the top panel. The control panel has a collection of buttons, knobs, and pads in one place for ease of usage during a recording session or live performance. The back of the control panel is as simple as the main pane. It has three inputs for connecting pedals and a C-Type USB port for connecting to a computer. You also get a Midi input, a Midi output, a power button, and a DC in for the power adapter.
- Midi 2.0
Roland A-88 MK2 is the first midi controller of its kind with Midi 2.0. Having Midi 2.0 means there can now be an exchange of information between 2 Midi 2.0-enabled devices rather than a unidirectional transfer of information like in the case of the 1.0 version. So, if such an instrument is hooked up with the Roland A-88, the two devices will exchange information. This will help the MK2 automatically recognize the instrument and then map the buttons and knobs on the control panel accordingly to make it relevant to whatever is plugged in. This will make for better integration and save time. Also, Midi 2.0-enabled devices have backward compatibility as they can recognize devices that use the older version and adjust accordingly.
- The Keys
88 fully weighted keys mimic the feel of an actual piano thanks to Roland’s own PHA-4 key bed. Just like a piano has heavier hammers hitting strings in the lower key range, the Roland A-88 MK2 smartly imitates the same feel. The keys at the lower end are heavier and get lighter as you move up the key bed.
The controls on the A-88 MK2 are customizable and can be assigned according to the user’s preference. 8 customizable pads and 8 knobs can also be assigned to different parameters. You also get other fun controls on the control panel like the assignable pitch/modulation wheel, an arpeggiator, and a transpose button to conveniently change the key of any song. You also get an octave adjustment feature here. In addition, the key bed can be split into 3 zones to assign different sounds to each zone.
- The App
Roland’s A-88 MK2 doesn’t have any display for the user to see what has been assigned to the customizable controls, but it makes up for it by providing access to a control app. The app shows a virtual representation of the control panel with all the controls clearly marked. In addition, you can color code different controls in the control panel according to your preference and save different settings, which can then be recalled thanks to the snapshot function.
The controls are managed well and are easy to grasp. The control app adds enhanced customization to the controls as per user preference. Being Midi 2.0 ready, the controls adjust and align to an instrument when plugged into the A-88. The device is a full duplex and can be powered by your computer through the type C USB connector.
At this price point, most users would expect a display screen that is missing. Some of the button combinations make it difficult to apply features while playing.
The pads could be moved below the knobs to avoid inadvertently changing knob parameters. The keys are not after touch-enabled.
3. M-Audio Hammer 88
The M-Audio Hammer 88 is the most economical midi controller on this list.
The Hammer 88’s user interface has a minimal design which may or may not be your cup of tea. The layout has been kept super simple, and you hardly see any controls on the main interface, unlike some of the other 88 key options on the list that have separate control panels with assisting displays.
Since the Hammer 88 is a midi controller, you can derive most of the sounds/samples you need through the comprehensive software bundle that accompanies the controller. You also get a few other goodies under the hood that are rare to find on a unit of this price range.
- At a Glance
The Hammer 88 has the dimension of 55.9″ x 11.9″ x 5″ and weighs around 17.5 Kg. The instrument has 88 hammer action keys that are velocity sensitive and attempt to give piano players a feel of an acoustic grand piano. The keys are not graded, meaning there is a similar weighted response across the whole key bed. The keys are responsive in that when a note is played, the key pops back up, giving good note separation when playing faster compositions.
- The Controls
The M-Audio Hammer 88 is built so that it relies heavily on the app for its sounds. The controls are unlike any other Midi Controllers on this list. You get a pitch wheel and a modulation wheel along with a couple of buttons set to change programs by default. The only thing on the Hammer 88 regarding controls is the master volume. That is it. All the customization and effects manipulation is done through the app.
- Back Panel
The Hammer 88’s back panel seems to follow the same theme as seen on the user interface. The input/output layout is very simple. There is a power port for the adapter. The Hammer 88 is quite efficient and doesn’t need a lot of power. So, the USB port on the back can provide enough juice from a computer to run the midi controller without any problems. There is a Midi out, and 3 pedal ports allow you to connect a sustain pedal, an expression pedal, and an additional footswitch.
- Software Bundle
What the M-Audio Hammer 88 lacks in onboard controls, it makes up for through the software bundle included in the package. The bundle includes the lite version of Ableton Live so you can start recording and mixing your music. You also get MPC beats software loaded with AU/VST plugins to help you make beats, remixes, loops, and get creative with the 2Gb of samples built in. Also included are Mini Grand and Velvet, which provide realistic acoustic and electric piano sounds for the Hammer 88. Finally, the DB 33 Tone Wheel Organ and Air Tube Synth give you a taste of some authentic organ and synth sounds if you’re an advanced-level pianist who wants more out of his midi controller.
- Piano Lessons
The Hammer 88 comes with a three-month trial with Skoove, which has a vast library of piano lessons that are very detailed and interactive. The lessons cover different difficulty levels and cater to beginner-level pianists and experts’ alike.
The simple control layout and the lower price tag make the M-Audio Hammer 80 a great choice for beginner-level players. The three-month piano lessons by Skoove will polish up your skills in no time. In addition, the free software bundle has everything you need for your sampling/recording and mixing needs, saving you lots of money.
The layout may be too simple for players who are used to having more control options on the keyboard control panel. For the same reason, the unit is less suitable for live situations as there are not enough controls within an arm’s reach for quick changes.
In addition, the keys don’t have an after-touch feature.
Bonus: MIDI Master Keyboard
Studiologic SL88 Grand
The SL88 is Studio Logic’s top-of-the-line midi controller.
It looks very similar in design to its predecessor, the SL73. Apart from the obvious size difference, the SL88 and SL73 look identical. However, Studio Logic takes things to the next level with its most advanced Fatar key bed yet, giving the SL88 a premium feel.
With the SL Editor software, you get an easy-to-follow interface with loads of customization options to manage and adjust your sounds.
In addition, the TFT display and central controls complement each other well, giving a pleasant user experience.
- At a Glance
The SL88 is much larger and heavier than some of the other midi controllers that Studio Logic offers. The instrument’s dimensions are 49.6″ x 12.2″ x 4.9″, and the SL88 weighs as much as almost 21 Kg, thanks to its strong build and metallic construction.
- Input/Output Options
On the back panel, you find the power button and a port for the power adapter. You also find an input to connect a Midi device and 2 Midi outs for an audio interface or a speaker system. There is an option to connect 4 pedals simultaneously on the back panel. You can plug into the USB port on the back for connecting to a computer.
The SL88 features 88 keys on the most advanced key bed from the Fatar line, the TP/40WOOD. As you may have guessed, the keys are made of wood and have an ivory touch to give the player a feeling closest to playing on an acoustic grand piano. The keys are also graded, which means they behave differently as you move down the key bed, just like in the case of a grand piano. In addition, the SL88 has an after touch feature, which makes for an interesting playing experience.
- SL Editor
Studio Logic’s SL Editor software is a handy tool to help you get the most out of your SL88 midi controller. The SL interface mirrors the display you get on the instrument, so whatever changes you make are automatically implemented on the main unit. You can also organize your sounds and scenes by maintaining them in the SL editor, which acts like a database and saves your settings for quick recall. Since the keys on the SL88 are velocity-sensitive, the SL editor gives you an option to change the sensitivity of your keys through the SL Touch menu. You get to choose from soft, normal, and hard settings, and you all have editable curves which can be set according to the players playing style and preference. The key-Balance menu allows you to dig deep into each key’s behavior that can be changed easily by dragging and dropping them on a curve to alter their response.
- Main Controls
As far as the main controls go, the layout is fairly simple. There is one universal knob that also acts like a joystick and helps navigate and adjust sample sounds and effects. Three navigation buttons help you to jump through different menus. The vibrant color display helps you keep track of all the changes and adjustments made during the session. You can also go through the 250 program slots that have been categorized into 12 groups. The display shows 4 programmable zones at a time.
- X/Y Sticks
Instead of the more traditional pitch/mod wheel you see on most keyboards and controllers, on the SL88, you get three customizable X/Y sticks. The first one is set to change the pitch by default and returns to its original position, while the other two can be assigned modulation of volume controls per the user’s preference.
The ivory-touch wooden keys seem to represent the real thing very closely. The velocity sensitivity and other aspects of the keys are fully customizable, which gives the user freedom to set everything as per preference and comfort.
In addition, the SL Editor is a useful software to organize and back up your sounds.
The keys seem to rub against each other and tend to be noisy when playing. In addition, the X/Y sticks are a bit fragile, and most players may prefer the more conventional wheel controls that are easier to access and get the most out of during performance.
If you are looking to delve into the world of 88 keys, we have covered some good options for you to consider. You now know the features, pros, and cons of some of the leading instruments in the 88 keys midi controller.
So, you’ve decided to buy your first 88-key midi controller and want a budget option that keeps the layout simple but gives you the basic features. Well, the M-Audio Hammer 88 could be a good choice. You get a software bundle with Ableton Live and several professional-sounding plugins with samples to get you started right out of the box.
However, the more advanced player would prefer the touch and feel of some weighted hammer keys and a control panel that gives a certain amount of freedom to work on the unit rather than springing to your computer every time a little change is required.
In that case, the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 seems to be a suitable option with its dual displays and friendly knob controls that let you dial in your sounds and get creative with an arpeggiator, octave change feature, and many more.
Looking for a keyboard with graded keys that vary in feel and pressure as you move along the key bed, just like a grand piano? The Roland A-88 MK2 and Studiologic SL88 Grand offer exactly those qualities. With the Roland A-88, you get Midi 2.0 connectivity, which means that it will map its controls automatically according to any musical device or instrument plugged into it.
The SL88 from Studio Logic is not a bad choice either, as it lets you fully customize every aspect of your keys like velocity, pressure sensitivity, layering, and splits zones through its easy-to-use SL Editor software.
Be sure to check out all these fascinating 88 key midi controllers at the local stores so you can get a hands-on experience regarding the feel and features of each one of them to make your decision easier.
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.