Today’s post will look into the 5 Best 25 Key MIDI Keyboards in 2023 and how they are set apart from most. Also, we will show their importance and how they will add to your production and studio.
Your portable studio could now compete with some of its larger counterparts. Most of these keyboards are equipped with pads and knobs, and some have more add-ons than others. We will explore what makes these stand out.
We have created this list based on quality and how the music maker will use the controllers. One of the main points is versatility, which is essential for 25 key MIDI, and you will read about some unique features that may change the way your production flows.
5 Best 25 Key MIDI Keyboards 2023 (On Any Budget)
1. Novation Launchkey Mini MK3
Let’s start with the latest upgrade of the Launchkey Mini and see what makes it stand out.
With a wide array of features, the Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 is small, light, and looks stylish with its range of colors once the RGB pads are lit. It’s ideal and a great asset for anyone who uses Ableton Live a lot, but it’s not limited to Live; it works great with Logic and other HUI DAWs. For its price, it does offer great value.
- 16 RGB Pads
Pads are velocity-sensitive (which most usually are); however, these stand out because they are lit in different colors to show what mode or function they are performing. You are able to switch between 3 pad modes: Session, drums, and custom.
- Arpeggiator Function
The Mk 3 has a great arp function, which allows you to press the Arp button on the right of the device and then create an arpeggio – whereby the notes of a chord are played one after another (ascending or descending) – making music production quicker and easier for creating melodies and progressions. Arp modes, tempo, swing, gate, etc., can all be adjusted on the controller.
- Fixed Chord
The feature allows you to key in the chord shape and then transpose it by pressing other keys. You would simply press and hold the fixed chord button, then press and release the notes of the chord you want, and the chord is now stored. It is great for composing chord-filled music, considering that there are only 25 keys on this controller.
- 8 Rotary Knobs
There are different modes that you can use the knobs in Ableton Live, which include automating the ‘macro’ knobs available on Instrument and Effect Racks. They give you control of Live’s mixer to control the parameters of volume, pan, and sends; you can control and transform your arpeggios with these knobs and more customizable options.
- TRS MIDI Out
The Launchkey Mini Mk 3 can also be used as a standalone MIDI controller. So if ever you want to perform with this device without a computer, you can do that using the 3.5mm MIDI output to control external hardware. The arp and fixed chord functions are also available when it’s standalone.
Although this controller can be used as a standalone device with other hardware, it needs to be powered. Therefore you would need to get an adapter that would be 5V DC, minimum of 500mA. It is a standard USB power supply.
It could also have separate buttons for track navigation in Ableton Live’s sessions instead of using the Arp and Fixed Chord buttons (along with Shift) to navigate the tracks. But for the simplicity in layout, it’s not too overwhelming.
The Mk 3 is not only standalone enabled, but you can also connect it and operate it with iOS or Android devices such as phones or tablets. You would need to use an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter with a separate 2.4A Lightning charger (for iOS), or you would use a USB OTG to USB adapter for Android.
The downloadable manual is easy to follow, and the controller can be quick to learn because it is easy to use once you invest a short time to explore its functionality and features. If you are an Ableton Live user, this can be a comprehensive little portable studio for you.
2. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25
The smallest of the NI Komplete Kontrol A-series keyboard range, the A25 is in a class of its own.
The only difference regarding the larger 49- and 61- key versions are that this one has 25 keys; all other features include the eight touch-sensitive rotary knobs, pitch, mod wheels, transport section, perform and edit, etc. Its functionality and features seamlessly integrate with the software parameters making this controller ideal for both the seasoned music maker and the novice.
- Smart Play
A unique feature that allows you to play scales and chords and arpeggiate with just one note on the keyboard. Scales, chords, and arp can be edited to your needs using parameters in Komplete Kontrol with various banks and types, including major, minor, and jazz scales, just to name a few. All of which can be programmed from the keyboard.
- Komplete Kontrol And Select Software
On purchase of the A25, you get a download link for Komplete Kontrol software bringing together all NI instruments, effects, loops, and samples into one amazing plugin, giving you advanced browsing options for specific sounds. You also get the Komplete Select software bundle with powerful synthesizers like Massive, Monark, and Reaktor Prism. The software can be standalone or works with host DAW.
- Navigation And Mode Buttons
Browsing through the library and navigating through your DAW is seamless with the 4-D encoder, which is located on the far right and combines the functionalities of a joystick (which can be pushed up, down, left, and right) and can be pressed down and also rotated. There are also browser, plugin, and track buttons that serve their functions while navigating.
- Undo/Redo And Quantize Functions
Very helpful for speeding up workflow; on the top left of the keyboard is an undo/redo button. Also, a quantize button beside it allows you to quantize events to the step grid and activate/deactivate automation in supported host DAWs.
Among its many features includes a two-line display. Useful for providing information for the context that is currently utilized: by the browser when working through the instruments, what parameters are assigned to the eight rotary knobs, and the perform and edit section, which includes the smart play settings.
Although it comes with all the bells and whistles that a producer would want in a keyboard, it still lacks the pads. But if you can live without them, it can still be worthwhile as part of your setup. Also, the host integration of Komplete Kontrol is not available to use on every DAW, so check first if yours is compatible before buying.
Komplete Kontrol offers accessibility features for visually impaired people, including speech output via the computer that one can manage on the keyboard. It can be linked with Maschine for transport, plugin control, etc. And also, there is a training mode available on the keyboard whereby you double-press ‘shift’ which lets you find a control without accidentally triggering actions.
3. AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
Akai now has its latest generation of the MPK Mini, which resembles its predecessor. However, it has some interesting characteristics.
The Mk3 is widely compatible for integration with all DAWs, and it has a compact size and design, with pretty much all the functionality you’d expect from a smaller keyboard. Spanning 12.5″ x 7.13″ (width and depth) and weighing a mere 1.65 lbs/0.75 kg, it travels unnoticed with your laptop in a bag.
One thing that makes this special is the professional pads that Akai is so well known for on their other devices.
- 8 Backlit Pads
Its solid feel pads are velocity and pressure-sensitive (the previous Mk2 were not pressure-sensitive) and have the same design as the MPC series of Akai’s hardware devices. They have a standard red or green backlight color and have aftertouch (the MIDI data sent after the pad has been struck and held down after, controlling a parameter such as a volume when pressure is applied), good for more advanced performances. The Bank A/B button is pressed to change pads between A (1-8) and B (9-16).
- OLED Display
Small display, but it serves its function for immediate parameter feedback. It shows controller data and arpeggiator settings, while the default screen shows the currently selected program and BPM.
- Arpeggiator And Note Repeat
Arp is activated simply by pressing the button and thus entering into new settings; you would need to hold down the button while turning the corresponding knobs or pressing the corresponding keys. Note repeat allows you to get a continuous repeat of the loaded sound. By pressing the note repeat button to activate or deactivate, pressing a pad will cause it to retrigger at the current tempo and time division settings automatically.
- 8 Continuous Knobs
It can be assigned to various parameters of your choosing and turn endlessly, which is better than the formerly limited rotary style, which could only turn from points 1 to 2. So when new synths are loaded, there is no hassle of parameters not being lined up in position.
- X-Y Controller
A new and unique feature: joystick-like controller allows you to bend the pitch wheel with the left and right movements and apply the mod wheel effect with up and down movements. The OLED display will show the updated values (000-127) of the parameter editing. The configurable thumbstick can also be assigned different functions.
There is an improvement to previous models, but the small keys are not as well weighted for playing on as some of the other 25 key controllers on the market. But for its price, it is not such a bad thing.
Also, it could take some time to get used to using the X-Y controller. Traditional pitch and mod wheels or strips would have been a good addition and thus keeping the X-Y controller purely for other parameters.
Hybrid, Mini Grand, Velvet, and expansion sound packs. The Mk3 has a sleek design with its black and red, and is also available in different color special editions like full grey, full white (with black keys), full black, and full red (with black keys), which are available at select retailers.
You can view these editions on Akai’s website https://www.akaipro.com/mpk-mini-mk3
4. Arturia MiniLab MKII
Arturia is known for its synthesizers and software, and now we will explore their 2016 release MiniLab MkII.
It’s been in the market for some time. That says a lot on its own. As far as mini keyboards go, this one can hold its weight -- and not just in its robustness – but also in its quality and how it works for the musician.
It deserves a deeper look, showing off 16 endless rotary encoders, eight user-presets, and its velocity-sensitive keyboard.
- Pitch/Mod Touch Strips
Activated by pressing the touch strips to bend the pitch or adjust the modulation amount. It now has greater sensitivity for more precision in performance. Pitch can be configured to snap back (like the pitch wheel spring feature), or it can remain set to the value and saved in presets.
- Great Keyboard
In many cases, for 2-octave keyboards, the keys are smaller than usual and more flimsy (for lack of a better word). However, the keybed here is more full-bodied in terms of the weighting in the keys. They are slim, the keys spring back nicely, and the feeling when pressed is not like other 25 key controllers.
- 8 Multi-Color Pads
Velocity and pressure-sensitive pads are useful for playing drums and samples and being able to recall eight presets from the internal memory. It is done by holding ‘shift’ and pressing one of the pads. ‘Pad 1-8/9-16’ button lets you select between two banks of pads.
- Assignable Pedal Input
Input is designed for a switch-type pedal, either latching or momentary (latching will lock the parameter when pressed, and momentary will automatically return to their default position) and can be configured several ways with this keyboard.
- Analog Lab Lite
Vintage keyboard collection software included with MiniLab Mk II, which includes 17 instruments, including analog synths, organs, strings, etc. It’s a collection of about 500 sounds from the V Collection suite.
No specific features on the keyboard stand out to make this one set apart from others. The features are generally found on other keyboards, except for the software. But from a hardware perspective, it is quite general.
Also, there are 16 rotary knobs; however, the first two (namely 1 and 9) are used for different functions than the others.
It has a solid structure; the material dexterity gives it more sturdiness. It might be all plastic, but its base allows it to be more robust. It also comes with added weight, being about 3.3lbs/1.5kg. And the matte finish and keys make it have similarities to a quality synth or piano.
Nektar has made this affordable model, which offers great value for what it comes equipped with.
From its look, one might not be able to tell, but the Impact LX25+ is relatively bigger than the other 25 keys. With dimensions of 18.8″ x 10.5″ (width x depth) and weighing 4lbs/1.8kg, this is partly due to the larger keys.
The classic pitch and mod wheels are nice and big, and the controller works on basically all DAWs.
- Full-Sized Keys
One of the features that stand out from other 2-octave keyboards is the full-sized keys. They allow you to play like you are playing piano, without the limitations of edging the keys with your fingers. Keys are touch sensitive and have adjustable velocity curves, whereby you can adjust the sensitivity.
- 8 Velocity-Sensitive Pads
Pads are lit when they are pressed. The ‘Pad Learn’ allows you to quickly select a pad and learn a new note assignment by pressing a desired key on the keyboard. Pad colors provide information about their current status: Pad map one is green, two orange, three yellow, and four red.
- 6 Transport Buttons
Minimizes using a mouse for the DAW with loop, back, forward, play, stop and record buttons. These also have secondary functions when coupled with ‘shift.’ These are global controls, so they remain unchanged.
- 5 Function Buttons
Includes buttons: mute, snapshot, null, pad learn, and setup. The first allows you to mute the MIDI output from real-time controls, essentially allowing you to reposition knobs without sending MIDI data. Snapshot is used as a status recall feature and sends out the current status of knobs and fader. Null remembers parameter settings when you change between presets.
- LED Display
It offers three characters and seven segments in its view and shows certain parameter values such as BPM, octave, user preset, etc. It is of a decent size.
The rotary knobs are not endless, meaning they only turn from value A to value B. It can be a hassle when changing patches and reconfiguring the parameters. Although they are full-sized, the keys are not weighted, so it’s difficult to adjust how much finger pressure to use in the beginning.
LX25+ can connect to an iPad via the Apple USB Camera Connection Kit to use with apps to make music. It also has low power mode for iOS devices – when low power mode is on. All LEDs are off full-time. To program this, you would press and hold the ‘Cycle’ and ‘Rec’ buttons when the keyboard is off, then turn it on. Release the buttons when the device is powered up.
Korg nanoKEY Studio
Korg has, over many decades, established itself as a huge name in synth and sound technology and has now gone nano with this device.
There’s a lot to say about this little NanoKey Studio, and it has surpassed expectations with its unique keys. Also, its scene, shift/tap, arp, chord pad, and scale buttons make this simple to use even for a beginner. At first glance, one would think it cannot do much, but it offers more functionality than some other 25 keys. Let’s take a step into what could potentially be the future of portable controllers and learn more about it.
- 25 Backlit Keys
Keys are velocity-sensitive, despite that they are not conventional piano-style keys. They are also great for bigger fingers than the slimmer keys on other controllers. An added feature of scale and chord mode on this controller. The specific keys light up in the scale mode to see where the scale notes are.
- 8 Dynamic Pads
Pads are touch-sensitive and can be used for drums, trigger samples, and play chords once it is working with the Chord Pad feature. It plays perfect chords in key. The pads also work as a control panel to change the arpeggiator’s parameters and allow you to access eight different scenes stored in the controller. Handy for when you go between different apps and DAWs, the scenes stay consistent.
- X-Y TouchPad
Two-axis touchpad allows you to make movements over this smooth panel with your finger to control two parameters of your choice. Same style as the KORG Kaossilator. Controls the pitch and modulation; you can also program the touchpad to control any two MIDI parameters with aftertouch. Great for automating effects in real-time. Touch Scale mode also allows you to slide the scale notes across the pad in the key.
- 8 Performance Knobs
Good feel on the rotary knobs because they are not too loose that when turning with your fingertips, it feels like you have better control of sweeps and other automation. You can assign each knob to a specific MIDI Control Change (CC) message.
- USB And Wireless Connectivity
You can connect NanoKey Studio to a desktop/laptop via USB or wirelessly, with a USB power adapter or power bank. It uses Bluetooth to connect to your iOS devices wirelessly. Furthermore, you could power it with two AAA batteries instead of the USB. Hence it’s simple and convenient to set up.
Not such a huge disadvantage, but you have to use a desktop or laptop to alter the device’s internal settings instead of being able to change it on the iOS it is linked to.
Also, the knobs have low resolution, meaning that they have steps of 64 ticks, as opposed to a general knob resolution of 128. So it skips steps as you turn the knobs which can usually mean greater ‘jumps’ in the increase or decrease of the parameter.
Highly portable because of its size and also having its wireless connectivity option. It works well with DAWs, and the use and navigation of the device itself are relatively easy (e.g., activating and editing arp, scale, chord, touchpad, etc.), and it seems durable and of good quality to carry around with few issues.
It also has a sustain button on the controller to carry those notes. Well worth its price for all that you can do with it.
There are plenty of small keyboards out there that one can make music with, and even quality music nonetheless. And it is also good to have a reference to see which controller would suit you best based on your needs as a music maker and what you aim to get out of a specific keyboard you would potentially buy.
So it is worth mentioning that one should look at where and how you plan to use the keyboard to know which one you will eventually take with you to musical success. For instance, if you are always on the move or don’t have much space to set up, you should weigh these up.
All the keyboards mentioned here have 2-octaves. There are also other things they all have in common such as lightness in weight, general size, encoders/knobs, USB powered, Kensington security slot, and also all having a sustain pedal input (except for the Korg NanoKey Studio). One can consider all the other factors that set them apart.
Essentially the aim is to produce good quality music, whether you are a beginner or more experienced. And the features and prices we consider concerning one another to make the music-making process as seamless and as fun as possible.
The Best 25-Key Synthesizers 2023
Moog Sub Phatty
Sub Phatty by Moog is a sound design tool and a bass instrument known for its aggressive sound and punch.
It has a dark and gritty sound engine based on the classic analog Moog circuits. In addition, it features two octaves of full-size keys and 31 knobs that give you immense hands-on control over the device.
- Sound engine
It features two variable wave shape oscillators, a pink noise generator, and a sub oscillator for maximum range coverage. The multidirectional circuit by Moog adds warmth at lesser mix levels and delivers a high-distortion effect at higher levels. Lastly, it has modulation, filter, and envelope control windows to add more movement & depth to the sound.
- Free software editor
There are 51 hidden parameters in the editor/librarian software version that you can tweak and get greater hands-on control over your sounds. You can also tweak, manage, and share presets using that.
- Analog sound
The circuitry and sound are 100% analog and can be polyphonic and monophonic. The keys are semi-weighted, and pitch bend & mod wheel controls are also present. Further, the live arpeggiator lets you create interesting motion and groovy bass lines.
Character & Sound:
The synth almost always sounds overloaded, even at very minimal settings, as it is designed to be aggressive and hard-hitting. It sounds overdriven naturally but can get even more fierce when the multi-drive feature is activated. On top of it, the sub-bass on it can drive your system crazy!
It has a powerful PWM, and you can choose the initial waveform from triangle to sawtooth, and the low pass filter has various slopes. Overall, its high-quality build and material seem clunky, rugged, and durable. It also runs on Mac and windows without problems and has good connectivity.
Many of its parameters are latent in shift modes and hidden functions, which is frustrating and non-intuitional. It’s hard to play it as a solo instrument due to its small size. Apart from that, it lacks aftertouch, has only one LFO for modulations, and doesn’t have a separate control for headphones level. Lastly, cheaper alternates are available in the market, and it also lacks sufficient memory for presets.
Novation Bass Station 2
Bass Station 2 by Novation is an analog mono synth that you can control digitally.
It’s a hundred percent analog synthesizer with digital controls, such that it has two switchable oscillators with four adjustable waveforms, either of which can be easily edited. In addition, you can set the course and fine pitch of the oscillator, along with a modulation envelope, LFO, and a pulse-width knob.
You get a headphone, line output, external input, sustain pedal switch, MIDI i/o, USB connection to use with a computer, and a DC power supply. Hence, you can connect external equipment, including a computer, to the system.
- Sturdy-built and hands-on-control
The knobs, sliders, switches, pitch bend/modulation wheels, and other controllers are high-quality and tweakable, along with an LED display and a 2-octave keyboard with an after-touch.
- Synth engine
There are two main oscillators, one sub-oscillator, and a noise oscillator, to start with. Then there’s a filter with cutoff, resonance, overdrive, and LFO 2 & envelope knobs. Finally, you also get an arpeggiator, 2 LFOs, an ADSR envelope, and a distortion effect knob.
Character & Sound:
Bass Station 2 is great for programming progressive and dark bass lines, especially the type that Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor make. The dark, mysteriously underground, and gritty soundtracks like that of Delhi Crimes, The Social Network, Limitless, and Tron Legacy could be best created by the synth.
It has a warm analog characteristic, and can easily adapt to cool movements, with the opening & closing of LFO-modulated filters.
The extended filter options increase the scope of your sonic horizon, with a heavy-duty arpeggiator and step sequencers, and good hands-on onboard control. The sound is fairly analog, and the ring modulation & square and saw waves enable you to create dirty bass sounds, which are harmonically rich.
Its aftertouch is not as sensitive and requires a lot of pressure. Also, it’s very similar to the Arturia MicroBrute and doesn’t have a control voltage input or output. You cannot trigger the arpeggiator/sequencer from an external source, and the size of the instrument is limited.
The Arturia Microfreak blends wavetables and digital oscillators with digitally-controlled analog filters and a lot more sound design capabilities in a very compact and unique packaging. For example, it has a one-of-a-kind poly aftertouch flat keyboard with only two octaves, 16 different oscillator modes, five switchable sound engines, and Noise engineering-based oscillator modes.
Arturia offers companion software for preset management and more control on the device. One can also connect a larger LED/LCD screen to visually monitor the sound design process.
- Futuristic design
Microfreak features a useful and visually pleasing OLED screen that provides good visual feedback for the selected parameter, preset names, waveshape changes, etc. In addition, it has a matrix knob that lets you assign the target and source for modulations (like Envelope, LFO, CycEnv, Press, Key/Arp, etc.). Similarly, it has many knobs and buttons for various functions built in unconventional styles.
- 12 Oscillator Engines
Arturia has packed twelve sound design engines, including wavetable, virtual analog, FM, Waveshaper, Formant, Additive, Modal, Chords, Speech, Karplus, Formant Engine, and Modal resonator. Furthermore, for each of these, the timbre, shape, and other characteristics of sounds can be edited.
- The All New Touch Surface
The design team behind Microfreak deserves full points for innovation as they have created this sensitive touch keyboard, which you could play faster than a regular keyboard. However, it could take some time to get used to it if you have the habit of playing on a regular keyboard. Also, you cannot lay your fingers on the keyboard without triggering any note(s) on it.
Character & Sound:
Sounds coming out of this Arturia device can sound slightly harsh and digital, not warm and analog. It’s best for producing eight-but gaming sounds, cyberpunk-based sound design, and the Social Network and Tron Legacy type of OSTs, using its glide knob and other modulators. In addition, it offers various sound engines and sequencing options so that you can create sounds of varying digital characteristics.
Microfreak is priced at about $300, which is a great price point, given the value one can derive from this device. Next, the chords oscillator is an interesting feature that you can use, which gives a four-voice chord as its output, for which we can select the chord we want to output using the wave knob, and the Timbre knob could select the inversions.
With so many different sound engines, the synth serves multiple synth purposes. We can easily switch between these different sound design algorithms, which is great for the creative aspect of it to inspire new ideas, especially during creative blocks. Further, the rear of the machine offers a wide range of connectivity, including MIDI, USB, CV out, Gate out, Pressure out, and Clock in/out. Lastly, it’s light in weight and small in size, making it extremely portable.
There’s no external audio input, which is a shame because the analog filter is really good and could have been used on different samples and recordings. Moreover, the build quality is not great due to its plastic packaging and fragile keybed. Finally, it sounds too “digital” sonically, given it is primarily a digital synthesizer.
Arturia MicroFreak Vocoder Edition
Arturia Microfreak is a digital synthesizer with a sixteen-band vocoder module.
Its synth engine is exactly that of the Arturia Microfreak, including its digital oscillator, wavetable oscillator, analog filters, modulation matrix, and more, giving you the flexibility to create and design your carrier signal with great flexibility. It also has a 64-step sequencer, arpeggiator, chord mode, and more features.
- Sound Engine & flexibility
You can start with three waveforms: sawtooth, pulse width, and noise and voicing up to four voices, along with a wavetable oscillator and timbre and shape knobs for further sonic shaping. The modulation matrix allows pitch, waveform, timer, cut-off, and three assignable parameters to be modulated by an envelope, LFO, key/arp, and cycle envelope.
- Ease of use
The interface and signal flow are simple and easy to understand, and there are 224 factory presets and sixteen Vocoder presets to get started with. The chord mode allows you to play diatonic chords by pressing a single key as the root note. In addition, there’s also a small OLED screen for visual feedback and, reading & setting the values.
- Vocoder engine
The synth sound is adapted to the voice envelope and timbre and is then outputted. So you can control the sonic characteristics of the output by knobs like Type, Wave, Timbre, and Shape.
Further, you can filter those sounds, module them using LFO and ADSR envelope, create arpeggiation and sequencer patterns, and more. Finally, you can easily get started with the Vocoder using the Vocoder presets built into the synth.
There are options for pitch modulation and a glide knob to add creative pitch effects. Further, you can add high-quality effects like compressor, reverb, delay, and more for further sonic shaping.
Character & Sound:
It has smooth and classic analog filters of lowpass, bandpass, and highpass types, adding analog warmth to the sound. Multi-mode arpeggiator with Up, Order, Random, Pattern modes, and a 64-step sequencer account for great movement and rhythmic possibilities.
Wavetable synthesis allows for an expansive scope of sonic range that you can tap into. Lastly, it’s great for glitchy underground vocal synth sounds and creating interesting & experimental vocal effects in your songs.
You can add any TRRS input or adapter as a microphone to the synth, and the updates are free. It’s a good trimmed-down version of Vocoder, with a versatile sound design engine. Lastly, it’s portable, has a great interface, and can be incredibly inspiring, especially during touring.
It doesn’t have a proper mic input, like an XLR or line input, for high-recording high-quality vocals. Further, it doesn’t have the expansive features of a modern vocoder and is more like a compromised version. As a synthesizer with a vocoder, it’s good, but just as a vocoder, it is not the right product.
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Chris Maiken is a producer, DJ, and sound engineer based in South Africa. He has experience in producing various electronic genres and specializes in house music.