Today we’re looking at the 5 best 37-key MIDI keyboard controllers in 2022 for musicians. Then, we expand on these specific keyboards to help you select what is suitable for your personal preferences.
There’s always a time to look into getting a new keyboard. And as your experience increases, you start to push the envelope on how far you can expand creatively. Having a new or different keyboard can help facilitate this because you will come to experience features, settings, and parameters with which you are not yet familiar. So, in this list, we will explore a small range of keyboards that can get you to that next level in your production. So, let’s get to it!
5 Best 37 Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers 2022 (On Any Budget)
1. Arturia Keystep 37
- Sequencer And Arpeggiator Section
Having a toggle switch that allows you to change between sequencer and arpeggiator, this section lets you select which of the eight active sequences in Seq Mode; and which pattern will be used to playback the notes you’re holding on the keyboard in Arp Mode. You have encoders for changing the modes, time division, and rate. You can record your notes as a sequence.
- Chord Button With Related Knobs
The Keystep 37 lets you go into chord mode by holding Shift and pressing the Hold button, and there are also a couple of other ways you can go into chord mode. But the point to emphasize is that you can add notes to make the chord of a root note with the Type knob, set the chord span (number of notes in the chord up to 16) with the Notes knob, setting the Velocity to Notes knob ratio, and also selecting strum type with the fourth Strum knob.
- Transport Section
Using MIDI Machine Control, the record, stop and pause/play buttons control the sequencer, the arpeggiator, and external MIDI devices. All three buttons are active in the sequencer mode, yet only Play/Pause and Stop can be used with the arpeggiator. You also have secondary functions with each button when creating a sequence: Append, Clear Last, and Restart.
- Numerous Rear Panel Inputs/Outputs
Arturia has equipped this keyboard with various inputs and outputs for you to truly get the most out of this keyboard. A USB port to connect to your computer and a 12V DC IN (with an optional adapter). Pitch/Gate/Mod outputs (to send electrical signals to an external device), sustain pedal input, Clock Sync input/output (allows you to interface with pre-MIDI technology capable of synchronization), MIDI in/out ports.
- Octave, Transpose, And Kbd Functions
Not only can you shift octaves up and down on the keyboard, but you can also press Oct+ or Oct- and add notes while the arpeggiator is running. In addition, transpose mode is enabled with Shift as a secondary function and Kbd Play mode (which allows you to play keys independently in addition to the part the sequencer is playing).
A row of 37 LEDs above the keys helps you check the status of notes played and those the sequencer and arp are playing. It is also well built and sturdy, giving you comfort in its stability. You can maneuver with it as well if needing to travel.
Some of the main functions like switching root notes, require two hands to change, which could be an issue in live situations. But for many people, this would not be such an issue, especially if you play only one live instrument.
2. Novation Launchkey 37 MK3
Novation has several Launchkeys, such as 25, 37, 49, and 61-key models, and they have done a superb job in all of their designs.
A feature-rich keyboard that is a great addition and investment to your studio setup, the Launchkey 37 Mk3 is like a beatmaker’s dream. Purely for the fact that the 16 pads and knobs included make this an all-in-one keyboard, and you would hardly need anything else besides a computer to make your next hit. The faders are the only thing it lacks as opposed to its larger 49 and 61-key siblings. You can also expand your creativity with its chord, scale, and arp modes. Let’s look into why this keyboard is so great.
- Fixed Chord, Arp, And Scale
Giving you more creative freedom when producing, you can store any chord played, and then it can be played as a fixed chord when any note is played on the keyboard. In addition, the Arp mode gives you several different arpeggiator types, which you can change by holding Shift and pressing the relevant key. And the Scale mode allows you to play notes in a scale you select over the entire keyboard.
- 16 RGB Lit Pads
You can choose from many ways to use these pads, such as Drum Mode (hold the Shift button and press the pad written ‘Drum’ underneath), allowing Launchkey’s pads as velocity-sensitive drum pads. They can assign volume, pan, and sends in Mixer Mode, make adjustments in Device Mode, etc. In addition, the pads can also trigger clips in Ableton Live using Session Mode.
- 8 Rotary Pots
Having a range of eight pots/knobs gives you more control over the parameters you are working within your DAW. You can control mixer components in Ableton Live, such as volume, pan, and sends. You can use them to transform your arpeggios like the tempo, swing, gate, mutate and deviate. Pot Pickup can be turned on in the settings menu, preventing any sudden changes in control value. There are also four pot custom modes.
- Navigation And Transport Sections
Accessibility is made so much easier with Launchkey’s navigation section, which includes the button that puts the keyboard into navigation mode, whereby you can browse samples and presets. There are up, down, left, and right buttons that get you through rows of pads, clips, drum racks, and tracks in Live. The transport section includes play, record, stop, and loop. In addition, you will find Capture Midi, Quantize, Click, and Undo buttons above.
- Incredible Ableton Live Integration
Although this keyboard can work with most HUI DAWs like Studio One, Cubase, Pro Tools, etc., it has been designed for Ableton Live and has immediate access to all the controls. As a result, you can seamlessly work with scenes, clips, capture notes, quantize, etc., all at the end of your fingertips, so you can put the mouse aside when you’re producing. It also has full integration with Logic and Reason.
It is relatively lightweight, making it easier to move around if necessary. The keys are also full-sized, which is good if you are more well-versed in keyboard/piano playing. Because of its chord, arp, scale modes, pads, and knobs, it is excellent for beginners who are willing to invest in it. And for more experienced music-makers. Finally, for all its features, it is pretty affordable.
Although there is one MIDI OUT, it is not suited for producers who are more interested in controlling a bunch of hardware; it is more for users who work with DAWs, mainly Ableton. Keys are relatively light compared to other keyboards in the range, but you can get used to it, so it’s not an issue. Also, there is no aftertouch.
3. Arturia Keystep Pro
Arturia has evolved their Keystep controller from the original to the 37-key previously mentioned, and now they have this Pro.
A seemingly ornate keyboard with polyphony sequencing is not so overwhelming once you can learn it. Create exceptional ideas with its tracks, sequencers, arpeggiators, scales, chords, and step buttons, just to name a few. It also has pitch bend and modulation strips, which light up for you to see parameters, and a looper just under that allows you to alter the playback of a project in real-time. It is for the more intermediate producer who can afford to invest in this quality keyboard.
- 4 Track/Sequencer Sections
The four different colored tracks/sequencers on this keyboard would activate and adjust the sequencers and arpeggiators. The sequencers are polyphonic, so you can press a chord to enter the sequence loop instead of a single note. The arpeggiator is the notes played on a chord that is played back individually rather than simultaneously. There is so much that this feature is capable of doing. It would need its very own analysis section.
- A Multitude Of Available Connections
Apart from having the USB and 12V DC IN in the rear panel, there are many connections here. Such as MIDI (1 x input, 2 x output) and four (Pitch/Mod/Gate) analog connections that send control voltages to modular synthesizers and other non-MIDI devices. You have eight drum gates outputs and Clock in/out. Another great addition is the metronome output and the sustain pedal input.
- Control Section
You would find the control section on the left next to the track/sequencer section, and this includes a project button that helps you prepare for performances by saving sequences and drum patterns into projects. There is a utility option, and in this menu, you can change global functions. In addition, there is an Exit/Undo button, as well as a copy, paste, save, erase, and a control button (this button changes the function of the five main encoders)
- 5 Touch-Sensitive Encoders
These quality encoders allow you to change the parameters of your patterns like pitch, gate, velocity, time shift, and randomness. Compared to standard encoders, these are different because they will have a small click or series of clicks when you turn them slow. In addition, these would dimly illuminate the encoder’s lights in increments, giving you 128 distinct positions when turned slowly.
- 16 Step Buttons
In addition to these 16 buttons, the Step Edit also allows you to program and edit your step settings. How this works is akin to that of an old-school drum machine, meaning that you can press each desired step to associate with the selected sound. They are also color-coded to match the selected four tracks (i.e., track 1 is green, track 2 is orange, etc.)
The fact that you can control various devices like hardware synths, modules, drum machines, and such makes this a keyboard powerhouse. It can also connect to an iPad. You can also create splits, for example, having the arp play on the lower part of the keyboard while the sequencer is playing on the upper part.
Although it’s packed with much more features compared to the Keystep 37, it does still lack the full-sized keys, which for some composers/producers is preferable to have. You would only compare the cons to more higher-end controllers, which would not be ideal for this specific review.
4. IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Pro
IK Multimedia has a range of products in their catalog ranging from interfaces to software to keyboards and aiming for ease of use.
Something different and having a neat and stylish appearance, the iRig Keys 2 Pro is simple to set up on Mac or Windows, iOS, and Android devices, thus making this keyboard very handy for your portable production. Some minor features like a volume knob, octave up and down buttons, and a setup button also help your production become more fluid.
- iOS and Android Compatibilty
One of the features that the iRig products are most known for is the compatibility with iOS devices, namely iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android devices. This feature allows you to have more mobility, and although the Keys 2 Pro has 3 octaves of full-sized keys, there is less worry of having to move with a laptop unless you want to.
- Pitch/Mod Wheels And 4 Control Knobs
Smooth pitch bend and modulation wheels will make for more timely and precise performance, allowing you to be more deliberate in your movements (compared to pitch/mod strips). In addition, four assignable control knobs can change the various parameters you program them and can double up to eight with the ‘5-8’ button.
- Programmable Buttons And Encoder
Above the keys, you will find a volume knob and then the octave up and down buttons (which also function in Edit Mode when pressed together)—followed by program buttons (which you use for switching sounds in sound modules like virtual instruments or plug-ins). There is also a Data push encoder that acts as a browsing control.
- Cables And Rear Panel Inputs
For a keyboard of this type, it is excellent that there are MIDI IN/OUT inputs, a USB input, sustain pedal input, and a 1/8” TRS output for headphones or speakers to be plugged in. They also provide the package containing a lightning cable, USB cable, and a MIDI cable adapter (allowing you to plug a MIDI cable into the adapter to connect external devices).
- Works As Standalone
It is fantastic to know that iRig Keys 2 Pro can work as a standalone controller when no host is connected. You can control an external MIDI module (with MIDI OUT port) and connect an external MIDI device to the MIDI IN port. The keyboard would need to connect to a USB power adapter via the USB power outlet.
The keyboard has full-sized keys, which many keyboard players generally prefer. In addition, you can use headphones to monitor your audio from the keyboard. You also receive software like SampleTank 4 SE, iElectric, and iGrand.
It would be nice if they added a few more features, such as transport control or some pads. Also another shortfall is the software bundle is minimal, and they could have given more. It has cables such as a lightning connector, but no Micro-USB-OTG to micro-USB cable is included in the package. So that would need to be bought separately.
5. Korg microKEY 37 MkII
Japanese electronics company Korg is all about hardware synthesizers and electronic musical instruments and is also for the more entry-level producer.
The second generation of the microKEY is simple, plug-and-play works with your favorite DAWs, and is light and compact. The tinier keys have Korg’s Natural Touch, making it easy to play and have the right feel for a keyboard of its size. You can also connect a sustain pedal to the input on the side to give you more dynamic performance. Suitable for an upgrade to start producing with an actual keyboard instead of using a mouse to place notes.
- Velocity-Sensitive Mini Keys
The MicroKey MkII has 3 octaves of mini keys. And although the keys are more compact, they have been designed to play how you like to (after you get used to the size). And they still have a good feel with the quality you would expect from Korg, and you can adjust the velocity curve to fine-tune your performance.
- Octave And Transpose Functions
You can change the octave from -4 down and +4 up with this specific keyboard. A color change switches from green to orange to red; the higher (or lower) you go in the octave range, respectively. The transpose parameter allows you to go up or down in one semitone increments, ranging from -12 to +12.
- Pitch Bend & Mod Wheels And Pedal Input
Having the better-known wheels to adjust the pitch bend and modulation allows you to get that tactile feel when making these adjustments in your compositions. Some people prefer this instead of the strips that are on some of the other keyboards. On the rear side, you will also find a ¼” input jack that can accept a PS-1 footswitch or PS-1H damper pedal.
- Great Selection Of Included Software
Upon purchase of the microKey MkII, you will have access to download a range of software such as Korg Gadget and Korg Module, the M1 Le, Arp Odyssey, MS-20, Polysix, Mony/Poly, M1, Wavestation, and the MDE-X effect plug-in. In addition, you will also get the Korg Kontrol Editor, which allows you to customize keyboard preferences.
It is very lightweight, being a mere 2.2 lbs/1 kg. Although it is slightly longer due to having 37 keys, it is pretty easy to move with, and it uses little space on your desk. In addition, you can get used to the default velocity sensitivity of the keys quickly after playing them. It is also iOS compliant, so that you can connect to your iPad or iPhone.
If you are a frequent keyboard player and do a lot of your production with one, this is not for you because of the limited features and compact keys. On the other hand, if you rarely use a keyboard and just need to lay down some notes from time to time, then this is for you.
There are so many options to choose from when you don’t have to consider the budget and to summarize the keyboards into only six makes it a little tricky. However, if you’re looking to enhance your production capacity according to your creative needs, you can look into one of these recommendations.
If you’re more into hardware synthesizers and modular and are not constrained by budget, you can look into Arturia’s selections above. Or if you have a more beat-making style and prefer features and portability, then some of the others like the Launchkey.
And if you’re more of a songwriter or composer, are into capturing ideas, or rarely use keyboards but like having them for specific times, then the microKey or the iRig will be sufficient for you. It simply comes down to knowing what you want to accomplish your desired music-making goals.
It’s also important to note that this list is not exclusive to seasoned or experienced musicians. However, even if you’re starting and have an idea of what you would like, these recommendations will hopefully move you swiftly in the right direction.
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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.