Looking to play your VST synths in a DAW on your laptop or PC, then you will want the best portable MIDI keyboard. This will give you more flexibility as to where you can make your music.
What is Midi?
Firstly what is MIDI? MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface. It is a way of connecting hardware music synthesisers, sound modules, drum machines and other sound generating equipment. It can also connect to your digital audio workstation. This allows you to play software versions of synths and drum modules and other devices like effects. Midi can be connected via a dedicated 5 pin midi port or via USB or Bluetooth.
There are many midi keyboards on the market with different functionality, size and portability. So it is important to define how and where you will be using it before making your purchase. Of course price is always a determining factor so finding the best cheap midi keyboard will be important.
Size and Portability
For this article we will concentrate on portable midi keyboards for those musicians who make music on the go.
A particular favourite of ours is the AKAI MPK Mini MKII which is a 25 key USB connected and powered keyboard. It has velocity sensitive mini keys that are surprisingly playable. It also has 8 backlit pads for playing drum sounds, for instance in your Ableton drum rack. There are 8 assignable knobs to map to your soft synth to control filter cutoff for example, and a 4 way joystick. You get octave up and down buttons and an arpeggiator with adjustable modes and resolution. Note repeat is another nice touch to quickly create runs of 8th, 16th etc. notes. And when you register your MPK Mini you get some great free sounds. These from the likes of Splice and Loopcloud which is the largest sample library around.
The Arturia Minilab MkII 25 Note controller keyboard is another excellent choice and matches up to the Akai MPK. Also with 25 velocity sensitive keys, it offers 16 rotary encoders to give you huge mapping possibilities. These will allow you to tweak all sorts of parameters to your heart’s content. And the two touch strips give you pitch bend and even more modulation possibilities to get creative with your sound. This is a really great small midi keyboard and it comes with a version of Ableton Lite. Also included is Arturia Analog Lab 2 that gives you sixteen fantastic synths, pianos and organs.
The Arturia Microlab is the option if you really want to go compact. It is extremely compact and with only four buttons and two touch strips, you still have loads of control. A great feature is playing chords with just one note, a bonus for those who don’t have great playing skills. The USB port is recessed so no cables protrude making it easy to transport. And a rubberised case help protect it during travel. Comes with free software and fantastic value for …