Looking to play your VST soft synths in a DAW on your laptop or PC? Then you will want the best portable MIDI keyboard for the job.
Firstly what is MIDI? It stands for musical instrument digital interface and 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 and play software versions of synths, 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 with 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 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 Aka MPK. Also with 25 velocity sensitive keys, it offers 16 rotary encoders to give you huge mapping possibilities 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 and Arturia Analog Lab 2 that gives you sixteen fantastic synths, pianos and organs.
Use With Ableton Live
Next up is the Novation Launchkey 25 Mk2 Midi Controller keyboard. Again like the others mentioned, it offers 25 synth action keys and excels with 16 velocity sensitive RGB pads that will get those finger drummers tapping away. There are 8 knobs for tweaking and like the others comes with great software including Live Lite and Novation’s own excellent V Station and Bass Station synths. The Launchpad has been designed specifically to integrate with Ableton Live, one of if not the most popular DAW on the market. Just connect via USB and you get immediate hands on control of your synths, drum racks …