- Overwhelmed by the sheer choice of 61 key MIDI keyboards out there?
- Here are the 7 best 61 key MIDI controllers that money can buy!
If you are into making music, a 61-key MIDI keyboard is essential to your setup. This type of keyboard is similar to a piano, and it can plug directly into your PC or laptop with a USB connection. Some models can even connect by Bluetooth!
MIDI keyboards will almost always have extra knobs and faders which you can use for automation in your DAW. This really adds to the value of a MIDI keyboard controller – it doesn’t have to just be used for playing notes.
What Are The Best 61 Key MIDI Keyboards For Beginners?
Read on to find the seven best 61-key MIDI keyboards on the market today.
- Arturia KeyLab Essential (Our Pick!)
- Nektar Impact GX61 (Best Value)
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 (Best Premium)
- Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
- Akai MPK261
- Midiplus i61
- M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3
1. Arturia KeyLab Essential 61
A powerful one-stop solution for creating music, convenient enough for new users to enjoy straight out of the box, but with features that experienced producers will love.
- Fully loaded universal MIDI controller
- Easy to use
The Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 is a very popular MIDI controller, and it is widely used by music producers and keyboardists.
It’s sturdy with quality construction, and it is lightweight at just over seven pounds. It is well-built and can withstand home, studio, and onstage use.
When you examine the back of the KeyLab, you will find a 9V DC power jack that is optional. In addition, there are USB/MIDI out jacks, as well as a sustained pedal control input.
You will find an LED screen and a 360-degree preset selector in the middle of the control surface. On its left, you have transport controls, drum pads, and transposition. The drum pads are also your software shortcuts!
On the right, you have 18 knobs and faders (nine endless rotary knobs and nine fader controls).
Finally, this 61-key MIDI controller is pre-configured for the software that is included. It has both Ableton Live 9 Lite and Arturia’s Analog Lab 2, and the keyboard is configured for both. Analog Lab 2 contains more than 5,000 synth patches, and you can easily search and filter by type, timbre, and source. No matter what instruments you have, all of the sounds are available.
While you could say KeyLab works best with Analog Lab, thanks to the universality of MIDI it is perfectly fine as a controller for all DAWs. Because of the MIDI out port, it’s also great for controlling your favorite hardware synths.
This MIDI keyboard has a stylish look that you would expect of Arturia, with an ivory-colored finish and rounded edges. It has eight large rubber feet that keep it firmly planted to whatever surface you place it on. It has the pitch and mod wheels above the keys (instead of to the left), which saves space and creates a nice symmetrical look.
The knobs are brightly lit and made of rubber. It has low profile color pads and a main central push encoder. The key action is decent, but there is some lateral play. You can use the knobs and faders for the Analog Lab control, DAW control, and six user pages. You will connect through a USB, which also powers the keyboard. It is overall a great keyboard at a reasonable price.
- Solid and sturdy keyboard
- Intuitive layout and controls
- 360-degree knobs
- Full DAW software integration
- Comes configured for included software
- No specific MIDI expression pedal jack
- Faders are less sturdy than you might like
2. Nektar Impact GX61
Premium MIDI controller with 61 expressive synth-action keys, on-board pitch bend and modulation wheels for performances.
- Streamlined DAW control
- Has a great workflow
The Nektar Impact GX61 keyboard is designed specifically for easy DAW integration. This MIDI controller is compact and lightweight. It weighs just six pounds, and it is 38 inches long, 7.75 inches deep, and only 2.75 inches in height.
It has 61 notes, and it is a full-sized, velocity-sensitive keyboard with synth action keys. There aren’t many other controls, but you do get some helpful transport buttons for your DAW.
On the upper left side of the keyboard, there is a potentiometer that can be assigned to MIDI parameters and mixer volume. The setup button gives you access to functions such as the transpose buttons, velocity curves, and more.
There are two ports on the back for the USB cable and the footswitch pedal. The USB connects to the computer, and the on / off switch is also on the back. Your DAW may be supported by the Nektar DAW integration system, but if not, you can use the keyboard controller as a generic USB MIDI controller.
The Nektar Impact GX61 has Bitwig 8-track included, and it includes around 50 instruments and effects. You can begin making music as soon as you set it up because Bitwig 8-track is supported by Nektar DAW Integration software.
Although it has velocity sensitive keys, you can use the setup feature to change the sensitivity. It offers four velocity curves and three fixed velocity settings.
This is one of the best MIDI controller keyboards for people on a budget, and it is ideal if the keyboard isn’t your primary instrument. The Nektar Impact GX61 is also a great choice for people who are just getting started and are after their first MIDI controller.
- Great feel to the keys.
- Lightweight and portable.
- One of the most affordable MIDI controllers on the market.
- Keys can be noisier than you like.
- User manual could use more detail on setup.
3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2
Perform expressively, browse and preview sounds, tweak parameters, sketch your ideas, then navigate and mix your project – all from one fully integrated centerpiece for studio and stage.
- Packed with powerful features
- Perfect integration with Komplete
Native Instruments has a diverse and comprehensive software product collection, and this 61-key keyboard is designed to showcase its flagship software title Komplete (which is really all NI products in a bundle).
This is a four-octave, 61 key MIDI controller that is somewhat overshadowed by its intended use with Native Instruments products. Regardless, it will work just fine as a standard controller. Native Instruments are not a company that half-asses things, so you know you’re getting a high-quality controller that is cleverly designed.
It has eight rotary knobs; two high-resolution displays; transport controls; scale and arpeggiator buttons; a four-way multipurpose rotary knob; and two mod wheels with a mod touchstrip.
The high-res screens are a real standout. While most MIDI controllers settle for a more utilitarian approach in this area, Native Instruments goes way beyond what is expected here. They are stunning to look at and capable of conveying so much more information to the user in a far more intuitive way than standard displays.
The Komplete Kontrol S61 features “DAW integration” meaning it works with Ableton Live, Garageband, Nuendo, Cubase, and Logic Pro X with minimal fuss. Usually this means the faders and knobs will automap to the controls in your DAW in an intuitive way that saves you from manually mapping everything.
Overall this is our premium pick for a number of good reasons. It’s basically the Rolls Royce of MIDI controllers and does everything you need and more. If you don’t have a budget to stick to, this is the one for you!
- Two high-resolution screens
- Integrated workflow
- Dedicated physical controllers
- USB bus power
- Excellent build quality
- No sliders
- Very expensive for most budgets.
4. Novation Launchkey 61 MK2
Launchkey is fully USB bus-powered and class compliant, so it works straight away without power supplies or drivers on Mac or PC. It comes with everything you need to start making electronic music.
- Gives you control over your music
- Perfect for beginners and pros alike
Novation is a British manufacturer of music equipment, founded in 1992. The Novation Launchkey 61 MK2 is a 61-key MIDI controller with synth action keys. Included are 16 velocity sensitive backlit pads, eight assignable knobs, nine assignable faders, as well as octave up and down buttons, pitch bend, and modulation wheels. It really has a lot to offer!
In addition to the controllers, it has an integrated sustain pedal input, a USB connection, and a MIDI output. It also comes bundled with a wide array of software titles including Ableton Live Lite, Serato Sample LE, Spitfire Audio LABS-Expressive Strings, Klevgrand Rôverb, DAW Cassette, XLN Addictive Keys, and AAS Session Bundle.
Like a lot of Novation products, it works particularly well with Ableton Live. You can use buttons to control the clips and the buttons and faders to control the track volume. The knobs can map up to eight Macro controls specific instruments, and the pads can play drum notes. There are also three in control buttons that allow you to toggle the fader, Knob, and pad sections from Live control to MIDI controls.
The Launchkey 61 also works as a keyboard controller for iOS devices, and you can play synth apps, especially if they have a “MIDI learn” feature.
The Launchkey app is an analog modeling synth that finds eight nodes that you can drag across the screen to create new sounds. This allows you to make your iPad a stronger force in live performances. It also has great build quality, with sturdy knobs and pads. It’s an affordable controller that works for all DAWs and many iOS apps.
- InControl mappings
- Custom settings for
- iOS compliant
- Good value for the money
- Instructions are lacking
- You need a powered USB hub to plug into an iPad
5. Akai MPK261
With MPK261, experience the ultimate in playing response from a controller equally suited to studio and live performance scenarios alike.
- Embraces the authentic MPC workflows
- Hardware control over your software
- Semi-weighted, full-size keys
Another one of the best 61-key MIDI controllers is the Akai MPK261. It has everything you want in this kind of MIDI keyboard controller, and it has the added benefit of drum pads. It has backlit RGB pads, which make it look great, and it comes with 16 drum pads.
The 16 drum pads can technically be expanded to 64, as there are four banks. This means you can potentially have a lot of sounds at your fingertips! For this reason, the Akai MPK261 is an excellent 61-key MIDI controller for live performance. If you like to do absolutely everything yourself, the MPK261 has you covered.
It has really smooth, almost buttery sliders and knobs for elegant automation. You’ll find semi-weighted velocity sensitive keys with aftertouch, which means you have a ton of expression with every note. Even if you are more used to piano or weighted keys, you will still be comfortable with this option.
When you buy the MPK261 you get a great software package that allows you to make all kinds of music straight out of the box. It comes with Ableton Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and more.
Overall the Akai MPK261 is a great “bang-for-your-buck” pick as it’s not too expensive considering the number of features you get. I would particularly recommend it for live performers who are looking for a hand all-in-one solution that won’t break the bank.
- Backlit RGB keys
- Great sliders and knobs
- 5-pin MIDI
- Velocity sensitive keys
- Excellent software bundle
- Plays multiple octaves
- Expensive if you won’t use all of the software upgrades
Whilst smaller, we’d also say it’s worth checking out the MPK Mini Mk3 if you’re on the lookout for a smaller MIDI keyboard.
6. Midiplus i61
Affordable, lightweight, full-size MIDI keyboard controller with 61 keys.
- Value for money
The Midiplus i61 is an affordable option for people on a budget. It doesn’t have as many features as other models, but it has everything you need in a portable lightweight keyboard. You will find it easy to set up and super user friendly as it’s pretty basic. You will still find modulation sliders and knobs, although it doesn’t have drum pads. It has 61 full-size keys, and they are semi-weighted keys. This is for someone with a little bit of experience.
This keyboard doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as other models, but it gets the job done well. It’s lightweight and portable, making it ideal as a secondary keyboard for jamming and live use. The Midiplus i61 is USB-powered so will work with most setups though you may need an adapter depending on your computer.
This keyboard is ideal if you are working with a budget. It is an affordable option, and it has what you need to get started. It connects directly to your computer, no extra power supply needed. It has a simple interface, and it works well for beginners for this reason.
It doesn’t have any drum pads, but that’s not really needed if you’re just after something portable and lightweight. It has enough knobs and sliders to get started, but if you have more money to spend and you want more features you should consider another model like the Novation Launchkey 61.
- Full-sized keys
- Easy to get started
- USB powered
- Compact, portable, and lightweight
- No pads
- Too basic for a main controller, but works well as a backup
7. M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3
Keystation 61 MK3 is a full-featured, powerful MIDI keyboard controller engineered for sequencing music and playing virtual instruments on Mac or PC.
- Streamlined controls
The M-Audio Keystation 61 is functional and easy to play for most people. It has playability, and it is better on the stage than in the studio. It does get noise interference when you play near a mic. You need to pay attention to the dynamics if you want to control acoustic piano sounds. It doesn’t have a lot of control options, but you can at least change the velocity curve.
This is a pretty basic keyboard without a lot of extras. One advantage when things are this basic is that you can plug and play without any drivers. So if you’re using it with a friend’s computer for a jam, you won’t have to mess around downloading and installing drivers.
The Keystation 61 has a nice finish, but it does have plastics throughout the build. However, you do expect this for the price so it’s not really a big deal. After all, this is a lower-cost option for people on a tight budget but it still does the job very well.
It has very few functions, but there are some standard things you can edit that are semi-hidden. These extra functions are found on the keys themselves but are only activated when holding a special button.
If you are looking for an affordable keyboard controller, this is a great choice, and a step up from the Midiplus.
- Functional and easy to use
- Pedal input
- Mod wheel and pitch bend
- Not a lot of extras
- Excessive plastic feels a bit cheap
(If you’re getting started with music, you’re going to need an audio interface. Check out our guide to the 6 best audio interfaces for beginners!)