Best 61 Key MIDI Controllers


The 61 key MIDI controller is the most common configuration of all MIDI controllers, check out what makes these 5 controllers uncommon.



Most producers that grew-up with a keyboard in their childhood homes are extremely familiar with the configuration 61 key MIDI controllers. They fit easily on virtually every production desk,  they have a clear center, and in terms that Goldilocks would understand, they’re not too small, they’re not too big, they’re just right.

By being the industry’s original standard, the task of choosing the best 61 key MIDI controller is a little more daunting that most of the other key configuration because of the sheer amount of options available on the market, but we’re here to help.

Novation Impulse

The least impressive controller from Novation is the Impulse, and that isn’t a bad thing. Novation’s designs have always had a touch of the 80s built into them, whether it was their color palette or the physical shape of the product, there is always something reminiscent of the Dave Smith school of design and for the Impulse that couldn’t ring truer.

Now, when I say the Impulse is the least impressive 61 key keyboard controller that Novation offer, that should not be thought of as a bad thing, it drops the gimmicks for a more realistic playable keybed of full sized (read as piano-styled keys) with semi-weighted action for a more realistic expression. This possibly the best 61 key MIDI controller for a producer that also fluently plays the piano.

Features:

  • Keybed: 61 full-sized semi-weighted velocity sensitive keys with assignable aftertouch and Novations patented HRS technology that scans the controller 10,000 times a second.
  • Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present. Both fine.
  • Pads: 8 velocity-sensitive drum pads with roll and looping functions, plus the ability to launch clips in Ableton Live.
  • Build: Durable solid body plastic.
  • Knobs: 8 endless encoders.
  • Faders: 9 faders with Solo and Mute capabilities.
  • Pedal Inputs: Sustain and Expression Inputs.
  • Octaves: Yes.
  • Extra Features: Comes with Novation software suite.

Akai Advanced61

When Native Instruments opened up the NKS format for other companies to get in on the fun, Akai decided to jump in keys first and make a direct competitor to Native Instrument’s Komplete Kontrol. Though plagued with troublesome bugs upon its original release, the Akai Advanced is a more affordable alternative to Native Instrument’s Komplete Kontrol.

Taking cues from the original NKS controller and Akai’s own flagship MPK line with the added bonus of a screen that likely inspired the MPC Touch, the Akai Advance makes good use of space, features and core components.Though missing a lot of the functionality that makes the Komplete Kontrol the powerhouse that it is, the key functionality of the 61 key keyboard controller is all there.

This keyboard is not for novices, like Native Instruments original NKS controller, the Akai Advance has a lengthy setup process and a learning curve that will keep you on your toes.

Features:

  • Keybed: A premium keybed with 61 semi-weighted keys. The Advance has better action than their full-sized MPK counterparts, but the NKS technology is all about playability, so that is not unexpected.
  • Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present and “rubberized”.
  • Pads: 8 RGB backlit velocity and pressure-sensitive pads with the options to enable Note Repeat, Arps, Time Division and Tap-Tempo
  • Build: Sturdy, but lighter than the fully loaded MPK261
  • Knobs: 8 endless encoders.
  • Pedal Inputs: Footswitch and Expression Pedal Inputs
  • Octaves: Yep.
  • Extra Features: There’s a screen that will help you remove yourself from being focused on your DAW, and focused on the creation and the Advance comes with an array of amazing bundled software for you to test out the full power of the Advance 61.

Novation SL MKII

Novations second entry into the “Best 61 key MIDI controllers” category is an oldie, but definitely a bestie. The Novation SL line is what them on the map as a market leader in the MIDI controller space, it is a well thought out heavy duty piece of MIDI machinery that any studio would be better having for working in the box. It’s futuristic design and never ending rubber buttons may seem daunting to an ingenue, but this keyboard controller didn’t come to play, it came to be played by a professional.

As Novation’s flagship MIDI controller, the second generation is updated for today’s producers while retaining the charm of the original. Unlike any of their other models, the SL MKII has Fatar keybeds, a piano playing producer’s favorite type of keybed. The SL automaps to every major piece of software and the Novation has an expanded library so that you can tickle the faux-ivories however you so please with whatever you so choose.

The Novation SL MKII also fixes what they got wrong the first time, mapping issues have been corrected, knobs have LED indicators to immediately help you know where they sit, with or without looking at the little blue screen that tells you what you’re changing. Aside encoder indicator lights, everything is touch sensitive, so that you can literally know what you’re about to change at the touch of…well anything.

Features:

  • Keybed: 61 semi-weighted Fatar keys with programmable aftertouch.
  • Pitch Bend / Modulation: Present.
  • Pads: 8 soft feel trigger pads with another 32 two buttons that can be assigned to controls.
  • Build: Made in Italy and Germany.
  • Knobs: 8 endless encoders with touch-sensitivity and surrounded LED indicators and 8 pots also with touch-sensitivity.
  • Faders: 8 touch-sensitive faders.
  • Pedal Inputs: Sustain and Expression Inputs
  • Octaves: Yes
  • Extra Features: Automap button, Novation’s Xpression X-Y Pad and Joystick plus a great software button.

Nektar Panorama

The new-kid-on-the-blocks first big project was the Panorama, and they have continually hit it out of the park with this strange 61 key MIDI controller meets futuristic knob and fader filled monstrosity. The brainchild of Nektar’s mission statement lives up to the question that the brand asked which was “what makes a MIDI controller great” to which they replied “everything.”

The Nektar is the most affordable 61 key MIDI controller that literally has something for everyone, there are full-sized semi-weighted keys, there are drum pads, there are encoders, there’s a screen, there are more encoders, there are faders and it’s all encapsulated in a beautiful frame. There are over 90 real-time controls that can be accessed at any given time which makes it the perfect mapping machine for any DAW. This keyboard controller is made for producers, pianists, and perfectionists which beg the question “who makes a MIDI controller great” and in time my answer may just be Nektar.

Features:

  • Keybed: Individually weighted full-sized semi-weighted keys with aftertouch to mimic the tension that springs would create in a real piano without being too heavy or fatiguing the users.
  • Pitch Bend / Modulation: Alive and well, pretty stylish and like everything else on this keyboard controller, assignable.
  • Pads: Though there are only Nektar didn’t make it all the way to 16 pads, the 12 it includes meter velocity/strike and pressure. These 12 pads also have the added bonus of the choice of 7 different velocity curves, a “Velocity Spread” and a scale function which allows users to input a chord progression to be mapped across the pads. There are also 10 LED buttons and another 28 assignable buttons available on Nektars P6.
  • Build: Boutique built with care.
  • Knobs: 16 encoders.
  • Faders: 9 faders, plus 1 motorized ALPS fader!
  • Pedal Inputs: Footswitch and Expression Pedal Inputs
  • Octaves: Yep.
  • Extra Features: A screen that shows you what your encoders are controlling and is mapped to whatever DAW you are using, function keys allow users to store up to 20 presets with access to over 1500 assigned controls. The motorized fader is an added bonus that no other controller has in its wheelhouse, and it is everything that a producer could ever need, simply because it also references your active channel and includes solo and mute buttons. Another special feature that no other company has is the interchangeable transport that goes far beyond its competitors with an added “Undo” button that can alternately be mapped to standard QWERTY macros… who thinks of that.

Akai MPK261

The second iteration of Akai’s flagship keyboard, and also the second instance of Akai appearing in this list is the best 61 key MIDI controller on the market. When Akai stepped onto the scene of MIDI keyboard controllers, they did so in a big way, bringing with them what every other company had tried to emulate, their MPC-style beat pads. The MPC was known for 2 things, one being its iconic swing and the other being its thick rubber pads that were both sensitive yet durable.
Many might ask why Akai’s 61 Advance didn’t outrank their less feature packed original, especially with the added power of Native Instruments’ NKS technology, but don’t count out the MPK261 yet. It’s iOS compatible, it has the original MPC pads, there are Q-Link controllers, it has a brand new LCD screen, it incorporates MPC swing and roll functions. This is a semi-weighted 61 key MIDI controller with a full blown drum pad controller included in it.

So what make the MPK2 better than 1? It has Akai’s new drum pads, MPC heads aren’t sold, but they’re more comfortable, more responsive and their backlit. It can work with all of your “i” devices, which is a big deal! The MPK2 is basically 61 key MIDI controller with the power and functionality of an MPC with no RAM.

Features:

  • Keybed: Less action than the Akai Advance, but it does have aftertouch, 61 full-sized keys with split and arp options.
  • Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present, but their unfortunately no longer backlit 🙁
  • Pads: 16 of Akai’s finest RBG backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, configured just like like most of the drum controllers of today. (Read as: Why were the original drum pads rectangles instead of being perfectly square. On top of having better pads, the MPK2 includes Note Repeat, MPC Swing, Tap Tempo, MPC Full Level
  • Build: The original was sturdy, this is sturdier, with a brand new LCD screen that doesn’t look like it came from the starter Yamaha keyboard you got on your 6th birthday.
  • Knobs: This time, users get 8 official Q-link encoders with 3 banks each.
  • Faders: They’re back, they’re sensitive, and they’re stylish and once again have the solos and mute functionality.
  • Pedal Inputs: Two Assignable Footswitch Jacks and an Expression Pedal Input.
  • Octaves: Of course.
  • Extra Features: What more could you really want other than a great software package, MPC Essentials, and a brand new comprehensive DAW transport controller.