As the large of the keyboard controllers, the best 88 key MIDI controllers are made for pianists or at least a producer who knows their way around a piano.
The 88 key MIDI controller is probably the least popular key configuration for a bedroom producer, but the most popular for a studio and the accompanying studio musicians. Full blown production can generally be tackled by the smaller key sets in the 49 through 76 key ranges when it comes to using a controller to work “in-the-box” with 88 key MIDI controllers and workstations being reserved for the pros and composers.
The following five pieces of gear the in this list are the best 88 key MIDI controllers of their class due to their tactile realism, controlled features, and mappable parameters. This list will contain the best 88 key MIDI controllers that were ever on the market, so regardless of if it’s still in production if you can get it, it made the list.
M-Audio’s Keystation series has had a spotty track record, which makes it all the weirder that they’ve made one of the best 88 key controllers of all time, the Keystation Pro 88. Where most of the Keystation lines fall short is in their keybed, the Keystation Pro 88 has a bed of fully-weighted keys. Ironically, one of the Keystation 88’s greatest strengths was probably the reason M-Audio discontinued the giant. From model to model users used to complain about the keyboard’s action, which seemed to either
Aside from the fully-weighted bed of keys, the Keystation Pro 88 was flush with 24 programmable knobs, 8 faders and an array of buttons. In short, M-Audio tried to replace the need of buying a workstation if you had a rack, and SOMETIMES it worked. Which brings us to today’s model.
M-Audio learned its lesson with the Keystation Pro and scaled way back to create the best 88 key controllers they could. Gone are the immense amount of knobs, function buttons, faders and LCD screen. Replacing the spotty actioned fully-weighted keybed is a more responsive semi-weighted keybed.
The Keystation 88 II does step into the future with its compatibility of iOS devices, which can really only be seen as a gimmick for such a large keyboard, but with Korg’s Gadget coming for your faves, who knows, maybe M-Audio is onto something. This will be the most straightforward of the boards on this list.
- Keybed: 88 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted, plasticky keys, they take a bit to break in, but in the end, they will do the trick. It is somewhat unrealistically bouncy to the touch.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present, both underwhelming.
- Pads: None.
- Fader Bank: No.
- Build: Lightweight, but it will stand the test of a good time.
- Knobs: Nope.
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain
- Octaves: No clue why, but yes.
- Extra Features: Transport controls that can be mapped to major DAWs, iOS compatibility, includes SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble and AIR Music Tech’s Xpand!2.
Arturia’s first player centered 88 key MIDI controller hits all the marks for making the virtual reproduction-focused company a contender in the keyboard controller market for the foreseeable future.
Unlike the missteps that made M-Audio’s Keystation Pro have a messy rollout, the KeyLab 88 gives you the bells and whistles without the unnecessary added cowbell. It includes Arturia’s now signature gel drum pads, 10 endless encoder knobs and a fader bank to match. Also unlike the Keystation the KeyLab features a full hammer-action hybrid keybed for realistic playability.
- Keybed: 88 key hammer-action Fatar keybed for realistic piano-like playability.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present and feel as good as the pads.
- Pads: 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB backlit pads with another 10 assignable buttons.
- Fader Bank: 9 programmable faders with 2 banks.
- Build: Sturdy and extremely ergonomic with wood and aluminum casing.
- Knobs: 1 Volume Encoder, 2 Clickable Encoders,10 Endless Encoders with 2 Banks.
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain, Expression, Footswitch and Breath-Control
- Extra Features: Includes Arturia’s Analog Lab 2. iOS Compatible with a built in music stand that can hold an iPad.
One of the Big 3 of the main players of the music production companies, Roland is the only legacy company that appears in this best of for 88 key MIDI controllers. Though it may look straightforward, this has all of the realistic feel of a Roland digital piano, without the sounds. This is a piano player’s keyboard controller if there ever was one, unrivaled playability is the focus factor that Roland lead with in the making of the A-88.
What makes the A-88 stand apart from its equally playable and high-end competition in the 88 key MIDI controller space are the Roland intricacies. Roland’s pitch bend and modulation leveler is one of the most accurate modulation controllers I have ever had the pleasure of using, and even with the test of time, the pitch bend is locked in because of this unique design. Adding to the modulation party is Roland’s D-Beam technology which is basically the weirdest thing to come into the synth technology for over 2 decades.
- Keybed: Roland’s proprietary Ivory Feel-G keybed that was first included its Fantom-G line. This plays like a grand piano.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Roland’s standard Pitch Bend & Modulation leveler is fully intact plus their signature D-Beam that appeared in their iconic MC-505, which allows you to control expression and other parameters via moving your hand through negative space, somewhat like a theremin.
- Pads: 2 assignable buttons, no pads.
- Fader Bank: No.
- Build: Standard heavy-duty, yet lightweight Roland build.
- Knobs: 2 assignable knobs.
- Pedal Inputs: Damper, FC1 and FC2 (which are both assignable foot control pedals that can range from Breath Control to Expression)
- Octaves: Weirdly enough, yes, one in both direction.
- Extra Features: iOS compatibility, onboard transposition function, keyboard split with MIDI functionality.
When it comes to 88 key MIDI controllers, most people want to go with a “name”. Names give us a trust based on track records and previous successes, but every now and then a no-name begins to make a name for themselves because of quality, price, and forethought. One of those companies making a name for themselves is Nektar.
Founded for the purpose of figuring out what makes a great MIDI controller, Nektar has spent the better part of 8 years figuring that out, and thus far they’ve done a great job. Everything the company does is strategically thought-out, which makes the LX88+ the best 88 key controllers to buy on a budget. With a key focus on DAW and Plugin integration, the LX88+ puts creation back at your fingertips rather than mouse clicks.
- Keybed: 88 semi-weighted velocity sensitive keys with control of 4 velocity curves and the option of 3 fixed velocity settings.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present.
- Pads: 8 velocity-sensitive 4 color backlit pads, with 4 velocity curves and the option of 3 fixed velocity settings which can also have mappings for Clip and Scene control for Ableton Live. There are also another 9 assignable buttons.
- Fader Bank: 9 assignable faders.
- Build: A sturdy 18 pound controller with a bit of heft.
- Knobs: 8 Potentiometers.
- Pedal Inputs: MIDI Assignable Footswitch
- Octaves: Octave control with the option to Transpose, Split and Layer sounds, all mappable on the board itself.
- Extra Features: Nektar DAW integrations for every major DAW, iOS compatibility, MIDI out mappable from DAW, full transport controls.
Native Instruments has proved to be one of the most resilient companies in the audio technology sectors. Native Instruments has long hoped to step into the world of hardware, with their first real sudo-success of their Kore line which debuted just a little over a decade ago. Though Kore line was discontinued soon after the debut of the Kore 2 system, NI’s Komplete Kontrol has the soul of the Kore at its own core.
Native Instruments is the premier plugin company by creating the platform from which all sound design houses could create custom sound libraries with their highly unparalleled Kontakt sampler, powerhouse synthesizer Massive, and the wet dream of many a sound designer for nearly two decades, Reaktor. Though these are only a few components of Native Instruments equally unparalleled sound library, the concept behind Kore was that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” which allowed users to make super multi-part instruments using different aspects of the Kore library, which was basically a lite version of Komplete.
Komplete Kontrol picks up where Kore 2 left off, and then blasts off on a rocket to space, and then that spaceship hit a wormhole and time-traveled to 2015 and Native Instrument’s had already achieved gargantuan success with their Maschine line. Following the footsteps of Akai and going from beat pad to keybed, the Komplete Kontrol was born and so was the software giant’s next proprietary file format, the NKS.
NI’s Komplete Kontrol S series is focused on removing the reliance on your computer to create and edit your instruments. Straight from the mind of someone who watched Tron Legacy one too many times, the Komplete Kontrol looks like is an 88 key MIDI controller like nothing else on this list. Like the Nektar it has full DAW and plugin control, but with the introduction of NKS, it takes plugin integration to the next level, and its complete integrations allows users to look at it rather than their desktop (or laptop if you’re using an 88 key MIDI controller with your laptop, who am I to judge).
Rather than taking you down the rabbit hole that would end up being a Komplete Kontrol review, I’ll just guide you to my Komplete Kontrol Review.
- Keybed: Fully weighted 88 key Fatar keybed.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Two programmable touch strips for pitch bend and modulation.
- Pads: None
- Fader Bank: No.
- Build: Same as Maschine Studio, extremely durable plastic with extra attention paid to the intricacies of a keyboard.
- Knobs: 8 endless encoders with 16 banks and LED indicators with text below them
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain and Expression
- Octaves: Programmable to split. Also, there’s an Arp feature.
- Extra Features: 10 Komplete Instrument, NKS enabled, Native Browser that allows for the loading and editing of VSTs from the keyboard controller, Native ap which automatically maps are key parameters to touch sensitive encodes, the Light Guide allows for key lit notifications like keyswitches, Smart Play enables users to only play in certain keys and chords at the touch of a button.