No matter the key configurations, the most popular MIDI controllers are keyboard controllers with pads.
As the most popular style of MIDI controllers in the world, keyboard controller with pads cover a wide range of quality, builds and aesthetics. With so many options on the market navigating to the best controller for your needs. At their core, the best keyboard controllers with pads have a great bed of keys with an extremely responsive set of drum pad triggers.
Akai MPK mini mk2
The most popular keyboard controller with pads in the world is the smallest controller on our list. This little controller works with everything and is no larger than the size of a small laptop. The MPC style drum pad triggers are the main selling point of this mini controller, but iOS support and portability are what make it one of the best keyboard controllers with pads.
Keybed: 25 Shallow synth action mini-keys, playable but don’t get crazy.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Controlled by top-left joystick.
Pads: MPC-style pads, but think thinner, not the thick pads that show up across the rest of the MPK lines larger counterparts.
Build: Sturdy, lightweight but plasticky.
Knobs: 8 assignable pots
Pedal Inputs: Sustain
Extra Features: Arpeggiator, Tap Tempo and Multiple Banks, also it comes in 3 color combinations.
Alesis’s V+ line runs the gamut of beginner keyboards to full-blown production ready keyboard controllers. The thing that sets the VX apart from the rest of the V and VI models is the inclusion of VIP, M-Audio’s response to Native Instruments NKS technology.
Keybed: 49 full-sized velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch that are quite playable.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Placed above the drum pad bank but present.
Pads: 8 pressure and velocity-sensitive RGB backlit drum pads that also work for launch clips in Ableton Live. There are another 8 switch pads to control other drum pad functions like roll and time division.
Build: Lightweight, and slim for everything that’s here.
Knobs: 8 assignable endless encoders.
Pedal Inputs: Sustain only.
Octaves: Up and Down.
Extra Features: Comes with Xpand! 2, and there is also a full-color screen, M-Audio’s NKS rival, VIP, comes standard, full transport controls, programmable buttons and more.
The second entry to this list from the MPK line is the MPK249. Even though it has a higher price point than the original MPK49, the fully square trigger points underneath the drum pads are more responsive and playable on the second-generation MPK. The semi-weighted keybed with actual MPC Renaissance pads will be the gold standard for pads on a MIDI controller.
Keybed: 49 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present.
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, and MPC Full Level.
Build: A very durable and hard plastic.
Knobs: This time, users get 8 official Q-link encoders with 3 banks each.
Faders: 8 faders with 3 banks each.
Pedal Inputs: Two Assignable Footswitch Jacks and an Expression Pedal Input.
Extra Features: There are also 8 backlit button switch buttons that are assignable to anything you want.
Arturia KeyLab 49
Though it’s not the most playable keyboard controller from the KeyLab series, the KeyLab 49 is an extremely capable keyboard with Arturia’s gel drum pad triggers. Complete with 10 endless encoder knobs, a fader bank to match and the KeyLab software.
Keybed: 49 key semi-weighted keys.
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.
The Nektar P4 has something for everyone, with its full-sized semi-weighted keys, velocity and pressure-sensitive drum pads, endless encoders, faders and a full-color screen. With over 90 real-time controls that can be accessed at any given moment, this mapping machine is quite possibly the best keyboard controller with pads (and everything else). Made for producers, pianists, and perfectionists this keyboard controller is heads, shoulders and a motorized fader above the rest.
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 ths keyboard controller, assignable.
Pads: Though there are only 12 pads, those 12 drum pad triggers include 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 P4.
Knobs: 16 encoders.
Faders: 9 faders, plus 1 motorized ALPS fader!
Pedal Inputs: Footswitch and Expression Pedal Inputs
Extra Features: Full-color screen shows users 1:1 realtime feedback of what encoders are controlling and are mapped to. The motorized fader is an added bonus that no other controller has in its wheelhouse. One of the most interesting features 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.