Trying to get into the world of MIDI are you?
Maybe you just want to be able to riff out some melodic lines. Perhaps you just want to be able to bang out some beats for your production skeleton. Maybe you’re in a live band or group, and you need a way to play VST instruments when you’re on stage.
Whatever the reason is, having a 25-key controller is worlds better than clicking and dragging MIDI notes to create music. They’re far more portable than 49-key controllers and above and are typically the least expensive. The thing is, there are hundreds of MIDI controllers on the market these days. This makes it difficult to find the right one.
In this article, we’re going to break it down to help you find the best 25-key MIDI controller for all your needs.
Akai MPK Mini MK2
If you’re looking for the best 25-key MIDI keyboard regarding portability and versatility, look no further than the Akai MPK Mini MK2.
Akai has been making MIDI devices for years, and some may even consider the company to be the best out there. To begin, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 is exceptionally lightweight and just over a foot long, meaning it is essentially like a little laptop that you can toss in your bag and take with you on the go!
The keys have a great feel, even for the slim build, and have adjustable velocity curves. The 8 rubberized and backlit pads, in their classic MPC-style, also have adjustable velocity curves, and provide enough space for you to make beats, even if you’re aim isn’t on point.
Besides that, you get 8 separate adjustable knobs for mapping to parameters, an arpeggiator section, an expressive joystick that replaces your typical pitch and mod wheels, note repeat, and a little octave section.
Bottom Line: The Akai MPK Mini MK2 gives you an insane amount of control for the small size. With all of the different onboard controls, it is perfect for almost any type of producer or musician that needs a compact MIDI keyboard.
Nektar is up there in the ranks with Akai’s 25-key keyboard, and compared to most other keyboards in the range, gives you tons of value for the money. It comes complete with 25 full-sized, synth action key and 8 backlit drum pads, each with their own adjustable velocity curves. It can truly adapt to the playing style of just about any person.
You also have a transport section that can sync up with just about any DAW, giving you the ability to play, pause, stop, and record, without ever having to lay a finger on your mouse.
Whatever DAW you are using, Nektar seems to integrate well across the board. It even comes complete with Bitwig’s 8-track DAW if you’re just getting started in the world of recording.
The 8 rotary knobs not only feel amazing, but they are also very easy to map to different parameters within your DAW or VSTs. Besides that, you get octave and transpose buttons, mod and pitch wheels, and mixer control with the fader that can be assigned to different tracks.
Bottom Line: The Nektar LX25+, while not as versatile as the Akai MPK Mini, is still incredibly versatile. Out of all the keyboards on the market, this one is probably the best value for the money you’ll spend.
Acorn Masterkey 25
The Acorn Masterkey 25 is probably one of the best budget keyboards if you don’t care about all of the bells and whistles present on higher-end options. It is straightforward in its design no doubt.
You get 25 synth-action keys, which feel okay, pitch and modulation wheels, 4 rotary knobs for mapping and automation, one fader, and an octave section.
Unlike the other keyboards on the list, you can’t adjust the velocity curves, so you’re pretty much stuck with the springy feel of the keys. You also don’t get any transport controls.
That being said, it integrates well with any DAW, is extremely lightweight, and is perfect for somebody who doesn’t want to spend a ton of money on other features that they aren’t going to use.
Bottom Line: If you don’t need any of the fancy features that higher end MIDI keyboards come equipped with, then the Acorn Masterkey might be perfect for you! Though it only functions as your most basic controller, it does that very well.
Alesis is another MIDI company that has been rising to the top of the game in the past few years. Their keyboards are incredibly functional and look as if they are right at home in top-tier, modern studios.
Many people even prefer these keyboards over Akai models, as they have many of the same controls, though they come at a lower price. The unit comes with 25 full-sized, semi-weighted keys that are equipped with aftertouch, giving traditional pianists the feel that they long for.
There are 8 assignable rotary knobs onboard and a whopping 24 separate assignable buttons for DAW control.
The backlit pads are pretty solid as well (not as great as the MPK) and provide a sleek, responsive feel. On the top, you also get your standard pitch and modulation wheels. As for the inputs, you have one for a sustain pedal, a USB for computer control, and a 5-pin MIDI output for external control.
Bottom Line: The fight between Alesis and Akai is like the fight between Xbox and PlayStation. Akai’s VI25 is a high-end and versatile MIDI keyboard that can be used for an array of applications. If you like the look and feel, know that you are getting a great top-tier MIDI keyboard for a solid price.
If you know anything about M-Audio, you probably know that they have the best reputation for putting out incredibly affordable, yet quality, instruments for the burgeoning musician.
The M-Audio Oxygen 25 MKIV is a 4th generation MIDI keyboard, and while it has still kept the same spirit and form as the original release back in the early 2000s, it has gone through a surprising amount of changes.
It is one of the first Oxygen keyboards to have pads on it. Luckily, the pads feel excellent as well! They provide solid feedback and responsiveness and don’t feel so rubbery that you can’t properly finger drum.
The keys are synth action, though come with adjustable velocity curves so that even piano players can explore and find the right feel to work with. Beyond the keys and pads, you also get 8 quality rotary knobs and transport controls for mapping to your DAW. The DAW integration isn’t the hottest, though the feel and build of the keyboard makes up for it.
Bottom Line: If you are on a budget, yet still want to have the mix of keys and pads, this is the keyboard you should be looking at. It’s stocked full of controls and comes at a price that won’t break your heart.
The idea of having a keyboard with good DAW integration means that you can utilize your controller for controlling your computer, rather than having your hands on your mouse or computer keyboard. This is where the Novation Launchkey 25 MK2 comes into play.
If you’re an Ableton Live user, you’ll love how well it integrates with your sessions.
As for the build, the Launchkey has 25 full-sized synth-action keys, which are lightweight and very responsive, as well as 8 rotary knobs, each with a detailed range and quality feel.
The 16 pads are what separates it from the other controllers though, as they are mapped to the different sections or feature points of Ableton Live. The unique thing is, the pads are RGB, meaning they will match the color of the clips that are in your session. You can easily tap out beats or launch different clips in your session view. This makes it great for use as a live keyboard too if you are DJing.
Bottom Line: If Ableton Live is the primary software that you are using at home, look no further than the Novation Launchkey 25 MK2. It’s a solid keyboard that has detailed integration unlike any other on our list.
If you’re a user of Arturia software, we highly recommend getting the MiniLab MKII. It seamlessly integrates with all of their high-end analog synth VSTs for the ultimate, physical control. Beyond that, it has a great look that is simple, clean, and sleek, thanks to the all-white design.
The beauty is, right out of the box you get 500 sound from their prized V-collection, meaning you can start making music right away!
Regarding the interface, you get 8 assignable rotary knobs, 8 rubberized pads for making beats, and two touch strips that come in place of your standard pitch and modulation wheels.
The keys are much smaller than standard-sized keys and are spring action, so while they may not be the best if you’re looking for a traditional piano feel, they do make the keyboard much more portable.
Bottom Line: If you’re a lover of bundled hardware and software, the Arturia MiniLab is an excellent choice thanks to the included sounds. We highly recommend it if you’re a big fan of the Arturia software, as the integration is like no other.
If you have the money to spend and want to get one of the techiest keyboards on the market today, we recommend checking out the ROLI Seaboard RISE 25.
This keyboard is onanokey 2 is a very unique MIDI keyboard, as it somewhat combines the use of keys and pads on one control surface. While the keybed is in the shape of a standard keyboard, the ‘keys’ are miniature, rubberized pads that can be usedress, lift, or slide, on the rubber keys for the most expressive styles of playing that you can imagine. You can even modulate depending on how hard you press down on the keys!
Cut the cord, as you can even play wirelessly with the ROLI keyboard thanks to the Bluetooth technology. As for the controls, you have 3 strips for modulation, pitch, and other parameters, an XY pad for even more expressive control, and an octave switch button at the top.
Bottom Line: The ROLI Seaboard RISE 25 is easily one of the most expressive and intuitive keyboard controllers on the market. If you want to stay ahead of the curve and take your music making to the next level, you should definitely get your hands on one of these!
While most 25-key MIDI controllers come with synth action keys, as they are much cheaper to produce, Novation decided to implement semi-weighted keys for those who want a more realistic feel. If you’re a pianist at heart, this should be great news.
The keys provide just enough spring so that you can play fast lines, though they are also heavy enough to give you a bit more responsiveness and feedback. Essentially, it won’t feel like you are playing with plastic.
Beyond the keys, there are 8 rotary knobs and 8 drum pads, all which integrate nicely into different DAWs, though if you’re using Ableton or FL Studio, the best integration lies there.
It comes built-in with an automap feature that essentially attaches all of your parameters to the digital ones in your DAW. Lastly, you have a built-in arpeggiator for the drum pads, two wheels for pitch and modulation, and a solid little transport section.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a more realistic feel when it comes to playing, look no further than the Novation Impulse 25. It provides pianists with a seamless transition in terms of playing style while still offering tons of versatility.
The Korg Nanokey 2 is a very unique MIDI keyboard, as it somewhat combines the use of keys and pads on one control surface. While the keybed is in the shape of a standard keyboard, the ‘keys’ are miniature, rubberized pads that can be used as such too.
If portability is a top priority on your list, this is probably one of the best out there. You can easily slide this bad boy into a backpack or laptop case, and it only weighs half a pound!
Another unique thing is that it comes with a sustain button rather than a pedal, meaning you can control the sustain with your left hand while you play with your right. It is truly a real estate save by all means, though still gives you all of the must-have features that you see on high-end MIDI keyboard controllers.
Beyond that, you get your standard octave buttons, as well as pitch buttons for transposing.
Bottom Line: While it may take a while to get used to playing the Korg Nanokey 2, it is a portable and versatile keyboard like no other. It combines the ability to make beats and play melodies all on one fit-in-your-bag interface.
Your Path To Portability
Having a 25-key MIDI keyboard can be great for many reasons. Obviously they are incredibly portable, making them excellent for musicians who are always on the go, though many of them offer the same controls as their larger and more expensive iterations for far less money.
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is by far our favorite of the bunch, as it is incredibly versatile, has a slim and portable build, and offers features that you can grow and learn with as a musician.
Hopefully, our article has helped to narrow down your choices. We wish you the best of luck on your MIDI controller quest!
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