While a good number of bedroom producers are opting for smaller, more portable, MIDI keyboard controllers, there are many pianists, studio musicians, live performers, etc., who need larger keyboards for performance reasons.
There’s a lot that can be done with a 49 or 61-key keyboard these days, but there is truly nothing like working with the range or composition capabilities of a full 88 key keyboard.
The biggest issue is, not all 88 key MIDI controllers are made equal. Some are fully weighted, and some are not, some have mappable parameters and unique features, while some are plain and simple.
We’re going to take you through some of our favorites on the market, so hopefully, you can have a better idea of what you’re getting into before you buy!
Akai Professional MPK88
If you’re looking for an all-around excellent 88 key MIDI keyboard with all the bells, whistles, parameters, and extra features that you can get, look no further than the Akai Professional MPK88.
It comes complete with a fully-weighted keybed for that traditional feel and has both hammer action and aftertouch to add a bit of extra flavor to your music.
You also get genuine MPC-style pads for making beats, complete with velocity sensitivity, just like the keys. Each of these pads gives you access for up to 4 banks and 64 samples in all. It’s a producer’s dream.
Beyond the keys and pads, you also get a variety of parameter control options for DAW manipulation, including assignable Q-link knobs, buttons, and faders. These are awesome for adding movement and life to your music, especially if you are making electronic music.
You can also use Akai’s standard MPC swing, MPC Note Repeat, and Arpeggiator, adding to your creative possibilities. Even at the large size, it is still bus-powered, making it easier to take on the go (besides the fact that it weighs 65lbs).
Bottom Line: The Akai Professional MPK88 has it all. If your main priority is getting a keyboard that is both high-quality and versatile, we really can’t recommend anything better or more reliable.
M-Audio Keystation 88 II
Everyone knows that M-Audio makes some of the best budget MIDI keyboards on the market. They are perfect for beginner composers or producers who don’t feel the need to blow their whole budget on just one small piece of their studio.
The M-Audio Keystation 88 II is the king of budget keyboards and provides you with 88 full-sized, semi-weighted keys with velocity sensitivity. Not only is it durable and portable, it also only weighs 17 lbs, making it extremely easy to travel with compared to other keyboards in the range.
It’s perfect for non-pianists thanks to the lightweight keys and comes with a simple layout that is very easy to get started with. Beyond the keys, you only have your standard pitch and modulation wheels, octave range buttons, transport controls, and a small fader for volume. If you feel like getting fancy, you can even plug in a sustain pedal for more legitimate piano performance.
Bottom Line: For beginners, students, or serious budgeters, the M-Audio Keystation is pretty much the best deal out there when it comes to finding a reliable budget 88 key midi controller. It doesn’t come with much, though even with its simplicity, it does the job quite well.
For users of the Komplete software, which there are many of, the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol is an absolute must-have. If you were ever wholly reliant on editing or creating instruments using your computer, Kontrol takes that out of the equation.
It fully integrates with Native Instruments plugins to give you complete control (hence the name) over just about everything. You even get the beautiful Light Guide Key Illumination to provide you with a unique visual perspective with your playing.
Even if you aren’t a user of Native Instruments software, this keyboard integrates well with many different DAWs, plugins, VSTs, etc. It comes complete with 88 fully-weighted keys that honestly make it feel just like a real piano.
Beyond that, you get flexible touch strip controls, knobs, configurable zone splits, and integrated scale mapping features, all which can add tons of creativity to your productions.
Bottom Line: If you’re a user of Native Instruments and you need a weighted keyboard to give you that piano-style action, look no further than the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88. Even if you’re not, this is one of the top MIDI controllers on the market, and though pricey, is well worth it for the serious musician.
The Kawai VPC1 was pretty much designed with traditional pianists in mind. It provides both the look and feel of an acoustic piano, all wrapped up in a semi-portable MIDI controller.
It doesn’t come with any fancy parameters or extra controls but instead keeps it simple by only including your standard grand piano pedals for dampening, sostenuto, and soft playing. It is true simplicity and beauty.
The keys are made out of a gorgeous wood with an Ivory touch. It is also graded, essentially meaning the lower keys are heavier than the higher keys, just like on a regular piano. Even with how large it is, it is still completely bus powered.
There are many reviews from highly-trained classical pianists saying that this is easily the most realistic MIDI controller that they have ever played, and were quite impressed with the near silence of the action.
Bottom Line: If you’re a pianist, the Kawai VPC1 is just about as close as you can get to that real piano feel when using a MIDI controller. There is a reason that the price is so high.
While the StudioLogic SL88 is definitely on the more piano-minded side of the spectrum with the Kawai VPC1, it isn’t nearly as expensive.
You don’t get all of the faders, knobs, buttons, or any other fancy features that you do with your standard MIDI controller, though what you do get are graded, wooden, fully-weighted, hammer action keys. Just like the VPC1, these keys get lighter as you move from the bottom of the keyboard to the top.
What you do strangely get with the SL88 are three different joystick-style parameter changers that act as the pitch wheel and modulation wheel. Each of the joysticks has their own feel as well, one being spring loaded, one being semi-spring loaded, and one being free floating. We’re not entirely sure how we feel about them, though they are unique.
When it comes to connectivity, you have quite a few options considering the simplicity, including four pedal inputs, one MIDI input, and two outputs.
What we really love about the SL88 is that it is wrapped up in a tough metal casing, making it perfect for gigging.
Bottom Line: The StudioLogic SL88 is for you if you are serious about your piano skills and want something simple and highly playable. It’s also an excellent, cheaper alternative to the Kawai VPC1.
While an inexpensive 88 key MIDI keyboard controller is a bit of an oxymoron, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is just about as close as you can get to having a serious MIDI keyboard at your disposal without totally breaking the bank.
In terms of actual features, it is very simple with only your pitch and mod wheels, 2 assignable buttons, and a small slider for volume. Composers will also love the fact that you can split the keyboard into multiple zones for different instruments.
As for playability, it comes with velocity-sensitive keys, though they don’t have aftertouch. You can, however, use 3 different pedals and use one as an expression pedal to give you that aftertouch sound. It also comes with a traditional 5-pin MIDI output, as well as a USB-MIDI connection. They even threw in a little music stand that you can take on and off the top as you please.
Bottom Line: While it may not be the most exciting MIDI keyboard in the world, we have to give credit where credit is due. M-Audio is known for making strong budget items, and they definitely didn’t skimp out with the M-Audio Hammer 88.
The Nektar Impact LX88 is amazing, as it gives you all the features you’ll ever need from a MIDI keyboard, while remaining within a pretty small budget. While the keys are semi-weighted, they are also still velocity sensitive, surprising for a keyboard this inexpensive.
It can be split up into 3 different zones, perfect for composers who need to deal with multiple instruments at once.
As for the onboard parameters, they are pretty standard. You get pitch and modulation wheels, DAW transport controls, 9 faders complete with their own buttons, 8 knobs, and 8 drum pads for the beatmaker inside of you.
When it comes to connecting your Nektar up, you have one MIDI out and one USB, as well as one footswitch input. Even with all of this included, the Nektar is still lightweight enough to be portable, perfect for gigging.
Bottom Line: From production to playing, the Nektar Impact LX88 is easily one of the best all-around semi-weighted MIDI keyboards out there. It’s certainly a great value if anything.
The Alesis Q88 is a very simple and straightforward, semi-weighted MIDI controller for those who are looking for an easy way to compose and perform.
Right away, you notice that you don’t have all the bells and whistles of your typical MIDI keyboard, though the velocity-sensitive keybed makes up for it.
You do however get your standard pitch and modulation features that are perfect for adding bits of nuance to your music. Even with 88 keys, they still give you Octave Up and Down buttons, great for keyswitches or other production tricks.
As for the connectivity, you get a single sustain pedal input, one aux pedal input, and a MIDI output. There is also a standard USB cable for transferring data and power.
Bottom Line: Simplicity and Credibility are the best two words we can think of to describe the Alesis Q88. While it isn’t the most exciting MIDI keyboard in the world, it gives you everything you need to get started, and beginners will absolutely love it.
The Icon iKeyboard8X is a reasonably simple MIDI keyboard, perfect for those who want something sleek that won’t take up too much real estate.
It comes complete with full-sized keys that are semi-weighted and are wrapped up in a tough metal enclosure.
Though it doesn’t come with many bells and whistles, you do get the standard pitch bend and modulation wheels, as well as the Octave and Transpose buttons. You also get a pretty standard transport section for playback within your DAW.
The most unique features would be the LED controls. For starters, the backlit LED touch fader is excellent for riding faders in your DAW and syncs up automatically when dealing with a specific channel. You also have the rotary LED ring that can be set to control different parameters in your DAW’s interface or within your plugins.
The fact that every control on here is set to panel on the right may take a while to get used to, though for a simple, yet modernized MIDI keyboard, you have quite a bit for the price.
Bottom Line: The Icon ICOK iKeyboard 8X is sleek and modern without the cost. If you’re looking for an 88 key space saver with a unique and straightforward layout, we highly recommend checking it out.
88 Keys Please
From the ultra-realistic to the feature-full to the simple, yet elegant, having an 88 key controller can be great for many reasons.
It opens up your creative boundaries as a producer or composer, allowing you to explore music in a wider range. It gives pianists a sense of realism that they can connect to their traditional playing.
If you’re serious about getting an all-around, one-of-a-kind keyboard that can bring your production to the next level, look no further than the Akai Professional MK88.
On the other hand, if you’re on a budget, or maybe want something that is simple for the simple jobs you need to get done, save your cash and buy the M-Audio Keystation 88 II.
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