Way back in the 1980s, Midi was developed to allow musicians to control a variety of synthesizers or other instruments from one single platform. While the drum pad portion of midi controllers seemed to be a second thought for most manufacturers during that time, they’re now very much a priority, especially for at-home producers.
These drum pads have come quite a long way since their inception...
For many years, producers were content with just being able to tap out a 4-on-the-floor on with their little drum pad.
These days, MIDI drum pad controllers can compose, arrange, sequence, and in a way, act as a separate instrument. If you’re not a pianist, this is pretty cool. The difficult part is finding the right MIDI drum pad in the excess that’s available in today’s market.
Luckily, we’ve rounded up some of the best MIDI drum pads so that you can get to banging out some sweet beats as soon as possible!
- 1 What to Consider Before Purchasing a Midi Pad Controller
- 2 The Top 10 Midi Drum Pads
- 3 Now Beat It!
What to Consider Before Purchasing a Midi Pad Controller
Do you have a small bedroom studio?
Are you looking to take your MIDI drum pad with you on the road?
These are just a few questions that you should ask yourself before making a purchase.
The size also goes hand in hand with the number of pads that are present on the device.
Some people only need a simple 8-pad setup that reflects a standard drum kit, while some may want a larger device with a 64-pad setup to trigger multiple instruments and sequence beats.
Faders and Knobs
In addition to the pads on MIDI drum pad devices, some actually come with a variety of knobs, faders, and buttons.
Just like the pads, these faders, knobs, and buttons transfer MIDI data and can give you a much more hands-on experience with the ability to adjust and fine tune as you play. Many software synths and drum kits have parameters that are adjustable and can be controlled in real time.
If you’re looking for an authentic feel in your music making process, this is a feature we highly recommend keeping an eye out for.
If you've watched your favorite beat producers online using their MIDI drum pad controller to lay down tasty bass lines and synth melodies, you’ve most likely seen them dig their fingers a bit deeper into the pads to create an aftertouch sound.
Aftertouch is mostly available on higher-end devices, and allows players to play more expressively by letting them introduce vibrato, volume, and an array of other parameters, just by pressing into the pads with more gusto!
Aftertouch is undoubtedly one of those things you don’t know you need until you’ve used it, but once you learn how to take full advantage of it, it opens up an entirely new world of music creation.
Ins & Outs
So basically any drum pad controller will be able to transmit MIDI via USB, though for versatility, some of these devices offer multiple ins & outs that are perfect for live setups with a bit more complexity.
For example, a MIDI drum pad with a traditional 5-pin MIDI out would allow you to connect to vintage hardware synths.
Some of these MIDI drum pad controllers offer playback on the device and utilize TRS line ins and line outs.
Though they aren’t keyboards, some even have jacks for sustain pedals that give you a bit more parameter control as you play.
This all truly depends on how deep you want to go with your MIDI drum pad. Those that are just looking for a way to lay down a simple boom bap beat need not worry about any of this.
You’re boarding your plane with your drum pad in hand, ready to make some sick beats on your 9-hour flight when…
Oh wait, you need an external power supply.
Well, so long to the idea of your mile high club trap loops.
If you’re looking to play on the go, it is necessary to get a device that is bus powered. This means that it can be powered just by plugging into a laptop or computer.
The Top 10 Midi Drum Pads
Best Overall (Works with Most DAWs)
The Akai MPD60 was the king of drum pad controllers for a long time and was very prominent throughout the hip-hop world in the 90s.
To this day, Akai is still putting out some of the best MIDI drum pads on the market, modernizing what they created decades ago. The AKAI MPD 226 is a reiteration of the father model, though fits much more with the times with its sleek black casing and the rainbow backlit 16-pad setup.
To provide as much as possible onto the small interface, Akai included 4 faders, 4 control knobs, and 4 switches, each with the ability to assign to a specific control.
Bottom Line: This USB powered MIDI drum pad is bringing the classic feel of beatmaking to the present. If you’re a nostalgicphile, this is the one for you!
Best for Ableton Live
The Push 2 comes in as our top choice for Ableton Live controllers.
After the development of one of the biggest DAWs in the world next to Pro Tools, Ableton set out to make their own controller to go alongside it. Push 2, their 2nd generation MIDI drum pad, is now one of the most ingenious sequencing drum pads on the market.
With a whopping 64-pad grid, you’re able to do everything from recording melodic lines and sequences to making a simple drum beat.
Using the onboard LED, you can easily navigate through your library or presets on your DAW, load up sounds, and control their parameters using the variety of encoders up top. You can even do some basic mixing without ever touching your laptop or computer.
Bottom Line: Without a doubt, Ableton Push 2 is one of the most creative and technologically advanced MIDI drum pad controllers on the market right now. From the sampling capabilities to the onboard mixing and editing, anyone using Ableton Live should get their hands on one of these.
Best Controller for Maschine Software
Just like Ableton Push 2, Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 is so much more than a drum pad controller. In a way, it’s an instrument in itself, considering the fact that it comes with the Maschine Software.
It’s utilized like a classic MPC, though gives you the ability to compose, arrange, mix, perform, and so much more.
The two high-res color screens allow you to sample, browse, and preview sounds, as well as mix and edit your projects without ever needing to touch your computer.
The audio interface that is built in uses a 2-in/4-out setup so that you can record and playback your sounds too.
There are 3 modes built in: Pad Mode, Keyboard Mode, and Sequencer Mode. Using the 16 ultra responsive pads, you can either make beats, play the device like a piano, or use pitch, volume, and LFO controls to warp and edit your sound in real time.
Bottom Line: If you’ve ever played around with Maschine Studio, you know it has serious capabilities. Native Instruments found a way to pack all of that into the best form for extreme versatility in live and studio applications.
Best For Linking Hardware Synths
The most significant features on the Arturia Beatstep Pro are the three independent step sequencers that allow for everything from sequencing drums to creating synth riffs and basslines.
You can easily store these sequences in the global preset slots and individually assign them to each of the MIDI channels.
While it’s great for sending information to DAWs and software synths, it’s also exemplary at sending information to hardware synths, easily becoming the master or slave with any device you can think of. This is thanks to the outputs that include 5-pin DIN MIDI and CV/Gate outputs. All of this is packed into a surprisingly small unit with tons of functionality.
Bottom Line: If you’re a hardware synth aficionado, you’ll dig the Arturia Beatstep Pro. It gives an entirely new light to the playing and programming that you’re used to.
Best for Portability
At about the same size as an iPad and thickness as a few sheets of paper, the Keith McMillen QuNeo 3D is one of the most portable MIDI drum pads on the market.
The LED lights on the module are nice and colorful and span across 27 separate touch controls ranging from sliders to pads to knobs (okay the knobs are basically pads, but it’s the thought that counts). It’s dubbed a 3D pad because of the velocity and pressure parameters that you can control dynamically.
They’ve also included location parameters, allowing you to get different sounds by touching different places on the pad. Though it may look like a toy, it’s far from it.
Bottom Line: This bus-powered MIDI drum pad is one that you’ll love or hate, though it’s no doubt unique compared to its market competition. With great feel and ultra-functionality, this is one of the best MIDI drum pads for on the go producers.
Best Budget Option for Ableton Live
While it’s not Ableton Push 2, the Novation LaunchPad Pro can do some pretty incredible stuff at half the price of MIDI drum pads in the same realm.
For creative purposes, the LaunchPad Pro is at the top of the game. With hands-on clip control and an array of playing modes from Scale Mode to Piano Mode and beyond, you get tons of versatility packed into a simple layout.
The RGB LED helps to keep track of your performance, as well as gives you feedback on your dynamics by showing changes in velocity. The software that comes with the LaunchPad is solid! You can keep your eyes on the screen and adjust a parameter in real time without ever losing focus.
Bottom Line: If you love Ableton Push 2 but don’t want to lay down half a paycheck for one, the Novation LaunchPad Pro is an excellent alternative. With the standalone functionality and responsive controls, it’s one of the best on the market for the price.
Best For Sequencing with Maschine
If you’re using Maschine software to produce your beats, the Native Instruments Maschine Jam puts the software into overdrive.
With 16 ultra-responsive multi-colored backlit pads and eight modern touchstrip faders that sit in places of the old school knobs, you can easily trigger patterns and scenes and tweak parameters on the fly. The built-in screens are replaced with software screens that respond to changes you make on the actual hardware, something that may take time to get used to, but something that also saves real estate.
The biggest positive with the Maschine Jam is that you can get up to 32 sequencing steps for a single instrument, giving you the ability to perform for hours without ever feeling like your music is getting stale.
Bottom Line: Not only is the Maschine Jam easily one of the best MIDI drum pads for making music on the fly, it’s also one of the most well-rounded controllers on the market today.
Best For Mobile
Do you find yourself working on your iPhone, iPad, or Android making hits? Well the IK Multimedia iRig Pads may be right up your alley.
This portable little MPC-style MIDI drum pad has 16 duo-color backlit pads, two parameter knobs, two buttons, and one fader, giving you a range of MIDI output capabilities considering the size.
Thanks to the lightning cable, you can easily hook this up to any mobile device right out of the box and begin building beats with the app. You can easily transfer up to 16 saved scenes to your devices as well before diving into the user-friendly editing application.
Don’t worry though, whenever you want to hop into the studio, you can use this bad boy with your computer, just like a regular MIDI drum pad. The iRig is probably the most flexible option on this list for device compatibility.
Bottom Line: Looking for a playable MIDI drum pad to make beats using your mobile device but need the flexibility to also create on your laptop/PC? You should definitely keep an eye out for the IK Multimedia iRig Pads.
Best For New Age Lovers
Roli, inventor of the ever popular Seaboard controller, welcomes you to the future of MIDI drum pads. The issue with the Seaboard was that it was expensive. This is why ROLI took the same experimental concept and introduced their Block line as a substitute.
The surface of the ROLI Lightpad incorporates MIDI Polyphonic Expression, allowing you to play various software instruments with different types of expressive gestures.
Basically, anywhere you touch, strike, glide, or lift on the pad, will create some sort of sound. The cool thing about these wireless blocks is you can continuously build and connect them as you start to expand your studio.
Bottom Line: ROLI is still very much in the experimental phase as a company, but if you’re looking for a MIDI drum pad unlike anything ever made before, you don’t need to look any further than the Lightpad Block M.
Best Budget Option
For many of us, a MIDI drum pad isn’t a priority, and spending over a hundred dollars on one seems like a hassle. This is where the LPD8 from Akai comes in handy.
This tiny little MIDI drum pad is small enough to toss in a backpack and has 8 backlit pads and 8 knobs that resemble those of the professional Akai MPC line.
Even at the low price, the pads and knobs have a great fell and are completely responsive, making them perfect for modern software instruments and DAWs.
You can even utilize the LPD8 editor to customize settings for every parameter control.
Bottom Line: The Akai LPD8 is a simple, no-frills MIDI drum pad that is great for those who maybe only need one for specific projects or to have a controller to take on the go. With the design and build quality, it’s the best in the low price range no doubt.
Now Beat It!
By now, you should have an excellent understanding of the capabilities that modern MIDI drum pads can grant you as a producer. There’s no doubt they’ll continue to expand and grow far beyond their traditional use, as there seems to be a technological trend breathing new life into these devices with every release.
A solid MIDI drum pad can bring new creativity and motivation to producers, especially those who are more rhythm-oriented than musically-inclined.
All in all, we think that the Ableton Push 2 is one of the best drum controllers you can buy, even though it’s specifically designed for Ableton Live. We can’t think of any serious electronic music producer who hasn’t boasted about one of these in the past few years.
If you don’t want to be locked into specific DAW compatibility, we’d recommend giving the Akai MPD 226 a serious look. It will work with – and has configurations for – just about every major DAW. You can get this thing set up and working pretty quickly.
Remember to always consider your budget and needs when looking for a MIDI drum pad. Once you get the perfect one for you, you’ll be absolutely hooked.