Best 61 Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers (2024 Edition)

Author: Brian Campbell | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

There’s no denying that MIDI technology has completely revolutionized modern music making. Since the 1980s, it has changed everything about how we perform, produce, compose, and record music.

Keyboards are an ideal tool for MIDI input, both for instrument sounds and otherwise. You don’t have to be a professional pianist to use one every day.

However, for musicians specializing in piano, a large-scale MIDI keyboard can be a formidable tool for creativity. Armed with an expansive key bed, they can combine technical virtuosity with technological innovation.

If you are a keyboardist like me and are looking for a quality 61 key MIDI keyboard, here are the ones I recommend!

Best 61-Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers

1. Arturia KeyLab 61 MkII

At a fairly moderate price point, the Arturia KeyLab 61 MkII packs an incredibly useful number of features in a quality product. Arturia doesn’t include any superfluous features, and each one can be adapted to whatever you need.

The KeyLab’s features are laid out above the keys in an intuitive manner. The modulation wheels sit on the left, beneath basic keyboard navigation buttons like octave shifters.

Beside them, we have sixteen pads, DAW controllers, and transport controllers. On the right, we have a fully functional mixer setup, complete with faders, encoders, and channel selectors.

While many MIDI keyboards have the same features, I appreciate Arturia’s layout. They include a ton of buttons (74, to be exact) – but rather than appearing cluttered, they remain simple.

Because of its intuitiveness and versatility, I call the KeyLab a “full mixing console that happens to have a keyboard.” If you want a tactile connection to your music mixing, but need a full keyboard, it’s the perfect combination – you don’t have to spend extra, or compromise!

Arturia also made a tremendous effort to pre-map the KeyLab to the most popular DAWs. It’s great to have useful features. It’s also great to have DAW compatibility.

And when you flawlessly combine those features? Well, that’s a phenomenal product that raises the bar of excellence for any MIDI keyboard!


2. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61

If I’m completely honest, I prefer buttons over screens. Seeing a song’s timeline is important, but when it comes to playing, I much prefer pressing keys and pushing buttons. When you interact with physical input, you feel more attached to the music.

Native Instrument’s Komplete Kontrol S61 definitely favors its two screens over its buttons.

But somehow, I don’t mind!

Why? Because I think Native Instruments knows how to balance the fine line between visual cues and overstimulation.

The Komplete Kontrol includes the default transport control buttons, as well as several other useful ones like a metronome and quantizer. Additionally, they have eight encoders beneath the screens and a multi-purpose joystick.

Besides those buttons though, it just has two large screens. Each screen serves a unique purpose, yet remains intuitive and uncluttered.

The result is a highly efficient, uncluttered MIDI keyboard.

When Steve Jobs envisioned the iPod in the early 2000s, he made it mandatory that you could do anything within three clicks. He wanted them to be as efficient as possible. The Komplete Kontrol works in much the same way, being so efficient it almost disappears beneath your hands.

Other features include color-coded lights for the keyboard, a touch-strip alongside the wheels, and an on-screen mixer paired with the encoders. Lastly, pre-mapping is available for Ableton, Logic, Cubase, and GarageBand.


3. Novation 61SL MkIII

If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with an authentic key feel, Novation’s 61SL MkIII is an excellent option. With plenty of features prioritizing electronic manipulation and recording, the MkIII is a viable option for those who don’t want to compromise authentic feel for features.

Not only are the keys semi-weighted and full-sized, they are also equipped with aftertouch. For readers who don’t know, aftertouch allows you to manipulate a note’s tone after you’ve depressed the key.

Acoustic pianos can’t do this – once you’ve smashed that key, the note’s already loose! By combining nuanced acoustic feels with electric-only effects, the MkIII gives its players the best of both worlds.

Beyond key feel, the MkIII packs an extensive bunch of physical features without being overly complicated. It only has eight encoders, which is typical for many MIDI keyboards.

But it packs in a whopping 16 pads alongside 8 faders, each paired with two assignable buttons. I find the 16 pads to be a unique addition to the usual faders and encoders, transforming the keyboard into a truly versatile workhorse.

For newcomers, the number of buttons and controls may be more intimidating than other keyboards listed here. However, if you’re willing to put in time to learn it, the MkIII can be used for a wide array of uses and styles.


4. Akai Professional MPK261

Just like Arturia’s KeyLab listed earlier, Akai’s Professional MPK261 packs multiple complete tools into one unit. Part drum machine, part mixing console, and part keyboard, it’s a steal!

Akai is known for its MPC drum machines and their contribution to classic hip-hop. I would venture to say that 80 to 90% of 90s hip-hop tunes were built on MPCs. Q-Tip, from A Tribe Called Quest, even named one of his solo albums after one!

It would make sense, then, that Akai would expand their robust gear and brand into other musical niches. Thankfully for us keyboardists, they did just that!

The pads on the MPK261 are designed just like the MPC, right down to the material and four programmable bank settings. But the MPK261 is so much more than an “MPC plus keyboard.”

Each of its eight faders is paired with one encoder and one button. You could assign them to track volumes, panning, and arming buttons to turn it into a hardware console.

But because they are assignable, you could also remap them to whatever tools you want! As for the keyboard itself, each key is comfortably semi-weighted and equipped with aftertouch.

Lastly, to make a sweet deal even sweeter, it has five-pin MIDI and two pedal jacks. With its countless features, the MPK261 is a true Swiss-army knife for any serious producer!


5. Nektar Impact LX61

If you are a musician who values tactile touch and you want your DAW to feel real, Nektar’s Impact LX61 was made for you!

There’s no denying that today’s technology has changed how we make music. Producers can create entire songs on a single laptop. And while this can result in terrible music, it can still lead to innovation.

But, at the end of the day, music is something we feel. All too often, DAWs separate us from the tactile connections inherent to the creative process.

The Impact solves this problem. It has a lot of the same features as other keyboards. However, Nektar organized them in the most efficient way I’ve ever seen.

As a production hobbyist, I tried using it to record my own ambient track.

I was able to switch between instruments and tracks using buttons. I was able to adjust volume with faders. I adjusted panning with one set of encoders, and EQ with another.

By the end of my experiment, I had barely used my laptop’s touchpad! I felt like I was physically adjusting ambient patches and drones, like they were their very own instruments.

I wouldn’t call the Impact unique because of its features. Rather, it’s a powerful tool that uses all its features to the best of their abilities.


6. M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61

If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with as much features as possible, M-Audio’s Oxygen Pro is one of your best options. At a remarkably low price point, it’s incredibly versatile.

Imagine buying a Lamborghini for the price of a minivan, and that’s how it feels buying and using the Oxygen Pro!

Of course, for many of us, a minivan does just fine. Still, if you want a ton of features, or want to invest in an instrument you can explore for years, the Oxygen Pro’s got you covered.

Regarding key feel, the Oxygen Pro could give the afore-mentioned Novation 61SL MkIII a run for its money. Each key feels durable and tough, as well as every other feature in its 11-pound body.

Every modern musician, whether keyboardist or not, can find something useful in the Oxygen Pro.

Keyboardists will be impressed by its electronic reproduction of acoustic key beds. EDM producers can control countless parameters with its faders and encoders. Old-school enthusiasts can even hook it up to analog hardware with its five-pin MIDI jack.

In conclusion, the Oxygen Pro can be used for whatever you need. It’s extensive, versatile, and adjustable. Admittedly, not everyone will need all its features.

But for those looking for as much mileage as possible from a single instrument, it’s worth investing in.

Be warned though – unlike several other keyboards listed, there is a steep learning curve to using it and setting it up!


7. Alesis V61 MKII

For advanced producers, the Alesis V61 MKII may not be the best option on this list. As a whole, it has less encoders and buttons, and only eight pads.

However, for those just getting started, it’s a fantastic option. It’s simple, portable, durable, -- and most important – budget friendly.

Sometimes, simple is best. The V61 MKII is so simple to understand, I can explain all its buttons right here, right now!

Eight assignable pads let you finger drum and trigger samples. Four assignable encoders let you dial in anything from ASDR to EQ.

The octave buttons change the range of the keyboard. The ARP button auto-plays arpeggios for you, while Note Repeat and Full Level give you built-in drum samples.

That’s it!!

Paired with the standard modulation wheels and extensive arpeggiator parameters, this is plenty for any beginner to get comfortable with a wide variety of production techniques.

The V61 MKII’s simple setup is also worth mentioning. Music tech can be intimidating for traditionally-trained musicians.

Thankfully, it’s so easy to setup that you don’t even have to think – just plug the USB in and your set. No need to fumble around with extra wires or driver configuration.

Lastly, the V61 MKII can teach more than just music tech: it also includes sixty free Melodic lessons for those learning to play the piano!


8. Yamaha MX61

The Yamaha MX 61 is an impressive MIDI controller/synthesizer, offering the best of both worlds. It can be used to control your DAW exclusively, or work standalone, featuring 1000 superb sounds from the Motif XS, and the ability to control iOS music software.

Yamaha's new FM Essential iOS synth app, which includes many FM sounds from their iconic DX seven series, is particularly cool.

Primarily, I use the synth as a controller due to its fantastic feel and the great layout of knobs and buttons for mapping DAW and VST functions.

One feature I absolutely love is the template editor software that comes with the MX 61. This allows you to create different templates and save them for various DAWs and VSTs.

Since I use Ableton, Reason, and Pro Tools, often simultaneously, it's incredibly convenient to recall knob and button settings with ease.

This feature is particularly beneficial when performing, as I can create a setlist with different VSTs and effortlessly switch to the new song to start performing. It saves considerable time and stress on stage.

Regarding stage performance, the MX 61 can also serve as your main audio interface. It can playback both USB flash SMF and WAV files, has 166 MB memory for samples, and can play back 16 channels of Midi.

The only improvement I would suggest is the addition of sliders. Although it's not a dealbreaker, given the excellent layout of knobs, app controls, pitch wheel, and modulation, I find sliders to be the most effective way to automate anything, especially CC controllers.

As I do a lot of composition work and work with Kontakt sample libraries that require significant CC control, I prefer to have sliders on my controllers.


9. M-Audio Keystation 61

Even though I've already mentioned the M-Audio Keystation 61's older sibling, the Oxygen 61, I still want to include this one for two reasons: simplicity and portability.

I don't know about you, but whenever I'm doing any remote sessions that involve packing a laptop, possibly a drum machine or two, or a Push controller, adding a synthesizer or an advanced MIDI controller like the Oxygen becomes more difficult and sometimes redundant.

What I appreciate about the Keystation 61 is that in some ways, it has a better feel than the Oxygen, thanks to its newer mk3 key set technology design. It's also shorter, lighter, and much easier to pack into a car.

If I'm already using an MPC or a Push and I'm working in Ableton, sometimes having extra pads, knobs, and sliders just complicates things. You're left deciding which ones to use, and in the high-pressure scenario of a session at another studio where you might be on the clock, simplicity is key.

Also, when I've been on tour or attended conferences in other cities, I don't want to stop working. If you're going to be having sessions with singers in hotel rooms because you're visiting their city and that's the only place you can meet up, then in my opinion, a 25 key or 37 key mini keyboard isn't enough for writing songs as a pianist.

However, many of the controllers on this list are too heavy and cumbersome for plane travel. In this case, this keyboard is perfect for tight space songwriting sessions.

The only complaint I have is the menu diving due to the space issue, where there aren't specific buttons for certain functions. However, to M-Audio's credit, they've laid it out, marked, and labeled it all well, making it relatively straightforward to get where you need to go.


10. Korg Keystage 61

At the time of writing this, the Korg Keystage 61 is still in the pre-order phase. However, I had the opportunity to play it at this year's NAMM show.

I also received an advanced model to explore for an upcoming Korg showcase at one of my local music stores. I am very excited about this new keyboard controller due to its integration with Ableton using Midi 2.0.

One feature I've been exploring with some of Roli's latest keyboards is MPE, also known as Midi Polyphonic Expression. This is a fairly new type of key technology that takes polyphonic after-touch a step further by also tracking movement along the key itself.

It's hard to explain without experiencing it, but in essence, when playing sounds like pads and strings, it allows keyboard players to create more evolving sounds through pressure.

This feature is fantastic because previously, when playing chords, you didn't have the ability to tweak knobs or modulation wheels. You had to do it all through an expression pedal. But now, an expression pedal combined with the new capabilities of Midi 2.0 adds a lot of options to how you can play these controllers.

Something else I appreciate in a controller is ample knobs, and this one has eight of them. They come with visual feedback on a mini OLED screen, and there's a larger OLED screen for the rest of the settings.

As the name suggests, it's excellent for live performances as it has a built-in audio interface for recording in stereo and playing back your recordings.

The integration with Ableton live makes it an even better choice for anyone playing their album or stems live. It even comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite 11, a very capable DAW.


Choosing the Best 61 Key MIDI Keyboard for ‘You’

With seven 61 key MIDI keyboards listed above, it can be overwhelming to pick which one you would like. If you’re anything like me, once you start looking at all the features, you forget why you’re looking in the first place!

Thankfully, each keyboard is geared towards specific uses. Although subtle, these differences will easily narrow down the choices you have to make.

Here are several questions to ask yourself as you look for a wide-ranged MIDI keyboard!

What is Your Ideal Workflow?

Most MIDI keyboard shoppers decide how many octaves they want first. Thankfully for us, we already know we want a five-octave range! Chances are, this means you’re an experienced keyboardist, or aspire to be.

Of course, electronic keyboards are different from acoustic ones. And equally obvious, music is incredibly diverse. Your unique artistic voice will naturally favor a certain creative workflow.

When you get into the creative space, what motivates you to get in the zone? What music, films, or literature inspires you? How do you translate those ideas into musical expression?

When you use your keyboard, you want all those ideas to flow intuitively without technical hitches getting in the way. You want your DAW to serve you, not hinder you.

This stuff might not seem important when thinking about keyboards, but it’s actually very important. The more you know about how you work, the more you know what tools to use.

Another entirely different workflow involves using your MIDI controller for live performances. Live shows have become much more complex, especially for bands that incorporate electronic sounds into their studio jams.

Audiences are so accustomed to hearing performers play with stems and backing tracks, that if you don't sound at least 80% like your studio version, they believe you're not performing well.

This is often observed at events like the SXSW festival in Austin.

I've witnessed fans leave shows they were eagerly anticipating because the band's exceptional studio tracks and detailed production didn't align with a stripped-down live performance. In the following sections, I'm going to delve into how to choose the right MIDI controller for studio or live gigs.

How Will You Use Your Keyboard?

This question is informed by the previous one, and is also paired with the following one. Once you know how to get in the zone, you can start brainstorming how your keyboard can translate your ideas as fluently as possible.

Some producers just want a great feeling keyboard that can handle their chops. These guys will favor key feel and velocity.

Other producers might want to minimize their mouse usage. Keyboards with extensive transport controls (the buttons that record, play, pause etc.) would be very helpful for them.

Yet others might be all about sound design, wanting tactile tools for shaping envelopes, EQs, and soundwaves. For these guys, encoders and faders will be very appealing.

Take some time to think about what tools YOU prioritize when recording music.

Pads, Faders, and Encoders … Oh My!!

Our previous question will naturally lead into this one. Depending on how you intend to use your keyboard, you will naturally gravitate towards the physical features that help you the most.

Pads will be ideal for sample-heavy music and finger drumming. Faders are a great substitute for on-screen mixers and thousand-dollar ones. They can also be used as drawbars for Hammond organ software!

Lastly, encoders and dials are a great catch-all feature that you can use for a wide array of tools. They can be used for everything from filter sweeps and ADSR envelopes to EQ boosters. If you’re an experimental person, you’ll love them!

Live Performances

There are two schools of thought regarding the use of MIDI Keyboard controllers for live performances. Many touring acts prefer to keep things as light and portable as possible, especially when performing at smaller venues like bars and coffee shops where stage space is limited.

This approach maximizes portability and ease of setup.

The second school of thought focuses on how to perform and expand on pre-recorded material during live performances. This is often more relevant to bands or electronic pop acts with intricate production layers in their records, which are essential to their signature sound.

For keyboardists performing with these bands, having more controls on your controller like drum pads, sliders, mod wheel, pitch wheel, and rotary controllers can be crucial. These controls allow you to take command of your pre-recorded stems.

Many bands and DJs use grid-based controllers like Ableton Push and the Novation LaunchPad that work with both FL Studio and Ableton. But for keyboard players who also wish to play musical parts, especially those that may include piano, a 61-note MIDI with all the extras like pads, rotary knobs, and sliders is an ideal buy for stage performances.

It allows you to expand some of your stems, add new elements to your live shows, trigger samples with pads, and create specific templates at the push of a button. All of this can greatly enhance your live set.

So, when you're choosing a controller, don't forget to consider the ones that offer more features.

Songwriting and Film Scoring

Another important niche for these controllers are the people making music specifically for TV shows and films. It's not just composing the score, but also writing songs, which the biz calls "synch" songs (short for synchronization licenses).

Basically, if a TV network wants to use your song in their film or show, they have to pay you.

Back in the day, music supervisors and TV directors would just pick songs from record labels to feature in their shows. But these days, there are songwriters who whip up tunes specifically for placement in shows.

Now, if you're a composer or songwriter for TV and film, you have to be quick on your feet. You're usually working entirely in MIDI to keep up with notes and changes from the network.

If this sounds like your jam, or you're thinking about jumping into this world, you might want to go with the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61.

It's unmatched for this kind of work. It's designed with this workflow in mind, and since it's made by the same folks who brought us Kontakt (the go-to software sampler for cinematic libraries), you're getting a serious leg up with their proprietary controller.

The way it maps out third-party libraries, like strings, percussion, and sound design elements from libraries like Heavyocity and Native's own libraries, is a total game-changer for screen media writers.

Customization

Lastly, think about how much you want to customize your setup and workflow. Some producers are perfectly happy to have pre-mapped, pre-labeled keyboards.

Others might want that, but also want the freedom to rearrange. And others might want to start over, completely from scratch!

Whatever you choose, just remember that the more specific you can be, the better your workflow will be.

Closing Thoughts

Like any other instrument, whether acoustic or not, MIDI technology and keyboards are an extension of an artist’s mind. While budget is important, an instrument catering towards your artistic voice is equally important.

Electronic music production is wonderful because it is always leading to innovation and new forms of expression. Whatever you choose, enjoy your musical journey – and always, ALWAYS have fun!

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About Brian Campbell

Brian has been playing piano since elementary school and started learning guitar in 7th grade. He teaches K-8 students in Columbus, Ohio, and writes lessons covering a broad spectrum of genres. As a child, he moved back and forth between Colorado and West Africa. He credits those experiences with opening his eyes to the cultural and artistic diversity he appreciates today. Several of his favorite musicians include J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Radiohead. When not doing music and teaching, you can find Brian reading, hiking, traveling, or making just one more shot of espresso.

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