6 Best 88 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards (2024)

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

I'm a musician who loves playing the piano and I've always needed an 88-key MIDI controller while working on my tunes in the studio. I've tried out different keyboards over the years, from the old Fatar controllers to the newer Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol. Gotta admit, they've really stepped up their game with the improvements they've made over time.

Nowadays, 88-key controllers are even more essential because of the many amazing VST sample libraries for pianos. Even the free ones are great. If you get a chance, check out a review I did recently with my top picks.

In-the-box pianos have finally reached the point where they've really dialed in the responsiveness, velocity, and all the details that make you feel like you're playing a real piano.

So, to really take advantage of that, especially in the high and low notes, I totally recommend getting a great 88-key controller. Let's dive in and check out some of the best ones currently available!

6 Best 88 Key MIDI Keyboards - Capable Controllers!

1. Arturia KeyLab 88 mkII

I really like the Arturia controllers because they have a super cool layout. The KeyLab 88 mkII is their top-of-the-line model and it's got a full hammer-action piano layout, which is perfect not just for pianists, but also for anyone who needs a MIDI controller with a full-range keyboard. 

The transport section is especially awesome, with a bright red record button that shows Arturia put a ton of thought into the design. Plus the controller has 16 pads for programming, nine sliders with matching knobs, a pitch wheel, mod wheels, and a little screen.

What I particularly like about this controller is the keys, which have an improved Fatar design that feels fantastic. The sliders are also well-centered in the middle of the keyboard, making them easily accessible for film composers and other musicians who need to make quick adjustments. 

Another great feature of this keyboard is the CV outs for modular gear and vintage keyboards. These are a great touch that makes the controller even more versatile.

One of the best features of this keyboard, in my opinion, is the magnetic overlays that can be added for popular DAWs such as Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, and more. 

This is particularly useful for people who share studios with others who use different software, or in a commercial studio where different people use the same controller. The overlays make it easy to switch between different software setups quickly and easily.

While the Arturia controller is almost a workstation-level controller, there is one downside. The screen is quite small for a keyboard of this size. More information would have been helpful, particularly for musicians who need to access a lot of different settings quickly. 

Nonetheless, this is still a great controller that I would highly recommend to anyone in need of a high-quality MIDI controller.

2. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 mk2

Native Instruments really hit it out of the park with their Komplete Kontrol S88 mk2, especially for all you composers and music-makers out there who love to use detailed and heavy sample libraries. Do you want to know why? 

The reason is simple: the color-lit keys change depending on the instrument you have loaded, providing an intuitive and visually stunning experience.

So, if you're working with a world percussion library, for example, your bongos, djembes, and congas can all have different colors, with the congas being green, the djembes being orange, and the shakers and metals having their own unique color, all lit up per key. How cool is that, right?

And the fact that it's got 88 keys makes it even better, because you can split the keyboard in a ton of different ways to map out a variety of sounds across the board, saving you a ton of time when you're programming. Plus, it's got a Fatar keyboard, so you know it's gonna feel great to play.

They've even included pre-programmed transport controls for Logic, Ableton Live, GarageBand, and Cubase, which is pretty dope. The only bummer is that they didn't include Pro Tools, but I guess that's because Pro Tools is more of an audio and mixing environment than a MIDI one.

That being said, I'm not sure why they left out the sliders, especially since this controller is geared towards film composers. It's kind of surprising, you know? And I'm also a bit bummed that there aren't any pads on this thing, but maybe they want you to go ahead and buy their Maschine, which is a drum programmer and controller. Who knows?

3. Nektar Impact LX88+

The Impact LX 88+ is a simple and straightforward controller made by Nektar. As someone who loves sliders, I'm excited to see that this one also has nine well-laid-out sliders, as well as eight rotary knobs with clear points so that you can tell exactly where the dial stands.

It also has eight drum pads. They're not the greatest, but they'll do the job if you just want to do some hits here and there or maybe trigger some samples.

The keyboard is good, but I wouldn't say it's the absolute best. It feels a little bit stiff to me, and some of that can be adjusted in velocity maps. However, I still prefer the Fatar keypads from some other controllers over this one. 

Maybe that's because this one is one of the slimmest and lightest designs, and it's really meant for playing live and traveling with. Using a more advanced hammer action keyboard might have added too much weight. That would be my guess.

Where this controller definitely falls short is on the screen. I complained about the Arturia screen being a little small, but this one just displays numbers, so the information on it is not only vague, but almost nonexistent. It's really meant more for 0 to 127 type dials and CC controls.

On the bright side, I'm glad they included a transport control. It's surprising to me when some companies leave out transport controls from master MIDI keyboards because it's such an important part of programming these days.

4. Studiologic SL88 Studio

The Studiologic SL88 is a super simple and stylish controller that's perfect for all you pianists. The hammer action key bed feels great, and the modern edges give it that extra cool factor!

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a bummer that there aren't any pitch or modulation wheels. Modulation is a big deal and can control way more than just tremolo, even if you're using piano as your library sound in your DAW.

For example, you can assign the modulation wheel to the tone and volume on the Wurli sound when playing an electric piano from something like Spectrasonics’ Keyscape, which can give you a really unique and exciting experience.

But instead of wheels, the keyboard designers went for joysticks for modulation, which in my opinion wasn't the best decision. The joysticks are way too sensitive and confusing to use, which can be super frustrating when you're trying to play.

Despite this drawback, Studiologic did include a really nice screen that kinda makes up for it. The screen has a nice rotary dial for browsing information and buttons on the side to choose from the browser.

But it's also kinda weird that there aren't any sliders or proper knobs for additional CC control and automation. Most people who want to use a keyboard controller to do more than just control a digital piano will need to control CC at some point. The joystick just doesn't cut it for this purpose and might not be enough for more advanced users.

5. Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3

The Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3 is a killer MIDI controller that's on par with Arturia when it comes to features and layout. The nine sliders are well-balanced and feel great to use. The transport section has some extra buttons like undo, click, quantize, and a special Ableton “capture MIDI” button, which is pretty cool.

Even though the Launchkey 88 Mk3 is designed mainly for Ableton Live, it's not limited to it. The MIDI learn function is super helpful, allowing you to customize the controller using the many knobs and sliders to fit your specific needs. It's perfect for any DAW.

The only downside is the pads, which could be better. They work fine but aren't as responsive as Arturia’s when triggering Ableton's drum racks.

Novation tried to create a hybrid between a pad and a Push-type clip launch button, which in my opinion, isn't the best idea. It would've been better to have eight drum pads and another section of eight clip launching buttons that could be color-coded. Nonetheless, the pads are good enough for what you need.

On the bright side, the Launchkey 88 Mk3 is lightweight, which makes it an excellent choice for live performances. The design choices seem to be made with touring in mind, which is smart considering the controller's features. 

Overall, the Launchkey is an awesome 88-key MIDI controller that should appeal to musicians and producers alike.

6. M-Audio Hammer 88

M-Audio has been around for a while now, and they were one of the first to make USB controllers, but honestly, their designs have never been that impressive. 

They're pretty much just basic keyboards with pitch and mod wheels, and some of their later models have sliders. I guess they're trying to keep the prices low since most of their controllers don't have screens, drum pads, or transports.

I gotta say, their hammer action isn't that great either. The keys are stiff, plastic, and don't feel as good as those used by Arturia and Novation.

It's kinda surprising that they haven't made any improvements to the action, especially since they're not adding any new features. But nope, they haven't.

One thing I will give them credit for is their rugged build quality. When picking a controller, you definitely wanna make sure it's durable and easy to use, especially if you're planning on using it for live performances. 

The M-Audio Hammer 88 is definitely built to last, so you can toss it around without worrying about breaking it. Plus, it's got a simple design, so you won't lose any knobs, caps, or screens that can get damaged on stage.

Personally, I've got a 49-key M-Audio controller, and it's super compact and easy to use. I just plop it on my mixing desk, and I'm good to go. The design is a bit bulky though, and it kinda reminds me of a beginner's digital piano.

But if you're looking for a reliable controller that you can store away and grab quickly, then M-Audio is definitely worth checking out.

Choosing the Best 88 Key MIDI Controller

If you're on the hunt for a new controller, you should definitely consider getting an 88-key one. Sure, they might be a bit bulky, but they have tons of benefits that other controllers just can't match.

First off, 88-key keyboards are perfect for keyboardists who want to use a variety of libraries. With a full-sized piano keyboard, you can easily take advantage of those orchestral and epic Kontakt libraries by having them mapped out on a bigger keyboard.

Not only that, but 88-key controllers are awesome for composers and songwriters who want a master controller that can do it all. Whether you're programming drums, automation, or just playing a melody, an 88-key controller gives you the flexibility and control you need to take your music to the next level.

Choosing the perfect keyboard can be pretty tough, right? That's why it's important to take a few things into account. Think about the size of your workspace and your skill level, as well as the kind of music you want to create.

For some folks who aren't super skilled on the ivories, having a ton of keys and a massive keyboard seems like a bit much. I totally get that. And some people prefer setups that focus more on the laptop and less on instruments, especially when it comes to electronic music production.

So, I've got a few ideas on how to narrow down the criteria and pick the best one. Check it out:

Drum Pads and Feel

So, you're thinking about adding drum pads to your setup? It's important to figure out if you really need them first. Sure, many controllers come with built-in drum pads, but you might already have drum machines or other controllers that make the pads redundant.

But then again, having drum pads right there can seriously up your game. You can try out different beats and rhythms on the fly, expanding your creative horizons.

And if you're on the hunt for a keyboard with 88 keys, the main thing to consider is how it feels to play. But for any size keyboard that has pads, they're just as important. With a simple tap, you can trigger samples and loops, taking your music production to the next level. 

Plus, the tactile feedback of the pads can be a total game-changer for hands-on musicians who want to produce some killer beats.

Sliders and Automation Control

As a songwriter and film composer, I think having sliders and knobs on my MIDI controller is essential. I mean, I've tried using an iPad to control Kontakt and other software instruments, but it just doesn't hit the spot like a dedicated MIDI controller. 

When there's no sliders or knobs for automation and CC control, I just can't get the fine-tuned, customized sound I'm looking for. It's a real bummer.

So, at some point, we all gotta do volume rides at least once. Don't know about you, but the mouse just doesn't cut it for me like a slider does. Sure, I can use it, but I get way smoother results with a dedicated slider. And that's another biggie if you're planning on doing any mixing.

Weight and Size

In the past, some artists and bands avoided using 88-key pianos for performances, except for specific keyboard or jazz-oriented groups, due to their heavy weight. I remember carrying my Roland XV 88 to a few gigs and vowing never to do it again.

Thankfully, controller keyboards have come a long way since then. For instance, the Nektar Impact and the Novation Launchkey are portable and easy to carry around. Therefore, you can opt for one of these keyboards if you plan on performing live.

On the other hand, some people cannot afford an 88-key workstation or digital piano but still want a similar device to practice and compose music without the need for frequent movement. This is where these controllers can be highly useful, especially given how advanced VST pianos have become.

Final Thoughts

So, I've got three different 88-note controllers. One is my go-to controller, one's at home for practice, and the other's chilling in my live room, just in case I need it for a spontaneous jam session, or something. I surely don't wanna unplug my main controller.

Honestly, I think all the controllers on this list are pretty good for advanced, intermediate, producers, or artists who just wanna feel like they're playing a piano. My general advice is to pick the controller that can do the most things for the next few years.

Remember, most of these controllers are a total steal because they're basically five machines in one. 

With something like the Arturia, you can get a drum pad controller, MIDI CC slider, mix automation controller, transport, and a beautiful digital piano all in one space, which is pretty dope. So don't just focus on getting the cheapest one - it's way better value for your money to get the one with the most options in the long run.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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