Best MIDI Keyboards with Weighted Keys – 7 MIDI Controllers!

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

MIDI keyboards are a great piece of equipment. They are excellent for any performing artist, and are a fundamental part of any studio.

The options available is seemingly endless, however. This can make choosing the right MIDI keyboard a nearly impossible task.

That is why I have scoured the market and picked a handful of the best MIDI keyboards that also have weighted keys. Here are my top 7 picks.

Best MIDI Keyboards with Weighted Keys

1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

Native Instruments is well known in the synth and MIDI space. Their instrument software is highly regarded for its high-quality, accurate instrument recreations.

This high-quality has been carried over to their hardware as well. The latest version of the Komplete Kontrol keyboard is one of their best MIDI controllers yet.

Native Instruments’ aim with the Komplete Kontrol was to keep you focused on the keyboard itself. They wanted you to spend less time looking up at your screen and using a mouse.

I think they have done a pretty good job. The built-in LED screen is easy to navigate and gives you all the necessary info, while the controls do keep your hands away from your mouse most of the time.

Another feature that I appreciate are the LED lights above each key. This allows for guided playing, making the S88 a good keyboard for learning as well.

Since this is a Native Instruments keyboard, it works seamlessly with Native Instruments software. It also comes with the Komplete Kontrol software, which can be used on its own or as a plugin within your DAW.

The Komplete Kontrol software comes with 14 instruments, from vintage upright pianos to modern synths. Along with the countless other instruments provided through Native Instruments, I doubt you will ever run out of sounds.

It also supports third-party software as long as they support the NKS plugin format. While not every software supports it, the list is growing.

The only real issue I have with the S88 is its rather heavy keys. They aren’t too bad once you get used to them, but it is certainly a bit of an adjustment at first.

It is also a bit on the expensive side. You are getting a fantastic keyboard, but the price of entry is going to be too steep for many.


2. M-Audio Hammer 88

The M-Audio Hammer 88 is a perfect blend of simplicity and functionality. It offers a great playing experience without being bogged down by unnecessary gimmicks.

The first thing I noticed was the excellent build quality. Where other M-Audio controllers can feel a bit cheap and plastic, the Hammer 88 is solid.

That is definitely thanks to the entire top panel being metal. This keyboard isn’t going to break any time soon, or easily.

It also has a very sleek, unassuming look. But what it lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for it with its usability and playability.

The best part of this keyboard, in my opinion, has to be the keys. These are some of the best feeling weighted keys I have played in a while. It even beats keyboards twice its price.

In terms of controls, the Hammer 88 is rather barebones. You are only getting a pitchbend, a mod wheel, and a volume slider.

I prefer having at least some controls to be able to switch through sounds and do some basic tweaking easily. But with the Hammer 88, you have to do everything through the software editor.

Thankfully, the included software will have you making music in minutes. The Hammer 88 comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite and the Hammer 88 Preset Editor.

The Hammer 88 is also very heavy. This is a keyboard that is going to live on your desk and not be moved around much. Its limited controls also make it more suited to a studio environment, rather than playing live.

But these are just minor issues compared to just how great the Hammer 88 is. If you are looking to start a home studio, or just looking to expand your current setup, this is a definite winner.


3. Studiologic SL88

Studiologic’s SL88 Studio is a fairly straightforward MIDI keyboard, with some unique tricks up its sleeve. It is a well-built, fully-weighted 88 key keyboard, great for both studio work and live performances.

The keybed is a bit heavier than you will find on an acoustic piano. But I still found it to be a very enjoyable and comfortable experience while playing. The keyboard also has aftertouch, allowing for greater control while playing.

The coolest part of the SL88 are the three joysticks. Where other keyboards will use wheels for pitch and modulation, the SL88 uses three joysticks.

This means that you have control in two dimensions, not just one. Each joystick is also configured slightly differently.

The first will jump back to the center when released, the second only partially, and the third won’t jump back at all. Each can also be assigned to a specific function.

This lets you determine how you want your pitch, mod, or filter cutoff to function. Do you want the filter cutoff to stay when you release the joystick? Or the modulation to reset?

I also like the small screen at the top of the keyboard. Since you can split the SL88 into four zones, the screen gives you a quick overview of the sound or patch assigned to each zone.

You can also select each zone by clicking the encoder knob. This gives you access to the volume and other settings of that zone.

Each zone can be adjusted independently, with settings for the joysticks, pedal settings, key responsiveness, etc., making each zone unique and the SL88 highly versatile.

These are basically the extent of the controls on the SL88. But I think there is more than enough here for effective and easy use of the keyboard.


4. Korg D1

Korg is one of the most well-known names in the keyboard space. Some of the most renowned high-end keyboards are made by them.

Their D1 keyboard takes that high quality, and makes it far more affordable for the average person - all without compromising the experience of playing a Korg. 

The biggest selling point of the D1, in my opinion, is the RH3 keybed. This is Korg’s ‘real hammer’ keybed design, which is featured on their high-end Kronos and SV-1 keyboards.

This means you are getting the same excellent weighted feel of their much more expensive keyboards, giving you a similar playing experience to what you would have on one of their flagship keyboards.

On the control side of things, the D1 is much simpler than some of Korg’s other offerings. I think they have done an excellent job with keeping the controls as simple and straightforward as possible, while still giving you plenty of options.

The controls are split into two. The left side has controls for touch sensitivity, EQ, reverb, chorus, and brilliance.

On the right, you have access to the 30 onboard sounds. These are organized into 10 categories, which makes finding a specific sound quick and easy.

While all of the onboard sounds are great, I do feel that some are a bit lacking. The piano and Wurlitzer in particular aren’t quite as good as on some other high-end keyboards.

This isn’t a deal breaker, though. The quality is still high enough that you will be more than happy with them on stage and in the studio.

The D1 also doesn’t have a USB connection which I find a bit strange. That means no connecting to a PC or Mac, and no editing or swapping out sounds.


5. Roland A-88 MKII

The Roland A-88 has been a popular keyboard for quite a while. But after 10 years in the business, it was certainly time for an update.

The A-88 MKII is just that, an update that refreshes a tried and tested design. It brings some much welcome improvements, without sacrificing what made the original so great.

My favorite part of the A-88 is definitely the controls. All of the controls are on the left side of the keyboard.

This means that you don’t have to zig zag across the keyboard to change settings and effects. Everything is grouped very nicely and within reach of each other. Once you get the hang of it, you will easily be able to control most of the keyboard’s functions with just your left hand.

The controls are also highly customizable. The A-88 has 8 pots and 8 touch-sensitive pads.

Each pot and pad can be assigned to control a different effect or setting, or each pad can be assigned an entire patch. The pots and pads are also backlit, meaning you can color code them or even group them together.

There is also a total of 16 banks, meaning you can have up to 16 sounds, effects, settings, etc. assigned at once, and then simply switch between banks 1-8 and 9-16 with the press of a button.

Having the controls on the left side of the keyboard does make it slightly wider than others. But that also reduces its depth quite a bit. Along with its lower height, the A-88 is quite compact, and I found that it doesn’t take up too much space, provided you have a long enough desk. It can also slide underneath a desk quite comfortably.

The A-88 is quite pricey, however. This will put it out of reach for most, but is certainly a worthwhile investment should you be able to afford it.


6. Nektar Impact GXP88

The Nektar Impact GXP88 has a lot going for it. This is a truly impressive piece of gear that left me very pleasantly surprised.

Right off the bat, the weight, or rather lack of weight, caught me by surprise. This keyboard is extremely light, coming in at just 18lbs.

This is a keyboard that isn’t just going to sit in your studio, this is a keyboard that you will be taking with you to gigs. You are going to want to take it to gigs as well. The GXP88 was definitely made with players in mind. With its 88, full sized keys, it is gig ready right out of the box.

The keys are semi-weighted, though, and not fully weighted. You can, however, select between five velocity curves. Which means that you should be able to set the GXP88 to be just right for you.

The GXP88 also scores big with its controls. All of the controls are on the left side and top left of the keyboard, making all the controls easy to reach and use.

Where the GXP88 especially wins me over, is with its inclusion of transport controls. This lets you control the record, play, stop, etc. functions of your DAW.

You can also select tracks and patches. This helps to streamline your work flow so much. You can control almost your entire recording session straight from the keyboard.

On the top, you have controls for tempo, time signature, preset sounds, etc. But the GXP88 also has a unique feature called Repeat.

If you hold a key down, it will be repeated until you release it. You can then adjust the rhythm, rate, velocity, musical style, etc.

Considering the price of the GXP88, you are getting a lot more bang for your buck. This is an incredible pick for anyone wanting to get started with music production.


7. Novation 61SL MKIII

Novation’s new SL MKIII range of MIDI controllers brings some great new features, but does cut back on others. The SL comes in both a 61 key and 49 key variant, giving you a choice depending on your needs.

Because this is just a 61 key controller, its range is limited compared to an 88 key controller. If you don’t need 88 keys, then you can certainly use the SL on stage.

The keys are full-sized, semi-weighted, and equipped with aftertouch. So, even though your range is more limited, you aren’t losing out on the actual feel of playing.

But with the limited number of keys, the SL is a better suited as a studio controller. The controls are also designed in a way that gives the SL more of a studio feel.

There are a lot of buttons, pads, pots, and even faders on the SL. This gives it a level of versatility and control that many other similarly priced controllers don’t.

The MKIII has half the faders and pots as the MKII, however. This is going to be a downgrade for many, but I think it makes the MKIII a bit more focused. More importantly, it makes the MKIII a bit more approachable for newcomers.

With the number of buttons and lights on the SL, it is going to be intimidating to use for anyone not as familiar with MIDI controllers. But if you are willing to put in the time to learn how to use this keyboard, you will be rewarded with a versatile, highly usable and customizable keyboard.

While you can certainly use the SL for live performances, I think it is a much better fit for the studio. This keyboard is just much easier to use in a studio where you aren’t rushed to perform a certain action as fast and as accurately as possible.


Choosing the Right MIDI Controller

As with any other instrument, the MIDI controller you choose is going to depend on a number of different factors. It is important to know what you are looking for in a MIDI controller and what you think you will need before making a purchase.

Number of Keys

The first choice you will have to make is the number of keys you need. Keyboards come in a number of different key configurations.

While MIDI controllers can come with as little as 16 or even 8 keys, they usually have 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys. The number of keys is going to determine what you can do on the controller.

Controllers with less keys are often limited to being used for sequencing or triggering specific sounds. These can be used for live performances, but you won’t be playing them like a traditional keyboard.

Controllers with 49 and 61 keys are great for playing live, but are also excellent for production. Not only are they much more compact and easier to use, they usually also have an extended array of controls that help with production.

If you are planning on using your controller as a more traditional keyboard, playing more piano music, an 88 key controller would be much better. These keyboards give you the full range of a piano, and also play much more like pianos.

Key Weight

This is going to be a bit more subjective, but you should also consider the weight of the keys. Keys are usually labeled as fully weighted, semi-weighted, or synth.

The weight of the keys refers to the resistance of the keys, or how hard you need to press them to produce sound.

Fully weighted keys are going to be closer to what it feels like to play a piano. This is perfect if you already play piano, and they give much better tactile feedback. This allows for much more expressive playing, especially if the keyboard comes with aftertouch.

The big downside of keyboards with fully weighted keys is that they are more expensive. This is due to fully weighted keys being harder to design and produce.

Semi-weighted are less resistant than fully weighted. If you don’t need your keys to feel like a real piano, or just find fully weighted keys a bit difficult to play, semi-weighted keys are a nice middle ground.

Synth keys are the lightest of the three. They offer very little resistance, making them ideal for faster playing. If you aren’t a pianist, then synth keys will likely be the best option for you. Controllers with synth keys also tend to be more compact and lighter.

Aftertouch

You will often see a keyboard has something called aftertouch. What this basically means is that the keys have two levels of pressure that can be applied.

When you press down harder on a key, you activate the aftertouch. This sends a second MIDI signal that then alters certain values of the note being played.

Aftertouch is basically an easy way to add some extra expressiveness to your playing. It simulates the way you control the intensity of a note on a piano, depending on how hard you hit the key.

Controls

While many keyboards are fairly straightforward, having just some basic pitch and mod controls, others can have a ton of different controls.

This is another area where the number of controls you want will depend on your needs. If you are just going to use the keyboard for live performances, you likely won’t need a lot of extra controls.

At most, you will probably just need some basic controls that allow you to quickly cycle through the different sounds of the keyboard. But additional controls are definitely going to open up the possibilities with your controller.

Pads, pots, faders, buttons, these are all going to give you more options. They will allow you to control different aspects of your sound like the EQ, add effects, and even create custom sounds.

If you are planning on using your controller for production work, I would recommend getting one with some sequencer pads, programmable buttons, and even some transport controls for your DAW.

The more things you can control directly through your controller, the better. This is going to streamline your workflow, making sessions much more productive.

Included Software and Compatibility

Most MIDI controllers come bundled with trial versions of other software like sound editors and DAWs like Ableton Live. This is great if you want to learn how to use audio software, or want to try out a new DAW.

While the included software should be compatible with other software, and most software will be compatible with any MIDI controllers, there are exceptions.

The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol, for example, can only be used with the Komplete Kontrol software, or third-party software that supports the NKS plugin format. So, just make sure that you have software that is compatible with the MIDI controller you are looking to purchase. 

Conclusion

Whether you are looking for an affordable alternative to a big, expensive piano, or something to take your music production to the next level, MIDI keyboards are the perfect piece of gear.

And with some many options out there, even if the right one for you wasn’t on this list, I know you will be able to find it with the tips I provided.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

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