Whether you are a singer, a producer, a DJ, or a composer, in this day and age you will most likely work digitally at some point in time to make your music. A good midi controller can be an invaluable tool to help with your efforts to lay down tracks.
There is a huge range of midi controllers available, both in regards to quality and to price. The aim of this article is to provide you with advice on which midi controller is best suited for where you are in your musical career. The list starts from the cheapest models, for the new musician just starting to learn the ropes, and progresses towards the expensive models for the semi-professional who wants to have a lot of extra features in their midi controller.
1. Samson Carbon 49
The Samson Carbon 49 is one of the cheapest midi controllers available on the market. It is an excellent choice for musicians who have never worked with midi controllers before and want to see if they like the technology. The Samson Carbon comes in either a 49 key model or a 61 key model. It is very easy to set up and requires little to no installation. You can start to play as soon as you plug in. The Samson Carbon works with iPads as well as standard computers. Yet, if you have an iPad 2, you will need to purchase a special rubber adaptor because the Samson Carbon was designed for the original iPad slot.
This midi controller is also great for musicians who travel a lot and need something that works well but will not break the bank if it gets busted while out on the road. It has a compact size and only weighs eight pounds.
The Samson Carbon does have a few drawbacks, however. For starters, the keys tend to make clicking sounds when they are pressed, which can be infuriating to some musicians. Additionally, some reviewers have found the keys to be rather ‘stiff’, inhibiting their ability to play expressive piano riffs. Yet this midi is for musicians looking for an easy to use device. And despite its stiff keys, the Samson Carbon is remarkably consistent in terms of velocity dynamics.
2. Novation Launchkey
The Novation Launchkey is one of the best-loved midi controllers on the affordable end of the market spectrum. It routinely receives glowing reviews on websites like Music Radar and Amazon. The Novation Launchkey midi controller comes in three different models: 25 keys, 49 keys, and 61 keys. For an inexpensive device, the keys are well-made and will not easily break or chip. They are quite responsive and have a nice touch. Importantly, the keystrokes are quiet.
The Launchkey has an easy installation process for both PCs and Macs. However, the software does not come on a CD with the product; it has to be downloaded from the Internet. Musicians who like to use Ableton have found this midi controller to perform especially well.
3 – Behringer U-Control UMX610
The Behringer U-Control is not the best designed midi controller- its keys are noisy and not as solid as some other midi controllers of similar price. However, the Behringer is an excellent choice for its price because of its great number of features. The UMX610 has two wheels (Pitch Bend Modulation), eight knobs, ten assignable switches, one fader, and one pedal port – making a total of 22 controllers that can be assigned functions.
The Behringer comes ready to play on both PCs and Macs as soon as you plug in. It is also exceptionally light, weighing only ten pounds.
4 – Akai MPK 249
The Akai MPK 249 midi controller is more expensive than the other models mentioned thus far but is worth the price. The keys have a feel and response similar to real piano keys. Each key is velocity-sensitive and outfitted with Aftertouch, allowing you to produce expressive performances and recordings. It is one of the most complete models available on the consumer market. Just about every possible feature is included in this midi controller. In addition to its 49 semi-weighted keys, there are faders, switches, eight-assignable keys, transport buttons, onboard, and 16 MPC-style drum pads with RGB feedback. The wealth of features makes the Akai MPK 249 an excellent tool for mixing tracks without having to use your computer’s keyboard.
This midi controller is made so it can interface with your computer directly (be it a PC or a Mac) with USB connectivity. It is also the only midi controller that comes bundled with a pack of software that includes Ableton Live Lite and MPC Essentials.
5 – Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol is perhaps the exact opposite of the Samson Carbon 49. This device is made for the experienced producers and professional musicians. It is a beautiful machine and crafted to produce expressive and inspirational melodies. The midi controller has an arpeggiator that turns a single note into a full musical performance yet records individual MIDI notes for easy editing in post-production.
There are eight knobs to control such musical elements as direction, rhythm, rate, and patterns. A browser knob on the keyboard allows you to search through the available plugins and select those you desire most. Then, it instantly maps your specified parameters to the keyboard using ‘Native Map’ technology. Additionally, LEDs show you what knobs have been mapped, allowing the performer to take in key details at a mere glance.
The Komplete Kontrol was purposefully designed with the Native Instrument’s plugins in mind. Perhaps its only major drawback is its incompatibility with several popular computer programs, such as Pro Tools 10 or any other 32 bit DAW. Additionally, it does not function optimally on computers with older operating systems. However, if you are working with a 64 bit DAW and programs such as Logic Pro X or Pro Tools 11, there should be no major problems.
At the end of the day, you should choose a midi controller that works for the style of music you plan on creating. A device with many features and knobs and faders can be enticing. Yet, if you do not need a great many of features, then perhaps you would be better off buying a cheaper, simpler model. As any musician knows, the tools of your craft will not stay with you forever. As you grow and develop musically, what you require will also change.