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A reliable 61 key MIDI controller is a very sought after piece of equipment among musicians. The main reason for this is their level of balance. With a keyboard of this size you can have portability without sacrificing key range.
Additionally, 61 keys are still enough to learn on if you’re a beginner. You can certainly go the route of investing in a full-sized 88 key MIDI controller if you’re so inclined. However, you can’t really go wrong with a more compact alternative that still has all the MIDI functionality you’d need.
How to choose the right 61 key MIDI controller
I have an Ultimate Guide to MIDI Controller Keyboards and The 8 Factors to Consider article to help you on your hunt. Refer to that article first if you’re somewhat unsure what to look for.
61 key MIDI Controller Keyboards List
Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII
Type of Keys: Semi-weighted — Velocity Sensitive: Yes — Aftertouch: Yes — Pads: 16 x Back-lit RGB Performance Pads — Other Controllers: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel — Encoders/Pots: 9 — Faders: 9 — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes — Pedal Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (sustain), 1 x 1/4" (expression), 3 x 1/4" (aux) — MIDI I/O: In/Out/USB — USB: 1 x Type B — Other I/O: 1 x 1/8" (CV in), 4 x 1/8" (CV out, Gate out, Mod 1, Mod 2) — Computer Connectivity: USB — Software: Analog Lab 3, Ableton Live Lite, Piano V2, Arturia MIDI Control Center — Format: VST, AU, AAX (Analog Lab) — Hardware Requirements - Mac: Intel Multi-core processor, 4GB RAM minimum — Hardware Requirements - PC: AMD / Intel Multi-core processor, 4GB RAM minimum — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.10 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later — Power Supply: 9V DC power supply (sold separately)
Reasons To Buy:
+ Solid Build Quality
+ Fantastic DAW integration
Reasons To Avoid:
- Software licensing is a hassle
The Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII has long been a highly-praised MIDI keyboard. It is a pleasure to use out of the box, and gives you loads of features wrapped up in an attractive chassis.
The keys have more of a synth-action feel to them, therefore it’s not much of a weighted keybed. Overall, this keyboard feels good to play, but it might not suit everyone’s taste.
The build quality is great on the KeyLab MKII seeing as it’s made almost entirely of aluminium. All of the motorized control knobs, buttons, and faders feel solid. The drum pads are quite responsive and have a good feel to them as well. Another plus is the sheer amount of features this thing has.
You do get aftertouch with the KeyLab MKII, and I must say, it’s not a hassle to deal with. It has just the right amount of sensitivity. There are also a total of 9 large faders, 9 rotary knobs, and 16 RGB-backlit pads.
The KeyLab MKII has auto-mapping integration with most of the popular DAWs like Ableton Live, FL Studio, Cubase, and more! That being said, the Arturia software licensing process is definitely a pain.
This is known to regularly be the case with most Arturia products unfortunately. Also, it’s not the most portable device, weighing in at around 18lbs. It might be a good idea to keep this guy as your dedicated studio keyboard.
All in all, the KeyLab MKII is an easy favorite for me. Between the reliable build-quality, the great features, and incredible functionality; I really believe that it’s a worthy foundation for any home studio.
AKAI Professional MPK261
Type of Keys: Semi-weighted — Velocity Sensitive: Pressure and Velocity-sensitive pads — Aftertouch: Yes
Pads: 16 — Other Controllers: 8 x Assignable Buttons, Mod, Pitch Wheels — Encoders/Pots: 8 — Faders: 8 — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes — Pedal Inputs: 1 x Sustain, 1 x Expression — MIDI I/O: In/Out/USB/iOS — USB: 1 x Type B — Computer Connectivity: USB — Software: VIP3.0 (free download) — Hardware Requirements - Mac: 1.25 GHz G4/G5 or Faster (Intel Recommended), 2GB RAM — Hardware Requirements - PC: 1.5 GHz Pentium 4 or Celeron CPU, 2GB RAM, Windows-compatible Sound Card — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.7 or Later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later — Power Supply: Bus Powered
Reasons To Buy:
+ Loaded with control options
+ Semi-weighted keys
+ Drum pads are top-notch
Reasons To Avoid:
- Aftertouch can be finicky
- Keys are a little narrow
The Akai Professional MPK261 is another very popular keyboard seen on many musicians’ studio desks. It’s easy to see why it’s heavily-used even just by looking at a picture of it, the thing is packed with control options.
In fact, there are a total of 24 assignable Q-Link controllers including 8 knobs, 8 faders, and 8 switches. On top of that, there’s 16 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads each with 4 banks. By the way, those pads work wonderfully, and they feel great to use.
The keybed on the MPK261 has a mixture of positives and negatives. The keys are semi-weighted which is always a plus, but they’re also awkwardly narrow. That’s not to say this keyboard feels awful to play, but some users might find it uncomfortable.
Additionally, there is Aftertouch featured on the MPK261 which is a welcome feature! Unfortunately, it can be a bit fussy. Sometimes you really have to slam on the keys to get the Aftertouch to work properly. This doesn’t happen frequently, but it’s worth bringing attention to it.
One last little gripe I have with the MPK261 is the fact that it’s only USB powered. It’s also a little heavy so I doubt you’d use this outside of the studio anyway.
Despite it’s minor shortcomings, the MPK261 really is tailored to suit the most serious of producers. The included software bundle is impressive, and DAW integration is virtually flawless.
The plethora of control options gives you the freedom to let your creativity shine. I could go on and on. There’s a reason why this keyboard continues to be an industry favorite.
Nektar Impact GX61
Type of Keys: Synth, full sized velocity sensitive — Other Controllers: Pitchbend, Modulation wheel (MIDI assignable) — Encoders/Pots: 1 x control knob (MIDI assignable) — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes — Pedal Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (MIDI assignable) —MIDI I/O: USB — USB: 1 x Type B — Software: Bitwig 8-Track — OS Requirements - Mac: Mac OS X 10.8.5 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later — Power Supply: USB bus powered
Reasons To Buy:
+ Very lightweight
Reasons To Avoid:
- Keys feel light
- No 5-pin MIDI connectivity
The Nektar Impact GX61 is a no frills, budget keyboard that’s perfect for those looking for a simple sidekick in their arsenal. You can easily take it on the road for live gigs due to its compact and lightweight (6lbs.) design.
Don’t judge it too quickly though, this thing still has some cool features to offer. There’s a mod wheel, potentiometer, pitch bend wheel, and 7 transport buttons with a secondary level for 14 MIDI controls. It’s a surprisingly versatile device considering its price point. This keyboard easily auto-maps to most DAWs as well.
The GX61 does have a few flaws worth pointing out though. The keybed is synth-action with full-size velocity sensitive keys. Therefore, it feels quite light to play. Honestly though, it’s a little hard to expect a super realistic feeling from a keyboard at this price range.
There are some folks out there who find this type of keybed more suitable to their tastes, so it’s up to you. On top of that, there isn’t a 5-pin MIDI I/O option on this keyboard which is a bummer. Again, a keyboard at this price point will always sacrifice certain features.
The GX61 is a fantastic option for those that are a bit more straightforward. It can be a great keyboard to learn on if you’re just getting started too.
I see this device as being a handy tool for anyone of all backgrounds though. When you consider it’s modest price tag, it’s hard to find a lot of major negatives with the GX61.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2
Type of Keys: Fatar Keybed semi-weighted — Aftertouch: Yes — Other Controllers: Pitch Wheel, Mod Wheel, Touch strip — Encoders/Pots: 8 x touch-sensitive knobs, 4-directional push encoder — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes (DAW dependent) — Pedal Inputs: 2 x 1/4" (expression, sustain) — MIDI I/O: In/Out/USB — USB: 1 x Type B
Software: Komplete Select, Komplete Kontrol (downloads) — Format: VST, AU, AAX — Hardware Requirements - Mac: Intel Core i5 or higher, 6GB RAM or more recommended — Hardware Requirements - PC: Intel Core i5 / AMD Quad Core or higher, 6GB RAM or more recommended — OS Requirements - Mac: MacOS 10.12 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 10 Anniversary Update or later — Power Supply: 15V DC power supply (sold separately) / USB Bus powered
Reasons To Buy:
+ Keyboard feels great to play
+ Intuitive design
+ Sturdy build quality
Reasons To Avoid:
- DAW integration can be a hassle
- Slightly expensive
Native Instruments has a deep-rooted reputation in the music world. They’re notorious for creating some of the best virtual instruments, and they’ve transferred that skill to physical hardware. The Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2 is a highly-intuitive MIDI controller keyboard equipped with the wonderfully satisfying Fatar keybed.
The keys are semi-weighted and are simply a delight to play. Also, those keys do have Aftertouch which works beautifully.
The bundled Komplete software that’s included with the S61 MK2 is bountiful and everything is high-quality. The build quality on this keyboard also deserves some praise, it’s a solid brick that feels very well put together.
Despite the long list of positives for this keyboard, it’s not without some downfalls. While there are a good amount of control options (9 knobs, 40 buttons, mod & pitch wheels) there aren’t any drum/sample pads. Not the end of the world, but it would’ve been a nice addition.
The S61 MK2 auto-maps to NI software and other hardware without any hiccups whatsoever. Unfortunately, it can be a huge hassle to get this keyboard to integrate with most other popular DAWs like Logic, Ableton Live, Cubase, etc. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but expect it to be complicated.
It’s hard not to see why NI’s keyboards hold such high regard. Their layout is well-thought-out, their quality is impeccable, and their performance is top-notch. The S61 MK2 checks all of these boxes and then some.
NI wanted to bring their expertise in virtual instrument development to life, and they certainly succeeded. I really believe that this keyboard deserves a spot in anyone’s studio setup.
Type of Keys: Synth Action— Aftertouch: Yes — Pads: 8 — Other Controllers: Pitch/Mod Lever — Encoders/Pots: 9 — Faders: 9 — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes — Pedal Inputs: 1 x Hold, 1 x Expression — MIDI I/O: In/Out/USB — USB: 1 x Type B — Software: Cakewalk — Hardware Requirements - Mac: Intel Core 2 Duo or higher, 1GB RAM or more recommended — Hardware Requirements - PC: Multicore processor, 1GB RAM or more recommended — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.6 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later — Power Supply: Bus Powered / AC Adapter
Reasons To Buy:
+ Good amount of control options
+ Keys feel amazing to play
+ Easy DAW integration
Reasons To Avoid:
- Questionable durability
- Aftertouch is insensitive
Roland is a brand that needs no introduction. They’ve been in the game for a very long time, and the A-800PRO lives up to the name. This keyboard is no stranger to control options with its total of 45 assorted knobs, sliders, buttons, transport controls, and faders.
There are also 8 Dynamic drum/sample pads as well as a pitch bend/modulation stick. The keybed is synth-action, velocity-sensitive and does come with Aftertouch.
Yet again, these keys feel a little light, but some people won’t mind this. Honestly though, the keys feel quite comfortable to play. The A-800PRO integrates very nicely with most of the popular DAWs. It’s just a very user friendly, pick-up-and-play type of device.
This keyboard is not devoid of some shortcomings. Almost every inch of this thing is made of plastic, which makes me question it’s ability to take a hit.
The motorized controls feel tight, and the keys aren’t fidgety, but it overall feels a little fragile. It’s a shame because it doesn’t weigh very much, so in an ideal world you could use it outside of the studio. I’m not convinced that would be a great idea though.
Moving on to the Aftertouch. Once again, you sometimes have to really use some force to get the Aftertouch to work right. It’s not a consistent problem, but it does show it’s ugly face from time to time.
The A-800PRO is an easy keyboard to like, despite it’s minor problems. It’s an all around convenient keyboard that has a lot to offer to both beginners and intermediates alike.
With a name like Roland behind it, you know you’re getting a device that’s truly designed with musicians in mind. The easy integration alone is enough for me to recommend this to any studio-buff.
It’s hard to beat the Arturia KeyLab MkII 61. It’s a well established keyboard with a host of features that are perfect for all types of musicians. It has all of the essentials when it comes to control options and functionality. It’s simply a device that works with you and your inspirations.
I can’t say enough about all of the options on this list though. These are all some of the most trusted keyboards in the industry. I hope this guide has provided you with some useful information on your search for a 61 key MIDI controller that’s right for you.