The 5 Best 61 key MIDI Controller Keyboards [2022 Buyer’s Guide]

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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.

61 key MIDI controllers are the perfect middle ground between 49 keys and 88 keys. 61 keys gives you 5 octaves to move around on, and you still get plenty of control options to boot.

In this article, we’ll talk about all of the factors worth considering before buying a 61 key MIDI controller. After that, I’ll give you my favorite options on the market today to help you make a sound decision on a new keyboard for your home studio setup.

Quick Picks

ImageProductScorePrice
TOP PICK
Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII
Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII

Type of Keys: Semi-weighted — Aftertouch: Yes — Pads: 16 x Back-lit RGB Performance Pads — Other Controllers: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel — Encoders/Pots: 9 — Faders: 9

9.6
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RUNNER-UP
AKAI Professional MPK261
AKAI Professional MPK261

Type of Keys: Semi-weighted — Aftertouch: Yes — Pads: 16 — Other Controllers: 8 x Assignable Buttons, Mod, Pitch Wheels — Encoders/Pots: 8 — Faders: 8

9.5
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BUDGET PICK
Nektar Impact GX61
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

9.4
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UPGRADE PICK
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2
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)

9.7
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WELL-ROUNDED
Roland A-800PRO
Roland A-800PRO

Type of Keys: Synth Action— Aftertouch: Yes — Pads: 8 — Other Controllers: Pitch/Mod Lever — Encoders/Pots: 9 — Faders: 9 — Dedicated Transport Control: Yes

9
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Is 61 Keys Enough?

Well, the short answer is yes. 61 keys is plenty big enough for composing intricate chord progressions. Moreover, with the right amount of onboard control options, you can still use the device for quick beat-making tasks as well.

One could argue that 61 key MIDI controllers are the most versatile key count on the market. They’re not as big as a full-size keyboard, and they give you more range than a 25 key or 49 key option.

They are still pretty big though, and that’s something you need to take into account. Take note of the rest of the equipment in your studio and the size of your studio desk. Now, ask yourself if you can even fit a 61 key MIDI controller in your studio setup.

If so, then you’re golden.

Planning For The Future

I always say that when buying new gear, you should think down the road first. Think about where you think you’ll be with your productions in 12 to 18 months.

Do you see yourself actively making music, taking courses, and improving your piano skills?

If so, then buying a 61 key MIDI keyboard will likely be a decision you’ll be happy with. Or, if you’re plans exceed what a 61 key device offers, then go for a full-sized keyboard instead.

If you think that life will get in the way and you’re not sure where you’ll be in a year and a half, then purchasing such an expensive device might leave you with buyer’s regret.

Once you’ve asked yourself that question, then you’ll have a better idea of what your future intentions are.

Now I believe it’s time for us to move on to the buyer’s guide.

Factors To Consider Before Purchasing A 61 Key MIDI Controller

If you want to learn more about this topic as a whole, then head over to my Ultimate Guide to MIDI Controller Keyboards!

In the meantime, we will focus on 61 key MIDI controllers specifically.

Type Of Keys

The weight of the keys themselves plays a huge role in how the MIDI keyboard will feel when you’re playing it. In this case, most 61 key MIDI controllers will come with either synth-action keys or semi-weighted keys.

Synth-action keys have a very “light” feel to them. They are very responsive and have low resistance. Synth-action keys are the most common key weight that you’ll find among MIDI keyboards, which is both a good and bad thing.

Beginners will love the way these keys feel. Their responsiveness is easy to learn on and is very forgiving during the learning process.

Intermediate players know exactly what they’re getting with synth-action keys, and their probably used to them at this point.

All that said, synth-action keys tend to be more flimsy than weighted keys. The only thing keeping them together is a spring-loaded design. Also, veteran piano players will surely find synth-action keys to be uncomfortable to play on.

Semi-weighted keys exist somewhere between synth-action and fully-weighted MIDI keyboards. They do still have a spring-loaded design, but there is a little weight added into the mix.

Semi-weighted keys are the certainly more sought after among producers, especially ones that are more experienced keyboardists. They provide a closer replication to the way an acoustic piano feels.

Typically speaking, MIDI keyboards with semi-weighted keys are more expensive, but it’s a worthwhile trade off in my opinion.

Drum Pads

The next factor to consider is the amount of drum pads that are included on the interface of a 61 key MIDI controller. While it’s true that the keys themselves are the star of the show on a MIDI keyboard, having onboard drum pads are a great way to fuel your creativity.

Drum pads are tactile buttons that you can map sounds and samples to. When you press on the pads, the sounds you have mapped to them will be reproduced.

I always say that the more drum pads, the better. 61 key MIDI controllers will typically come with at least 8 pads, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a device that has 16 or more.

Alternatively, you can get a separate dedicated MIDI drum pad controller.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with adding both on your list of studio gear either.

Transport Controls

Transport controls are simple buttons that handle all of your play, stop, pause, and record functions.

These are 100% necessary on any 61 key MIDI controller. Why, you ask?

Well, having dedicated transport controls give you the ability to control basic functions in your DAW without having to look up from your keyboard. We all know how important it is to limit disruptions in the studio.

Other Control Options

There is a plethora of other onboard control options worth having on a 61 key MIDI controller keyboard.

Mod and pitch wheels are motorized controls that allow you to modulate and manipulate sounds on-the-fly. Most MIDI keyboards come with one of each by default.

Knobs are rotary controls that can be used to adjust volume levels, panning parameters, and even filter frequencies. You’ll typically find a minimum of 4 knobs included on the interface of a 61 key MIDI controller, but the more the merrier on this one.

Faders are mechanical controls that slide up and down on a track. You can use faders to control volume and EQ parameters. These are yet another standard control option that you don’t want to be without. a 61 key MIDI keyboard with 2 to 4 faders should suffice.

Extra buttons can be used for just about anything. Some MIDI controllers can be equipped with up to 16 of these miscellaneous buttons and you can map anything you want to them. You can use them to launch audio clips, turn on effects, or even attach a tape stop effect to them. The possibilities are endless.

The amount of controls you need is entirely up to you and what your plans are with your productions.

Like I said before, you can never have too many control options on a 61 key MIDI keyboard controller, so go crazy!

Integration

Most MIDI keyboards nowadays are made to be compatible with most of the major DAWs on the market. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t double-check that everything will work properly. Otherwise you’ll be spending half a day mapping everything to your DAW by hand.

It’s also true that some MIDI keyboards are made to integrate seamlessly with certain DAWs.

For example, a MIDI keyboard made for FL Studio will come preloaded with everything necessary to integrate with the software with no issues.

Another example is the line of MIDI keyboards for Ableton made by Novation. Those keyboards are made to be plug-and-play with Ableton Live.

Really though, this shouldn’t be an issue as long as you read the specifications of the keyboard carefully.


61 key MIDI Controller Keyboards List

I think we’ve covered all the bases here. Just keep everything we talked about in mind, and you’ll be ready to make a confident decision.

Now, let’s get into the list of my favorite 61 key MIDI controllers on the market today.


Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII

TOP PICK
9.6/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

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

+ Feature-rich

+ Fantastic DAW integration

Reasons To Avoid:

- Heavy

- Software licensing is a hassle

9.6out of 10

Key Feel9.7
Features9.8
Build Quality9.3

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

RUNNER-UP
9.5/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

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

9.5out of 10

Key Feel9.4
Features9.7
Build Quality9.5

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

BUDGET PICK
9.3/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

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:

+ Affordable

+ Very lightweight

+ Versatile

Reasons To Avoid:

- Keys feel light

- No 5-pin MIDI connectivity

9.3out of 10

Key Feel9.4
Features9.6
Build Quality9

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

UPGRADE PICK
9.7/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

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

9.2out of 10

Key Feel9.2
Features9.3
Build Quality9.2

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.


Roland A-800PRO

WELL-ROUNDED
9/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

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

9out of 10

Key Feel9.1
Features9
Build Quality8.8

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.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is 61 keys enough on a MIDI controller?

Yes, 61 keys is plenty good enough in most cases. With 5 octaves, you’re getting plenty of range to write intricate chord progressions with. That said, if you want to play even more complex arrangements, then a 61 key MIDI controller might be too limited. You might want to invest in a full-size 88 key MIDI controller instead.

Is it OK to learn piano on a 61 key keyboard?

Yes, you can learn piano on a 61 key keyboard. You’re only getting 5 octaves total though. If you want to learn the proper way with music theory in mind, then get yourself a full-size keyboard.

61 keys is certainly good enough for learning chord progressions for music production though, and you won’t be horribly limited with that amount of octaves at your disposal.

How many octaves are on a 61 key keyboard?

61 keys = 5 octaves.


Conclusion

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.  

Author
Jeremy Bongiorno
I have been a musician and producer for over 15 years. My goal is to provide reliable, honest information and hopefully help to improve the quality of life in your studio.

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