The 4 most important MIDI controllers

MIDI controllers are an indispensable part of many producers’ workflows.

While you can get started with music production without one, musicians across genres enjoy using them to brainstorm, perform, and capture their ideas. Because they output MIDI rather than (or in addition to) audio, you can retrospectively tweak or reimagine your melodies and grooves within the DAW – which is both convenient and incredibly powerful. Below, we highlight four particularly impactful MIDI controllers that have made their mark across bedroom and studio setups alike.

1. AKAI Professional MPK Mini

AKAI’s MPK Mini is a versatile series of MIDI controllers that have established themselves as a staple in the world of music production. Their standout features include a four-way joystick, easy-to-use arpeggiator, and the built-in sounds and speaker (specifically available in the Mini Play model). The MPK Mini’s highly compact design, sleek red-and-black aesthetic, and budget price point ($100 – $150) all make these controllers a popular choice for both beginners and seasoned pros.

2. Arturia MiniLab MkII

Arturia’s MiniLab MkII is a popular controller that strikes the balance between portability, power, and practicality. Its compact but feature-packed design, array of supplementary virtual instruments and production software (including Analog Lab Lite, Ableton Live Lite, and Grand Piano Model D), and budget price point (~$129) allow musicians across skill levels to access and explore their creativity.

3. Novation Launchpad

Perhaps the first popular 64-pad controller, the Novation Launchpad drove a wave of new finger drumming techniques that involved remixing and mashing up popular songs. It also proved the value of having a higher number of pads, and arguably paved the way for Ableton’s Push controllers.

There are a few different models within the Launchpad line, with the Launchpad Mini going for as low as ~$100. What’s more, the Mini, X, and Pro all also coming with two months of free access to Splice Sounds.

4. Seaboard RISE

Last but not least, the Seaboard RISE revolutionized the concept of a controller by adding the ability for MPE through its unique material and pressure-sensitive keys. It’s really a magical experience the first time you sustain a chord and use the pressure sensitivity – while it’s unfortunately significantly more expensive than the former two entries, there’s no other product like it.

What are your favorite MIDI controllers? Do you use any of the ones we mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below!

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March 16, 2021

Nick Chen Content Marketing @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer, performer, and educator under the aliases "nickthechen" and "Enix."