When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was learn how to play the piano. And so, with a little bit of nagging and some persuasion, I was able to convince my parents to get me music lessons. Now if only convincing them to actually buy me a piano was that easy! As I grew older, I was able to afford a MIDI keyboard, and behold, here I am today.
Buying equipment for your home recording studio can be a challenge, especially if you’re a beginner and don’t know to start. Fortunately, a little bit of research and a bit of digging can help you arrive at the right product. And since I’m aware of how confusing all of this can be, I’ve written this detailed guide with some of my favorite picks. I understand that all this information can be overwhelming especially when you’re only a newbie but buying the wrong gear surely isn’t going to help.
What do you need to get started?
So before I jump into the technicalities, let me provide some light on what you’ll need to get started. If you’re a newbie and are determined to make your own music, you’re going to need the following: MIDI keyboard, a computer (or in some cases, an iPad or iPhone can also work) and a DAW which is basically a recording program. You’ll also need instruments plus microphones for vocals. (PS. check out my detailed guide of the best rapping microphones.)
List of the Best MIDI Keyboards for Beginners
Everything seems more complicated when you’re starting anew. Regardless of how things may seem right now, your home recording journey is about to turn a new leaf. Below are some of my tops favorite ones designed for beginners:
1. Alesis VI49 USB MIDI Keyboard & Drum Pad Controller
Till this date, this happens to be one of my favorite products. It comes with 49 full-sized keys that get the job done. The Alesis VI25 also features a number of knobs, buttons, and pads that will allow you to really take control of whatever music software you’re using. I also loved how versatile this product is, it includes Octave up/down buttons that enables musicians to expand the melodic range for various chords, melodies, and bass lines.
It also includes 16 pads that come in handy for finger drumming. The illuminating pads and LED offer stunning visual feedback. This makes the keyboards a joy to work with. Plus, it’s not too pricy and performs pretty well compared to other high-end keyboards in the market. As far as the construction is concerned, the product is pretty sturdy and does not feel cheap. That is definitely something I pay attention to when I’m buying gear for my home recording studio.
I was also quite impressed by how integration becomes a breeze. This is especially great for newbies who are still learning their way. The VI49 with seamlessly integrate with just about any music software, allowing you to make music right away. Plus, the USB cable makes it possible for you to connect your gear to the computer in no time.
Here are some notable features of this product that are worth mentioning:
- 49-full-sized keys
- 16 assignable buttons and 48 assignable buttons that make it possible for you to amp up your sound by integrating music software
- Illuminated knobs and pads with stunning LED for great visual feedback
- A USB cable for seamless connectivity with a power adaptor
- Amazing audio digital workstation for beginners
2. Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
Usually, when it comes to shopping for equipment, you may have to compromise on quality when the price tag is low. But that doesn’t have to be the case with MPK Mini MKII. Not only is this product great for beginners but it also happens to be incredibly functional for folks who travel a lot, owing to its portable size. This amazing product lets you take control, compose and record some of your best tracks yet using virtual instruments.
The seamless plug-and-play feature makes it incredibly convenient to use this product. It doesn’t require you to download software drives and can be powered using a simple USB cable. This makes the Mini MKII a prime choice for people who are always on the go. I personally loved how despite its low price tag, the Mini MKII packs a punch with all of its impressive features. It showcases Hybrid 3, a high-definition synthesizer that drastically improves sound, giving you enhanced manipulation capabilities while recording.
It also features SONiVOX Wobble, a music grime synthesizer that further improves the sound by providing harmonic controls. I tell you, it’s almost unusual to get so much out of a simple purchase, even if you have a large budget!
Some notable features that I’d like to highlight about this product:
- Incredibly portable design, great for people who are always on the move
- Four memory banks that allow users to store software/hardware
- Works without an external power adapter
- Instant-recall thanks to the four memory banks
3. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Controller Keyboard
Making music should be about finding your passion and all that other stuff you see in the movies. Point it, like most creative processes, it should be fun, especially when you’re a newbie. For all you beginners who don’t want to work with complicated gear, the Komplete Kontrol A61 is a good choice. The semi-weighted keyboard is not only responsive, but it includes practically everything you’d want from your purchase.
Despite its affordable price tag, the keyboard offers sturdy pitch which makes it easier to add modulation and bends. It also features a number of buttons that you can use to play/pause, adjust tempo, record and much more. I also liked how the keyboard doesn’t need a power adapter – all you need is a USB cable. This further increases the portability of the device since you can practically use it wherever you want.
I have used this gear for quite some time and I’ve been quite impressed by its quality. It includes an Easy Mode for beginners to map white keys to whatever scale you’d prefer.
Here are some notable features of this product:
- USB powered for added convenience
- Streamlined keyboard controller, perfect for mixing and creating beats with all kinds of virtual instruments
- 8 control knobs that are also touch sensitive
- Streamlined body for added portability and convenience
4. M-Audio Keystation 61MK3
So technically, this keyboard is great for both beginners and rising talent who want to make it big. It includes a range of fantastic tools that are sure to enhance your performance while allowing you to experience the most immersive band session you’ve ever had. My buddy Mike owns this baby, and he’s had it for a while now. I really liked the ergonomic design with all the buttons and knobs positioned right where it out to be. It also includes a sustain pedal input if you’re looking for a piano style sustain experience.
Now for the most exciting bit: the MK3 comes loaded with virtual instruments with tons of e-piano sounds. You can expect this keyboard to completely change the way you make music. Whether you’re recording, editing, remixing or improvising, the Keystation 61MK3 will do it all.
It also includes a trial version for educational software namely Skoove and Melodics. Beginners can use this to hone their skills, but I personally believe that it would be beneficial for just about anybody. Also, the 2GB sample library is also worth raving about. I mostly used this keyboard for playing some chords and input notes. It does what it needs to and you can also get a different variant of the product with fewer keys.
On the downside, you may have some problems with the USB hub, I would suggest using different cables.
Here are a couple of things I liked about this product:
- Includes 61 keys – yes that’s quite a lot so only get it if you need that many keys
- Semi-weighted keys for a great performance
- Plug-and-play model for added convenience
- Users don’t have to install any additional drivers or software for this keyboard
- Is also compatible with iOS devices but you’ll have to invest in the right cable separately
5. Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller
This is another keyboard that I highly recommend for newbies and beginners. Owing to its portable size, the LaunchKey Mini is a fun, plug and play product that will get the job done. It features 16 taps on the top that can be used for playing beats and launching clips. The pads illuminate once the clips are loaded. It also includes eight knobs that you can conveniently use to tweak instruments.
Above all, I really like how portable and easy to use this keyboard is. Yes, it may not include high-end features but it’s a good way to get started. Once you get your hands on these, you can experiment with a more expensive product after you have gained some experience.
Like the other equipment, the Lunchkey Mini does not require you to install extra software. Simply plug it to your computer using a USB cable and you’re good to go. It is also compatible with iPads if you use a Camera Connection Kit. It may seem like a basic keyboard but it contains everything you could possibly need to get started including 4GB Loopmasters samples.
Some notable features of this product include:
- Super lightweight and compact design
- Constructed for Ableton Live, this means that all the controls are intuitively laid down
- 16 multi-colored pads
6. IK Multimedia iRig Keys Pro full-sized 37-key MIDI controller
By its name, you can probably tell that iRig is best suited for your iPhone and iPads, though you can also use it for PCs. First off, let me just go ahead and say this: I LOVE how this keyboard looks. It features full-sized keys that are a beauty to work with. Above all, it’s great for beginners since it does not feature too many buttons and knobs. This makes the iRig the perfect choice for newbies.
While this product may look small, it is packed with tons of cool features that will enhance performance and recording sessions. It includes a massive software library so that you can work with all kinds of sounds. You can also connect it to some of your favorite apps, making the iRigs a spectacular choice if you’re someone who plans on using their phone a lot. It’s also quite suitable for people who are always on the go.
While I definitely would not recommend this to experienced folks (you’re better off with a keyboard with more features), this is still great for beginners.
Here are some features that I really liked about this product:
- Incredibly portable design – great for folks who are always on the go
- Contains just the right number of functions and features for a beginner
- Includes connection cables
- Has four buttons, pitch bend wheel and mini potentiometer
7. Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless
Experience convenience like never before with the LPK25 Wireless. That’s right, you read it right, this magical product is wireless which means you won’t have to worry about pesky cables and tangled wires. The LPK25 does a spectacular job in combining keyboard functionality with good old fashioned portability. You can easily fit this baby in your laptop bag or in your backpack. Weighing less than 1lb, this product is specifically designed to empower mobile performers and producers.
The plug-and-play can be fuelled right into action the minute you plug it in. You can use the Arpeggiator mode to turn ordinary chords into complex and exciting music phrases. Best of all, it doesn’t require MIDI cords so that’s one less thing to worry about. You can also use this product to produce music on your iPad using your favorite apps. Because of its portability, the LPK25 can quickly become a stellar addition to your wireless workstation. I don’t usually purchase wireless equipment, but I was happy to try out this one since it was reasonably priced.
If your device does not support Bluetooth MIDI, you can use a number of MIDI utility apps to get connection. Midimittr is an app that can be used for this process.
Here are a couple of notable features of the LPK25 Wireless:
- 4-way thumbstick for brilliant dynamic modulation and pitch
- Compact, USB powered tool that will allow you to create music anywhere
- Includes production software package for added ease and convenience
8. Nektar Impact LX25+
Last but not the least, the Nektar Impact LX25+ is definitely something you might want to get your hands on. The 25 note keyboard offers just the right amount of action for newbies. I personally loved how the product features full-sized keys that are covered to protect it against dirt and dust. It also features 4 octave and transpose buttons that drastically improve playing style. Use these buttons to make changes while you’re playing your favorite beats. I also liked how each control is totally programmable. Things become easier once you add DAW integration into the mix. And just like any other MIDI keyboard, it comprises of 8 pads that make finger drumming possible. It also includes a Pad Learn feature. This makes it possible for you to assign sounds to each pad without losing your settings.
I was also quite impressed by the mixer control. It includes numerous features that will give you better control over your music. Overall, this is a great equipment to work with especially if you’re a beginner. It comprises of just the right number of functions and features without overwhelming newbies.
As for the size, it is pretty standard and won’t overcrowd your room. This is definitely an advantage when investing in home recording equipment.
Here are some notable features of this product that are worth mentioning:
- 8 backlit pads for better functionality
- Device is compatible with PC, Mac and iOS
- 25 synth-action keys
Factors to Consider When Purchasing Your First MIDI Keyboard
As a newbie, you probably don’t want your money to go to waste (heck, nobody wants that!). To prevent you from having an unpleasant experience, here are some factors you should consider before making your final purchase.
I can’t stress enough on the importance of quality drivers. Usually when purchasing home recording equipment or practically anything at all, buyers have a rough time focusing on anything apart from how the product looks. Yes, the exterior of the product is incredibly important, you obviously don’t want anything that’s too flimsy. But in this, the driver and internal software need to functional too. A substandard driver can lead to several problems, resulting in intermittent connections and instability. And nobody wants that when they’re recording or performing the next big thing, you might also want to read up on mixing.
This is why I highly suggest that you only invest in reputable brands and manufacturers. Inspect their website carefully also read multiple customer reviews to learn more about the product in general.
Type of Key Action
You can typically choose from three key actions when making your purchase. Here’s a rundown on each one:
- Synth: These keys kinda feel like electronic organs. It offers a lighter spring load and thus can move quickly. This makes the keys move back to their resting position much faster.
- Semi-weighted: Now, you’ve probably heard of this one before. These keys offer less resistance than weighted hammer keys. It is the most popular kind in the market.
- Weighted Hammer: Now these keys mimic the performance of an acoustic piano. These keyboards do not feature a string, instead manufacturers use a variety of other methods to add weight.
Since this post is designed for beginners, I tried to make sure that none of the products here were too extravagant or pricey. Budget is definitely an important factor to consider when you’re buying home recording equipment but at the same time, you wouldn’t want to completely cheap out. If you can’t afford something at the moment, consider shopping at sales or buy a used/preloved version of the same product.
This is definitely a better option than investing in something that just isn’t going to last.
If you’ve just begun your journey then I’m assuming you’re recording at home (and because this website is for home-recording enthusiasts – don’t say I don’t know my core audience!). Don’t forget to take the size of the product into account before making a purchase. If you have a small space or travel a lot, you will be better off with a compact design.
Rest assured, plenty of manufacturers have started offering compact MIDI keyboards. While focusing on size, you may also want to invest in a keyboard that’s ergonomic. If space is not a problem, you may invest in a bigger product.
Well, that’s the whole point of investing in a MIDI keyboard anyway, right? Even if you’re a beginner, you will definitely benefit from a product that offers a wide range of precise controls. This will give you the flexibility to tweak sounds. Envision your digital workspace in mind when you’re buying gear. Ask yourself, will you be needing sliders, knobs and pads? If yes, ask yourself how many you’ll be needing each.
While most equipment on the market can work with practically any DAW, there can be a few exceptions. Also, if you want the keyboard to be able to map the sliders and knobs automatically to the DAW, you may have to invest in specific controllers.
While reading up reviews and product descriptions, make sure you pay attention to the compatibility along with any specific considerations for the device.
I know there’s a lot of stuff to take in and plenty of terminologies to read up on but it will definitely be worth it at the end. I hope this detailed guide has provided you with plenty of information on the recommended products that a beginner should buy. Please drop in your comments about your favorite products.
Is there something that I’ve missed out on? Let me know and I’ll be happy to get back to you.