61-key MIDI keyboard controllers are the sweet spot between 49 keys and 88 keys. They are big enough to play complex and interesting parts with both hands, but small enough to be portable. In my years of touring, I’ve seen the 61 key MIDI keyboard used quite often. The reason being that musicians find 49 keys to just be a little too small for what they want to do.
Skip Ahead? My top pick is based on years of touring knowledge. I recommend the Nektar T6 controller.
61 key MIDI controllers are a great tool for music producers and touring musicians. They provide you with just enough keys and portability that you will be able to take advantage of. With these types of controllers, you will want to check the features and software that each one has.
If you want to get a good idea for MIDI controllers in general, check out my in-depth review here.
Best 61 Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers
Akai Professional MPK261
- All-in-one controller with keyboard and trigger pads for performing live and composing in studio
- 61 semi-weighted, full-size keys with pressure sensitivity
- 16 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads (64 assignable via 4 banks)
- 8 control knobs, 8 faders, and 8 switches (24 assignable each via 3 banks)
- Includes VIP - the ground-breaking, award-winning music software platform that provides musicians and composers with a powerful hands-on control solution for their virtual instrument and virtual effect collection
The Akai professional MPK series is easily the most used controller for touring bands. Almost every band that I have ever toured with had some sort of Akai MPK controller with them.
Akai was the company the invented pads as controllers. This should come as no surprise as they are known for having extremely expressive pads that feel better than every other controller’s pads.
I like the back-lit screen as it easy to read and just the right size.
Keys, Pads, Wheels
The key-bed is efficient for a MIDI controller, but the main thing here is that the MPK261 has aftertouch. This is the main reason why keyboard players like to use this instrument live. You can set the aftertouch to control things such as vibrato when doing a synth solo.
There are 16 touch-sensitive RGB illuminated MPC pads that are next-level. You can use these to launch samples or switch synths faster.
The pitch bend and modulation wheels are high-quality on this keyboard. You can find certain keyboards that have horribly made wheels or touch sliders, this is not one of them.
It has USB-MIDI with 5-pin MIDI input and output. It is powered by USB, so you never need an additional power source for it.
You get tons of bundled software with the MPK261. It includes Akai VIP3 synth pack, Ableton Live Lite, Sonivox, and Hybrid. This is a big selling point for the MPK261 as these are pretty high-quality.
I believe this is a great 61 key MIDI keyboard. You get great software, aftertouch, pads, and instant playability out of the box. This is also made with 49 keys, to view some 49 key controllers, click here.
Nektar Panorama T6 Keyboard Controller
- 61-key MIDI Controller Keyboard with Deep DAW and Virtual Instrument Control
- Expression and Sustain Pedal Jacks
- Pitch and Mod Wheels
I believe the Nektar controllers are highly underrated. They are a little bit more expensive typically but I do think they are impressive. The T6 is Nektar’s latest controller and I have to say, they really nailed it.
The Key-Bed, Pads & Faders
You will notice that many reviews on this keyboard are raving about the keys. They truly feel great when playing. There is just more quality here than with the other controllers. On top of this, the Panorama T6 has aftertouch and five velocity curves.
To read my full product review on the Panorama T6, click here.
As you will see from my product review above, I believe this is one of the better options. The price is actually extremely affordable as well.
Arturia Keylab MKii 61 Key MIDI keyboard
- 61-note MIDI Controller Keyboard with Aftertouch
- 5 Expression Control Inputs - Black
- 16 RGB Backlit Performance Pads
The Arturia Keylab MKii is Arturia’s latest controller and it is a good one. Arturia followed suit and came in hot with aftertouch on this keyboard. As you already know, I am a huge fan of this feature, as are the majority of musicians in the industry.
Key-bed- Pads, & Faders
I mentioned above that the Keylab MKii 61 comes with aftertouch. The key-bed is also very well built. You get 16 pads and 9 faders that are all built to industry standards.
To read my full review on the Arturia Keylab MKii, click here.
As mentioned above, the keys and aftertouch are the selling point here. Arturia is also the first brand of MIDI controllers that I purchased and thought to myself, “wow this feels like it was built well.” A lot of the times controllers can feel like and cheap, that’s not the case with Arturia products.
Main Things To Keep In Mind With 61 Key MIDI Controllers
The Keys & Key-Beds
Almost all keyboard controllers come with synth-action keys that are semi-weighted or just not weighted at all. This isn’t really a bad thing though. While you can use these to play piano, most of the time you will be using them for synth sounds. These don’t require weighted keys.
What’s most important in the keys is that they have aftertouch. This is what is primarily routed to control vibrato. The way it works is when MIDI data is sent once the key is pressed down.
Pads, Faders, Motorized Controls
Depending on what you’re doing, these will be very important. Typically, the more bells and whistles on your keyboard, the better. The whole purpose of MIDI controllers is to give the musician the freedom to create in as many ways possible.
I love to use pads on my controller as there’s such a wide variety of ways that you can use them in. You can use them to change your synth sound and you can also use them to lay down drum beats or trigger samples.
Faders are great because it’s just giving you more control at your fingertips. The more that you can do on your keyboard, the better.
Motorized controls are nice but quite rare. This just means that they adjust by themselves.
Does your keyboard come with any bundled software? Often times MIDI controllers will so I recommend trying to get one that does. This will save you money in the long run as you won’t have to purchase extra VST’s right away.
Some keyboards will come with DAW’s and VST’s as well. When companies do this, they’re saving you hundreds of dollars out of the gate.
It is my opinion that the more software included with your controller, the better. As a producer, you will constantly be searching for new synth packs and sounds.
Your Own Personal Needs
Some 61 key controllers will come with tons of bells and whistles and bundled software. These will typically cost a little bit more than the more stripped down options. If you’re just needing something to control MIDI with and lay down ideas, you may not need a bunch of pads and faders.
If you’re a serious producer or musician, getting something with more options will most likely benefit you in a lot of different ways. It all comes down to what you personally need as a musician.
If you think 61 keys might not be enough, check out my guide to 88 key MIDI controllers here.
Shopping Online VS Going Into Guitar Center
I have been going into Guitar Center for the last 10 years. I would say that in that amount of time, I have never talked to anyone in there that had any knowledge when it came to MIDI controllers.
When looking for new keyboards, your best bet is to do your research online and read reviews from the experts who play them all day long. Guitar Center is going to just try and sell you the most expensive instruments without explaining to you what makes them so great.
Most controllers are now auto-mapped, but back in the day, that wasn’t always the case. Having to go through and manually map certain parameters is confusing from DAW to DAW and just not fun.
The good news is that you can look and see which controllers are already auto-mapped and also see which DAW’s they work well with. Now, most of the nice controllers work well with all DAW’s, sometimes they work even better with certain ones as they were made specifically for them.
There’s a lot that goes into finding the right 61 key controller. Determining your needs and doing your research will go a long way. Don’t go into Guitar Center and rely on them to guide you to the right decision. Do your own research and make your own choice based off of your preferences.
Do you have a 61 key MIDI controller? What is your favorite one currently available? If you think I missed any that belong on this list, let me know in the comment section below!