The 88 key MIDI controller is the largest available. This is a keyboard that was created for musicians who usually are skilled pianists who want to have more keys. A lot of MIDI controllers are smaller keyboards such as; 25, 49, and 61 keys.
- 1 Quick Glance At The Best 88 Key Controllers
- 2 Best 88 MIDI Controller Keyboards 2020
- 3 Arturia Keylab MKII 88 – Overall Best
- 3.1 Akai MPK Road 88
- 3.2 Studiologic SL88 Studio
- 3.3 Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 Keyboard
- 3.4 Arturia KeyLab 88
- 3.5 Alesis Q88
- 3.6 Studiologic Numa Compact 2
- 4 Commonly Asked Questions
- 4.0.1 Why Choose 88 Keys?
- 4.0.2 Drum Pads
- 4.0.3 Key-Bed
- 4.0.4 Hammer Graded Action Key-Bed
- 4.0.5 Faders
- 4.0.6 88 Key MIDI Keyboard As First Instrument?
- 4.0.7 What DAW Should I Use With My 88 Key Controller?
- 4.0.8 Bundled Software
- 4.0.9 Type Of Stand?
- 4.0.10 What’s The Benefit Of Using An 88 Key MIDI Controller?
- 4.0.11 Do 88 Key MIDI Keyboards Have Internal Sounds?
- 4.0.12 88 Key Controllers VS 61 Key Controllers
- 5 Conclusion
Quick Glance At The Best 88 Key Controllers
The Roland A-88 is Roland's brand new controller that has been streamlined for Ableton Live.
Native Instruments makes some of favorite products for music production. The Komplete Kontrol 88 is an expensive, but solid option.
88 key MIDI controllers are meant for the musician who wants to have the freedom to play more. You don’t typically need all 88 keys for a controller, however, I prefer to have all 88 keys myself.
In short, it all comes down to preference. Music producers probably don’t need all of the keys, whereas live musicians might want to have more keys.
What To Look For In An 88 Key MIDI Keyboard
A lot of the controllers that have 88 keys surprisingly don’t have weighted keys. This is mainly because controllers aren’t really meant to be played as just a piano.
They are meant for the musician to access a bunch of different sounds of their liking. I will mention the keyboards with weighted keys, but just keep in mind that a lot of MIDI keyboards won’t have them.
Some of the controllers will have more features than others. One of these features will be trigger pads. These are common in smaller controllers and drum pads. You can use these pads to trigger parts and to write in percussion parts and beats.
This is a feature that a lot of keyboards have in general. What this does is allows you to split your keyboard into different zones. For example, you can layer in a subby bass on your left hand and have your right hand play a lead. The killers do things like this a lot in their recordings and I personally love it.
If you are looking for a MIDI controller, I recommend checking out my guide to sustain pedals. These are pedals that work great with controllers.
These are the controls that are on your keyboard that allow you to speed up your work process. For example, they are the buttons that your “stop, play, record, or pause.” This makes it so you can do it right on your device and not have to use your computer. I like these just because they really do speed up your workflow.
Aftertouch And Mod Wheels/Sliders
Aftertouch is not on every controller. I personally love aftertouch and think it’s one of the more popular features as it allows you to use way more dynamics when playing. Mod wheels are usually present on 88 key controllers.
These are fun and you can use these to map portamento or any other kind of effect you would like to have.
The Bluetooth MIDI world hasn’t made its way into the 88 key MIDI controllers yet. For now, you will need MIDI or a USB cable to connect to your computer or laptop. The nice thing is that USB also powers your instrument making it so you don’t always need to have a separate power source.
Alternatives To The 88 Key MIDI Controller
Okay, so say you don’t want a cheap feeling keyboard, but still want to have access to all of the sounds from your laptop. Simple. Get a nice digital piano or keyboard workstation that has MIDI. Almost all new keyboards have the MIDI capability now.
Keep in mind, you won’t get as many features, however, you will be able to access all your sounds and have a nice feeling keyboard bed.
I personally use a Roland Fantom FA 08 as a MIDI controller when I tour. I use this because it also has 16 trigger pads that I can use to switch all of my sounds directly on my keyboard. This makes it so I never have to run back and forth from my laptop to my keyboard unless there’s a serious problem.
You can basically use any keyboard that has MIDI capability on it as a MIDI device. I personally think MIDI is truly the way of the future. There’s just way too many sounds and features for any hardware synthesizer to compete with.
Are you looking for a case for your keyboard? Here are some 88 key keyboard cases I recommend.
Best 88 MIDI Controller Keyboards 2020
It has 8 drum pads that you can assign to different parameters as well as use for beats. This is actually a pretty popular 88 key MIDI controller because of the price and its basic functionality just being pretty solid.
You won’t have a ton of problems using this as the MIDI technology has been greatly improved from its predecessor.
Keys: 88 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys
Zones: Can map 3 different zones at the same time. This means to split your keyboard with 3 different sounds
Pads: 8 velocity-sensitive pads that are colored
Auto Mapping: You can map this to the following: Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Garage Band, Logic, Reaper, Reason, Sonar and Studio One.
Power: USB Powered
Weight: 18 pounds
My overall thoughts on the Nektar Impact LX88+ are that it’s currently one of the better 88 key MIDI keyboards you can purchase. Solid pad functionality and an overall lightweight frame give way to a great controller.
Arturia Keylab MKII 88 – Overall Best
The Arturia Keylab MKII 88 is brand new and to be honest, I was really waiting for this to come out. I’ve been talking about the original Keylab 88 now for years and how much I liked it. The reality is that there aren’t a ton of up to date quality 88 key controllers, until now.
I believe the Arturia Keylab MKII 88 is the perfect 88 key controller that musicians have been waiting for. A big reason why the Keylab series has always been great is that the keyboards themselves are extremely durable.
For gear heads, The Keylab MKII 88 comes with your traditional 5-pin DIN in and out connectors as well as four CV outputs plus a CV input which allows you to send pitch, gate, and two modulation sources to whatever analog gear you’re working with.
I believe that this and the Akai MPK Road88 have the best key-beds for 88 key MIDI keyboards currently.
Durability with this keyboard is top-notch, however, the Keylab MKII only weighs 32 pounds.
The pads are pretty forgiving, which is a nice surprise.
Key-Bed: Fatar TP/100LR
Drum Pads: 16 RGB lit pads
Pitch Bend: Yes
USB: Type B
MIDI I/O: Yes
CV I/O: Yes
Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab
Weight: 32.4 Pounds
The popular opinion is also my opinion, this keyboard is great in all areas. It works perfectly for touring as it’s lightweight and it also works amazing for studios.
Akai MPK Road 88
Akai recently released the MPK Road 88 and it is really a fantastic keyboard. They did something different than what they typically do and took away all of its pads. The reason that they did this was to give it a very simple and sleek design.
You can read my full review on the MPK Road 88 here.
In my review above, I break down why I like this product so much. In short, it’s a great controller for live music.
The Studiologic SL88 MIDI keyboard has some of the best keys on an 88 key MIDI controller. The first thing that comes to mind is that it has 88 fully-weighted fatar keys.
I was surprised when playing on this because the keys feel really realistic for a controller.
The keys are great, yes, but there are some serious functionality problems if you want to map it with MIDI. This isn’t a deal breaker, but I sometimes had problems pairing it with different DAW’s. I noticed other people haven’t had this problem so it could be I have a faulty product.
I like this keyboard, I just wish the MIDI functionality was a little bit better. If it had this it would be one of the better 88 key controllers on the market. If you need something simple and not something with a ton of features, this is a great pick since it has the weighted keys.
Keys: 88 fully-weighted keys
Zones: You can map up to 4 zones at once
Auto-map: Not available
Power: 9V DC
Weighted: 23.5 pounds
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 is Native Instruments newest controller. I am so torn on Native Instruments MIDI controllers. In theory, they should be the best on the market.
However, the MIDI functionality really holds them back in my eyes. I know a lot of musicians have gotten frustrated with their sync ability.
This controller is the successor to the first 88 key
I believe because this controller is so powerful, a lot of users who use it just don’t have strong enough computers. In turn, they complain that the keyboard isn’t very good when they just don’t read the requirements.
The big plus is it has fully weighted keys that feel quite real. It also is loaded with a ton of nice features that overall do things other controllers can’t do. It has two LCD screens that work well and look top-notch.
I like this keyboard. I like that it has aftertouch and some of the other features you would expect for the price. On paper, this controller has the most features, it’s just about getting them to work the best with your DAW. If you’re using laptops or MAC’s, you will need to upgrade them or you will have software problems when trying to use it.
Keys: 88 fully-weighted fatar keys
Software: KOMPLETE 12 SELECT and MASCHINE Essentials
Pitch Bend: Yes
Mod Wheel: Yes
Transport Controls: Yes
LCD Screen: Yes, 2 of them
The Arturia KeyLab 88 is a great controller that has really nice functionality. I used this keyboard for a month straight while in the studio for one of our albums. I was blown away by the durability and structure of it. It really feels like it’s well constructed and doesn’t feel cheap at all.
I know this on the older side for a MIDI controller, but it works exceptionally well. Although it’s older, it still has aftertouch and 16 backlit pads that are velocity-sensitive. This isn’t a weighted key keyboard and it looks like it would be. This has left some users not very happy, however, if you understand this before you get it, you will be happy.
I think this is a solid 88 key MIDI controller, however, there will be another new one coming I would bet shortly.
Keys: 88 keys that are velocity-sensitive
Pads: 16 back-lit pads that are velocity-sensitive
Auto-map: Auto-maps to Keylab, you need to custom map it with other software
Power: USB powered
Weight: 32.4 pounds
I have always been a big fan of Alesis keyboards. The Alesis Q88 is an older, but nicer controller, especially for the price.
It has pitch and mod wheels that are a little bit more on the cheaper side feeling wise. It comes with all of the basic features that you want from an 88 key MIDI controller and has good MIDI functionality.
I think overall this is a solid MIDI keyboard. It doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but it has all of the basic needs. It’s lacking in aftertouch and in weighted keys and that to me is something I wish it had.
Weighted Keys: No
Octave Buttons: Yes
Software: Includes Ableton Lite Live
Pitch Bend: Yes
Mod Wheel: Yes
My Experience With 88 Key MIDI Controllers
I’ve been playing MIDI controllers now for over 6 years. I have been playing in a band where I use a controller for our live performance day in and day out. It has always been really fun to dive into these keyboards for me as there is just so much that you can do with them.
All of the products that I list on here are ones that I think are better than the ones I didn’t list. There aren’t a ton of great looks for 88 key controllers yet, but I think in the future we will see some come out.
The Studiologic Numa Compact 2 is the more affordable version of the Komplete Kontrol 2. I say this because it has aftertouch. It’s very rare to find aftertouch on an 88 key controller, so this definitely a big win for Studiologic.
I have to say that this doesn’t have weighted keys. It only has semi-weighted keys so that could be a problem depending on what you’re looking for.
If weighted keys aren’t a make or break deal, then you will be happy with the Numa Compact 2.
Not having weighted keys could be a problem, however, you are getting aftertouch. It’s one of the few 88 key keyboards that has aftertouch, so you kinda have to take a loss with a win. Overall, I think this is a good controller that works well with a lot of DAW’s.
- Aftertouch: Yes
- Weighted keys: Semi-weighted
- Octave buttons: Yes
- Speakers: Yes
Commonly Asked Questions
Why Choose 88 Keys?
Musicians who want 88 keys are typically going to be people who have some experience with keyboards. I say this because you don’t really need 88 keys on a controller.
If you’ve been playing keyboards for some time and you think you will use more than 49 keys and 61 keys consistently, then 88 keys would make perfect sense. However, if you’re a guitarist or play a different instrument, you don’t need to break the bank and get 88 keys.
Pads can be music producers go-to when it comes to laying down beats or working with fun samples. Something to note here is that samples are pretty much dominating modern music production today.
Companies like Splice and Output have changed the producing game as you can grab amazing sounding samples and place them into your music. When you use sample pads, you can mess with the rhythms of certain samples to make the samples more unique.
When you go to Splice, you will find thousands of samples that you can take advantage of. You might even start to recognize certain drum sounds and synth sounds as a lot of current music uses them.
So why would people use these samples if other people are? They sound that good, and they’re not to the point where they’re being completely overused YET. A lot of the samples there are put there by synthesizer experts and professional music producers. The sounds that they are able to create are often better than what you’re average producer can.
So, the question is, do you need pads for an 88 key MIDI keyboard? My honest answer is, no. If you think that you will take advantage of them, then get the Arturia Keylab MKII and have fun.
Once you start to understand everything that pads can do, you will find yourself always wanting to play controllers that have the pads. The setup that I run for live shows relies on using pads to switch between my synth sounds.
You can switch synth sounds, trigger samples, play drum beats and even launch backing tracks from your pads.
The key-bed is for some people a make or break type of deal. However, MIDI keyboards are far different than digital pianos. If you’re a jazz or classical pianist not looking to do music production, you probably won’t love MIDI keyboards key-beds. The reason being they’re just not as nice as digital pianos because their purpose is entirely different.
This is where musicians run into problems. They expect an amazing key-bed, amazing pads, and tons of other features/ software. You can get this, but you will spending a ton of money for it. You should decide what’s most important for what you’re trying to accomplish.
When I play MIDI keyboards, I go into it knowing that most of the key-beds will only be semi-weighted and synth-action. Since I go in with this mentality, it doesn’t bother me at all. If i really want to play just piano, I’ll play on a real piano or a digital piano.
So, what are they? They combine synth-action key-beds with hammer action key-beds. This means you get the spring loaded action of the synth-action key-bed and the light weights that are attached on the hammer action key-beds.
One of the keyboards that I own is an older Yamaha model and it is semi-weighted. Do I think the action is incredible? No. However, this does not stop me from writing 95 percent of the music that I create on it.
I have much nicer keyboards, but I use them for touring. At the end of the day, you can go crazy over what the best keyboard is, however, that’s not going to make you a great player.
If you go with a semi-weighted keyboard, you can still become a phenomenal keyboard player and musician. You can always upgrade as well. When it comes to 88 key MIDI keyboards, I don’t believe the key-bed should be your main concern.
Hammer Graded Action Key-Bed
These are the most revered key-beds in the industry. They closely resemble the action and feel of an acoustic piano by using a lever system rather than spring system.
What this does is returns the key back to its original positioning. A big problem some musicians have with semi-weighted key-beds is that they don’t feel natural in the way the keys return. I agree with this, however, I still have fun whether it’s the best key-bed in the world or the worst.
If you’re someone who obsesses over the key-bed, then I would say to go with the Arturia Keylab MKII for an 88 key MIDI keyboard. You will most likely find this to your liking.
If you’re one who is hands on, you will probably enjoy faders. These allow you to adjust volumes and other parameters directly from your MIDI keyboard. Most people who enjoy controllers typically enjoy faders. It just allows you to have a better work flow from you keyboard rather than your laptop.
Some faders come motorized, which means that can adjust themselves, however, I’ve seen people have a lot of issues when using these. I think in the future this could be cool, but I’m not sure the technology is 100 percent there just yet.
88 Key MIDI Keyboard As First Instrument?
Sure, why not? However, I wouldn’t recommend this. Most 88 key keyboards have MIDI in and out and can be used as MIDI controllers. Because of this, I would recommend getting a new, but cheap digital piano as your first instrument.
The Roland FP-10 is currently my favorite option for beginners as the key-bed is top-notch for the price range. You can also run it as a MIDI controller.
The main reason I don’t recommend an 88 key MIDI keyboard as your first instrument is that it might just confuse you. I think it would be better to start to learn the instrument before you start diving into music production. With this being said, if you’re ambitious and you think this will help you get into it more, then do it.
I’ve found that a lot of people tend to do almost too much research to the point where they waste a few months before making a decision. To me, that’s a few months where you could be practicing and getting hands on, rather than reading reviews.
I’m not saying to just buy something to buy it, but I am saying that if you do a little research and then just go for something, even if you end up not thinking it’s the most amazing keyboard ever, you will still be learning. To this day, I still have one my first keyboard set up in my basement and I play it from time to time. It’s non-weighted and very dated, but it still gets the job done 100 percent.
What DAW Should I Use With My 88 Key Controller?
This is a solid question. I recommend that you eventually purchase a DAW, however, in the beginning, you can totally use a free DAW. If you are thinking, what’s a free daw? The answer is, a free digital audio workstation. Essentially, this will be your command center. You will be using these to access sounds and to record.
My advice is to decide on one and then stick to the same one as they all will be a little bit different. Try and master whichever one you choose.
Here are the best free DAW’s currently available.
Ableton Live Lite is a perfect choice for beginners, however, you only will be able to use a certain amount of tracks since it’s free.
MIDI keyboards definitely have a learning curve, so be sure to dive in and start learning right away. The more comfortable you get using a DAW, the further along you will get as a music producer and songwriter.
What Not To Do
The biggest mistake is to keep jumping from free DAW to free DAW. If you find something you really enjoy, purchase the full version and dive in and start to learn it inside and out. Learning how to use one really well is far more important than being a novice at a few different ones.
Try not to procrastinate when trying to decide on a DAW. Hook your keyboard up and start watching youtube tutorials. You will be surprised at how easily you can start to get a hang of it. More and more musicians are starting to learn how to use DAW’s as they are totally the future of music.
Picking an 88 key MIDI controller that has a lot of bundled software is always smart. The good thing is that most of the controllers in this article have some bundled software. The software will range from VST’s, all the way to free DAW’s.
Take advantage of all VST’s you come across as you never know when a certain synth sound is going to be perfect for the next song that you’re working on.
I personally think that the bundled software that comes with controllers if often overlooked as well. When you add up the price of all of these VST’s, you will find that you’re saving hundreds of dollars when getting free software.
Type Of Stand?
The stand isn’t really important when it comes to controllers as there’s not much of a difference between a digital piano and a MIDI controller. I recommend just getting a cheap keyboard stand as it won’t really matter too much.
What’s The Benefit Of Using An 88 Key MIDI Controller?
Honestly, there are a lot of benefits that you get from using controllers overall. If you are someone who hates the sound of most digital pianos, controllers eliminate that problem. In my personal opinion, VST’s sound better than a lot of the stock pianos found on digital pianos.
Do 88 Key MIDI Keyboards Have Internal Sounds?
Most of them do not. Most MIDI controllers are USB powered and they zero internal sounds. In order to access sounds, you will need to download a DAW of some sort. This process sounds confusing, but it’s really not.
Another thing to note is that most controllers don’t have speakers. This means you will need monitors, an amp or a set of headphones to hear your sounds.
Personally, I love using headphones when I’m playing as it allows me to just tune out the world and dive into whatever sounds I’m creating.
88 Key Controllers VS 61 Key Controllers
Typically, 61 key controllers will have more pads, faders and controls in general. However, there are a couple 88 key controllers that I have highlighted above, such as the Arturia Keylab MkII 88.
You can get a better key-bed on an 88 key controller as you can find weighted keys, whereas, 61 key controllers don’t have weighted key-beds.
I hope you enjoyed this article on 88 key controllers. If you found it helpful in any way or if you didn’t, let me know in the comments below. If an 88 key controller just isn’t for you, you can try a smaller one as well.