Best Keyboard for Music Production – Top 10

This is our review of the best keyboard for music production in 2021.

best keyboard for music production

I am a firm believer that every home studio needs a keyboard controller as a vital component. It becomes the link to creating a faster workflow and allows you to get your creative ideas down fast. Even if you are not a piano player your music production will greatly benefit from a MIDI keyboard. 

I have been a home music producer for about 17 years and in that time I have always had a keyboard as the center of my production workflow. My wife is also an accomplished pianist and music teacher so we worked together to give you our recommendation for the best keyboard for music production. 

We broke this up into 2 categories. Best mini keyboards and best piano keyboards. Our favourite mini keyboard is the Akai MPK Mini Mk3. Our recommendation for the best piano keyboard is the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2

Alright! Let’s jump into it.

Top Picks for Best Keyboard for Music Production

  1. Akai MPK Mini Mk3 – Best Mini Keyboard
  2. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 – Best Piano Keyboard
  3. Arturia MiniLab 25 MkII – Best Overall Value Keyboard
  4. M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 – Best DAW Integration

5 Best Mini Keyboards for Music Production

Need space and portability? Well here is my list of the top mini keyboards for your home studio. 

Akai MPK Mini Mk3

  • Keys – 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys
  • Connection – USB, sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs
  • Controls – 8 velocity-sensitive beat pads, 8 mappable knobs, an arpeggiator, a 4-way thumbstick for pitch and modulation control, and octave control.
  • Software – Comes with Complete Music Production Starter Kit that includes MPC Beats DAW, 6 instruments and 1500+ sound library. 

The Akai MPK Mini Mk3 is probably the best all-around mini keyboard. In fact, it is the #1 seller on Amazon for music production keyboards. If you want to get ideas down fast without messing around with software, then this keyboard is your go-to. 

Having said that, the MPK mini has a lot of features that you can use to control parameters in your virtual instruments and your DAW. It is simple to map samples to the drum pads and record your beats. You can assign parameters to the knobs for control of things like cut-off and LFO speeds in your virtual instruments. You can even assign the joystick to control things like expression and dynamics to create amazing orchestra arrangements. 

The only problem I have with it is the size of the keys. I have big hands and so it is a bit cumbersome to play on the mini keys. This is true for all the mini keys though.

All of this is packed into a tight little package that can easily fit into a backpack. I find it useful on my desk at home as well as sitting on a bed in a hotel room. It is also USB powered, so no need to tote around extra cables.


Arturia MiniLab 25 Mk2

  • Keys – 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys
  • Connection – USB, sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs, integrates with Ableton Live 10 
  • Controls – 8 velocity-sensitive beat pads with RGB, 16 programmable knobs (2 that are integrated with the Analog Lab software, pitch bend and modulation strips
  • Software – Comes with Analog Lab Lite. Analog Lab Lite is a collection of 500 synth presets made to model popular analog synths. Also included is Ableton Live Lite and UVI Grand Piano Model D

Arturia is a builder of great keyboards. Their analog gear is amazing. It is no wonder that they are on this list for MIDI controllers as well. 

The MiniLab 25 MkII is a sturdy little powerhouse. It has much of the same functionality as the MPK. It is missing an arpeggiator though. It is USB powered and very small so it is easily portable in a backpack. 

The thing that sets it apart is the software that is included. Analog Lab Lite is full of sounds from Arturia’s V-Collection. These are meticulously modelled after genuine analog hardware and they sound phenomenal. This truly turns this MIDI controller into a hybrid synth in its own right. 


Novation Launchkey Mini MK3

  • Keys – 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys
  • Connection – USB, MIDI Out (3.5mm MIDI port), sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs,  integrates with Ableton Live 10
  • Controls – 16 RGB velocity-sensitive “Launch” pads, 8 assignable knobs and 1 assignable fader. Pitch and modulation strips, transport section, and arpeggiator and octave selection
  • Software – Ableton Live Lite, 2 months of Splice membership, AAS Session Bundle, Softube Time & Tone, Spitfire Audio LABS – Expressive Strings instrument, Klevgrand DAW Cassette and R0Verb, XLN Audio Addictive Keys

Novation is best known for its Launchpad. There are thousands of videos online of people using this device to trigger samples and perform cover songs. Well, Novation took the Launchpad idea and made it into a great little MIDI keyboard controller. 

The Launchkey Mini MK3 has 16 of the signature launch pads that you can colour code to make it easy to remember what samples are where. This is still a great keyboard for using in a live situation. 

Previous versions of this keyboard were a bit large for the mini keyboard market. The Launchkey Mini MK3 has been totally redesigned to have maximum playability within the framework of a mini keyboard that can be tucked in a backpack. This is important because the key factor for choosing a mini keyboard is portability. 

The Launchkey Mini MK3 was made to be integrated with Ableton Live. It is seamless and gives you great control. Having said that, it is perfectly happy working in any other DAW. 


M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV

  • Keys – 25 velocity-sensitive synth keys
  • Connection – USB, sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs
  • Controls – 8 assignable knobs, 8 velocity-sensitive pads, 1 assignable fader, transport controls and track-up and -down buttons, octave 
  • Software – Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX TWIST, AIR Music Tech Xpand!2, Pro Tools First Download, Touch Loops

So I actually owned an earlier version of this keyboard and it was great. It has full-sized synth keys which are nicer for playability, but sacrifices portability. This is definitely one of the larger keyboards in this class. 

The M-Audio Oxygen 25 IV is a solid controller with all the functionality you will need to control virtual instruments and your DAW. The addition of 1 assignable fader is perfect for expression and dynamics automation. 

The Oxygen line of keyboards are still some of the best keyboards for music production because they integrate into most DAWs quite easily. For the user, this means that you can plug in and use it right away to get your ideas down. Assigning functions to the knobs and pads is simple as well. 

If you are willing to sacrifice portability then this would be a great option for you. If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, I would recommend the M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 which we will discuss later. 


Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25

  • Keys – 25 semi-weighted keys
  • Connection – USB, foot pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs, integrates into NI Komplete Instruments and NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) plugins
  • Controls – 8 assignable knobs, transport control, OLED display, pitch and mod wheels, integrated control of MACHINE Essentials, octave control, 4-directional push encoder
  • Software – MACHINE Essentials, NI instruments MONARK, THE GENTLEMAN, REAKTOR PRISM, SCARBEE MARK I, Komplete Kontrol software, Ableton Live 10 LITE

This is a beautiful-looking keyboard and the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 is a powerhouse packed into a small space. It has full-sized keys and a huge mod and pitch wheel. For these 2 reasons, the A25 is the largest of the mini keyboards. 

Again, you will have to be OK sacrificing portability with this keyboard, but it will save you desk space when compared to larger keyboards. What it lacks in portability, it makes up for in functionality. 

The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25 has to be on a list for the best keyboard for music production as this keyboard is loaded with control features. Not only does it work as a MIDI controller but it is also integrated into NI Komplete Instruments and NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) plugins. They are some of the best plugins on the market. 

This is also the keyboard that feels the best from a player’s perspective. The keys are larger and weighted better than all the rest. So even though it’s not as portable as the others, the features make it worth mentioning on this list. 


5 Best Piano Keyboards for Music Production

For a little more control and a better playing experience. Although there are a lot of piano keyboards out there, not all of them integrate well with a DAW.  In this section, I have listed my top picks for piano keyboards that are ready for your DAW. 

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2

  • Keys – 88-key hammer-action Fatar keybed with true piano feel
  • Connection – USB, MIDI In/Out, 2 pedal inputs
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs, integrates into NI Komplete Instruments and NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) plugins
  • Controls – 8 assignable knobs, transport control, pitch and mod wheels, assignable touch-sensitive strip, 2 high-res colour displays, 4-directional push encoder, light guide on the keyboard, integrated control of MACHINE
  • Software – MACHINE Essentials, KOMPLETE 13 SELECT including, Massive, Monark, Drumlab, The Gentleman Piano, Discovery Series West Africa, Scarbee Mark 1 and Rickenbacker Bass, Vintage Organs, Reactor Prism, Retro Machines, Hybrid Keys, Ethereal Earth, Effects include Raum, Phasis, Replika, Solid Bus Comp, also includes Kontakt and Reactor players

This is my absolute favourite keyboard on this list. The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2 is the perfect combination of a real piano feel and the functionality of a top-notch controller. It seriously is the best of both worlds.

Like the A25 above, the S88 works as a MIDI controller but it is also integrated into NI Komplete Instruments and NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) plugins. There are a ton of sounds and instruments that come bundled. More than any other on this list. Because of this, it is like a hybrid between a workstation and a controller. 

Playing this keyboard feels like playing a real piano. There is a lot of dynamics and the keys feel substantial. I really like the LEDs above the keybed. I’m not a great pianist so I find them helpful. You can set the key and the scale lights up. It’s really easy to see what notes are in the scale. 

It is worth the money to buy this keyboard. It will become the hub of your workflow, even if you aren’t a piano expert. 


Novation Launchkey 61 MK3

  • Keys – 61 velocity-sensitive synth keys
  • Connection – USB, MIDI Out (5 pin connector), sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs, integrates into Ableton Live 10
  • Controls – 16 RGB velocity-sensitive “Launch” pads, 8 assignable knobs and 9 assignable faders. Pitch and modulation wheels, DAW transport section, and arpeggiator and octave selection, chord and scale modes
  • Software – Ableton Live Lite, 2 months of Splice membership, AAS Session Bundle, Softube Time & Tone, Spitfire Audio LABS – Expressive Strings instrument, Klevgrand DAW Cassette and R0Verb, XLN Audio Addictive Keys

The Novation Launchkey 61 MK3 is the biggest brother to the Launchkey Mini discussed earlier. It has all the same functionality as the smaller one with a keybed of 61 full-sized synth keys. 

This keyboard is not as nice to play as the others in this category but it makes up for that by integrating into most Daws seamlessly. There are no drivers to set up. If you are using Ableton Live, it will instantly control everything you need it to. 

The other bonus to this keyboard is that it is USB-bus powered. No need for another power cable. It also comes with a nice little software bundle and in my opinion, this makes up for the lower playability. 


Arturia KeyLab MKII 61

  • Keys – 61 semi-weighted keys with velocity and aftertouch
  • Connection – MIDI in & out, USB, sustain pedal, expression pedal, Aux footswitch, and breath controller
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs, integrates into Ableton Live 10
  • Controls – 2 clickable encoders, 6 transport switches, 1 modulation wheel, 1 pitch bend wheel, two banks of 10 encoders, 9 sliders, 1 volume encoder, 10 assignable switches and 16 backlit pads with velocity- and pressure-sensitivity
  • Software – Analog Lab with 6000 synth sounds, Ableton Live 10 Lite

One of the things that set the Arturia KeyLab 61 MkII apart from the rest is the build quality. This instrument feels solid and is equally at home in your studio as it is on stage. It is nice looking too, with the aluminum body and nice wood trimming. 

Another reason that this keyboard excels is that with a push of a button you can change modes from Analog Lab to DAW to USER. This means you can choose from a list of 6000 presets from Analog Lab and then when you want to control the DAW just choose DAW. This gives you control over transport and most other functions. 

If you like to mix your tracks with physical faders then you can assign the mixer faders to the faders on the keyboard. 

The keyboard is a hybrid system between a great synth and a controller. 


AKAI Professional MPK249

  • Keys – 49 semi-weighted, full-size keys. Velocity-sensitive and aftertouch
  • Connection – USB, 5-pin MIDI input & output, 1 expression pedal, 1 assignable pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs
  • Controls – 16 pressure- and velocity-sensitive beat pads, 8 control knobs, 8 faders, 8 backlit switches, octave control, arpeggiator, pitch and modulation, transport and parameter controls, 
  • Software – Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and Akai Pro MPC Essentials

One of the standout features of the Akai Professional MPK249 is the pads. This keyboard has 16 MPC pads that are very sensitive to the strength you hit them with. I think these pads are probably the best you can get. They are totally programmable and you can colour each one differently to remember where each sample is. The playability is amazing and you can capture human-like drums. 

The unit also has a great little DAW control section where you pull up plugins and select different tracks. Very handy for playing live and for recording. 

The keyboard plays very nicely. The keys are velocity-sensitive and have aftertouch for a realistic playing experience. This makes the Akai Professional MPK249 a great keyboard for music production and also a great keyboard for a live rig. 


M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61

  • Keys – 61 velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
  • Connection – USB, 5-pin MIDI Output, sustain pedal
  • Compatability – Universally compatible with all major DAWs
  • Controls – 16 velocity-sensitive pads, 8 assignable knobs, 9 assignable faders, DAW transport control, pitch and modulation wheels, arpeggiator, chord and scale mode, octave control
  • Software – Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition, Ableton Live Lite, AIR Music’s Hybrid 3.0, Velvet, Mini Grand, Vacuum Classic, Boom and DB-33 Tonewheel Organ

When you look at the list of functions for the M-Audio Oxygen Pro 61 you see a similar list to many of the keyboards on the market. So why is it on this list?

First, M-Audio has fitted the keyboard with what they call Auto-Mapping. This is an amazing feature that allows you to select your DAW from a menu and the keyboard will automatically map all the control functions to the corresponding control in your DAW. They have support for all the major DAWs as well. This alone gives it ranking among the top best keyboard for music production. 

The second reason is the keybed. This keyboard plays phenomenally well for the price. It even outperforms keyboards at a higher price point. This gives it superior playability. 

Those 2 reasons give the user the ability to plug in and start laying down musical ideas right away. Meanwhile having the ability to control your DAW.  Something we all want out of a controller.


Guide to Buying a Keyboard for Music Production

When choosing a keyboard for music production we need to consider a few different factors before making our purchase. 

What to look for in keyboards

The best keyboards for music production fall into several categories that will be influenced mainly by your preferences. Are you a piano player or not? Do you need portability or not? These are some of the questions that will drive your decision and here are the factors to look for.

Number of Keys

Keyboards are first categorized by the number of keys they have. Mini keyboards are 25 keys and are made to be portable. Throw them in a backpack and produce anywhere. 

Piano players love a full keyboard at 88 keys. Not as portable, but they offer the feeling of playing an actual piano which can be very important for piano players. 

Typically MIDI keyboards come in 4 sizes; 25, 49, 61, and 88 keys. There are, however, some variants that have 32 or 76 keys. 

If you are producing at home you want to consider the space that you have available for a keyboard. 

Many producers like the option of playing with two hands so they opt for a keyboard with 49 or more keys. 

Size of the Keys

There are 2 categories of key sizes for keyboards. Within these 2 distinctions are a lot of variations. 

Mini keys are found on the 25, 32 and sometimes the 49 key versions. Typically they are almost half the length of a piano key and about ⅔ of the width. These make the whole build a lot smaller and portable. They also take up less space on your desk. 

I am a guitar player who knows a little piano, so I am happy with a 25 or 49 key keyboard. I opted for a 25 key because of space constraints and it serves my purpose. I do have large hands so the small keys can be cumbersome at times. 

The other category is the standard size keys. Typically, they are the same length as a full piano and the same width, with some variations of both in different manufacturers. My wife is a trained piano player so she needs the standard sizing to get the right feel. Much of her training uses techniques based on standard-sized keys. 

The Weight of the Keys

The weight of the keys means the amount of pressure that is needed to push the key down. There is resistance when you press it down in real pianos because there is a mechanism involved that moves a hammer that strikes the strings. 

In keyboards, this weighted feel is mimicked or is ignored completely. Some keyboards have a semi-weighted or fully weighted keyboard. These are found in the larger keyboards with 61 – 88 keys. 

Piano players love the feel of the weighted keys because it resembles a natural feel of a piano. Many brands are constantly upgrading their key weight to get as close to natural as possible for the piano purists. 

Synths on the other hand have a non-weighted key and feel very different. They are made to model analogue synths. Most MIDI keyboards have this key weighting, especially the portable 25 key versions. 

Pads, Faders and Knobs

Now we are getting into a little more control and fine-tuning. These are controls that are added to MIDI keyboards to control various functions within the DAW and Virtual Instrument. 

Pads, or drum pads, are velocity-sensitive pads that you can trigger drum samples and play your drum parts with your hands. In fact, you can use them to trigger any sample you just have to set it up. 

Faders can be set up to the individual tracks and you can have yourself a mini mixing console. If you produce cinematic music, the faders are essential in giving you the ability to modulate the expression and dynamic controls of virtual orchestras. This gives a more human sound to your instruments. 

Knobs can be mapped to your synth plugin and be used to control the ASDR (attack, sustain, decay, and resonance) of your synth. Virtually any parameter in your synth can be mapped to your knobs for fine-tuning. 

It really depends on your workflow as to how much of these things you want to include in your keyboard. 

Extra Software

Most new MIDI keyboards come with a free version of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), so if you don’t have one yet you will be able to try one out. 

You can possibly get some free synth plugins or sample libraries, so if you are into collecting plugins this is a bonus. 

A lot of keyboards will have some kind of software that allows you to configure the settings of the keyboard to interface with your DAW. This is important and can save you a lot of time.  

FAQ

Here are some answers to common questions about keyboards for music production. 

How to Connect a MIDI Keyboard?

Most MIDI keyboards these days are plug-and-play. They have a USB connection that you plug into your computer. Voila!

If your keyboard has a 5-pin MIDI cable connection, then you have to use a MIDI cable to plug into your Audio Interface and then the audio interface plugs into your computer. 

Do producers use MIDI keyboards?

Most music producers use a MIDI keyboard even if they have a wide variety of analogue gear. They use the MIDI keyboard to control the software synths and other virtual instruments.

Do I need a keyboard for my studio?

YES. If you are going to be using any kind of virtual instrument it is really helpful to have a keyboard to control it. They save time.

Where To Learn Electronic Music Production?

Start with our guide to EDM Music Production. After that, there are so many resources online tailored to your specific genre. 

Our Verdict

Creating a workflow that maximizes efficiency while boosting your creativity is important for music production. Having the best keyboard for music production is one link in this chain. 

If portability is your thing because you produce in a variety of environments then a mini keyboard is the way to go. We recommend the Akai MPK Mini MK3

If playability and control are what you need for producing then a piano keyboard will be your go-to. We recommend the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2.