Best Weighted MIDI Keyboards for Pianists & DJs
If you can’t afford an acoustic piano or if you’re worried about the noise, a MIDI keyboard may be your only option. Luckily for you, the best weighted MIDI keyboards can offer a rather authentic experience for having a similar key resistance to the real thing.
You’ll also like the fact that MIDI keyboards can also serve as controllers for a wide range of music production software. Therefore, you could say that these aren’t just cheaper but also open up a realm of possibilities for your creativity.
7 Best Weighted MIDI Keyboards for Different Needs
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Weighted MIDI Keyboards for Different Needs
- Weighted vs. Semi-Weighted Keys
- Why Hammer Action is Just as Important as Weighted Keys
- How Many Keys Do You Need?
- Do You Want an Acoustic Piano-Like Experience or a Controller?
If you’re looking for an authentic piano feel, the M-Audio Hammer 88 weighted keyboard can be a good alternative to an expensive and unwieldy acoustic piano. This keyboard has 88 keys, which offer a great range when it comes to playing complex classical piece accurately.
All the keys have a hammer action and respond to the velocity of each hit as well. This means that you have more control over the volume and sustain of each note. These are all fundamental features if you’re looking to get more nuanced playing experience.
In terms of controls, the keyboard comes with modulation, octave controls, and a pitch bend. This will allow you to play more than just a few piano classics. In addition, the keyboard can be used with expression, sustain, and soft pedals. All of which are included.
I also like the list of recordings offered by the M-Audio Hammer 88 keyboard. You’ll find high-fidelity recordings of the AIR Mini Grand acoustic piano, the AIR Velvet electric piano, the AIR DB-33 organ, and the Sonivox Eighty Eight Ensemble acoustic piano.
For those who are not experienced players, the keyboard comes with a Skoove subscription. That’s an online interactive piano lessons platform that covers everything from beginner to advanced concepts.
Native Instruments may be better known for the electric guitar software series Guitar Rig, but you’ll be surprised by how high-end their MIDI keyboards are too. The MK2 keyboard is among Native Instruments’ S series of keyboards. It comes in 25, 49, 61, and 88-key models, all with hammer action and are fully weighted.
The feel of the Fatar keybeds is very nice and realistic as you would expect from an acoustic piano, but without the hassle of having to deal with a loud and large instrument. What’s also great about the MK2 is the fact that it comes pre-mapped for the Native Instruments Komplete software.
This software contains a wide range of plug-ins, instruments, and effects that you can use to personalize your sound and record any genre of music. Another nice touch is the inclusion of KOMPLETE 12 Select as well as MASCHINE Essentials. Both of which can be used as digital studios.
¼” TRS connections are built-in, which you can use for sustain pedals and expression pedals. Although you can use the MK2 keyboard to play classical piano pieces and work on your technique, you should understand that the keyboard also serves as a smart controller for all effects and virtual instruments in the Native Instruments software.
3. Alesis VI61
Another cool option for those looking for a nice weighted MIDI keyboard is the Alesis VI61. This one only has 61 hammer-action semi-weighted keys so it may not give you the most authentic piano feel. However, what it lacks in the number of keys it makes up for in smart features and support of virtual instruments and plug-ins.
For example, on the left side of the keyboard are 16 trigger pads with RGB feedback. If you’re looking to work on some beats, this will come in very handy. I also like that the keyboard features two MIDI outputs: USB MIDI and 5-pin MIDI. This will give you more flexibility when it comes to connectivity.
The pitch and modulation control is in the form of a wheel controller for greater accuracy.
The keyboard also comes with a premium software suite which includes Ableton Live Lite, Xpand!2, DB-33, Mini Grand, and Pro Tools. These are professional recording tools that will allow you to create impressive tunes in any genre.
4. Akai MPK249
The Akai MPK2 is a series of low-cost alternatives to digital pianos and fully-weighted keyboards. Among the models, the MPK249 is perhaps the best for those looking for a simple instrument to record with and control a variety of effects and plug-ins from the keyboard interface.
The semi-weighted keys have a nice feel to them and a very natural response. There are also 16 MPC-style pads with RGB lighting. Each pad gives access to 64 banks. This is quite the range as you can configure the 64 (total) pads for a variety of songs, samples, loops, and effects.
I also like the number of controls. Specifically, there are 24 Q-link controllers. These include faders, DAW controls, control knobs, switches, and everything else you need to control your recording software from the keyboard.
The MPK249 offers a hands-on experience but also emphasizes recording efficiency. Having two MIDI outputs is also highly useful and adds to its versatility.
Another highlight is the included professional production software tools like Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid 3, Snovox Twist 3.0, and of course, Akai Pro MPC Essentials. These programs will allow you to create almost anything you want from the comfort of your home.
My take on the Nektar Impact KX61 is that you would be hard-pressed to find too many superior models in its price range. The 61 weighted keys have a smooth synth action and the pitch and modulation control wheels are highly accurate.
The GX61 also comes with Nektar DAW integration, which is nothing to scoff at this price. For customization, you can use the 14 MIDI buttons that are all assignable to various effects, loops, instruments, depending on the software of choice. There’s native support for Bitwig, Cubase, FL Studio, and Logic, in addition to other highly popular production software.
The only thing obvious that this keyboard controller may be found wanting is the feel, as it won’t feel as authentic as other weighted MIDI keyboards. It makes up for it though in customization options. All in all, I’d recommend the Nektar to anyone who’s looking for a budget-friendly intermediate keyboard controller.
The M-Audio Keystation is a 61-key controller keyboard with very impressive features. The semi-weighted keys are slightly slimmer than those of a traditional piano but they have excellent velocity response. It’s possible to get a very familiar feel on the Keystation even if you’re a classically-trained pianist.
I also like the plug-and-play operation which doesn’t require an external power supply. You can also use the controller with iOS devices, although the required adapter is not provided. In terms of controls, the Keystation offers fader, transport, and directional buttons, as well as highly sensitive modulation and pitch wheels.
You can also add a sustain pedal and optimize it using the control interface or through the software. The keyboard is ready to use out of the box as it also comes with a premium software suite. You’ll get access to programs like Pro Tools, Ableton Live Lite, Velvet, and Hybrid 3, among others.
The Midiplus X6 Mini is one of my favorite weighted MIDI keyboards for its affordability and wide range of features. It has 61 fully-weighted keys and is powered by USB alone. This is a nice quality of life feature not found on all weighted key MIDI keyboards.
I also like the touch sensors for controlling the modulation and pitch. You also have a control that allows you to work octaves and transpose your work in different tunings. There’s a total of four customizable knobs on the X6 Mini. That may not seem like much but it should be more than enough for entry-level production and amateur recordings.
The keys don’t have aftertouch but they are velocity sensitive, which will give them a rather authentic feel. That’s not too bad considering they’re also slightly slimmer than regular piano keys.
Weighted vs. Semi-Weighted Keys
The main difference between weighted and semi-weighted keyboard keys has to do with resistance. For example, depressing a semi-weighted key should feel almost effortless. But since they depress so quickly, it also means that they usually have a harder time getting back up.
This makes it easy to play with regular techniques but it may make it more difficult to execute advanced techniques such as glissando. You may also find that semi-weighted keys don’t always allow you to perform quick repetitions.
Fully-weighted keys offer more resistance. Instead of a simple spring mechanism, fully-weighted keys are assembled with small weights underneath them. Those combined with the more powerful strings give the keys a more natural feel (compared to acoustic pianos) and will help you develop more endurance.
Why Hammer Action is Just as Important as Weighted Keys
A lot of people, especially beginners, tend to get caught up in the pros and cons of fully and semi-weighted keys. But there’s one more important aspect of keyboards if you’re going for extra authenticity. That’s the hammer action.
This means that along with the weights, the keys feature hammer mechanisms similar to those of a traditional piano. Furthermore, things are even better when scaled hammer action is used. This gives the bass notes more resistance than the treble notes, which is the way it is when you play on an acoustic piano.
There really aren’t any cons to hammer-action keys if you consider the similarity to an acoustic piano. If you’re a classically-trained pianist, they will feel very familiar. If you’re not but you wish to one day transition to playing the real thing, your prior practice on hammer-action keys can be invaluable.
How Many Keys Do You Need?
Believe it or not, you can play some pretty impressive tunes with even a 49-key MIDI keyboard. But there are only two models that you should consider: 61- and 88-key keyboards.
88-key keyboards will give you the most complete performance very close to that of playing a real piano. They’re even better when they have hammer action, aftertouch, and fast and accurate response to velocity.
61-key MIDI keyboards are also quite good. But you should know that most of them have slimmer keys than regular piano keys. So, even if a 61-key MIDI keyboard features hammer action and velocity-sensitive keys, those who have very big fingers might not find it the most authentic experience.
Do You Want an Acoustic Piano-Like Experience or a Controller?
This is where the opinions are split. Most classically-trained pianists will probably value 88-key fully-weighted MIDI keyboards above all else. Other artists and production specialists may probably put more value on customization features.
In the end, that’s really up to you. If you have tons of production software licenses, you may not want to pay for premium keyboards that charge extra for the software. You might better appreciate a keyboard that has multiple drum pads, multiple adjustable buttons and knobs, and so on.
Be Your Own Production Specialist
It should be clear by now that the MIDI keyboard market is saturated with good and bad options. As you can see from my selection, though, certain keyboard features are essential to getting the most out of the instrument.
As long as you stick to some form of weighted action, you’ll have more fun playing and learning different techniques. It comes down to figuring out exactly how authentic you want your experience to be and how much more besides playing piano you’re looking to do.