Top 5 Keyboard Controllers [Updated for 2023]

With so many virtual instruments available, musicians can shrink their studio setups down to a laptop and headphones or speakers. Whilst playing and recording from a tablet or phone screen is convenient, nothing can beat the expression and inspiration that a real keyboard gives you. Enter, the controller keyboard! Deciding which keyboard controller is right for you can be tricky. There are so many great options out there from brands such as Akai Professional, Arturia, Novation, M-Audio and Alesis. Our list of Top 5 Keyboard controllers is ready to help you decide.

What does a keyboard controller do?

Fundamentally, keyboard controllers are designed to connect to your computer, phone or tablet. They then allow the user to “control” the sounds of a virtual instrument on their device.

The majority of MIDI keyboard controllers don’t inherently produce sound on their own. They work in tandem with virtual instruments, telling them the note, the note velocity (how hard it’s played) and the note duration (how long it’s played for).

One of the best things about MIDI keyboard controllers is that they’re accessible. There’s a keyboard controller for all players and producers at any level of experience. They can range from a no-frills keyboard controller to a fully-fledged production toolkit!

Arturia – KeyLab MKII and KeyLab Essential

If you want a controller that provides unparalleled software integration, the KeyLab series by Arturia may be perfect for you!

Front facing image of Arturia Keylab MKI keyboard controller in White.

Like every other product that leaves Arturia HQ, the KeyLab series contains the perfect balance of form and function. When combined with Arturia’s V Collection or Analog Lab software, the KeyLab Essential and KeyLab MKII controllers become powerful production tools! All KeyLab keyboards feature a central control panel that allows you to quickly and easily scroll through your preset libraries and the encoders and faders just to the right are ready-mapped to parameters on Arturia’s virtual instrument plugins.

Arturia’s entry-level Essential range comes in 49, 61 and 88-key sizes, all of which feature the same transport and fader section and 8 drum pads.

Looking for a step up? The KeyLab MKII range offers a powerful DAW control section, twice as many drum pads, CV control (Eurorack owners rejoice!) as well as a stylish aluminium and wood casing. And as if that wasn’t everything, the 88-key model features a Fatar-designed weighted hammer action keybed.


The MPK (Music Production Keyboard) is our pick from AKAI’s range of midi controllers. Available in a range of formats, including the MPK249 (49-key), MPK225 (25-key), MPK Mini MK 3 and the newly announced MPK Mini Plus. Featuring genuine MPC pads, the MPK is a real heavyweight in the controller market and is just as effective in a live environment as it would be at home in your studio.


The MPK2 range series features a full-size, semi-weighted keybed available in 25, 49 and 61-key models and all of these feature AKAI’s famous MPC Swing, MPC Note Repeat and MPC Full Level functions.

Akai have created a large selection of DAW control presets to give you even more control over your entire session. These presets allow you to control the volume of individual tracks, start, stop and scroll through your project and start and stop tracks altogether (this is a really useful feature for live performers). 

The MPK is a truly unique controller, providing the user with a myriad of useful features. If you’ve previously used an MPC, you’ll know about their legendary pads and their inclusion on the MPK2 range is definitely a bonus!

M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3

If you’re looking for a no-frills, budget-friendly controller keyboard for your setup, look no further than the Keystation 88 MK3 by M-Audio!

The Keystation 88 is a perfect solution who those who need a lightweight and easy-to-use 88-key keyboard controller.

One of Keystation 88’s standout features is its lightweight and slimline construction, making it an ideal candidate for gigging musicians. M-Audio also include a copy of Ableton Live Lite, and MPC Beats, as well as a 3-month subscription to the piano learning platform Skoove.

If you’re looking for a full-sized controller keyboard but don’t particularly need it to control every function of your DAW, the Keystation 88 is a fantastic choice.


Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series

As one of the more stand-out controllers on account of its RGB colour-lit keybed and built-in screen, the S-Series controller keyboard definitely has a place in our top 5. Although the MK2 series of Native Instruments’ controller keyboards is just over five years old, they continue to be an uncontested favourite among producers, composers and musicians alike.

Much like Arturia’s Keylab keyboards, S-Series keyboards integrate seamlessly with Native Instruments’ own plugins and software (including but not limited to Komplete Kontrol, Massive, Maschine and Kontakt). Native Instruments’ newest controller keyboards now also work as a control surface for a number of .nks ready plugins which is a real plus for those who already own sound libraries from companies like Arturia, Spitfire, Korg and Output.

Pair everything we’ve mentioned above with the powerful session control functionality and you have a real production powerhouse! The built-in display on the S-Series keyboards was a big plus for us and is particularly useful if your keyboard isn’t positioned directly in front of your laptop or computer screen. Almost every parameter on .nks compatible plugins can be controlled directly from the keyboard, saving you from having to constantly grab your mouse to make adjustments within the software.

Novation Launchkey MK3

Novation’s Launchkey keyboards have always been a top pick for producers looking for a “jack-of-all-trades” controller keyboard. Nearly a decade after the launch of the 1st generation Launchkey keyboards, Novation continue to improve and update the range. 

As with other controllers in our lineup, the Launchkey Mk3 series is available in a range of sizes. There’s the compact 25-key model as well as full-sized 22, 37, 49, 61 and 88-key versions. The 37-key model is a real standout for us. It strikes a great balance, giving you enough keys to work with while remaining portable.

Common to all Launchkey controllers are 16 RGB drum pads, transport controls, a choice of either encoders or faders and a pitch and mod wheel. The Mini version features instead of wheels. All Launchkey models also feature out-of-the-box Ableton integration, comprehensive scale and chord modes and a smörgåsbord of included plugins. What’s not to love!?