Best 88 Note Midi Keyboards – Buyer’s Guide 2019

Best 88 Note Midi Keyboards – Buyer’s Guide 2019

02/11/2019 8 By Nigel

8 of The Best 88 Key Midi Keyboards – 2019

Most Midi keyboards and Midi keyboard controllers are designed to work with your DAW and soft-synth computer based software. The majority of these 88 note Midi keyboards do not have built-in sounds and cannot be used as a standalone synthesiser or piano keyboard. They are computer software controllers. However some, including the Arturia KeyLab, can be used as standalone customisable hardware Midi controllers with swappable hardware templates that you can use without a computer.

I have also included on this list the Studiologic Numa Compact 2 MIDI Keyboard which does have sounds and a 20 watt amplifier and speakers built-In.

One of the advantages of using a Midi Controller is having actual knobs and faders. With computer based DAWs you use simulations of knobs and faders and use a mouse to control them. Using real knobs and faders speeds up the recording process and therefore helps with creativity!

So here is my list of what I consider to be the best 8 – 88 note or key Midi controllers.



1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2:

88-note keyboard controller – Pro-grade Fatar keybed with aftertouch.

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The Native instruments Company:

Native Instruments is a leading manufacturer of hardware and computer software audio products. They were founded in 1996.

The main HQ is in Berlin. Native instruments employs around 500 people in their offices in LA, Toronto, Tokyo, London, Paris and Shenzhen.

For more info, visit the NI website: https://www.native-instruments.com

Customer Support:

The Native Instruments’ website offers some great customer support.

  • Account.
  • Install & Uninstall.
  • Software Help.
  • Hardware Help.
  • Learning – Helpful tips and tutorials for NI products and DAWs which includes integration for Live, Logic and other DAWs.

https://support.native-instruments.com/hc/en-us?_ga=2.229477276.1286066339.1571840487-508318291.1571840487

The Keyboard:

  • FATAR professional grand piano keyboard.
  • Fully weighted hammer action key-bed with aftertouch.
  • Light guides above each key illuminate to highlight drum cells, key switches, chords, scales and key splits.

FATAR:

Please click this link to get a full explanation on Wikipedia – FATAR -. Website – http://www.fatar.com/

Here are the highlights of the FATAR keyboard:

FATAR is an Italian supplier of high quality professional keyboards. Founded in 1956 by Lino Ragni. In 1989 the company patented its Hammer-action prototype. Today they produce their own brand “Studiologic” (on this list) and also supply Hammer-action keyboards to third party manufactures such as Native instruments.

FATAR released the Numa keyboard controller In 2008. This Numa keyboard (also on this list) is constructed entirely from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene this allows the user to define their own velocity curves.

Aftertouch:

The aftertouch modifies the sound when you apply pressure after pressing the key, hence “Aftertouch”.

Dynamic range:

The dynamic range of the keyboard is amazing. I can play really softly or loud and it response so well.

When you play the keyboard and just listen to it without sound coming from your speakers, the key-bed is so quiet, the sign of a top quality key-bed! I really like the feel of this key-bed, it’s just like playing an acoustic piano. It’s really responsive and it’s just a joy to play!

System Requirements:

OS: Windows 10 Intel Core i5 or equivalent
mac0S 10.12, 10.13 (latest update), Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM
RAM: 2GB
USB: USB 2.0 or higher the USB cable is included with the keyboard.
Graphic Card: Graphics card which supports OpenGL 2.1 or higher.

Two High-Resolution Colour Displays:

Picture of the Two High-Resolution Colour Displays:

All S series Native Instruments keyboards have two high-resolution colour displays on the keyboard’s top panel. The displays give a great visual indication when navigating presets and modifying the patches and sounds. The display can also be used as a mixer and connects directly with your DAW.

The Midi Control and Transport Control:

Picture of the DAW Transport Control

You can start and stop the Playback and the record of your DAW from the keyboard transport controls built into the front panel of the Midi keyboard. You can also control the tempo, metronome, and loops all for the panel in front of you while sitting at the S88 keyboard!

Navigating your DAW space is easy with the convenient Nav-Wheel on the righthand side of the main window panel. Overtime, and with a bit of practice, using these DAW controls on the keyboard itself means you don’t need to keep reaching for your computer mouse. You can just sit at your midi keyboard and create!

You can then add instruments from the control window and what’s really neat is you get a demo of the sound you are hunting for. Very nice touch that!

You can filter your selection into certain sound attributes. If you’re looking for a bass sound that has an analog sound to it, you can filter the list and just get analog bass sounds! As you scroll though the list you hear the sound of the instrument, you don’t need to press a key it will automatically give you a sample of the sound! Very useful!

You also have a ‘favourite list’ which makes choosing your patch very easy. I have sounds that just fit with the type of music I’m producing, I really like it when I can compile a list of those favourite sounds and label a folder to put them in!

Once you have the sound you require, press LOAD and there it is all ready for you to use. Hit the record button on the keyboards own transport section on the control panel and it will record to your DAW. You even get a QUANTISE button on the panel so you can lock the notes to the grid! Then if you want to record a filter, say a cut-off filter, just press the automation button and turn the filter control conveniently situated on the same control panel right there in front of you! No need to touch the DAW it’s all there on the panel!

If you want to record some synth pads on a new track, again don’t go for your computer mouse, no need, the keyboard has a switch that allows you to change the tracks on the DAW! Just click down or up on the encoder and the instrument track on your DAW will come into play!

Smart Play:

Picture of the Smart Play panel

This Native instruments S88 MK2 has ‘smart play’ installed. What is Smart Play? Well, it helps you play the right notes in the scale you are composing in. Just press the “SCALE Edit” key on the control pad and then the shift + scale to edit.

Let’s say the song is in the key of G minor, well we now need to set G as our root note. The main window on the control panel has a Scale parameter. Set the first parameter to the root note, in this case G. You can then set the Chord Mode – this sets the chord Set – the type – Min 1 – and the Position – Auto -. The great thing here is I can play any key and it will all sound good together!

Recording Effects:

Again you can use the knobs and controls on your keyboards panel to record different effects straight into your DAW!

The Light Guides:

Picture of the light guides

Every instrument uses the light guides in different ways. Say I want to add some sound effects to my mix. Well, when I switch to a arpeggio or rounds type effect the light guides illuminate to show me which keys represent the notes I can play. In this case with the rounds effect the turquoise keys represent the notes I can play and the pink lights represent the different sound settings I can switch to.

The light guides are really useful when using sample based orchestral instruments to indicate the right register for the instrument. For example, if you load-up a sample based brass ensemble the lights divide up the keyboard depending on the brass sounds register. So your Tubas will have red coloured guide lights above the keys down at the bottom end of your keyboard, then come the Trombones will be indicated by the yellow lights, then some Horns, green lights, then the Trumpets at the top with blue lights above the keys. Great stuff!

Light Guides for Your Scales:

The light guides are super useful in the scale mode in complete control. If I choose a scale, say D, then only the notes associated within that scale will light up! Really great if you are just starting out as a keyboard player!

The Mixer:

Picture of the Mixer panel

By pressing the ‘MIXER’ button you gain the ability to be able to mix your tracks from the instruments control panel! The panel knobs become volume controls, with a useful dB reading for each track on the display panel! You can also mute and solo from the control panel too!

Built in Drum Pads:

Yes I can even put this great midi controller into drum pad mode by turning on the “Key Mode!” As a keyboard player I really like this feature! I like to play my drum parts on my keyboard. Hi-Hats snares and toms all played on the key-bed! Great stuff!

What I liked:

The key-bed feels really great! The fully weighted FATAR keyboard is just like playing an acoustic piano. It’s really responsive and it’s just a joy to play!

I found the light guides really useful, especially on sample based orchestral instruments to keep them in the right register. Also in the scale mode for newbies.

The Native Instruments S88 delivers a great deal of value for the price. I think when you’re buying from Native instruments you are buying into the Native instruments universe of sounds and controls. This review is just for the S88 keyboard but you can buy the complete, or Komplete keyboard and software package. Click here to find out more about Komplete 12 Ultimate. This software offers an amazing 90,000+ sounds with 150+ products and 900GB of content!

What I didn’t Like:

The Native Instruments S series doesn’t give you as much control over you DAW as some other keyboards do such as the Arturia Keylab 88 MK2 (on this list).

Although I’m fine with using the key-bed as drum pads, I know some of you would prefer to have an area for real drum pads. Native instruments ‘Maschine’ pads are really great and it would have been nice if they would have included them on this flagship keyboard.

I would have liked some slider-faders in addition to knobs which other Midi keyboards have. I just feel it’s more ‘nature’ to use slider-faders when controlling volume and mixes.

Conclusions:

I personally really like the fantastic feel of the FATAR keyboard, and I have to say, that’s very important to me. The feel and responsiveness of a good key-bed is very important and this Native Instrument S88 gives me just that! Love it!

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2. Akai MPK Road 88:

Supplied with hard case – velocity-sensitive key action.

Picture of the Akai mpk road 88

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Akai MPK Road 88:

Akai Company:

Akai have been around since 1946 and I have had a lot of Akai kit in my various studios over the years. Still have in fact! This Japanese manufacturer of top quality professional audio equipment know what they are doing! Great company, always been great value for money, and I highly recommend them to the readers of The Home Recording Studio!

Akai MPK ROAD 88 has a Integrated Road Case:

Although this keyboard is not solely for studio use, I wanted to include it in my list of 88 note keyboards, because the key-bed itself is something very special!

The Akai MPK ‘ROAD’ (bit of a give-away name) 88 is housed in a rugged integrated road case. So, the whole keyboard is in a case. Now, if you want to gig with your computer and soft-synths this is for you. If you want a full DAW control studio keyboard, maybe not.

The Keyboard:

Picture of the Akai key-bed

As I said, I’ve included it because of the amazing 88-key velocity-sensitive graded hammer action key-bed with very expressive aftertouch. I really like the feel of this full-range hammer-action keyboard.

The Model-A premium, velocity-sensitive key-bed, was developed by Akai and it’s the only company that use it. The feel is truly sensational!

Very little Midi control:

The original MPK 88 had a lot of Midi control knobs and faders on the top of the keyboard, but with this Road 88 the controls have been removed to make it more of a road touring keyboard. You do still get a volume control a transpose set-up and preset buttons.

The Back Panel:

It has an interface built into the back of the keyboard. The Road 88 comes equipped with 4-outputs (2) 1/4” Main Outputs (2) 1/4” Aux Outputs and a USB integrated Soundcard. It has dual expression pedal inputs and a sustain pedal input, 5-pin MIDI-In and MIDI-Out ports and the industry standard USB port.

Software:

It comes with Akai VIP Pro, AIR DB-33 classic organ tones, AIR Velvet, for those great electric piano tones, and AIR Mini Grand which is a huge room filling piano patch. Very nice patch!

Pitch and Mod Wheels and a dedicated volume control and transpose functionality:

Picture of Pitch and Mod Wheels and a dedicated volume control, transpose functionality

There’s Pitch and Mod Wheels and a dedicated volume control, transpose functionality and split modes, preset up and down, and edit buttons all positioned with live performance in mind. It’s still useful in the studio, but other keyboards in this list have a lot more Midi control.

What I like:

I really like the amazing 88-key velocity-sensitive graded hammer action key-bed with very expressive aftertouch. If that’s something that’s more important to you than a Midi controller then I say, GO FOR IT!

Also, if you want a nice easy to set-up live touring midi keyboard and you have all your patches and sounds already to go, then because of the integrated hard case and great to play key-bed, it’s something you should seriously consider.

What I didn’t Like:

The mains adaptor recommended in the manual does not come with the keyboard, you are expected to buy everything you need separately.

If you want a keyboard that gives you full access to your DAW, this is not for you.

Conclusion:

Not much more to say on this Akai MPK ROAD 88, as I’ve said if you want a very special key-bed go for it, if you want a complete Midi controller, then keep reading the specifications on this list of the best 88 note Midi keyboards!

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3. Arturia Keylab 88 MK2:

Picture of the Arturia Keylab 88 MK2

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Arturia Keylab 88 MKII.

Arturia Company:

The Arturia company started out making software emulations of classic vintage hardware synths and electronic instruments. The V collection or virtual collection has grown and has recreations of well over twenty different classic synths and pianos. Arturia also add optional modern features to the classic sounds by adding additional modern panels or effects, pretty much like a manufacturer would do if they were to bring out a new version today using current technology. Nice touch that!

And the great thing is, with this keyboard comes the amazing ANALOG LAB software!

The Keyboard:

The keyboard is taken from Arturia’s flagship matrix boot synth. High quality, aftertouch, velocity sensitive, hammer-action, piano feel keyboard!

An 88 note hammer-action FATAR TP/100LR key-bed with aftertouch including vibrato!

The keyboard also comes with a music stand, very useful for not only your music scores but also useful for viewing an iPad or Tablet! There’s even a connector hole in the bottom of the stand! You also get a Laptop holder/stand that fits onto the righthand side of the keyboard itself!

Midi/Keyboard Control:
Buttons Pads and Knobs From Left to Right:

Picture of the Arturia pitch and mod wheels and Pads

Pitch and Mod wheels:

  • First the Pitch and Mod wheels.
  • Under the wheels we have the  Chord button the Transpose button the Octave- button and the Octave+ button.

Chord button:

The chord button allows you to play chords with one key only. You press and hold the chord button and hit each note of your chord separately then you can use just one key to play that chord.

The MK2 however has two additional chord modes. The first is ‘chord memory’ where you can program 16 chords into each of the 16 pads and play them by pressing that pad. The second is ‘chord transpose’ this mode uses the key-bed to transpose the chord as you play them.

Don’t forget that these Pads are velocity sensitive which is really creative when playing chords with a soft or loud feel.

16 multi-function Pads:

Next comes the very versatile16 multi-function RGB velocity and pressure sensitive performance pads. Great for drum programming and sample triggering.

DAW commands user buttons/Transport controls:

Picture of DAW commands user buttons/Transport controls

Then we have the 10 DAW commands user buttons:

  • Row 1 = 5 x Track Controls – Solo – Mute – Record – Read – Write
  • Row 2 = 5 x Global Controls – Save – In – Out – Metro – Undo

The package comes with different plastic overlays for popular DAWs!

  • Under the DAW command we have the 6 x Transport controls:
  • Rewind – Forward – Stop – Pulse and Play – Record – Loop –

Three Main Mode Buttons:

Picture of the Three main mode buttons

Next we have the three main mode buttons which are nicely situated above middle C in the centre of your keyboard.

  • ANALOG LAB this button gives you instant access to the Analog Lab software that comes with the keyboard. This software package includes a wide variety of high-end presets and patches.
  • DAW software button.
  • USER preset templates.

You need to sync it with your DAW on your computer. This is very easy to do as It comes pre-loaded to work and sync to your DAW. Just select the DAW you are using and off you go!

The main user area has category and preset buttons and a large rotary knob for scrolling.
Once synced with your DAW everything you can do with your DAW software is now available to you on this amazing Arturia Keylab 88 MKII. This time with real knobs and faders!

Nine Rotary Knobs and Nine Large Faders:

Picture of the Sliders

 

Next inline on the keyboard we have the DAW page buttons. Next 9 rotary knobs and 9 large faders. Under that you have a set of 9 user defined DAW control buttons. All of which can be used to control your DAW from the keyboard!

Midi Control Centre Software:

Picture of Midi Control Centre Software:

Mapping the Arturia Keylab 88 controls to your DAW is very easy using the Midi control centre.

With this software installed on your computer you get a complete picture of the keyboard enabling you to quickly and easily map or set-up the keyboard.

With the Midi control centre if you want to set-up your pad assignments just simply click on the pad you want to use in the Midi control centre and at the bottom of the screen you see the settings for that individual pad. Easy! You can do the same thing with all the wheels pads buttons and sliders using the controller Map device settings window. Very nice indeed!

Not only can you change all the control knobs and buttons but if you click on the keyboard area in the window you can change the velocity curve the keyboard split mode (where you want your keyboard to split and change to another sound).

There is also a Global Parameter control page where you can set things like which DAW you are using. You can sync to MCU or HUI, the defaults, Live, Logic, Protools, Cubase, Studio One or Reaper.

Connections:

Picture of the Connections on the back panel

CV connections for connecting pitch out, gate out and 2 modulations controls for use with external synths and Eurorack modules. CV stands for control voltage and is used to control modular synths. Here is a great YouTube video to explain it.

Midi In/Out 5 pin Dins sockets these Midi connections mean you can control Hardware synths too. Controls and pedals with 3 x 1/4″ (aux) these are Configurable AUX inputs for creative control for both studio and stage applications. Pedal Inputs 1 x 1/4” Jack for expression and 1 x 1/4” Jack for your sustain pedal. Also on the back panel is the standard USB Type B and a CV in. The unit is powered using the USB but if you want to use the Midi controller without a computer to control hardware synths you will need to buy a 9 volt power supply.

Software:

The Arturia Keylab 88 MKII comes with some great software including the Ableton Live Lite DAW. This DAW is a condensed but still very useful version of Ableton Live, it has everything you need to compose, edit, and record music. Arturia’s own Piano V software instrument is also included in the package and it’s a great sounding Piano with full modelling capabilities.

Analog Lab software is included with over 6500 high-end presets and patches including synths pianos and organs.

System Requirements:

Windows 7 or better // OS 1.10 or better
Recommended RAM: 4GB
Hard Disk Space: 2GB

What I like:

The key-bed is taken from Arturia’s flagship matrix boot synth. High quality, aftertouch, velocity sensitive, hammer-action, piano feel keyboard!

There’s more ‘travel’ on the faders than a lot of Midi controllers and that gives you finer control.

All the buttons on this amazing keyboard feel so professional. You click on these buttons a lot in a midi controllers lifetime and these feel they will last a long time!

One of the great selling points of Arturia keyboards is the integration with Arturia’s Analog Lab software.

One of the things that sets the Keylab MKII apart from conventional MIDI keyboard controllers is the modular connectivity. It features integrated connections for CV pitch, gate and 2 modulations controls for use with external synths and Eurorack modules. The Arturia KeyLab MK2 is a great Hardware/software bridge between MIDI and modular gear and your computer.

What I didn’t Like:

I don’t like the feel of the key-bed as much as I do the next key-bed on my list, the amazing, Studiologic SL Grand Controller Keyboard or the Native Instrument Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2, or even the wonderful feel of the Akia 88. Some of my keyboard player friends are not that impressed with the key-bed.

Conclusion:

This really is a very versatile midi controller with the added ability to be able to use CV connections for connecting pitch out, gate out and 2 modulations controls for use with external synths and Eurorack modules. This and the intergration with some top quality software that comes with the package makes this keyboard well worth a look. However, if you are a bit choosy when it comes to your key-bed action, it might be an idea to go try it at your local music shop first. Just promise me when it comes to purchase you will do that through my website. 😉 Thanks.

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4. Studiologic SL Grand Controller Keyboard:

88 Graded Hammer Action Wooden Keys with Ivory Touch.

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The Company:

The first Studiologic instrument I can remember was the STUDIO 88 back in the 80’s. 1986 to be precise, the Studio 88 was a pioneering 88 note digital master keyboard.

Then after a bit of rebranding in 2003 came the SL-990 XP and the Pro version. The Studiologic Numa keyboard made quite an impact when they were released to the public back in 2008. More on these keyboards here.

In 2009, much to the benefit of all those fantastic hard working roadies, Studiologic released the lightest 88 note keyboard on the market! At just 10Kg it saved a lot of roadies from the inevitable back pain problems previously gain from lifting the very hefty 88 note keyboards of the day! The roadies of the world salute you Studiologic!

In 2010 more rebranding happened with a new company logo and a new Numa Organ!

The Keyboard:

This Midi controller really feels like you are playing a real grand piano. Why, because the feel of the Ivory Touch and the weight of the key-bed. If you look at the keys themselves you will see that they are wooden with an Ivory top plate, so even the surface of the key feels like a real piano! Wow! I love it!

Picture of Ivory Touch and the weight of the key-bed

The hammer action is pretty weighty, but for me that just adds to this wonderful Fatar (TP/40 wood) key-bed’s feel. If you want to not only sound like you’re playing a grand piano but completely feel like you are too, just click on the buy buttons above and get the best price you can!

Dynamic Range:

The Studiologic SL88 has a great dynamic range. If you are using a top quality virtual piano then all the features of that software instrument will come shining through! There are three contacts on each of the keys which make the dynamic range outstanding. It’s as soft, if not softer, than playing a real grand piano! You can also really hit the thing and it will take it and respond accordingly. Just amazing, so expressive!

Aftertouch Feature:

The Studiologic SL88 has a very responsive aftertouch feature. This aftertouch is not just an on and off key control, no, with a bit of practise when you put your full body weight behind your playing style the aftertouch response is just amazing! You do look like a crazy conductor, but once you get into doing it you don’t care because you just can’t stop yourself, it’s amazing!

The Midi Control:

The functions are very simple. There’s not a lot of knobs and faders on this midi keyboard. You have Three X/Y Stick Controllers that can be assigned to different parameters to shape your sound. The first two Sticks are spring loaded. Stick one has X/Y directions and it’s great for pitch and modulation. Stick two is X direction only and stick three offers multiple directions and is really useful for things like panning and cross fades.

Picture of the Stick Controllers

The back panel:

Picture of the back panel

The back panel has midi in and two midi outs, USB bus power and 9 volt power if you need it. You also get four pedal ins.

Colour LCD-TFT Display Panel and Control:

Picture of the TFT display

On the main panel you have a four way rotary control knob with a function select push button that lets you navigate to the area on the control window display you want to access. When you select one of the four zones by pushing the same knob, you can then go to the various parameters in that zone. Midi port, midi channel the program number. If you then keep scrolling down using the knob control you get a new page with volume, key range, velocity range and the velocity curve.

Velocity curve:

The velocity curve is a useful feature. Some software instruments react differently to different velocity settings. You can select normal, soft or hard curves. Once you have selected the curve you can program the value. I find this useful when it comes to using the key-bed for drum samples. You can set the velocity to high so you don’t need to hit the key so hard but still get a good drum hit. All these setting can be stored as USER settings.

The three push-buttons to the right of the control knob bring you back to the top-level from any location in the system.

Picture of the control knob

The SL Editor:

All the parameters you can adjust on the keyboards display panel can also be adjusted in the SL editor software that comes with the Studiologic SL88. The SL editor allows you to change the usual functions of a versatile Midi controller. It’s a very extensive midi editor.

SL editor

The functionality and the way the software communicates with the keyboard is a great feature that works very well.

What I liked:

The ultra responsive wooden key Fatar TP/40 Ivory touch key-bed with a dynamic response better than playing a real grand piano! So, if you are looking for a realistic piano feel in a midi controller, this is it!

What I didn’t Like:

It is a midi controller that is wonderful if you want to use your mouse and computer to control everything, but if you want to just sit at a master midi keyboard and operate everything from that, then maybe this is not for you. Click here and look into the Arturia Keylab 88 MK2. Not crazy about using X/Y Stick Controllers I prefer the good old Pitch and Mod wheels.

Conclusions:

If you are looking for a realistic piano feel in a midi controller, this is it! I love playing it and ‘tinkling the Ivories’ as they say!

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 5. Studiologic Numa Compact 2 MIDI Keyboard:

88-Note, Semi-Weighted Key-bed With Aftertouch.

Picture of Studiologic Numa Compact 2 MIDI Keyboard

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The Studiologic Numa Compact 2 is a bit different to the other keyboards on this list, it is a standalone piano/synth keyboard with a built-In 20 watt amplifier and speakers. These small speakers are great for practising or playing to yourself in your studio, but not that loud, not really good enough for stage use. It also has on-board 1GB Flash Memory. It has a power adaptor with the package too!

This is all very convenient if you just want to sit and play the piano without turning on your computer amp and studio monitor speakers. The internal sounds include two grand pianos, one with a very bright rock sound, two electric pianos, organs, guitars and a very nice fretless bass guitar which I really like. Also, you can update the internal software as and when Studiologic brings out new versions and patches! In this price range that’s unusual and a real bonus!

This Studiologic Numa Compact 2 MIDI Keyboard is a four zone controller. Two of the four zone allow you to edit and control the internal sounds and two for external sounds over Midi cables or USB. This is why it is included on the list as a good budget Midi controller.

Controls:

Picture of two assignable stick controls for modulation and a pitch-bend

The hardware controls on the keyboard consist of two assignable stick controls for modulation and a pitch-bend. The first is spring loaded in the X and Y position and joystick two is spring loaded in the up and down position but not the X which is free and not spring loaded. Useful if you want to get a sound and then leave the stick in that location.

Picture of the Controls Studiologic Numa Compact 2 MIDI Keyboard

The main panel on the top of the keyboard has six different sections to it. A control section, a sound bank section, effects one and then effects two section, a reverb section and finally the output section. This output section at the end of the panel has four control knobs. A two band EQ bass and treble, a ‘mastering’ knob which adds colour to your sound and a volume control knob.

Picture of The volume controls

The Control Section:

This control section has an edit button which is a global button as well, next a store button, a Midi button and a sound button. There’s a small display screen that shows you what you are editing. So if you press the Midi button you get the choice of two Midi control zones. Zone A and zone B.

Sound Bank Section:

If you press the sound bank button you can assign a sound to the lower part of the keyboard or the upper part of the keyboard. There’s a push to select rotary knob that allows you to edit this data. You can create mix combinations or layered sounds across the entire keyboard, i.e. Strings with a Piano and then control the volume of each sound. You can also split sounds across the keyboard putting the string in the lower half and the piano in the upper part of the keyboard. This makes this Studiologic Numa Compact 2 very easy to edit and create combination sounds and split keyboards.

There are eight different category buttons with pages – Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano, Keyboard, (Clavichord/Harpsichord/Vibes/Marimba) Bass Guitar (Acoustic/Electric/Slap/Plucked and more) Organs (Jazz/Drawbar/Pipe) Really like the Pipe 2 organ, sounds great, real Johann Sebastian Bach type feel to it! Amazing for a budget keyboard! The next button in the row is Synth sounds (Pads/Lead) then Orchestral (Strings/Horns/Brass) then last but not least, Other (Cassotto/Accordion/Musette/Harmonica).

The Effects Section:

Picture of the FX panel

FX 1 and FX 2 can both be used together. Also, which is neat, when you split the keyboard you can control which FX is sent to the lower part of the keyboard and which is sent to the upper part of the keyboard.

FX 1 has Drive, Chorus, Phaser and Flanger. FX 2 you have Rotary, Tremolo, Pan Tremolo, Delay.

Reverb section:

The Reverb section has Room, Hall, Plate and Spring Reverbs and with the Dry and Wet knob you can even control the amount of reverb you send to the patch.

Connectors:

Picture of the back panel Studiologic Numa Compact 2

The back panel from left to right has a power button and the mains input, MIDI 5-pin din In and Out, the USB which includes bus power from the USB port. Please note, if you power it from the USB port there’s not enough power to drive the 20 watt amp and speakers. However, this keyboard also comes with a power adaptor! Next it’s the 1/4’’ pedal 1 for volume expression control and pedal 2 damper or sustain. Next on the back panel you have right and left audio out and a 1/4’’ headphone jack socket.

The Keyboard:

The Studiologic Numa Compact 2 has an 88-note, semi-weighted key-bed with aftertouch. The aftertouch is really responsive for a keyboard of this price range!

What I liked:

This Studiologic Numa Compact 2 is very easy to edit and create combination sounds and split keyboards. All the sounds are great for the price! It’s really great for anyone on a budget, and it’s really great for the beginner. It really is great value for money! And boy it’s has some great sounds, the Pipe organ is amazing!

Even though the little speakers are a bit weak, I still like the fact that you don’t always have to turn on all your studio kit, and I like the fact that you don’t have to use headphones all the time, it’s nice to be free from headphones sometimes I think.

What I didn’t Like:

Some of the sounds that come installed with the instrument are a bit thin and cheap but for the price! Wow! Also, it’s very thin when you play it with the built-in amp and speakers, but if you plug in your headphones, that’s a different matter, good strong sounds, again great value for the money.

Remember, this is a semi-weighted spring loaded key-bed, this is not as good to play as a fully weighted key-bed. Also, the keys are smaller than a standard piano keyboard. The white keys are 14 cm (5.5”) long instead of the standard 15.24 cm or 6 inches long and the black keys are 9 cm (3.5”) long not 10 cm or 4 inches long like they are on a standard keyboard.

No mod wheels just  joysticks!

Conclusions:

This really is a great budget keyboard. I really like the user friendly way you can create layers and split keyboards. If you are just starting out in home recording studios, then I think this is an ideal keyboard for you. However, if you are wanting a professional feeling piano Midi controller, maybe look at purchasing a more expensive fully weighted keyboard on this list.

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6. M-Audio Hammer 88:

88 Velocity-Sensitive, Fully-Weighted Hammer-Action Keys.

Picture of M-Audio Hammer 88

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The Company:

M-Audio Have been manufacturing musical instruments since 1998. Their headquarters is in Rhode Island USA. The company has independent offices in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France and Japan. So very well coved if you need to contact the support-line. They used to be called Midiman and I’ve had several Midiman products in my studios over the years. Especially audio interfaces like the M-Track range. Very reliable audio interfaces. In 2000 they introduced the ‘M-Audio’ brand.

The Keyboard:

The M-Audio keyboard is an 88 note velocity-sensitive, fully-weighted and has hammer-action keys. Really feels good and amazingly responsive, in no way does this key-bed feel like a budget end keyboard.

Pitch Bend, Modulation & Volume Controls:

Picture of the The M-audio Hammer 88 pitch bend and modulation wheels

The M-audio Hammer 88 has pitch bend and modulation wheels and two push buttons and a volume Control and that’s it! No LCD display screen, no panels of knobs and faders, all the money you pay for this keyboard go straight to the key-bed and I think for the price, that’s great, and a good addition to this list of Midi keyboards.

It has a very strong metal case with a wooden base. Really robust and great for gigging and touring. It’s also pretty good for placing under your computer monitor(s) and computer keyboard. The case has a lovely curve to it that fits under a desk really well. However, it does come with a music stand if you want to use it which will not fit under your desk!

Connecting to Your DAW:

This M-audio Hammer 88 is a Midi keyboard only and does not have its own sounds installed. It will integrate with most DAWs without the need to install drivers. It will also support an Apple iPad Camera Connection kit (not included).

Software:

Picture of the software that comes with the M-Audio

The Hammer 88 comes complete with a premium software suite including high-quality VSTs. You get, AIR Mini Grand Acoustic Grand Piano, AIR DB-33 Tone-wheel Organ, AIR Velvet Electronic Piano and the SONiVOX Eight-Eight Ensemble. All really great sounding soft synths! And a copy of ‘Ableton Lite Live’ DAW software is included!

The Back Panel:

Picture of the M-audio's Back Panel

USB and 5-Pin Midi output to trigger external MIDI devices. Inputs for Sustain, Expression and Soft pedals.

What I liked:

  • The M-Audio keyboard impressive velocity-sensitive, fully-weighted and has hammer-action keys. Great value!
  • Pitch bend and modulation wheels which I personally prefer to joysticks.
  • The sleek and very robust design of the Hammer 88 makes it ideal for live and studio use.
  • The premium software suite that’s included and you get Ableton Lite Live which is one of the most popular performance and production DAWs available on the market.
  • No drivers required, supports plug-and-play connectivity to your Mac or PC!

What I didn’t Like:

  • The USB connection is a bit of a weak point and you really need to take care when plugging the USB cable in. Friends of mine have had problems after a couple of months use and had to have the USB unit replaced.
  • Not a lot of control over the DAW from the keyboard, however the sleek design means that this keyboard can sit under your desk!

Conclusions:

This keyboard is really great value for money! The key-bed is a joy to play.

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 7. Studiologic SL Studio 88 Controller Keyboard:

88 Hammer Action Keys with Aftertouch.

Picture of the Studiologic SL Studio 88 Controller Keyboard

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OUT OF STOCK

88 Hammer Action FATAR TP/100LR Keys.

Studiologic SL Studio 88 Controller Keyboard has the same specifications as the Studiologic SL Grand Controller Keyboard but doesn’t have the wooden keys with the Ivory touch, hence its lower price tag.

Click Here to view the Studiologic SL Grand Controller Keyboard review on this list. Thanks.

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 8. Nektar Impact LX88+:

88-Note Velocity-Sensitive MIDI Keyboard.

Picture of the Nektar Impact LX88+

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The Company:

The Nektar company website click here.

The Keyboard:

88-Note semi-weighted Velocity-Sensitive MIDI Keyboard.

A Complete Midi Controller:

The Nektar Impact LX88+ gives you complete control over your DAW. For the money you really do get a lot!

Pitch and Modulation Wheels:

First on the top of the keyboard we have the Pitch and Modulation Wheels. Good solid wheels, not joysticks! Next to them the transpose and shift buttons.

Control Centre:

Picture of the Control Centre

Next the very impressive array of nine assignable control buttons and nine 30mm sliders. We have sliders for two banks of sliders to control, Attack, Delay, Sustain, Release, and a Volume control.

Picture of the number panel

Next inline on the top of this versatile Midi controller we have the number display pad and under that a mixer, Instrument, Preset button and under that, Shift/Mute Track snapshot Patch forward and back buttons! And a page button!

Transport Controls:

picture of the transport

We then have the DAW transport controls – loop, left and right, undo, play and record buttons. Not only do you get complete transport control but a set of knobs giving you oscillator control! Eight control knobs!

8 LED Illuminated Velocity Sensitive Pads.

Picture of the pads

The 8 velocity sensitive pads can be used to trigger everything you assign them to trigger. They are very responsive drum pads or one-shot vocal samples, sliced up instrument samples, whatever you want to trigger with the push of a velocity sensitive pad!

Connections:

1/4” TS jack foot switch input (MIDI Assignable) Not a pedal input! A Midi out 5-pin din socket. USB port with USB bus power. Power supply socket. (optional and not provided).

What I liked:

This is a very impressive Midi controller, yes the key-bed is not great, it doesn’t feel much like a piano but it doesn’t claim to! For the price and the DAW control it’s great if you are on a budget! That’s why it’s on my list!

I really like the user guide that come with the keyboard package, it’s concise and easy to read, you can get this Nektar Impact LX88+ up and running in no time at all!

What I didn’t Like:

No expression or sustain pedal!!!!!

No proper support for Ableton Live!

There is also one thing that is important to mention, the black keys are weighted heavier than the whites keys! The black keys are much louder than the white keys when using the piano patch! Pretty annoying! You have to apply less pressure when playing sharps/flats!

Conclusions:

I still think this is a very good Midi controller. Not so much an 88-note keyboard, but if you need to be careful with how much money you can spend on your studio kit, then this is a great budget 88-note midi controller!

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Conclusion.

I really do think that any of the keyboards on this list of the 8 best Midi keyboards, would be a great addition to any home studio! It really depends on your budget and how much you want to spend on an 88 note Midi keyboard but I really do think it’s a great bit of kit to own!

However, if money is no object to you, then my personal favourites are the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2 for the visuals you get when controlling a DAW, and as for the 88-note key-bed itself, then it has to go to the Studiologic SL Grand Controller Keyboard with its wonderful to play, 88 Graded Hammer Action Wooden Keys with that amazing Ivory Touch.

I hope you enjoyed this post, if you have any questions about any of the 8 best 88 note Midi Keyboards listed, or you want to add to this post, please leave a comment below.

Thanks,

Nigel.