A MIDI Controller is a device that sends sound signals via the special connection protocol. When you press a key on the piano MIDI controller, it collects and sends the data to the DAW or another electronic device that can transform the sound, which, in turn, delivers it to the speakers.
The piano MIDI controller can feature different types of keys: regular synth, semi-weighted and hammer ones:
- the synth keys don’t resist the finger pressure and are easy to deal with. For that, the beginner players appreciate them. They also enable a speedy play.
- the middle-weighted keys are sturdier and allow for better “instrument – player” interaction. They are a bit harder to press while providing good velocity action.
- the hammer keys are the heaviest and closest to the real-piano touch. They can be graded ensuring the next-to-full identity with the authentic instrument.
The 88 key MIDI controllers have the same number of key as well as the real acoustic piano has. Thus, this option is great for beginners and experienced pianists. The only disadvantage is the problem with its transportation.
However, there are popular models of piano controller featuring less keys:
- 25 key MIDI controller is the smallest piano in the market; and makes a perfect choice for one-hand music recording. Its portability makes them highly popular among the hip-hop beatmakers.
- 49 key MIDI controller is a small version of the piano controller for those, who play with both hands. Hip-hop beatmakers and electro sound producers use it widely.
- 61 key MIDI controller is next to full size MIDI keyboard; serves for playing more sophisticated parties with two hands. It is perfect for reaching the sound close to the real piano.
The controllers mentioned below are the ones that I liked most of all. Look through the list and find so you could have a better idea of what you’re getting into before you buy!
The 88 MIDI Controller Review
Nektar Impact LX88+ – Full Control for the Diverse Play
This 88 key piano controller is a good option for the middle-level price. The instrument is fully packed with the controls of the different type including the smart zone mapping tool. Each zone can be adjusted during the playing. The required mode of pitch, modulation, or octave can be compiled and immediately installed in the selected zone. The LED reflects the changes, easing up the interaction. The controller has numerous buttons, faders, sliders, and encoders enabling the player to create a unique sound palette and mix unlimitedly. This device would deserve the title of the best 88 key keyboard would it feel closer to the real piano action.
The controller has semi-weighted well-balanced keys with a pleasant mild response. This instrument has integrated velocity sensitivity, especially fitting for beginners in its linear curve. There are also 3 modes featuring the fixed even output.
The instrument integrates with most of the popular software including Ableton and Steinberg Cubase and preserves the assigning options in them.
- The instrument features 5 preset modes for saving the control settings.
- Nice-looking LED-lit buttons provide for programming the separate sounds of the high range and have the “last touch memory” showing which MIDI program is currently in use.
- Special anti-dust covering for the keys preserves the instrument from wearing out.
- The build does not look reliable.
- The black keys feel a bit less responsive than the white ones.
M-Audio Hammer 88 – a Fully Weighted MIDI Keyboard with USB
The outstanding feature of this middle-priced USB-powered piano MIDI controller is the hammer-action key response mechanism transmitting the feeling of a real grand-piano play. The keys provide gradual resistance catching the pressure subtleties and reflecting them in the sound peculiarity. The instrument doesn’t offer much diversity in velocity options, while the dominating velocity curve is easily recognizable.
The sound enhancing pads are not multiple but give confident control over the main audio parameters. The pitch and modulation wheels have an original design with the handy groove providing smart sliding and gradual control over crescendos and legatos. The volume fader is less sophisticated. At the same time, it can be programmed to almost any parameter supported by the chosen software and thus allow shaping the sound during the play.
- Precise octave controls allow getting more out of the 88 keys.
- Multiple connections for different types of hook up (including the MIDI output for reaching other MIDI-supported instruments).
- Immediate integration with the iOs audio software.
- The unit does not have the power on / off control.
- This instrument is quite heavy.
Kawai VPC1 – the Most of Real Piano Play
This sturdy and stylish 88 key MIDI piano conveys the feeling of the real piano touch. It has perfectly balanced hammer-weighted keys that are made of wood. The keybed is mild-to-hard providing the most realistic response and featuring the grade sensitivity. The higher is the note, the lighter the resistance is. Its keys are supersensitive, so they can be an excellent option for training to play the piano.
The unit doesn’t have any controls on it except 3 pedals enabling the sustain effect just like the regular piano set. It is compatible with the majority of software and has one integrated. It allows programming the velocity curve and other parameters virtually, providing a wide range of sound tweaking options.
With its authentic action and enhanced software, this instrument could be listed among the best MIDI controller keyboards in the market. Still, its high price and large size might work as serious disadvantages.
- Deep and spacious real-like effect of the sustain pedal.
- It allows mapping and implementing the outside sounds.
- Quiet click-free action.
- The curved top of the MIDI controller doesn’t ensure the steady placement for the laptop or another device.
- The casing paint is aluminum-containing and peels off easily.
Artesia PA-88W – the Immediate Sound Effect
The most noticeable feature about this 88 key MIDI piano is the integrated speaker allowing hearing the sound without any preliminary hook up. However, the connectivity options are not scarce. It does not provide a 5-pin MIDI out but features the linear outputs and direct headphones’ port, as well as USB for sending the MIDI messages to the DAW. The device also supports the numerous apps and software.
The action feels easy for semi-weighted keys, while the keys’ sensitivity can be adjusted via the software settings. The same is true for additional sound effects like the chorus performance or digital reverberation coloring.
The controls panel is minimalist yet featuring both the basic tweaking tools and the specific ones. There is a row of two-factor buttons and a separate onset to deliver additional effects. The volume knob is large and sturdy while easily manageable.
- Rich and spacious soundstage in the integrated Grand Piano preset mode.
- Built-in sampling library for 8 musical instruments serves for enhanced music environment improvisation.
- An affordable price for this segment of 88 key controllers.
- Plastic feel of the keys.
- The complementary sustain pedal is not too sensitive.
Roland A-88 – a Professional Piano Sound and Action
The classic key design of this fully weighted MIDI keyboard is combined with the colored controls panel featuring various types of triggers. This controller has buttons for octave distribution and transposition of the mapped modes, the lever for regulating the pitch and modulation, the preset modes buttons. Some knobs and switches can be programmed via the software or manually. And it has a special button for the Roland-powered sound modules’ implementation. The “thing” of this instrument is a D-beam controller allowing subtle nuances to be fiddled with through the response to the hand movement.
Meanwhile, the real value of this high-end full sized MIDI keyboard is represented by its ivory keybed and carefully positioned hammer action. The keys provide just the scope of resistance and response the authentic grand piano does and feature perfectly adjusted velocity. The passages playing is highly realistic due to characteristic mild clicking effect at certain modulations.
- Easy programmable zonal splitting with several adjustable parameters.
- Compatible with iOs devices through the Apple Camera Kit.
- MIDI out and USB ports enable various connections to the DAW and virtual instruments.
- No sheet music stand (no opportunity to install it).
- No aftertouch key effect.
Midiplus X8 Pro – the Enhanced Multi-Optional Piano Controller
This 88 key midi piano has numerous integrated sound modes and regulators. Due to the built-in palette of 128 GM standard tones of the superb quality, it doesn’t require the external audio source. There are a lot of buttons and knobs that can be easily assigned through the software or manually.
The controls are supported by the LED lights indicating the active parameter and its status. The modulation and pitch bend are tweaked by means of touchpad technology supported by the handy graded light scale.
This full size MIDI keyboard has a nice keybed of 88 semi-weighted keys featuring the velocity sensitivity. 8 types of velocity let tune the desired sound and the most comfortable style of play.
- Diverse connectivity options including USB (for power and data transmission), headphones, MIDI in and out.
- Handy large customizable drum pads with LED backlight.
- Informative and unobtrusive LED screen.
- Not fully compatible with Linux.
- Too narrow panel without the opportunity to put a laptop.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 – the Authentic Action Feel
This high-tech professional unit amazes with a variety of options for sound tweaking and the greater control over them. The 88 key MIDI piano provides seamless integration with the other MIDI-powered instruments through its MIDI input and output. Additionally, it has the USB port, the Kensington jack, and 2 pedal ports.
This piano controller features several knobs and buttons with programmable functions including the separate button onsets for the direct DAW control (e.g. Ableton, Logic Pro, Nuendo) and immediate access to the modules and patterns within the Maschine software. All the interactions are reflected and operated through the two large color screens enabling the direct impact on the play.
The 88 key MIDI piano features the best-in-class Fatar keys that are hammer-weighted and enhanced with the Aftertouch function. Thus, not releasing the key but pressing it further, the player receives deeper and richer sound. All the nuances are reflected by the RGB lights of the different color installed at the foot of each key.
- Fourteen sound effects and instrument voices are built in as Komplete 12 software pack.
- Rubber wheel for pitch bend and mod has graded supplementary touch strip for more precise control.
- Smart different-color LED backlight for buttons and other controls, a graded LED strip.
- High requirements for the OS’ and equipment version.
- The on/off switch is absent.
Why Choosing the Full 88 Key MIDI Controllers?
As already mentioned, the modern piano controllers are available in different sets including fewer keys and taking less space. However, both beatmaker artists and classic performers most frequently choose the largest version of 88 key controller. And they have their reasons:
- Immediate access. Having all the keys before you, you don’t have to look for the octave management buttons taking one hand off the keys to press it. All the necessary keys are already presented and can be reached by default. This is especially important for performing the classic plays involving the full key onset of a grand piano.
- Larger variety of tones. With the smaller keyboards, reaching the needed tone available in the full 88 key layouts, can sometimes be impossible. For the plays requiring the full piano palette, the 88 key keyboard is a must.
- User-friendly buttons layout. There is more space on the top panel for additional buttons and controls and possibility for their user-friendly layout. Finding a pad for the preset drum effect is easier through a separate onset than rumbling through different controls on a small panel of 25 key controller.
Key Points for Picking the Best 88 Key MIDI Controller
Looking for the perfect 88 Key MIDI piano for your home studio, pay attention to the following issues:
- Key type and size. Some models of piano controllers feature shorter keys, instead of full size keys that are similar to the real ones. Besides, pay attention to the resisting mechanism and response of the keys. Pick the most comfortable: the professional hammer-weighted keys, the lighter and faster semi-weighted, or a super-light synth keys.
- Diversity. The modern key controllers go beyond the piano effect. They can add the effects of other instruments, tweak the sound parameters to reach some new variations, etc.
- Zonal distribution. When connecting other instruments, the zone assignment can help immensely. Allocate the needed number of keys for the control of each instrument and have immediate access to them without prior shifting to the panel and switching.
- Connection versatility. Many of the modern piano controllers have the USB port serving both as a power plug and the sound data transmission. For the neighbor-friendly play, the headphones port is implemented. Many keyboards also feature the MIDI output and some have linear ports for speakers. The pedal connection is a must-have.
- Built-in software. The high-end 88 key MIDI controllers usually have software integrated for easy access to the sound modes and music samples.
- Customizable settings. The high-tech piano controllers allow programming the buttons, pads, knobs, and other controls to provide the seamless experience. Mapping the most comfortable layout saves a lot of time and provides for non-restricted creative flow.
- Compatibility. Make sure that the MIDI keyboard supports the OS you have on your computer. It is important as the laptop or another device usually serves as a software operator and a power source for the piano controller.
- Track controls. All the tracks are usually managed in a software, but having them on a panel of a keyboard is quite handy. It is handier to create, rewind, and stop the track when needed.
- Type of power supply. Currently, there are two ways of powering the MIDI controller: through the USB connection or through the standard DC adaptor.