Not all MIDI controllers are keyboards, and not all keyboards are MIDI controllers. A keyboard is necessary if you want to play and perform your tunes. But if you want to advance that track (consider adding sound effects or modulations), you should invest in a MIDI controller.


Why Choose Novation?

guy using novation midi controller on fl studio

Founded in 1992 by Ian Jannaway and Mark Thompson, Novation Digital Music Systems Ltd. is a British musical equipment manufacturer specialising in MIDI controllers with and without keyboards. As they say for themselves, they’ve “always been on a mission to help artists sculpt and perform sound; to help electronic music makers lose themselves on an endless music-making journey.”

Today, the Novation controller range consists of analog and virtual analog performance synthesisers, grid-based performance controllers, and audio interfaces, allowing anyone to find a product they need. So, how to choose the best Novation MIDI controller for your studio?

What Is a MIDI Controller?

midi controller on deck

Using a MIDI controller is an easy way to play virtual instruments and sequence music on your Mac or PC. A computer or synthesiser receives MIDI data (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), interprets the signal, and outputs a sound. Have you ever seen keyboard players on stage using a laptop? They probably have a regular keyboard for playing and a MIDI keyboard as a part of their portable musical equipment, enabling them to create and sample a variety of sounds.

Both an electronic keyboard and a MIDI controller have a set of playable keys. You can use an electronic keyboard independently, whereas a MIDI controller requires a connection to a computer or tablet. Additionally, MIDI controllers demand the use of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

How Can I Use a MIDI Controller in My Home Studio?

guy using midi controller

A MIDI controller is a powerful tool for making music. For instance, after recording MIDI data while listening to the sound of a specific synthesiser, you can immediately switch to a different sound. Most DAW software comes with MIDI sequencing tools that allow producers to edit individual notes on a piano roll, quantise to a metronome, time-stretch, transpose, and plenty of other things. 

You’ll need a way to record your performance to use these tools, such as one of the MIDI controller keyboards, along with a USB or a MIDI cable to connect the controller to your computer.

You can control various instruments in various ways by programming the keyboard on a MIDI keyboard controller. For instance, use the lower end to regulate the drums and the higher end for the flute. Additionally, you can use your keyboard to modulate the pitch, change the tone, start sample loops, and program drum beats. 

Add and edit each feature separately, eliminating the need to re-record the main segment. Consider it as layering your clothing. The MIDI effects represent your jacket, shoes, and accessories, while your basic T-shirt serves as your main track. Using a MIDI keyboard allows you to be more imaginative in your musical production, giving each mix more character, complexity, and individuality.

What Size MIDI Keyboard Should I Get?

girl using midi controller

While a 25-key board may be sufficient if you prefer to play synth leads or basses with one hand, you’ll need 61, 76, or possibly all 88 keys if you want to play piano arrangements. The most common size for MIDI controllers is 49 keys, which is just big enough to fit on your studio desk while allowing for two-handed play. Most portable keyboard controllers have octave buttons, allowing you to scroll up and down to access the entire 88-key range of the piano.

The Difference Between Weighted, Semi-Weighted and Synth-Action Keys

guy making music on midi controller

All of these phrases describe how the keys react to the player on the keyboard. The keys that are fully weighted have an acoustic piano-like feel. They require a little more force and finger independence to press because they have counterweights on the far ends, and keyboards can become very heavy. 

Conversely, synth-action keys are thin, springy, and provide little resistance. Most electronic organs, entry-level keyboards, and portable controllers have synth-action keys. 

Finally, semi-weighted keys are the ideal compromise if you find fully-weighted keys too heavy and spring-loaded synth-action keys too light. Professional controller keyboards frequently have semi-weighted keys.

Popular Novation Midi Controllers

close up photo of midi controller

Best Overall

According to Rolling Stone, the Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller is the best MIDI controller on the market. It gives you everything you need to get started with digital production in one convenient package, giving you a quick, simple, and creative way to produce and perform music.

With its 16 RGB pads, eight knobs, and specific navigation and control buttons, the 49-note model makes it simple to change your pitch, start a clip, or make a backbeat. You can experiment with chords and higher melodies with more keys (or play both simultaneously).

Since the controller is USB bus-powered and compatible with both Macs and PCs, you can start using it right away without having to plug in any additional cables. You only need to USB-connect the device to your computer to get started.

The main advantages of this Novation controller are that it’s an easy-to-use system, and the set includes free keys and Melodics pad drumming lessons. According to some users, the main con is that the pads are quite stiff and require a little force to activate their functions.

Best Compact Controller for Beginners

The Novation LaunchKey Mini MK3 is under 33 cm wide, USB bus-powered, with velocity-sensitive drum pads and assignable knobs that map to your software. It’s a mini-keys MIDI controller small enough to fit in your laptop bag.