MIDI Controllers For Beginners: The Good, The Bad And The Magnificent

MIDI Controllers For Beginners: The Good, The Bad And The Magnificent

Picking up your first MIDI controller is an exciting task for anybody new to the production game. You’ll finally be able to use more than one octave at a time and, if you pick the right one, you’ll finally have the pads to rock just like producers did back in the day with the original MPCs. It’s a step up from the norm and signals to the world that you take your craft seriously and they should too.

Just like a song, it’s important that you start your career on the right note and choosing the wrong piece of equipment will only frustrate you and make you lose passion for the art you’re trying to create. That’s why, working with a budget of $100 and a keen eye, I’ve put together this short list to help you make the right decision. We’re looking for something compact and portable, with great functionality that makes it great for the bedroom producer and the studio regular.

Most of these controllers are compatible with your favourite Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) including Fl Studio, Reason, Cubase, Logic and even Magix Music Maker, so allow me to guide you through the weeds with this selection of some of the best MIDI controllers for beginners including the good, the bad and the downright magnificent.


The Good

Akai MPK Mini MKII 2017 review - How To Make Hip-Hop.comAkai MPK Mini MKII

Price: $99.00

Cheapest Place to Buy:  Amazon.com

Operating System: Windows and Mac OS

Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars (Based on 877 ratings)

What’s to Love? Without a doubt, this controller has to be the first of my recommendations for anybody using any DAW. What impresses me the most is just how much dynamite they managed to fit into this small package. It has 25 miniature keys to start and 8 MPC-style pads that have room for 8 banks and 4 sample and insert effects per pad. There’s even a built-in arpeggiator that sits neatly below the unique 4-way thumbstick, perfect for dynamic pitch and modulation control.

There’s even a ‘Full Level’ button to let you get the same response from each pad regardless of how hard or soft you hit it as well as Octave Up and Down buttons to let you get to every octave you need. I didn’t even mention the 8 assignable knobs or the $200 worth of software that comes with it, including Hybrid 3 from AIR Music Tech and Wobble by SONiVOX.

What’s to Hate? Mini keys will always take some getting used to, especially if you’re stepping down from the full-sized deal. They’re only slightly larger than a penny so be prepared for that. Plus, the pads aren’t exactly trimmed off a Rolls-Royce. They feel a bit cheap but for what you’re paying, they’re definitely worth it.

Click Here for Akai MPK Mini MKII Review

 

Novation LaunchKey Mini MKII Review 2017 - HowToMakeHip-Hop.comNovation Launchkey Mini MKII

Price: $99.99

Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com 

Operating System: Windows and Mac OS

Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars (Based on 173 ratings)

What’s to Love? Now, this is one that I recommend to the diehard Ableton user out there. The star attraction on this controller has to be the 16 velocity sensitive pads you have available. They’re fully integrated to work with the software, which means they’re not only good for making use of the drum rack but also for controlling the clips in Ableton’s ‘Session View’. Each pad lights up to indicate when a clip is loaded, playing or recording.

There are 25 mini keys to work with, 8 assignable knobs and 4 buttons that allow you to navigate between tracks and scenes, plus the obvious Octave Up and Down buttons. As an extra download, you get the Novation Bass Station and V-Station virtual instruments (which retails for about $70 sold separately) as well as 4GB of free samples from Loopmasters that you get just for owning a Novation product.

What’s to Hate? This controller was tailor-made to work with Ableton, which ultimately make it less suitable for anybody using a different DAW. It’s the software you’ll need to squeeze the most value out as possible. There’s also no pitch or modulation control and that’s a sorely missed feature no matter which software you use.

Click Here for Novation Launchkey Mini MKII Review

 

The Bad

Alesis V25 Review | HowToMakeHip-Hop.comAlesis V25

Price: $89.00

Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com

Operating Systems: Windows and Mac

Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars (Based on 157 ratings)

What’s to Love? Boy does this controller look good. The layout has a real OCD-vibe and I can’t help but like it. The main attraction here are the 25 full-sized keys that accompany the 8 MPC-style pads that are both velocity- and pressure- sensitive. Pitch and Modulation wheels are positioned perfectly under the 4 assignable knobs (used for controlling instruments and effects).

Finishing it off are 4 assignable buttons that just waiting to be given a command as well as the all-important Octave Up and Down buttons. I’m a fan of added extras and this controller delivers with only Xpand!2 from AIR Music Tech as well as the ‘Lite’ version of Ableton Live for anybody still short of a DAW.

What’s to Hate? What I love the most is also what I hate. As neat as the layout is, I honestly feel like all that extra space could’ve been put to better use. It’s bigger because of this, making portability an issue. This controller also plays havoc with the sensitivity of its keys and pads. It does come with software that you can use to fine-tune its aspects but do you really want to suffer through YouTube tutorials before enjoying your purchase? Besides that, other controllers are capable of a lot more for only a few dollars extra.

Click Here for Alesis V25 Review

 

Akai Professional LPK25 Review 2017 | HowToMakeHip-Hop.comAkai LPK25

Price: $69.00

Cheapest Place To Buy: Amazon.com

Operating Systems: Windows and Mac OS

Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars (Based on 341 ratings)

What’s to Love? This is going o be short. The LPK25 is the cheapest of the bunch without a doubt, which is why a lot of beginners still fall for its charms. It’s the same size as your Macbook, so it wins on portability too, and the majority of that space is taken up by the 25 miniature keys. Like it’s bigger cousin, it comes with Octave Up and Down buttons as well as an arpeggiator but setting it apart is the sustain button that replaces a traditional sustain pedal input. This allows notes to continue playing long after you’ve let go of the keys.

What’s to Hate? A LOT! This controller is cheap on your wallet and clearly very cheap to make. Way too many people have made the same complaint about the device’s USB port that fails after slightly mishandling the connection. Regardless of the circumstances, that’s a vital connection that really shouldn’t break so easily.

It really doesn’t do much too. A lot of the features you find on other controllers aren’t here and you’ll be selling yourself short settling for something that will need an upgrade sooner than you want. There aren’t any pads, no pitch and modulation control and no additional plugins or software. It’s old, outdated and should be off the market but people still fall for the cheap price.

Click here for the Akai LPK25 Review

 

The Magnificent

Ableton Push 2 | HowToMakeHip-Hop.comAbleton Push 2

Price: $799.00

Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com

Operating System: Windows and Mac OS (Requires Ableton Live 9.5 and above)

Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars

What’s to Love? Now, I know this controller is completely over budget but I invite you to take up the challenge. I mean, there’s a reason I used a word like ‘magnificent’ to describe this device. It can do almost everything. Composing creative melodies, mixing and editing your tracks, even sampling, this Push 2 does it all. And when it comes to making beats well…I don’t even know where to begin. No other controller makes use of Ableton Live better, bringing your normal drum racks to life with the 64 pad layout.

The entire grid is efficiently divided up, allowing you to draw notes across a step sequencer and alter or select individual samples any way you choose. You can even spread the samples across the layout to give you access to all your samples at once without the need to switch octaves. I didn’t even mention the onboard screen. You almost never need to look at your computer screen again.

What’s to Hate? The obvious downside to this controller is the giant hole it’s going to burn in your pocket but there are so many cool features to ease that pain. That being said, it does have a very steep learning curve that will probably hit you even harder if you’re not already familiar with Ableton Live.

 

In The End

The choice is really up to you but I think you get which two I’m suggesting you go for. Both the Akai MPK Mini and the Novation Launchkey Mini should get you off to a great start but I’d recommend you take the Akai if you’re not using Ableton Live already. You’ve only just begun to discover the joys of your craft so pick the tool that’s going to get you to the next level and still be an effective weapon in your arsenal for years to come.

Got any more questions about these controllers? Have any insights on the topic of music production? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

Peace.

Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com

 

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8 thoughts on “MIDI Controllers For Beginners: The Good, The Bad And The Magnificent

  1. Trev

    Hi Ryan as a DJ myself I am glad to have came across HTMH. I enjoyed the product reviews on the midi controller as I am purchasing one very soon. I also enjoyed the how to get started page and found it very informative. Keep up the good work your doing.Cheers.

    1. Ryan

      Whaddup, Trev.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found these reviews insightful and fully appreciate your support.

      Thanks again for leaving your comment.

  2. Ingrida

    Hi Ryan,

    I really liked the way you described different MIDI controllers – in detailed and fun way haha.
    There is so much equipment out there that sometimes it just get too overwhelming to choose the right one especially for someone who is completely new to this.
    I’m know very little about his but I used to lived with musicians and I saw the pains they went through when choosing music equipment! lol
    Great site!

    1. Ryan

      Hi, Ingrida.

      I know exactly what you mean. It can be hard to make the right purchase the first time. That’s why I’m here to help guys like that out. Be sure to recommend this page to others.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

  3. Caleb

    So I actually have on of the Alesis v25 controller. It’s seemed to work decently. It’s definitely a little bulkier than I would have liked. I would definitely like to get something like the Ableton Push 2. However, it seems a little pricey and I’m still somewhat of a beginner with these controllers. What would you recommend for me?

    1. Ryan

      Whaddup, Caleb.

      Yeah, the Push 2 is a mammoth buy but If you’re still looking for something similar than why not check out the Novation Launchkey 25. It’s a little under $150 but should provide a great amount of functionality with Ableton just like the Push 2.

      Hope that helps and thanks for leaving your comment.

  4. williamsb

    I would choose the Ableton, but i work in FLStudio since i start making music, so i will not switch the software for a Midi, but i see the Akai MPK is pretty good and probably i vote on their side. Thank you for that post, Great Job!

    Im glad that i stop here! 🙂

    1. Ryan

      Thanks for the comment , William.

      The MPK Mini is definitely the better choice if you’re using other software like FL Studio.

      Thanks again for the continued support.

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