Are MIDI controller keyboards any good?

Slouching Raymond

Well-known member
If you look at people's home studios on Youtube, it is more likely than not that a cheap controller keyboard will be at its heart.
Until around 10 years ago, my keyboards were real stage pianos and a real synth.
I bought a cheap Alesis 25-note controller, just to check it out. later on I bought a larger Alesis QX61.
Later still I paid more for a Novation Impulse 61.
All of these keyboards disappoint.
The 25 note Alesis has a useful roll even when not connected. I have used it as a handy tool to work out fingering, keys, and scales silently.
The Novation is unique, being my only keyboard with aftertouch.
The not quite full size keys annoy me.
They are all passable for controlling mono-synth voices, and the like, but the acid test is How do they perform when controlling a grand piano voice.
I am spoilt, having a Kawai MP11, with real wooden keys and top notch voices.
If I use the MP11 as the voice generator, but control it from each of these cheap controller keyboards, what do I get?
You would expect the same sound, but with a much inferior keyboard feel.
What I seem to be getting is the expected inferior feel, but also an inferior sound.
It is as though the keyboards are incapable of generating the correct midi commands.
I know the note levels are between 1 and 128, but to my ear it feels as if they can only generate 8 volume levels.
Playing a piano through the controllers is an unrewarding experience.
I've tried all the velocity curve options, but they don't seem to make it any better.
It is possible that I am supposed to un-naturally contort my fingers to force the right sound out of the keyboards, but I haven't sussed it yet.
Looks like I just don't think much of midi controller keyboards.

rob aylestone

Well-known member
I bought a Kontakt 61 mk II - the best controller keyboard I've ever had. I have an 88 note Swissonic from Thomann, which was pretty good too - but not weighted keys - if I need that feel I have a Gem Stage piano - it just weighs a ton, so I rarely bring it into the studio. The Kontakt controls everything - shows zones, has browser screens and stop/play/rec/FF/RW which speeds things up. It has loads of faders, knobs and control functions - I love it, and the keyboard is playable synth style - I think they use a Fatar mechanism. My one follows my finger velocity pretty closely. The Swissonic is too easy to hit 128, too hard to play quietly. You've just not found the right one yet that suits you. Aftertouch is pretty important for me - and again the pressure needed on the Kontakt is just right. (for me)


Well-known member
Looks like I just don't think much of midi controller keyboards.
My A-49 roland is garbage.. It has aftertouch but triggered by source, not the key pressure. Who came up with that?

Roland has always been a maker of shit products. While not good, the A-49 seems to be the 'right amount of shitty' . As plastic decks go, the actions feels artificial and synthetic. The keys are full size with the signature Roland rounded Key shape. That is better for me. I dont like the mini keys. Full size works against its portability. The whole unit is positionaly clunky and large. Better than lugging around my Fantom x6.

I must say it plays the VST synths and samplers. It is recognized easily. And have never had a problem with assignments or executions.

The new VST Waves or Brainworx plugins are fun and of remarkable quality. The integration continues technical levels of joy, may it last for decades..
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For decades, not just years, my main go-to keyboard has been my Yamaha KX-88. Now I got lots of others including synths. 12 to be exact. But the KX has been the best action, feel, response, etc. even with the limited 0-100 Yamaha midi velocity of the time. I control 2 dozen modules through chained interfaces.

Point is, they come in all forms. You can get a midi controller that little more than switches with keys glued on or you can get a midi controller that's something a real pianist would stick with. And that's just the notes-side of things. Add zoning, layers, knobs, sliders, etc. and you have a real powerhouse if properly integrated into your sound source. That was always the point.

Want real wood? My 'live rig' has an old Roland MKB in it. Not the best action, but good enough when the drums are going. The old Peavey had wood. Crazy heavy, but wow, whatta player. So yes, it's all out there.


COO of me, inc.
My Nektar SE25 does more than I need. I used to have a Kawai K-3 with weighted keys and nice aftertouch, which of course the SE25 lacks, but with my DAW the SE25 allows me to be much more creative and productive.

The K-3 came with 100 voices which could be edited in unlimited ways via oscillators and filters, but I never found any I was happy with - just one organ and one piano I tolerated.

I'm not a keyboard player, so the mini controller suits me. If I were a keyboardist, I would want a full size, stand-alone unit as controller.

Ujn Hunter

Active member
Most MIDI controllers are just there for entering inputs instead of drawing in MIDI notes on the piano roll... and I guess they're fine for that... but if you want to actually "play" music... you want a full weighted piano... which is what I have with a Casio PX-100.

Blue Jinn

Rider of the ARPocalypse
I have a Kurzweil Mk III. I bought it to relearn how to play 22 years ago, and it had the most realistic action and a decent sound. I also have a Nektar LX25+ that's for farting around with on vacation and a M-Audio 61 something or other. That was to tide me over until the ARP gets back from the shop. The Nektar is fun. The M-Audio is passable, but my hardware synths don't have aftertouch so it does what it needs to do.