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Best 61 Key MIDI Controller 2022: Is 61 Keys Enough, Or Just Overkill?

Is 61 key MIDI keyboard enough? We discuss the best 61-key midi controllers...

The best 61-key midi controller should be a good go-between. That piece of kit that’s large enough to function as part of a studio, yet still compact enough to be portable. Call it the midi controller that’s at home in any environment. Kind of like a chameleon, these 61 midis are super adaptable, and in most cases come with much the same tech as you’ll find on their 88-key big brothers.

But despite which, they’re nowhere near as popular as you’d think. All the hype seems to be firmly directed towards both ends of the spectrum; 25-key & full-size 88-key midi controllers are some of the most popular. Ask us though, and we think they’re missing a trick, as for most producers 61 keys is more than enough. Plus, when you really think about it, they make a lot more sense.

Aside from inheriting much of the tech you’ll find in their 88-key counterparts, they’re also significantly more portable and cheaper too. So this all beggars the question, where’s the drawback?! Why aren’t the best 61-key midi controllers the talk of the town? Yep – it had us confused too! So to help you properly assess whether a 61-key midi controller is right for you, we’ve given you our rundown of the 13 most popular below.

Find yourself asking “Is a 61-key midi keyboard necessary?” Or just curious as to what we think is the best 61-key midi controller? Use the menu below to get all the answers you need in one click…

The best 61 key midi keyboards @ a glance…

14 of the best 61-key midi controller keyboards you can buy

When deciding on a 61-key midi controller, there are two types you need to be on the lookout for: fully-loaded 61-key midis and those which are ever so slightly slimmed down. For instance, Native Instruments’ S-Series keyboards contain far more features (and are far more pricy) than their A-Series brothers. Therefore, to help you narrow down which type of 61-key midi controller suits you,. we’ve listed our picks under the same categories…

Here’s what we consider to be the best 61-key midi con trollers that you can buy…

Best fully loaded 61-key midi controllers

1: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2

2: Novation 61SL MkIII

3: AKAI Professional MPK261

4: M-Audio Oxygen 61 Pro

5: Nektar Impact LX61

6: Nektar Panorama P6

7: Arturia Keylab 61 MK2

Best 61-key midi controllers that’re slightly slimmed down

8: Arturia Keylab Essential 61

9: Alesis V61 MK2

10: Novation Launchkey 61 MK3

11: Nektar Impact GX61

12: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

Best cheap 61-key midi controller (under £150)

13: Samson Carbon 61

Best portable 61-key midi controller

14: M-Audio Keystation 61 MK3

Which 61-key midi controller is best? Our editor’s choice…

Honing in on the best 61-key midi controller ain’t easy. In fact, narrowing it down to just two was quite a task in itself. And yes, we said two because pitting fully-loaded midis against the slimmed down models didn’t seem very fair. Plus, if you’re after one or the other, you don’t want to known the best overall midi – you want to know the best 61-key midi controller of that specific type. Exactly what we’re going to divulge now…

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As far as fully-loaded 61-key midi controllers go, you’ll be hard pushed to beat the S61. We genuinely struggled to find fault with this keyboard, as it just does everything with such finesse.

What really won us over is the design, which you have to admit is very intuitive. So much so that on the surface, this controller still looks and feels like a keyboard, and less so like it’s been plucked out of the Starship Enterprise… Arturia… Novation. Out of all the fully-loaded 61-key midi controllers, it’s fair to say that the S61 is by far the least intimidating.

And that’s because the majority of its functionality is buried into its design, opposed to just being plastered over the top like an afterthought. That’s because the majority of S61’s functions are controlled through the 2 LCD screens. All of which reduces the need for hordes of buttons. Those LED lights above the keys are much the same. Useful, but subtle.

Design aside though, the S61 also comes armed with what’s arguably the best sound bundle that producers can get their hands on; the Komplete Kontrol suite is just phenomenal! If you ask us, it’s on par with Omnisphere. Over 25k sounds cannot lie! Combine this with the supple keybed, seamless DAW integration, the firm key feel, and yep – you can see why the S61 has earned the right to be dubbed the best 61-key midi controller for sale today. It’s both suave and functional. A winning combo if you ask us.

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When it comes to a slimmed-down 61-key midi controller, the Keylab Essential 61 is hard to beat. Why? Because it retains virtually all the core functionality of the Keylab MK2, yet presents it in a slightly more affordable package.

Both have a set of RGB drum pads, as well as wheels for pitch and mod. They both have a set of semi weighted keys, a keybed that’s no slouch, assignable faders/ encoders and even share the same screen. Not to mention access to Analogue Lab – Arturia’s suite offer 6k synth sounds!

Now obviously, that’s not to say there aren’t some differences. For the gap in price we’d darn well hope there were, but how much those differences actually matter, is another story. Let’s just say that the Essential 61 didn’t leave us feeling like we’d missed out on a great deal. Eradicate all comprehension of the MK2 from our mind and chances are we’d be comparing it to the likes of the S61 & MPK261. Both of which offer similar, and in some cases, less functionality.

So much so that we think Arturia has actually shot themselves in the foot with the Essential 61. By calling it the Keylab, they’ve got everyone comparing it to its bigger brother, and not other 61-key midis in its price range. A comparison that once made, showcases just how good value this midi keyboard actually is. Therefore, we’d like to propose a name change.

Arturia Keylab Essential 61… Arturia Why Buy Anything Else 61

Enjoy this review of the best 61-key midi controller and eager for more? Don’t miss out on our latest Music Kit Reviews, as well as the lowdown on all things Music Production. Also, if you prefer an full-size 88-key controller, stick with us – we’ve also recently reviewed the Best 88-Key Midi Controller too! Plus, the Best 49 Key Midi Keyboards if you’re after something more slimline.

Or, if you’ve got your heart set on a 61-key midi controller, keep reading, to discover even more about why this size of midi may be the right fit for you…

The lowdown on 61-key midi controllers…

Ask us and there’s no set number of keys you should have on a midi keyboard, as really the number depends on how you produce and in what situation you’re likely to use it.

All sizes of midi keyboards have their own use. So really, it’s only when you know how a keyboard is going to function as part of your setup, that you can make any sort of firm decision around key quantity. Although with that being said, there does often tend to be a pattern…

Those who produce ‘on the go’ or beginners usually opt for a 25-key midi, as for these occasions two octaves is usually enough. Then your average loop-focused producer or beat maker will likely be more than happy with either a 49 or 61-key midi controller. To these guys melodies and loops are the majority of what they need from a set of keys, so as you can imagine, the full 88 tends to touch on overkill.

Then finally you have your piano-focused concert pianist types, who use a midi controller as a means to record their full composition (usually in one take) and less so piece it together. These are the people who’ll be intently frustrated by any controller with an octave button, especially those with semi-weighted synth style keys.

While you can find ‘good’ keys on all sizes of midi keyboards, typically the best keys are found on those that have a higher key count – 88/ 61-key midi controllers.

That’s because the more expensive the midi controller, the more time and effort typically gets put into refining the feel of the keys and the keybed. This becomes particularly obvious when you pit a 61-key controller against its 25-key counterpart. Despite the keys both being semi-weighted, you’ll usually find that the keypress is smoother and the keys themselves are less springy. As a result, the noise of the keys themselves may also be reduced – a perk of the enhanced build quality.

On some midi controllers you may even find hammer-action keys, which simulate those you’ll find on a piano. However, due to piano fanatics really only favouring full-size boards, you’ll only find these on controllers with the full 88 keys. Our favourite being the Roland A88 MK2, which even includes a slight notch under the keys, to replicate the feel you get of a traditional hammer-action. Very clever!

In most cases, yes – 61-keys is more than enough for a midi keyboard.

In fact, if you ask us, the only instance where you’ll need more than 61 keys is if you’re buying a midi controller to lay down full piano pieces, opposed to just creating loops and melodies. But it’s not just the keys…

Compare a 61-key board to one with 88 keys and very often (bar the keys) you’ll find little in the way of an upgrade. Yes, the build may be a tad more premium and you may get slightly more in the way of inputs/outputs, however the core functionality will usually remain the same. You’ll usually find little increase in the amount of extra features like drum pads, encoders and faders. So the real question you need to be asking yourself is, do hammer action keys really mean that much to you?

If not, then a 61-key midi controller is probably your best bet.

If you’re a professional musician and you’re gigging then the full 88 is a safe bet. The last thing you want if you’re performing is for someone to come up and ask for a song only for you not to have enough keys to play it.

However, with that being said, if you know your get and what you’ll be playing you could easily get away with a 61 key

Yes – a 61-key midi controller is ideal for beginners.

In terms of keys, it’s enough octaves to allow your hands to get used to the keyboard, while still being compact enough not to take up your entire front room. What’s more, a big part of learning piano is getting a feel for the keys and how they play. Something that the keybed in a 61-key controller should enable any beginner to do, as it’ll typically be more premium than those in smaller models. Plus, learning piano via a controller is just more fun – get bored of the bog standard piano and you can switch it out for a synth, guitar or even a French Horn!

And as for those looking to learn production or just get used to their DAW, 61 keys should work equally well. While a lot of beginners do opt for 25-key midi controllers in hope that the smaller size simplifies the whole process, we’d argue the opposite. Have a bigger footprint and it’s likely that getting used to how a controller relates your DAW, as well as its various functions, is going to be a lot easier. Why? Everything’s so much more visible! Believe us, there’s nothing harder to try and imagine 3/4 of a keyboard and how it corresponds to your DAW when you’re a beginner.

The majority of midi keyboards these days do have some form of weighted keys.

In fact, you’d need a pretty tight budget not to be able to find some semi weighted keys within your price range. However, with that being said, not all weighted keys are made equal. So as you can imagine, the feel of weighted keys can differ substantially.

The majority of weighted midi keyboards you come across will have what’s known as semi weighted keys. These are keys that’re very much reminiscent of those on your conventional keyboard or on a synth. They have a spring action and are usually some of the lightest keys you’ll find. Although, it’s not that simple.

All keyboards with semi weighted keys have their own level of resistance and stiffness, which can make them feel slightly more weighted than others. The quality of the keybed can also dictate their key feel too.

And if that wasn’t complex enough, it’s pretty much the same story with weighted keys – AKA hammer action keys. Play on a set of these and you’ll soon be able to tell the difference, as these keys are much like you’ll find on your conventional piano. Unlike the spring action you find in semi weighted keys, hammer action keys use a hammer action (just like a piano) to reset the key once depressed. High end midi controllers like the M-Audio Hammer 88 even come with what’s known as graded keys, which means that the keys increase in weight the further you go down the keyboard.

So as you can imagine, a set of hammer action keys can dramatically enhance the playing experience. Aside from giving you a greater feel for what you’re playing, they also allow you to be more expressive, as each key has a wider range of sound – lower end semi weighted keys can be a bit like on/off switches whereas those with a hammer action tend to be more tonal. Ideal for performing piano tricks & fast runs.

Although let’s be honest, unless you’re. concert pianist, semi weighted keys are going to more than enough. And if not, then you can always edit your midi sequence via your DAW.

In most cases, yes – a 61-key midi controller is necessary.

In fact, when it comes to key count, for most producers 61 is bang on the money. It’s not the full 88, yet it’s enough to enable them to lay down a full melody without (annoyingly) having to reach for the octave up/down button. Plus, due to the fact that semi weighted keys are signficantly lighter than their hammer weighted cousins, if you were to compare midis via a size-to-weight, 61-key controllers would come out on top.

Now of course, if number of keys isn’t so much an issue, you could size down to a 41/49 key, although that would depend on what level of functionality you require – typically any midi with under 50 keys boasts far less in the way of programmable faders, encoders and drum pads.

Exactly why if you ask us, the best 61-key midi controllers aren’t just necessary – they’re vital. if anything you could dub them as the most important of the lot!!

To be honest, 49 & 61 keys are very much the middle ground when it comes to midi keyboards, so really either would be a solid all-round choice. We know of many producers who own both… a 61 for the studio and a 49 for ‘on the go’.

However, if you’re only in the market for one, your decision will likely be based on a mixture of functionality and price – the two major difference between these keyboards. In most cases, 49-key boards typically have less in the way of functions (i.e. assignable faders, encoders and drum pads), but come in at a cheaper price.

Whereas 61s are practically the reverse. And while you could easily suffice with either, we personally think that a 61-key boards are your best bet. Reason being that compared to the 49, they leave you with more space to grow going forwards, and are less likely to become redundant.