Get your hands on the best 88-key midi controller, and you can’t really get any better.
That’s because 88-keys is a full 7 octaves, which makes midi controllers of this size pretty much the holy grail, as these 7 octaves are also what you’ll find on-top of a piano. So to say that 88-key midi controllers are a sure sign of someone who takes music seriously, wouldn’t be far wrong. Let’s face it, you have be at least some sort of professional or fanatical music nerd, to invest your hard earned cash into a keyboard that’s this large.
But then again, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, an 88-key midi controller is actually quite a wise investment. Because not only does not only does it offer you the most flexibility in terms of playing, but it’s also made to a significantly higher standard. So while it will set you back substantially more than if you were to size down, it’ll also retain its value far better too. Now your ears have pricked up…
Read on and we’ll which is the best 88-key midi controller you can buy + give you a rundown on why these full-size midi controllers are so expensive.
After something specific about full-size midi keyboards? Our just want to see what we feel is the best 88-key midi controller you can buy? Use the menu below to find all the answers you need fast…
The best 88-key midi controllers @ a glance…
9 of the best 88-key midi controllers (2022)
Okay, so you’re ready to make the jump up to a weighted 88 key midi controller, but then realise 2 things…
- Fully weighted 88 key midi controllers aren’t cheap
- There’s a TON of options to choose from + various styles of keys.
But don’t let that worry you! See, we’ve done 90% of the legwork for you. All you have to do is sit back & grab a cuppa, as we outline what (for us) are the best 88 key midi controllers for sale today + answer a bunch of your FAQs… you can thank us later :)
1: StudioLogic SL88
If a fully weighted 88-key midi controller is what you’re after, and yet you don’t have the cash to splash on one that’s fully-loaded, then the SL88 from StudioLogic could well the answer to your prayers. Despite being less than half the price of a premium fully-weighted keyboard, it can rival most when it comes to keys. Reason? The SL88 also shares the same Fatar keybed that you find in the Keylab MK2 and the S88.
And yet when it comes to key feel, the SL88 arguably has the edge. To us, the actual press feels ever so slightly smoother and the keys themselves feel that little bit more responsive. Something that could be down to the way the SL88 is designed. Unlike a fully-loaded controller, StudioLogic haven’t designed the SL88 to flash 50 different colours & offer a gazillion different functions. So there’s no RGB drum pads, assignable faders or encoders included on this keyboard.
Although, you do get a useful joystick for pitch and mod. You also have the ability to control 4 midi channels at once, along with various presets. Basically, all any key-focused player really needs. And it’s that which is what this 88-key midi controller is designed to do – encourage natural play and creative expression. Hence why for any pianist on a budget, it’s fast become the ‘go-to’.
Reasons this full-size midi is worth it…
2: Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII
When it comes to 88-keys, there are few controllers (if any) that do a better job than the Keylab 88 MK2. So much so that this midi controller is often described as the benchmark for any premium 88-key midi. One of the main reasons being its hammer action keys, which could trick you into thinking that the MK2 is in fact a Grand piano. Unlike with its semi weighted rivals, the keys have a good weight to them and even boast aftertouch too.
The keybed’s no slouch either. Made by keybed specialists, Fatar, over in Italy, we found it allows you to work a real depth into your composition. With this 88-key midi controller, you can be truly expressive! The weight of the keypress is heavy, but not overpowering – you don’t have to overwork the keys. Therefore, pieces that contain staccato and legato are particularly fun to play with this controller! And yet the MK2 isn’t just all just about the keys.
As far as 88-key midi controllers go, the Arturia comes fully loaded with 16 RGB backlit drum pads and a bunch of programmable faders/ encoders. Not to mention that set of intuitive transport controls and the sheer plethora of inputs & outputs. All of which makes this board incredibly flexible. Combine that with the metal and real wood design and you really do get a sense of quality. Quality that if you ask us, really does shine through.
What makes this a good 88-key midi controller?
3: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2
The Native Instruments Ecosystem needed this 88-key midi controller. Why? Because it’s the only NI keyboard that comes with a set of fully weighted hammer action keys, that yes – have aftertouch! So as you can imagine, this 88-key midi allows for any keen pianist to play naturally, without being held hostage by a set of semi weighted keys. In fact, in the key department, the S88 has much in common with the Keylab MK2; it shares the same Fatar keybed.
So when it comes to the keys, the only slight difference we’ve been able to find, is that with the S88 being seated in plastic (opposed to metal), there does seem to be slightly less key noise. But, before you sigh at the mention of plastic, consider what it does for weight. The S88 comes in at a whopping 8kg less than the Keylab, which makes it a far better 88-key midi controller for the road. However, usability is where the S88 really shines.
Compare the design to other keyboards in its price range and the design is somewhat minimalistic. Aside from a row of programmable knobs, there’s two wheels for pitch & modulation and some intuitive transport controls, but not much else, That’s because those two LCD screens rid the need for hordes of buttons and switches. A design feature that we really like! Much the same with those LED lights that you’ll find above the keys, which function perfectly as a guide for when doing scales or working with the built-in arp. And yet, none of this gadgetry detracts from what the S88 is mean’t to be – a intuitive key-focused controller and less so a ‘Jack of all trades’.
Why consider this full-size midi keyboard?
4: M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro
Keen pianist? Don’t overlook the Hammer 88, because as far as we can tell, this 88-key midi controller is one of a kind. That’s because its full set of hammer action keys doesn’t just come with aftertouch – they’re graded too! So much so that this midi controller doesn’t feel like a controller at all. In fact, you could even mistake it for a Digital piano! We found the keypress incredibly similar to that you find on a Grand; in comparison to its rivals, it’s ever so slightly lighter.
The Hammer 88 doesn’t play about when it comes to equipment either. Along the top there’s 8 knobs, 9 faders and 16 velocity sensitive pads, of which you get 4 banks! Plus, pitch and mod is dealt with via two wheels, which are backlit in a vibrant red colour. A similar colour to the strip of felt that runs across the top of the keys. Classy touch that! It’s also fair to say that out of all the 88-key midi controllers out there, the Hammer 88 looks the most premium. Just playing this midi keyboard feels like an occasion.
The metal casing even comes in a satin textured finish too. Plus, there’s even an integrated stand for your sheet music, because as you’ve probably guessed, this 88-key midi controller is all about converting your relationship with the keys into something that you can process through your DAW. Something that’s actually pretty simple, as the Hammer 88 is the most compatible 88-key midi controller when it comes to DAWs. So as you can imagine, we found it rather difficult to pick fault.
Here’s why this 88-key midi is SO special…
5: M-Audio Keystation 88 MK3
The Keystation by M-Audio puts up a a good fight, despite it being one of the most stripped-back 88-key midi controllers on sale today. So all you beginners, pay attention! This could well be all the midi controller you actually need, because (we’ll be honest) as far as semi weighted boards go, if you’ve got a tight budget, the Keystation is hard to beat. Get behind the keys and you’ll see what we mean.
For the MK3, the keybed has been overhauled, so unlike the somewhat stiff feeling you got with the previous Keystations, with the MK3 everything’s a bit more loose. The keys are significantly more solid and have a little less spring about them. As for velocity, that’s relatively even too, making the keys less like ‘on/off’ switches and more like actual keys. You can achieve a real breadth of tone with this keyboard. Good to know, as the keys are the main highlight.
The rest of the build is actually pretty simple. You get a fader for the volume and two wheels for pitch and mod, but apart from that, this controller’s pretty stark. And that’s exactly why it’s a great 88-key midi controller for beginners. Buy a Keystation and you’re not paying for endless sets of drum pads, faders and encoders that you ‘may’ end up using. Besides, all of this minimalism does wonders for saving weight. So in comparison to other 88-key controllers, the Keystation is light. Get yourself a gig bag and you’re practically ready for the road.
Why pick this weighted midi keyboard?
6: Roland A-88 MK2
When you think ’88-key midi controller’ the name Roland doesn’t really spring to mind. And yet, we can’t understand why as the A88 MK2 took us by surprise. We’ve even go as far as to say that it’s one of the best full-size midi keyboards that you can get your hands on. Why? Those hammer action keys.
Reason being that the keybed on this midi controller is something else – it feels piano-grade! And that’s because it is; the keybed on the A88 is taken from Roland’s FP pianos and sets it apart from any other midi on the market. In fact, in a blind test between this midi and a Digital piano (a Yamaha), we ended up confusing the two. Kudos for the A88! What caught us out was the way the keys depress on this midi controller.
Like what you get with an Acoustic, when playing the A88 you feel a slight notch as the hammer is released. Albeit a subtle detail, but one that to us piano players really does enhance the realism. A feature that’s also testament to the build quality, which we struggled to find fault with. All the buttons on the A88 feel tactile, the pads offer really good response and the metal housing comes in a textured finish that really does set it apart.
Our only gripe with this 88-key midi controller is its size. Don’t get us wrong, it’s by no means the heaviest midi you’ll find, but in terms of bulk, it can be quite hard to manoeuvre. Because the controls are mounted alongside the 88 keys (not above), this board is long- very long! So if you do decide to opt for the A88, we’d suggest making a permanent place for it in your studio.
Perks of this 88-key midi controller include…
7: Nektar Impact LX88+
The keys on 88-key midi controller really surprised us. And that’s because, despite being semi weighted, the keys themselves have some good weight to them. Compared to other Nektar keyboards, they have a fair amount of resistance. We’d describe them as quite a way from synth action keys and closer to those you find on an Acoustic piano. Something we really didn’t expect, especially when compared to those of the previous gen LX88. A keyboard that (we’ll be honest) we weren’t huge fans of.
Although with the LX88+, the keybed doesn’t feel brittle. Instead, it feels supple and while the keys do have a spring to them, it doesn’t make them unplayable. The velocity on the keys is also relatively even. Good news, as one of our gripes with the previous gen was the fact that the keypress was a bit ‘on & off’. Something that with the 88+ is no longer an issue. Each key allows you to achieve a real good range of tones. In fact, it seems that the keys aren’t the only area where Nektar have worked their magic.
On the topic of response, the 8 drum pads feel slightly more firm and have a better range of response in terms of velocity. The LX88+ also features 9 sliders, 9 buttons and 8 knobs, plus a variety of transport controls and DAW function buttons too. In fact, the only gripe we have with it now is the screen, which while rather useful does look a bit 1990s. But then again, for less than £250, you can’t really complain.
Why this 88-key midi is worth the money…
8: Nektar Impact GXP88
Really look at the GXP88 and it’s essentially its LX bigger brother, only far more key-focused. And as a result, it’s definitely a contender in terms of your best budget options. So by that we mean that while this keyboard is no hammer actioned showstopper like a Keylab MK2 or S88, it’s a darn good semi weighted workhorse. One that by dropping the gadgetry you find on the LX series, is also far more affordable too.
The only real physical switchgear you have with this midi controller are wheels for pitch & mod, as well as a few simple transport controls. So to call it minimalist, you wouldn’t be far wrong! But that’s all because the GXP88 is all about the keys. Keys that we may add, come with aftertouch. Something that you only really find on premium keyboards – a good sign if you ask us. Granted, when compared to other pricier alternatives, the keybed is well, ‘ok’ – it’s nothing to shout about – but with that being said, we didn’t notice much in the way of key noise. However, the keys do take some getting used to.
Compare the keys to your average midi controller and you’ll see that they’re set on a slight inwards tilt. A setup that can almost make it feel like you’re playing into the keyboard. Quite an usual hand position to say to the least, but with that being said, after a month with this board we actually preferred it. That’s because the slant actually works really well for fast play. Performing piano tricks and playing at light-speed on this board is super easy, especially when compared to other semi weighted midi controllers. So much so that we’d say the GXP is the ideal controller for gigging.
Special features of this 88-key midi controller include…
Best budget 88-key midi controller (around £500)…
SPOILER: Not all 88 key midi controllers cost the earth.
Because even though the majority are aimed at the more capable producer, there’s still those that are little more ‘stripped back’. By that we mean, while they do have 88 keys, these keys may not be fully weighted & some of the settings may not be as comprehensive as you’ll find on more fully-loaded controllers. But if you’re just after a high key-count, then a full-size budget controller is pretty much perfect.
Speaking of which, here’s what we consider to be the best budget 88 key midi keyboard you can buy today…
9: Arturia KeyLab Essential 88
The ‘Keylab’ name brings with it a lot of assumptions. Most of which are to do with the rather pricy MK2. So as you can imagine, when we heard about the Keylab Essential 88, our ears pricked up… and was a good job they did. That’s because the Essential 88 is much like the name suggests. A stripped-back budget-friendly version of the Keylab MK2. Yet, on first impressions it’s hard to tell.
For instance, the Essential comes with 88 keys, a generous amount of programmable knobs/ faders, as well as a collection of RGB pads, on-top of some rather familiar looking transport controls. According to Arturia, even the navigation screen is no different. It’s only when you pick the controller up, that the differences begin to show.
Unlike the MK2, the Essential is over twice as light. A major reason being that instead of the real wood and metal, the Essential 88 is fabricated of a high-grade plastic. Gone also are the hammer action keys, which have been replaced by a lighter semi weighted set. Tweaks that at first you could mistake for a backwards step, however when you consider that the Essential retails for around 3X as less, suddenly it makes a lot more sense.
In comparison to rival semi weighted controllers, the Essential 88 is very good value. Reason being that unlike the MK2, it’s no been designed to appeal to the hardcore pianist. Instead, its going after a completely different market! One where musicians are more intently focused on functionality and budget, opposed to just key feel. So while pianists may cringe at the sight if the Essential 88, for beatmakers and producers it’s an ideal way to buy into the Keylab DNA.
Why is this the best budget 88-key midi controller?
Which full-size midi controller is best? Our editor’s choice…
By buying an 88-key midi controller you’re already opting for the ultimate in terms of midi, so why not go for the best version of ultimate? That combo of 88-keys that stands out amongst the rest. The one that really gels with your style of production or just does the best job of streamlining your workflow. Seems like common sense to us.
Exactly why we’ve split our editor’s choice into two distinct categories: the best 88-key midi controller for key fanatics, and the best production all-rounder. Plus, so many of these 88-key controllers have bragging rights that we genuinely struggled to cull them. This shootout was seriously tight! So with that in mind, here’s our verdict…
= StudioLogic SL88
When it comes to playability and key feel, you’ll struggle to find better value than the SL88 by StudioLogic. And that’s because its hammer action keys really do put it up there with the best.
This midi keyboard really doesn’t feel like a keyboard at all – more like a digital piano if we’re honest. Something that’s partially due to the weighting of the keys, which is close to perfect, but also this keyboard’s secret weapon: that Fatar keybed. A component that you’ll also find on the S88 & Keylab, both of which retail for over double the price!
Now of course, there isn’t much in the way of drum pads, assignable faders or encoders, so out of all the options available this does look somewhat less ‘midi-ish’. However if you don’t use all these extras and are all about the keys, then the SL88 is a great way to make your production budget go further.
=Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII
For those after a comparable set of keys to those on the StudoLogic, plus all the bells and whistles in terms of production, the Keylab by Arturia is what we’d label the best all-rounder. In other words the very best 88-key midi controller that you can buy today! Now we must admit, it was a very close call in-between the Keylab and the S88, however for us, the Keylab just clinches it. Here’s why…
Compare the Arturia to the S88 and you’ll see that it 1ups it in quite a few areas, but only by a margin. For instance, the S88 features a great collection of really smooth programmable knobs. However on the Arturia, you get endless encoders as well as faders too. Aside from that you also have a set of highly responsive drum pads – another thing that you don’t get with the S88.
In terms of transport controls, the Arturia shines yet again, with a larger assortment of buttons and functions, which allow you to control your DAW directly from the board. The S88 skips out on quite a bit of that. And then of course when it comes to inputs and outputs, the Arturia shines yet again. On top of those you get with the S88, the Arturia gives you a bunch of aux inputs, as well as CV gate too.
And if that wasn’t enough, it even comes with an attachable laptop shelf, plus a stand to hold your sheet music. Then factor in that the body on the S88 is made of plastic, while the Arturia’s is made of metal as well as real wood, and yep – you can see why we’d say the Arturia is the best 88-key midi controller on sale today.
It’s significantly better equipped than any 88-key midi out there, boasts a premium construction, loads of perks and yet weirdly, is often cheaper to buy than the S88. Don’t ask us why… just thank Arturia.
Enjoy this review of the best 88-key mid controllers & eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our Midi Controller Reviews, as well as our acres of Music Production Advice. Don’t need all 88 keys? Jump into our Guide To The Best 25 Key Midi Controllers + another on the Most Popular Mini Midi Keyboards.
Or, if you’ve still got as burning question about 88-key mid controllers, keep reading to discover all the perks of making music with a 88-key midi…