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Is 25 Keys Enough For A Midi Controller? Is 49, 61, 88 Keys Overload?

Is a 25 key midi keyboard worth it? We track down who would buy a 25 key controller...

“Is 25 keys enough for a midi controller?” is a common question when on the hunt for the best midi keyboard. Why? Because these space-age-looking controllers don’t just come in one size. In fact, there’s that many variations of midi keyboards that finding the right one for is no easy task, especially if you’re a beginner with little knowledge of what you’re looking for (if this is you, stay tuned).

That’s because if you put your eggs in the wrong basket, it’s not like it’ll be a cheap mistake. Midi keyboards are pricy; the majority are on par with the price of your conventional keyboard, if not more! Reason being that midi keyboards (even 25 key models) give you SO many more options for sculpting your sound. All of which is fantastic, but is does mean you have to be more particular.

You see, midi keyboards aren’t all made for the same generic producer – many are made with different types of producers in mind. Some may appeal more to eager pianists, whereas others may be specifically targeted towards beat-makers. So really, knowing which midi keyboard right for you all comes back to you knowing yourself (reality check). Something we aim to help you do throughout this blog. With that then, is 25 keys is enough for a midi controller? Read on to find out.

After something specific about the size of midi controllers? Or just curious as to whether 25 keys is enough? Use the menu below to get the answers you need in 1 click…

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What is a 25 key midi controller?

In short, a 25 key midi controller is an 88 key controller that’s undergone some major surgery. So unlike a full sized midi, which has 88 keys (the full 7 octaves), a 25 key midi controller has had 5 of these octaves removed. However don’t be fooled into thinking that this restricts what sounds you can create.

A 25 key midi controller gives you access to all 7 octaves of a keyboard, only to do so you need to navigate through the octaves using an ‘up/down’ button. So really in terms of sound, they’re no different to their bigger brothers. And yet the footprint of these midi keyboards is substantially smaller. Hence why they’re often dubbed as ‘the portable midi’.

25 key midis work in much the same way too. Unlike your conventional keyboard on which they’re loosely based, 25 key midi controllers don’t emit sound. That’s because they’re much like their name suggests – a controller. Therefore, to get any sort of feedback from a 25 key midi, you’ll have to hook it up to you computer and download a DAW.

* For those who don’t know, that’s a Digital Audio Workstation, which is basically a computer program that processes the midi signals of your controller and turns them into snippets of audio that you can edit.

So as you can imagine, for 99% of producers midi controllers are the way to go. Not only do they come compact like the 25 key models, but they also do a lot to streamline your workflow and save time. All of which for any producer is major kudos! Plus, if you’re a beginner, 25 key midi controllers are not only some of the easiest to grasp (i.e. least daunting), but they’re also typically the cheapest to get your hands on.

All-in-all then, a great starting point.

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What are the different sizes of midi controllers?

In order to reach a firm decision on whether 25 keys is enough for a midi controller, you first need to be clued up on all the various sizes of midi controller that you can buy. Only then can you really whittle down your options and decide if a 25 key controller is the way to go.

So to help you do so, here’s a rough overview of who we think would buy each specific size of midi keyboard & why. In other words, casual stereotypes…

* We know every producer is different, and recognise that not all will conform to these assumptions. So just to clarify, these are for education purposes only and are in no way meant to cause offence or instigate beef. That’s the last thing we want!

Size Of Midi ControllerType Of Producer
Who buys an 88 key controller?The full 88 key midi controller is only really bought by one type of person – a producer who has a major key fetish!

So these are the guys (and girls), who pin a large part of their buying decision on the quality of the keybed and what that does for the key feel. Ask them and their ideal midi keyboard will feature hammer action keys, as piano pieces are the majority of what they play.

You don’t find many beat-makers or loop-junkies who have a 88 fully weighted midi, although they’ll no doubt be some of out there. If this is you, Hey!
Who buys a 61 key controller?Producers who buy a 61 key midi controller are usually those who’re after all the features you get with an 88, yet aren’t ones to get overly passionate about keybed quality or the severity of the keypress.

They just after a midi that comes with as many options as is possible and fits well into their studio setup. Basically a well-rounded multi tasker that’s performs no matter what’s thrown at them.

Typically these will either be high end producers or keyboard players, who don’t see the value in hammer action keys.
Who buys a 49 key controller?This size of midi controller is generally bought by one type of person – someone who wants more keys than you get with a 25, yet can’t justify spending £100s (sometimes even £1000s) on a larger board.

What’s more, producers with 49s also usually have the one midi keyboard, so are after something that fits in well to a studio environment and packs enough in the way of functions and assignable controls. While at the same time doesn’t sacrifice too much of the portability that you get with a 25 key midi.

Ask producers with a 61 or 88 key controller and they’ll likely own multiple controllers. One of the above for the studio & a 25 key for working ‘on the go’.
Who buys a 25 key controller?Spoiler: A lot of people buy 25 key midi controllers, hence why they’re the most popular form of midi controller out there.

Although, you’ll typically you’ll find that the majority of pros who own 25 key midis are either beat-makers or work in loops. Those who just need enough keys to lay down a few chords or sketch out a melody.

Then there’s those ‘on the go’ prods who’re after something portable, in which case a 25 is usually their second midi – the one that lives in their backpack.

And not forgetting beginners who buy a 25 key midi mainly because of the cheaper price, but also to get used to how midi controllers work. Perhaps even find out what type of producer the are.
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How 25 key midis differ to their larger relatives…

So now you’ve got a vague idea of who buys what sized midi, it’d make sense to understand where 25 key controllers differ. In other words, the features/ characteristics that’ll determine whether 25 keys is enough for you and your setup. Call them those points that’re likely to influence your buying decision.

So read on and we’ll help you understand exactly what you’ll be getting with 25 keys by comparing them to their larger relatives…

The keys/ keybed

Opt for a 25 key midi controller over an 88, and you’ll likely feel a substantial difference in the keys. That’s because many controllers with 25 keys have synth action keys (unweighted) or if you opt for a more premium 25, semi weighted keys. We’re yet to find a 25 key midi with full hammer action keys.

So what you’ll tend to find with these midis, is that the keypress is lighter, and the keybed itself will be slightly more shallow. Why? Because adding hammer action keys wouldn’t only add a substantial amount of weight, but it’d also make the board more costly to produce. Hardly ideal when the main purpose of a 25 key controller is to be affordable.

Build quality

A 25 key midi controller also differs largely in terms of build. Aside from having the smallest footprint of any midi, a 25 key also tends to be the lightest. Reason being that the majority sit on a plastic chassis, opposed to the metal (usually aluminium) that you find on larger controllers.

In fact, we only know of the Arturia Minilab Mk2 that uses metal in its design. And it’s fair to say that does result in a slight weight gain. Although with that being said, we’d always be suspicious of super lightweight midi keyboards, as it does leave a big (?) next to the built quality. We’d say it’s sometimes worth spending that bit extra to get yourself a 25 key midi with a solid build, especially if it’s going to spend its life inside your rucksack.

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Features

Due to their smaller footprint, you’ll usually find that 25 key midis come with less features than their larger counterparts. Where a 25 key midi could have 8 drum pads, size up and you could bag yourself 16. It’s the same story with other assignable controls like knobs and faders too. Partially a limitation of their small footprint, but also to do with manufacturing costs & their production budget.

Also, you’ll usually find less in the way of tech with 25 key midi controllers. So for instance with Native Instruments keyboards, the 25-key A25 doesn’t come with a screen. Yet the more expensive S Series boards with more keys do. In fact, they come with two! Therefore, if maximum tech and functionality is what you’re after, then 25 keys may not be for you.

Software bundles

This is one of those differences that you kind of expect. So with 25 key boards being targeted very much towards beginners & coming in at a far cheaper price, you’ll usually receive less in the way of software. This could be access to additional sounds & chord packs or DAWs like Ableton Live, Logic & Pro Tools.

If we had to use one word to describe the software you get bundled with 25 key controllers, we’d say “Lite”. In fact, it’s very much like a wine tasting – you get a glass, but not the whole bottle. So for instance, those who buy a 25 key Arturia will get access to Ableton Live Lite & Analogue Lab Lite. One is a taster of a DAW and the other is a taster of Arturia’s epic sound suite. Therefore, if you want to avoid the cost of upgrading in the future, it may actually be cheaper for you to buy a more expensive board.

Is 25 keys enough for music production? A few potential midis…

As much as you need to know what you’re after in a controller, to say whether or not 25 keys is enough for production, you need to go a level deeper. To do so, you need to be aware of the current 25 key midis that are out there on the market today. Because it’s one thing to know what you want, but it’s another thing entirely to track it down.

Therefore, to help you do so extra fast, we’ve outlined some of the best mini midi keyboards below, in relation to with whom & where they’re best suited. You can thank us later…

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Best portable 25 key midi keyboard controller?

Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3

25 key midis are designed to be portable, so you can see why we’re huge fans of the Launchkey Mini Mk3. This keyboard controller is tiny! With an overall width of just 33cm and a length of just over 17cm, this midi has an incredibly small footprint. It’s slim too at just 4.1cm thick! However the figure we still find hard to grasp is the weight of this board, as somehow, despite all the features Novation have crammed into its petite chassis, this 25 key midi controller tips the scales at less than 0.7kg! We’re speechless…

And you’ll soon understand why when you see just how much tech this keyboard is packing! It’s features include: 25 mini velocity-sensitive keys, 16 RGB backlit drum pads, 8 encoder knobs, 2 touch strips for pitch & mod, transport buttons, a built-in arpeggiator, chord functions and what has to be the most in-depth DAW control we’ve ever come across. Hook this board up to your laptop and you’ll soon realise what we mean. Every pad/ button on this midi has about 3 different functions! Slightly confusing to begin with, but once you get the hang, it becomes a workflow God-send. Oh, and did we mention, this 25 also comes with a Midi Out port too!

Then there’s how this midi plays. To say it’s very much a portable midi, it doesn’t cut corners when it comes to playability. Shout out to whoever’s the brains behind the keybed on this board, as each note feels super good to play, especially considering they’re mini keys. The one thing you’ll notice about this board is that everything on it feels like it’s been designed to be responsive. Nothing on it feels numb or slightly vanilla. Those 16 pads being proof in point.

And yet the fact that all this fits inside a medium-sized backpack still staggers us to this day. Rank all midi controllers on a ratio of ‘functionality: size’ & we’re confident the Novation will at least get a spot on the podium for the Launchkey Mini Mk3. In fact, as far as portable midis go, we’d say you’d be foolish to look anywhere else.

Reasons you should make the Launchkey Mini your ‘on the go’ board…

  • The sheer ‘functionality: size’ ratio of this 25 key midi controller is insane. Find this many features in a smaller package & we’ll give you a medal.
  • This board feels like it’s been made to be responsive. Everything you press & interact with has a good feel & level of sensitivity.
  • That DAW control is out of this world. Novation have really raised the bar with how integrated midi keyboards can be (hats off)!
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Best 25 key midi keyboard for the studio?

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25

After a midi keyboard for the studio, but also want it to double as your ‘on the go’ midi controller? If so, then a 25 key controller would be a solid all-round choice. More specifically, this midi controller by M-Audio – the baby of their Oxygen Pro line. A title which means that this midi could well be one of the most intuitive 25 key controllers that you can buy today. Really look at it and this controller is virtually all the production features you need, crammed into one solid-feeling package.

The Pro 25 gives you two wheels for pitch & modulation wheels, 16 velocity sensitive pads, a screen that’s actually useful, ‘smartscale’/ ‘smartchord’ features and even a ‘Midi Out’ port. All of which means that this controller can indeed talk to the rest of your setup too! Being full size and semi weighted, the keys live up to the hype too!

In fact, you could say that for a 25 key midi they surpass expectations, as aside from being mounted to what is a pretty darn nice keybed – the key feel on the Pro 25 is on-point. The keys have some good weight to them, yet the spring action isn’t too severe. You can perform some serious piano tricks on this 25 key! Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they also come with aftertouch! But as you can imagine, all this functionality comes at a cost.

This midi weighs over 2kg and in terms of its footprint is one of the largest 25 key midis on sale. So in terms of the midi world it’s an XXL. Exactly why we say this controller is more suited to the studio. While there’s nothing to stop you taking it out and about, let’s just say it’d be slightly more clunky to do so than the previous pick on this list. But despite this, it’s easy to see why for many it’s a front-runner. Safe to say the fact they dub it as the ‘Pro’ isn’t just clever marketing.

Why M-Audio’s 25 key midi controller is enough for your studio…

  • It’s feature packed & has virtually everything you need for studio production, yet it’s somehow condensed into 25 keys! You can tell they did a lot of R&D before making this.
  • Those keys are semi weighted and full size, so pianists should at least be able to muster a smile. While they’re not hammer action, they do have a really nice feel to them. The keypress is decent!
  • As with anything from M-Audio, the build is always stand-out. Everything from the chassis rioght to the buttons feels super premium. Crazy when you consider that the Oxygen Pro 25 sits at the bottom of the Oxygen Pro line!!
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Best 25 key midi keyboard for rookie producers?

Arturia Minilab Mk2

The Arturia Minilab Mk2 has in many ways set the standard for 25 key midi controllers over the past 4-5 years. And yet, we think it’s aged rather well. Despite other manufacturers releasing the 3rd generation of their 25 key controllers, the Minilab still puts up a good fight. Most notably in terms of build quality. Find a better built 25 key midi than this and we’ll give you a medal. It just feels so rugged!

Get hands on with the Minilab and you’ll soon see what we mean. It’s also the only controller that we know of which has a metal base. Not only that, but the keys on the Minilab really do feel premium. Compared to those you’ll find on equivalent controllers by Novation and Akai, we’d even go as far as to say they feel superior. For mini keys, you really can’t beat the Minilab.

Our only real snag with the Arturia is its level of DAW integration. Now don’t get us wrong, it’s good, especially for beginners. But when you contrast it to younger options like the Novation’s latest version of the Launchkey Mini (the Mk3), it does begin to show its age. But then again, for any newbie producer DAW integration shouldn’t be the biggest worry. Experimenting with sounds and functions is far more important, as it’s that which is going to help you find your style. An area where the Minilab delivers… and then some.

Reasons why the Minilab is enough for beginners…

  • The build of the Arturia is sensational! For a beginner midi controller, it feels lux.
  • That keybed is arguably best in class. The keypress is soft, yet the velocity sensitivity is really well balanced. These keys are not on/off switches.
  • Access to Analogue Lab Lite is a nice touch, especially for beginners!
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Best 25 key midi keyboard for pianists?

Nektar Impact LX25+

Now you’d assume that for keen pianists, a 25 key controller would not be the ‘go to’ option. And to think so you’d mostly be right. However, that’s not to say that 25 keys won’t ever come in use. If you ever have the urge to produce ‘on the go’, they’re a darn site easier to carry than a full size 88 with hammer actions. Exactly why we feel even the Motzarts among us, shouldn’t write them off just yet.

Especially the LX25+, which we feel is the closest you can get to that piano-like experience with just 25 keys. Granted, with it’s keys being semi weighted, the feel won’t be on par with your Steinway. But the keys are full size and the keybed itself is a good depth. Couple that with its accurate sensitivity to velocity and you can get some real tones out of this 25 key midi.

We like to think of it as a pianist’s notepad. While it’s not to easiest to compose extravagant symphonies using the LX25+, its is a great tool for recording ideas and experimenting with sound. So while it wouldn’t suffice for a pianist’s main in-studio midi keyboard, as a secondary ‘on the go’ option, we think it’d work rather well. Excellent in fact.

Here’s what makes the LX25+ a good enough controller for pianists…

  • The keys are full size & in terms of feel, some of the closest you’ll get to a piano in just 25 keys!
  • While the larger keys do make it that bit more bulky, it’ still reasonably compact. Compared to a full 88, it’s microscopic!
  • Compared to other midis, the LX 25+ is largely key-focused. There’s very little else in the way of distractions – neon drum pads, 10,000 assignable knobs etc.
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Best user friendly 25 key midi keyboard

Akai MPK Mini Mk3

Tot up all the gossip surrounding 25 key midis and the MPK Mini is by far the most talked about. Reason? It’s not just the best-selling 25 key midi of all time, but it’s also what you 99% of people think of when you say ‘midi controller’. It’s the midi keyboard. One that production rookies will be pleased to know is now better than ever.

By that we mean that on this (the third iteration), everything seems that bit more intuitive and user friendly. Ask us and Akai really have mastered the proportions with this Mk3. Nothing seems too big and nothing seems too small. Even small details like the gap between each encoder has been carefully judged, so that you don’t accidentally knock the next encoder by mistake. And it’s attention to detail like that which we really like!

Those 8 encoders for instance, are endless. The 8 MPC-style drum pads are uber responsive – some of the best we’ve tested. And the keybed feels soft, but equally firm. A HUGE upgrade from the previous Mk2, which we thought was a bit unstable & made an annoying clicking sound every time a key was depressed. So while the Mk3 doesn’t bring much new to the table, it does improve on a winning formula. And for that, you have to respect it.

What makes the MPK Mini user friendly enough to be simple…

  • It’s compact! The size of the MPK when compared to other midis in this segment is sublime. It’s super backpack friendly!
  • To say those semi weighted keys are mini, they play really well. Not the best in class (in our opinion), but definitely up there with the best.
  • This midi keyboard masters the basics – it doesn’t try to be fancy or OTT, just easy to use. Exactly why any production rookie needs to own at least 1 MPK Mini during their career… we’d advise sooner rather than later!
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Best 25 key midi keyboard for experienced producers & plugin addicts?

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A25

If you’re a producer who’s partial to plugins, then a Native Instruments midi keyboard is a ‘must’. That’s because aside from great DAW integration, NI have also mastered how their midi keyboards integrate with their own software. Great news, as the Komplete Kontrol sound suite is no slouch. Buy the full-fat version and you get access to around 45k sounds, all of which you can easily navigate using any NI midi controller.

As far as 25 key controllers go, you really only have one choice – the A25. A midi keyboard that in true NI fashion, is built to a high standard. The A25 feels super solid. Not only that but it features a set of full size semi weighted keys, which have a real natural feel to them. Much like most Native Instruments midis. It also features two wheels for pitch and modulation, as well as nice row of encoders. However, when it boils down to it, this keyboard’s party piece is how it controls your NI plugins.

Hands down, this is what this 25 key controller is made for. Compare it to others in its class and there’s far more feature-rich options out there. In fact, for most people stepping up to the M32 is a wise move, as despite it having more keys, it’s the same width as well as thinner & lighter too. In fact, if you don’t own the Komplete Kontrol sound suite, then this midi has little appeal. However, if you do then it could well be all you need.

Why this 25 key controller is enough for pros & plugin fanatics…

  • There’s hands-down no better way of controlling your NI plugins. The A25 is made for navigating that KK sound suite.
  • The keys on the A25 are semi weighted and full size too, so the keypress has a decent feel to it. It’s much like that you find on the Nektar Impact LX25+.
  • Build quality on the A25 is near faultless. This midi controller truly does feel tough as nails!
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Is 25 keys enough for MIDI keyboard? Our verdict… (A MUST READ)

In the majority of situations, we say yes – 25 keys is enough for a midi controller.

That being because really the only situation when a 25 key midi doesn’t make sense, is if you always require 88 keys every time you play. In other words, unless you’re a concert pianist, 25 keys should at least be enough for you to get by. Put it this way, the pluses that come with 25 keys more than outweigh the cons.

The biggest con being that you might find yourself on the odd occasion reaching for more keys. A slight drawback we know, but what with the sheer functionality of DAWs these days, if it’s once in a blue moon, it’s hardly a dealbreaker. In 99% of cases, combining separate pieces in-DAW is a walk in the park, even for a production rookie. As is changing up the octave or pulling back some of the notes. As for the pluses, well…

25 key midis work super well for composing melodies. If you’re a beat-maker (or planning to become one), the 25 keys offers more than enough flexibility. The rich combo of keys, pads, encoders and (in some cases) faders, mean that you’ll be able to find some way of expressing yourself musically with these controllers. They’re a very open-minded piece of equipment that gives you a LOT of options.

Then of course, from a beginner’s perspective, 25 key midis are by far the least intimidating. Let’s just say that if the first midi keyboard you sit behind an 88, then you may start to blush and swallow rather loudly. In short, feel out of your depth. Not something you want before you’ve even played a note! Knocks to your confidence like that could be enough to prevent you from tapping into your talent full stop.

And then of course there’s the portability aspect of having just 25 keys. Ask us and keyboards that you can take outside the four walls of your studio, are immensely valuable. Why is because (as we’ve discovered) your creative process isn’t predictable. It’s not something you can KPI. Hence why the majority of good ideas and inspiration tends to come when you’re not even thinking about it. Exactly why portable midis put you at such an advantage. They almost eliminate the risk of these golden ideas going to waste!

Then consider that 25 key midis are the cheapest controllers out there, and really it’s no wonder they’re so popular. They tick that many boxes that you’d be balmy not to own one.

Enjoy this advice on 25 key midi keyboards and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Production Advice + all our recent Music Kit Reviews. Recently, we also did a full rundown of the 8 Best 25 key Midi Controllers, which may also be worth checking out!

Or if you’ve still trying to decide whether 25 keys is enough for a midi controller, keep reading & we’ll do our best to answer any more of your burning questions…

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The lowdown on everything 25 key midi keyboards…

To some extent yes – you can learn piano on 25 keys, but not fully.

The most we could see you learning on a 25 key controller would be chords and maybe how to string a melody together. But that’s not to say for beginners 25 keys isn’t enough. While these compact controllers may not be the best for learning technique, they’re more than capable of building your relationship with sound.

Experiment with all the sounds and affects that you can get with a midi keyboard and very soon you’ll be able to draw similarities between various instruments. So for instance, you’ll be able to recognise B flat on a piano, but also tell when it’s been played on a trumpet. So while midi keyboards with 25 keys may not be the best at learning piano, fi you want to teach yourself, they’re the way to go.

On a piano you’ll find 88 keys (7 full octaves).

So with a 25 key midi keyboard you do cut down the size of the keybed substantially! By 5 octaves to be precise. Great news for portability, but less so if you’re a fluent piano player. Not that you can’t access sounds from the other 5 octaves – you can. Only to do so you will have to use the octave ‘up/down’ button, which can prevent you from playing a piece in one go.

However saying that, with the functionality of DAWs stitching these snippets of audio together shouldn’t be that much of a bushtucker trial.

The 25 keys you get on a mini midi controller equates to 2 of the 7 octaves that you get on a full-sized piano.

Although, unless you’re a fluent piano player, this slight lack of keys shouldn’t be much of an issue. For creating melodies you can more than suffice with 25 keys. In fact, we prefer it, as having to shift between different octaves really gets you to think about the note structure, opposed to just hitting random keys and hoping for the best.

There’s a lot of things to take into account when buying a 25 key midi controller (highlighted above). However, if we had to narrow it down to one, we’d say…

Production rookies/ beginners: For you guys, the thing to focus on is functionality. If you’re yet to get a feel for how you like the produce, then for your first midi controller you need something with as much options as is possible. The Akai MPK Mini, Arturia Minilab Mk2 or Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 would be all wise pics if you ask us.

Experienced producers: Because you guys have very much found yourselves as producers, we’d say build quality and perhaps portability are your two main concerns. That’s because out of 25 key midi you’re after something that’s both long-lasting and suited to your style of production.