A midi keyboard with weighted keys is actually quite rare.
For the most part, this exclusive breed of midi keyboard remains somewhat under the radar, and due to its steeper price tag, doesn’t often make it into the limelight. You’ll most likely see all the hype directed towards their slightly cheaper semi-weighted cousins. Yet, it’s not like weighted midi keyboards are worse value – if anything, they’re 10x better.
Weighted keys give you a stronger more intentional keypress, as well as a keyboard that feels a lot less like a toy and more like a serious piece of equipment. Opt for a keyboard that’s weighted and you’ll also have more control over how you play. A small detail that can greatly affect the accuracy of your sound. Good to know!
Plus, if you’re a regular piano player, the feel of a fully weighted midi keyboard should be pretty familiar, especially if you go the whole hog and get a midi keyboard that boasts hammer-action keys. So much so that we decided to expose these fully weighted (and a few semi weighted) midi keyboards, by giving you the lowdown on both. How better are weighted keys? Should you make them part of your next midi? Read on to find out…
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The best fully/ semi weighted midi keyboards @ a glance…
10 of the best weighted midi keyboards you can buy
Don’t be fooled – there’s a lot more to weighted midi keyboards than meets the eye. The majority of midi controllers you come across will be weighted in some respect, however it’s how they’re weighted that makes the difference. That’s because aside from fully weight midi keyboards, there’s also those which are semi weighted too.
In short, the difference is pretty simple. A fully weighted keyboard will use a hammer action key, similar to those you’ll find on a piano. These are the ones that’ll give you that ‘piano-like feel’. Whereas semi weight controllers use a spring action, which generally means that the key feels substantially lighter and ‘springs’ back into position far quicker. So now that we’ve clarified the difference, here’s our rundown of the best weighted midi controllers in 2022…
Fully weighted midi keyboards (hammer action)
1: Arturia KeyLab 88 MKII weighted midi keyboard
As far as weighted keyboards go, the Arturia Keylab 88 MK2 really has it all. In fact, you could even label it the ‘ultimate Arturia midi controller’, as it’s the only one that boasts a full set of hammer action keys with aftertouch. Keys that we may add, feel super good to play, and could really trick you into thinking you’re playing a grand piano! But then again, that supreme key feel isn’t just down to the keys.
The Fatar keybed (made in Italy) is also partially responsible; playing the Keylab 88 you can be so much more expressive when compared to a semi weighted midi controller. The keypress has intention, and because of the hammer action, allows you to create a wider range of tones and depth. And just as you’d expect with a top of the line midi controller, this Arturia comes fully loaded. Keys aside, you get a everything from 16 RGB backlit drum pads and various programmable faders/ encoders, to a plethora of inputs/ outputs + great transport controls too!
We’re particular fans of the design, which uses a mixture of metal and real wood, to create a retro feel that we really dig! Arturia even took the time to integrate a stand for your sheet music, as well as extended shelf, so that when performing live, you can rest your laptop on top of the Keylab – very clever! In fact, the only real drawback is the weight. Tipping the scales at 20kg, it isn’t light. But with that being said, when you’re investing in a fully-loaded 88-key midi controller with hammer action keys and this level of build quality, that’s something you should come to expect.
Reasons to buy weighted midi keyboard?
2: M-Audio Hammer 88-key midi keyboard
For any keen pianist, the M-Audio Hammer 88 is not a weighted midi keyboard to overlook. Unlike any 88-key midi we could find, this keyboard boasts 88 hammer action keys with aftertouch, that (crucially) are graded! All of which means that this midi controller, doesn’t really feel like a controller at all – you could easily mistake it for a digital piano. Even the keypress mimics that you find on a grand; compared to the S88 and Keylab, it’s ever so slightly lighter.
As for equipment, the Hammer 88 is no slouch either. Scan the top and you’ll find a whopping 9 faders, 8 knobs and 16 velocity sensitive pads, which are RGB backlit and come with 4 banks! Not to mention two wheels for pitch and modulation that’re backlit in a tone of red that matches the felt that runs across the top of the keys. Very classy! In fact, it’s fair to say that out of all the weighted midi keyboards that you can get your hands on, the Hammer 88 certainly looks the most premium. So much so that even just using this controller feels like a real occasion.
Bar the plastic end caps, the entire build is metal, and comes with a slight texture that we really dig. Not to mention a purpose built stand for your sheet music. Team this with the exceptional DAW control and you do struggle to find fault. Speaking of which, this weighted midi controller is the most compatible you’ll find when it comes to DAWs – it’ll work with virtually any! So aside from your mainstream DAWs like Logic, Pro Tools and Ableton Live, the Hammer 88 also performs really well with Cakewalk, Reason and even Akai’s own DAW, MPC Beats. Talk about impressive!
Why you need this hammer action midi keyboard?
3: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2
If you’re engrained in the Native Instrument ecosystem, then you need to get your hands on this weighted midi keyboard. Reason?
Well for starters, those hammer action keys (with aftertouch) really do promote expressive play. In fact, they’re pretty similar to those you find on the Arturia Keylab, as (fun fact) both share the same Fatar keybed. The keypress is equally as intentional and allows you to add a real depth to your sound. The only real difference we found is that because the S88 is seated in plastic (opposed to metal), the sound of the keybed during play is ever so slightly quieter.
However, don’t roll your eyes at the mention of plastic, as that’s what makes this keyboard so light. A whopping 8kg less than the Arturia, all of which makes it the ideal high-end midi for the road. And yet, the S88 doesn’t scrimp on spec either. Scan the top and you’ll find a row of programmable knobs, as well as pitch and mod wheels, intuitive transport controls and even a 2 LCD screens! An addition we really like, as it rids the need for 10,000 buttons, so when compared to its competition, the S88 has very much a minimalist design.
However, one particular feature of the S88 we’d like to highlight are the lights that you’ll find above each key, which do actually have a purpose aside from looking pretty. In scale mode, they work as a guide to indicate the notes that’re part of your chosen scale. They also change depending on your instrument too. So in a Brass Ensemble, the colours might indicate different types of brass instruments, whereas for a guitar they may differentiate keys that play chords, from those that play sounds. A major workflow hack if you ask us!!
What’s so special about this weighted midi?
4: Roland A88 MK2 midi keyboard
While Roland aren’t the most well known for their midi controllers, we struggle to understand why, as the A88 is by far one of the best fully weighted midi keyboards that we’ve come across. Safe to say that those with a fetish for hammer action keys, will be pleasantly surprised. In fact, we’d be tempted to say that these are the best hammer action keys ever fitted to a midi controller. They’re just supreme!
So much so that we even decided to do a blind test between a Yamaha Digital Piano and the A88. And you know what, we preferred the A88. Thats because the keys themselves are like no other midi controller we’ve come across. Depress a key and there’s an ever so slight notch as the hammer is released, just like you find on an Acoustic piano. A really subtle detail, but it’s one that for us, really enhances the feel of this board. Couple that with it’s keybed, which is actually smuggled from Roland’s FP pianos, and yep – this weighted midi means business!!
Key fetish aside though, the controller is really well built. The buttons feel tactile, the pads are responsive and the metal housing comes in a textured finish that sets the A88 apart from other midis. The only real gripe we have with this midi is its size. In terms of weight, it’s actually quite light for what it is, but as for size, that’s another matter. Because Roland chose to mount the controls towards the left of the keyboard, opposed to along the top of the keys, this board is long – very long. Don’t get us wrong, it’s fantastic for gigging. In a live environment, this controller would thrive. But whether it’ll fit in your car – that’s another question.
Why you need this hammer action midi keyboard?
5: Studiologic SL88 hammer action midi keyboard
After that weighted piano-like feel on a budget? If so, then look no further than the SL88 by StudioLogic. And that’s because, despite it being less than half the price of the S88 and Keylab, the StudioLogic can easily rival both when it comes to keys. That’s because it too shares the same Fatar keybed. Granted, the keys aren’t graded like those in the Hammer 88, but they more than make up for it by the way they respond. They’re incredibly responsive!
What’s more, StudioLogic haven’t cut corners with the build either. The whole unit feels proper solid! And while you don’t get RGB drum pads, assignable faders or encoders with this keyboard, you do get joysticks for pitch and modulation. You also have the ability to control 4 midi channels at once, as well as various presets too. Really all you need if you’re a key-focused player. And that’s the exact point of this board.
The SL88 orientates around key feel – it’s not designed to be an all-in-one beat-making monster that flashes 50 different colours & has a gazillion different functions. Instead, it’s a midi keyboard that’s for the most part stripped back, and only complex in the places where it needs to be. Why? Because instead, it’s all about encouraging you to be expressive when you play, and then capturing that expression through midi for an affordable price. Haven for 99% of keen piano players.
Why you need this hammer action midi keyboard?
Semi weighted midi keyboards
6: Novation 61SL MkIII semi weighted midi controller
It’s worth noting that not all weighted midi controllers are designed just to lay down piano solos. Take the 61SL. Aside from coming with e decent set of semi weighted keys, this midi also comes equipped with virtually every feature that you’d ever need on a midi keyboard. And if that wasn’t enough, it can even be used to control hardware device (like a synth) too!
To help you understand just how intuitive this midi really is, here’s a quick rundown of the specs. The 61SL comes with a shed load of assignable faders (8) encoders (8) and RGB pads (16), as well as a built-in arpeggiator, sequencer, and a whopping 5 screens. On top of that there’s wheels for pitch and modulation, a ton of transport controls and inputs/ outputs for Midi, Midi Thru, TRS, CV/Gate, a sustain pedal, and more. Yep- this semi weighted midi keyboard is fully loaded!
And yet, in terms of keys we were quite impressed. It’s clear that Novation hasn’t just used this onslaught of tech to distract you from a sub-par keybed. For a semi weight, it’s surprisingly solid. So much so that we wouldn’t describe it’s action as springy – more lively to be honest. Ask us and the 61SL is hands down one of the most intuitive controllers you can buy today.
Why pick this weighted midi keyboard?
7: Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 MK2
While the weighted keys of the S88 are sublime, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is 88 keys exactly portable. Hence why if you want Komplete Kontrol over your sound, and don’t mind sacrificing a few keys, the Native Instruments S61 is likely to be a good option.
It’s keys, although semi-weighted, do feel very much like those of a synth, however as with all NI keyboards, the keybed is standalone. So unlike what you get with some semi weighted keys, those on the S61 aren’t springy. If anything, the action is well gauged and the key itself has some decent travel to it. So as you can imagine, this semi-weighted midi controller works really well for anything you’re doing with piano, synth or strings. As the name suggests, it offers Komplete Kontrol.
Speaking of which, the S61 manages to also be incredibly usable thanks to its dual LCD screens, which rid the need for a good number of buttons. They’re also really intuitive for when controlling your DAW – a perk of the S-series controllers that we really like! Another being the LED light guides above each key, that flash accordance to the notes that’re being played, be that during a loop, while using scale mode or getting creative with the built in arpeggiator.
Even the touch strip, which at first we were quite skeptical about, has actually proved itself to be invaluable in many instances. So when you team that with the fact this semi weighted midi controller is built to last, as well as gives you access to the Komplete software suite of over 25k sounds, and it’s very hard to pick fault.
Why this semi weighted midi keyboard?
8: Akai Professional MPK 261
Producers and beat-makers rejoice at the sight of this semi weighted midi keyboard (with aftertouch). Why? Because it’s basically an MPK Mini, only vastly improved. And just like the MPK Mini, this controller has already developed some serious street cred amongst producers of beat-based genres like Hip Hop, Garage and Drum & Bass. The main reason for which being its MPC drum pads, which are prasied for their dynamic range and often labelled as the best you can get.
Just one of the perks of the MPK261 – there’s 16 of these, as well as 4 extra banks (so 64)! All of which makes beat-making a breeze with this midi controller. Not to mention those keys, which while semi-weighted, do come with one of the best keybeds that Akai currently makes. While there’s a spring with these keys, there’s no unnecessary noise or rattles whilst playing. Overall the keybed is reasonably quiet.
The quality’s much the same when it comes to functionality. Make it be known, this board is no slouch. Aside from 8 assignable knobs and faders, there’s also a note repeat function, arpeggiator, tap tempo and even a time division function. All a goldmine for when it comes to making loops. And yet all this functionality doesn’t seem to weight the board down. Despite the 61-keys, the board clocks in at just over 7kg, so it’s portable too.
Look at it like this and it is easy to see why producers make a beeline for this semi weighted board. Unlike a lot of its competition, it’s not trying to be overly technical, look super suave or only appeal to professional musicians with over £1k in cash. It’s just focused on one thing – mastering the basics.
Why pick this weighted midi keyboard?
9: Arturia Keylab Essential 88 semi weighted midi keyboard
With it carrying the same ‘Keylab’ name, you’d imagine that the Essential would be a lot like the Keylab MK2. And in many respects, it is. You get a equally generous amount of knobs, faders, RGB drum pads and even the same screen with a navigation wheel. You also get 88-keys and many of the same transport controls too. However that’s pretty much where the differences end. Pick the controller up and you’ll soon see what we mean.
The Essential is a slimline version of the MK2 – it’s a lot lighter. Over twice as light to be exact! Why? Because unlike the metal you’ll find on the MK2, the Essential is constructed of a high-grade plastic.What’s more, the hammer action keys have been replaced with a slimline semi weighted set, that comes with a spring action. Tweaks that may at first seem like a backwards step, however when you consider that you can pick one of these up for around a third of the price, suddenly all of that changes.
Compared to other semi weight boards, the Essential is really good value. Yes, there’s nowhere as much feel in the keys as the pricy MK2, nor is the build quality on par. But as a midi controller, it’s definitely got legs! Being lightweight makes it the ideal 88-key midi for touring, and no matter what you say, it’s still rich in useful features. Now of course, they might not be the features to get a pianist excited, but then again, that’s the job of the MK2. From the perspective of a beatmaker or touring musician however, the Essential isn’t just a contender – it’s tempting.
Reasons why this semi weighted midi makes sense…
Here’s the best cheap midi controller with weighted keys…
10: Nektar Impact GXP88 semi-weighted midi controller
Midi controllers don’t get much better value than the GXP88. So if you’re after a cheap semi weighted midi keyboard that you can either use to practice technique or just scat out melodies as soon as they come to mind, then this 88-key Nektar may be all you need. Ask us and we’re particular fans of its minimalist design (i.e. lack of 10,000 buttons). The only distractions you have with this keyboard are two wheels for pitch & modulation, plus a few simple transport controls. The GXP88 is all about the keys!
Speaking of which, that’s where this board sets itself apart. And that’s because unlike the majority of midi controllers in this price range, the 88 keys on the GXP88 (while semi weighted) do come with aftertouch. A perk you’ll usually find reserved for more premium midi keyboards. What’s more, the keys themselves rest on an ‘ok’ keybed – it’s by no means the best out there, but certainly far from the worst. When playing we came across a little key noise, but nothing too horrendous. That being said though, the keys themselves do take some getting used to.
When compared to the average keyboard, each key on the GXP88 is ever so slightly slanted downwards towards the top. So really it’s almost like you’re playing into the keyboard. Quite an unusual position at first, although once we got used to it (around a month of playing), we actually preferred it. Arturia, Novation, M-Audio – take note! The slant works great for fast playing and makes performing complex piano tricks that bit easier. Exactly why if we had to pick our favourite midi controller for gigging, the GXP88 would be a strong contender.
Best semi weighted midi controller? Perhaps – here’s why…
Which is the best weighted midi keyboard? Our editor’s choice…
When it comes to weighted keyboards, we’d be tempted to opt for something fully weighted, despite the obvious difference in price. Yes, from a technical point of view, a semi weighted midi offers much the same in terms of drum pads, faders, tracking controls and DAW integration etc. But, we can’t get around that sheer difference in key feel. It’s massive!
While semi weighted keys are good, we’re quietly confident that even a non-pianist would give us the thumbs up, when we say that weighted keys offer you far more control when playing. They’re also more responsive too, and are a clear sign of a keyboard that’s been well-built. And that’s the important thing to remember here – don’t get sidetracked by price.
Your real focus when choosing between a semi weighted and weighted midi keyboard should be value. By that we mean, how much you’re getting in relation to what you spend. Something where we feel a fully weighted midi keyboard really shines! And that’s because while they are more pricy than something semi weighted, they’re a whole LOT cheaper than the equivalent piano!! And then of course being a midi keyboard, they’re also so much more versatile too.
So what you’re actually getting with a weighted midi keyboard is from a professional standpoint, the best of both worlds. The feel and response of a piano with the functionality of a midi keyboard. As for which we’d select though, that’s slightly more tricky decision. That’s because on the whole, we liked them all. However two did stand out.
Arturia Keylab 88
Arturia set the bar high in terms of quality with the KeyLab – we genuinely struggled to find fault. The metal finish is sublime, as is the real wood, as well as the whole way it functions with your DAW. Not to mention the feel of the keys, which is miles ahead of its semi weighted counterpart.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2
But then of course we can’t neglect to mention the S88. A keyboard that’s built itself a reputation for being one of the best in the business for DAW integration. The keyfeel on the S88 is also pretty dope too. In fact, it’s incredibly similar to that of the KeyLab, due to its keybed also being made by Fatar – the same company which make that you find in the Arturia.
All-in-all then, we’d be very happy with either. And we’re pretty sure you should be too. So as for which is the best weighted midi keyboard, we’ll leave that ball in your court.
Enjoy this review of weighted midi keyboards and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Kit Reviews, as well as the lowdown on all things Music Production. Recently we also published a guide on the Best 61 Key Midi Controller Keyboards, if you’re after something slightly smaller. Plus, if size is big deal for you, a guide to the Best 49 Key Midi Controllers.
Or, if you’ve still got as burning question about midi controllers with fully weighted keys, keep reading to discover even more about why weighted midi keyboards are worth their weight in gold…