Best of 2014: MIDI Controllers

Over the past year we've reviewed a lot of capable and unique MIDI Controllers here at AskAudio Mag. Here's our favorite 12 of the year (in alphabetical order).  
We don't necessarily subscribe to the idea of gear being either the "best" or "worst". Having said that, some music controllers are just more intelligently designed, more useful, and thus more enjoyable to use. Here's our pick of the bunch which we reviewed in 2014.

1 - Akai Pro MPK249

Lights? Check. MIDI? Check? MPC pads? Check. Studio and live performance Ableton Live controller you won't be able to keep your hands off? GW Childs finds out in our in-depth review.

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Price: $499

Pros: A solid controller with lots of lights. Also, great software and internal MIDI functionality. 

Cons: Faders are a little wobbly and the Arpeggiation menu would benefit from some kind of latch functionality.

Webhttp://www.akaipro.com/product/mpk-249

2 - Arturia BeatStep (with Video Overview)

Are you in the market for a compact MIDI controller with a built-in step sequencer and a few tricks up its sleeve, at a budget price? The Arturia BeatStep may fit the bill. (Watch the video demo too).

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Price: £89 GBP / $99 USD

Pros: Awesome value for money, innovative sequencer, CV and MIDI connectivity.

Cons: No display—bar that not much at this price point!

Webhttp://www.arturia.com/evolution/en/products/BeatStep/intro.html

3 - Arturia Keylab 49

If you're in the market for a well-built controller and want a stellar sound library to go with it, the Arturia KeyLab 49 deserves your consideration. Noah Pred delves into all it can do.

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Price: $399 / €329

Pros: Huge high-quality sound library, great key action, solid MIDI via USB, and a wealth of controller options.

Cons: Not supported as a control surface yet in most DAWs, no access to serious synthesis components or full parameter modulation without upgrade.

Web: http://www.arturia.com/evolution/en/products/KeyLab49/intro.html

4 - CME Xkey

It's light, metal, portable with full-sized keys and polyphonic aftertouch. But how does the CME Xkey MIDI controller keyboard really perform in the studio and on the road? Andy Bowen finds out.

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Price: $100

Pros: extremely portable, premium metal build, polyphonic aftertouch, full-sized keys, configuration via iOS, PC and OS X apps, nice price.

Cons: limited pitch and modulation functionality, difficult to master chiclet keys, Micro-USB port is difficult to reach.

5 - Crystall Ball, Multi-Sensory MIDI Controller

We've been waiting for the theremin concept to evolve. And Naonext's Crystall Ball aims to bring motion and pad control to your studio or DJ set. Is this the future for music controllers?

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Price: $599

Pros: Extremely pretty controller that is as responsive as it is gorgeous to look at. Includes a very nice Ableton Live Script. Very sturdy and extremely expressive. Tripod Mountable.

Cons: Documentation and setup instructions could use a little work. Power does not come from USB. An included wall wart supplies additional power. 

Web: http://www.crystall-ball.com/

6 - IK Multimedia iRig Pads

Who doesn't enjoy banging out beats on pads? While these were once expensive, the cost of pad controllers has dropped and IK Multimedia's new iRig Pads brings pad control to iOS, Mac & PC.

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Price: $149.99 / €119.99

Pros: Very portable. Great selection of controls for such a small unit. Good bundled content. Works on iOS and on the desktop. Good visual feedback. 

Cons: No bundled 30-pin connector for those on older devices. 

Web: http://www.ikmultimedia.com

7 - Livid Instruments BASE II

What are the chances of Livid Instruments releasing a new version of the pad controller, BASE, every bit as affordable, playable and life-changing as the original? G. W. Childs finds out.

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Price: $379 USD

Pros: Amazingly solid, bright, pad based controller, built in US, great price.

Cons: Slightly less responsive than the original Base. 

Webhttp://lividinstruments.com/products/base/

8 - Livid Instruments Guitar Wing

Back in January in a small residential house in Anaheim being rented by Livid Instruments we saw an early version of Guitar Wing in action. And today, we're still impressed by this cool controller.

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Price: $189 (street price)

Pros: Groundbreaking device that shatters previous limitations that go along with using Guitars with computers. Because of the stand-alone app, it is also a great device for beginners who have no other programs, plug-ins, and just own a computer.

Cons: Setup was a little weird, at first. But, once running, it was incredible. 

Web: http://lividinstruments.com/products/guitar-wing/

9 - Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series

It looks like a regular, well-designed, MIDI keyboard, but Hollin Jones finds out there’s much more going on with Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol S-Series than meets the eye.

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Price: Komplete Kontrol S25 is available for $499 / 499 €. S49 is available for $599 / 599 €. S61 is available for $699 / 699 €.

Pros: Seamless integration. Automatic parameter mapping. Amazing performance features. Navigate Komplete instruments remotely. Customise MIDI maps for third party instruments. DAW control. 

Cons: You’ll get the most out of it when paired with the Komplete bundle. 

Webwww.native-instruments.com

10 - Nektar Panorama P4

With the recent updates for the Panorama P4 including full support for Logic Pro X and Bitwig Studio, Mo Volans puts Nektar's 49-key controller through its paces.

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Price: £325 GBP / $499 USD

Pros: Great feature set; flying fader, semi-weighted keyboard and DAW control. 
Cons: Occasional lag on faders, software install could be more straightforward.

Web: http://www.nektartech.com

11 - Novation Launch Control XL

Can you imagine Novation's Launch Control... only bigger, with more rotary encoders, buttons, faders, etc.? Launch Control XL is here and Tadhg Leonard puts it to the test.

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Price: $199 / £159.

Pros: Combining it with the Launchpad is a match made in heaven. Excellent layout to give you unlimited control over Live. Faders, pots have the right amount of resistance.

Cons: A crossfader would have been nice.

Web: http://us.novationmusic.com/midi-controllers-digital-dj/launch-control-xl

12 - Softube Console 1

You might think you know about hands-on mixing systems, but Softube has come up with something that might change your mind. Hollin Jones unwraps Console 1…

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Price: £719 GBP / EUR 839 / USD 999

Pros: Beautifully integrated hardware and software combo. Modular approach to processor loading. Bundled channel strip is excellent. Tremendously creative, hands-on approach to mixing. Gentle learning curve. 

Cons: Windows support is promised but not here yet. 

Web: www.softube.com

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional... Read More

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