Back then for a musician to have a decent recording of a song, he or she either must have a ton of money to produce himself or must have gone to the Crossroads ala Robert Johnson to cut a deal for fame and glory. Thanks to the modern marvels of technology, a lot of mediums have been developed to appease every musician’s need for their creativity.
Even a common everyday gadget like an iPad can instantly become a fully equipped recording studio via GarageBand. All you would need to maximize this application is a decent MIDI controller. Taking into consideration that not all musicians are keyboard players, what are the things to consider when choosing a good MIDI keyboard?
Purpose: Are you planning on using your controller for the sole purpose of recording your songs in GarageBand, or are you planning on taking it with you on live performances? Are you planning on taking your controller with you while you travel, or will it be a standard fixture in your studio or bedroom for intensive music production? There are a lot of available midi keyboards in the market today, most of which have the option of being you live tone generators. You should at least have the idea on what level you are willing to go with your instrument.
Key weight: This may sound very basic, but the keys on the controller can define how well you would be able to use it for making music. For pianists, weighted or semi-weighted keys are a must so as to emulate the feel of a real piano key. For musicians who would just use the MIDI keyboard as a trigger for drum loops or synth sounds, a spring-action key will do.
Customization: This would be in direct reference whether the user is a beginner or an in-depth recording enthusiast. A lot of plug and play MIDI controllers are available for beginners who would not want to go through the hassle of reading the user manual cover to cover just to record a simple song. An enthusiast on the other hand, would want to set all the parameters available on the controller to their specifications.
With all these in mind, here are our top picks for the best MIDI keyboards available for GarageBand.
Korg TRTK49 USB MIDI Controller with TRITON EnginePro: Semi-weighted keys
Con: Saving your edited sound is not possible
When you mention the brand Korg in the music world, the name automatically associates itself to a number of virtuoso like Jordan Rudess, Herbie Hancock, and Derek Sherinian to name a few. The instruments they produce are beasts that when wielded, will give you endless tonal possibilities that can only be limited by your imagination. The Taktile is no exception to this fact. Though primarily built as a midi controller, this keyboard carries with it the TRITON engine which means that you can use this as one of your main keys in a live situation. The keys are semi-weighted which is good especially if you are going to use it as your controller in GarageBand because it gives you the feel of playing over a real piano (a four octave piano to be precise). There are also 16 assignable velocity pads, which you can use as a primary trigger for drum loops or even arpeggios. Located at the left side of the controller are eight assignable rotary knobs and sliders. There’s an available 3.5 mm headphones out, USB port, a MIDI in and out, and two pedal connections. At the center of the keyboard is a ribbon selector and Mini Kaoss Pad 2-style touch pad. Truly a bang for the buck MIDI controller with all the bonus features.
Akai Professional MPK249 49-Key USB MIDI Drum Pad and Keyboard Performance ControllerPro: Semi-weighted keys with after touch
Con: You cannot invert the polarity of the pedal input
The MPK249 is a 49-key midi controller from Akai that is full sized, semi-weighted and with an after touch, much like to the response of a real piano key. It is very easy to hook up with any Windows or Mac based software via USB, and is also iOS compatible via the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit which you have to purchase separately. There are 16 assignable RGB illuminated MPC-style pads which are great for storing loops and synth sounds. You can also set the colour of each illuminated pad which is very handy especially if you are going to use this at live performances. Also present in this controller are eight assignable rotary knobs and faders. One can say that it is a welcome upgrade from mpk49, with all the pros minus the cons of its predecessor. As an added bonus, it comes with free software like Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and Pro MPC Essentials. The only downside with this machine is you cannot invert the polarity of the pedals (which the older Akais have supported). A great machine for its price.
M-Audio Keystation 61ES 61-Key USB MIDI Keyboard ControllerPro: Very simple to use without the unnecessary features
Con: No AC adapter included
The Keystation 61ES from M-Audio is offers all the advantages of full sized piano in a portable, 61-keyed MIDI controller. It has a pitch bend, modulation wheel, and an assignable slider. The best part of this keyboard is its simplicity – all you gotta do is plug and play, which is great for applications like GarageBand because all the needed parameters can be adjusted in the program itself without taking into consideration all the knobs and buttons from the controller. It is powered via USB or an AC adapter which you would have to purchase separately. A very simple controller that is sure to pull the job.
Nektar Impact LX61 61 note USB keyboard controller with pre-mapped integration for Cubase, Digital Performer, Garageband, Logic, Sonar & Studio OnePro: Already pre-mapped for GarageBand
Con: No input for expression pedal
The Impact LX61 from Nektar is a good choice for a musician who wants a plug and play MIDI controller. The Impact LX61 is already pre-mapped for applications like GarageBand which means that you would not need to spend so much time learning to tweak and configure your hardware just to get started – it’s all been done for you! The on board controls like the rotary knobs, faders and mute button will control everything you see on screen. The only downside is that the LX61 does not have a provision for an expression pedal. A great MIDI controller for those who have just started in music production and does not want to go through all the hassle of customization.
IK Multimedia iRig Keys Pro full-sized 37-key MIDI controller for iPhone, iPad and Mac/PCPro: Very portable
Con: User manual not included
The Irig Keys Pro is geared for the travelling musician. With its compact size of 37 keys (which are full sized by the way), one can easily sit down in a corner, bring out his iPad and fire away with GarageBand instantly. The keys are touch sensitive, so it is very easy to incorporate your dynamics while playing. It also has an option for sustain and expression pedal, and is equipped with a pitch bend and modulation control. The only downside is you have to register with their website to download the user manual. With all these features, one can say that the iRig Keys Pro is your key to maximizing the use of GarageBand.
Line 6 Mobile Keys 99-072-0505 25-Key Midi ControllerPro: Ideal for GarageBand
Con: Does not work with certain iPad firmware
The Mobile Keys from Line 6 is a musician’s solution for wanting a portable recording studio in your Ipad with the analog feel. The 25 full sized keys are excellent for on the go music creation. With its weight of 4.5 lbs. you can easily bring this controller with you anywhere you go. It already comes with a USB cable for direct connection to your iPad, so just plug in and play away with GarageBand. Another advantage of this controller is its simplicity; volume knob, pan, pitch bend and modulation – no bells or whistle. Plus with the name itself, Line 6 is known to be the creator of exemplary modelling guitar and amplifiers. I would say that you can’t go wrong in getting the Mobile Keys for your musical genius on the go.
midiplus AKM320 midiplus MIDI Keyboard ControllerPro: Very easy to set up
Con: The keys are quite stiff
The AKM320 from Midiplus is your basic solution for on the go music production. The construction of the controller is quite solid. The keys are spring action and smaller than the standard sized keys, which is good for musicians who are not exactly piano players. The controls are pitch bend, modulation, volume, transposition and octave. A real good basic controller for the price.