The 7 Best MIDI Controllers for Ableton Live DAW

The best MIDI controller for Ableton

Ableton MIDI controllers are amongst the best at music production, however the biggest challenge is in choosing one specific favorite to fit all your needs. When talking matters of controllers, you especially have to consider the hardware and DAW. Coming up with just one best controller may be more of what you like as opposed to performance.

akai photo
MIDI DAW controller. Source: Unsplash.

Keyboard Controllers play a crucial role in music production, and almost all producers use the controllers. However, different musicians and producers prefer different keyboard controllers such as touchpads and 8×8 matrix setup.

Another aspect to check when considering keyboard controllers is portability. If you want the controller to be used both indoor and outdoor, then the size and weight matter. For cases where the keyboard controller is permanently for indoor functions, such as a studio, you can go for a bigger size.

Also, important is the price range of the controller. Some controllers offer exceptional service, but they are again too expensive. However, there are also affordable controllers if you research.

Introduction to MIDI controllers

Before you understand why Ableton MIDI controllers are amongst the best, you ought to understand what MIDI controllers are and what they do. Is a controller MIDI necessary? While controllers may work almost the same and at times take the same physical appearance, a few specifications could make a whole difference in your music production. MIDI controllers help in controlling audio output, so for most people is necessary.

What does a MIDI controller do?

MIDI controller makes the audio being produced more refined by sending detailed information of the music being played. The MIDI controller sends modulation, velocity, pitch bend, and notes of the music being played. The MIDI controller makes it easier to spot any problem with the audio as well as adjust.

Hardware functions

MIDI makes work much easier as it enables one to record the music then edit any part they want later instead of recording once again. Unlike audio, which requires perfection, MIDI allows correcting any mistakes later on. Different MIDI controllers offer different instrument supports. Some controllers support drum pads, knobs, or keyboards.

Introduction to Ableton

Ableton is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that enables the recording, and editing of music. The software is popular with producers and artists.

Ableton Live Explained Video. Source: YouTube.

Ableton’s software is amongst the best in the digital audio workstation. Users get a 30-day free trial just to get a taste of the enormous features.

Tips on Choosing the Best Hardware

The music industry has grown over the years and so many companies offer hardware equipment. The following tips should help pick the best:

  • Consider tools that blend in together – While you may want to save on cost, some hardware equipment may not combine well. Carry out research on the best controller that will work well with your VSTs, controller MIDI, and DAW.
  • Research on the ability to support all hardware. If your hardware consists of different brands, then you need a compatible device.
  • Portability is key. Where do you intend to you the hardware? If you intend to have it used indoors, then you can go for a heavier and bigger controller. However, if you have a portable studio, then you ought to consider a lightweight controller that can easily be moved.
  • The spacing of the keys and knobs. If you are mostly engaged in live performance, you may want hardware that has its tool well-spaced out to avoid touching the wrong knob suddenly.
  • Do you want a weighted action keyboard, touch sensitive keyboard or MIDI keyboard? Touch sensitive keyboards sound is either high or soft depending on the energy you use to play. On the other hand, weighted action keyboards are bigger, heavier and expensive. MIDI keyboards make it easy for you to play loud or soft sound since they are velocity sensitive.
  • Full size keys or mini keys. Full size keys are common in many controllers. However, whether you but the mini or full-size keys, the functions are the same. The only challenge with the mini keys is feeling all squeezed, however it saves on space.
  • What software do you want included? Before settling down on a specific MIDI controller, you must consider the software that’s included in the package. For example, if you are focused on guitar, getting the Guitar rig software would come in handy. Some controllers come packed with Ableton Live Lite or other music creation software.
  • The out port of your MIDI is also very crucial. What other connections might you want to do with the controller. If the USB is enough, then that’s fine.

Ableton MIDI controllers are amongst the best keyboard controllers in the market. Here is a professional review of some of the controllers we consider the best:

Our best DAW controllers picks

Ableton Live has many MIDI controllers that are compatible, the following list of controllers are great choice in our opinion:

Novation 49SL MKIII

The 49SL MKIII by Novation complements Ableton users as it comes packed with the Ableton Live Lite. The 49SL MKIII version accommodates professionals who want to go beyond the normal 49 key version, as it offers 61 keys. The controls are quite similar to others, however 49SL MKIII is inclusive of a backlit pad and fader.

novation 49sl mk3
Novation 49SL MKIII. Source: Thomann.

The 61 Keys

Amongst the biggest wins for the Novation 49SL MKIII is the ability to categorize different keys into zones. The zones you pick can represent different instruments. The feature gives users the ability to play different sounds, just like having a full set of instruments. While playing the keys, you will notice a natural feel due to the semi-weighted and aftertouch keys feature. The ability to spread different instruments across the zones makes it easy to host a live performance.

Disadvantages

The major drawback with the 49SL MKIII is the lack of a USB power option. That means you must have a stable power source to use it. It’s also unfortunate that its size is so inconvenient for portability.

Advantages

Ableton’s users will enjoy the Live software package already included. The controller is designed to accommodate Ableton and users do not have to set up anything. Purchasing the 49 SL MKIII gives users the ability to take control over all the knobs and parameters from the onset.

Conclusion

The Novation 49SL MKIII controller is best suited when working with DAW. However, generally, the controller offers users freedom across different devices and plugins with no major challenges.

Native Instruments Maschine Jam

Maschine Jam is also a DAW controller, however it offers a completely different kind of layout in terms of functions and control.

No Keys

Unlike other controllers, Maschine jam does not have a keyboard, but rather has a colored 8×8 click pad matrix. A physical appearance states it’s not a keyboard, but more of an electronic gadget for controlling sound. However, that’s just the outward look. Maschine jam is amongst the best of the best controllers and can challenge most if not all the new controllers.

The Maschine Jam controller supports Ableton Live. The controller is especially favorable because it combines all functions and controls from a single point.

Disadvantages

The hardest challenge when using the Maschine jam is control of velocity. The pads in place are not velocity-sensitive, hence you may have to make changes later on. However, that’s not a big problem.

Advantages

The controller is equipped with different pro-levels sounds and drum synths. All the 29 GB of sounds can be controlled from one location. Maschine Jam features the best of Komplete 11 and is especially loved for its effects and virtual instruments.

Amongst the biggest advantages is the Maschine Jam accommodates even those persons who do not know how to play the piano. Users can make melodies from scales chord without using a keyboard.

Maschine Jam is considered a step sequencer as you only need to create patterns, and you’ll have a melodious tune.

Akai Professional APC40 MKII

The APC40 MKII by Akai supports Ableton’s live performance. Ableton and Akai have worked together for a long time since 2009 when Ableton Live and Akai professional produced the APC 40 Ableton performance controller. The controller was successful in the market and revolutionized the world of music.

Years later, Akai has advanced the capability of the controller by introducing controller Akai APC40 MKII.

Features of Akai APC40 MKII

The Akai APC40 MKII has several changes as compared to its previous version. The clip-launching 5×8 grid is now customizable and has backlit and RGB options.

i akai apc 40 mk ii
Akai APC40 MKII Ableton Midi controller. Source: Google.

The controller makes it easier to use without having to move back and forth making changes. You can select a specific color code for clips, making it easy to access and launch clips. There is a shift button that moves you from one level to another without the hassle of checking on your computer.

Layout setup

The APC40 MKII has eight knobs for channel control and eight knobs for device controls, as well as nine faders. Users will enjoy flexibility and convenience from the spacing, which makes it easy to use different knobs.

The controller is best recommended for DJing or when having a live performance. Since every knob and function is spread out, it’s hard to bump into the wrong control.

APC quality maintained

Although the APC40 MKII has tried to make a few adjustments here and there, the quality remains top-notch. The APC40 MKII has retained its purpose in meeting the Ableton Live function. Just like the APC40, the new version intends to improve the Ableton Live. Using the APC40 MKII is quite straightforward as it’s already configured with DAW. The only requirement is to have version 9.1.3.

See also Behringer Model D Soul.

The controller can be used for both DJing and live production. However, mostly the controller is used by DJs and this can be attributed to the well spread-out controls.

Ableton Live-enabled

Ableton Live feature is surely a big deal. Amongst the biggest advantage of owning an APC40 MKII is the inclusion of Ableton Live. That’s not all, there are two synthesizers accompanied by a 5 GB sample and professional sounds. The whole package of the APC40 MKII is worth the price.

Launchpad MK2 controller by Novation

Novation deserves a standing ovation for their launchpad invention. The controller has been on the market for years and Novation just decided to upgrade it. The launchpad Mk2 is a completely different controller from the Launchpad Mini and Launch key by Novation.

Advantages

The launchpad MK2 MIDI is a pad-based controller, making it easy to create music from midi pad controller. The launchpad MK2 is designed for Ableton Live and features sensitive pads and RGB light coding.

Another benefit is the launchpad MK2 is equipped with the Live Lite. In terms of connectivity, users can connect to an iPad, Mac, or PC.

Easy to use

The Novation launchpad is easy to use, especially because it features an 8×8 grid. The grid buttons are light-up and with no knobs or faders. The launchpad is very easy to use as it eliminates distractions and confusion of knobs and faders. Another great advantage is the portability ease as you can move around with the controller.

novation launchpad mk2
Novation Launchpad MK2. Source: Amazon.

The Novation Launchpad is the best controller to help you start your music production journey. There are some MIDI keyboards or hardware that is so technical, however this is not the case with MK2. The controller supports Ableton Live and is super easy to use.

Ableton Push 2

If you were to rate the Ableton MIDI controllers, then Push 2 would emerge the best. The reason is quite simple, the Ableton Push 2 was made by Ableton. Some producers are usually picky when it comes to using products of a different brand. The controller is especially brilliant for its quality, step sequencing, and device control. Purchasing the Ableton Push 2 offers you the Ableton Live Intro 10.

Ableton Push 2 MIDI Controller. Source: YouTube.

New features

Ableton Push 2 is an upgrade of the former Push. The Push 2 is much more costly than the former version, especially because of its new features. The Push 2 has a new category of RGB pads, better than the ones in Push 1. Amongst the new details, one will enjoy are sensitive pads with a backlight display. The pads aren’t so much different from the Push 1, but they are quite straightforward to use.

Works seamlessly with the Ableton software

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Ableton Push 2 midi controller. Source: Unsplash.

Ableton offers great products for both software and hardware. However, there may be a challenge of working with two different brands of software and hardware, although both of them produce quality products. Ableton Push 2 offers great performance, especially because it’s from the same company as the software. Ableton Push 2 was designed to meet Ableton users’ needs. Push 2 eliminates the need for a computer to function. The experience is magical with a click-free hands-on solution.

See also Budget Audio Compressors.

Push 2 was designed with the thoughts of the users in mind. After collecting feedback on the Push controller, Ableton wanted to reinvent the work of music producers.

Is the best MIDI controller?

There are two straightforward answers to this question. Yes, if you are looking for a device that works seamlessly with the software. However, if your routine production process involves a keyboard, the Push 2 has no MIDI keyboard.

Another point of conflict would be on the price. The Push 2 is quite expensive as compared to several controllers, however its functions and controls make it worthwhile. In terms of Ableton MIDI controller, the Push 2 ranks the best for Live DAW.

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

One of the best competitors of the Push 2 is the MPK Mini MKII. The Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII is a product of the collaboration of Akai and Ableton, earlier collaboration. The MPK Mini MKII offers 4 unique features: keyboard with 25 keys, USB MIDI controller, and 8 drum pads. The MPK Mini MKII is an advanced version of the earlier MPK.

mpk mini mkii
Akai MPK Mini MKII. Midi controller keyboards. Source: Amazon.

The MPK mini MKII is by far amongst the best DAW controller in the market. The biggest selling point for the controller is its size and portability. It is easy to move the controller from one point to another. The portability makes the controller favorable for outdoor live functions. The MPK mini MKII has a great, solid build, making it favorable for live performance. If you are certainly looking for a good controller, then ease of movement is always a plus.

New features

MPK Mini version was released to the market a few years ago, and it has been a great competitor of the different MIDI controllers. Earlier, during the release of the MPK mini, users expressed dissatisfaction with the modulation and pitch control. Most users who complained said the pitch control was hard.

See also Budget Audio Interface.

Akai considered the feedback, and it’s quite obvious that the MPK mini MKII version is different. The new version introduced a thumb-stick with 4 ways of control. The thumb-stick is placed on the upper left-hand side. The thumb stick helps in controlling both the modulation and pitch. Apart from the modulation and pitch, the MPK Mini MKII introduced other tools. The controller has MPC, SONiVOX wobble, built-in arpeggiator, and Hybrid 3 with two synthesizers.

Is it good enough?

Can the MPK Mini MKII be considered the best Ableton MIDI controller?

How fit the DAW controller depends on your usage. However, if you intend to have an all-in-one controller, then MPK Mini MKII is it. The Controller has drum pads and keys. If you are considering the best Ableton controller then Push 2 is amongst the best, but if you are looking for flexibility to function with other DAWs then Akai MPK mini MKII is the best. All in all, Akai Mini can work as a secondary controller to complement the Push 2.

Akai Mini is quite competitive in the market mainly because of its low price. Although the price may be low, it functions as well as Push 2 and others controllers. Another benefit is the keyboard if you like to make your melodies from scratch.

Alesis VI25

Alesis V125 is similar to the Akai MPK Mini as it also has a keyboard. The Alesis V125 has 25 keys which are velocity-sensitive and semi-weighted, drum pads, and controls.

Akai vs. Alesis V125

alesis v125
Alesis VI25 controller. Source: Thomann.

Akai and Alesis may have similar performance, however their design, and features vary. Akai’s 8 drum pads offer much better-quality sound as compared to Alesis V125 16 drum pads. However, Alesis is better if you want to work more on the pad’s melody.

Advantages

Alesis is flexible and functions seamlessly with various DAWs. While using Alesis you have more options on the pads and knobs. Alexis V125 offers stiff competition since it has a MIDI keyboard and 8×8 clip launchers.

See also Best Reverb Pedals.

Ableton is mostly preferred by producers and musicians because of its flexibility in terms of options. Most Ableton controllers have 8×8 clip launchers.

The Package

Alexis V125 controller is configured with the Ableton Live lite. The package also features Xpand!2 virtual instruments for professional, high-quality sounds. The availability of many tools enables users to make quality music without adding any extra hardware.

Conclusion

It’s quite hard to name one specific controller as the best Ableton controller. However, the Push 2 has a high rating mainly because it’s a product of Ableton. Nevertheless, that does not mean it’s the best in the market, as it all depends on the ability of the DAW controller to meet your production needs. You may also choose to compare the controllers from a mobile and diverse point of view. Some controllers have both keys and drum pads, which gives you the freedom to customize your music. Others like Akai MPK mini are light, making it more favorable for outdoor production.

Alternatively, if you want to stick with the Ableton brand, Push 2 is a good enough controller that offers quality sound. All in all, the controller you choose all depends on the production’s needs you want to be fulfilled. Also, take into consideration you can combine more than one controller. If you love your keys too much get one with a keyboard or if you want to learn to drum then a controller with pads will do.

FAQ

Is a controller for Ableton Live DAW really useful?

Yes, MIDI controllers are quite useful tools that boosts the workflow and makes it much more pleasant. Many activities can be automated, so you don’t have to use a keyboard or mouse. Moreover, DAW controllers are an invaluable tool for live performances.

Can I use controller with Ableton Live?

Definitely yes. Note that some versions of Live may be more limited in features. We described compatible with Live controllers. You will also find some that may be incompatible at the market, but in most cases there is an easy way to ensure it – midi mapping.

Is a controller MIDI necessary?

If you want to automate certain processes and speed up your workflow, definitely yes. You don’t need a DAW controller to start with.However, knowing and implementing it from the very beginning will have many benefits in the future.

Does Ableton Push 2 work with Bitwig?

Push 2 works with Bitwig Studio quite stable. You don’t worry about that.