In a different article, we showed you our choices for what we believe to be the best midi keyboards for the money on a broad spectrum. This time we are going to focus on portable keyboards or what some people would call mini MIDI keyboards alongside with some that don’t really fit the criteria but they are still small and portable.
If you are looking for such device but want to make sure it’s going to fit your needs and have the features you are interested in, read on.
In this guide
What are Mini MIDI Keyboards?
In recent years we’ve started to see an increasing interest from both manufacturers and consumers for small, compact and highly portable midi controllers.
Some of them are more compact versions of larger keyboards while others are designed from the ground up with those characteristics in mind.
These devices you can take with you on trips, in a backpack or use on a desk without taking up too much space.
They don’t have all the features of the usual keyboards and often they use smaller sized keys as well to make the device as compact as possible.
Should I Buy a Mini MIDI Keyboard?
Before actually buying one you should know your reasons why you want a mini keyboard because that reason could lead you to one keyboard over another.
Knowing the reasons, try to make some priorities because there will probably be some compromises that you’ll make with one keyboard over another.
This would be the main reason, I believe, why you would grab a small keyboard.
If you are traveling a lot and you like to making music on the go a mini keyboard is not a full solution but it’s a very convenient one to at least lay down some ideas that you can build upon when you get to your main studio.
If you are a student going to university and you want something to have with you for your spare time music making, again, some of these keyboards are great choices.
With all of that said, think of something else as well, do you need a keyboard that can connect via wireless to devices?
There aren’t many choices that would satisfy that need but there are some.
If you simply don’t need a big keyboard, a small one can save a lot of space.
Even a 49 key layout with a few extra buttons and a few drum pads, ends up eating a lot of space. If you have a small desk you’ll definitely start to have space issues.
A lot of people keep their keyboards on a stand, next to the desk or somewhere near.
With a small keyboard on the desk, you can play around to figure out what sounds you’re looking for and then get up to play with the ‘main’ keyboard which can be neat in some setups.
Also, if you have a ‘main’ keyboard, this means that you can do without may features so you can just grab a ‘pack of keys’ and call it a day.
Another reason why you might want to look at a small keyboard could be the cost. You can get decent features without breaking the bank.
Think of it in the lines of a ‘starting’ midi keyboard but instead of cutting down all of the features and getting a bare-bones controller without any features you can get a smaller one with a few bells and whistles as well.
If you are trying to build a small home studio from scratch, this wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Considering all the gear you might need, like a decent computer and a pair of studio monitors begin with, it can get pretty expensive.
So, in terms of a keyboard, if you don’t need a full length one, buying a mini keyboard or just a regular 25 key version could be smart choice.
What to Look for and Drawbacks of a Mini Keyboard
The number of keys
Obviously, you don’t have many keys with a mini keyboard, most offering 25 with some that give you 32.
There are a few of the ‘mini’ kind of keyboards that give you 49 or even 61 keys but at that point, I think you are better off with a regular, bare-bones keyboard that still has full-size keys.
The reason for that is the ‘mini’ keys that you get with this type of midi keyboards. They are smaller than regular keys, playable, but still smaller.
A good example would be the Nektar Impact GX series, that give you full-size keys but still has a somewhat compact form factor for what it is.
The actual key size
Like mentioned above, most of the ‘mini’ controllers give you smaller keys than regular keyboards.
While they are playable they are definitely not as comfortable as full-sized keys especially if you have larger hands.
In the list we compiled you’ll find both keyboards with ‘mini’ keys as well as ones with full-sized keys so make sure you check that aspect as well.
Features and extra functions
As you’d be expecting, in terms of features like drum pads, programmable buttons and all that, the more compact the keyboard, the fewer options you’ll get.
The choice is a bit of a balancing act between all of these so take your time to consider what you care about the most.
You probably noticed the trend here, smaller keyboard, fewer options. So if you need something in particular for connectivity make sure to pay attention to what options you get.
Some keyboards only work with USB, others give you the option of connecting a pedal, some also have MIDI connections but check to make sure the product you set your eyes on has the connections you need.
Also, some work via Bluetooth so if that is something that is attractive to you bare in mind that you need batteries for those and you’ll need to change those batteries periodically.
They don’t make any sounds of their own
If you already know this, you can just skip.
For those that are not very familiar with MIDI controllers, they don’t actually produce any sounds. They are simply controllers for software that produces sounds.
If you think of buying one of these for your kids, consider that you’ll also need some software.
Most keyboards come with a few basic apps for this but overall just know that you need to connect the keyboard to a computer and you need to have software to produce the sounds.
If you really want a keyboard to also produce sounds on its own, look for a digital piano.
Good Mini MIDI Keyboard Options
Akai MPK Mini MKII
The MPK Mini MK2 is a really neat package. A really small and portable form factor with some nice features as well.
As you can see in the specs, it comes with 8 MPC-style drum pads in two banks, giving you a total of 16 pads to add sounds too.
On top of that, there are also 8 programmable knobs, the kind that goes from a minimum to a maximum. The only thing I wish they did differently is to have endless knobs instead. But that is just my preference and yours might be different.
They replaced the usual pitch and mod wheels with a 4-way joystick. I think this is a clever move and definitely an improvement over the previous version which didn’t have either the joystick or regular wheels.
It also has a dedicated button for full level on the pads, it includes an arpeggiator with tap tempo and a note repeat function.
As a bit of an extra, you also get a full size to sustain pedal input jack.
Overall this is hard to beat offering from Akai and if it doesn’t lack any feature that you are specifically looking for then you can safely consider it a top pick.
Novation Launchkey Mini MK2
At first glance, the Launchkey Mini MK2 looks very similar to the Akai MPK that we’ve talked about earlier. They are also similarly priced.
But there are quite a few differences.
First, probably the most noticeable one is that the Launchkey gives you 16 physical pads instead of 8. But, they are smaller, that is why they fit in there. And because the layout is a bit different than it is on MPK.
The bigger difference is that you don’t have any dedicated pitch and modulation controls. You also don’t get arpeggiator, tap tempo or other fancy features.
The strength of this keyboard is the number of pads. If that is what you are looking for, this is your keyboard.
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
This guy is from the Keystation range of controllers, which is a series that does away with fancy features and gives you the bare essentials in terms of features.
And this is true for the Mini 32 as well. All the essentials are present and nothing else.
The first thing you might notice though is that this keyboard gives you 32 keys. So, if you want more than the usual 25-key layout but still want that super compact form factor, this is your device.
In terms of controls, the keyboard gives you a volume knob, the usual octave shift and buttons for sustain, pitch-bend, and modulation.
Overall a simple keyboard that makes sure to give you the bare essentials and a few extra keys.
Korg microKEY air 25 Bluetooth
As the name suggests, this keyboard can connect to devices via Bluetooth. It still retains the USB cable connectivity but you have the option to switch to wireless.
Like with the MPK Mini 2 you get a joystick for your pitch and modulation and you also get arpeggiator with tap tempo as well as a sustain button.
Not much else in terms of features but the main selling point of this keyboard is the wireless aspect.
If you ignore that, the keyboard doesn’t hold up against its competition for the price. And I think that the same can be said even for the non-wireless version as well.
For the wireless connectivity, you need batteries, 2 of the AA type. The estimated run time on a set of batteries is 30 hours according to Korg.
Of course, this depends on the batteries as well as how you use it.
Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless
The LPK25 fights for the same spotlight as the Korg above it. So, how they compare?
Fairly simple, the Akai is a bit cheaper and you get fewer features.
While the Korg will run you 30 hours on a set of batteries, the LPK will only run 12 hours even though it requires 3 batteries instead of two.
However, the input lag is less noticeable on the LPK. It’s not bad on either but I prefer the LPK on this aspect.
You don’t get pitch and mod controls or any joystick to replace them but you get a full-size sustain-pedal input.
Ultimately I would say, if you want wireless, cheaper than the Korg, get this. Otherwise, get the Korg if you care about battery life and the extra features.
If you want a compact keyboard but still with full-size keys, fear not. From this point, all the keyboards we feature have full-sized keys.
The Alesis V25 is a very compact piece of gear that doesn’t come bare-bones. It gives you 8 drum pads, 4 programmable knobs, and 4 programmable buttons and you also have the pitch and mod wheels.
The keys are in full-size as mentioned earlier, with synth action.
Overall, for the price, there is nothing to complain about.
Nektar IMPACT LX25+
If you want more features on your keyboard but don’t want to go too much up in price, this is the guy.
What it adds extra from the V25 we just talked about is dedicated transport controls, more assignable knobs, more options to move around various programmed settings and also a slider.
One thing that it still retails is the synth-action for the keys. So if you are looking for something with semi-weighted keys, we’ll get there in a bit.
It’s also a bit more cluttered as a result but that is just me liking the minimalist design of the Alesis V25.
Novation Impulse 25
If you want semi-weighted keys, this is a good keyboard to think about. It comes packed with all sorts of features including drum pads and programmable knobs of the endless kind.
It also gives you features like arpeggiator with tap tempo and roll so that’s nice as well.
It’s overall a good package. What I don’t like about the Impulse series as a whole is that they are generally bulkier than you would expect.
But if that is not a problem for you, it can be a good option.
Akai Professional MPK225
If you are able to pay a bit of a premium you get the better keyboard in almost every way compared to the Impulse 25 we just talked about.
The form factor is smaller and lighter, the layout feels better and you get a device that starts to feel more like an MPC in a way.
You also get easy access to banks thus expanding and switching between a lot more options with ease. You get 4 banks of 8 drum pads for a total of 32 pads loaded at your fingertips.
You also get sets of 8 knobs and 4 switches in 3 banks, giving you 24 knobs and 12 switches at your fingertips.
I think you get the overall picture. You pay a bit more but you definitely get more out of it.
This is a bit of beast and also very accessible and easy to use at that, once you’ve set everything up.
That might not be the easiest thing to do, but like with any keyboard, it takes a bit of setup before you can use everything.
Stay calm and follow the instructions for your particular software.
The keyboard comes with 16 drum pads. On top of that, you get 8 knobs and 24 buttons right in front of you, no bank switching necessary.
One small issue I have with it is that they didn’t include the endless kind of knob and opted to go with the min-max kind. Eh, minor gripe but I prefer endless.
So, if you want a full 4×4 drum pad setup, this is one to go with.
In my view, this is the best overall package of features, form factor, price and everything else. Unless you know you need something specific that this keyboard doesn’t have.
But if you are like I was when buying my first midi controllers, not really knowing what I wanted, this is a great option.