Best midi keyboard for VCV?

I’m starting to look at midi keyboards but I’m getting lost in the options. I was initially going to get the Arturia Keystep after seeing Omri using it, I thought the arp would be quite handy (even though I don’t really make ‘arpy’ music) and an interesting way to get something going quickly.

I am wondering if it’s a bit small and that maybe I should buy one with some controls (knobs, faders etc). I already have a Launchpad mk2 and an mpd32 so I don’t necessarily need extra controls but it could be more convenient to have it all in one place and running on one USB port. Plus they might realistically be more useful than the arp.

I previously have used reaper and renoise on linux but now I am addicted to VCV so this is my main focus for what I want the controller for.

Any recommendations?

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Are you most interested in a keyboard style controller?

This is my first thought on those:

The linked piece is only 25 key, but there are 49 and 61 models.


If your wallet allows it, Arturia Keylab Mk2 is awesome.


Personally, I would grab that Keystep if you already have knobs/faders/pads with your other controllers. It looks like it has some cv outputs, and I’ve heard this arp is really nice. So, if you ever get hardware eurorack it could be pretty useful. However, if you are a decent keyboard player and you want more octaves available w/o hitting a button, in which case maybe a Nektar? I have used an older Arturia keylab25 for 4 years now, and its been fine for me since I’m not much of a keyboard player at all. It has keys, faders, endless knobs(I hate these and only use the faders), and a transport, but I really only use it when I’m in Ableton, which is very rare these days.


There are a ton of cool things out there. If I was going to get a new one it would probably be the NI Komplete Kontrol, because they’re sturdy, reasonably priced, knobby, and will as a bonus work with Ableton Live & NI instruments.

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to make good recommendations, can you be more specific about the size you’re aiming for and your budget?

I’m not really restricted either way, I don’t really want to spend much more than £150 because I know I have two controllers already but it’s not out of the question to go higher. Size is difficult because I’m about to move and don’t have a desk or good idea of space right now but I’m not a pianist so a few octaves should be enough for me, although more’s always better right?

No space + no money restriction = Novation SL Mark III (integrated sequencer, drum pads, arpeggiator, CV outs and lots more)

Space + No money restriction = Native instruments 32 keys A-series OR Arturia keystep

I personally own a novation impulse (which is totally cool but I think the rotary encoders could be better plus the Automap software doesn’t get an update in years so I don’t feel like suggesting it.) and an Akai Mpk mini mark II (which I really like because of the versatility, the customization options that the software editor offers and the fact that it has a sustain pedal input and a joystick for modulation/pitch wheel on such a small form factor. I just wish it had some extra keys though, 32 would have been wonderful.)

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Why is three octaves such an uncommon size???

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That NI one looks nice but as I use linux I won’t be using some of the features which appear to make it stand out. Would it still be worth it in that case?

The knobs & buttons and keys all work. The business with updating the display with specific information about NI instruments, not so much.

But for the price it’s good, and hey you may use Windows or OSX sometime in the future, and you’re sorted.

Also I’d google software hacks for Linux to use the display. I bet someone clever could write a plugin for VCV Rack that would change the knobs and display what’s going on based on which Module has focus!

That would be incredible to have the parameters from VCV Rack displayed. I fear it might be difficult though if the firmware is closed source.

Does it show anything relevant when not using NI stuff?

I’ve had hardware failures with both the Arturia Microbrute and Drumbrute I have. I do not think I am the only one who has had problems with their hardware over the years.

I’m looking for a MIDI keyboard but I don’t want a synthesiser (VCV Rack doing that job) so something with key velocity like a piano but no bells and whistles.

Am I wrong to invest in something feature-free like that or is there no option if I want good key action?

If you really want action “like a piano”, meaning weighted, as far as I know the best one available is the Kawai VPC1 ($1849). This gets you a high-end “digital piano” keybed without the digital piano inside. It’s perfect for pairing with software like Modartt Pianoteq (which runs nicely inside VCV Host).

The downside, as far as acting as a general-purpose midi controller, is that it has no pitch bend or modulation wheel, nor any knobs or faders. Although it does come with piano-style triple pedals. On the bright side, it’s got a whole lot of room on top for placing other controllers, in case you want to add a bunch of knobs and faders or a small controller with synth-action keys and pitch/mod wheels.

Very nice but out of my price range. Any others?

Are you looking for weighted keys? I’m still not clear, just trying to read between the lines from your comment “key velocity like a piano”.

Sorry yes I was not very clear - I mean quiet/loud with soft/hard pressing and a nice action. Using the computer keyboard right now and it’s not ideal.

Weighted keys are a subjective sort of thing; generally the only reason to want them is if you play piano or want to learn to play piano.

There are non-weighted “synth action” keys that have a nice action.

There are also Hammond-style “waterfall keys” which are another sort of thing.

You can even get nice action from mini-keys (smaller than normal piano or synth): I’ve heard that the keys on Yamaha’s reface series are best-in-class as far as mini-keys go, and those keys can now be found in the Yamaha PSS-A50 ($99) which can act as a controller via USB MIDI.

All in all, I’m not that familiar with the market for controllers, but it’s my understanding that you’ll have a hard time finding something with a keybed and nothing else (no knobs, buttons, sliders, arpeggiators, sequencers…).

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There are so many different keyboards it will be hard to suggest one based on what you said, almost all midi keyboards have velocity sensitivity (some better than others, some with customizable response etc). Here, a few questions that might help you and others to narrow it down.

  • How many octaves you need?
  • How big the keys should be?
  • Do you need after-touch?
  • What exactly is your price range?
  • Do you need sustain pedal, bend wheels, breath input etc?
  • Additional knobs to control modules (this is the only thing specific to Rack - you can never have enough knobs :slight_smile:
  • Built-in midi channel picker?

Once you answer all of this, I think youll be left with about 4 candidates you can buy, then you can look for reviews of those to choose. Of course the best would be if you could go into a shop or studio and press some keys IRL as the feel of keys can be quite subjective.

good luck!