For producers who love flexibility, and sequence, one of the best midi drum pad controller helps make it all possible. You can use these controllers with virtual instruments to make beats and trigger samples. These pads are not too dissimilar from the one you see on a professional DJ controller.
In this blog post, we’re going to learn about best midi drum pad controllers and key considering factors when you purchase the equipment.
What is a Midi Drum Pad Controller?
- 1 What is a Midi Drum Pad Controller?
- 2 Buyer’s Guide to Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers
- 3 Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers
- 4 Personal Verdict
A midi drum pad controller encompasses a midi interface that sends data to trigger sounds. Midi which stands for ‘Musical Instrument Digital Interface’, is a message sent to a virtual instrument within a software.
For instance, you can download a midi file of a particular track, and then import it in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as FL Studio, Ableton, Cubase, etc. There is no limit to the number of sounds that you can trigger. There are specific midi drum pads designed for performance and production.
Most modern-day midi pad controllers come with a sound library. Thus, in most cases, you need not attach any virtual instruments. You can start creating beats without any additional samples.
How are Midi Drum Pad Controllers used?
You might have come across several cover artists replicating original songs using Midi drum pads. The midi drum pad controllers work exactly like midi keyboards. Instead of keys, you have pads that you click to produce sounds using your fingers or sticks.
In the video above, Curtiss is using FPC – a native FL Studio plugin to link his midi drum pad controllers. As shared above, he’ll be using virtual instruments within FL Studio to send signals to his equipment. He can trigger anything from leads and synth sounds to basic drum elements and FX.
Now that we know how the midi drum pad controllers are used in conjunction with software. Let’s learn about the key considering factors when purchasing a midi drum pad controller.
Buyer’s Guide to Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers
Before you go and invest your hard-earned money in a drum pad controller, you ought to know the purpose. Each midi drum pad controller is designed for a specific purpose with unique features. First, start by understanding these points.
Types of Midi Drum Pad
Most drum pad controllers are bus-powered (USB-based). Due to this, they don’t need an additional adapter. This feature makes them a great product for mobile DJs (link)
On the other hand, if you’re always in the studio, you can do away with an AC adapter. Since there’s no shortage of sockets in the studio, you can do fine without any USB support. Just plug the adapter and start playing.
Number of Pads
Based on the amount you invest, you’ll get the features you need. The number of pads on a midi controller can vary between 6 and 64. Most compact controllers have 6 pads so to make the production less perplexing. However, if you’re an advanced producer, and want plenty of samples in a single session, you can choose a controller with 16 pads as well.
If you’re going to use the controller specifically for drumming then 6 pads are more than enough. Most controllers have velocity and pressure-sensitive pads. These pads respond based on the pressure with which you press them. A harder press will result in a louder sound and vice-versa.
Professionals love the velocity pads because these provide dynamic range making the output feel more authentic.
Similar to keyboards, drum pad controllers are also known for their aesthetics. You’ll generally find a drum pad controller that is fully or partially backlit.
The fully backlit controllers have a LED-powered illumination that lights up the entire console.
In contrast, a partial backlit controller will only light up the back. So, if you’re looking for a colorful experience and prefer working in the dark, you’d want to go for a fully backlit option.
On the contrary, if you feel that it might be distracting, you can opt for a partial backlit controller.
Effects & Features
At the bare minimum, you want your midi drum pad controller to perform basic functions. These include arming tracks, control sends, panning tracks, and controlling volume. Furthermore, you’d need features such as volume faders to manage the overall output.
Faders are an integral part of a controller that offers a hands-on approach. You can use knobs to control the sounds, and manage samples. Most premium midi drum pad controllers have Aftertouch – a feature that allows you to use vibrato and volume boost.
You can add additional effects to the initial sound trigger, using the aftertouch. This will help you experiment with your sounds on the go.
Thus, look for the effects that you would want in your controller. If a controller has those, then you can go on and purchase it without any doubt.
Now that we’ve understood how a drum pad controller works, let’s move towards the best ones available in the market.
Best Midi Drum Pad Controllers
For a quick overview, you can check the names of the midi drum pad controllers.
- Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Mk3
- Korg Padkontrol
- Novation Launchpad Pro
- Akai Professional MPD218
- Ableton Push 2
It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since the first Maschine Mikro MK launched. This unique partnership between Native Instruments and Maschine has provided the world with some of the best midi drum pad controllers.
Maschine Mikro Mk3 took the ball from its predecessors and simply ran away with it. It has a unique position in the market thanks to its tactile offering. Native Instruments downsized the hardware screen in the current iteration of Mikro and has added features for more hands-on control.
While the Mikro Mk2 is still considered one of the top drum pad controllers in the market, the Mk3 doesn’t lag. Yes, the Mk3 relies more on the computer screen for output, it offers a much better experience. The browser along with the feedback is way better than before.
The Mikro Mk3 is a compact MPC-inspired beat production studio. This product is designed to produce ‘on the go’. More and more producers want flexibility and do not rely on traditional plug-based usage.
The Maschine Mk3 does just that by allowing you to create loops of not just samples, and drums, but melodies, and synths as well. Furthermore, it allows you to add effects seamlessly, allowing you to later loops quickly.
We feel that the Maschine Mk3 offers the best value for money. It comes with amazing hardware and responsive pads that are ideal for finger drumming. Moreover, it’s USB-bus powered, making it more hands-on and flexible to use on the go.
What do we like about the Maschine Mk3?
- It comes with strong hardware and great mobile features for quick production
- Brainstorming ideas, and churning them into output is easier
- The pads provide excellent feedback and are great for finger drumming
- The USB-powered bus allows freedom to produce when traveling
What do we dislike about the Maschine Mk3?
- As compared to other midi drum pad controllers, this one lacks the fold-out legs which affect the angling when working through a desktop
The Korg PadKontrol is one of the most iconic pad controllers available in the market. It’s been more than a decade since it first made its debut. Its introduction contributed to the rise of drum pad controllers. Similar to M-Audio’s Trigger Finger, and Akai’s MPD16, the PadKontrol enables you to trigger sound with your fingers.
Korg’s PadKontrol is equipped with 16 trigger pads. You get two assignable knobs along with buttons and X-Y controllers. You can set and store up to 16 MIDIs. The PadKontrol is designed to be used with a DAW through a USB connection.
There are 8 different dynamic curves for each pad, and you can choose the level for each one. The tactile feedback is great regardless of where you strike. Unlike some cheap drum pad controllers, Korg’s PadKontrol churns out good sound even when you don’t strike in the center.
With the X-Y pad, you can get real-time control along with other dynamics. Even though the product is dated, it’s still relevant in today’s market and is preferred by many musicians. If you’re a producer who’s constantly looking to create organic drum beats, this one will truly help you achieve your goal.
Editing by far is the most exciting feature in PadKontrol. This simple and straightforward feature allows you to make changes to the pads using the function buttons. Though the lighting is not the best, the LED display doesn’t disappoint.
What do we like about the Korg PadKontrol?
- Sturdy build and excellent response on each pad
- You can store up to 16 user scenes in the internal memory
- 2 Assignable knobs for custom controls and advanced dynamics
What do we dislike about the Korg PadKontrol?
- Not the best lighting as compared to the controllers we see today. Most of us prefer a partially-lit pad and in some cases even fully lit pads. Sadly, that’s not something you can expect from the Korg PadKontrol
The Novation Launchpad Pro comes in three variants – Mini, and X (entry-level), Pro (Flagship). If you use Ableton, you shouldn’t opt for any other midi drum pad controller. By far, the Novation Launchpad Pro MK3 offers the deepest Ableton Live Integration.
It allows you to not only launch clips and scenes but quantize, duplicate, and double controls without touching your mouse. You can access the mixer device and transport controls in a seamless fashion.
The Novation Launchpad Pro MK3 comes with 64 Super-sensitive RGB pads. Yes, RGB pads. These pads offer the best lighting and are pressure-sensitive. Thus, they translate your Ableton Live session quite expressively.
Besides pads, you get a four-track 32-step sequencer good enough to create full tracks. Thanks to the Launchpad Pro’s in-house sequencer, you get access to pattern chaining, eight-note polyphony, probability, and mutation controls.
What’s more? There’s a chord mode that allows you to play and build complex chords right from the grid. Thus, finding and creating new harmonies has never been this simple. The dynamic note and scale modes allow you to experiment with melodies, basslines, leads, and chords allowing you to create a complete track.
There are plenty of Loopmasters loops available to help you start with music production. This controller is ideal for producers wanting to perform live using Ableton.
What do we like about the Novation Launchpad Pro MK3?
- RGB lighting ensures colorful performance. The pads are sensitive and are multifunctional
- Specifically designed for Ableton Live and comes with Loopmasters loops to get your creative juices flowing
- You can use it to create light shows in addition to music
What do we dislike about the Novation Launchpad Pro MK3?
- Not easy to understand, you need to have a certain amount of technical knowledge
- Though compatible with various DAWs, you can get the maximum performance only when using it with Ableton
- Bulkier as compared to the midi drum pad controllers in the market
The Akai Professional MPD218 is the most competitively priced pad controller in the market. It’s a MIDI-over-USB pad controller that combines traditional beat mixing with modern music production using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
It is designed for beginners trying to find their rhythm and creativity. Even at such an affordable price tag, you get super hardware that offers more than just basic features. For starters, you get 16 fact velocity-sensitive pads. Using these pads, you can trigger sounds including melodies, effects, one-shots, basslines, and drums.
In addition to these triggers, you also get MPC-style controls that encompass iconic features such as ‘Full Level’ controls, and ‘Note Repeat’ to improve the overall dynamic.
Akai with the MPD218 provides expandable banks. Thus, you don’t need to stick to a specific library and add rich sounds to your library. There are easy-to-access dedicated controls for three pad banks. Overall, you get 48 assignable pads to trigger sounds from. You can control not just the volume, but the pitch and the automation as well.
The MPD218 even though an entry-level midi controller comes with the legendary MPC Beats Software allowing you to enhance your workflow. Additionally, you can access the Ableton Live Lite kit, SONIVOX drum suite, cinematic percussion, and big drums.
This controller weighs under a kilogram, and is just 5cm thick, making it ultra-portable. Unlike Novation Launchpad Pro, this one’s compatible with both Windows and Mac. You can even control your iOS apps and expand the use of pad control capability using the Camera Connection Kit (must purchase separately).
What do we like about the Akai Professional MPD218?
- Seamless USB connectivity for flexible production
- Extremely portable with fat velocity-sensitive pads
- Comes with the MPC Beats software along with the SONiVOX drum suite and iconic MPC sounds
- Competitively priced and easily surpasses the expectations
What do we dislike about the Akai Professional MPD218?
- Partially lit pads as compared to fully lit ones. However, we can’t expect everything at this price range
- Switching between more than 2 banks can be tricky, even though you can access more than 48 settings
The Ableton Push 2 as the name suggests is a midi controller specifically designed for Ableton users. With 64 pads, it allows producers to dig deep and access over 5 dozen samples in one go. What’s so impressive about this midi drum pad controller is that you can edit your samples on the go.
Feel free to slice, stretch, and cut samples so they match your BPM. Additionally, there’s a built-in screen that allows you to navigate your library. These include high-quality default sounds that can be quickly assigned to your pads.
Each pad is velocity-sensitive thereby allowing you to add dynamism to your sound. You can even hold and manipulate samples upon the trigger. Since it’s Ableton’s creation, there has to be live recording support. And so, Push 2 allows you to capture ideas and turn the melody in your head into a reality.
With the Ableton Push 2, you can play or step sequence beats along with chords, notes, and automation. Using the multicolor display, you can control the mixer, along with devices, instruments, and live browser navigation.
It’s perfect for producers who want to create electronic music, by manipulating and mixing samples. On the contrary, it’s not the best controller for creating unique drum sounds.
What do we like about the Ableton Push 2?
- 64 pads with an excellent trigger
- Well-lit pads velocity-sensitive pads with vibrato effects
What do we dislike about the Ableton Push 2?
- Expensive as compared to other Midi Drum Pad Controllers
- Features aren’t explicitly designed for a beginner
- A great option if you want to trigger a wide range of samples at a time
Each product in this review caters to a specific audience. So, if you know your budget, and requirements, choosing a product will get easy. We hope that this guide helped simplify and narrow down your options for the best midi drum pad controllers available in the market.