Buyer's Guides

Best MIDI Pad Controllers in 2024 for any budget

Unless you’re an absolute analogue hardware-head who loves nothing more than buying dozens of wires to organise all of your outboard gear, for the increasing majority of people MIDI pad controllers are fast becoming one of the most essential music purchases one can make. This applies to both production and live performance, as loops, MIDI and DAWs are now so established as being vital in both the studio and on stage.

But don’t just think of them as plugging into and controlling your DAW; some of these nifty little devices will also happily control a Eurorack set and other hardware instruments, not just software. The way many musicians now bring a new physicality to their electronic music and perform on them at live performances, means they are now seen as a musical instrument in their own right.

So if you are after a MIDI pad controller to get to tapping out your beats, triggering notes and loops and the like, and don’t need a controller that is also a keyboard, then you are in the right place. Let’s jump headlong into this Headliner guide to the best MIDI pad controllers for a range of budgets. They are listed from lowest to highest price.

Novation Launchpad Mini Mk3

  • A fantastic and affordable option

  • Compact and transportable

We begin this journey into the world’s best MIDI pad controllers with an excellent affordable option from Novation — their Launchpad Mini Mk3. It’s also not some big hefty piece of gear, it’s compact and you can chuck it (gently) into your bag! You can use it to manage Ableton Live's clip launcher and basic mixer functions without the additional features of the X or Pro models.

The Mini Mk3 introduces a custom-mapped User mode, which lets musicians/producers create their own personalised setups for quick access to favourite plugins or DAW features. If you are keen on that lovely combination of affordability and portability rather than endless features and functions, the Mini Mk3 could be the MIDI pad controller you’ve been looking out for.

Price: $109/£89/€110


IK Multimedia iRig Pads

  • One of the best MIDI pads for iOS

  • Very easy to use

While fully compatible with Mac and PC, the iRig Pads from IK Multimedia is probably the best MIDI pad controller if you’re specifically looking to plug into an iPad or iPhone, for which it is mostly aimed at. There are 16 two-colour backlit pads, a fader, two knobs and two buttons.

It’s very easy to get set up and go with, it’s highly playable, and you’ll find its programming a breeze also. So if you are much more of the iOS persuasion in your music-making, be sure to give this one a proper look.

Price: $149/£130/€150


Novation Launchpad X

  • MIDI Pads are velocity-sensitive

  • Looks great without being heavy to carry

Ah, fancy seeing you again, Novation! Their Launchpad X sees a fair jump in price from their previous entry, but there are several reasons this item comfortably lands in the best MIDI pad controller conversation. It’s based on their original and highly influential pad controller from ten years ago, and seen innumerable times in electronic live performances since.

How does it differ from the OG, you ask? It boasts larger pads while being an overall smaller and lighter package, and said pads are now velocity-sensitive. Prior to this new-gen version, you had to buy the Launchpad Pro for the latter feature. This adds a huge extra level of expressiveness to this beat pad/controller, and the virtual faders are a lovely bonus also. Still at an affordable price point, could this be the controller that turns your head?

Price: $159/£149/€199


ROLI Lightpad Block M

  • Looks fantastic

  • Allows for lots of expressive gestures

After catching plenty of attention with its keyboard-style Seaboard controllers, ROLI expanded into more affordable products with its Blocks range, designed specifically for iOS devices. Among these, the Lightpad Block M takes centre stage as a rectangular control surface with a rubber top, equipped with MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) technology. This very interesting feature enables users to play the Lightpad Block M using a diverse range of physical gestures.

While it certainly has a distinct character compared to the other controllers in this list, the Lightpad Block M has now become compatible with a broader selection of software, making it a noteworthy option for users seeking a unique and versatile control experience.

Price: $199/£190/€199


Akai MPD 232

  • MPC-style MIDI pads are great

  • Very sturdy piece of kit

Akai are no novices when it comes to MIDI keyboards and pad controllers, so no surprise they get a very solid mention here as being amongst the best beat pads with the MPD 232. It’s a big upgrade in the looks department from its previous iteration (MPD32), with lovely black and red tones and shiny black perspex surrounding the screen.

To keep up with ever-changing hype and trends, the MPD232 incorporates a very worthy addition to the MPD range: a 32-step by 64-track sequencer. This exciting feature introduces a fresh dimension to the controller, allowing for MIDI synchronisation and the control of software instruments and external MIDI devices.

Price: $319/£190/€299


Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Mk3

  • The most affordable Maschine on the market

  • Feels lovely to play on

It really was only a matter of time before the Native Instruments name was mentioned as certainly being amongst the best MIDI pad controllers. And the Maschine Mikro Mk3 is the most affordable name from the impressive and famous Maschine family. Its users love the fact that its array of features means it’s also a DAW in itself. Once plugged in, you can virtually edit everything via its interface and screen without having to look at your computer much.

And now, with the inbuilt Maschine X, you can now just use the Maschine without a computer entirely, which will appeal to synth and hardware fans who don’t love the computer aspect of music-making. Although note that on this iteration of Mikro, the hardware screen has been downsized.

Price: $269/£199/€239


Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo

  • Very colourful LED feedback

  • Some of the smartest pad sensitivity we’ve come across

One of the most unique of the best MIDI pad controllers you will come across, the QuNeo from Keith McMillen is a 27 touch-based controller, among them sliders, pads and knobs. Even though the interface is a 3D screen, the pads are nonetheless highly sensitive to velocity and pressure. See if you can do a test-run before buying, as it is very different to its rivals, which you might personally love!

Price: $269/£228/€250


Arturia BeatStep Pro

  • Perfect for studio/at-home performance

  • Build is of a very high standard

The BeatStep Pro takes the second spot in our roundup of the best MIDI pad controllers. It offers three individual step sequencers and a collection of versatile MIDI controllers. Two of the sequencers are monophonic, ideal for creating riffs, basslines, and similar melodic elements. The third sequencer is specifically designed for sequencing up to 16 channels of drums. Each sequencer features 16 velocity-sensitive pads with aftertouch, 16 step buttons, and 16 rotary knobs.

Arturia are beloved for both their hardware synths and software VSTs, making their own MIDI pad controller, the BeatStep Pro, a pretty natural inclusion here. It offers three individual step sequencers and a collection of versatile MIDI controllers. Two of the sequencers are monophonic, ideal for creating riffs, basslines, and similar melodic elements. The third sequencer is specifically designed for sequencing up to 16 channels of drums. Each sequencer features 16 velocity-sensitive pads with aftertouch, 16 step buttons, and 16 rotary knobs.

Price: $299/£199/€249


Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3

  • Excellent for hardware control of Ableton Live

  • The polyphonic sequencer is brilliant

Very much with Ableton Live in mind, the Launchpad Pro Mk3 is Novation’s main model in their Launch range of grid-based controllers. There are 64 velocity-sensitive pads with plenty of functionality. If you are an Ableton-head and love nothing more than triggering Live’s Clips and Scenes, then this could be the best MIDI pad controller for you.

It might not be quite as powerful as Live’s own Push 2 controller, but Launchpad answers this with it being much more affordable and portable. And its own MIDI capabilities are not to be sniffed at. The Mk3 model also has a brilliant polyphonic sequencing mode, giving you control of hardware instruments without routing via a computer. Brilliant for live performances and in the studio, this truly is one of the best MIDI pad controllers you can get your hands on.

Price: $349/£255/€299


Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer

  • Great interface

  • A MIDI Pad with very strong control capability

The SQ-64 from music tech heavyweights Korg is technically more of a sequencer, but it is nonetheless a strong contender among the best MIDI pad controllers for a number of reasons. It has a huge grid of pads which carry out more jobs than you can shake a stick at — pattern selection, step selection, song selection, and then buttons specifically for mod, pitch and gate channels. It has eight CV outs, that include outputs for pitch, mod, gate, and drum patterns. It’s a powerful little beastie!

It can even be played like a keyboard if not having traditional keyboard keys doesn’t bother you. The MIDI connects via 3.5mm jacks or USB. If you’re particularly keen on controlling hardware and Eurorack modular rather than needing a MIDI-specific device, the SQ-64 should be seen as a very strong contender for you.

Price: $299/£269/€298


Nektar Aura

  • Features galore

  • Deserves to be seen as a rival to the Maschine

While the name Nektar may not have the weight and fame of Native Instruments, with their Aura they have created a beatpad that rivals NI’s Maschine. Looking at it, some might cynically call it an imitation of the Maschine in terms of looks and features, but don’t be fooled, it lands on this best MIDI pad controller list very much on its own merits.

For example, Aura is able to control your plugins and instruments, not just those of Native Instruments. It happily hooks up with all the big-name DAWs also, as well as studio hardware. To the point, it does what the big-name brands on this list do, but with a head-turning, lovely price point.

Price: $349/£299/€350


Native Instruments Maschine Mk3

  • Delightfully coloured screens

  • MIDI Pads are the best of the best

It’s had numerous mentions, and has been listed earlier here in its smaller sibling Mikro version, but it’s only fair that Native Instruments’ Maschine Mk3 makes its heavyweight entry as one of the undoubted best MIDI pad controllers. In fact, and this may upset classical and jazz music purists, it essentially is a musical instrument in itself.

Following the time-honoured MPC blueprint, its workflow enables composition, arrangement, mixing, and live performance through its intuitive pad-based interface. The Mk3 model introduces a lovely enhancement from its predecessor, Maschine Studio. Drawing inspiration from Maschine Jam and incorporating hardware updates across the board, the Mk3 model takes a big stride forward. Native Instruments have also integrated an audio interface into Maschine, featuring a straightforward 2-in/4-out configuration capable of recording and playback at exceptional 24-bit/96kHz quality. Is it the best of the rest? Answers on a postcard.

Price: $649/£449/€569


Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid Sequencer

  • A fantastic live-performance instrument

  • Highly playable MIDI pads

Whether you have two arms or eight tentacles, DJ equipment maestros Pioneer enter the best MIDI pad controller conversation with their Toraiz Squid Sequencer. It’s a 16-track polyphonic step sequencer, which is also able to output MIDI, clock triggers, DIN sync and more. The 16 pads are backlit and a delight to play on.

You can have a swell time programming up to 64 patterns and 64 steps. And it has some lovely and unique sequencing options, like Groove Bend and speed modulation to help you get really creative. A lovely bit of kit for DJs, producers and music-makers alike.

Price: $599/£465/€599


Ableton Push 2

  • Great for both aesthetics and functionality

  • Strong build

With Albeton completely reaching the summit with Live, their live performance and production DAW, it was almost a no-brainer for them to release their own beatpad to go with it. If you’re after the best MIDI pad controller and are among the Ableton zealots, having their name on the box could be the clincher for you. It’s a 64-pad grid controller with amazing sequencing and the ability to play MIDI clips and Drum Rack beats.

You can also use Push 2 to browse and get going with sounds, presets and devices, and control them with the rotary encoders. It perhaps goes without saying that Push 2 is the most formidable pad controller for Ableton Live, as it was lovingly created by the team themselves. You can even do a certain amount of mixing of tracks with it.

Price: $799/£499/€699


Best MIDI Pad Controllers: Buying Advice

Be careful not to be led into thinking that each of these items offer the same thing, just because they are more or less all square boxes with lots of buttons to press — it’s important to consider what it is you are after for your needs, and if they are able to provide it.

For example, are you sure you don’t need piano keys on your MIDI controller? Because you can use the pads to play your melodies, however for some, having the traditional keys to tinkle the tunes on is a deal-breaker. Bear in mind that many MIDI keyboards also offer a set of pads and other buttons to give you a hybrid device. Check out our best MIDI keyboard controller list here.

Another variation among the products is how sensitive the pads are to your touch, which is what the term ‘velocity sensitivity’ refers to. If there are times you’ll be playing the pads deliberately softly, and then much harder as your track builds, then ensuring the controller offers this will be important for you to help express the emotion of your performance. If it’s more sequencing and launching clips you’re concerned with, then you can save a bit of money usually with a MIDI pad controller that doesn’t have this feature.

And then the last few things for your checklist — do you need backlit, colour coding of the pads for live performance? This isn’t just to make the beatpad look cool — if you’re using it live in a low-lit venue, the coded colours could be vital. And beyond pads, you will also want to ponder on things like rotaries, screens and faders.

But ultimately, the most important reason to get a MIDI pad controller is to make your music-making more fun, so enjoy your shopping journey and then lean into the wonderful, physical process of producing and performing your music!

On a budget? Check out our list of the best budget midi keyboards for pro results that wont break the bank!