The 8 Best Piano/Keyboards/MIDI iPad Accessories of 2021

Tickling the ivories is easier than ever before

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The Rundown
"What CME's Xkey Air 25 lacks in music industry brand recognition, it more than makes up for in features and convenience."
Best Features:
Arturia KeyStep at Amazon
"The KeyStep packs a lot of the features that MIDI musicians look for in a supremely small package."
"The unit, which includes a USB-A cable, comes in at well under $100."
Best Small-Format:
ROLI Lightpad Block at Amazon
"These Blocks are modular, allowing you to snap them together with extra blocks to create a mini studio."
"For a 61-key unit, the form factor is remarkably slim, occupying only a footprint of 96 x 20 x 7 centimeters."
"While they don’t offer quite the resistance of an acoustic piano, the keys feel more authentic than other keyboards on this list."
"For about $1,300, you get a fully-functioning synth and sampler that will unlock a ton of musical inspiration while on the go."
"The Akai LPK25 keyboard controller was made for musicians who want to use their iPad as their primary recording device."

iPads have come far in terms of processing power, with Apple’s latest mobile chipset outperforming many mid-range laptops. These tablets have become viable creative production machines, and that means a MIDI controller could be a great option for the on-the-go producer. Whether you want something small that slips into a backpack or something bulkier that gives you full control of your music, there are a lot of options to fill your needs.

But not all keyboards are created equal, especially when you consider connectivity to an iPad. There are basically two camps: those that connect via USB and those that connect via Bluetooth. The former will often require some sort of adapter, thanks to the iPad’s single port. The latter, while much friendlier from a connectivity perspective, might create some latency issues thanks to Bluetooth. To break everything down, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites.

Best Overall: CME XKey 25-key Bluetooth Midi Controller

CME Xkey Air 25-key Bluetooth MIDI Controller
What We Like
  • Ultra sleek and portable

  • Battery-powered for mobile use

  • Quick Bluetooth connectivity with iPads

What We Don't Like
  • Limited on-board controls

  • A bit expensive

  • No brand recognition

What CME's Xkey Air 25 lacks in music industry brand recognition, it more than makes up for in features and convenience. The ultra-slim keyboard looks just as much like a MacBook accessory as it does a piece of studio gear. And that’s by design—the thin, unibody aluminum bed feels rugged and premium. The keys themselves offer a full-sized footprint, though they feel more like large buttons, not offering quite the key travel of standard MIDI controllers. The whole thing measures just over half an inch thick and weighs less than 2 pounds, meaning you really won’t notice it in your travel bag.

It connects via Bluetooth, offering plug-and-play compatibility with any iPad software right out of the box. And thanks to a few programmable buttons on the side, you’ll have outboard control of your production software. It does operate via battery, but the included micro-USB charges everything quickly. It’s not without its limitations, though. This keyboard is completely in the “portability” camp, so you won’t find features and controls such as pitch wheels or several different control knobs.

Best Features: Arturia KeyStep

What We Like
  • Small, portable form factor

  • Eight voices of step sequencing functionality

  • Tons of inputs and outputs, including MIDI ports

What We Don't Like
  • Keys are very small

  • No weighted action

  • More assignable controls would be nice

As a musical instrument brand, Arturia brings a host of digital and analog devices that fill out a lot of electronic musicians’ studio needs. Its KeyStep packs a lot of the features that MIDI musicians look for in a supremely small package. Even though it measures only 19 inches long, Arturia has managed to fit 32 keys onto the bed. The keys are quite a bit smaller than full-sized ones, but for the footprint, this is likely a trade-off that makes sense for on-the-go iPad musicians. 

But, while it does present a lot of the features you’d expect from a keyboard-based MIDI controller, the KeyStep also functions as an eight-voice polyphonic step-sequencer. This means you can control synths and plugins using arpeggiated sequences or custom patterns. It's extremely versatile, eliminating the need to program step sequencing on your DAW or enlist the help of a separate device. There are plenty of assignable knobs, plus a few inputs and outputs, including a micro-USB port and even true MIDI in/out ports. And, for $129, considering you are getting a keyboard and a synthesizer, the price is just about right.

Best Budget: Korg MicroKey

Korg MicroKey
What We Like
  • Affordable price point

  • Velocity-sensitive keys and expression joystick

  • Ultra-portable and lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Cramped, miniature keys

  • Connects only via USB

  • Only two octaves of keys

The Korg MicroKey was one of the original “micro” MIDI controllers. This small-format, 25-key controller measures just 19 inches long and only 7 inches tall, meaning it will slip into a backpack with ease. It also weighs less than a pound and a half, making it great for those who want to keep a lightweight music bag.

Korg calls its miniaturized keys “Natural Touch,” meaning they’re designed with a decent amount of velocity sensitivity. It’s important to note that the keys are significantly smaller than the average piano, which will take some adjustment when you actually sit down to start playing. And, even though there is some volume sensitivity that occurs, it’s not not nearly as full-featured as a true MIDI controller. 

There are some interesting on-board controls, including a few toggle switches and an analog joystick. This joystick allows you to add a bit of pitch-based expression to your performance, which isn’t often seen in controllers this small. The unit does connect via USB and comes with a USB-A cable, so you’ll have to purchase an adapter to expand compatibility to your iPad. This whole offering comes in at well under $100, which from a price-to-feature perspective is pretty impressive.

Best Small-Format: ROLI Lightpad Block

What We Like
  • Unique, LED-based design

  • Expressive touch sensitivity

  • Portable, premium build

What We Don't Like
  • Fairly expensive

  • A bit of learning curve to play

  • Works best with ROLI-specific software

ROLI is just as much an electronic design company as they are a MIDI controller manufacturer. A few years back when it launched the Lightpad Block as part of its mobile-friendly Blocks line, ROLI created an interesting category from a portability standpoint.

These Blocks are modular, allowing you to snap them together with a keyboard-style block and a control block to create a mini studio on the go. We chose the Lightpad here because it is the smallest option that still gives you some keyboard-esque functionality. This square block seamlessly connects to your device using either Bluetooth or simple USB, with a suite of software that comes bundled with the device.

Where the controller really stands out is in its build and design. The fabric-topped, soft-touch keyboard allows you to strike notes with the touch of a finger, but then bend or warp those notes by pressing down harder or sliding your finger around. The unit also has embedded grids of LEDs to allow for interactive play-along functionality and some clever sync features. The Block isn’t for the experimentally reluctant as it does take some getting used to, and at over $100 you’ll pay a premium for its different form. But overall, this is one of the most unique (and most portable) controllers around.

"The ROLI Lightpad block is a touch-sensitive, drum pad-style controller that is unlike any other MIDI device on the market."Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best Design: Nektar Impact GX61

What We Like
  • Super-compact design

  • Tons of controls

  • Customizable velocity sensitivity

What We Don't Like
  • A little expensive

  • No sliders and only one knob

  • Requires USB adapter for iPad use

The Nektar Impact GX61 is quite simply one of the best-looking MIDI controllers around, because it just doesn’t try to do too much. For a 61-key unit, the form factor is remarkably slim, occupying only a footprint of 96 x 20 x 7 centimeters. Even though you get a totally workable 61-key setup, you aren’t taking up a whole lot of extra real estate in your studio or on your desk. This also makes the Impact GX61 great for use with mobile devices (provided you get a USB adapter), because it won’t weigh you down going from rehearsal to a gig. 

Even though the footprint is reasonably small, Nektar has managed to fit in quite a few features, including customizable velocity-sensitive keys that are full-sized. That customizability means you can choose between different types of volume curves that respond differently to your specific playing style.

There are also modulation and pitch bend wheels, eight assignable buttons, and seamless integration with most Digital Audio Workstations on the market. There’s even a fourth-inch sustain pedal jack to give you the full functionality of an actual digital piano. For right around $100, you can get a better deal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a similarly featured keyboard at the price point.

Best Full Size: M-Audio Keystation 88 II

M-Audio Keystation 88 II
What We Like
  • 88 full-sized keys

  • Semi-weighted action

  • Simple, plug-and-play setup

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy and bulky

  • Very long

  • Requires an adapter for use with an iPad

To bill the M-Audio Keystation 88 as an iPad keyboard is a bit of a stretch. Any full-sized keyboard, no matter how clever the brand is with build size, is going to be big and bulky, making it best used in a studio, not on the go. The second iteration of the Keystation 88 isn’t exactly light, weighing around 17 pounds and measuring nearly 54 inches long. This makes sense, because the keys are what M-Audio is calling “semi-weighted." While they don’t offer quite the resistance of a full-on, acoustic piano, the keys feel more authentic than any of the other keyboards on this list. So, even though the keyboard is heavy, there’s good reason for it.

Rounding out the features and playability are a volume slider, some octave control buttons, and the requisite pitch and mod wheels. This makes the keyboard excellent for a starter studio, but because of the nature of an 88-key controller, it isn’t ideal for taking on the road.

The device connects via USB and works well with most DAWs on the market, so if you do want to use an iPad, you’ll need an adapter. After getting it hooked up, it will work seamlessly with plug-and-play, driver-free operation. The weighted keys and full octave set do mean that you’ll pay upwards of $300 for the keyboard, so don’t look here if your budget is tight.

Best Splurge: Teenage Engineering OP-1 Portable Synthesizer

What We Like
  • Tons of onboard sounds and sampler functions

  • Inspiring control options

  • Plenty of MIDI functions

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Tiny, button-like keys

  • Not the most durable device

Teenage Engineering is a quirky music company that makes small, computer-based synths that work well for electro-indie music. The OP-1 is its flagship device and is, to be fair, much more than a MIDI controller. But it is for this reason that we’ve given it our “Best Splurge” spot.

For about $1,300, you get a fully-functioning synth and sampler that will unlock a ton of musical inspiration while on the go. At its core, the OP-1 has the ability to generate its own sound with 13 synth engines and seven studio-style effects. If you don’t want to use the synth generators, you can actually use on-board microphones to record snippets of sounds and sample those using the keys. This allows for a powerful sequencer and sampler that fits in your backpack.

With USB connectivity, you can connect the device as a MIDI controller to run your DAW on your computer, or you can connect it to other MIDI controllers to affect the on-board engines. This makes it a truly versatile device when it comes to your on-the-go recording setup. Plus, with nearly 16 hours of battery life, it truly is an iPad musician’s tool that will go the distance. While its build quality is pretty premium, it isn’t the most rugged, and the keys themselves are undeniably small and button-like. But for the OP-1's feature set and functionality, these are small trade-offs.

"With full-on synthesizer features and the ability to sample sounds on-the-go, the OP-1 is sort of the Swiss army knife of portable keyboards."Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best Battery: Akai Professional LPK25 Wireless Mini-Key Bluetooth MIDI

What We Like
  • Slim, portable design

  • Sequencing and keyboard functions

  • AA battery operated

What We Don't Like
  • Limited assignable controls

  • Small, cramped keys

The Akai LPK25 keyboard controller was made for musicians who want to use their iPad as their primary recording device. First off, you can connect the keyboard via USB (which would require an adapter), but you can also set up a Bluetooth connection for less cable management. The device also runs on AA batteries, which is great because you won’t need to worry about charging and you can always pick up emergency batteries when you’re in a pinch.

The 25 shrunken-down keys aren’t full-sized, but do provide a good amount of touch sensitivity. There’s even an on-board Arpegiator and sustain pedal input—options that aren’t often found in small format keyboards like this one. The device works right out of the box with most of the recording software you’d find on an iPad, mobile phone, or desktop. And with a few assignable buttons, it’s a perfectly viable control surface—though we would have liked to see more dedicated controls.

Final Verdict

The MIDI controller you need hinges largely on how you’re going to use the device. Our best overall pick, CME's XKey 25, prioritizes a slim, durable design that can easily accompany you wherever. But you’ll sacrifice on key travel and natural playability.


Our runner-up for Best Overall, the Arturia KeyStep, combines polyphonic sequencing functionality with decent keyboard playability. But it gives you cramped keys and isn’t quite as portable as the Xkey. If you’re in the market for an iPad-first keyboard controller, however, these are the trade-offs you’ll likely have to make in order to find a playable, portable MIDI device.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jason Schneider is a writer, editor, copywriter, and musician with almost ten years' experience writing for tech and media companies. In addition to covering tech for Lifewire, Jason is a current and past contributor for Thrillist, Greatist, and more.

David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He has written and managed content for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.

What to Look for in Piano/Keyboards/MIDI iPad Accessories

Number of keys - Most of your options will have either 25 or 32 keys. More keys provide you with more flexibility without having to press an octave button, but you should beware of portable keyboards that include a lot of extra keys that are too small to use comfortably.

Battery life - You don’t need to worry about this too much if you plan on using the keyboard at your desk. However, one of the main reasons to buy an iOS-compatible MIDI keyboard is portability, which makes decent battery life very important. Some keyboards use AA batteries, and others have built-in rechargeables.

Connectivity - If you don’t mind wires, you can find portable MIDI keyboards that will connect to your iPad via lightning cable or the camera connection kit. If you prefer to go totally wireless, look for a keyboard that supports Bluetooth.

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