Best midi controllers for Cubase 13

Hi all,

I want to buy a midi keyboard in order to control Cubase.
Searching the internet and the forums I came up with the following options:

  • Novation launchkey 61 MK3
  • Novation 61 SL MK3
  • Akai MPK 261

The problem is, the only one that I know that fully works (seeing youtube videos) is the Novation launchkey. However the launchkey does not have aftertouch and the keybed is not great.

The Akai MPK 261 has aftertouch and a better keybed but I have no ideia if it integrates well with cubase 13 becuse it’s an old keyboard.

Regarding the Novation SL, I know that someone in the forum already created a script to work with Cubase.

The other options are the keyboards form Arturia, but because the smaller key sizes I’m not very tempted.

I think in the end this is a mess.

Does anyone use any of the above keyboards with Cubase?

Does anyone recomend another that integrates well?


I’m also thinking in the:
Arturia keylab essential 88 mk3
Because the keybed is better.
Does anyone have experience also with this one in Cubase?

One thing to consider for integration with Cubase: here is the list of controller that have pre-made MIDI Remote scripts. You can find a few others here on the forum provided by users. The Arturia controllers are nice and there is a user made script for their Keylab controllers. Maybe the Mini series has smaller keys, but I’m pretty sure the Keylabs have full size keys, though not 100% on that. Ask in the forum post linked below.

Arturia Keylab MK2 Custom Midi Remote Script ( MKII )

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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S MK2 and Kontrol S MK3 keyboards are also fully integrated with Cubase 13.


I think it would help if you more clearly define what it is you’re looking for in a controller and what your definition of integration is.

Some years ago I wanted a 5 octave controller that would fit in smaller space. Only a few were on the market that would fit (the rest were ‘too wide’, or I’d need to shave off octaves). Those two were Akai MPK261, and some of the Arturia models.

First time around I went with the Akai MPK261. Out of the box the integration with Cubase wasn’t very good, but that wasn’t hard to fix. I gradually tweaked it to work exactly like I wanted over the legacy generic remote system.

The first minor issue I had with the Akai, was that it didn’t like my higher end Yamaha pedals (closed switch when up, open when stomped). There was no way to invert the polarity in the MPK2 firmware! It’s supposed to do it automatically, but never did, and there is no setting in the firmware to force it. It wasn’t a huge deal, I just make Cubase do it with a global transformer. Still…annoying. And as far as I know, after all these years, Akai has NOT bothered to release a new firmware to fix this.

Back then it came with a slate of sounds from Sonnivox and AIR, a now rather dated version of Akai MPC, and a lite version of Ableton Live.

The Akai instrument purchase also entitled me to use some kind of stand alone ‘live host’ by Akai instead of a DAW. I forget what it was called now, but I wasn’t impressed. Note, it’s been years since I’ve looked at how Akai’s native software suites have advanced and improved. I do recall that back then, I wasn’t impressed at all. Just skipping it and working directly a DAW like Cubase or Ableton was far superior (even on live gigs).

The sounds and extras that came with mine were OK (the Sonnivox Piano Plugin sounds and plays great), and still are I guess, but only come in VST2/AU/AAX to this day.

Still no VST3 for the Sonnivox and AIR plugins!

These days the software that comes with an MPK2 might be a little different and more fresh. I notice that they now have an inMusic download app (kind of like Stienberg Download Assistant) that did not exist back when I purchased and use the MPK261.

I’d check it out before buying to see if it’s a slate of stuff you’re interested in using.

The Akai MPK2 played and felt great for about half a year. Got a brand new key-bed, which wasn’t cheap (though way cheaper than keeping a real piano in top shape), and it worked well for about another year. When I say ‘bad key-bed’, I mean certain notes double strike, and only at full velocity! I’ve tried and failed figuring out how to ‘repair’ the key-beds. Even tried swapping out various components (changing the whole key-bed is the only thing that has actually worked). They are simply built, and I can’t imagine what in there could possibly ‘go bad’, but it does. No amount of ‘cleaning’ gets it to perform properly again. I dunno. Something is off about them. I think they go bad too soon/easy for my money.

Decided not to fix it again.

Now I have the Arturia Keylab 61 mkII. It’s about a year old now, and so far…no problems with the action. It has a decent response. If the keys are scaled down a little, I honestly haven’t noticed. It’s a different key-action than the Akai (not as ‘springy’ when lifting the key back up), but it’s nice, and quite responsive. The Akai feels like nothing else on the market (bouncy and springy). The Arturia has a flatter ‘bottom me out and lay into the channel pressure pad if you want’ feel like a high end synth from the late 90s or first part of this century. The ‘up’ action doesn’t feel as fast/aggressive/springy as the AKAI.

I really enjoyed that springy AKAI feel for piano stuff, it’s killer fun for percussion/mallet/tuned-bar instruments, but now I’m used to it, I think the Arturia is superior when it comes to actually using channel pressure. To get that working on the AKAI, you had to push in past what felt like and ‘indent’ to get it moving. With the Arturia, you bottom out the key anyway, and it’s comparatively less effort to induce the channel pressure (aftertouch) when you want to use it.

While it doesn’t have a remote script shipping directly with Cubase, I found a really good one by m.c. here on the forums and it’s amazing. Definitely the best implementation I’ve ever seen for a keyboard in this price range, with a layout like this. He’s got that script ‘paging’ controls rather deep. There isn’t much you can’t do in Cubase right there on the MIDI controller (including browsing and changing sounds)! On top of that are 10 user presets you can hop to and layer up your own custom goodies. A very interesting experience.

The firmware in the Arturia is leaps and bounds more advanced than the Akai MPK2. It supports MCU. The Data wheel serves as a jog wheel in Cubase with M.C’s script. Etc…

You get MIDI control center if you prefer building user presets and such in a computer app (as opposed to poking and saving on the keyboard itself). The control center also comes in handy for backing up your settings, or keeping up with multiple layouts. The Akai MPK2 series did NOT come with anything like this (while the older MPK series did).

I think it also comes with a key for a lite version of Ableton.

All in all, the Piano and Audio Lab software (stand alone or as plugins) is FAR superior across the board to the small suite of software that came with the Akai. For starters, it is plug and play compatible with the Arturia Keylab series, as they have a special button/mode just for the Arturia Analogue and Piano Lab software. You can browse and dial up sounds in their ‘lab’ series software right from your MIDI keyboard.

Arturia doesn’t come with any live hosting option of their own that I know of (just the starter version of Ableton); however, you can launch Analogue/Piano lab in stand alone if you just want to skip the DAW and twiddle and play.

Analogue Lab grants access to all the piano sounds in Piano Lab, as well as any custom user presets you might build in Piano Lab. In fact, you could skip installing Piano Lab and still get at the sounds. Piano Lab just has things arranged more specifically to tweaking/building piano sounds. So, once you’ve built them…it’s all available in the one Analogue Lab plugin.

Artura’s sounds are artsy and interesting. I don’t think there is a ‘bad one’ in the lot, and they have all sorts of options to buy more if you like the way their stuff works and sounds. Their stronger sounds seem to be the synths (the company has a very good reputation when it comes to emulating classic hardware synths). The more orchestral/acoustic sounds that you get with the initial purchase of the board are a little weaker to my ears when ‘isolated and exposed’ (though quite nice in a mix), but still not ‘bad’ and are definitely usable. The Pianos and Organs that come with it are more synthesis based than ‘sample’ based. They’re very fun and tweakable. Easy to lay into a variety of mixing styles and musical periods.

I haven’t noticed much in the way of ‘ACOUSTIC percussion and drumkits’ going on in Arturia land. It’s probably there somewhere, but it hasn’t stood out to me as something they’re known for, or push to the front of their interface and sound choices. So, while I might be wrong, my impression is that Arturia software is ‘weaker’ on the percussion end (synthy percussion not withstanding…there’s loads of that kind of stuff).

All of my pedals have worked out of the box with the Arturia, mixed and matched. I have some that stomp the switch ‘open’. Some that stomp it ‘shut’, and some with variable pots. They all work…even if I mix and match them. Didn’t matter which type of switch, or which way it was wired. Can’t say that for the AKAI.

Another perk of the Keylab 61, which I personally don’t use, is a C/V jack for analog synths. Not sure I’ll ever use that, but the AKAI doesn’t have one…

The Arturia doesn’t come with any ‘MPC Style’ software at all, while the Akai stuff tends to come with some variant of their famous MPC software. Of course with either board, you can pop over to a User preset and use the drum pads any way you like.

Personally, I don’t miss the Akai MPC software at all. I never tried version 2 and beyond, but wasn’t too crazy about the version 1 stuff that came with my MPK261. Cubase comes with Groove Agent SE, and I already had/have the full Steinberg Grove Agent suite and use that instead.

As for Groove Agent vs Akai MPC. That’s a whole new thread. There are significant differences in the purpose and workflow of those two bits of software. A topic for another time and place.

A year in, and my experience with the Arturia has been really good. It’s been very smooth since the first week of owning it (thanks to M.C’s script).

I can’t say the same for my experience with the AKAI. I loved playing it when it worked…but when those ‘sour full velocity notes’ start developing on random keys, it’s a NIGHMARE. Playing along in a nice soft passage, and that ONE NOTE always plunks out at full velocity (a double plonk at that). No thanks…


Both owned by InMusic these days. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting…

Thanks @Brian_Roland for the long feedback.

It seems the Arturia Keylab 61 mkII is very good, however I’m little bit concerned with the keys. So, I’m really thinking on buying the Arturia keylab essential 88 mk3.

The essential 88 mk3 it has a great price for the money.
The Arturia Keylab 88 mkII is already too expensive for my budget.
The high I can go is the range of the Arturia Keylab 61 mkII.


Understandable. If you can find a music store or something to demo them…

I’ve got my ruler here, and I can’t detect much difference in the scale of the keys between a KEYLAB 61, AKAI MPK261, and a real Yamaha piano.

If you have plenty of space, there are loads of options out there, including some of the KORG stuff (complete with built in sounds, for not much more than a base controller).

I was trying to get this stuff to fit in a specific tray/console setup, so it really limited my choices. Most of the others had the wheels out to the left side of the keyboard (must shave off at least an octave to fit my space).

I have pretty average sized hands, the KEYLAB 61 scale feels great to me. I swapped out the boards, and never really noticed much a difference in that respect.

Oh, the Arturia is DEFINATELY a much better build. Fader and pots too. The quality and grade is heads and shoulders above the AKAI.

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I have the Arturia Keylab MKII 88 and it works very well with Cubase.
But I don’t need deep integration
because I have a touch screen with the 14bitMIDI Sherlock Plugin.
I simply assigned the faders to the CC midis
CC1-CC11-CC7 etc…
The essential version model has the same functions it seems to me with a lighter keyboard

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Thanks, I think I will go for the Arturia.

I just need to decide between the essential 88 mk3 and the Keylab 61 mkII.

Thanks Brian

It’s a very small difference in the scale of the keys.
So, I’m a little more confused :grinning:

Some have mentioned NI Komplete Kontrol. I have one and it is true that it is fully integrated with Cubase.

However. I paid $1000 at the time and after a year of use, the device no longer started, it was a total Black Out. I had to send the device to the USA to have the device reconditioned at an additional cost of $300 and it took more than 3 months.

NI didn’t even dare to offer me a free plugin or library to compensate even a little for such a long wait and such poor quality of the product.

Well it did me good to talk about it, inform yourself correctly about the quality of the product you are going to buy, that’s what is most important.

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The NI S series have some of the best keys in the 49-61 range. Keylab Mk2 very similar, but personally I prefer the screen on the NI, as the VU meters and such like work really well when setting mixer volumes. And parameters are displayed below each knob which just works better for me.

For reference, the 49-61 keylab essentials aren’t great keys, but if you haven’t got a decent keybed to compare with you do get used to them, and they’re crazy light - I have a 49 in the house and it can sit on a computer keyboard tray it’s that light. Never tried an essential 88, though, presuming it’s the mk3 you’re looking at?

Overall, I find the Keylab range much better for organ control with the sliders and also if you wanted to 16x parameter map a synth to give you Amp/Filter envelopes on faders - but I never would use them for mixer/volume control as they’re not motorised, so there’s no alignment physically to what you have on screen which makes it awkward.

This is why I prefer the relative control of the NI S series, the knobs (when in mixer mode) will aways be relative to the existing value.

It is a hard decision, but ultimately the NI keys are fantastic. No matter what I use in-between they always feel great to return to. And again, the Mk2 are right on par and really nice well made unit.

The main concern i’d have on a Keylab Mk2 is that based on the Essentials Mk3 it’s likely a Keylab Mk3 is due soon. And you’d think that the small/limited screen is something they will address.

That said, between an 88 Essentials and a 61 Mk2, I’d go Mk2 without doubt. It’s a much better spec unit. There’s no comparison in regards to build quality.

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I edited in a photo with the ruler on an old Yamaha console piano a few posts back. If that helps.

Thanks @Rene_L

I will consider that

I also have a Roland LX708, and I measured it with a ruller… and it’s almost equal to your yamaha… maybe the difference is the ruller.

So, there isn’t much difference for the Arturia Keylab mk2.

Thanks @Brian_Roland for the pictures.

So, I’m really considering the Arturia Keylab 61 mk2.

Does anyone know if the custom script work well for the Keylab 61 mk2?
This one:


So far I’ve only explored about half of its potential, and it’s pretty amazing.

No problems with it, though I’ve found it’s better to start working from a project or template that has the script invoked at first.

I.E. I once noticed if I opened an older project, the script didn’t load up with the project. I could open one of my templates that used the script, close it, and bam, it’s there in the old project. Save a new copy and I’m golden.

Here’s a peek at it:

M.C. puts new versions up all the time to correct any issues we report. I’m not sure I have the latest, and believe he’s added a tweak to address the whole reason I start with templates (my workaround is probably no longer needed).

M.C’s script works in a couple of different modes…
The simpler mode you can use right out of the box. A more advanced mode requires setting up some virtual ports.

Optionally, you can also install a slate of macros and such that allow you to set loops/ranges/locators, duplicate/cut/copy/paste tracks and more. Nudge, splits, glue, and on and on…

Seriously, you can step away from the desk, sit down at on a proper bench a distance from the screen if you want, and lay down some tracks and never touch your computer.

M.C. provides simpler include/configuration files in his scripts so you can go in and tweak a number of things to personal tastes without being an expert in how these scripts work.

I.E. What do you want the ‘main’ fader and pot to do? Main volume? Control Room volume? Etc. If it’s not moving what you want, you can browse the API and make some changes from there.

How do you want the lights to behave?

You can get a ‘wide view’ of the layout like the real machine, or the more compressed version that I have showing above.

You get a number of options in how tracks are grouped/banked in the remote view, and how they are selected.

If you hold down various drum pads (shift/ctrl/alt/fn), every control on the thing ‘pages’ to do even more (I’m counting at least 15 pages so far)!

Jog controls and such work, and you get some options on how that stuff is implemented.

The little display on the mkII can show you what’s going on. Patch names, what fader/pot is being moved and its value, etc. It’ll even display bar/beat, or time code when the transport is going.

You can have optional metronome lights that dance down the drum pads…

Cool stuff…

I’ve been using the advanced version, and it’s been a nice, powerful, and as trouble free as any of the newer ‘surface controllers’ I’ve come across in Cubase 12/13.

It’s hard for me to imagine a Cubase surface controller script being any better than this one. Especially for something in this scale and price range.

Also, you can tap out of M.C’s script with your User Presets at any time. Use that for controlling individual plugins or outboard gear, or even building your own custom surface controller scripts on the side.


One thing I notice…

The real piano has perfectly FLAT keys, and less of a ‘gap’ between each key than the two MIDI controllers.

The MIDI controllers also ‘round’ the edges a bit, so they’re probably slightly wider than they seem looking down on them like this.

So, spatially, if we measured from the ‘center of one key, to the center of the next’, these seem to be pretty much ‘full sized keys’ on both of the MIDI controllers we’re studying here?

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I couldn’t describe better the script than our friend @Brian_Roland just did :slight_smile:

@npvp if you want my advice, I think that you should really get to define what you expect out of an integration as @mlib earlier suggested.

Is it just a mixer/transport controls thing? Maybe some key commands and done? In this case, I think that most keyboards out there, would suit your needs without too much effort.

However, if you want to get into the so-called “deep” DAW integrations (inserts, channel strip, sends etc), the script for the Keylab MK2, and the other one I have for the Novation SL MK3 are good candidates to begin with.

At the same time, I must note that since we’re talking about keyboards, we should really get to define as well our expectations on their keybed.

Here I have Komplete Kontrol MK2, Arturia Keylab MK2, Novation SL MK3 and Nektar Panorama P6, all of them used regularly. Each one of them has strong points and some cons. So it really gets down to what YOU expect from a keyboard controller and which points you find crucial for your own workflow, no matter how good/bad others find them.