MIDI Keyboard vs Keyboard vs Synth – The Key Differences!

MIDI Keyboard vs Controller vs Synth

MIDI keyboard vs Keyboard vs Synth: A topic with many people guessing over which one to go for.

Here is a short explanation of what MIDI keyboards, keyboards, and synthesizers do and how they differ.

MIDI keyboards offer an all-around option to control hardware and software instruments but lack the ability to produce sound. On the other hand, a synthesizer generates and creates its sound with the help of oscillators, envelopes, and filters. On the other hand, keyboards come pre-loaded with sound patches and speakers.

Related: Setting a Home Recording Studio – A step by step Guide!

MIDI Keyboard vs Keyboard vs Synthesizer

Here is a table that explains how MIDI keyboards, keyboards, and synthesizers differ based on different parameters.

PropertiesMIDI KeyboardKeyboardSynthesizer
SoundControls sounds of other instruments & softwaresPre-Loaded with sounds & patchesgenerates its own sound
SpeakersNo in-built speakersIn-built speakersNo in-built speakers
KeysAvailable in Multiple key optionsAvailable in Multiple key optionsDepends on the synth and synth manufacturer
drum pads,
pitch wheel
inbuilt sounds,
few knobs & buttons.
PriceRanges from affordable to expensiveRanges from affordable to expensiveRanges from somewhat costly to highly expensive
Use casesGreat for music production and controlling DAW features.Learning piano, playing with soundsSound Design & music production

1) MIDI Keyboard

MIDI Keyboard vs keyboard vs Synth

You can identify a MIDI keyboard by its components, including keys, drum pads, knobs, faders, and pitch-mod wheel. A thing that I love about them is their ease of use and the value they bring to the table of a music producer.

Remember, they are pretty affordable too!

MIDI keyboards offer features that any modern-day produce will need to make hit pop records in the comfort of their homes.

Furthermore, a MIDI keyboard is highly versatile and can be used for making a whole song from scratch, unlike keyboards or expensive synths.

You can connect a MIDI keyboard to your PC or laptop and start jamming on it for hours. It offers to program drums, add melodies, record, loop, and do stuff right from this one gear in your studio.

One downside with MIDI keyboards is that they lack speakers and need external speakers to produce sound.

Also Read: Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Controllers – Pocket friendly Picks!

Setting up MIDI keyboard

connect midi keyboard to computer

Setting up a MIDI keyboard is pretty straightforward. All you need is the following:

  • PC or Laptop,
  •  Digital Audio Interface, also known as DAW,
  •  USB or MIDI, which depends on the keyboard itself.

Use the cables to connect the MIDI keyboard to the PC and record it using a DAW. Not to forget, a MIDI keyboard also comes with software bundles and VST instruments. Using these freebies, you can start experimenting with the MIDI keyboard and record your musical ideas.

Also check: Do MIDI controllers & keyboards come with speakers or softwares?

Furthermore, you can assign various DAW controls to the MIDI keyboard, such as:

  • Record,
  • Tempo,
  • Rewind,
  • Forward,
  • Pause,
  • Instrument Parameters such as filters, volume etc.
  • Loop, and so on.

Use cases

A MIDI keyboard is mainly used as studio gear for recording and producing music. In a large studio, it can be used to control all the synths and keyboards by routing the signal from each instrument.

Nonetheless, you can also use it to learn piano, music theory and in live sessions.

Also check: 10 reasons to get a MIDI keyboard for music production!

2) Keyboard

MIDI Keyboard vs keyboard vs Synth

A keyboard is a digital musical instrument with keys to play music. Most keyboards come with different sounds and patches that range from simple piano sounds to an electronic drum kit.

Similar to MIDI keyboards, regular keyboards fall into different price ranges. Their price significantly depends on the following:

  • Brand,
  • number of keys,
  • Features,
  • Sound patches.

Moreover, keyboards can come with or without speakers, but you will hardly see a keyboard lacking a set of speakers.

Setting up Keyboard

Now, let us see how to set up a keyboard. Don’t be shocked!

Setting up a keyboard is as simple as connecting the power adapter to the external power supply and pressing the power button on the keyboard.

Sounds amazing, Right?


A keyboard is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn music theory and piano skills without spending too much on a grand piano and who does not want to dwell on music production.

Some keyboards also come with MIDI ports to connect to a computer and use as a MIDI keyboard for recording creative musical ideas.

3) Synthesizer

There is a massive difference between synthesizers and keyboards. This difference is based on these musical instruments’ basic operations and functions.

Firstly, we saw MIDI keyboards that cannot produce sound but can trigger musical information from a hardware or software instrument.

On the other hand, we discussed keyboards and saw that they come pre-loaded with sounds and patches that let an artist choose sounds from various genres.

However, there is a common thing between both MIDI keyboards and keyboards. And they both cannot generate, create or produce sound from scratch. They only output the sound that has been fed into them via computer or through another hardware.

MIDI Keyboard vs keyboard vs Synth

So, what really is a Synthesizer?

A synthesizer comes with electronics and modules, letting you produce different sounds and noises. This creates massive options and choices for sound design.

Synthesizers offer a wide sea of opportunities to create many sounds, each having a distinct tone and clarity. However, the tone of the sound also depends on the quality of the materials used in making the synth.

A few key elements to a synthesizer unit let it generate sounds and noises. These are:

  • Oscillators,
  • Filters,
  • Mixer,
  • Envelopes.

Other non-primary synth modules include:

  • Reverb,
  • Delay,
  • chorus, and so on.

Popular Synthesizer Manufacturers

Popular Synthesizer Manufacturers

Find other popular synth brands in this article by wikipedia.

Setting up Synthesizers

There are three main things to remember when assembling and setting up a synthesizer.

  1. They can function properly and generate sound without any DAW,
  2. Synthesizers need an external set of speakers to output a stereo sound,
  3. You will need an external power supply to bring it to life.

Moreover, to record a synth in DAW, create a separate track and take the input directly from the Synthesizer.

MIDI Keyboard vs keyboard vs Synthesizer – Which one is right for you?

Each MIDI keyboard, keyboard, and synthesizer has a unique set of features that allows an individual a unique set of controls and use cases. MIDI and non-MIDI keyboards are excellent choices for music production and learning purposes, respectively. On the contrary, a synthesizer opens a world of endless sound design opportunities.

Moreover, which musical instrument you pick also depends on your:

  • Interests,
  • Use cases,
  • Music journey,
  • Budget,
  • Space, and other related factors.

I recommend getting a MIDI keyboard or a keyboard if you are in the initial stages of your music learning and production skills. It will also save money you can invest in other studio hardware and software.

On the other hand, getting a synthesizer is much more suitable once you have learned the basics, have capital and are at an intermediate level with your skills.


MIDI Keyboard vs keyboard vs Synth – Hopefully you got insights on how these instruments work and differ from each other.

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