The MIDI controller keyboard is, for most producers, the centrepiece of their home studio set up - and so it should be. As the main creative interface between the artist and the software, controller keyboards are the primary component responsible for translating ideas into musical reality. From all-singing, all-dancing models to basic keyboards that serve a single purpose, there are plenty of MIDI controllers to choose from, and it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, if your budget is tight, our guide to the best cheap MIDI keyboards will help point you in the right direction.
To aid in your quest for a suitable budget MIDI keyboard, we've identified some of the best available from respected brands such as Akai, Alesis, Nektar and Arturia. Each one is ideal for beginner music makers or even producers looking to add a bit of portability to their setup.
Thankfully the cheapest option in this guide comes in at only $49/£39 and we have plenty of the best MIDI keyboards under $100/£100, so even producers on the tightest budget can add one to their set up. So without further ado, let's dive into our choices.
Best cheap MIDI keyboards: MusicRadar's Choice
Budget MIDI keyboards fall into two main categories - the more portable devices with 25 keys and the larger, desk-based options with 49 or more keys. In the mini corner, for the sheer number of features crammed into such a light, compact footprint, MusicRadar’s choice is the Akai MPK Mini Mk3. Put simply, the MPK Mini has everything you’ll need, from decent quality keys, endless rotary knobs, and eight sought-after MPC-style pads for creating beats.
Towards the larger end of the scale, it’s hard to look beyond M-Audio. If you’re in the market for a budget 5-octave MIDI controller, the Keystation 61 MK3 is an obvious contender, whereas, for more features and fewer keys, we’d still go for the Oxygen 49 Mk4.
Special mention to the Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3; for users of Ableton Live, there are few that can match the tight integration, while the new addition of a MIDI out connection opens up the possibility of controlling external hardware.
Best cheap MIDI keyboards: Product guide
The older Akai MPK Mini (Mk2) was almost universally loved because it gave home studio owners the chance to cover a lot of bases when it came to controlling a DAW session. You had 25 keys for playing melodies, eight large pads for creating beats and eight rotary knobs which could be assigned to control parameters within your software. There was a feeling that it was getting a bit old in the tooth though, which is why Akai introduced the new MPK Mini Mk3.
Truthfully, there aren’t a tonne of wholesale changes, but then there weren’t any required. What you get instead is endless encoders, improved pads and a new OLED screen so you can see what you’re controlling. It’s a small update, for sure, but one that keeps the MPK Mini way out in front of its peers.
Read the full Akai MPK Mini Mk3 review
If you’re someone who’s always making music on the move, a pint-sized MIDI controller keyboard that’ll fit in a laptop bag is an essential item. Nektar’s SE25 demonstrates firmly that features and playability needn’t be sacrificed for the sake of size and portability.
Only outpriced in the budget MIDI controller stakes by the ever-so-slightly cheaper Akai LPK25 (which doesn’t provide any form of DAW integration), Nektar’s new pocket powerhouse represents incredible value for money.
Where else can you get Nektar DAW integration for Bitwig, Cubase, Garageband, Logic, Nuendo, Digital Performer, Mixcraft, Reason, Reaper, Sonar and Studio One for a measly 44 quid?
Read the full Nektar SE25 review
If you’re looking for a cost-effective entry into Arturia’s Analog Lab suite of vintage analogue synth emulations, look no further than the MiniLab MkII MIDI controller.
Like all Arturia gear, the MiniLab MkII is a good-looking, well-built and functional MIDI controller, with those 16 encoders providing plenty of scope for tweaking the 500 Analog Lab virtual vintage synth presets it ships with - the encoders are automatically assigned to the most relevant parameters for each sound.
Weighing in at 1.5 kilos, its compact footprint means that it passes the laptop bag test easily, and while equally at home as the centrepiece of your studio, is obviously solidly built enough to withstand being hefted about from place to place.
Read the full Arturia MiniLab MkII review
As time has gone on, the demands of the typical home studio owner have grown. Where once a basic setup would all be done ‘in the box’, now home producers are more likely to look at integrating external gear into their setups. This could be synths, or drum machines, or anything offering a regular MIDI connection. The Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 is one of the few at this price point to offer exactly that, meaning you can control both your DAW and your external gear from one single source.
It is, of course, also an excellent option for users of Ableton Live. From the moment you plug the Launchkey Mini in, it will magically map itself to your Live session. This grants full control over arming tracks, performing and recording without needing to touch your mouse. All told, the third iteration of the Launchkey family is a highly capable controller at a very sensible price.
Read the full Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 review
- The best Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 deals online right now
Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol brand is an industry-leading range of software and hardware devices. The opportunity to buy into it at such a bargain price with the Komplete Kontrol M32 MIDI controller is therefore very tempting indeed.
The M32’s solid, slab-like profile just oozes quality, continuing the flat, black design signature of the rest of the NI range. The M32 sports more keys than most of its mini-keyed peers - 32 instead of 25 - spanning 2.5 octaves from F2 to C5
As a bonus, the bundled software includes Maschine Essentials, the entry-level version of NI’s acclaimed Maschine software. However, like the larger A-series keyboards, the M32 is also fully capable of controlling the full version of Maschine.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 review
If you need five octaves and can squeeze an extra few notes out of your budget, M-Audio’s venerable Keystation range of MIDI controllers offers this 61-key beauty for just a shade over the £100 mark.
The Mark 3 version listed here offers a full-size, semi-weighted five-octave board of the kind of quality you’d expect from M-Audio, plus the option to control your DAW’s transport via dedicated buttons.
There’s the usual trade-off between the number of keys versus breadth of features, but if you’re looking for sheer playability without all the bells and whistles, this is one of the best cheap MIDI keyboards out there, especially when you consider that there’s also an 88-key version available for around a measly £150.
Now in their fourth iteration, M-Audio’s Oxygen MIDI controllers have always been popular, all three versions (25, 49 and 61-key) offering a great compromise between features, key range and price.
Compared to the Keystation 61, with the 49 you may be losing an octave, but you’re gaining much more in terms of functionality. If hardware controls are more important to you than an expansive range of keys, the Oxygen 49 makes a great compromise.
With an impressive array of knobs, buttons and sliders, dedicated DAW transport controls and eight premium-feel drum pads, this compact yet powerful MIDI controller should have you covered and then some.
Korg’s MicroKey MIDI controller range has long been popular with musicians on the move. The MicroKey Air builds on the success of the original and adds wireless connectivity via Bluetooth for an even more portable solution.
The 37-note version shown here packs a decent 3-octave range into a slim profile for just 99 quid, although there are also 25, 49 and even 61-note versions available.
The Bluetooth feature is easy to set up and enables wireless connection to laptops, PC’s and even iOS devices. With an average of one hour of use per day, 2 AA batteries will allow around one month of operation.
The Alesis V49 MKII MIDI controller offers a decent balance of full-size, firmly-sprung, synth-action keys and assignable hardware controls for not a lot of money at all - making it a great contender for the best cheap MIDI keyboard.
This newly redesigned keyboard sees substantial changes in the layout of the extra controls. Where the original placed its additional controllers – a set of eight pads, function buttons, pitch bend and modulation wheels and four rotary encoders – to the left-hand side, making for a wide, thin instrument, the MKII opts for a more traditional configuration.
Want to use your new MIDI controller to make beats? Well, you are in luck! The Alesis V49 MKII comes bundled with the incredibly easy to use MPC Beats music production software.
Read our full Alesis V49 MkII review
Best cheap MIDI keyboards: Buying advice
If you're just starting out with keyboards, there are a few things you should be looking for when buying a cheap MIDI keyboard controller. Here we'll list some of the considerations and offer advice on how to build the best studio for your needs.
What is a MIDI keyboard?
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Simply put, a MIDI keyboard produces no sound on its own and instead is used to control and play sounds from music software or hardware synthesizers. The controller sends MIDI information to the computer - or synth - to tell it what note you played, for how long and how hard you played it. The computer interprets this information and plays it back as audio.
Say you wanted to take full advantage of the virtual instruments found inside your DAW, a MIDI controller would allow you to play them as if you were playing a regular keyboard.
Many MIDI controllers also feature touchpads, which are perfect for performing percussive elements such as drums, pitch wheels for recreating the expressive pitch bends easily achieved on a guitar, and some even have faders that can be linked directly to the mixer in your DAW.
What style of keys do you need?
A MIDI controller can come with several different styles of keys, from full-sized to mini, weighted to synth-action. There are many choices out there - but which is the best for you?
These days, mini keys are just as responsive and easy to play as full-size versions but can be tricky if you suffer from 'sausage finger syndrome', in which case you might want to stick to full-size keys.
Next, you need to think about the action. More affordable MIDI controllers will come with a 'synth-like' action, meaning the keys aren't weighted at all. Now for most of us, that's fine, but experienced piano players may be more familiar with fully-weighted keys. As the name suggests, these keys are weighted and mimic the touch of a piano.
If you find the synth-action too light, but you're struggling with the heavy feel of weighted keys, you may want to look at semi-weighted, which sit somewhere in the middle.
How many keys do you need on a MIDI keyboard?
All of the best cheap MIDI keyboards featured here come with octave shift buttons, meaning that the full range of note pitches are accessible just by pressing a couple of buttons. That said, if you're a more advanced player or want to learn how to play two-handed - and if you have the desk space - it's better to go for a four-octave (49-note) or five-octave (61-note) keyboard.
For absolute beginners, or anyone looking for a quick and easy way of laying down simple patterns, a smaller, 25-key MIDI controller should do just fine. These have the advantage of being cheaper and more portable than their bigger cousins and take up less space on your work surface.
Usually, 61 keys is an excellent choice, as you'll find yourself reaching for the octave up and down button less often. Covering five octaves, 61 keys is usually enough for most situations. That said, those looking to play the controller as if it was a regular piano will want to opt for an 88-note option to ensure they have the entire spectrum of the piano at their fingertips.
Connectivity: what do you need?
It's commonplace in this day and age for all MIDI controllers to work via USB - for sending note information as well as power. However, as more and more producers are opting to work completely 'in-the-box', there isn't always a need for the traditional 5-pin MIDI out - unless you have some hardware MIDI synths to connect it to. That said, it's fairly common for DAW users to want to experiment with external gear as they progress, so a traditional MIDI output is a nice tool to have - better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!
Now, if you want to gain even more control over your MIDI keyboard, we'd highly recommend looking for one with a sustain pedal input. This will allow you to connect a piano-like sustain pedal, giving you the ability to play held chords and sustaining lead lines. Of course, it's also a must if you want to play the controller like a traditional piano.
Understanding DAW Integration
Being able to control the transport (play/pause/record) of your DAW and adjust the parameters of your software instruments from your keyboard rather than your computer is always handy.
Full DAW integration comes as a bonus if you're on a budget, however, it's often the preserve of the more expensive end of the market. However, we are seeing more and more controllers ally themselves to a specific DAW, and the instant integration and mapping these controllers offer makes life much easier, at least at the start.
If you know, for example, that you're an Ableton Live user, choosing a controller with dedicated features related to Live does give that instant control and enable you to start making music much quicker.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
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