A MIDI controller keyboard is, for most producers, the centrepiece of any computer-based music production setup worth its salt. As the main creative interface between you and your software, controller keyboards are the primary component responsible for translating your ideas into musical reality. From huge ‘studio brain’ type models through to cheap, basic ‘boards that serve a single purpose, there are plenty 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. And, as you’ll see, you’re not short of choice either.
To aid in your quest for a good budget MIDI keyboard, we’ve identified some of the best available, from respected brands like 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. With the cheapest option in this guide coming in at $49/£39, so there’s nothing here that will break the bank.
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
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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
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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.
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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.
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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 MIDI controller offers a decent balance of full-size, firmly-sprung semi-weighted keys and assignable hardware controls for not much money, making it a great best cheap MIDI keyboard contender.
The build quality is impressively solid, and the downloadable V Editor software allows you to modify the feel of the keys should you need to.
The unusual layout with the pads to the left of the keyboard gives this controller a unique look and an ultra-slim profile that’s ideal for those with a shallow workspace. If you like to have a MIDI controller in front of your computer monitor on your desk, the Alesis V49 is well worth a look.
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.
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 a smaller footprint on your work surface. 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.
Number of keys
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.
If you want to play proper piano parts, a sustain pedal input is a must, but with a lot of producers now working ‘in-the-box’ on a single computer, you don’t necessarily need a traditional, 5-pin MIDI out unless you have some hardware MIDI synths to connect it to. All controllers here can be powered via the USB port. 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.
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. We are, however, seeing more and more controllers ally themselves to a specific DAW, and the instant integration and mapping these controllers offer does make life much, 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.