One of the most important instruments you can get your hands on as a musician for music production or live performance is a MIDI keyboard. If you don’t already have one, you need to have one installed on your desk. And if you are on a budget, don’t be afraid that you might not be able to get the best one.
If you do your homework, it shouldn’t be difficult to select the right one, even at a budget price. Mind you, this wouldn’t be just any controller because it is cheap. It would be one that will not only suit your pocket but also useful for your work. Before writing this article, I have researched some of the best MIDI keyboard under $200 and I have laid it down in an easy to digest format.
In this article, you will find 25-key controllers, 49-key controllers, 61-key controllers and 88-key controllers. You will also learn about their pros and cons and where to get one if it ticks your fancy. But first, let’s clear the most important things.
Why Do You Need the Best MIDI keyboard?
People use MIDI keyboard for different things. But before you can select a MIDI keyboard that satisfies you, evaluate your needs first and understand what you want in it. Imagine buying a laptop with hidden faults. When you need to use it, it gives you problem and you are not able to achieve what you want to use it for.
Contrast with a perfectly working laptop that serves all your needs anytime you want them fulfilled. I’m sure you only want the latter. That alone will make you read and observe other people’s laptops just to be sure you know what you want in the laptop before buying it. If you want to get the best MIDI keyboard, you should do the same thing.
When you settle with the best, you are ensuring that your interaction with the instrument will be a smooth one. You will enjoy the feel the keys have on your hand. You will be laid back because you know the keyboard is made from high quality material. The keyboard will be sturdy and a high performer too. And most importantly, you will grin at the thought of being able to use it for a long time.
What Makes a Good MIDI Keyboard?
A good keyboard should not be too expensive. As humans, we usually feel something has to be very expensive to be of high quality. However, this is not always the case. The price of a product does not equal its quality. If you go to a market and you are a great comparison shopper and price haggler, you will come home with a high quality product – at a decent price. But if you are an inexperienced price haggler, you may buy a poor quality product for a big price. When shopping for any musical instrument, keep this in mind.
A good MIDI keyboard will last a long time. It does not have to be 10 or 15 years. However, a quality instrument is one that is durable and can stand the test of time. Look at the instruments of other musician, especially those you want to model. What kind of keyboards are they using? Which of the keyboards picks your fancy? And which one has stayed a long time?
A good MIDI keyboard is easy to use. Any additional feature you don’t need is a bloatware. You don’t need a controller with award-winning features before you can produce great music. Does it have basic features? Does it require complex programming before it can be operated? Can a beginner operate and handle these features with ease? If not, look at another product.
What to Look for in the Best MIDI Keyboard
You need portability if you are a touring musician. You want a lightweight instrument if you are a live performer. And you definitely need lightness in your MIDI keyboard if you want smooth transition from one place to another. Most controllers now have all the features you need to play music and are still lightweight. Sometimes, this may be impaired if you are looking for a controller to buy on budget.
Before you buy anything, think about your pocket first. Even if you see a product with the finest features, best of prices, you can’t lay your hands on it if you don’t have the budget. Sometimes, you may not be attracted to products that fall in the category of the price-range you have in mind. And other times, you see products in this category but they are just not worth it. Before you settle on any product, make sure it has the things you want. Don’t just buy on impulse when you see a cheap product.
Beginner or Pro-friendly
After considering your budget, you need to evaluate a MIDI controller based on how people perceived it. If you know a MIDI keyboard being used by beginners, this is a sign that you will be able to use it too if you are a beginner. Some keyboards are deliberately created for the professionals. Such controllers usually come with features and functions that may be too advanced for a beginner. If you are buying your first keyboard, go with something that has basic features. And if you are a professional, you need something with a little more advance features that will enable you perform complex programming and functions.
Dimensions and Weight
The space you want to store the unit and how often you travel will determine what you buy. If you travel a lot, you want a keyboard that is not only light, but also structured well for easy storage. Some MIDI keyboard come with full-sized keys that provide the experience of playing a piano.
There are also mini controllers that feature a robust keybeds but smaller keys. If space is no problem and you suspect you would be using this device mostly in your studio, going with a MIDI keyboard with full-sized key is the best. However, if you have don’t have much space or expect to use the item outdoor more than you use it in the studio, then choose the mini.
Another important point is the connection through which you can get your device working with your computer. Modern MIDI controllers support plug and play, requiring only a USB connection to your PC or Mac. Some come with extras that will enable you power it with a power supply. It all depend on what how you want to use it.
For some, the most important thing they want to see in a keyboard, after the price, is the feel of the keys. For others it is the most important. There is a truth in both cases. If you don’t enjoy the way the keys feel and respond to your choice, you may find it very difficult to concentrate and this will make you lose your workflow. It is important to read what other users have stated – or experienced – about the keyboard feel. If you like what they say, go ahead and buy your chosen keyboard. However, if there is conflicting views, you may have to do a deep research before you get headway.
You probably don’t have to bother about this. However, if you are a beginner, you may want to know which DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) goes with your MIDI keyboard. To make things easy, many manufacturers now include a basic software with the controller and you don’t have to get a new one.
Modern MIDI keyboards are designed in such a way that they are mostly compatible with popular software. The popular ones are Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, Reaper, and Steinberg Cubase.
Best MIDI Keyboard Under $200
The M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK III is one of the products on the higher spectrum of the price range. Although all the MIDI keyboards on this list are under $200, some of them are actually cheaper than the others.
The price range for it is around $130-$160, which is okay if you are looking for a highly rated keyboard controller. If you are on a tight budget, there are other products that you can look at on this list. They are cheaper but may no have the same features as this one.
If you are a beginner with making music using digital controllers, this is a decent device at a fair price for you. The M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK III is suitable for both beginners as well as the professional musician. Therefore, if you are just coming out of college and you want to expand your music creation creativity, you will find that this unit is up to the task. Or you are a professional looking to extend your arsenal of music production tools, the M-Audio Oxygen 49 is a good one.
It does not have complicated features that makes it difficult for beginners to get along quickly. And the advanced features are well received by professionals users. The M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK III is easy to set up since it just requires a USB connection. There are no complicated steps required in setting up this device. It works out of the box and should give you no problem when setting up.
The keyboard on this MIDI controller is semi-weighted. If you are a pianist, this controller is not for you. Since it is not fully weighted, it may be too fast for a pianist to use. If this describes you, you need a keyboard with hammer-action keyboard, which gives you functionality that is closer to using a real piano.
Most users have also reported that the keyboard feels good and responds well to touch. It is also well built, solid, and suitable for anyone just starting out. There are only 49 keys on this MIDI controller and many has praised them for their solid and sturdy construction. The keybed is well constructed, so if you are looking for a keyboard to learn on, this is it.
The M-Audio 49 MK III works with most DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and both Mac and PC users can enjoy it. If you are using Ableton Live or Pro Tools or Logic or Reason or Garage Band, you should have no problem with using this device. Moreover, it does not require any software to work with your computer. The only downside is that it does not come with a DAW software. So, if you don’t already have one, you may have to buy one or download a free one on the net.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
Although the keys on this keyboard are labelled, there are no buttons dedicated to programming. This can make programming awkward and maybe even difficult for a beginner. The sliders are also cheap and may not last for a long period of time. If all these are minor to you, then there is nothing stopping you from getting it.
The Akai Professional MPD226 is one of the most expensive MIDI controllers on the list. It is almost $200 but with all the features that comes with it, you will not only like it, but you would also want to have it.
If you are looking for a cheap MIDI keyboard, you may have to look at other models on this list. But if you want one of the best in this category, you may want to choose this and that will necessitate paying more. The Akai MPD226 is a bit more for the professional and those who are into music production. If you are looking for a controller just to play music, it is better to get something cheaper as that will give you the features you need to do your thing.
But if you are looking for a MIDI keyboard with features that will allow you to produce better music and do unlimited tweak for live performances, this is it. The pads on the Akai MPD226 are superior compared to what you find on an Ableton Push or Maschine. They are thicker, well built, and easier to play. The knobs are flexible, smooth, and the build quality is great too.
Most importantly, this MIDI keyboard produces little or no rattle when in action. Therefore, it is one hell of a solid product with a decent price point.
Setup is also straight forward and not complicated. After setting up your device, the most important thing is playability and this product does not fail in that aspect too. With plug and play with one cable, you can avoid spaghetti cables ruining the look of your studio. The keyboard has a well structured keybed that allows for not only production but also finger drumming.
The pad have backlit so that you can use it in low light environment. You can equally change the color of the pads to match the atmosphere at any particular time. The Pad on this model is different from those of Ableton Push and Maschine because they are thicker and firmer.
And most importantly, it produces excellent sound and give you maximum control over the sounds. And with velocity-sensitive pads, you will not be bored when playing music. Unlike other MIDI keyboards on this list, this model is packaged with lots of handy software for both the beginner and advanced users. If you like working with MPC Essentials and Ableton Live, this is the right tool for you.
It comes with these two software and other virtual instruments that makes music production easier. You don’t need more than to register with the manufacturer to access these exciting freeware. The other advantage to this software is that it is compatible with all versions of Windows and Mac operating systems. This means you don’t have to go through the stress of researching that again.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
While this is a nice beautiful piece of equipment, it is not free from defects. One of the defects is the double note ghosting. This happens when you hit a note once and it plays twice. According to most reviewers and users, this happens even when you change your playing style. This could be because they keys are hyper sensitive. At the time of writing this article, there is no way to resolve this issue.
If you are traveling musician or a live performer, the Akai Professional RED MPK mini will complement your work.
It is not too big and not too small and will fit your studio desk appropriately if you are a desktop producer. It is available with lots of hardware and software options. These will allow you to interact with virtual instruments, DAWs, and plug-ins whenever you feel like creating something new.
The advantage this have over other models out there is that it incorporates most of the features a beginner will need. And is designed in such a way that the pro can tweak and turn it into a personalize tool for music creation. If you appreciate a little extra spice in your studio, you will find that this is the perfect model to add to your music creation arsenal.
It is only available in a special edition for the beginner and professional. And if you don’t get your hands on it now, it may be gone for good.
Whether this is your first MIDI keyboard or you already have some hands-on experience, it will really help you take your creativity to the next level. Moreover, you don’t have to download a new digital audio workstation if you don’t already have one. It comes packaged with MPC Essentials so that you can start making music out of the box.
The Akai Professional RED MPK will give you the maximum playability and expression on a portable package. Thanks to its 25-velocity sensitive, synth action keys and Arturia’s modulation and pitch control, all these are possible. It also comes with 16 encoders so that you can perform and program anywhere you find yourself.
In addition, you have direct access to 8 user presets for maximum control. It also have MiniLab, which allows you to make use of the MIDI Control Center software to map all your parameters directly from your computer.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The accompanying software for setting up the knobs is not as easy to use. However, once you get through this, every other thing is a breeze.
The Novation Launchkey 25 keyboard is well constructed so that you can enjoy it for long. Not only is it lightweight, but also have a padded feet so that it does not slide on the surface. Not only is it worth the price, but is also compact and should fit in with your studio setting.
Consequently, if you are looking for for a feature-rich MIDI keyboard with a decent price, I recommend this for you.During my research into the device, I discover that most people are happy with this keyboard. This is not only because they got it at a good price but also because they are getting the best performance.
It comes with 16 multi-color launch pads that helps to trigger and stop clips. You can also launch scenes in Ableton Live with the pads.
It also comes with a new synth app, called launchpad app, which enables you to launch loops and a suite of other exciting softwares for iPad, Mac, and PC. The package also includes loopmaster launch pack and Ableton Live Lite so that you can play music out of the box. The keys are solidly build, firm and not too narrow. They are in a good layout and they are very good to play with.
One of the advantage of these keys is that they are better than some of the other keyboards you find in those $200 MIDI keyboards. Unlike some MIDI keyboards, it is noiseless when you are playing it. The pads are solid and are designed in such a way that random outburst of data is minimized.
With over 50 software controls and InControl technology, you can easily map the Novation Launchkey 25 to all the major digital audio workstations. It can work with a PC, Mac or iPad. It also integrates with FL Studio and Ableton Live as well as other software.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The Launchkey 25 does not have any power switch. You have to unplug the AC and the USB for it to be completely powered down. While the keys are a piece of high quality plastic construction, the same cannot be said of the knobs and sliders. They are cheaply made and may not last very long.
The IK Multimedia iRig Pro is actually designed for traveling musicians and performers, which is why it is very light.
The IK iRig makes it easy for you to work on new ideas and express your creativity on the go. With the capacity to hook up with apps quickly, you should be able to enjoy it on your iOS devices.
According to my findings, there has not been much complaint on the IK iRig in terms of pricing. This means that many people are happy with what they paid for.
One of the important questions you need to ask yourself is how a keyboard feel and how well it will respond to your touch. With this at the back of your mind, how will this keyboard perform? Well, the subject is subjective, however, users have found that the keyboard performed well in this area.
According to some users, it is a soft keyboard with good velocity sensitivity. If you want stiff keys on your keyboard, you may want to look at another option on this list. However, if you are okay with softer keys, then the IK iRig Keys Pro is spot on. Although some people compared the keyboard feel to other MIDI controller keyboards, there is still a wide gap as those other devices were much more expensive than the iRig.
There are only 37 keys on this model and it allows 2 hand playability so that you can quickly express your ideas without limitation. You won’t complain of space as it is only 24 inches. And if you intend traveling with it, it weighs only around 3.5 pounds so you shouldn’t have any problem. This MIDI controller keyboard can be used with your PC, Macbook or iOS device with a single connection. It is compatible with most DAWs such as Cubase, GarageBand etc.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The included software for the IK keys pro is SampleTank and you can easily download it from the app store for your iOS devices. However, the problem with the software is that only one sound is included in each category. So if you wanted to get more, you have to pay, which means shedding out more money to IK Multimedia. This means you may be paying a lot of money for samples if you want them. But if you don’t have a need for the software, then you should not shy away if you like the features on this keyboard.
Although made of plastic – and would probably break when dropped – the M-Audio Keystation 88 II is solidly constructed. When it comes to full-sized 88 keyboards, the one most important thing that constantly roam the mind is the price.
If it’s too expensive, you can trim down and manage a 61 key, but if the price is right, buy it. Thanks to M-Audio, the Keystation 88 II is one of the cheapest you can find in this category. There should be no second thought if you are looking for a budget 88-key controller.
The keystation has rich options for powering it so you can have an alternative way to use it if there is power failure. You can power it with a DC adapter (which is sold separately) or a standard MIDI output and sustain pedal. Moreover, all the sockets for these options are located at the back of the unit so they don’t mess with your operation.
With a full-sized 88 keys, the keystation 88 II brings an exciting experience to classical pianists. Setting up the Keystation 88 is strictly by plug and play, so installation procedure that will eat up your time is largely diminished.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
If you are are looking for velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys, this keyboard will suffice you. With this price tag however, the keystation does not have hammer-action. Thus, it is not suitable for you if you are looking for a piano-alike keyboard.
The Novation Impulse 25 is designed in such a way that it easily become a companion in your various music expeditions.
Not just a physical pheripheral sitting there on your desk. It is precise. Such that it makes translation of musical expression is done in an effective manner. Moreover, it feels good to the touch. You won’t feel like bashing your hands on a piece of plastic but an awesome musical instruments that truly performs.
Thanks to the visual display on the Novation Impulse, you can easily control your DAWs, plug-ins, and VSTs. Moreover, you have things like faders, buttons, and faders to respond to your nuances every time you sit to make music. To make the experience even more complete, this MIDI controller goes with the digital audio workstations out there. And fortunately, you have a masterful control over the effects, transports, mixer while producing excellence sound bites.
The Alesis Q49 Midi controller is able to detect your touch and respond quickly, thus enably a smooth flow in your play. It comes with with Ableton Live in the packaging so that you can start playing music right away.
You don’t need to start searching for the right DAW to use with your device, which would waste much of your time. Moreover, you have a perfect match with your device. Thus, the process of testing which digital audio workstation will work best with your device is already completed for you.
You can increase the volume range with the Octave Up and Down key, add modulation effects such as bending, vibrato, using the Modulation wheels. Just like you need the complete set of tools to tear down a large chicken spice, so you also need the complete features to lay down the perfect music.
And if you are a producer you will like the overall control that the Alesis Q49 gives you. It allows you to add a sampler, module, and drum machine to your setup. In addition, using the assignable slider and the keys, you can control your DAW and other virtual instruments with ease.
If you are looking for a MIDI keyboard controller that gives you all the controls you need to keep your creativity at its apex, this is it. If you are an Apple fan, it will delight you that this device will work flawlessly on your iPad or Macbook. And if you are a long term Windows user, running the Alesis Q49 with your PC should pose no problem to you.
The keys are full-sized and the built quality is solid. You don’t have to squeeze your hand or engage in endless shift to get into the mood. Once you plug everything and are ready to go, then you are ready to flow.
Flaws But Not Deal breakers
Even though the keyboard has performed well so far, some people have complained about the USB adapter that accompanies the device. Most people have to use generic USB power adapter to power it. If you are not worried about this, then this is is a solid MIDI controller.
The company constructed the Korg TAKTILE 25 MIDI in such a way that it is suitable for the beginner, easy on the neck of the touring musician, and light on the purse of the one on budget. Whichever group you fall in, you are should expect to get the best from this device.
As for the beginner, it has all the basic controls that a beginner would need. For the touring musician, the controller is lightweight so that it can easily be slipped in the backpack and carried around easily.
Sometimes we need some element of trust in a product before we buy it, even if we are on budget. Some products do score well in this area, which is why many people rush them and are satisfied.
The keys are arranged in such a manner that it encourages good hand techniques. It is crafted from high quality material so that you not only enjoy the feel of the keys on your fingers, but also their response.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
Although when you first lay your hands on this product, you may have to sweat. You need to think hard and possibly rack your brain if you are a beginner (which is a good thing, ask me in the comment). However, once you get in the works, you may find it difficult to come out. Because of the ease with which this MIDI keyboard can be controlled, many users have made it their favorite.
If you are a touring musician or engage in a live performances, you will not be disappointed by the M-Audio Oxygen 61. Not only is it portable, but also inexpensive.
Whether you are coming from a previously broken MIDI controller or need something to go with your old device, this is the right choice. This is a good MIDI controller keyboard for someone who is looking for a tool that will enable him make effective use of his creativity or add a nice MIDI functionality to his music creation arsenal.
You can easily control all the transport functions as well as the control levels through the keyboards. It also allows you to work on most DAWs (Digital Audio Software). Whether you are a pro or just starting out, this should be one of the controllers you look at. Thanks to the plug and play feature, you can start making music anytime, anywhere.
The beauty of M-Audio keyboards is tat they are always available for wide range of people because they are affordable and high quality. Moreover, this keyboard is created from high quality materials so that it lasts longer and keeps you in the works for some time before thinking about replacing it.
While this should work with most software, customers have stated that it works well with FL Studio and Sony Acid Pro. It will also work with your PC and Mac Operating Systems as long as the system requirements are up to date.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The M-Audio Oxygen series 61 does not respond well to lower velocities. When compared with older MIDI keyboard controllers on the market, it seems that it does completely achieve what it is created for. Moreover, the touch response on this controller is lacking. These are some of the technical difficulties some users have found with their unit.
Despite its downsides, it is quite usable. Most of the features are spot on. More importantly, it supports lots of programming and functions for those who want to use it for professional jobs.
Now, it is time for action. After reading through this selection, make sure you settle on the one that will satisfy your need. You don’t want to choose a MIDI keyboard and regret later.
It is important to read customer reviews on any device you want to buy before choosing it. You should also read about the company. Check for customer feedback and relationship as well as the record of accomplishment. When all these things come together before buying an instrument, it is easy to select the best MIDI controller under $200.