What’s the difference between MIDI controllerand an electronic keyboard? Which of them is ideal for producing music? What are the pros and cons of the two of them? The above questions are common among beginners who want to know the right set of instrument to get start.
I see beginners asking those questions in forums and Q&A sites so I decide to clear the atmosphere and provide an extensive guide that have all the answers to those questions. I have taken all the pain to research, evaluate, and analyze the practical and impractical information on this topic. And I have condensed it into an easy to digest format for you.
If you really want to learn the difference between these two, read on.
So what’s the difference between the two?
It is important for you to understand the difference between these two instruments and be familiar with all of their features. Without this knowledge, it will be very difficult for you to come up with the perfect idea for your next production due to role they play in the music creation.
With the MIDI controller, you can create MIDI data and trigger the sound from a hardware sampler or synth. On the other hand, a keyboard is just an instrument on its own or part of an instrument and you don’t need additional equipment to make it work. In a simple term: an electronic keyboard works as a standalone device.
The best MIDI controller usually come with a USB Port, where you can connect the device directly to your computer. Most of the modern controllers have this feature and this often eliminate the need for a separate MIDI interface. In addition, when working with a MIDI controller, you also have to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which allows you to produce MIDI data.
At this stage, it is not really important to know which of the two is best to produce music. What is important is to understand yourself, your skill level and experience, and what you intend to use the instrument for.
When you do this, selecting the right device becomes easy. It will also enable you to decide quickly and correctly on which of the two you should go for. The ability to bond with the tools you use is very important if you are into music creation. Therefore, the tone and feel of any instrument should be a top priority for you.
What are the Subtle Differences Between them?
One thing with MIDI controllers is that they allow you to change the tone to something you like. This makes it difficult to be stuck on any particular tone at any point in time. Another thing is the feel of the keys on a keyboard. And this is a different issue entirely. When you are looking at this, you should not just consider how the keys feel, but also how they respond to your touch.
If you are used to a piano, you may be more concerned about this, in which case, you may be attracted to an electronic keyboard. Fortunately, most modern keyboards are velocity and pressure sensitive. This means that the keys have the capability to respond to how fast you pressure on the keys as well as how much pressure you are using.
On these kinds of keyboards, the harder you press, the more varied the sound you will get. If you are looking at some old keyboards like Moog’s, the volume remains the same no matter how hard you press on the keys.
Finally, if you can control the volume and sound using software – in the case of a controller – the feel is not very important. However, if you are used to piano, a MIDI controller may not be able to serve you well. Choosing a MIDI controller in such case may be foreign to you.
Another important thing is the sound and the keys. Some devices are very good in these two aspects and they fall in the middle of the valley: some are MIDI controllers while others are simply keyboards. Some of the instruments that work well in this aspect are the Clavia Nord Piano, Kawai, and Roland, three of the popular brands with good instruments.
Do you want to play live with it? Do you want to travel with it?
If your concern is to play music on the go, then the electronic keyboard is your best choice. However, if you don’t have a need for this, the MIDI controller has a lot more option and is cheaper too.
Another thing you want to consider is the price tag. The only thing that can help here is to look inwards. If you are going to get bored with your equipment quickly, then you want to go for something cheaper so as to protect your cash and prevent buyers remorse.
However, if you see yourself getting addicted and learning things as you go, then you can spend as much as you want (i.e. buy something expensive). After deciding on which type to buy, the other thing to consider is space. If you don’t have enough space, you should not go for one that have full-sized keys as that might take up much space instead choose something that is of a smaller size.
Quality of Keys is also important
In addition to the above, you need to consider the quality of the keys. If they are nice, you go for them. If they are too rigid, you leave them. And the best way to know is to test in a musical store. You can get the M-Audio 88 for around $500 and it has hammer action and velocity sensitive keys. It’s quite cheap and offers a wide selection.
Another device you can choose is the Korg and Edirol products, which are in the same price range. Another line you should look at is the CME lines. Often times, the controller is best for those who do not need their instrument for travel and playing live.
Moreover, if you don’t need lots of keys on your midi controller then that is another option you should look at because they options then opens up.
And for those who don’t want the fancy controller faders and knobs, then the job becomes much easier. If you decide to stay with a MIDI keyboard, you can also purchase a virtual instrument voices and control them through the Midi keyboard.
Midi controllers usually come with a keyboard that receives and sends out midi information.
You can’t directly use a MIDI controller on its own because it is just a controller and is meant to be used with an external source. You have to use it with your VSTi, computer, or sequencer.
MIDI controllers don’t come with inbuilt sound systems, so they cannot produce sound. When used with another source (e.g. your computer) they can now produce sound.
MIDI controllers have the capability to trigger sound from a synth or module or a sound card.
On the other hand, only the people who already know how to operate the keys on the board can use the keyboard. Also, you can play it with a band.
If you are a beginner, you need to learn how to use the keys if you decide to choose the synth over the MIDI controller.
You don’t need to use the keyboard with a DAW since it is a standalone device.
The electronic keyboard is very portable. You can easily create new symphonies or play music just for the fun of it.
The keyboard also have the capability to enable you perform on stage and make new chords when you feel like it.
Synthetic/keyboards come with sound built in so you don’t need an external source for internal sound. They also have more options and controls than the typical MIDI controllers do.
You can see that in these situations, using a MIDI controller will be quite odd because you will want to connect it directly to your system. Without that, you can get the sound you need for the situation.
If you are in for composing (such as piano notation) or sequencing, a MIDI controller will perform adequately. It has more options on this side than the synth.
When you use a MIDI controller, you can still get the sound synthesizing outside of your computer, which is triggered by the keyboard on the controller.
If you need advanced features on a MIDI controller, you may have to buy the more expensive ones. This is because the expensive ones have have features like pan, aftertouch, faders etc., that is not often found on cheap versions.
Although a MIDI controller is a cheaper option, it is often limited in terms of what it can be used for.
A MIDI controller is certainly useless in situations where you cannot access your computer since without connection to your computer you can’t work with it.
A MIDI controller does not have the same feel as a regular piano keyboard. All the bounce and nice feel is gone.
One of the greatest disadvantages of the keyboard is that you will lose the faders, pads, knobs, and displays you get with the MIDI controller.
When you are using a keyboard, you also lose the expression pedal input and aftertouch. Although, some keyboards have these features such as the Yamaha CP33, which has a MIDI, USB, and modulation wheel.
Which One Should You Buy?
If most of your work involves producing something new all the time, you may want to invest in learning the tools that will help you achieve your aim. If you want to perform on a pro level or outside your studio, I suggest you go for the keyboard.
Another option that many people have chosen is buying a portable keyboard with MIDI output. You will also have to buy a MIDI USB cable to make the appropriate connection. This option will allow you to learn new techniques, play music whenever you like, and use it as a MIDI input device. With this option, you can get the best of both worlds.
If you want to select the MIDI controller, you should try to go for the one that has the full-sized keys and semi-weight keys. It is also important to look for one that is affordable and has the keys you want. It does not matter whether it is a MIDI controller with 29 keys or 49 keys or 88 keys, all that matters is that it is affordable.
Ultimately, you will want to go into a shop and try your hands on both of them. The best and safest way to know which one of them feels better is to finger them physically and that can only happen with a good experience in a music shop. If you rely on only reviews on a 50% scale, the other 50% should be the experience you gain offline with the physical.
As the saying goes, “Every problem has a solution”. If you are a fan of the digital piano and don’t want to go for the MIDI controller because of some limitations, you can always have a workaround.
If you get the Yamaha CP33, you will be able to enjoy the best of two worlds. It has Sustain Pedal and Aux Jack (for Expression and soft), a USB, MIDI, and Pitch Bend. The Yamaha CP33 also features aftertouch with level sliders. This means you can use it as both a MIDI controller and a keyboard.
More and more tasks can be accomplished entirely on your computer. From business meetings to animation to, yes, music production. The computer offers a solution to almost any problem. However, all of these tasks require programs to accomplish, and at the professional level, these products can get pretty pricey. This is no truer than when applied to digital audio workshops, also known as DAWs.
Moreover, to make matters more complicated, each program comes with its own suite of features that make more appropriate for use with different users. Of course, figuring out which features are vital and which are simply bells and whistles can be difficult. That is why we have scoured the internet in search of the 10 best DAWs of 2017 as well as a buyer’s guide to make your journey through the sonic soundscape as seamless and easy as possible.
1. Image-Line FL Studio
Image-Line FL Studio
FL Studio is a legacy DAW, and as such, has had plenty of time to refine the music making program it provides. Of course, this has also given it plenty of time to accrue opponents, but when it comes right down to it, FL Studio offers a DAW that can do it all for every level of experience.
FL Studio may have limitations, but its higher end programs alleviate those concerns–at a cost. Still, even the intro version provides a wealth of tools to immediately start making music. With a large range of loops and plugins, you will rarely be left wanting for a sample or voice. In fact, this feature is so well-developed, FL Studio actually offers it as a plugin for other DAWs.
The fact that it is MIDI-based can be both a blessing and a curse. Depending on the genre you plan to produce, this will make mixing and mastering a breeze or a nightmare. However, it does offer the ability to purchase plugins which alleviate these issues if so desired. Still for beat making, this DAW is hard to top.
Love it or hate it, FL can do it all. It holds a relatively unique position of being comfortable in both professional settings as well as at home. Its features are as equally robust as many of its top competitors, though it may not specialize as well as some of the others. It can carry through all levels of experience and offer a great DAW every step of the way.
Comfortable pricing progression that allows version upgrades at a steady rate
One of the more user-friendly DAWs perfect for beginners
Probably the most all-around value, though users needing high-end ability for specific tasks may want to look elsewhere
Exclusively a windows OS program
Has a somewhat, undeserved, shaky reputation based on its early years
May feel like you are being nickel-and-dimed with micro-transactions
2. Avid Pro Tools
Avid Pro Tools
This DAW has quickly become the go-to standard for professional in the music making industry, regardless their needs. Its features and functionality are relatively unparalleled and allow music making at every stage to be painstakingly crafted with the most precision available.
However, all of that ability comes at the cost of complexity. Quite simply, Pro Tools has the greatest barrier to entry out of all the high end DAWs on the market. The rewards for overcoming that obstacle of experience can yield impressive, captivating returns in regards to making music, but do not expect to get there anytime soon.
In terms of loops, plugins, recording, mixing, Pro Tools can do everything and do it extremely well. However, users of windows may find this claim a bit more questionable than Mac users, since it was developed for Apple products. Still, if you intend to produce music at the same level as top-40 radio hits, this is the program you will use.
If you take the time to figure out every nook and cranny of Ableton, you will be left with a DAW that can handle pretty much everything you could ask it to do. However, there are literally classes dedicated to learning all of the functions of this computer program, and as such you need to be willing to put forth the investment of sweat equity to reap the returns.
Perhaps the most depth in terms of features and functionality for any DAW
Pretty much “the industry standard” allows you to work in any professional studio
Different payment methods offer flexibility
An incredibly steep learning curve means you need to already know what you are doing
Many people have a love/hate relationship with it
Though it is compatible with Mac and windows, windows users find it buggier
3. Apple Logic Pro
Apple Logic Pro
While Pro Tools may have started as the Apple DAW, Logic Pro is currently the king of that domain. Pro Tools may not have lost a step, but with seamless integration of numerous Apple apps dedicated to music making, Logic Pro has still been able to overcome and surpass any prior advantage held by Pro Tools.
Not to be outdone, professional music producers who prefer Apple products swear by Pro Logic, and in this regard, Pro Logic can be seen as the direct competitor of Pro Tools in the professional music making program market. However, this should not be taken as a true sign of parity, since Pro Logic does find itself incompatible with some plugins that Pro Tools can incorporate.
The look and feel of Logic Pro is also something that users rave about, with a fairly unique design and a simplified workflow that allows on the fly tweaks, additions, and manipulations. Still, it only offers good, not great depth of features–though, its inclusion of apple exclusive 3rd party developers means that may soon be an issue of the past.
Logic Pro is probably the best option if you are using an apple computer. When it comes right down to it, there is no substitute for native hosting. Like most Apple products, Pro Logic aims for ease of use while still providing a wealth of features. While it may not necessarily be the most robust DAW on the market, it certainly does not lack for much.
Use of the DAW is intuitive, which can be helpful for beginners.
Integrates numerous music making apps and easily transitions from Garageband.
Only has a single version to make selection easy
Explicitly designed to be used for Apple products.
Hefty system requirements when compared to other DAWs
Some plugin compatibility issues depending on what you want
4. Ableton Live 9 Suite
Ableton Live 9 Suite is an excellent tool for all parts of the music making process, but as the name implies, it truly shines in the realm of live recording. This actually expands its speciality in two direction. First, if you need to record voices or loops, there is no better alternative. However, if you plan on using the DAW in a life performance setting, it shines brighter than its competitors here too.
With such a focus on live recording and mixing, the program needs to have a stable and thorough set of features that are used most often in that setting. In this instance, that generally translates to MIDI manipulation, and Ableton comes out as the head of its class here as well. The ability to map sounds is relatively easy and straightforward, while the live mixing never misses a beat.
With all of this power, it is a shame that Ableton has not put more focus on some of the less functionally determined qualities of DAWs. Namely, its user interface leaves a lot to be desired as it is both unatractive and not at all easy to use when compared to other DAWs. This issue is compounded further by the fairly steep learning curve required to master the program.
If you intend to produce music in front of a live audience, there really is no other reason to keep looking. The compatibility with various MIDI controllers makes this one a no-brainer for live performance. However, if you are not already relatively familiar with the basic functions of DAWs, Ableton may not be the easiest introduction to the field.
Probably the top DAW for live mixing and recording
Compatible with both macOS and Windows
Likely the strongest MIDI manipulation on the market
Steep learning curve means you should know what you are doing ahead of time
May have one of the worst user interfaces out of the top DAWs on the market
The jump from intro version to mid-tier is fairly steep compared to competitors
5. Steinberg Cubase
This is another “oldie but goodie,” however it has started to fall by the wayside in terms of professional use. Where FL Studio kept a continuous stream of updates to compete with new entries as they appeared in the market, Cubase languished for a while without significant improvement. However, that has all changed as Cubase seeks to once again re-enter the market as a top competitor.
Still, Cubase has a long way to go if it wants to separate itself from its competition. However, that should not necessarily be seen as a knock against it. The rate at which it has caught up and come within parity of the top-end, professional DAWs is fairly impressive in its own right, and should this course of progress continue, Cubase will soon regain a top position in the world of music making.
One way Cubase intends to do that is from the ground up by providing high quality tools not simply to mix and produce music but to meter and monitor that process. This allows beginners and experienced users alike to make music quicker without sacrificing precision or quality. This is further strengthened by an ability to tweak without destroying the original as an ingrained feature.
Cubase is an excellent DAW for mid-level music making. It cannot yet quite keep up with big boys at the highest levels of functionality, though if you are dedicated and experienced, it can come close. However, the leaps and bounds in terms of progress already achieved in a short time make this a DAW worth keeping an eye on.
Unfortunately, this DAW can also not boast being the leader of any feature either
Channel limits can present issues for numerous voiced productions
A lack of real-time functionality limits its settings
6. Presonus Studio One
Presonus Studio One
A relative baby in the professional DAW market, Presonus has begun to capture a small, cult-like following of rabid fans who overlook its flaws in favor of the novel ways it solves some of the more popular DAW’s failings. For one, DAWs are not really known for their user interfaces.
They can be difficult to see and cause strain on the eyes after hours of use. Moreover, many DAW UIs are just plain unattractive. Couple that with an often unintuitive layout to the uninitiated, and many people take one look at a DAW before deciding it is not worth the investment of time to figure everything out.
However, as a product that is still being developed for truly professional use, Presonus has some glaring blind spots that definitely limits the type of music producer who will be drawn to it. First and foremost, Presonus’ loops and instruments are far skimpier than DAWs used by professionals. While corrections for this issue exist, they come at a price.
Presonus is an ideal product for mid-tier music making. It may not be the best software for the job out on the market, but it does a lot of things well that other DAWs have overlooked. Moreover, if you already have some background experience with music making, this program will feel right at home and will provide one of the smoother, more stable experiences.
Designed by audio engineers, offers an award-winning industry standard user interface
A great price for the high-end version which is balanced well by the available features
One of the most stable DAWs out there which suffers from little to no latency issues
Loops and instruments are not as plentiful
Not able to produce and mix on the fly
Relative newcomer that is not as integrated within the industry
7. Cockos Reaper
Reaper is more of a dark horse entry that climbed higher than most would have believed. Certainly one of the reasons for Reaper’s success has to be its compatibility. It seems as though Reaper is designed to be used with any system, including Linux, and compatible with most 3rd-party plugin producers. Moreover, it can also competently serve sound editing and mixing outside of the music setting.
That being said, Reaper is still not truly on par with professional DAWs in terms of functionality. For instance, you can add numerous layers, but will be relegated to an inalterable master track. With far more flexibility on other DAWs, this can be a frustrating flaw that requires the user to understand Reaper’s approach intimately. Whereas, you may be able to jump from one professional DAw to another with a slight learning curve, Reaper will expect you to learn certain fundamentals all over again.
This is probably why Reaper has found it difficult to gain purchase in the professional world where busy people under extreme workloads are less willing to devote time and energy to learning a new way of doing things. It does not help that Reaper sells a DAW tool, but most plugins have to be purchased separately.
If you are looking for a fully customizable experience, Reaper can provide that to you. However, you will have to pay for many things that come standard in other DAWs. As such, Reaper is most suited for the music producer that has an affinity for his or her own way and does not appreciate how other DAWs force the workflow in specified directions.
Not used at the professional level somewhat limits its settings
3rd-Party plugins must be purchased separately
May feel a bit light in functionality to users of more professional DAWs
8. Propellerhead Reason
Propellerhead Reason 8
Being placed so low on this list will likely ruffle more than a few feathers, however Reason’s piecemeal presentation is the cause. In terms of pure function and features, it is every bit as good as any of the other entries in the middle of this list. Unfortunately, it chops its functionality more than most and sells them back individually. Whereas most other DAWs include at least some decent support for all functions that improve with each upgraded version, Reason leaves most functions in a barebones state until you buy that addition separately.
In fairness, the top-end, full version is still cheaper than most other competitor’s full-version, but that means you have to be willing to commit to Reason from the beginning. This would be fine in theory if there were not also major flaws in its actual compatibility with 3rd-party, non-industry plugins.
Moreover, one of the most basic functions of DAWs that is expected to be an afterthought–beat making–is not as easy or smooth as with competitors. Keep in mind, it is still fully functional, it just feels wonky when using it. Also, since live recording is a relatively new feature for Reason, it is not the most well-developed.
Reason is a solid DAW, but does not really stand out in the crowd. This is especially true in a professional setting where some of its functional limitations make it a hard pass. Combine that with the pricing which forces an all-in commitment or piecemeal features, and you have a perfect storm for a DAW that still needs to tinker with everything but the actual program.
Top-end version is half the cost of top competitors
Allows quick, if somewhat shallow, mixing on the fly
Limited support for non-VST instrumentation
Splits functions into different versions that must be purchased separately
Beat making is more frustrating
9. ACID Pro
Acid Pro is by no means the greatest DAW on the market, as its position on the list should indicate. However, it does still have its uses and settings, and in that regard it edges out some other candidates which might be better all-around DAWs, but do not offer a specific niche in which they can truly shine.
With Acid Pro, that niche is the beginner, and by “beginner,” we really mean that “undecided music producer.” All of the other options on this list are for consumers that know they want to make music and are willing to put in the appropriate investment to do so.
Acid Pro’s niche are for those people who have kicked around the idea of making music as an amateur, but have not truly put forth the effort or commitment to give it a fair shake. However, that is where Acid Pro’s relatively easy user interface and tools combined with its rock-bottom price for the full version given the fickle consumer a chance to see if the actual task of mixing and making music suit their interests without dumping a load of time or money into something they may simply decide is not right for them.
This DAW is likely designed for those who find themselves in a financial pickle. If you are interested in sticking your toe in the DAW pool but not yet ready to commit hundreds of dollars to production software, this is the DAW for you. Keep in mind, if you get hooked, you will likely quickly move on to a more capable DAW in the future.
Incredibly budget-friendly when compared to other DAWs
Offers an decent introduction for beginners
Solid track integration makes voice manipulation easier
The depth of features are not as robust as other DAWs
While better than it once was, could be more stable
Updates are slower in development than many other DAWs
10. Cakewalk Sonar
Cakewalk Sonar cut its teeth in the early 90s, allowing Windows users to mess around with music production in a similar way that FL Studios’ Fruity Loops did. However, Cakewalk saw the future earlier and made the jump to building a DAWs before many of its other competitors caught on. Unfortunately, it did not catch on like its competitors, but that could be argued because it was ahead of its time.
With a user interface that was once messy and difficult to read in a world of amateurs, Fruity Loops’ ease of use and cleaner design attracted more followers. However, that has not stopped Cakewalk from improving on their DAW and making a solid piece of software for amateurs and professionals alike. For instance, Sonar was one of the first single-platform DAWs on the market and it still is.
Where other DAWs are content to nickel-and-dime their customers with numerous specialized apps, Cakewalk provides the whole package in one fell swoop. In another sign of their attempt to reach a wide market, the requirements for Cakewalk are modest enough that most computers can run its full program. Moreover, if someone does not have the cash to pony up front for the top-end version, which is still remarkably affordable compared to the competition, Cakewalk offers a subscription payment model.
This is an up-and-coming DAW that continues to improve. While it may not be an industry standard at the moment, its continued innovation makes it a great product to become familiar with. However, if your needs lean more towards the established professional, you will likely do better purchasing a product that is already integrated within the industry.
The top-end version is far more affordable than most comparable competitors
Offers both a one-time purchase and a subscription model
An award-winning user interface makes use not only easy but enjoyable
Only supports windows OS
Not as common among industry professionals which may limit professional application
While the user interface is nice, navigation itself can be laborious
Best Music Production Software 2017: Comprehensive Buyer Guide
There is simply no point in purchasing a DAW that can often cost hundreds of dollars if it is incompatible with the operating system of your PC. Most programs will use windows as the standard OS since the majority of computers and brands come preinstalled with that OS. Of course, Apple is not some niche brand, and millions of consumers use whichever OS comes installed on the Macbook or other Apple computer models.
More and more makers of computer programs seek to offer solutions for both OS, but it is not a given practice. Unfortunately, this is still an issue with DAWs, which often do not translate from one OS to another.
As such, you will need to know ahead of time which OS your PC uses or risk spending a great deal of money on a program that is incompatible with your computer. This should not be a problem for Windows users as the overwhelming number of DAWs are compatible with that OS. Apple users will a tougher time, though they still have legitimately good options.
Not everyone has a top of the line PC on which to run their DAW, but that can, and sometimes will, be a primary consideration when it comes time to choose one. Thankfully, very few DAWs require your computer truly be top of the line in order to function.
However, many of them, especially depending on the version used, will still require a relatively contemporary PC or suffer major functionality issues. Still, the range of minimum system requirements is more vast than one might imagine in seemingly similar pieces of software.
The primary factor in this regard will often be the RAM. Some DAWs require as little as 1GB of RAM while others will need at least 8GB. That is a huge difference in terms of price and PC capability. Moreover, hard drive space will also be a factor depending on the version purchased.
As each of these DAWs often have differing versions depending on the needs of the client, you have the luxury of picking the one that suits you. However, if you want a full-package DAW with every voice, loop, and plugin available, you will very likely find yourself needing 30GB of hard drive space–or more.
Finally, the CPU rarely needs to be top of the line, with models over 5 years old often being acceptable. Still, there will be an errant DAW here and there that requires a beefier processor, show be sure to figure out what you need ahead of time. Oddly enough, an onboard soundcard integrated into the motherboard is generally sufficient for all DAWs.
As with every purchase, this is a major factor. With DAWs, figuring out what to actually spend your money on can be made even more difficult due to different versions, post-purchase microtransactions, and subscription plans.
The most immediate and obvious decision in this regard will be the version of the software. Most of these DAWs have at least 3 different versions, each with their own range of features and their own price tag.
This cost can range anywhere from under $100 to almost $1000. With such a wide berth, it is absolutely vital that you understand both what you intend to use the DAW for and what features you need from your DAW. Often, the difference between versions is little more than more of the same features, or added support to ancillary tasks.
However, just as often, all versions will be able to complete every task, but the more expensive one will simply provide more tools for doing such. Moreover, some DAW producers still require you to purchase plugin patches, though this is quickly becoming an outdated practice that different companies are phasing out in different ways.
More likely, these days you will simply need to upgrade a cheaper version to a higher end version to obtain the additional resources. Finally, some DAW producers are starting to flirt with the subscription model. This can be both a good and a bad thing.
It offers access to a higher end version you may not be able to afford all at once, but you will never actually own the DAW. Though, the subscription plan will include all updates which often adds features other owners may have to purchase.
While the DAW is definitely the engine that gets the whole car moving, plugin are pretty much everything else that allows you produce music at the highest levels with widest range of options. Quite simply, this is likely the second most important quality of a DAW in terms of the possible music you can create outside of the base program itself.
Plugins usually come packaged in one of two ways. Either, you purchase the plugins or you download them after the fact. To make this more complicated, different DAWs are compatible with different sets of 3rd-party plugins.
Granted, the most popular plugin will generally be compatible with most DAWs, but for lesser known plugins, you may have to really dig to figure out whether your DAW can support it or not. Thankfully, pretty much every DAW at least offers a full-range of plugins, though you may need to purchase or upgrade your version to be able to use them.
With many DAWs offering up to 3000 plugins or more, it is unlikely you will not be able to find what you need. However, the actual functionality of those plugins may play a bigger role in your decision. For instance, the mixing options of different DAWs may be broken up into all or nothing or they may be provided at limited to full options.
The same concept applies to recording, synthesizers, and live production. As such, identifying exactly what you need your DAW to do and when will play a large role in determining which version and how much money you should invest in your DAW.
There is no easy way of putting this: DAWs are complex programs, and all of them involve a steep learning curve. However, the specific grade of that learning curve will vary from DAW to DAW. Some are noted as more “beginner” friendly than others. For instance, Avid Pro Tools is known in the DAW industry as being far more forgiving to new users than say FL Studios.
This specific knowledge generally takes one of two forms: programs and principles. The first is relatively straight forward and mostly involves familiarizing yourself with each DAW. Of course, this means that after you have spent countless hours figuring out all the different features and user interfaces of a given DAW, you might be disinclined to throw away all of that hard work simply to learn another format.
In fairness, once you figure out one DAW, it does become far easier to figure out another. Still, transitioning from one DAW to another still takes a fair amount of time and effort, so it is important to know which one your experience level suits ahead of time.
The ease of using the program will often inform your consideration of the second, and more fundamental, level of experience with music making: actually understanding the principles of sound. Keep in mind, this is a separate knowledge than understanding the principles of music.
It is expected that you know those ahead of time, or else, why would you be purchasing production software in the first place? No, the principles of sound focus on how tweaking the properties of a specific voice will alter the way that voice sounds.
Pretty much every decent DAW on the market will provide some form of control over the sound. However, different DAWs allow a greater range of freedom, which can be a blessing and a curse. If you are intimately familiar with the principles of sound, the ability to tweak a voice along a dizzying range of dimensions provides a supreme freedom to craft your music.
On the other hand, if you are less comfortable with the principles of sound and how they affect a voice, it is easy to get in way over your head and become lost in the possibilities. Those DAWs noted for ease with beginners often come with more and more common prearranged voice distortions for those who are unfamiliar with the principles of sound.
Where exactly do you plan to use your DAW? If you intend to produce music in the comfort of your home, every one of these DAWs will provide more than enough tools to suit your needs. However, take your DAW outside of your home setting, and some will be unable to keep up with the new change in venue.
A prime example of this, that does not also involve being a true professional, would include playing live music. If you are a part-time DJ looking to make and mix tracks on the cuff in front of a modest but dedicated audience, you will need a DAW that is capable of doing such a feat. Some DAWs have a built-in plugin to assist you with performing music live.
Other DAWs may be just a powerful in terms of producing music, but their functionality for quick adjustments and sonic tuning are simply not up to the task of live production. On the other hand, the ability to produce music to the most refined degree, as one might expect to do in a professional music studio setting, requires a very different set of tools than being able to perform live music from a DAW.
The consummate professional will be far less worried about speed and far more concerned with absolute control and precision. Granted, most DAWs do offer professional grade versions, but the price tag and functionality of each will vary from product to product. In this instance, the specific music produced will play a heavy factor.
If you focus on a single genre, you may not need every bell and whistle available, and thus, not have to break the bank on your DAW. Conversely, if you produce music for a wide range of genres and maybe even mix non-musical tracks, you will likely require a wider breadth of tools to do so.
Unfortunately, as with every factor when choosing a DAW, there is no real “standard” approach to updates. By this, we mean the different tweaks in the DAW the company makes to provide a better product after it has been put on the market.
Unlike most types of computer software which automatically update your computer software as the company refines the code, DAWs will vary from one to another how updates are rolled out. If you are looking for the convenience of passive updating, that is available. However, different versions of the same DAW may have different policies of updates.
Obviously automatic updates are preferred, but that may not be a big enough factor to be worth choosing your DAW. Instead, you may fall in love with a different quality and be willing to purchase future updates, inconvenient though it may be.
This latter approach has been made integral to those payment plans that rely on subscription models instead of one-time purchases. Moreover, if a DAW offers both the subscription and the single purchase payment model, the way one updates may differ from the other.
Ultimately, updates are rarely a deal-breaker, but knowing how they are handled ahead of time can save you a great deal of headache and potential buyer’s remorse in the long run.
While this may seem to be a purely aesthetic consideration, long-time users of DAWs understand that this quality alone can help you fall in love with a DAW or bring you to hate it over time. If you intend to spend hours at your computer, meticulously refining and mixing music, you do not want to have to worry about the strain it will place on your eyes.
From a functional standpoint, the user interface, or UI, can also play an important factor in ease of use with the DAW altogether. In this light, the UI may be inextricably tied to the experience level required to efficiently and most effectively use the DAW.
A messy UI with difficult to see functions will increase your user time to accomplish the same tasks as other DAWs until you are intimately familiar with it.
While this consideration is far more in line with updates in terms of importance, if you feel about the same regarding the more important factors between two or more DAWs, this may very well be the tie-breaker to push towards one product over another.
As we can see, there is no true best software for making music in 2017. Each of them have their advantages and disadvantages, and whichever one is right for you will depend on a whole host of factors including your familiarity with music making, your specific needs when producing music, and your hardware limitations–both with a PC and peripherals.
However, with a robust knowledge of what makes the top DAWs tick and a thorough examination of distinguishes one from the other, you should feel more than confident that you can see both the forest and the trees when determining which DAW is right for you.
One of the questions by beginners is “what is the best MIDI controller for a beginner?” and “how to select the right beginner MIDI keyboard for making music” If you are just starting out, you may also want to know which software is appropriate to produce music with.
In those days when gear was extremely expensive, owning a mixer and turntables means you have to be committed if you want to become a DJ. If you are going to be spending so much on these equipment, you have to somehow commit yourself to the course.
Over the years, however, prices have tumbled. This is the period of software-based DJ technology and you can start making music with DJ controllers in no time. There are many software that will allow you to do that now.
Important Concepts to Know
One of the things you should consider while looking for beginner MIDI controller options is your budget. You have to first see if you like playing with them and how they respond to your touch. This is why it is often a great thing to try out things in a music shop and not rely totally on internet reviews when you are buying your item.
Another thing you want to consider is an old synth from the 90s. Compared to modern budget controller keyboard, you will be able to buy it cheaper. Moreover, they usually come with high quality keybeds and thus give you the ability to play with an old synth from the 90s. Though, if you are going to consider this option, you have to have the space and budget.
If these two are available, then there is no problem. The reason for this recommendation is that it is getting increasingly difficult to get good keybeds on most keyboards now. And it can be very difficult to get things like splits and aftertouch on a budget keyboard.
The disadvantages to this option is that they are often bulky and heavy, requires a separate MIDI interface to use with a computer and they are certainly going to need a power outlet. However, if what matters to you is to be able to play the device without a computer and get useful sound, then they are the best.
The MIDI Keyboard
The MIDI keyboard is a miniature controller with a piano roll. It is a beginner MIDI keyboard that is worth looking at if you are just starting out. There are many other keyboard types out there, however, this one is more suitable for a beginner. Most of the time, you will need to make MIDI notes on piano roll, this is why the MIDI keyboard is a good piece of equipment to start with. Also, it allows you to play melodies in your music.
The Sequence Pad
There are many sequence-styled controllers on the market, a great example is the Novation Launchpad. You can launch sound samples through this piece of software or use it to control Ableton Live. With a sequence pad, you can change volume, add effects, and other important things you want to do during music production.
There are no knobs and sliders on a sequence pad, so that you have limited controller over what you can do with it, unlike when you are using a MIDI controller. This is just an example of something you need to pay attention to while shopping for the best MIDI controller for beginners.
If you are new to music product, getting a multi-functional controller is a good step. This kind of tool will enable you to do all that you need to do all on one device. All-in-one devices can be bloated with too many features, however, they are one of the best you can invest in as a beginner.
A multi-function controller is a complete tool and will always be a good MIDI controller option for beginners because of the variety of functions, features and flexibility if offers. You can use faders, beat pads, keys, and many other features on it. This will make it easy for you to quickly learn all that you need to learn as a beginner.
Beginner Buying Tips
If you are just starting to learn how to play keyboard, your best bet is to go for a 49-key controller (4 octave). This will allow you to play with both hands. You may postpone buying a 25-key MIDI controller until you are more experienced.
However, if you are just looking at entering notes in a sequencer, then choosing the 25-key controller may be ideal at the initial stage. One of the best advice I can give you is that you should stay with companies that have been in this industry for decades and that knows how to make keyboards. This means you should be looking at brands like Yamaha, Novation, Fatar, Korg, Roland, and Akai.
These companies have been in the race for a very long time and they know what they are doing. M-Audio and other newer players in the industry are trying their best, but it’s much easier to stay with the best brands for your equipment when you are just dipping your toes in music production. Another very good place to look at is the used market and Craigslist is a great place to look.
Important Questions to Consider Before Buying a Keyboard
What’s your budget?
The very first thing you should consider before selecting a controller is how much you are willing to pay to buy one, especially if you are buying for the first time. There are many brands that offer basic and entry-level MIDI controllers for beginners without all the bells and whistles.
During my research into different MIDI controllers and keyboards, I have seen some of these items that cost less than $100 and some that are above that range. Therefore, your budget should determine your choice of MIDI controller.
What features do you need?
Although it all depends on your goal and aspiration, try to stay away from MIDI controllers that are full of assignable options like faders, pads, drum, etc. This is because they often cost more and often have longer learning curve, thus stifling your ability to learn fast. However, if all these features are pertinent to your work, there is no harm in getting a controller that comes with these features.
What software bundles do you need?
With newer versions of MIDI controllers coming out faster than ever, there are now several options of software bundles to choose from. Some of these items come with virtual instruments, plugins, and digital audio workstation.
If you are just starting out, you should look for a particular software to use and stick to it until you learn all the necessary details of making music with it. Ableton Live is a great software to start with if you are using a PC while the Logic Pro from Apple is the right one to start with if you are working from a Mac.
What is a MIDI Controller
A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) allows you to play just one MIDI keyboard and trigger sounds from different samples and synthsizers. The MIDI controller was invented in the 1980s. Since then, it has become an industry standard musicians and performers for several decades. And today, it has become more useful than ever.
You can now play a MIDI controller and drive virtual instruments on your computer or iPad. You can now bring thousands of music to your doorstep with just a single MIDI controller and a Hard Drive full of samples.
Can you use a MIDI Controller in your Home Studio?
You can definitely use this in your home studio. Because of the variety of features on MIDI controllers, they can be very useful tool in your music creation arsenal. With a MIDI controller, you can monitor the performance of a single synthesizer and record MIDI data simultaneously.
In fact, you instantly switch to another sound when the current recording is done, thus be able to work faster and more efficiently. Most MIDI controllers work with DAW (Digital Audio Workstations) software that has sequencing tools that allow you to transpose, time-stretch, edit notes on a piano roll, and so on.
These tools can only be used when you have a MIDI keyboard controller and a USB cable to connect the keyboard to your computer. This connection enables you to record your performance.
How many keys do you need?
If you are okay with playing one-handed synth basses, you don’t need more than a 25-key MIDI controller. However, you need to buy either a 49-key, 61-key or 88-key midi controller if you are looking at a piano arrangement.
The most popular of these is the 49 key MIDI controllers. They have enough key that allows you to play with two hands while not taking too much desk space on your desk. Moreover, many compact MIDI controllers now exists that allows you to have access to the piano’s full 88-key range, thanks to the octave buttons that allows you to switch up and down.
What’s the difference between Weighted, Semi-Weighted, and Synth-Action Keys?
These terms all describe the action of the keys – the way to respond to your touch. The most similar to an acoustic piano is the Weighted keys. They are often more heavy and bulky and may require more force and finger independence to operate.
Synth-action keys offer less reaction and are often lighter than their Full-Weighted keys counterparts. They are mostly found on entry-level controllers and lightweight controllers. The Semi-weight keys on the other hand, often found on professional controller keyboards, fall in the middle as they are not too light or too heavy.
What Does Hammer action Mean?
There is a hammer mechanism that occurs on a typical acoustic piano. This is triggered by the press of a key where damper is lifted off the piano strings and a hammer is set to strike them. Hitting the keys harder makes the hammer hit harder at the strings, leading to a louder sound. Although there is no need for strings in a controller keyboard, the feature on a MIDI controller that manufacturers want to use to replicate that of the acoustic piano.
Not all keyboards come with the hammer action action feature though; it is only available in the higher end keyboards. Any keyboard with the hammer action feature mean that you have to press the keys harder when making lower notes and lighter when making higher notes.
What is escapement?
If you press a key on an acoustic piano slowly and lightly, you will discover that there is a resistance from the key. That resistance is brought about by the hammer that is hitting the strings. After hitting the strings, the hammer immediately retracts back to its original position and that is the point of sound – the retraction of the hammer to its position ready to strike again is the escape and what is referred to as escapement.
The escapement is what gives the acoustic piano its distinctive feel. Moreover, if you are used to playing piano, you will discover that a keyboard with this feature will feel the most natural to you than those that don’t have this feature.
What is after touch? And Do you need it?
After touch is what helps you add expression to your playing when you are playing organs, strings, synths, horns, or any other sound that you find interesting. If you are using a keyboard that has aftertouch features, you can trigger the aftertouch event by striking a key, hold down the notes, and apply more pressure.
If you are a classical pianist, aftertouch might not be very useful to you. However, if you are a synth player, you need it to control the nice expressive effects without having recourse to a modulation wheel or joystick. This feature is often only found in higher-end controllers. However, once you start using it, you will find it very addictive.
What are performance pads? Do you need them?
Performance pads are useful for laying down beats and launching loops. They are very useful for playing percussion sounds and they feel more natural to use than the keyboard keys when triggering drum samples. Some MIDI controllers come with bank of 8, 12, or 16, and you can purchase a standalone model if you want to buy a controller that does not have them.
The Best MIDI Controllers for Beginners
What are the best MIDI controllers for beginners? There are many options you can choose from. However, some are just better than others in helping you achieve your aim. Although some people recommend starting with 49-Key controllers, it is by no means the rule of thumb. There are 25-key MIDI controllers that are worth their salt.
As a result of this, I will include the best in each category – starting from 25-key controllers to 61-key controllers.
25-Key MIDI Controllers
Akai APC Key 25
The Akai APC Key 25 is a compact MIDI controller with a sleek design and a beautifully designed backlight. It does not need a power cable to use it and will not take up too much space on your desk. It has a great resistance when pushed and the faders are equally sturdy and well designed. Moreover, the faders on it are indented so that you can use it on-the-go.
The only drawback is that it only has a three color grip and the arrow keys can only be pushed by a single track, however, with time, custom scripts will be available to address this problem. With less than $100, you can add this great device to your list of items.
Acorn Instruments Masterkey 25
For its price, the Acorn Instruments Maskerkey is a nice entry level MIDI controller for musicians and performers. However, it does not lack in features that are useful to the beginner. You can easily pack it in your backpack and travel with your laptop, which makes it easy to practice the keyboard on the go. It is easy to setup and is on the cheaper side going for a less than $70.
The CME Xkey features keys that don’t pivot, which means there is less movement when you are operating it. This therefore translates into greater speed and efficiency for the busy player. Unlike other controllers, the feel of the black keys is not different from those of the white keys therefore making for a smooth feel like the Korg.
The CME XKey comes with polyphonic aftertouch. This allows you to hold down the key, apply pressure, and the key will respond to the changes in pressure leading to different effect for each key held independently.
Behringer U-Control UMA 25S
When you are looking to buy a new controller and you are bubbling with lots of requirements, it becomes difficult to settle on a controller that satisfies all your requirement. With the UMA 25S however, the case is very different.
It has low weight and footprint, comes with easily programmed presets and small keyboard with assignable functions. It can be controlled easily and quickly with minimal programming and most importantly, it is reasonably priced.
If you are looking for a medium sized MIDI controller to use yourself and use as a tool to teach the kids, this is it. The Alesis Q25 Keyboard Controller works out of the box, easy to setup and compact so that it is easy to move around the house.
Moreover, it is not too small, has a simple interface with only basic features that will not distract the kids. Not only would it fit the bill – it is a budget MIDI controller – it is also very efficient and has been receiving glowing reviews all over.
Novation LaunchKey 25
If you are looking for a decent MIDI controller in the $200 range with sturdy and durable construction, the Novation LaunchKey 25 is one of the best you can get on the market. Although the knobs and sliders are on the flimsy side, they are well made and sure endure abuse and lots of long term usage.
Just like the keys found on the MicroKORG XL, the Korg MicroKey offers 25-mini keys that are very playable. If you are looking for a nice keyboard that you can use on the road or during your leisure period and lay down some tracks on the laptop while you are resting, the Korg MicroKey is the right option.
49-Key MIDI Controllers
M-Audio Keystation 49
With the M-Audio Keystation 49 MIDI controller, you don’t need any software installation to get it started. It works out of the box. In fact, you can have your first music created in few minutes after setting up. If you are using a Mac or other Apple products with it, you will like this tool because it comes in gray and white color.
It is light, durable, and will sit well on your desk. And for the price, you are definitely getting a deal on the M-Audio Keystation 49.
Samson Carbon 49
The prominent thing about the Samson Carbon 49 is that the velocity sensitivity for note off and note on are fairly consistent. This means that you can enjoy consistent dynamics when transitioning from lowest to the highest velocity.
Some customers have actually complained that the keyboard feel is not something to write home about, which also makes faster fingering almost impossible. With these and other limitations, many users have found it very useful and affordable – as it is under $100.
Alesis V49 is a simple plug and play device that gives you all the functionality you need in a 49-key controller. It is fully weighted keys, lightweight, and compact. Although it is quite expensive, if you are not worried about the price, its is a nice tool.
This is not just another MIDI controller to fill your desk with. It has a solid build and design that it should fit your desk perfectly even if you are going to use it in front of your monitor. The keyboard is solid and it’s a quality product. However, if you are a piano fanatic, this product may not be for you because the performance of the velocity is not impressive.
61-Key MIDI Controllers
Samson Carbon 61
The Samson Carbon 61 is a simple MIDI controller that will help you control synthesizers and other outboard gear in your studio, and that it does effectively. It does not require any MIDI interface or cables, just plug it and plug it to your system with the USB cable which comes in with it and start working.
It has well set keybed and they are quiet during operation. You can easily assign functions to different software, thanks to its assignable knob and sliders.
M-Audio Keystation 61
The M-Audio Keystation 61 is an elite MIDI controller for performers, musicians, and pro piano players. It comes with VSTi piano instrument, Ableton Live, and Eight Eight Ensemble so that you can start playing some sounds immediately after unboxing.
While the setup is smooth, some users have found that the keybed is not arranged in the proper manner to encourage proper technique. To enjoy this unit, you have to make lots of hand adjustments. However, if you are looking for a complete package, this M-Audio model will not disappoint.
Novation Launchkey 61
The strongest point of the Novation Launchkey 61 is its auto-mapping feature. It helps make your work flow smooth. It is solidly built, easy to setup, and works well with Ableton Live 9 and above. Not only is the keyboard lightweight, the knobs also feel nice and tight.
If you are a constant traveler, you will like this MIDI controller because it is svelte and easy to use. The keyboard is not the greatest when it comes to feel, but it makes up for that with good resistance from the knobs. The faders are equally designed well, although if you are looking for an MPC feel, you may be disappointed.
If you are looking for instruments for DJing, you may want to look at something like turntables or other DJ controllers. Since you are going to make music before presenting it to your audience, it makes sense to take care of this first.
With the help of this article, you should be able to get nice MIDI controllers that are easy to operate, versatile, small and lightweight. And most importantly, they are cheap. In fact, if you are a complete novice, you should not ignore this aspect if you really want to buy the best MIDI controller.
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
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK III
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.
Akai Professional MPD226
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.
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.
Novation Launchkey 25 Controller
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.
IK Multimedia iRig Keys Pro
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.
M-Audio Keystation 88 II
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.
Novation Impulse 25 USB MIDI Controller
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.
Alesis Q49 MIDI Keyboard Controller
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.
Korg TAKTILE 25 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.
M-Audio Oxygen Series 61 Ignite
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.
There are time you feel you just have to buy something. And unless you can restrain yourself from buying on impulse, you can exhaust your lifesaving on useless, undurable tools. In this article, I gather some tips that can help you shop like a smart musician.
1. Always shop around for your gadgets. When you see a sales price, don’t just jump on it. There are might be a better deal somewhere else. All you have to do is look. The best way of ensuring you buy cheaply and that you are not cheated is to engage in comparison shopping. Don’t take prices at face value. Moreover, some merchants can have a special offer for a limited time, which is open to the general public, although you have to be on the lookout for these.
Some may even have a discount on the sales price. If you want to mitigate your cost further, you can check online for the product you want and see if it available online. Usually, the price is not as expensive as offline and retailers like Amazon can provide free shipping if you are able to achieve a certain threshold.
2. Consider the time and cost. There is something economists call cost and benefit analysis. This means that when you are looking at the benefit of something; don’t forget about the cost of such thing. If you see 50% discount on a midi controller on Amazon tomorrow, you don’t have to rush it.
First, consider the cost of shipping as well as the cost of delivery. Another thing is the time and delivery time. Sometimes retailers try to draw you in with their discounted prices without informing you of hidden charges. However, this does not mean that you can’t get your hands on a good deal. Just ensure you will not be required to pay extra fees when you have concluded your transaction.
3. Shop Online. Even if you are buying your musical instruments offline, you can still benefit from shopping online since the goods are always cheaper. Moreover, you can go on to some websites that offer price comparison for known/popular merchants. You can even get price for your offline shops and be better informed. Buying online will not only help you spend less, it will also make you a smart shopper. With your smartphone or computer, you can view prices on several retailers online at the same time.
Another advantage to shopping online is that you can read actual reviews of previous users on the product you want to buy. Most if not all products have thousands of reviews left by previous users. With the wealth of information available, you can learn a ton about what you are about to buy without leaving your living room. If you decide not to buy online, the knowledge you have gained buy sifting through user reviews online will help you negotiate better offline.
4. Calculate bargain offers. Most often, you can see mouth-watering deals and you will be tempted to buy. You’ll often come across slogans such as “Buy one get one free” “free shipping”. These and many more are what you will be familiar with when you start shopping regularly. However, before you buy, ask yourself if you really need it. If you don’t then ignore such deals. They will only bore holes in your pocket. In fact, those deals are made to make you spend more, not less.
5. Before buying, save some bucks. Sometimes, when you see a new instrument like a foot pedal that you want to buy, you just go buy it without thinking twice but you can actually just check coupon sites like RetailMeNot to see if you can get a discount code for what you want to buy. Many websites like this allow you to buy the product you want to buy with a coupon, which will cut out certain percentages of the retail price of the product. The popularity of these method shows how effective it has been right from time.
6. Buy durable tools. You can’t compare Macbook durability to a PC, especially if you travel a lot and you drop them. I’ve used both and unless you don’t have the budget, always choose something sturdy over something cheaply made. Sometimes, the best way to ensure that a product is durable is by reading about what other people say about the product. You can also ask a close friend or relative who have used the product in the past about the durability. A product made with metal will last longer than one that is made in plastic. And a product that is well designed will not only be easy to use but also last longer.
7. Always have a list. It can be difficult to make a list and when you do, it can be heavy on your chest to follow through. Before writing your list, ensure you have a budget and be clear exactly on what you want to purchase. It can be difficult to stick to a list when you don’t have a budget. When you have a budget in mind, you will find it easier to restrict yourself to only what is on the list. And don’t push yourself too much; if you see something that you honestly want to get and you have something left on your budget to purchase it, go for it. One or two is okay. But three or more is bad.
8. Don’t buy on impulse. Impulse buying is a sworn enemy of consumer. It lead to accumulation of unwanted things and is the #1 cause of buyer remorse. Therefore, don’t ever be in a rush to buy the latest tool. Be diplomatic, especially if it’s an expensive item. Sleep on it. It might even become unappealing the next morning. I have some products at home that I no longer need. However, when I contemplate on the price I spent in buying the product, I often think I’ve wasted money is procuring the product. You can learn from my mistake.
9. Reviews are spot-on. It’s almost impossible not to see a review on a product you want to buy online. Bestmidicontroller.co reviews many of the products online and it’s the same with many websites. When a brand releases a new product to the market, there are people who will review such product on their website or social media outlet. In fact, some can give you a sneak peak even define the product is released. Although you can’t depend entirely on these, they can make the difference between an informed buyer and an uninformed buyer.
10. You have a right. Are you experiencing problems with your keyboard? Are you finding it difficult to complete simple tasks because of a faulty product? Then get on the manufacturer’s neck. Shoot them an email, call their customer care or connect with them through the social media. While some manufacturers are obnoxious, others will attend to you and provide solution to your problems in a quick manner.
I have tried to include some of the tips you can shop better. The next article will cover what you should avoid when you are doing your shopping. If you enjoy this article, please share it with your friends, relatives who may need them too.