Top 5 Budget MIDI Keyboards
If you are just starting out in music production, then a MIDI Keyboard is probably the most useful bit of kit that you should consider buying early on. In this article we compare the five most popular options for beginners and tell you which keyboard gives you the most bang for your buck.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32
Novation Launchkey Mini MK3
AKAI MPK Mini MK3
Korg MicroKey 2 Air25
1) Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32
The Komplete Kontrol M32 is a small form factor MIDI controller with 32 keys. It feels very light when picked-up and is made of black plastic, however it does have a very solid construction which doesn’t feel at all flimsy.
In terms of functionality, it has pretty much the same controls as the more expensive A-Series of controllers, although the mod wheels have been replaced on the M32 with touch-strips. The controller is primarily designed to work within the Komplete Kontrol NKS ecosystem, which allows compatible instruments and effects to be selected and previewed within the controller itself. The controls of each patch are then magically assigned to the various knobs and encoders which are named on the controller screen, allowing the user to quickly and easily tweak parameters.
One of the best things about this controller is the free bundle of software and instruments that come with it. This includes over 2000 sounds, and 17 instruments and effects including Monark, Scarbee Mark I, Reaktor Prism, and also a Lite version of Ableton Live. All this for less than £100 is simply outstanding value!
2) Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3
Now in it's 3rd generation, the Novation Launchkey Mini was the very first MIDI Controller I bought when I was starting out in music production, and I never regretted my choice. It is very sleek and compact so won't take up much space on your desktop, or could easily be slipped into a rucksack for taking to a gig or even on holiday for example.
Apart from the 25 keys, it has 16 pads which are perfect for tapping out drums or vocal chops, 8 knobs which you can map to control instrument parameters in your DAW, and responsive pitch and modulation touch sliders. A useful feature called 'Fixed Chord' memorises a series of notes allowing you to play a full chord with one note. It has an input for an expression pedal, and a MIDI output, an Arp button, and a MIDI capture capability which integrates with the equivalent feature in Live.
Speaking of Live, its the novation's deep integration with Live's Session View is the stand-out feature for me. The Novation Launchkey Mini also comes with an impressive bundle of sounds and instruments, as well as a copy of Ableton Live Lite edition. Even if you're using another DAW however, its still worth checking this keyboard out.
3) Akai Professional MPK Mini Mk3
The Akai Professional MPK Mini Mk3 is a super stylish compact 25 key MIDI controller. It's stand-out features are 8 backlit MPC Performance Pads for finger drumming and recording, together with 8 assignable rotary control knobs. It's great quality considering its price point, and even sports an OLED display screen which gives you visual feedback on parameters like Velocity or DAW control mode.
The controller design feels both retro and modern at the same time, retaining the old-style MPC 4-way control knob which shows it's heritage. The bundled software package contains MPC Beats (which can run as a VST inside your DAW), 6 instruments (Tubesynth, Electric, Bassline, Hybrid 3, Mini Grand and Velvet), together with 2GB of samples.
The controller is available is three colours, red & black, white with inverted keys, and a really striking all black colour scheme.
4) Korg MicroKey 2 Air25
The main selling point of the diminutive Korg MicroKey 2 Air25 is the fact that it can connect to your Mac or PC using Bluetooth (although a USB connection is also provided). In wireless mode it gets its power from a couple of AA batteries, which again means less cables, and therefore a great option if you want to use it as a portable device. The controller can even be connected to an iPad via Bluetooth, which gives you even more music making options whilst on the move.
The 25 Keys on the MicroKey Air do feel quite light and plasticky compared to some of the other options on this list, however that can easily be forgiven considering the low price point. The keyboard includes a joystick to control your modulation and pitch, as well as an arpeggiator function. It comes bundled with a generous software package that includes special editions of KORG Gadget and KORG Module, as well as the KORG Collection M1 Le, which includes a VST version of the classic M1 Synth.
5) Alesis V61
Large in size, but not in price, the Alesis V61 is a MIDI Keyboard with 61 velocity sensitive full sized keys. If you have the room on your desktop, then you should give this budget controller serious consideration. Having a larger note range as well as full sized keys can make a massive difference to the usability of a MIDI keyboard. If this is important to you, the Alesis V61 is one of the only controllers where you would get this at such a low price point.
The keyboard also includes 8 illuminated pressure sensitive drum trigger pads, a pitch-bend and modulation wheel, 4 assignable buttons and rotary encoders, plus an expression pedal input. The bundled software package includes Ableton Live Lite and xpand!2 by Air Music Tech.
So there we have it, the top 5 budget MIDI keyboards ! All are quality options with their own strengths and weaknesses, however the winner for me has to be the Komplete Kontrol M32. The bundled software alone is probably worth the purchase price, and when you add in the native NKS support within a well designed and user friendly keyboard, it becomes a no-brainer.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Have a great day and happy producing !