As a music producer, it’s important to me to have a good MIDI controller. I think everyone interested in music production should consider owning at least one.
Now, with that said, there are some MIDI controllers that cost hundreds of dollars and have everything you’ll ever need. And while that’s all well and good, is that really what someone who is just starting off needs to buy?
It’s a tough question to a degree, because if you’re new to production, you’re going to have to make an investment in your gear. And make no mistake about it, it is an investment, because if you’re serious about it, you’ll eventually become skilled enough in and competent enough in audio engineering to make some money back. It definitely takes tim,e but if you’re willing to put the work in, you’ll see a return on your money.
So, with this in mind, how much should you spend on a MIDI controller when you’re first starting out or are a beginner? After all, you probably have lots of other costs to think about, like studio monitors, an audio interface, cables, a computer with a digital audio workstation, and of course, the sounds themselves. Thus, it can feel frustrating to have to shell out several hundreds of dollars more just for a keyboard to use with your computer.
Fortunately, there are some great MIDI controllers for under $200 dollars that you should consider if you’re in the market for one. And in this article, I’ll show you the five MIDI controllers that I’d most recommend to those who are either beginners when it comes to music production, or are just looking to save some money.
And before we get started breaking down my top five, please take a look at the interactive table below. Inside, you’ll find my five MIDI controllers priced under $200 (which we’ll talk about in-depth in a bit), as well as a few others that, while they didn’t make the list, are worthy of your consideration too.
|Arturia KeyLab 49 MKII
|Novation Launchkey 61 MK3
Best MIDI Keyboards Under $200
And now, without further ado, let’s jump right into my top five. Let’s begin with the Akai MPK Mini MKII.
For starter producers, DJs, and people who don’t want to spend a fortune on a MIDI controller but need something to send MIDI information into the computer, the Akai MPK Mini is a great place to start.
This 25 key midi controller weighs a little over 1 lb., and is also equipped with eight knobs, pads, and some easily labeled buttons. The pads and knobs are assignable for sounds and effect parameters, consecutively, and the buttons have several other features.
For instance, the MPK Mini comes with a built-in arpeggiator that sequences notes in real time based on the output of the tempo set in your DAW. If you want to change the tempo, you can use the tap tempo button to reset it to your liking. You can cycle through two pad banks, and by pressing program select and a key of your choice, you can manipulate sequencing options such as swing, which can be very useful for several different arrangements.
Now, here’s the bad news about this MIDI controller. The keys are tiny. Overall they feel okay, but if you have big fingers, steer clear. It’s a very useful keyboard for controlling a lot of different functions, but it’s very small. If you like Akai’s interface and want something full-sized, you’ll need to get something else.
For instance, the Novation Launchkey 25 costs $50 more but you get full-sized keys instead. However, you don’t get the arpeggiator or the same kind of sequencing control.
If you don’t mind the small keys and want better control for only about $100, the Akai Professional MPK Mini 25 Mk II is definitely for you. And I like it a lot too. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars. But be sure that before you buy it, you see the full specs just in case.
And before we continue our top 5 countdown, please take a moment to view a small list of some of the best selling MIDI keyboards available on the market:
|1) M-Audio Hammer 88
|2) Arturia KeyStep Pro
|3) Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII
If MIDI is all about the feel of the keys for you, the Keystation 49 II does a great job giving players a realistic synth feel with full-sized, springy keys that have velocity sensitivity.
I like the Keystation because it’s all about simplicity. While there aren’t any knobs, sliders, or faders on this MIDI keyboard, it’s definitely very easy to use, especially for newbies. I had an old version of this one when I first started making music and it worked very well for me. The only reason I got a new MIDI controller was because I accidentally dropped the Keystation and broke some of the inner circuitry. The Keystation has a USB port and a sustain pedal input. With that said, the buttons on the side are pretty much all you need for the most basic form of MIDI controller operation.
For a lot of producers, the onboard hardware on a MIDI controller is definitely less important than the playability. I think that some producers, especially newer ones, would be quite comfortable using this in their home studio without feeling like they’d need the extra features.
For pros, however, maybe not so much. A lot of people like to map everything onto the MIDI keyboard so they can get a better feel for the music. So a pro might feel better getting something like a Launchkey 49 or even an Oxygen 49, both of which come with more onboard features like pads and encoders, and have a little more DAW control.
Still, for a $100 MIDI keyboard, the Keystation 49 II is a solid initial investment. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars for a sub-$200 MIDI controller.
The music production community definitely recommends M-Audio MIDI controllers as an entry-level option. Read more about the different brands of MIDI controllers and which one might be right for you on a forum like this one.
3. Korg Triton Taktile 25
In music production, sound design is very important. So I’m going to cheat a little here and recommend a hybrid MIDI controller, the Korg Triton Taktile 25.
I love this thing for so many reasons. It comes with onboard features like pads and knobs, and a touch pad that allows you to modulate sounds like a Korg Kaossilator in real time. It also has filter controls like a synthesizer might possess, such as cutoff, resonance, attack, and decay, so that if you want to modify a sound you don’t have to scroll through menus to find the filter you want to change.
It’s a hybrid because it’s a MIDI controller, but it has internal sounds as well. You can obviously map everything on the Taktile 25 to do whatever you want, but if you feel like using Korg’s Triton interface, you can do that too. You can also sequence notes using an onboard arpeggiator and play chords using the pads. You can customize the chords assigned to each pad, so if you’re not used to playing piano, it does the work for you.
One thing I don’t like about this MIDI controller is that it only has 25 keys, and for such a powerful engine, I would want at least 49 keys, maybe even 61. They do offer a 49 key version, but it costs over $400, and for that price I’d get something else entirely.
But who cares—we’re talking about $200 and under here, right?
So, as an alternative to the Triton Taktile 25, which is great but only has 25 keys, I’d recommend something like the M-Audio Oxygen 49 Mk IV, which has the same kind of controllability but nearly double the keys, only it’s missing the powerful Triton engine and can only be used to control the DAW like normal MIDI controllers.
The Taktile 25 is still a wonderful production option, and for only around $140, it’s a great bargain. I’d give it a 4.2 out of 5 stars.
I just mentioned this MIDI controller as an alternative to the Triton Taktile, mainly because it has similar control features but more keys. It’s a 49 key MIDI controller and has DAW transport controls, track selectors, and a few other useful buttons for navigating through the DAW.
What’s special about this MIDI controller? Well, the Oxygen 49 feels very similar to the Keystation 49 in terms of key feel and playability. And I really like the feel of the Keystation, but I do feel like for those who are looking for more controls, this is a good alternative.
On the Oxygen 49, you can find inputs and outputs that are identical to the Keystation 49: a USB to Host and a sustain pedal input. It’s extremely portable, weighing under 7 lbs. and short enough to fit in a large suitcase or small carrying bag. The pads feel good, although Novation’s pads always feel better to me, but the knobs on the Oxygen 49 are very easy to use and feel great.
Why is this keyboard more highly ranked than the others? Well, the Keystation is great but you can theoretically grow out of it. For $70 more, you get something that will last you a little longer. Its functionality is very practical and it’s great for beginner and intermediate producers because it doesn’t overwhelm anyone. I’ll admit that I think the sequencing power of the Akai MPK Mini is better than that of the Oxygen, but in terms of feel, the Oxygen wins.
My biggest complaint about this MIDI controller is the sliders. They’re flat and hard to grab. Novation’s sliders protrude much more, making it easier to adjust levels. I wish the design was better on the Oxygen’s sliders. This, of course, comes down to a bit of personal preference.
I think almost everyone who picks this up will love this MIDI controller. It feels really great, and that’s very important for musicians who want to record music. I’d give it a 4.3 out of 5 stars.
By the way, M-Audio also has a few other excellent products for amateur producers, as they’re all priced reasonably. I recommend you check out their website to see if there’s anything else that might suit you well. But I think the Oxygen 49 is still an excellent choice and would recommend it for something on the higher end of the under $200 mark.
One of my favorite MIDI controllers also happens to squeak under the $200 cap. The Launchkey 49 does everything just right; assignable controls, DAW transporting, transposing notes, arming tracks with the track selectors location below the sliders, and even the way it plays is special. The Launchkey is a professional MIDI controller simply because it has everything (in my opinion) you need.
The beauty of this one is that there are no confusing buttons; you know those buttons that say something like “program” and you’ll have no idea how to use it until you read the manual or watch an online tutorial? You won’t find anything like that on this keyboard.
It’s also the best MIDI keyboard for Ableton Live, which is meant for triggering samples and launching clips. It’s super easy to do this with most of Novation’s MIDI products, and the Launchkey 49 is no exception.
Even compared to the Oxygen 49, it just feels more complex and simple at the same time. While the Oxygen has a few buttons you won’t know how to use, everything makes sense on the Launchkey.
Here’s an example. In Ableton, you can assign up to 127 sounds in one chain or rack. If you assign the selector to a knob on the keyboard, the screen displays the sound number and where you are in the rack without any confusion, allowing you to audition sounds really fast, which is perfect for workflow. It weighs a little over 8 lbs. which makes it both slightly more durable than an M-Audio midi controller but equally as portable.
The Launchkey 49 always gets a high rating in my book, so I’m going to give it a 4.8 out of 5 stars. For the price, I’d dare say it’s unbeatable.
All of the MIDI keyboards we covered today are great for music production, and because they’re under $200, you can get one of these in order to save money to invest elsewhere. If music production is a passion of yours, it’s worth spending the money to get the good gear. But sometimes you don’t ever have to spend more than $200 to get one of the best MIDI controllers on the market today.
Should you need to upgrade in the future, you can either hang on to your original MIDI controller or sell it. But for your first MIDI keyboard, I’d recommend one of these, because they’re all unique in their own way and can serve many purposes suited for several different types of producers.
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