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We compare 5 of the best MIDI keyboards under $300 in 2020.
Find out what to look for when choosing a MIDI keyboard.
This sleek and understated device features a huge host of extremely helpful and creativity-inspiring features and functions to help producers of any skill level dive right into the good stuff.
The “smart play” feature of this device allows the user to lock the white keys to a specific scale or mode, and eradicates any notes not included in that specific selection.
This can allow more confidence and expression when recording or playing live. There is also a super-handy chord mode that will turn a single note played into a chord, with the various chord attributes being easily selected and controlled using the crispy OLED display.
This smart play feature allows the user to create diverse and interesting chord progressions in no time at all and aids in helping the producer keep up musically when working with other potentially more skilled or fluent musicians.
It is also worth noting that purchasing the Kontrol A49 also makes you eligible for a discount on KOMPLETE 12 and MASCHINE Factory Library, with the discount increasing further if you purchase both simultaneously.
✔ Automatically catalogs and recognizes Komplete and NKS (Native Kontrol Standard; proprietary mapping) files, and be able to play instant previews of any instruments or samples without having to fully load them – unique to Native Instruments.
✔ Comes with a tonne of free world-class music creation software.
✘ Only includes LITE version of Ableton Live, bundled with more proprietary software than third party software.
✘ Requires registration & signup to use.
✘ No aftertouch, no beat pads on the device making finger drumming/sample and clip launching difficult — more suited to studio use than live use.
Find the right sound, make it your own, perform, and capture the results – all from a responsive, semi-weighted keyboard. Complete with four premium instruments plus MASCHINE Essentials, A-Series keyboards come with everything you need to bring your ideas to life.
Novation has yet again entered the fray with a MIDI keyboard that ticks all the boxes in terms of price and functionality comparison.
The launch key 49 is a part of the Launchkey family, also available in 25 and 61 key variations (prices vary).
The special thing about this particular MIDI keyboard is that it has dedicated integration with Ableton Live, including Capture MIDI, track arm, quantise, click and loop controls.
Other DAW users fear not. Despite being primarily designed for use with Live, the inclusion of proprietary ‘INCONTROL’ software also allows this device to be synced and used to control MIDI and other mappable parameters in other DAW’s.
The Launchkey 49 sports a healthy 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive drum pads, with full RGB lighting and feedback.
The pads can be mapped for any function including but not limited to; launching clips, finger drumming and controlling fx, with the ability to also be color-coded by the user.
The 49 and 61 key versions of the Launchkey also come with 9 mappable faders, giving you the ability to easily and confidently mix-down your tracks or control your effects in real-time using your bare hands rather than traditional pointing and clicking.
✔ Designed with Ableton Live in-mind and will function best out of the box with Ableton Live ✔ The Sixteen RGB backlit drum pads that look great.
✘ More functionality available in Ableton Live than in other DAW’s
✘ No MIDI clock/CV/Gate functionality
✘ No aftertouch
✘ LED display isn’t quite plain compared to the competition.
Novation Launchkey 49 is one of quickest and easiest ways to produce and perform electronic music using Ableton Live. You just plug in via USB and the keys, faders, knobs, and velocity-sensitive RGB pads give you immediate hands-on control of your session view, instruments, effects and mixer.
This is the latest and greatest of the Panorama MIDI keyboard range from Nektar, the T4. With 49 or 61 key options available (prices vary) this handsome device greets you with a stylish swept-back look and a streamlined, professional feel.
Visually the team at Nektar have tried (and succeeded) in delivering to the user, an aesthetic and pleasing experience.
The Large LED screen clearly displays all necessary information regarding your current preset or patch and the 4 soft buttons underneath will change function depending which menu you’re in, allowing you to feel a little less lost when perusing through the on-board menus.
The mode buttons to the right of the LCD screen also provide the ability to switch between instrument control, DAW control or control of Nektarine – Nektar’s proprietary VST control surface interface.
The keys on this MIDI keyboard all have aftertouch and velocity sensors which combine with the semi-weighted aspect of the keys to give quite a luxurious feeling and deliver highly expressive sound when playing.
This device also has 8 mappable velocity and pressure-sensitive beat pads, located across 2 banks giving the user a total of 16 pads to use.
Note repeat functionality includes; swing, gate, accent, and trigger rate – with note repeat velocity being controllable by either pressure or using the mod wheel. It also has midi clock sync capabilities, and the ability to layer up to 8 individual instrument plugins with the Nektarine software for extremely custom sounds.
Nektar allows the user to stack up to EIGHT VST’s or instruments on top of each other within its interface, for the potential to create insanely rich and unique sounds.
Nektar also comes with a nice little bundle of freebies, the first being an 8-track version of Bigwig studio.
✔ Aftertouch across 8 beat pads and all keys.
✔ Strong DAW integration.
✔ Comes with the Nektar plugin and a huge bank of preset sounds and patches.
✘ On the pricier side in comparison to other 49-key devices.
Load patches directly from the keyboard and start controlling parameters immediately, with every change instantly visible on the LED display. Control any instrument plugin with one of the many included maps or customize and create your own.
Hold tight, this isn’t the last Akai on the list. Heading up the #akaigang is the MPK 49.
This keyboard has been a mainstay in the production game since its introduction in 2007, giving users access to a great range of useful features. You’ll have loads of intuitive fun with the inclusion of 12 genuine MPC pads with velocity and aftertouch/pressure sensitivity. This gives you a total of 64 real MPC pads over 4 banks.
In terms of midi-effects, the MPK 49 has full MPC note repeat capability PLUS the newer arpeggiator with the classically renowned MPC swing. The inclusion of MMC protocol (meaning MIDI Machine Control) allows you to control transport functions within the DAW such as Play, FFWD, REW, Stop, Pause and REC, etc.
The bells and whistles include 8 360-degree rotation mappable pots, each with 3 banks giving you 24 pots total.
There are 8 large sliders with 3 individual controller banks and 24 sliders total. You also get 8 assignable backlit switches with 3 controller banks giving you 24 switches total. Last but not least a fairly large LED display that is a pleasure to program on.
✔ 76 total assignable controls in total for maximum control.
✔ Has aftertouch on keys and pads.
✔ Fantastic value for money considering physical features and technical functionality.
✘ Does not come with any free software or audio related downloads/benefits. ✘ Beginners may find the advanced controls to be overkill.
✘ Pads are not RGB.
The AKAI MPK49 PRO is equipped with a total of 72 assignable controllers, separate entrances and assignable MIDI CC to sustain and expression pedals, levers, pitch bend and modulation. 8 are the 45 mm faders to control MIDI assignable to change, many Rotary potentiometers.
On the budget-end of the 49 key variants, we have the M-Audio Axiom 49.
M-Audio has long been known for their involvement with Avid’s Protools, creating a vast range of hardware specially designed to sync with the infamous recording software.
This MIDI keyboard device brings to the table an extremely affordable smorgasbord of 9 mappable sliders, 8 mappable pots.
The Axiom 49 has integrated DAW transport control (play, pause, REC, stop, etc) meaning you don’t have to reach away from the keyboard to start recording that riff you’ve been practicing.
M-Audio have also generously included 8 ‘trigger-finger branded’ pressure and velocity sensitive pads, your classic standard pitch/mod wheels and octave up/down buttons.
For those with an appetite for programming and patching there are 20 onboard memory locations for storing custom project or template related setups, 4 adjustable keyboard velocity curves and 3 fixed velocity settings, 4 pad velocity curves and 3 fixed pad velocity settings with unique step-based velocity options also programmable.
The keyboard itself is a ‘wedge’ design and has an angled top panel with a decent size LCD display located in line with the centre of the device’s spine.
The Axiom 49 also includes 4 custom-zone buttons for stacking and splitting sounds on up to 4 separate MIDI recording channels from the one device, effectively allowing you to divide your keyboard’s octaves up into sections and designate each different section to a different record-armed track within your DAW.
Includes Ableton Live Lite and Ignite music Creation Software.
✔ Tonnes of features for the price.
✔ Excellent range of bundled software.
✔ Allows for inclusion of hardware MIDI devices
✘ Aesthetically not that interesting ✘No aftertouch on keys.
HUI protocol allows a digital audio workstation (DAW) and a connected hardware control surface (a MIDI keyboard in this case) to exchange MIDI signals that synchronize the states of their sliders, buttons, wheels, and displays.
The user can write console automation to a track in a live or recording situation while using the physical hardware, which can then be seen transferred and recorded directly on the screen in the DAW in real-time.
Aftertouch is a dynamic control function that allows the user to physically manipulate the sound they are playing from their keyboard, after you have engaged the key.
By pressing and holding down the note you can use physical pressure differences to change the strength of the release and decay accordingly, as well as other parameters.
4. MIDI Sync/CV Gate
This is a type of functionality used to send MIDI information data between devices for live and recording applications when using analog/hardware synths or drum machines.
The control voltage (CV) will normally control the transmission of pitch, and the gate will control whether the note is on or off.
If you are into live hardware recording or performances, you will want to make sure you have the proper MIDI functionality within your MIDI keyboard, should you want to sync it with your other hardware. It is also worth noting that ‘MIDI beat’ clocking is different to ‘MIDI timecode’ clocking and is based on tempo, MIDI clock events are universally set at 24ppqn or ‘Pulses Per Quarter Note.’
5. MCU (Mackie Control Universal)
MCU allows a specific device to be the “master” MIDI controller for a DAW and can sync up to 16 MIDI devices from an MCU enabled device via a computer, meaning you can control up to 16 devices or plugins seamlessly from the one master device.
Note: some DAWs such as Reaper have been known to have functionality issues when using MCU protocol in the past, so make sure you do your due diligence to see what your DAW supports if you intend on using MIDI hardware in live performance or live recording situations.
Velocity typically measures the amount of different pressure sensitive outputs that can be tied to an individual keypress on a MIDI keyboard or drum pad.
Typically there are 127 points of velocity within a standard keypress, allowing for expressional and dynamic playing, with 1 being the softest possible press and 127 being the hardest.
Although velocity can be controlled and mapped by various plugins or onboard features of some keyboards themselves, the industry-standard remains 127 points of velocity. This ultimately means that each key can be pressed in 127 different ways from soft to hard presses.
7. Weighted Keys
A lot of keyboards include the integration of weighted or semi-weighted keys. This is to simulate the feeling of playing a normal acoustic piano. The hammers on each key in a traditional piano are connected to the key by a lever mechanism which causes a natural weight or resistance when each key is pressed, lifting the hammer.
This can be an important feature in an electronic keyboard as it combines with the use of velocity to create a more natural and organic feeling when playing. Hitting the key hard will make a sharp and loud note, whereas gently depressing the key will generate a much softer note, and the weighted key will respond to the press as if it is actually moving a physical hammer.
With no resistance on the keys, it can be harder (especially for someone who has trained or plays on an acoustic piano) to achieve the appropriate feeling or timbre when playing a note or chord.
8. Pedal Functionality
Some MIDI keyboard controllers have the option for an “expression” pedal and/or footswitch, this means the device has the ability to attach a sustain pedal or FX pedal via a 1/4” TRS lead and to be able to send and receive information that will change the way the note is played within the keyboard.
Much like the sustain pedals found on an acoustic piano, digital sustain pedals work in the same way, and can be purchased from various music retail outlets.
Pressing your foot on the sustain pedal will hold the note even after you release the key and are no longer pressing it, simulating the way a sustain pedal keeps the hammers off the strings of the piano to prevent them from dampening the vibration of the strings inside. When the pedal is released, the note or chord will stop playing.
Last update on 2021-05-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API