5 Best MIDI Keyboards For Beginners Under $300

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  • Looking to get started with music production?
  • Find out what to look for when choosing a MIDI keyboard.
  • We compare 5 of the best MIDI keyboards under $300 in 2019.

How To Choose The Right MIDI Keyboard

Choosing a new MIDI keyboard can be a huge task for those who are new to music production and music theory. There are so many different variations of MIDI keyboards available, with so many differential and distinguishing features.

Some keyboards have it all in terms of functionality, while some have more of a “barebones” approach towards what you need and what you don’t.

Before we dive into the list, here are 7 core features to be aware of when deciding on a new MIDI keyboard.

Keys

Typically the most basic option/place to start is deciding how many keys you want, whether it be 25, 49 or 61 keys.

Bear in mind your studio desk size. Bigger might only be better so long as you can actually fit it in your studio!

Human User Interface

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

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.

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.’

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.

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

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.

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.

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.


5 Best MIDI Keyboards For Beginners Under $300

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49

Image result for Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49

Find out the latest price of the Komplete Kontrol A49 on Amazon by clicking here.

Review & Features

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.

This brings me to the touch-activated pots/knobs along the top of the device.

These knobs are touch-sensitive. MEANING: after a parameter has been assigned to the pot, all you need to do to be able to see the details of that pot’s effect or duty on the screen, is touch it.

Touching a rotary pot will immediately illustrate on the OLED screen, any settings/filters/details of whatever it has been assigned to, streamlining the way you can work by removing what is essentially an ‘extra step’ from your thought processes.

The device also features the ability to switch between different velocity modes and can fix velocity anywhere across all the keys to between 1 and 127 points.

As well as all these other features, this MIDI keyboard also has an arpeggiator as well as the standard pitch and modulation wheel combo, an auto-quantize button and DAW transport control buttons allowing you to control solo/mute/record and play functions from the keyboard itself.

Available in 25, 49 or 61 key models (prices vary).

Weighted keys

This keyboard controller has semi-weighted keys and operates up to 127 points of velocity with the option for a fixed-velocity mode across all or selective keys.

BUS Power

This device is powered by a USB 2.0 connection when linked up to any computer.

DAW Software Integration

The Kontrol A49 supports Logic Pro X, GarageBand and Ableton Live with advanced integration for Cubase and Nuendo announced for release at a later date.

Included Software

After registering the device with Native Instruments you get access to 7 pieces of software including:

  • Two synths and two highly detailed pianos, as well as Komplete Kontrol software.
  • Komplete Start software; 2000 studio-quality sounds.
  • A 2-month subscription to sounds.com; getting you over one million sounds, samples, and loops.
  • A copy of Ableton Live 10 LITE.
  • An e-voucher worth 22.00 GBP for the Native Instruments online store.
  • MASCHINE Essentials Software Bundle, a fantastic music creation and sampling software.
  • All of this totals up to a whopping 6,700 individual sounds and 13GB of overall content, inside the box.

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.

Drivers

You may need to occasionally update the firmware or software for this device but all updates and drivers are available from Native Instruments’ website.

MIDI/CV Functionality

The Kontrol A49 does not have midi sync/control voltage or gate functionality, it is used to send midi signal via usb between the control surface and your DAW.

Pedal Functionality

The Komplete Kontrol A49 has a 1/4” TRS jack connection port on the back of the unit to be used for expression, sustain and/or FX pedals.

Aftertouch

This keyboard does not have any aftertouch functionality, as it is designed as a more standard entry-level device, this feature has been left out of the design.

Pros

✔ 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.

Cons

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.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49 Controller Keyboard
  • Smart, streamlined keyboard controller for all your virtual instruments and effects
  • Semi-weighted custom NI keybed
  • Informative OLED display for at-a-glance navigation
  • 8 touch-sensitive control knobs
  • USB 2.0 bus powered

Novation Launchkey 49

Related image

Review & Features

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 had deep and specific integration with Ableton Live production software, meaning that it has 8 fully mappable pots/knobs.

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.

This device is the first on our list to include drum pads, so let’s talk about that.

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.

Weighted Keys

Keys are velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys, allowing the user to play with a more genuine and dynamic feeling.

BUS Power

Fully USB powered, although there is the secondary option to power the device using a standard 9v DC power supply.

DAW Software Integration

Specifically designed to work in direct conjunction with Ableton Live, this device will work straight out of the box on a Mac or PC with no driver installation required.

The keyboard is also able to sync with other DAW’s using integrated mapping software from INCONTROL, although it has been primarily designed with Live being the DAW in mind.

Included Software

  • Novation V-Station.
  • Novation Bass Station.
  • Ableton Live LITE 9 (LITE functionality: use up to eight tracks of recording and playback
  • Three sample-based virtual instruments.
  • 11 audio and seven MIDI effects, VST and Audio Units plugin compatibility.
  • 600MB of bundled loops and one-shot samples.
  • Free online lessons from ‘Melodics’ and a large 4GB bundle (recently only 1GB) of sounds direct from Loopmasters.
  • Addictive Keys virtual piano instrument, Free subscription to sound collective.

Drivers

Drivers and firmware updates are available from novation’s website, easily searchable using the product finder. NOTE: novation is part of a family of brands including Focusrite, and Focusrite PRO.

MIDI/CV Functionality

The Kontrol A49 does not have midi sync/control voltage or gate functionality, it is used to send midi signal via usb between the control surface and your DAW.

Pedal Functionality

This keyboard has the option to attach a Sustain or expression pedal via a 1/4” TRS jack located on the back of the device.

Aftertouch

This keyboard does not have any aftertouch functionality, as it is designed as a more standard entry-level device, this feature has been left out of the design.

Pros

✔ 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.

Cons

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 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live, 49-Note MK2 Version
  • MK2 version of Novation's 49-note USB keyboard controller for Ableton Live
  • 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, 8 knobs, and dedicated navigation and control buttons
  • Software for Mac and PC and sustain pedal 1/4 inch jack socket,7 segment 3 character LED display,pitch bend and...
  • Fully USB bus-powered and class compliant; works without drivers or power cable
  • Software for Mac and PC, Including: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, 2-year limited warranty on...

Nektar Panorama T4

Image result for nektar panorama t4

Check out the latest price of the Panorama T4 on Amazon by clicking here

Review & Features

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.

The ‘shift’ button allows for secondary button functionality in some cases, bright and decent sized LCD display with adjustable contrast, pitch bend/mod wheels, 6 transport buttons (play/pause/FFWD/REW), 9 faders, 8 pots (knobs), 4 navigation buttons with assignable secondary functions, 4 adjustable velocity curves + 1 fixed velocity setting, mixer, Multi, internal and instrument mode buttons.

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.

Weighted Keys

These semi-weighted keys have aftertouch technology built into them, allowing for the user to adjust the tone and timbre of a sound by applying pressure to a key or pad after initially triggering it.

Keeping the finger on the key or pad and changing the amount of pressure applied will change the motion and feel of the sound, of course depending on the settings of the patch or preset being used.

Bus Powered

“As a low powered USB device, Panorama T4 and T6 work with all USB devices that feature a Class compliant MIDI driver.”

DAW Software Integration

Nektar DAW integration includes software; Bitwig, Logic, Reason, Nuendo, Cubase, Reaper, GarageBand and Studio One.

Also includes MCU protocol compatibility allowing it to be easily custom mapped to other programs such as Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Protools.

MCU (Mackie Control Universal) allows the Panorama to gain physical control over mixer faders, mute groups and master volume as well as other various on-screen encoders, and control native software in a wide range of DAW’s.

Included Software

Nektar comes with a nice little bundle of freebies, the first being an 8-track version of Bigwig studio.

“Bitwig 8-Track gives you access to over 50 software instruments and effects for use on up to 8 audio or MIDI project tracks”.

The 8-track edition of Bitwig also generously allows you to use any third-party VST plug-ins and comes with the “Bitwig essentials package” – a large selection of sounds and samples to be used at your discretion in any of your projects.

The Panorama T4 also comes with the ‘Nektarine’ VST control surface software – all patches and parameters of a variety of mainstream VST plugins and DAW’s are fully synced to the T4 in the factory, so that you can launch the plugin and have full physical control without the need for mapping and setting up VST’s yourself.

In the words of the Nektar themselves:

“This custom software is specially created for each of the supported DAWs and will provide you with a common workflow that gives access to expanded transport and mixer functions as well as control of your DAW’s own instruments. It’s the most complete DAW control system available, even compared with products in higher price brackets. Panorama T-series’ DAW integration currently supports Bitwig, Cubase, Garageband, Logic, Nuendo, Reaper, Reason and Studio One.”

Drivers

No drivers needed for operation as the device is low power USB class compliant.

MIDI/CV Functionality

This device can be synced to an external MIDI clock via its singular MIDID OUT port, located on the rear of the keyboard, giving it the bonus ability to be a valuable part of anyone’s live music or hardware setup and send midi signals out from the device to be received by another device or software.

Pedal Functionality

Includes 2 1/4” jacks on the rear of the device, one to be used as an expression pedal jack, and the other for an assignable footswitch/FX pedal.

Aftertouch

This device has aftertouch functionality, adding a significant amount of extra dynamic range and playability to the keys and pads themselves via the ability to keep the key/pad held down after initially pressing it, and change the amount of pressure you apply with your fingers in order to affect the sound.

This is a highly desired feature for those with a tendency to create music with high levels of flair and expression and will give you a potential edge over others, depending on how you use it to your advantage.

Pros

✔ 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.

Cons

✘ On the pricier side in comparison to other 49-key devices.

Nektar DAW Controller (T4)
  • KEYS & PADS 49 note 2nd Gen synth-action keyboard with after touch. Expression & pedal sockets. 8 super-sensitive pads...
  • NOTE REPEAT Inspiring performance tool. Real-time control of trigger rate, accent, swing and gate. Separate settings for...
  • NEKTARINE Instant access to Nectar plugin control in any VST/VST3/AU DAW. Customize mapping or create plugin maps from...
  • DAW CONTROL Nectar DAW integration included for Bigwig, Cubase, GarageBand, Logic, Unendow, Reason, Reaper and Studio...
  • CONNECTIONS USB port for power and data connection to your computer Foot switch jack, assignable (pedal not included)...

Akai MPK49 (Single)

Image result for Akai MPK 49

To view the latest price of the Akai MPK49 on Amazon, click here.

Review & Features

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 8x 360-degree rotation mappable pots, each with 3 banks giving you 24 pots total.

There are 8x large sliders with 3 individual controller banks and 24 sliders total, 8x 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.

Weighted Keys

Full-sized, semi-weighted keys

Bus Powered

Powered via USB 2.0 bus power.

DAW Software Integration

None, just operates as a standard mappable MIDI keyboard controller, would not recommend if you’re not familiar with control mapping

Included Software

None.

Drivers

None necessary, troubleshooting and setup guides are available for download from the Akai website.

MIDI/CV Functionality

MMC transport control capabilities.

Pedal Functionality

Has an expression pedal and sustain pedal 1/4” TRS jacks located on the rear of the unit.

Aftertouch

This device has aftertouch functionality, adding a significant amount of extra dynamic range and playability.

The keys and pads themselves have the ability to keep the key/pad held down after initially pressing it, and change the amount of pressure you apply with your fingers in order to affect the sound.

This is a highly desired feature for those with a tendency to create music with high levels of flair and expression and will give you a potential edge over others, depending on how you use it to your advantage.

Pros

✔ 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.

Cons

✘ Does not come with any free software or audio related downloads/benefits.
✘ Beginners may find the advanced controls to be overkill.
✘ P
ads are not RGB.

AKAI 49 key mini keyboard controller AKAI MPK49 AP-CON-003
  • 49-key, 12-pad, 8-fader, 8-knob USB MIDI keyboard controller delivers groove-infused command over computer-based digital...
  • 49 full-size, semi-weighted keys with aftertouch deliver amazing performance note after note
  • 12 genuine MPC pads for legendary percussion programming capability
  • 8 full-sized sliders with 3 controller banks for each for 24 sliders total; tweak, mix and adjust any MIDI assignable...
  • Plug-and-play USB connection for Mac and PC; no driver installation required. Perfect for Logic, Cubase, Studio One,...

 

M-Audio Axiom 49

Image result for m-audio axiom 49

Check the latest price of the M Audio Axiom 49 on Amazon by clicking here.

Features

On the budget-end of the 49 key variants, we have the M-Audio Axiom 49.

M-Audio have 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 (knobs).

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.

Weighted Keys

This keyboard controller has semi-weighted keys

Bus Powered

Class-compliant with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X, powered fully from USB port. Can also be powered by 12v DC and has ON/OFF operation switch.

DAW Software Integration

Built-in ‘DirectLink’ software automatically maps this keyboard controller to work with popular recording DAW’s; Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Live, and Reason.

‘DirectLink’ will automatically map any common controls found in these aforementioned DAW’s to the control surface of the Axiom 49 upon being recognized by the DAW in use.

There is also an ‘Instrument Mode’ that allows you to automatically map the faders, buttons, and encoders to any virtual instrument inside any DirectLink compatible VST plugin or standalone program that you are using.

Included Software

Includes Ableton Live Lite and Ignite music creation software. Ignite contains over 275 remarkable instrument sounds developed by AIR Music Technology.

In addition to a versatile arpeggiator, Smart MIDI technology provides both a Chord Player and a Phrase Player.

Ignite has direct Soundcloud and email functionality built-in, making it possible to share your creations straight from the program.

Ignite also allows you to export WAV and MIDI files, for you to import as stems or tracks into your DAW of choice for further production or editing.

Drivers

No drivers are required to operate this hardware.

MIDI/CV Functionality

MIDI IN/OUT capabilities, can send and receive 5-pin MIDI data to be processed and included in a hardware or analogue device chain or received via an audio interface.

Pedal Functionality

2x 1/4” jacks to support sustain pedals and expression pedals.

Aftertouch

Pressure-sensitive pads, no aftertouch on keys.

Pros

✔ Tonnes of features for the price.
✔ Excellent range of bundled software.
✔ Allows for inclusion of hardware MIDI devices

Cons

✘ Aesthetically not that interesting
✘No aftertouch on keys.

M-Audio Axiom 49-Key USB Keyboard Controller
  • with Semi-Weighted Keys and Assignable Control Surface

So there it is. You should now be well on your way to narrowing down the MIDI keyboard of your dreams. If you would like to learn more about what MIDI is (the nitty-gritty), and what the new MIDI 2.0 protocol brings to the table, you should check out our write-up on What MIDI 2.0 Means For The Future of Music.

Last update on 2019-12-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API