best cheap midi keyboard under 100 list

Best Cheap MIDI Keyboards Under $100 To Buy In 2019

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Picking the best cheap MIDI keyboard isn’t an easy task. Back in the days, you only had a limited number of products, and only a couple were actually for people on the budget. These days, however, you can find tons of cheap but competent MIDI controllers, thanks to the industry consolidation and higher competition. That’s why buying the best MIDI keyboard under $100 can become a sort of a challenge.

And that’s why sometimes you need a guide to do most of the research for you – to help you find the best cheap MIDI keyboards designed specifically for your needs.

Best Cheap MIDI Keyboards Under $100

The market for MIDI controllers has truly exploded in the past few years. While prominent brands like Akai, Alesis, and M-Audio stayed, many new ones have emerged, skyrocketing the number of options available to producers. Now’s literally the best time to start producing! With all the cheap options that cost no more than a night out for two, you have no excuse.

However, you also have to make a few compromises if you decide on going for a budget MIDI controller.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How big / compact do I want the keyboard to be?
  • How many keys do I need? Would I sacrifice their quality for quantity?
  • Do I need pads / knobs / sliders?
  • What integrations am I looking for?

Every single answer will impact your decision. It’s hardly ever enough to just but the best cheap keyboard – it’s more important to buy the MIDI keyboard that suits your needs.

Don’t worry.

In this guide, I’ll go over all these issues and riddles. By the end of it, you’ll have a much better understanding of what to look for. I’ve also added a buying guide after the list of the products, so you can make a more informed decision.

Here are my top 5 most recommended cheap MIDI keyboards.

Best For The Price
Acorn MIDI Controller Keyboard, 10.24 x 4.33 x 20.87 inches (Masterkey 25)
Best Performance
Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version
Top Pick
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE White | White, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick
Most Portable
Akai Professional LPK25 | 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops (Mac & PC)
Best Pad Controller
Akai Professional APC Key 25 | Compact USB Bus-Powered 40-Button Clip Launcher for Ableton Live with 25-Note MIDI Keyboard and 8 Fully-Assignable Q-Link Controls plus VIP 3.0 and Software Package
Acorn MIDI Controller Keyboard, 10.24 x 4.33 x 20.87 inches (Masterkey 25)
Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE White | White, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick
Akai Professional LPK25 | 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops (Mac & PC)
Akai Professional APC Key 25 | Compact USB Bus-Powered 40-Button Clip Launcher for Ableton Live with 25-Note MIDI Keyboard and 8 Fully-Assignable Q-Link Controls plus VIP 3.0 and Software Package
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Best For The Price
Acorn MIDI Controller Keyboard, 10.24 x 4.33 x 20.87 inches (Masterkey 25)
Acorn MIDI Controller Keyboard, 10.24 x 4.33 x 20.87 inches (Masterkey 25)
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Best Performance
Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version
Novation Launchkey Mini 25-Note USB Keyboard Controller, MK2 Version
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Top Pick
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE White | White, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII LE White | White, Limited Edition 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard With 8 Backlit Performance Ready Pads, 8 Assignable Q Link Knobs & A 4 Way Thumbstick
Most Portable
Akai Professional LPK25 | 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops (Mac & PC)
Akai Professional LPK25 | 25 Key Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops (Mac & PC)
Best Pad Controller
Akai Professional APC Key 25 | Compact USB Bus-Powered 40-Button Clip Launcher for Ableton Live with 25-Note MIDI Keyboard and 8 Fully-Assignable Q-Link Controls plus VIP 3.0 and Software Package
Akai Professional APC Key 25 | Compact USB Bus-Powered 40-Button Clip Launcher for Ableton Live with 25-Note MIDI Keyboard and 8 Fully-Assignable Q-Link Controls plus VIP 3.0 and Software Package

These bad boys offer the best bang for the buck – each one comes with its own features (each one will be described in details down below).  Alright, let’s get started already!

Overview: Key Points

best cheap midi keyboards under 100 to buy

I think it’s important to understand what I mean by cheap keyboards. They aren’t always bad and poor quality. Sometimes you can find a good product that just has a limited number of functions and features. Of course, you often have to sacrifice the quality to some extent, but you can still get a good product for much cheaper.

If you are looking for the best cheap MIDI keyboard, I assume that you are:

  • A beginner who is buying his or her first MIDI keyboard
  • A professional who needs something cheap to “abuse” when playing at small gigs and parties
  • A music producer who needs something compact / portable when traveling

The list comes with keyboards from many brands, as most of them try to get into beginner musician market.

The essential features that I put the emphasis on are:

Affordability: The list is named “best cheap MIDI keyboards” for a reason. I won’t be going over the higher-end products, even though they are completely worth their price for a simple reason – they aren’t cheap. All the keyboards listed here go for under $100 – no exception.

Keys: The more keys your controller comes with, the more you have to pay for it. Considering most devices I am about to review are cheap, we’ll mostly be looking at 25, 32, and 37 key products.

Pads: Since the article’s title is “best cheap MIDI keyboards,” I am discarding all MIDI controller without any keys, such as Ableton Push. However, most keyboards here come with pads either way.

Additional Controls: Will you oppose a budget MIDI keyboard if it comes with a few knobs, sliders, and buttons? Of course not! While not the priority, they can make your job a lot easier. Therefore, additional controls will be taken into consideration as well.

DAW Integration: Finding a cheap MIDI keyboard with somewhat decent transport controls is like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, it’s not impossible, especially if you are using a popular software application like FL Studio, Ableton, or Pro Tools. Cheap MIDI keyboards that are able to seamlessly integrate with DAWs will be on the top of the list.

Brand / Manufacturer: While big brands can get away with premium prices (and always do), they also tend to offer better service. It’s not easy to become a recognizable brand, and it usually takes years. Look at Akai, M-Audio, or Novation – they’ve been around for decades! Of course, producers trust them more than a Chinese brand that popped up a few months ago and offers the same thing for half the price. As you can see, things can get a little complicated here.

Alright, hopefully, we got everything clear – let’s get to the guide already!

Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard: Champions Overview

In this guide, we’ll review all kind of options that you can buy for under $100. They will be mostly 25 keys, but you’ll see some cool options of 32, 37, 49, and even 61 keys!

Akai MPK Mini MK2 – My Top Pick

Akai MPK Mini MK2

Check out Akai Professional MPK Mini MK2 Review.

Key Features:

  • 25 synth-weighted mini-keys
  • 8 velocity-sensitive drum pads
  • 8 rotary knobs
  • Thumbstick to control pitch / mod
  • Compact and lightweight design

While I love my Alesis more than anything, I can’t argue that Akai MPK Mini MK2 beats Alesis V25 easily. How am I supposed to make a list of best cheap MIDI keyboards without including the one used by millions of producers all over the world? And it’s popular for a good reason.

Why?

Because you’ll have a hard time finding a flaw in this controller. First of all, it’s durable, yet compact and lightweight. I am sure Akai MPK Mini MK2 is a no-brainer if you play at gigs, travel a lot, or produce on the go. The keys aren’t weighted and are narrower than average. The pads are responsive, with authentic velocity curve. The knobs give you better control over the effects and mixer. An arpeggiator is definitely a nice addition to the setup. Overall, the cheap MIDI controller screams quality and reliability.

The price tag is fairly low for what the controller offers, and it can easily top most charts of the best cheap MIDI keyboards.

However, it will be unfair to call it completely perfect. The mini keys the controller comes with are not the most comfortable, especially if you have bigger fingers (like me) or are used to playing the piano. The knobs seem to have little resistance, which makes using them to control effects harder and more time-consuming. Lastly, the joystick may be saving space but is a poor replacement to the classic pitch / mod wheels.

For its price, however, Akai MPK Mini MK2 is one of the best budget MIDI keyboards that you can buy.

Reasons to buy:

  • You want a trusted and quality product from a reputable brand
  • You need an all-in-one portable and compact MIDI keyboard with both keys and pads

Pros

  • Compact – tiny footprint
  • Highly-responsive pads
  • Light, therefore portable

Cons

  • No transport controls
  • Poor thumbstick location choice
  • Mini keys can be too small for some producers

Acorn Masterkey 25 – Best For The Price

Acorn Masterkey 25

Key Features:

  • 25 narrow synth-sensitive keys
  • 4 knobs, 1 slider
  • Pitch and mod wheels
  • Small LCD screen
  • Comes with free DAW (PreSonus Studio One)

It’s really hard to top Akai MPK Mini MK2 if you are looking for a cheap 25-key MIDI controller. However, as we discussed earlier, even the world-famous Akai comes with a few flaws here and there. For instance, it’s on the very top of our price range of under $100, coming just a little short. It may also be too complicated for someone who just needs a keyboard without any other controls that will complicate their workflow.

That’s why it’s crucial to see what else is out there. For example, Acorn Masterkey 25 – one of the best MIDI keyboards for the price. While it isn’t a big brand like Akai or Alesis, you’d be surprised with the quality of the controller.

First, it comes with 2 wheels instead of the thumbstick – who don’t love the tactile feel of the rubber wheels, am I right? It’s just so much more satisfying to bend notes this way.

Second, the keys are narrow, but also long, tapering off before the edge of the controller. As a result, it’s much easier to play, and you’ll have a lower chance of hurting your wrists. If you have 2+ hour sessions at a time, this is very important.

While it doesn’t have a lot of transport controls, you still get a master slider, 4 knobs, and a small LCD screen that shows the essential information about your track.

Lastly, you get a copy of PreSonus Studio One for free, which is a gem for beginners who don’t feel like spending $300+ on FL Studio, Ableton, or Logic Pro X.

Of course, there is a fair amount of flaws in our Acorn Masterkey 25 as well.

For instance, the fact that such a small unit weights over 3.5 lbs is a little bit of a bummer. Of course, this means that the cheap MIDI keyboard is more durable, which is a plus.

The controller also lacks any pads. Even 4 or 8 of them for the most basic setup would’ve turned Acorn Masterkey 25 into a “must-have” device. However, you can’t really complain considering how cheap the MIDI controller actually is.

Overall, Masterkey’s perfect for someone who is building their home recording studio for the first time. It’s low-key, good-for-the-price, and features-packed MIDI keyboard with top-notch keys, that comes with a free DAW.

Reasons to buy:

  • You need a MIDI keyboard and are on a budget
  • You need something cheap to play gigs at clubs
  • You need a 25-key controller and don’t care about extra features

Pros

  • Incredibly affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Classic pitch and mod wheels
  • Comes with a free DAW

Cons

  • Narrow keys aren’t comfortable
  • Lack of pads
  • The slider isn’t very sturdy
  • Pretty dull design

Akai APC Key 25 – Best Pad Controller

Akai APC Key 25

Key Features:

  • 25 narrow mini-keys
  • 40 tricolor mini-pads
  • 8 rotary, assignable knobs
  • Navigation buttons
  • Seamless integration with Ableton Live

As you can already see, one thing clearly stands out in Akai APC Key – pads. Seriously, 40 tricolor pads is a huge amount! And you get them alongside the keys, knobs, and transport controls. While there are other controllers with more pads, the fact that you get 25 keys on top of them is a huge plus!

40 pads will expand your creativity and imagination drastically. Want to use the device as a mini drum machine? Go ahead! How about a full-fledged controller? Easily! You can launch clips and effects, work on drum loops and rolls, automate everything you can – the sky’s the limit.

25 keys are a great addition here as well. Look, if you only had pads, you’d probably have to invest into buying another keyboard, which isn’t really cost or space-efficient, especially if you are just starting. Luckily, APC Key combines the two essentials for producers in one unit.

Are you using Ableton? Well, in this case, you’ll be very pleased with the seamless integration APC offers with the DAW. If you happen to be using another major DAW like FL Studio or Cubase, you’d still get a decent integration experience, but it won’t be the same.

Clearly, there is no perfect unit – and Akai APC has its problems as well. For instance, the size of pads. Yes, you get 40 of them, but at a price – they are much smaller and slightly less responsive compared to Akai MPK Mini or MPC series. They also feel a little cheaper and more plasticky.

Overall, however, it’s a fantastic device that combines the best of both worlds – pad and keyboard controllers. As a compromise, you get top-notch keys and an insane amount of drum pads, all for under $100!

Reasons to buy:

  • You use Ableton Live as your primary DAW
  • You need both pads and keys, but don’t want to invest in 2 devices

Pros

  • Light at just over 1.5 lbs
  • An insane number of pads – 40
  • Perfect pads and keys combo
  • Ableton Live integration
  • Transport controls

Cons

  • An overwhelming number of controls (for beginners)
  • Only mediocre integration with other software applications
  • Pads aren’t as responsive on APC as on other Akai products
  • Pads don’t have the best feel (plasticky instead of rubbery)

Novation Launchkey Mini 25 – Best Performance

Novation Launchkey Mini 25

Key Features:

  • 25 narrow synth-style keys
  • 16 velocity-sensitive pads
  • 8 assignable knobs
  • Navigation buttons
  • Universal plug-and-play integration with DAWs

Launchkey 25 is the smallest MIDI keyboard in the product line. Being one of the best MIDI controller series, you’ll see bigger variants (with 49 and 61 keys) featured in a lot of “top 10” lists. And the Novation Launchkey 25 is no different – it’s one of the best cheap MIDI keyboards out there!

Similar to Akai MPK Mini MK2, Launchkey 25 comes with 25 keys, drum pads, knobs, buttons, and other controls.

However, you’ll notice some critical differences thisNovation controller has:

  • 16 pads, instead of 8
  • Pads are backlit, and you can assign them the colors of your choice
  • Dedicated navigation control, easier integration

The features above make Launchkey 25 stand out. Instead of a simple keyboard, you end up with a hybrid controller that can be used to control the main features of your DAW right after you plug it into your computer.

I wish I could call it the best cheap MIDI keyboard out there, but the Novation Launchkey 25 has a few flaws as well. First of all, the keys feel plasticky (and I just love the rubbery feel). You’ll also notice them being a little too springy. The pads aren’t nearly as responsive as I’d want them to be. Lastly, the MIDI controller lacks the pitch and mod wheels, which come in handy quite often.

However, for under $100, this keyboard is a gem. Novation is a big and reliable brand with years and years of history. If you are able to pay a little extra, going for Novation Launchkey 25 over a cheaper keyboard that costs less will always pay off. From the build and design, to keys and pads, to transport controls and seamless integration – you’ll appreciate the investment.

Reasons to buy:

  • You need more than 8 pads
  • You are looking for a reliable brand
  • You are ready to pay a premium for top-notch quality and design

Pros:

  • 16 pads let you expand your creativity
  • Springy keys are easier to play for those with no experience
  • Small footprint and a lot of features
  • Conservative design

Cons:

  • No way to control pitch / mod
  • Keys feel cheap and plasticky

Midiplus AKM320

MidiPlus AKM320

Check out MidiPlus AKM320 Review.

Key Features:

  • 32 narrow-sized keys
  • Dedicated volume and octave up/down buttons
  • Pitch and mod buttons
  • Lightweight
  • Plug-and-play connectivity to most software apps

AKM320 will do if you are looking for a budget controller. In fact, it’s the cheapest MIDI keyboard on the list!

However, you sacrifice quite a few features for the keyboard’s price to drop so low. First of all, the keys are annoyingly clicky and get loose over time. Second, it doesn’t come with any extra controls such as pads, knobs, or faders. Lastly, instead of pitch / mod wheels, you get 3 clicky buttons – an obvious downgrade.

The biggest plus of Midiplus ADM320 is the price – it’s incredibly cheap. It also comes with more keys than you would usually get in this price range, 32 instead of 25, which cover 2.5 octaves. The keys are slim and come with a little indent before the end of the chassis, so they are easier on your wrists.

ADM320 is generally designed to be portable and easy-to-carry, at just over 1.5 lbs, which proves it’s meant as your secondary or to-go controller.

Without any pads, knobs, and sliders, it’s hard to imagine Midiplus AKM320 standing alongside Akai MPK Mini and Novation Launchkey. However, given the price, you can’t complain. If having a keyboard is your #1 priority, AKM320 is the best cheap MIDI controller you can buy now.

Reasons to buy:

  • You are on a tight budget
  • You don’t want to bother with pads, knobs, and sliders – all you need is the keyboard
  • You are looking for something small to travel with but don’t want to spend a lot

Pros:

  • Tiny footprint
  • Light and portable
  • Plug-and-play function
  • One of the cheapest controllers on the market

Cons:

  • Keys can be clicky, tend to get loose over time
  • Lack of any extra controls
  • Lack of the traditional pitch / mod wheel setup

Akai LPK25 – Best For Portability

Akai LPK25

Key Features:

  • 25 keys
  • Octave up / down buttons
  • Arpeggio button
  • Sustain button
  • Plug-and-play integration

If you are looking for something light and compact to just put in your backpack and use on-the-go whenever – you definitely should take a look at Akai Professional LPK25.

Weighing just over a 1 lb, it’s one of the lightest MIDI controllers out there. On top of that, the keyboard only has a tiny footprint – it’s slicker than your 13 in laptop! If you need a MIDI device to carry around, LPK25 is your best bet.

The keyboard comes with mini keys that just add to its small size and portability, and octave up / down, sustain, and arpeggio buttons. As you can see, you don’t get many extra control options, as it doesn’t have any pads, rotary knobs, or sliders.

If you are a beginner, the lack of controls makes LPK25 incredibly easy to use. Moreover, DAW integration makes things a lot easier. If you don’t feel like implementing all the extra controls into your routine, Akai LPK25 MIDI keyboard is a fantastic choice.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still some issues present with the controller. For instance, you’ll notice how the velocity sensors can be somewhat inconsistent, so the output ends up being all mushy. If you are playing live, this can be a problem. Also, the lack of controls is kind of an issue as well, but you can let it slide, considering that the main focus of LPK25 is portability.

Overall, it’s one of the best MIDI keyboards for beginners, as it’s simple, lowkey, and portable. The keyboard is also priced affordably and comes from a reliable brand.

Reasons to buy:

  • It’s your first time building a music studio, and you need something simple to use.
  • You want something as compact and portable as possible.

Pros:

  • Incredibly light
  • Affordable and compact
  • Top-notch plug-and-play performance

Cons:

  • No drum pads, knobs, or faders
  • Poor key performance

Midiplus i61 – Best Large Keyboard For The Price

Midiplus i61

Key Features:

  • 61 full-sized keys
  • LCD screen
  • USB and MIDI connections
  • Dedicated pitch and mod wheels

As you must have already noticed, the list is full of smaller controllers with 25 – 32 keys. Clearly, the smaller the MIDI keyboard is, the cheaper it goes for. Squeezing in more than 2 – 2.5 octaves is a lot of work, which keeps the profit margin way too thin for most manufacturers. Well, apparently, not all of them.

Just look at Midiplus i61! It’s not even a 49-key controller. No, Midiplus went ahead and just introducer a 61-key MIDI keyboard for under $100. That’s only 2 octaves away from a full-sized piano.

Understandably, the creation process of such affordable 61-key controller required a number of sacrifices. Similar to AKM320, the device doesn’t have any drum pads, knobs, faders, transport controls, etc. It’s essentially a barebones keyboard with a few buttons here and there.

The main highlight is the 61 keys. The are synth-action and full-sized. Of course, the keys are by no means the best in responsiveness, especially compared to more expensive 61-key MIDI keyboards. They do, however, do the job, and for a fraction of the cost.

Besides the keys, Midiplus i61 comes with dedicated pitch and mod wheels, LCD screen, and MIDI and USB ports. While It would’ve been much nicer to have the wheels on the left side (like most controllers out there), it’s not a major issue, at least in my opinion.

Given the price point, it’s hard to argue that Midiplus i61 is the cheapest 61-key controller, so it deserves a place on the “best cheap MIDI keyboard” list.

Reasons to buy:

  • You want a 61-key MIDI keyboard to be able to play in 5 octaves simultaneously
  • You want to learn to play the piano
  • You want a barebones keyboard and don’t care about extra features
  • You try to find a cheap 61-key MIDI keyboard

Pros:

  • Incredibly affordable
  • 61 full-sized keys

Cons

  • Lacks features
  • Lacks controls
  • Keys can be clunky or unresponsive

Alright, this should cover the best cheap MIDI keyboards topic. However, you may be still left with few questions. That’s why I’ve written the buying guide for buying a cheap MIDI keyboard. Let’s jump right into it.

Buyer’s Guide for Cheap MIDI Keyboards

things to consider when buying the best cheap midi keyboard for beginners

Let’s be honest here – music gear can get very pricey. Even building the simplest home recording studio will cost you $100s, and that price doesn’t include buying a computer for music production and DAW.

Considering that digital pianos from big brands like Yamaha can go into $1000s, spending a fraction of the cost on a MIDI controller doesn’t seem too bad. After all, it’s the cheapest equipment you can buy for your studio.

Clearly, you can go ahead and spend $400+ on a premium MIDI controller, but even $100 is enough to get into the production game. Isn’t that sweet? Thanks to globalization, anyone can try themselves at beatmaking!

Some keyboards are cheaper, some are more expensive. It all depends on what you are looking for. Buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard under $100 may be a good deal to some producers, while the other would rather spend another $200 and get more features and controls. Everything is up to you.

Considering the given price constraints, we’ll have to consider a few things before buying the best cheap MIDI keyboards. Let’s get to the guide already!

What Are Your Requirements?

First of all, let’s look at what categories MIDI controllers fall into:

Key-only controllers: This means that the keyboard lacks any pads, knobs, or faders – kind of like Midiplus AKM320 on our list. All you get is the keyboard to play chord progressions, melodies, and so on.

Pad-only controller: These MIDI devices are mainly for DJs and beatmakers who already have key-only or hybrid controllers. While they may feature knobs, faders, and other buttons, the main focus here is pads. You won’t be able to use such a controller in piano roll simply because it lacks a keyboard.

Hybrid controllers: Most MIDI controllers on the market fall into this category. Instead of specializing in a small niche, the manufacturers put as many features into one product as possible. You’ll usually get a keyboard with 25-88 keys, 0-40 pads, 0-16 sliders, and so on. Your budget is the limit.

While big producers prefer separate pad and key controllers, this isn’t necessary for beginners. First of all, it’s all expensive. Second, your desk better be very spacious to accommodate two devices within your reach.

That’s why beginners and amateurs should rather go for a hybrid controller – to get the best out of both worlds.

What kind of hybrid? That’s for you to decide. If you make hip-hop and trap beats, having more pads is always a good thing. If you prefer more melodic music with a lot of melodies layered on top of one another, then why spending extra money to have the features you won’t need?

It’s essential to do this little check-list. The better you understand the idea of music production, the higher the chance of you picking the right gear that will suit your needs.

Lastly, think of how fast you plan on growing, but don’t get too excited. There is no need to buy a $500 MIDI keyboard just because you believe you’ll be the next big producer. Be reasonable. Buy a hybrid with a few extra controls (even for under $100), and try! Once you find that you need more control – then you upgrade.

Features To Keep In Mind

There are a couple more features to consider when buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard. Let’s go over them really quickly.

Pad Controls

Pads are one of the most important features on a MIDI controller, but you have to keep a few things about the drum pads in mind.

Pad size: If you plan on tapping out drum patterns, working on loops and rolls, and generally use drums more to add rhythm, you are better off with larger drum pads. It’s a lot easier to work with them, and you’ll find it really easy to hit the right notes and control how much pressure you want to apply. If you go for something like Akai APC 25, you’ll have a much harder time. APC 25, for instance, is much better for launching clips and snippets.

Pad response: let’s be honest, you won’t be able to find the best drum pads if you are looking for a cheap MIDI keyboard under $100 – you get what you pay for. However, you can get velocity-sensitive pads that can sense how much pressure is applied to them. That’s your best option to add some life to your drums rolls. If you have the barebones drum pads, I suggest using them for launching clips and FXs instead.

Pad color: You must have seen a few of the cheap MIDI keyboards on the list feature backlit or color-coded pads. Well, they are generally much easier to use. When you sync your controller to your DAW, colored pads help you figure out which clip is loaded into each pad. As a result, you’ll have an easier time distinguishing between kicks, snares, toms, hi-hats, etc.

Pad location: While not nearly as important as previous 3, pad location can play a big role, especially if it’s placed inconveniently on the far right or far left side of your MIDI keyboard. Having them at the top is a much better design feature, as it’s easier for you to tap out the pad and play the keyboard simultaneously.

Other Controls

The rest of the control options includes knobs, faders, and buttons – all to enhance the playing experience and speed up the workflow. It’s a lot easier to be more creative when you don’t have to reach for your mouse every time – having more controls truly makes your life easier.

But what should you consider in order to make a good beat or write a track? Let’s take a look!

Knobs quality: Knobs are definitely come close second after pads in terms of usability and versatility. You can assign them to pretty much anything, from volume and panning on your mixer to controlling every aspect of your plugins. Remember – you want to feel some resistance when moving a knob. Why? To avoid having the knobs move one way or another when you tap out the drum pattern or play your keyboard. If any rapid movement can move the knob around – it’s bad.

Knob location: Of course, this is mostly up to your personal preference. However, the general trend in MIDI keyboard controls suggests having the rotary knobs to the right is a lot more convenient than having them to the left of your keyboard. That’s unless you are left-handed. Therefore, I suggest buying a cheap MIDI keyboard with knobs to the left of the keys.

Knobs vs encoders: Knobs move left and right in the range of 240-270 degrees. Encoders rotate 360 degrees in either way. Encoders are clearly better, but generally more expensive, so you’ll likely see them mostly in the higher-end MIDI controllers.

Faders: Faders come in really handy during mixing sessions or when EQing a clip. Not many cheap MIDI keyboards come with faders included as it usually means higher costs. However, I don’t think they are something to worry about, especially if you are a beginner. If you decide on getting a controller that features them, make sure they are sturdy, and offer resistance.

Buttons: buttons are very common among MIDI keyboard controls, but often only featured in more expensive controllers. Used for launching clips and getting quick access to functions, buttons aren’t the most important controls, but they sure improve the efficiency and simplify the workflow.

Layout: Don’t ever overlook the layout of your control options. Before the purchase, think about how your two hands will interact with the controller if you are playing live. Essentially, you want to be able to play the keys with one hand and reach all the control options with the other. If you find that some of them are located awkwardly, you may have a harder time implementing them into your workflow. Therefore, you’ll be losing your efficiency. The most efficient setup is having your controls from left to the right in the following sequence – pads-rotary knobs-faders-buttons.

Keys

When buying a cheap MIDI keyboard, getting quality keys should be a priority. Here are the things you should consider:

Key type: Most of the time, you’ll see MIDI keyboards having synth-style keys – they are cheap, and the springiness makes them easier to use for beginners. If you move up the price range, you’ll find semi-weighted keys, that are usually only found on the higher-end MIDI keyboards. They simulate the authentic acoustic piano feel and are more popular among seasoned beatmakers.

Key size: The industry standard is “full-size” keys. They are the most popular and the easiest to learn to play the keyboard(note that it refers to the length of the keys only, not their width). Some portable keyboards (especially those with 25 and 32 keys), however, come with mini keys that generally help to keep the controller as light and compact as possible. I suggest getting full-size keys controller if portability isn’t your main concern.

Key width: There are two major categories for key width – piano-style (also called full) and slim (also called narrow). Similar to the keys size factor, the wider the keys, the better. Narrow keys make it easier to make mistakes when playing the keyboard, especially if you have large hands. However, slim keys are very popular among 25-key controllers, as they help to save space and turn your MIDI keyboard into a more portable one.

Pitch and mod wheels: Pitch and mod wheels have been around longer than I have and are the best choice to bend the notes. Some manufacturers try to cut costs or save space by replacing them with buttons or a thumbstick (like Akai MPK Mini), but they are hardly ever proper replacements. If you can get a MIDI controller with pitch / mod wheels, that would be your best choice.

Other Features

To select the best cheap MIDI keyboard that fit your needs, let’s talk about a few other things you should keep in mind when making a purchase:

Portability: Most MIDI controllers are meant to be portable (except for a few high-end ones), but some specialize in it (take Akai LPK25, for instance). They are usually light and small footprint. If you plan on traveling or bringing your controller to a ton of gigs and jam sessions, getting a cheap compact MIDI keyboard is a must. If you plan on mostly working in your home recording studio, however, I’d sacrifice portability over a few extra controls and features.

Integrations: Buying a cheap MIDI controller that integrates with your DAW seamlessly should be one of your top priorities. Spending extra time setting everything up every time you start your software application will end up wasting you many hours over the years. If you can bypass all the struggle by paying a little more – you should. Most MIDI keyboards have some sort of integration with major DAWs like FL Studio, Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, etc. If a controller is designed to integrate with your DAW specifically (like Novation series integrate with Ableton Live), don’t even think twice – you’ll thank yourself later. Convenience and ease of use will make it harder for you to quit!

Ports: Most MIDI keyboards these days come with plug-and-play function. You plug the device into your computer’s USB port – and you are good to go. It’s also nice if it comes with MIDI input, so you can, for instance, connect it to your audio interface. A handful of cheap keyboards (and many premium ones) come with CV / gate ports, so you can connect your analog gear to them (a good example to that is Arturia KeyStep). That’s not necessary for most beginners, and even seasoned producers don’t find it necessary.

And that’s pretty much everything you need to know before buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard!

Conclusion

Well, that was a long guide to buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard. I can confidently say that pretty much everything I can think of has been covered in this guide. Hopefully, the list of the best budget keyboards out there and the factors you should consider will help you make a better and more informed purchase decision!

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Last update on 2019-12-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API