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5 Awesome Midi Controllers That Won’t Break the Bank


When I got a MIDI controller, it changed my home-producing life. It opened up all these opportunities. I could make beats easily. I could record piano parts. Playing synths became so much smoother and quicker. And I want you to have those same opportunities. So I want to share what I think are the best MIDI controllers under $200.

My controller, the Akai Professional LPK25, was actually under $100. But for just a bit more money, you can land a piece of equipment that can change your music production experience.

The Benefits Of A MIDI Controller

So why get a MIDI controller? Well, every musician is different, so I’ll tell you why I have a MIDI controller.

First, it makes the recording process way easier and quicker. Because you record in MIDI, you can manipulate what you’ve recorded by lengthening, moving around, changing the note, and adjusting the velocity of each hit. This means you can perfect your performance in the edit. You can snap all of the notes to the grid so they’re on time.

Another reason why I love my MIDI controller is that it lets me play pretty much any instrument I want. Granted, the instrument may not sound exactly like a live instrument (depending on the plugin). But there are plenty of real-sounding instrument plugins, like Addictive Keys 2 and Addictive Drums.

Lastly, controllers are great for composing music. Regardless of how cheesy your orchestral plugin sounds, you can use it to get an idea for what your composition will sound like.

A lot of digital audio workstations (DAW) offer the option to export your MIDI performances as sheet music, which means hired professional musicians (or your friends) can easily play your parts.

Now let’s dive into the best MIDI controllers on the market.

M-Audio Keystation 49 II

This MIDI controller has 49 semi-weighted keys that are the same size as a piano’s keys. And it comes with a software bundle, so you’ll have plenty of sounds to play with right out of the box.

It comes with controls for pitch, modulation, changing octaves, and a volume slider. Plus, it has its own cursor keys so you don’t need a mouse.

It connects via USB and works with both macOS and Windows. In fact, you can even connect it to your iPad using the Apple Camera Connector. From there, you can use different music apps to make creating even more dynamic.

Pros:

  • Software bundle included
  • Includes built-in cursor
  • Compatible with iPad

Cons:

  • Keys could be more responsive
  • Keys don’t feel like real piano keys

Novation Launchkey 49

The Novation Launchkey is another controller that offers weighted keys and three octaves. So you’ve got plenty to work with regardless of the virtual instrument you’re using. But of course, you can move the octave range up and down.

It’s got differently colored drum pads that, like the piano keys, are velocity sensitive. Also included are modulation and pitch-bend wheels, nine sliders, eight knobs, and a whole lot of fun.

They designed this USB controller specifically for Ableton, but it also works with any DAW. It even comes with Ableton Live Lite 9 and XLN Addictive Keys!

Pros:

  • Velocity sensitivity is great
  • Comes with Ableton Live Lite 9
  • Weighted keys feel good to play

Cons:

  • Some reports keys are too flimsy
  • Pads could be more sensitive

M-Audio Oxygen 49 MK IV

Here’s another M-Audio MIDI controller for you. On top of the 49 velocity sensitive piano keys, it comes with eight pads for producing beats, eight knobs for affecting virtual instrument sounds, and nine faders for live mixing.

For all you DJs and performers, you should know it also has transport buttons that allow you to control your DAW without using your mouse. It even automaps to the most popular DAWs, like Ableton Live, Pro Tools, and Logic.

Plus, this controller comes with SONiVOX Twist, spectral morphing synthesizer that lets you manipulate your sounds even more.

Pros:

  • Automaps to the most popular DAWs
  • No mouse needed to control DAW
  • Easy to play keys and pads simultaneously

Cons:

  • Velocity of keys and pads could be more accurate
  • No volume slider

Akai Professional LPK25

The LPK25 is a little guy, but it can do just fine in any home studio. This is the MIDI controller I own, and I love it.

It’s got 25 keys, so it’s smaller than a lot of controllers. But the octave-changing buttons are on the left on the device, not far from the keys. Right above the octave buttons is the sustain button as well as an arpeggiator.

Though it may not be a good fit for trained pianists who want to play full pieces in one take, this controller is perfect for the home producer looking to make a variety of sounds.

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Compact
  • Great for new home producers

Cons:

  • Only 25 keys
  • Small, non-weighted keys

Alesis V61

With 61 keys, this controller from Alesis is one of the best options on this list. It has large, weighted, velocity sensitive keys, allowing you to accurately play whatever parts you need.

It also had eight backlit pads for making beats and loops. On top of this, you get knobs, buttons, and pitch and modulation wheels.

And this USB controller comes with Ableton Live Lite 9. So for less than $200, you’ll be ready to produce right out of the box.

Pros:

  • 61 keys available
  • Includes Ableton Live Lite 9
  • With its software, you can adjust the velocity

Cons:

  • The sensitivity of keys and pads could be more accurate
  • Non-weighted keys

Hopefully, this review helps you buy the best MIDI controller for your home studio setup!

Caleb J. Murphy is a singer-songwriter and music producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.

FEATURED IMAGE: https://unsplash.com/photos/t7A424QvrCo


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About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

We help home studio musicians and project studio producers make a greater musical impact in their lives by teaching them the skills needed to grow their hobbies and careers. We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use right away to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

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