Alesis V49 Review – Punchy Keyboard at an Affordable Price

Full-sized, 49-key keyboards tend to be expensive, but Alesis V49 breaks the mold with punchy performance in an affordable package. Great for studios, though not the best as a piano/composition tool. Read on to find out if it's the right fit for you.

Reviewed by Ryan Harrell in Keyboards

If you're a producer looking for a 49-key keyboard, your options are limited. You can either opt for expensive pro-quality controllers, such as the Akai MPK249. Or you have to settle for cheap keyboards with clunky keys, such as the M-Audio Keystation 49. 

Is there no controller that balances key quality and price?

With the Alesis V49, you finally have an answer to this question. The full-sized keys are velocity sensitive and highly responsive. There are only a handful of pads, but they work well enough for most bedroom producers. And all of this is bundled up in a design that's gloriously minimalist and modern.

The best part? The price. As one of the cheaper 49-key keyboards on the market, it will make you wonder how Alesis was able to squeeze so much performance into such an affordable package.

There are some niggles, of course. The synth action keys don't have the feedback of more expensive semi-weighted keys. There are too few pads and knobs to be useful. And the missing DAW force you to rely on your computer keyboard + mouse. 

The Alesis V49 isn't for everyone, but if you're the right fit for it, it will be one of your favorite purchases.

In this review, I'll look at the Alesis V49's design, features, performance, and tell you whether it is worth your money or not.  

Quick summary:

  • Full-sized, velocity-sensitive keyboard offers best-in-class performance
  • Gorgeously designed with a luxurious build quality
  • Competitively priced
  • Lightweight and narrow for easier portability

Alesis V49 Features:

  • 49 full-sized, square-front keys
  • 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive backlit pads​
  • 4 assignable knobs and 4 assignable buttons​
  • Octave Up and Down buttons​
  • Pitch and modulation wheels​
  • Visual feedback via illuminated buttons and knobs
  • USB power and USB-MIDI connectivity for Mac and PC
  • Software included: Ableton Live Lite 9 and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech (downloads)
  • VIP 3.0 compatible

Background


The Alesis Brand

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that so many of the brands they know and love - Alesis included - are all owned by the same company.

That's right. InMusic Brands, a Rhode Island-based company, owns Akai, Alesis, Denon, M-Audio, Ion, Marantz, and Numark, among others.

In many cases, these brands compete against each other in the same segment (Akai, Alesis, and M-Audio all selling MIDI controllers is an example). Yet, they share the same technology, such as both Alesis and Akai's support of VIP 3.0 software.

The only big difference is how these brands have positioned themselves in industry. Akai is for pros, M-audio for beginners, and Alesis the middle-child.

But way before Alesis was acquired by InMusic in 2001, it was known as a groundbreaking manufacturer of studio equipment. The company was founded by Keith Barr, who also founded MXR (known for their guitar pedals), to bring pro-grade performance to smaller studio setups. Its first breakout product was the wildly popular XT Reverb, which brought reverb performance that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars to the market for under $1000 (a big deal in the 1980s).

In the late 1990s, Alesis added a range of keyboards to its lineup, all aimed at serious studio users. The biggest success among these was the Alesis Quadrasynth.

The Alesis V49 essentially springs from this powerful synth.

The Alesis Quadrasynth was the epitome of Alesis' keyboard capabilities (Source)

About the Alesis V49

Unlike Akai, which has a clear market (studio-quality drum pads and keyboards), Alesis doesn't have a tight focus. The company makes everything from live sound systems to recording equipment and drum pads. Despite the wide-range of offerings, Alesis is known for two things:

  • Studio-quality performance at an affordable price
  • The latest technology, regardless of the equipment type (which explains its wide product portfolio)

The Alesis V49 exemplifies this philosophy perfectly. It is cheap and has features that would appeal to a producer, not a piano player. It's meant for studios, not creating full-blown compositions. And it has several new technology adoptions and design features that make it the "cutting edge" in its class.

Who the Alesis V49 is for

The Alesis V49 has a niche market. It's not a full-fledged MIDI controller - it has far too few pads and knobs and buttons for it. Nor is it meant to be a full-blown production center like the MPK249. 

Instead, the Alesis V49 is meant to complement your production process by giving you access to a high-quality, intuitive keyboard. It's targeted mostly at beginners to intermediate players who want to upgrade from a computer keyboard. 

If you intend to control your synth oscillators, EQ meters, or jam out drum patterns, this isn't the right controller for you.

But if you want an affordable, full-sized keyboard to experiment with melodies, you'll love the Alesis V49. 

In the following section, I'll look at the Alesis V49's design, build-quality, and performance and tell you if it is worth your money

Alesis V49 - Design & Build Quality


Overall design: The Alesis V49 looks good - there are no two words about it. The hard edges and blue backlit pads/buttons stand out in a sea of plasticky competitors. The overall build quality is also nice, especially the chassis which has a heft that's often missing in the low-end of the market. The form factor is long rather than broad - good for those of you who want to save space. The design revolves almost entirely around the keyboard with the few controls it has tucked into one corner.

Portability: The Alesis V49 is long at 37". But it is also much narrower than competitors like the Akai MPK249 (9.5" vs 12.25" for the Akai). It is also lightweight, coming in at under 10lbs.

The narrow dimensions + low weight make it easy to carry around to live gigs. It doesn't take up too much space in studio work desks either, especially when compared to some of its larger rivals like Novation Impulse 49. 

Build quality: Alesis V49's build quality is arguably its biggest selling point, besides the keyboard. Controllers in the budget segment tend to be notorious for their rickety keys and plasticky chassis (I'm looking at you, M-Audio). But the V49's chassis feels sturdy and uses high density plastic.

The same applies to the keyboard. The keys don't rattle in place or wiggle about sideways. You can bang on the keys happily without worrying about things coming loose - a standout feature in this segment.

The Alesis V49 has a chunky feel and solid chassis

Aesthetics: With its all black chassis and blue backlit pads and buttons, the Alesis V49 definitely stands out. Throw in a flat-edge keyboard (as opposed to the more traditional waterfall design) and you have a controller that looks positively futuristic. This is s sharp departure from some of the more retro-themed designs flooding the market currently.

I have to note that It looks particularly stunning in the dark where, I presume, a majority of you will use it.

How the Alesis V49 looks in the real world. Note the dimensions (iMac for scale). [Image source]

Conclusion: The Alesis V49 is an exquisitely designed, well-built keyboard with a narrow footprint and high-portability. It is longer and narrow with a low weight that makes it easy to slug around to live shows. The focal point of the controller is the keyboard, which dominates the length of the unit. Blue backlit pads and a sharp, minimalist design give it a futuristic aesthetic.

All in all, a well-built, minimalist keyboard that will stand out on any studio desk.

Performance


When evaluating the Alesis V49, you have to remember that it can't be compared against full-fledged MIDI controllers, like the Akai MPK249. Its focus is the keyboard, and nothing else. Though it has a few pads, they're mostly an afterthought. If pads and lots of controls are your thing, leave right now - this isn't the keyboard for you.

With that caveat out of the way, let's find out how the Alesis V49 performs in both studio and live settings.

Keyboard: This is a keyboard-focused MIDI controller, so naturally, that's what we'll start with as well.

The Alesis V49 keyboard boasts velocity-sensitive synth-action, full-sized keys. The keys are thick and chunky - perfect for fat fingered oafs like me. 

A big plus is that you can adjust the velocity sensitivity with the Alesis editor. This makes it easy to customize the keyboard for different playing styles. A beginner can start with high-sensitivity for easier playing, while more advanced players can mimic piano action with higher resistance.

Keyboard (cont.): A key aspect of the Alesis V49 is that it has a flat-edge keyboard.

This is quite different from the traditional waterfall-style keyboards common in so many pianos and keyboards (see image).

In practical terms, the flat-edge keyboard is uncomfortable to play for long hours. Because there is no overhang (as in waterfall keys), pressing the lower-end of the keys does not have the conventional "spring" up. 

This isn't a problem for most producers, but if you plan on doing long piano sessions, the flat-edge design can be uncomfortable.

Pads: Alesis V49 has 8 backlit pads. The pads are both velocity and pressure sensitive. The size is large enough to make finger drumming possible.

That's all I can say about them. The pads don't have the feedback or clicky responsiveness of, say, an Akai MPC. Their position on the left of the keyboard also limits their utility (most producers I know like to use their right hand for drumming). 

You'll mostly end up using the pads for clip launching. If you want to focus on drumming, look at other controllers.

All the buttons, pads, and even mod/pitch wheels have a blue backlight

Knobs, Sliders, Buttons: There are four knobs and four buttons. You don't get any sliders, LCD screens, or even DAW control. Nor do you get separate banks to expand functionality beyond the four knobs.

Like the pads, you'll end up using the knobs for utilitarian purposes - increasing/decrease volume, change panning, etc. Forget about using them for music production such controlling oscillators or envelopes.

All in all, it's a functional addition, not something that's useful in production. 

Other Controls: Besides the above, you get an octave up/down button and two separate pitch/mod wheels.

There is no LCD screen, no DAW controls, and no extensive soundbanks. You get the 8 pads and 4+4 knobs and buttons, and that's it.

Normally, I would count this as a negative but given the focus on this controller - keyboard performance - I can give this a pass.

That said, some more controls, or even a better layout, would have been nice.

Integrations & connectivity: Connectivity options are limited - you get a sustain pedal input and a USB-MIDI out. There is no room for a MIDI port or an expression pedal, which is par for the course for keyboards in this range.

Since it has few controls, integration with most DAWs is easy. However, it integrates particularly well with Ableton (and even ships with the software). You can use the V49 Editor (both Mac & Windows) to change key mappings and adjust parameters such as key sensitivity. 

Live performance: The lack of controls impacts how much you can do with the Alesis V49 by itself in a live performance. However, complement it with a dedicated pad controller and you'll have a powerful setup for gigs.

The form factor and low weight make it easy to lug around. The build quality is also robust enough to take the abuse of the road. If you're going to play the keyboard (and not just launch clips), this will be a great controller for live performance.

The narrow size and low weight makes portability easier. Note the cable for scale. (Source)

Software: The V49 ships with Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 workstation by AIR tech (more here).

Additionally, like most offerings under the InMusic Brands umbrella, you get VIP 3.1 compatibility. This lets you control your entire VST library from a single window.

Overall, this is just about what you expect from keyboards in this range. Xpand!2 is a mediocre offering at best and you likely already have your own DAW (making Ableton Live Lite redundant). The big positive, however, is VIP3.0 compatibility which is missing from most competitors.

VIP 3.0 compatibility is a welcome feature

Conclusion: The Alesis V49 focuses on one thing and does it really well - the keyboard. This keyboard is better than a majority of offerings in this price range. The keys are full-sized and have adjustable velocity sensitivity. The latter is particularly rare in this segment (the sensitivity isn't adjustable in most keyboards).

But as good as the keyboard is, it's not without its faults. The flat-edged design isn't as comfortable to use as a traditional waterfall design. The sharp edges can also dig into your wrists when you rest your hands on them.

Apart from the keyboard, there is little to write about. There are few controls and the pads are mostly an afterthought. The layout on the left also makes them mostly useful for launching clips as opposed to finger drumming. There are no DAW controls or extensive soundbanks. 

On the plus side, it integrates well with Ableton. VIP3.0 compatibility is also a welcome feature.

Overall, this is a controller for a niche audience. If you care about a well-designed keyboard, you'll love the Alesis V49. If lots of controls are more important to you, look at something like the Novation Launchkey 49.

Overall


The Alesis V49 isn't perfect. Unlike the MPK249, I can't recommend unanimously for everyone.

Rather, the V49 is meant for a select audience. 

It's not for people who want a MIDI controller. It lacks the pads, knobs, sliders, and buttons to control much besides launching a few clips. 

It does, however, have a fantastic keyboard. Though it has its flaws (most notably, comfort over extended use), the key quality itself is among the best in this class. 

It won't be your music production center. You will have to rely on your computer keyboard + mouse to control your DAW. You'll also want a more focused MIDI controller to get access to pads, knobs, and sliders. 

Think of it as a keyboard that complements your existing production setup, not an all-in-one replacement for your drum pad + computer keyboard.

If you approach it with this perspective, you'll find that the Alesis V49 is a well-designed, well-built controller with a lot to offer.

Here's a quick recap:

What's good: The keyboard, the keyboard, and nothing but the keyboard - that's how you can sum up the V49. The keyboard is the star of the show and easily the best point of the V49.

Here's more:

  • Gorgeous design - all black chassis, blue backlit pads, and sharp-edges lend it a decidedly futuristic aesthetic. The controller looks particularly stunning in the dark.
  • Keyboard quality is best-in-class. The keys are wide and you can even adjust the velocity sensitivity.
  • Rock solid build quality. None of the keys, pads, or knobs feel rickety.
  • Rich Ableton integration. VIP 3.0 compatibility is also highly welcome.
  • Affordably priced. You'll have to spring $200+ to get better keys.
  • Narrow form factor and low weight make it easy to carry around to live gigs.

What's not good: The Alesis V49 misses quite a few tricks, such as:

  • Sharp key edges dig into wrists and make playing uncomfortable for long hours
  • Flat-edge keyboard lacks the "spring-up" action of traditional waterfall design. This can tire fingers when played extensively.
  • Very limited controls  - you get just 8 pads, 4 knobs, and 4 buttons
  • No arpeggiator or DAW controls
  • Poor placement of pads limits their utility. You'll use them for little more than launching clips.

Who it is for: Alesis V49 is meant for a niche audience. It works best for beginners and intermediate level players who want a keyboard-only experience. If you already have a pad controller at home, you'll love the V49.

On the whole, the Alesis V49 is best if you:

  • Want a controller that prioritizes key quality and build quality over everything else
  • Already have a pad controller to complement the keyboard
  • Intend to take the keyboard to a live gig
  • Have the skills to fully utilize the keyboard

If you've never played the piano before, or if you make your music by launching clips (as in Ableton Live's Session View), this isn't the keyboard for you. But if you fit the above criteria, go ahead and hit 'buy'.

For alternatives, consider some of our top picks in the 49-key and 88-key MIDI controllers categories.

Where to buy: As with most musical instruments, I've found that Amazon constantly offers the lowest prices and attractive deals on shipping. Click here to check the current price on Amazon.

You can also download the Alesis V49 manual here.

Alternatives to Alesis V49


If you'd rather choose something other than the Alesis, here are some of the top alternatives in this category:

Alesis V49 vs Novation Launchkey 49

The Novation Launchkey 49 has far more bells and whistles than the Alesis V49 - 49 keys, 16 pads, knobs, sliders, mod/pitch wheels, and deep integration with Ableton. 

The best part is that it is priced competitively with the V49. 

On the downside, the key quality isn't nearly as good. And unless you are the kind of musician who needs all these control options, you likely won't make much use of the Launchkey's full features. 

But if you can increase your budget only a little, you'll find that the Novation Launchkey 49 is a great alternative to Alesis V49. It offers a lot more for only the extra price of half a month's worth of Starbucks.

What's good:

  • Lots of controls - 49 keys, 16 pads, 8+1 sliders, knobs, etc.
  • Relatively compact size
  • Deep Ableton integration

What's not:

  • Small pads don't offer much responsiveness
  • Synth action keys feel springy and poorly built
  • Build quality and design aren't as robust as Alesis'

Choose Novation Launchkey 49 if: You want tons of controls and deep integration with Ableton, and if build quality and workflow control wasn't important to you - all at a lower price point. Check current price here.

Alesis V49 vs M-Audio Keystation 49

The M-Audio Keystation 49 is one of the cheapest full-sized 49-key keyboards on the market. Little wonder that it is a favorite among beginners looking for their first "real" instrument.

But while the Keystation 49 wins against Alesis V49 on price (but not by much), its build quality is far more suspect. The keys feel rickety and wiggle about in place. It also has even fewer controls than the V49 - you don't even get the 8 pads and 4 knobs. The design is mundane to boot, unlike the stunning hard edges of the Alesis.

On the plus side, the price is extremely competitive. The traditional waterfall keyboard is more comfortable to use for long hours as well. The narrow form factor and low weight (weighs just 6lbs and is only 7" wide) make it exceptionally portable as well.

What's good:

  • More comfortable soft-edged waterfall keys
  • Compact size and low weight
  • Affordable pricing

What's not:

  • Rickety keys and questionable build quality
  • No additional controls
  • Boring design

Choose M-Audio Keystation 49 if: You're on a budget and need a no-frills, lightweight keyboard, if design doesn't matter to you, and if you need only a keyboard without any controls. Check current price here.

Final Verdict on Alesis V49


On the whole, the Alesis V49 is a commendable keyboard controller with great keys, stellar design, and great build quality. Though it has its misses - most notably the uncomfortable keyboard design and the complete lack of controls - it fits its purpose well. If you already have a pad controller (or don't need one), consider the Alesis V49 as one of your top choices.

Choose Alesis V49 if you:

  • Need a keyboard-focused controller with responsive keys
  • Want something you can take to live gigs
  • Don't care much for pad controls, knobs, sliders, etc.
  • Are on a budget

Questions, comments, or thoughts about this Alesis V49 review? Share them with us in the comments below!