The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard to Buy in 2019 (Under $100)

Choosing the best cheap MIDI keyboard can be harder than you think. It used to be that your options were limited to a handful of products. But thanks to industry consolidation, higher competition, and the entry of dozens of cheap but competent Chinese brands, you have more options than ever. Picking the best MIDI keyboard under $100 from these can be a challenge.

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Which is precisely why we created this buying guide: to help you pick the best cheap MIDI keyboard for your needs.

This segment of the market has exploded in the last few years. It used to be that you would default to the Akai MPK Mini or the mini version of Novation Launchkey, but the number of options available to you today is truly astounding. There are ultra-cheap options that start at less than the price of a movie night for two. Then there are slightly more expensive options that pack in large 49 key keyboards for under $100.

It’s not just the number of options; working within a small budget also means that you have to make compromises. Do you get a larger but inferior keyboard? Or do you stick to better but fewer keys? Should you skip the pads and sliders and knobs? Or should you get a hybrid that balances keys + controllers? What about integrations?

All of these questions can impact your decision. It’s not enough to buy the best cheap MIDI keyboard; you have to buy the best keyboard for you.

In this guide, I’ll cover all these issues. We’ll start with a list of our top recommended MIDI keyboards. Then I’ll share a detailed buying guide to help you make a more informed decision.

Our 5 Most Recommended Cheap MIDI Keyboards

In a hurry and need some quick suggestions? Here are the five of the best cheap MIDI keyboards we recommend the most:

Name and Features
Product Image
Rating
Price
Best OverallAcorn Masterkey 25

Might not have the brand value of an Akai, but this is a fantastic, budget-priced keyboard for beginners

91
Best PerformanceNovation Launchkey Mini 25

The baby Launchkey checks all the boxes and promises well-rounded, niggle-free performance

89
Best for PortabilityAkai LPK25

This tiny, lightweight keyboard is great to take with you on the go

81
Best Pad ControllerAKAI APC Key 25

The pads might be tiny, but they work. Great if you want a compromise between keys and pad controls

77
Best Large-Sized Keyboardmidiplus i61

A huge number of keys at an affordable price makes this a great budget option for experience pianists

71

 

Overview: What You Need to Know

Normally, I jump right into sharing a short review of each of the keyboards I mentioned in the above list. But because we're talking specifically about "cheap" keyboards, there are a few things I felt we should clarify.

"Cheap" MIDI keyboards speak to a particular segment of the market. If you're looking at this category, you likely fall into one of these buckets:

  • You're a beginner looking to buy his/her first keyboard
  • You're an experienced musician looking to buy a throwaway "use and abuse" secondary keyboard
  • You're looking for something cheap and portable to take with you on the go

There is a certain expectation that if you buy a "cheap" MIDI keyboard, you'll have to sacrifice quality. And while this is certainly true, you can still get a lot of quality for remarkably low prices in this category.

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Case in point: the Akai MPK Mini MK2, which made our "best MIDI keyboard" list finds a spot here as well. Sure, it doesn't have the best of keys, but it is affordably priced enough to be considered "cheap".

We reviewed 16 keyboards in compiling this list, which included models from nearly every manufacturer big and small - Akai, Novation, Worlde, amoon, etc. In coming up with our final list, we looked at a few things, such as:

  • Budget: "Cheap" can mean different things to different people. An experienced producer might find a $300 keyboard cheap, while a beginner might scoff at a $50 price tag. For the purpose of this article, we defined cheap as "priced under $100".
  • Number of keys: There are plenty of keyboards that offer 49 or more keys under $100, but very few of these are halfway decent. For the most part, we focused on keyboards with 25-37 keys, i.e. 2-3 octaves of range.
  • Pads: Since this is a list of the best cheap MIDI keyboards, we omitted pad-only controllers such as the Ableton Push. Of course, we did include plenty of keyboards that combined pads with keys. But pads, for the most part, were not a priority.
  • DAW integrations: While we love a keyboard that integrates with every DAW under the sun, we were partial to those that prioritized the popular DAWs such as Logic Pro, Ableton, FL Studio, and Avid Pro. We would love a keyboard that works as well with LMMS as it does with Ableton, but if we had to choose, we would pick the one that focuses on Ableton over others.
  • Control options: We would love a cheap MIDI keyboard that can pack in 16 encoders, 8+1 sliders, and a full-range of pads, but we know that's not possible in this price range. Thus, we focused more on keyboards that prioritized good keys and offered control options as a value-add. The sideshow, rather than the star, so to speak.
  • Brand: Brand shouldn't really matter, but we've found that better brand usually means better service. And musicians, while they're not a biased bunch, do care about the brand value of the gear they use. Thus, we focused mostly on brands you know and recognize - Akai, Novation, etc. There are some fantastic keyboards on the market from no-name Chinese manufacturers, but we can't recommend them outright because of the dubious quality of their brand.

With that out of the way, let's look at the top MIDI keyboards from our initial shortlist.

 

The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard: In-Depth Overview

In previous articles, we wrote about the best 25-key, 49-key, 61-key, and 88-key MIDI controllers. While these lists covered pretty much the entire gamut of MIDI keyboards, they did not focus specifically on cheap controllers.

Thus, in this guide, we'll focus only on keyboards you can buy for less than $100. Most of these are limited to 25 keys, but there are a few options with 37, 49, and even 61 keys.

Read on to see a detailed overview of some of our top picks for the best cheap MIDI keyboard:

Best Overall: Acorn Masterkey 25

Key features:

  • 25 narrow synth-style keys
  • 4 knobs and 1 slider
  • Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
  • Includes free PreSonus Studio One DAW
  • Small information LCD screen

When it comes to cheap 25-key MIDI controllers, my top option is usually the same: the Akai MPK Mini MK2 (full review here).

However, the Akai MPK Mini has a few clear flaws:

  • It is priced near the $100 mark, making it slightly (and only slightly) more expensive for beginners
  • It doesn't have traditional pitch/mod wheels
  • The square edge and short key length makes playing the keyboard a little difficult

This is precisely why I picked the Acorn Masterkey 25 as my choice for the best cheap MIDI keyboard.

Acorn isn't a big brand in the MIDI controller space, and I was honestly surprised by the quality of this keyboard. It fixes so many of the niggles I have with other keyboards in this category.

For starters, you get two traditional pitch/mod wheels. If you're like me and like to bend your notes, you'll love the tactile wheel of the large, rubber wheels.

Next, the keys, though narrow, are long and taper off before the edge of the controller. This is easier on your wrists and easier to play as well, especially if you have long, slender fingers as I do.

There isn't much to offer in terms of control options, but a master slider and four separate knobs offer just enough to keep you happy. A tiny LCD screen (missing from so many competitors) shows track information.

But the best feature by far is the free copy of PreSonus Studio One Artist edition. This DAW normally retails for close to $100, but the Acorn Masterkey gives it away for free. A terrific value, especially if you're a beginner who has been stuck with free DAWs so far.

Portability isn't the Masterkey's strong suit. At 3.6 lbs, it is heavier than my Alienbook. That weight isn't wasted, however; the chassis is fittingly heavy and durable.

If I have any complaints, it's about the lack of pads. Even 8 basic pads would have been enough to take this keyboard from "great" to "must buy".

Overall, this is the perfect keyboard for someone just starting to build his studio. It's small yet full-featured with great quality keys. The free software is a massive bonus as well.

Buy this if you:

  • Are on a budget
  • Need to prioritize the keyboard over pads and other control options

Pros

  • Spectacularly affordable
  • Easy to play full-sized keys
  • Includes PreSonus Studio One Artist edition DAW
  • Traditional pitch/mod wheels

Cons

  • Narrow keys can result in errors for inexperienced players
  • No pads
  • Slider has trouble staying put in mid-level positions

Best Overall (2nd Pick): Akai MPK Mini MKII

Key features:

  • 25 synth-style narrow keys
  • 8 velocity sensitive backlit pads
  • 8 rotary knobs
  • 4-way thumbstick for pitch/mod controls
  • Compact size

It's impossible to create a list of the best cheap MIDI keyboards and not include the 800 lbs gorilla in the fray. The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is, by far, the best-selling MIDI keyboard on the market, and for good reason.

Why?

Because while the MPK Mini barely gets anything wrong. The entire package is tiny, lightweight and portable. The keys, while not full-size, are wide enough for comfortable playing. The pads, while not like its elder siblings' MPC-style, have enough responsiveness and push to hammer out a few beats. Then you get 8 knobs, a dedicated arpeggiator, nice, rubbery octave up/down buttons, and the proven Akai brand.

All of this at a price tag that, after all the usual promotions, is deliciously low and you can see why it tops most charts for the best cheap MIDI keyboard.

Of course, nothing is completely perfect. The small size and sharp-edged keys can be uncomfortable over long periods. The 4-way joystick is a poor replacement for traditional pitch/mod wheels (and it's awkwardly placed as well). The knobs don't have nearly the same resistance as the MPK49's encoders.

But all of these are moot problems; for its price, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 is one of the best MIDI keyboards you can buy.

You can read a full review of this keyboard here.

Buy this if you:

  • Want a tried and tested product from a respected brand
  • Need an all-around keyboard that offers both pads and knobs

Pros

  • Tiny footprint – barely the size of a laptop
  • Large pads are great fun to use
  • Low weight makes it highly portable

Cons

  • No dedicated DAW controls
  • Awkwardly located thumbstick
  • Small keys can be uncomfortable over long use

Best Performance: Novation Launchkey Mini 25

Key features:

  • 25 narrow-sized keys
  • 16 backlit pads
  • 8 knobs
  • Dedicated navigation buttons
  • Plug-and-play integration with most DAWs
  • 2-year warranty

The Novation Launchkey 25 is the smallest version of Novation's prestigious Launchkey series of MIDI keyboards. Its larger variants, especially the Launchkey 61, regularly show up on "best of" lists. And the Launchkey 25 is no different.

Cut from the same cloth as the Akai Mini MK2, this keyboard packs in a set of 25 keys along with pads and controls. Unlike the Akai, however, the Launchkey 25 has a few crucial differences:

  • You get 16 pads, not 8
  • The pads are backlit
  • You get dedicated navigation control buttons

These features transform the Launchkey 25 into a fully-realized hybrid controller, and not just a keyboard. Plug it into your computer and it integrates seamlessly with most DAWs. Load a clip into the pad and it lights up.

There are issues, of course. The keys are plasticky and a tad too springy (though newbies tend to prefer the springiness). The pads aren't as responsive as you'd want them to be. And the controller is seriously missing dedicated pitch/mod wheels.

However, for keyboards in this price range, you can't really ask for more. If you're a beginner who can spend a bit more, I recommend getting the Novation Launchkey 25 over cheaper $50 keyboards. From the keys to the large number of pads, you'll appreciate the drastically better performance.

Buy this if you:

  • Want more than 8 pads
  • Need better quality keys than $50 keyboards

Pros

  • 16 pads give you a range of control options
  • Springy keys are easy to play for beginners
  • Small footprint and low weight

Cons

  • Missing pitch/mod wheels or thumbstick
  • Keys feel plasticky

Best Pad Controller: AKAI Professional APC Key 25

Key features:

  • 25 narrow-sized keys
  • 40 tricolor pads
  • Seamless Ableton Live integration
  • 8 assignable knobs
  • Dedicated navigation buttons
  • 1.7 lbs weight

The Akai APC series is all about one thing: pads.

The APC Key 25, which is the keyboard variant of the APC Mini, offers an astonishing 40 tricolor pads packed into a tiny, 1.7 lbs chassis. This is fewer than the APC Mini's 64 pads, but considering that you also get a full-sized 25-key keyboard, it's a great compromise.

40 pads really open up possibilities in terms of music production. Instead of using your controller as a small drum machine, you can transform the APC Key 25 into a full-fledged controller. Use it to launch clips, effects, and of course, hammer out drum patterns.

The 25-key keyboard complements the pads perfectly. With a traditional pad-only controller (like the APC Mini), you have to keep a separate keyboard to create melodies. The APC Key 25 combines the pads and keys to make it easy to create melodies and chords from a single unit.

I should also mention that the APC Key 25 is designed to be used with Ableton Live. While it integrates well with other DAWs, you will find the most value if you use it with Ableton Live.

Sure, there are problems aplenty. The small pads are easy to mishit and don't have nearly the same responsiveness as Akai's MPC line of pad controllers. And the keys are plasticky and feel nowhere as good as Akai's MPK series.

But as with most things, it's about the complete experience. The APC Key 25 is a fantastic machine if you don't want to compromise. You get the best of both worlds - full-sized keys and 40 pads - at a great price tag.

Buy this if you:

  • Use Ableton Live
  • Need pads as well as keys and don't want to buy separate instruments

Pros

  • Low weight – just 1.7 lbs
  • Huge number of pads – 40
  • Pad + keys combo makes it an all-around controller for Ableton Live

Cons

  • Integration isn’t as seamless with other DAWs as it is with Ableton Live
  • Both pads and keys are less responsive than they should be

Best for Budget Buyers: midiplus 32 AKM320

Key features:

  • 32 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Dedicated octave up/down buttons
  • Dedicated volume control
  • Low weight - just 1.6 lbs
  • Plug-and-play connectivity with most DAWs
  • Pitch/mod wheels

The keys are clicky and become loose over time. There are no pads, knobs or sliders. And three awkward clicky buttons have replaced the pitch/mod wheels you're familiar with.

There's a lot of things wrong with the midiplus 32 AKM320.

The price, however, isn't one of them.

The midiplus 32 n is precisely what you'd want if you were in the market for the best cheap MIDI keyboard. It has almost no features to speak of and makes compromises left, right, and center.

But it is extraordinarily cheap and packs more than 2 octaves of keys - 32.

The keys are low profile and slim with a sharp square edge that ends just short of the chassis. These aren't waterfall keys, but because of the little indent before the end of the chassis, they're not hard on your wrists.

Unlike most other keyboards on this list, it also has 32 keys, i.e. 2.5 octaves.

The slim keys and portability-focused design makes this extremely easy to carry around. The entire unit weights just 1.6 lbs - less than a Macbook.

You don't get any pads, knobs or sliders, of course. But you do get a volume control knob (a strange and unnecessary addition) and large octave up/down buttons. In place of traditional pitch/mod wheels, you get three buttons that do a relatively poor job.

But given the price, I can't really complain. If a keyboard is your priority, this is the best budget MIDI controller you can buy right now from a respected manufacturer.

Buy this if you:

  • Are on a budget
  • Don't need any pads, knobs or sliders

Pros

  • One of the cheapest keyboards from a respected manufacturer
  • Narrow footprint and low weight
  • Easy to use plug-and-play operation with most DAWs

Cons

  • Clicky keys tend to become loose over time
  • No pads or other control options
  • Lacks a traditional pitch/mod wheel setup

Best for Portability: Akai Professional LPK25

Key features:

  • 25 keys
  • Dedicated octave up/down buttons
  • Dedicated arpeggio button
  • Dedicated sustain button
  • Plug-and-play integration with most DAWs

If you're prioritizing portability, you can't go wrong with the bestseller in the category (and a keyboard I personally use on the go) - the Akai LPK25.

Weighing in at a measly 635 grams, this is one of the lightest keyboards on the market. Coupled with a tiny footprint that's barely wider than a 13" laptop and as tall as a brick, this keyboard is extraordinarily easy to carry around.

You get 25 mini keys, keeping in line with the portability-focused nature of this device. There are no other control options save a dedicated rubber octave up/down button and two dedicated buttons for sustain and arpeggio.

Using the LPK25 is easy given the lack of control options. Plug it in and nearly every DAW will recognize it instantly. This is great for beginners who don't want to get bogged down by too many options or integration niggles.

No wonder it ranked as the "best for beginners" pick in my roundup of the best 25-key MIDI controllers.

Of course, there are some issues. The keyboard is inconsistent in detecting the force of each touch. Some touches register as gentle nudges. Others as punchy noises. This can be a problem if you plan to take this thing to a live situation.

The lack of control options is also obviously a problem. But given the focus on portability, I wouldn't consider it a serious flaw. Akai could have easily tacked on a few pads here, but that would have made this keyboard far less portable.

On the whole, for its purpose - portability - this is a great keyboard, priced affordably, from a top brand.

Buy this if you:

  • Are a beginner and need something easy to use, or
  • Want something that is ultra portable

Pros

  • Easy to use plug-and-play performance with most DAWs
  • Affordable and highly portable
  • Very low weight – under 650 grams

Cons

  • Inconsistent key performance
  • No features; slightly overpriced for what it offers

Best Large-Sized Keyboard: midiplus i61

Key features:

  • 61 full-sized keys
  • Dedicated pitch/mod wheels
  • LCD info screen
  • USB and MIDI connectivity

Most keyboards on this list have either 25 or 32 keys. This is mostly because of the difficulty of squeezing in more than 3 octaves of keys into a package priced under $100.

Which is what makes the midiplus i61 so remarkable. Not only did midiplus exceed the 3-ocatve range, it's managed to offer a whopping 5-ocatves of range, i.e. 61 keys, in a budget-friendly package. This is barely 2 octaves away from a full-sized keyboard.

Creating this affordably priced 61-key keyboard requires some compromises, of course. You don't get any pads, knobs, sliders or other control options. As far as features go, this keyboard is as barebones as they come.

What you do get is a set of 61 full-size keys. These are synth-action keys with a certain springiness that beginners will like. They're not anywhere close to being as responsive or piano-like as some of the higher priced variants on our best 61-key MIDI controller list.

They do, however, get the job done - giving you access to 5-octaves of range without having to hunt around for the octave up/down buttons.

Apart from the 61 keys, you also get dedicated pitch/mod wheels. I would have preferred if they were located to the left of the keyboard - that would have made access to lower notes easier while using the wheels.

You also get a tiny LCD screen that shows track information. Additionally, you get connectivity via USB or MIDI ports.

That's not a lot to write home about, but given the price constraints, this is one of the rare 61-key MIDI controllers that can fit into the "best cheap MIDI keyboard" category.

Buy this if you:

  • Want a full 5-octaves of range
  • Don't care about features and control options

Pros

  • 61 full-sized keys are great for experienced piano players
  • Affordable price tag

Cons

  • No features to write about
  • No control options
  • Clunky, unresponsive keys will frustrate experienced players

So that covers our picks for the best cheap MIDI keyboard you can buy in 2019.

That still leaves us with a question - what should you look for in a MIDI keyboard?

I'll share some buying advice in the next section

Buying Advice for Cheap MIDI Keyboards

Music equipment is expensive. Excluding the software and the computer, the cost of setting up the simplest of beginner studios is several hundred dollars.

But among $2,000 Fenders and $1,000 Yamaha digital pianos , MIDI keyboards stand unique as among the cheapest gear you can buy.

Sure, you can easily splurge $500 on a professional-grade Akai, but for most users, $200 is enough to get a competent MIDI controller. Which is a roundabout way of saying that MIDI keyboards are inherently cheap.

Of course, some keyboards are cheaper than others, like the ones you saw above. What you'll want to look for in these keyboards is very different from what you'd want in a $300 keyboard. Essentially, you'll have to compromise - do you want a great keyboard or should you settle for a mediocre one with more features? Do you get 16 pads or make do without them?

Given these price constraints, there are a number of things you should consider when buying the best cheap MIDI keyboards.

Figure out your requirements

MIDI controllers typically fall into three categories:

  • Key-only controllers: These keyboards - such as the midiplus i61 - only offer a keyboard. There are no other control options - knobs, pads, sliders, etc. You'll want one of these if you only intend to use the controller to play melodies and chords.
  • Pad-only controllers: These controllers only have pads, like the Ableton Push. They might have some additional sliders, knobs, and buttons, but the primary focus is on the pads. You'll want one of these if you want to launch clips, play drums, etc. You can't use pad controllers to play melodies or play chords.
  • Keyboard-pad hybrid controllers: Most MIDI controllers fall into this category, i.e. they combine some control options with a keyboard. The number of keys can vary between 25 to 88. The control options can range from 8 pads (as in the Akai MPK Mini) to as many as 40+ pads (like the Akai APC 25).

Most serious producers have separate pad and keyboard controllers. I personally use an Ableton Push with an Akai MPK249. I wouldn't recommend this for most people, however. Not only is the cost extremely high, you'll also want a large enough desk to accommodate multiple devices.

Which is why most 'regular' producers - the amateurs, hobbyists, and beginners - will want a hybrid controller. By combining a few control options with a keyboard, you get the best of both worlds.

What you prioritize - keys or controls - will depend on how you play music. Do you use Ableton Live's Session View to launch clips? Then you'll want a controller with tons of pads like APC Key 25.

Or do you play melodies and compose songs in the Arrangement View and only occasionally use the drum machine? Then pick a cheap keyboard like the Akai MPK Mini.

It's crucial that you go through this exercise. The more you understand how you work and make music, the better purchase decisions you'll make.

Also, factor in how your needs will change over time. Are you actively learning? Or has your learning stagnated and you're happy to just play the way you've always played? If you expect to grow a lot in the next 12 months, pick a more powerful keyboard that won't constrain you.

 

Features to look out for

Apart from the above, which impact the way you approach music production, there are a number of other features you need to consider when buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard, such as:

Pad controls

Pads are one of the most important features on any MIDI controller. Here are a few things you should look for in your controller's pads:

  • Pad size: Large pads are easier to tap but take up valuable device real estate. Ideally, all pads should be as large as the ones on the Akai MPK Mini MK2, but if you go beyond 8, you'll just sacrifice portability completely. Consider how you use the pads to figure out the right size for you. If you want to tap out drum patterns, you'll want something that's at least as large as the Novation Launchkey 25 pads. Smaller pads, like the ones on Akai APC 25, are great for launching clips but not so great for tapping out drum patterns.
  • Pad responsiveness: MPC-like pads are impossible to find in this price range. The best you can get is velocity sensitive pads. Consider this a bare minimum. Without this responsiveness, every hit will register equally loudly. This might be okay for launching clips but will make it impossible to tap out drum patterns.
  • Pad color: Backlit or color-coded pads are much easier to use since they give you a visual cue of each clip loaded in the pad. For instance, when you load a clip into Novation Launchkey, the pad lights up, showing you that it is "ready to go". Colored pads can also help you figure out what kind of clip is loaded into each pad (drum, snare, hi hats, etc.).
  • Pad location: Most small MIDI keyboards place the pads at the top of the controller. This is generally a good location for the pads. I would advise against buying any keyboard that places the pads too far to the left or right; that would make it difficult to tap out the pad while you're playing the keyboard.

 

Other control options

Knobs, sliders, buttons - all of these can greatly enhance your playing experience, giving you quick access to important controls. The end result is an experience that is more intuitive and intimate - crucial ingredients for creativity.

Here's what you should look for in these control options:

  • Knob quality: Of all the control options apart from pads, I consider knobs to be the most versatile. They let you control a huge array of options in your DAW, from volume and panning to dry/wet controls. You want the knob to be "tight". That is, there should be some resistance when you try to move them. Otherwise you'll find that any sharp tap on the keyboard will change the knob's position, ruining your sound.
  • Knobs vs encoders: Knobs usually have about 240 degrees of movement. Encoders offer a full 360 degree of movement. You'll usually find encoders on high-end keyboards.
  • Knob location: While this is up to personal preference, I find that knobs are easier to use with the right hand. Most keyboard manufacturers agree, which is why you'll find that keyboards typically have the knobs located to the right. Unless you're left-handed, avoid keyboards where the knobs are placed to the left or the bottom of the keys.
  • Sliders: Sliders are great for EQing but don't offer much utility beyond that. Few cheap MIDI keyboards offer sliders, so this isn't something you have to worry much about. But if they do, pick sliders that offer resistance or tightness when you move them. You don't want the level to go up/down easily.
  • Buttons: Customizable buttons are a common feature in MIDI keyboards in the mid-range and up, but you'll rarely find them in cheap keyboards. Customizable buttons are mostly used to launch clips or get quick access to a function. They're not a necessity by any means but it's good to have them. Since you won't use buttons frequently, you can mostly ignore their quality - as long as they work, of course.
  • Layout: Layout is often overlooked when evaluating all the control options. Always think of how your two hands will interact with the keyboard in a live setting when you consider the layout. You want to be able to play the keys with one hand while also getting full access to all the control options with the other hand. If any control options are awkwardly located (say, the bottom left of the keyboard), it can be difficult to access them. The Pad-Knobs-Sliders-Button (from left to right) usually works well in most keyboards.

 

Controller keys

The quality of the keys on the controller is obviously important. Here's what you should consider:

  • Key type: MIDI controllers typically have synth-style keys. These keys have a lot of springiness, i.e. they immediately jump back into position once you press them. In contrast, semi-weighted keys, which are usually found on high-end controllers, jump back based on the location of the note. Lower note are "heavier" and jump back slower than higher octave notes. You won't find any semi-weighted keys in the "cheap" category, however, so you'll have to make do with synth-style keys.
  • Key size: Most keyboards offer "full-size" keyboards. This refers to the length of the keys, not their width. In contrast, "mini" keys refers to shorter keys - commonly found in portable controllers. I recommend getting full-sized keyboards unless portability is a big priority for you.
  • Key width: Keys can be either full piano-style or narrow/slim. Narrow keys are obviously harder to play and can lead to mistakes. However, they also let you stretch your fingers over a wider set of keys - great if you want to touch those hard-to-reach notes. Plus, narrow keys make for a smaller and thus, more portable controller.
  • Pitch/mod wheels: Traditionally, keyboards have thick rubbery wheels that are used to "bend" the note, i.e. the pitch/mod wheels. Ideally, your choice of keyboard should have these dedicated wheels if you intend to bend notes a lot. Some controllers, such as the Akai MPK Mini, offer thumbsticks, while some others replace the wheels with buttons. These are all poor replacements. Your first priority should be to get traditional pitch/mod wheels.

 

Other features

Besides the above, there are a few other things to consider when you select the best cheap MIDI keyboard:

  • Portability: Most cheap keyboards tend to be portable, but some emphasize portability exclusively (such as the Akai LPK25). These portability focused keyboards tend to have a small footprint and low weight. The Akai LPK25, for instance, weighs just 640 grams. If you plan to take your keyboard with you as you travel or if you plan to bring it to gigs and jamming sessions, focus on portability. But if you plan to produce only at your desk, go ahead and ignore portability completely.
  • Integrations: Your keyboard should integrate seamlessly with your DAW. Consider this a minimum requirement. Otherwise you'll end up spending way too much time downloading configuration files and searching for drivers. Luckily, if you use one of the more popular modern DAWs - Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic Pro - integrations shouldn't be a problem. Do keep in mind that some keyboards are designed to integrated with specific DAWs (such as Akai APC 25 with Ableton Live). In such cases, I would recommend choosing a controller that works specifically with your DAW.
  • Ports: Most modern MIDI controllers use USB for plug-and-play connectivity, so this isn't really a concern any more. Ideally, your controller should also offer MIDI input in case you want to connect it to other devices or your audio interface. A few controllers, such as the Arturia KeyStep, also offer CV/gate ports to connect to analog equipment. Unless you have a specific requirement, you can safely ignore all these other ports.

 

That's it for now - this should give you a fair idea of what to look for in a good MIDI keyboard. We're working on a detailed buying guide for MIDI keyboards that will expand on all these options. Check this space soon to learn more.

Final Words

With that, we come to a close in this extended guide to buying the best cheap MIDI keyboard. We’ve covered everything from the factors that should impact your purchase decision to a comprehensive list of the best affordable keyboards on the maret.

Just to recap, here is our list of the best cheap MIDI keyboards, sorted by category:

Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!

Experts referenced for this article:

The following writers, DJs, producers, and audio engineers contributed their suggestions for this post:

Ryan Harrell
Producer, Founder – MIDINation

Henry Huff
Audio engineer

Jorge Madera
Rapper and Producer

Jack Dressler
Producer, Owner – Thumbtack Studios