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As a budget user, you have to walk a fine line between performance and price when it comes to buying MIDI keyboards. What's the best MIDI keyboard for budget users? This guide will share some answers.
There's never been a better time to be a bedroom producer. From equipment and samples to VSTs and DAWs, making music is cheaper and faster than ever. There is a wealth of tutorials on virtually every topic you can imagine, and it's never been easier to get your music heard.
It is also a good time to be in the market for a budget MIDI keyboard. Prices have come down even as quality and capabilities have improved. The average budget MIDI keyboard in 2019 can run circles around budget keyboards a decade back.
But all this equipment also means that buying the best budget MIDI keyboard has become harder than ever. You have way too many options and far too many brands to choose from.
Which is why we put together this handy guide to the best MIDI keyboard for budget users. Read on to see our most recommended budget-friendly MIDI keyboard you can buy right now, regardless of your needs or chosen DAW.
About your reviewerRyan Harrell is the founder of MIDINation and an experienced producer/DJ. His first experience with electronic music production dates back to Cubase 3.0 in the summer of 1997, and he's been a fan ever since. He prefers Ableton as his primary DAW these days, though he is still partial to Cubase and Pro Tools. He lives in San Diego and freelances as a producer and part-time DJ.
Akai Pro Mini MK2
We've consistently ranked the Akai Pro Mini MK2 as one our pick of budget keyboards. It blends a decent keyboard with plenty of control options without compromising on cross-DAW compatibility and ease of use. The build quality is above par and while there are a few durability concerns, the price more than makes up for it. Get it in red or white and it even looks like its worth a million bucks.
Truly the best MIDI keyboard for budget users. You can read our full review of this keyboard here.
The Akai Pro Mini MK2 is without a doubt the best MIDI keyboard for budget buyers. It has so many advanced features and actually, it is a keyboard-drum combination. This is a small MIDI controller, something that will fit into your laptop bag without any problem. The build and the design of this MIDI controller keyboard makes it stand out since everything is so well put together.
It not only has great features for a music lover, but every feature performs as it is supposed to. The drum pad is incredible, it gives you access to different drumbeats. The performance is further enhanced by the red joystick that controls the pitch. You do not need the pitch wheel!
The arpeggiator feature comes with six buttons that control different functions, thus giving you a fully-fledged musical experience such as you cannot get anywhere else. The keys are a bit springy and squeezed together, so you may feel a bit of a cramp when playing for long. But that is what you get when the keyboard is this small for portability.
What I like:
- 25 keys that are velocity sensitive
- Has MPC Essentials software for incredible sampling and workflow
- 8 drum pads that are velocity sensitive
- 8 knobs that you can assign different functions
- Comes with a software suite comprising of Hybrid 3, SONiVOX Wobble and MPC Essentials
- Powered via USB – no power adapters or cables
- 4-dimensional joystick takes the place of the MOD wheel and pitch
- A jack for the sustain pedal
What I don't:
The keys are squeezed too close together and they are small. They can be a bit a troublesome for people with fat fingers to play for long on this keyboard.
Recommended for: This is a good entry level MIDI keyboard to serve the needs of beginners as well as advanced users. You can use it in the studio or at home, but it would not be recommended for live performances.
- Pad is of high quality
- 4 dimensional joystick works like a marvel
- High quality, sturdy and compact build
- Portability is not an issue – it is so small and light in weight
- Knobs are small, actually everything is small
- Plastic build all around
Alternative to Akai Mini MK2: Novation Launchkey Mini 25
If for some reason, you don't like the Akai Pro Mini MK2, then the Novation Launchkey Mini 25 would be the perfect alternative.
Bonus: it is priced lower than the Akai.
The Novation Launchkey is a 25-key MIDI keyboard that allows you to explore your talent in music creation without requiring too many items on the desk. It has sixteen drum pads and it is truly plug and play since you do not require a power source for it. Just plug it into your computer and turn it on and you will be ready to make music.
This is one of the smallest and the most lightweight MIDI keyboards in the market. When you are feeling too lazy to go to the studio, just plug it into your computer and start producing your music. It works as advertised, and for a beginner, everything is so well laid out thus making the learning curve much shorter.
The 16 drum pads are velocity and pressure sensitive. You will be able to tweak different instruments using the 8 durable knobs. When you are done with making music, just wrap it up and toss it in your backpack. It is the size of a laptop so it should be easy to travel with.
What I like:
- 25 keys
- 16 backlit drum pads that are also pressure sensitive
- Programmable knobs that you can assign any mixing element to enhance your music experience
- Plug and play for Mac and Windows operating systems
- Comes with Ableton Lite, Novation Bass Station and XLN Audio Addictive Keys
- Has many sample loops that you can play and create your beats
What I don't:
The keys are plastic but the issue is that they feel too stiff. If you are used to the piano, you will find these keys too stiff and sticky.
Recommended for: We would recommend the Novation Launchkey for any beginner who would like to practice how to produce music even when they are on the move. Advanced users prefer a 32-key MIDI keyboard, but even 25-key ones are not too simplistic.
- Easy to pack and take with you
- Durable knobs for controlling different mix aspects
- Plug and play – no special drivers needed
- No need for power cable – just plug into your laptop
- Pad quality is not up to scratch
- Keys do not feel realistic
Best Entry-Level: M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
The best MIDI keyboard for budget buyers does not come any better than the M-Audio Keystation Mini 32. First, it has 32 keys, which you will find more useful than the 25 keys of the other MIDI keyboards that we have reviewed in this article. Everything in this keyboard works as it should and to make it even better, the keyboard is small, compact and light in weight.You do not even require a power source for this keyboard, which makes it one of the most flexible music monsters for people that love to make music when they are traveling.
While this is a speaker-less sound controller, it is very flexible and it has many performance enhancing features. First, there is the volume control knob for just that – controlling volume data that is sent to the sequencer.
The keys are velocity-sensitive, which means that the harder you press a key, the louder the note and vice versa. When entering your notation, the keyboard has the Sibelius First, which is a beginner package made by Avid. You can perform live with this MIDI keyboard or you can record music by entering notes one by one.
What I like:
- 32 keys that are velocity-sensitive
- No need to install drivers or find power – plug into your laptop and use it
- Has Octave Up and Down button for enhancing your melodic range
- Has a sustain button and a volume knob
- Professional software bundle comprising of First M-Audio, Xpand!2 workstation and Pro Tools
- MIDI controller USB cable
- Mappable buttons that you can assign different functions
What we don’t like
While we say that this is a plug and play MIDI controller keyboard you still have to plug it into a powered USB hub. It will not work when you plug it into your laptop’s USB port.
Recommended for: Any entry level MIDI controller user can use the M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 fairly well. It does have a learning curve but it is short. Professionals can also use the versatility that this MIDI controller brings.
- Light, small, good for traveling with
- Same price as the 25-key MIDI keyboards
- Sold with good entry level software
- Does not work directly when plugged in as advertised
- The keys feel too spongy thus they are not very responsive
Best for Portability: Akai LPK25
If you are looking for the best MIDI keyboard for budget buyers that you can travel with or to extend your studio work at home in the evening, the Akai LPK25 is great for both. It is cable-free, since it does not need to be powered. It is small and nimble, packs in your small backpack easily when traveling.
When it comes to performance, the Arpeggiator button is the real deal and it was very thoughtful of Akai to include it here. Just press and hold the Arp toggle button and then you can change different Arp settings. You get a very effective sustain button, which means that you do not have to carry a sustain pedal with you. For hobbyist or semi-pro musicians, this MIDI keyboard works perfectly.
The keys are mid-sized, that is, they are not as big as the regular piano keys nor are they too small such that you do not get the feeling of playing a real piano. Even if you have fat fingers, you should be able to punch this thing without pressing any key accidentally.
What I like:
- 25 velocity-sensitive keys
- Uses a USB connection to plug in to any Windows or Mac laptop
- Arpeggiator button lets you access different settings such as Arp mode, Arp time division and Arp Octave
- Has a Sustain button instead of a pedal
- Light in weight, laptop size MIDI keyboard
- Has 4 other buttons apart from the Arpeggiator and Sustain button. They are for tempo tap, calling the preset functions and shifting octaves
What we don’t like
We don’t like the lack of a modulation wheel or pitch bend. There is no feature included that you could use in place of these two so it can be a bit hard to work with plug-ins or software that require a modulation wheel.
Recommended for: The Akai LPK25 is good for beginners as well as pro users who like to take their music work with them wherever they go. As a plug and play MIDI device, it is light in weight since there are no cables or power adapters to add to the weight. It is good for travelers too.
- Light in weight – good for traveling
- Sturdy and well built to last a long time
- The sustain and Arpeggiator buttons are a nice touch
- Lack of a modulation wheel is a big blow
- Keys have a tendency to become hard/tacky with use
Alternative to Akai LPK25: Acorn Masterkey 25
If you're on a budget and want an alternative to the Akai LPK25, then this is the best budget keyboard for you.
The Acorn Masterkey 25 is the best MIDI keyboard for budget buyers. It allows you to enjoy practicing your music skills even when you are on the go. It is small enough to fit in your suitcase. Apart from being handy for traveling, when you are using it in your home studio, you will find it effective as well. It has a jack for the sustain pedal too.
This is a plug-and-play kind of MIDI keyboard. It requires no driver installation; just make sure that you have the right operating system. To use it, just plug it in to your computer and then switch it on. The 25 keys are also set in such a way that they are slightly touch-sensitive such that when you press them hard, they produce a louder piano sound and vice versa. Some users say that they use the keyboard with a different software version apart from the one it comes with (Studio One) and that the performance is just as good.
What I like:
- Has 25 keys
- Light in weight and portable to make music while on the move
- Persona Studio One Artist software
- Does not require you to install any drivers – just plug it in and use
- The modulation and pitch bend wheels are of professional quality
- Has fade and knobs that you can use for controlling various aspects of music as you play
What I don't:
The keys feel too light because they are not weighted. The entire plastic build also looks as if it cannot take abuse and may crack if it drops.
Recommended for: Iwould recommend the Acorn Masterkey 25 for any music enthusiast that is looking for a lowly priced MIDI keyboard that they can practice on and then perhaps later upgrade to a bigger one.
- Plug and play MIDI keyboard – no drivers needed
- Sold at an affordable price
- Effortless connection with laptop through the USB
- The keys feel a bit short especially if you have played the piano before
- Mediocre key quality; spongy action
Best Pad Controller: Akai APC Key 25
This MIDI keyboard comes preset for Windows and Mac laptops, such that you just have to plug it in and play. It does not require to be powered, so there is no need for power adapter or batteries. It is also lightweight. With the 8 knobs, you can assign different functions such as volume control, effects and much more for a great music making experience. The front panel of this MIDI keyboard has an appealing array of clip launch with 40 pads in 5 rows of 8 pads. These are for loops and samples and they are very helpful in virtual synthesizer uses.
The performance of this MIDI keyboard is quite impressive. To dive right into it, first, there is the Octave Up and Down button. This enables you to explore the melodic range of this keyboard, at the press of a button so to speak. This keyboard integrates so seamlessly with Ableton Live software, which gives you the power to perform live so easily. Remember also that it comes with the VIP 3.0 software, which gives you total access and control over all the virtual instruments that you need to make your jam incredible.
What I like:
- Comes with Ableton Live Lite software free of charge
- Hybrid 3.0 virtual synthesizer and Sonovix Twist
- Has 25 mini keys that are velocity sensitive
- Octave Up and Down Button helps to enhance the range of melody
- Has a multi-colored clip launch grid on the front panel
- There are 8 knobs that you can customize by assigning them various functions
What we don’t like
There are no mod or pitch wheels mostly because of the small size of this MIDI keyboard. However, we feel that the lack of a mod wheel locks you out of using software that requires a mod wheel.
Recommended for: The Akai APC Key 25 is a good investment for professional and hobbyist music enthusiasts that like to take their work home with them. We would also recommend it for musicians who travel a lot.
- Small enough to fit in a laptop backpack
- The Ableton Live integration really helps a lot
- Enough buttons and knobs to give you full control
- The keys feel a bit light and they are not pressure sensitive
- Pads don't have the responsiveness expected from Akai APC gear
Over to You
It's a great time to be a music producer on a budget. Choose from any of these MIDI keyboards listed above to find the perfect controller for your home studio.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Have a higher budget? Here's our list of the best general purpose MIDI keyboards right now
- Need more keys? Here's our list of the best MIDI keyboards by key count: 49, 61, 88
- Want more than just a MIDI keyboard? 10 Best Digital Pianos on the Market Today (October 2019)Here's our list of the best digital pianos
- November 3, 2019: Article published with 6 reviewed MIDI keyboards.
- September 17, 2020: Minor updates to the article structure