The 8 best budget MIDI controller keyboards
23rd Oct 2012 | 09:26
Why overpay to play?
While some choose to get by without one, for most people, a MIDI controller keyboard is an essential part of a computer music making setup.
Fortunately, buying one no longer needs to represent a substantial financial investment. In this round-up, we’ve picked out eight models that are available for under £100/$150 if you shop around. Indeed, some of them can be yours for considerably less than this.
At this price, you’re not going to get hammer-action keys or a multitude of control options, but if you just want a keyboard that you can play and use to make the odd plug-in or DAW tweak, look no further.
Click on to find (in no particular order) everything from super-compact ‘boards to five-octave models that enable proper playing: there’s a budget MIDI controller keyboard out there for everyone.
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32
There are several 25-note mini-keyed controllers on the market, but the Keystation Mini 32’s extra seven notes make it that bit more playable.
You get a few assignable controls, too - a chunky knob and some buttons - and the whole thing is nicely styled.
The microKey began life as a 37-note product with mini keys, but is now a range that incorporates 25- and 61-note models as well (though the latter is slightly out of our ‘budget’ price range).
The fact that the keys are small means that this is never going to be player’s dream, but they’ve got a good ‘Natural Touch’ action and the two larger versions benefit from having proper pitch and mod wheels.
Acorn Instruments MasterKey
The MasterKeys - there are 25-, 49- and 61-note versions - look about as conventional as they possibly could do. They feature lightweight but playable keys, pitch/mod wheels, four securely-fitted knobs, a volume slider and a 3-digit LED display. Assignments and other adjustments are made via the Edit button and presses of the keys.
Affordable and functional, these keyboards are well worth a look.
James Bond’s Q is known for his super-hi-tech gadgetry, but Alesis’s range of the same name dispenses with flashiness to provide a solid, back-to-basics experience.
The focus here is very much on playing as opposed to tweaking, though the pitch and mod wheels are assignable. The key action is reassuringly smooth, and users of external MIDI gear will be cheered by the inclusion of a 5-pin MIDI Output.
Behringer U-Control UMA25S
| American MusicalBehringer is renowned for producing products that give you a lot for your money, and you can’t argue with the value offered by the UMA25S.
This striking 25-note device not only sports 21 assignable controllers, but it’s also an audio interface. It even comes with a gig bag, strap and headset mic, so you can strap the thing on and bust some moves while you’re using it on stage (though this is entirely optional).
Line 6 Mobile Keys 25
Like IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys, the Mobile Keys 25 can hook straight up to your iOS device without the need for any interface - very handy. What’s more, the keys are full-size, which will please those with chubby fingers.
Of course, the Mobile Keys can be used with your Mac or PC as well (there are USB and Mobile outputs) and there’s also a 49-note version. This, however, is just a little too pricey to be considered a ‘budget’ device.
IK Multimedia iRig Keys
Kicking off with a guitar recording interface, IK’s iRig range now includes just about every kind of iOS music making peripheral you can imagine. This is the controller keyboard.
Connecting directly to your iOS device, the 37 keys give you a reasonable amount of space to flex your creative muscles, though they are mini ones. It’ll work with your computer as well, and has a nice retro look going on.
BUY IK Multimedia iRig Keys currently available from:
USA: American Musical
Akai MPK Mini
If you want a super-compact keyboard, check out Akai’s LPK25, but spend a little more and you can get your hands on its slightly bigger brother. This adds assignable knobs and pads into the mix, leaving you with one of the smallest ‘all in one’ controllers on the market.
On the downside, pitch and mod wheels are conspicuous by their absence, but if you can live without these the MPK Mini is a bargain.
Liked this? Now read: How do you choose a MIDI controller?
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