The best controllers to buy in 2020: Best MIDI keyboard controllers under $200

Forget musical typing and hit the right notes – without spending all your banknotes.

Sure, all you need to make music now is a laptop and a DAW, but there may come a time when keys ‘A’ through to ‘;’ on your laptop keyboard feel like a barrier to your burgeoning creativity. Fortunately, you can get some affordable MIDI keyboard controllers that will give you more than just some extra notes. Although all of the controllers on this list have a keyboard at their heart, many also offer assignable pads, knobs and sliders in abundance with an appealing price tag.

Covering all your needs from portable keyboards for mobile production to a MIDI powerhouse for a compact studio, here are our favourite MIDI keyboards for under $200.

The best MIDI keyboard controller under $200 at a glance

  • Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3
  • Arturia KeyStep 37
  • CME XKey 25
  • Novation Launchkey MK3
  • Nektar Impact GX49 and 61
  • Akai Professional MPK Mini MK3
  • M-Audio Keystation 49/61 MK3
  • Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32
  • Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49
  • IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini
  • Keith McMillen QuNexus
  • Alesis V61

Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 

Novation Launckey

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The third iteration of Novation’s Launchkey Mini series is primed for Ableton Live, but can easily be mapped to other DAWs. It’s built with 16 RGB velocity-sensitive pads, eight assignable knobs and 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys. Combine this with the transport controls and modulation and pitch Touch Strips, and you’ll realise that getting hands-on with your DAW and plug-ins is pretty swift with Launchkey Mini.

The Arp and Fixed Chords mode are a blessing, too, letting you get a bit more experimental than you would expect to get with 25 keys. These modes let you trigger multiple notes simultaneously, either as a user-defined chord structure or as an arpeggio that can be held infinitely. By holding Shift and adjusting controls on the Launchkey Mini, you’ll notice that you have control over these modes with arpeggio timings, swing and key. The Shift key will also let you dictate what the RGB pads represent, which is particularly useful in Ableton Live’s Clip View. Launchkey Mini Mk3 is great for anyone with limited studio space or looking for a budget option for playing small parts in a live performance.

Price: $109.99/£100
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), 3.5mm TRS MIDI out, Sustain pedal input.

Read our review here

Arturia KeyStep 37 

Arturia KeyStep 37

The newest addition to Arturia’s renowned KeyStep range is the aptly named KeyStep 37. Built with three octaves of velocity-sensitive slim keys, the compact controller also has an impressive number of MIDI controls, outputs for hardware synths, and a built-in screen making it a nerve-centre for the studio or live performance. Four MIDI mappable rotary knobs live on the top panel for quick access to your DAW parameter, with a set of transport controls next them to control your entire workstation.

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KeyStep 37 lets you get creative with a 64-step polyphonic sequencer, plus eight different modes for an onboard arpeggiator. The unassuming controller also packs in 12 different chord modes with a Strum feature for a more intriguing way of triggering chords. Scale mode will also keep you in key, quantising the whole keyboard with five different scale modes to choose from.

Price: $169.00/£149
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), 5-pin MIDI In/Out, Sync In/Out, CV Outs (Mod, Gate and Pitch), Sustain pedal input, 12V DC power.

Find out more here

CME XKey 25 

CME XKey 25

This 388 x 135 x 16 mm MIDI keyboard is ideal for throwing in your backpack to lay down some ideas on a commute or in a park. CME’s XKey 25 isn’t packed with knobs, pads and gizmos but its sleek, lightweight and robust aluminium design looks like it’s come straight out of Apple HQ.

The playing feel is quite unlike anything else on this list, with about as much travel in each key as  Apple’s first-gen aluminium typing keyboards. This unconventional build permits fast playing, though, and it’s full-size velocity-sensitive keys feature polyphonic aftertouch for expressive modulation – ideal for dreamy, evolving pads. Plus, there are pressure-sensitive pads for pitch bend and modulation, joined by octave up/down and a Sustain button.

XKey is USB MIDI compliant, so connects easily to a variety of music-making platforms for desktop and mobile apps with a single USB cable. For about twice the price, you can go wireless, too.

Price: $99.99/£109
Connectivity: Micro USB

Find out more here.

Novation Launchkey MK3 

Novation Launchkey Mk3

Novation’s Launchkey series ranges from $160 to $260, so we’ll focus on the sub-$200 Launchkey 37 Mk3, being the middleweight priced at $180. Certainly an upgrade on the Launchkey Mini (above), Launchkey 37 Mk3 is a more ergonomic controller with full-size keys, RGB pads and real mod and pitch wheels. It’s also built with more tactile controls for navigating your DAW and instruments, as well as the addition of a small screen giving you real-time parameter information. The Arpeggiator and Chord Modes from the Launchkey Mini are found on the Launchkey 37, too, and it comes bundled with Ableton Live 10 Lite and more to get you up and running immediately.

In our review, we said: “If you’re in the market for a well-built, feature-packed keyboard controller, we compel you to consider the new Launchkey. Its keys are incredible, and the whole unit feels premium. If you’re compositionally jaded or have fallen out of love with your setup, launch the Launchkey’s Chord and Arpeggiator modes, and you’ll soon be in full flight once more. The seamless Ableton Live integration is a standout feature too, while the other features work flawlessly in all the other DAWs as well. Providing far more than just a standard controller keyboard, the Launchkey MK3 is another win for Novation.”

Price $180
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), 5-pin MIDI, Sustain input

Read our review here.

Nektar Impact GX49/61

Nektar Impact GX49 2

With a price tag of just $100, Nektar’s Impact GX49 is perfect for artists and producers looking for greater musical freedom on a tight budget. 49 full-size velocity-sensitive keys are the main focus with the GX49, with just eight buttons for DAW control, which can send primary and secondary messages for a total of 14 controllable parameters.

Nektar’s Impact GX49 excels at tight DAW integration for Bitwig, Cubase, Nuendo, Digital Performer, Reason, Reaper, Logic Pro X, GarageBand Studio One and Cakewalk by BandLab. This is as easy as installing the correct DAW template upon connecting the keyboard to your computer and letting the GX49 do the rest. Those transport controls will map automatically to your DAW and you’ll be free from the shackles of a mouse and keyboard. The GX49 is an incredibly affordable studio keyboard, especially considering its specs.

Price: $99.99/£79 for 49-key. $119.99/£89 for 61-key
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), Sustain/Footswitch input

Find out more here.

Akai Professional MPK Mini MK3

Akai Mpk Mini Mk3
Image: Akai

As the brand’s best selling MIDI keyboard, Akai’s MPK Mini has every right to be on this list – especially with the recent unveiling of its MPK Mini Mk3. The Mk3 features 25 mini keys, eight classic MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads for triggering and finger-drumming and eight endless rotary encoders to control parameters on your instruments and effects. A quirky joystick in the top left lets you play with modulation and pitch, with a toggle for the arpeggiator just beneath.

The MPK Mini Mk3 gives you a visual aid with a small OLED display, which will provide you with real-time parameter values as you manipulate them. As with all of these keyboard controllers, you can manually map the MPK Mini to any DAW of your choice, but it’s worth checking out the bundled software that comes with this product. Namely, the new MPC Beats software is immediately available out of the box, along with AIR’s Hybrid soft synth, Mini Grand, Velvet and a variety of MPC expansion packs.

Price:  $119/£90
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), Sustain input

Find out more at here.

M-Audio Keystation 49/61 MK3

 

M-Audio Keystation 49

M-Audio’s Keystation MIDI keyboards are some of the best-selling in the world, and for good reason. With a no-frills approach to control and performance, the Keystation 49 Mk3 prides itself on simplicity and utility, with 49 full-size velocity-sensitive keys with natural-feeling action. A volume fader, ergonomically designed pitch and mod wheel and a selection of transport controls are featured on the left of the keys – these can, of course, be remapped to your preference. The controller as a whole is durable and lightweight, with connectivity for a sustain pedal, making it a great option for live performances.

The comprehensive software bundle that comes with Keystation 49 makes it an ideal keyboard for beginners. Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition and Ableton Live Lite are included with Keystation 49, giving newcomers a taste for a fully-functional DAW. Three AIR virtual instruments are also included: Mini Grand, featuring seven acoustic piano sounds; Velvet, a virtual electronic piano with five sounds from the 60s and 70s; and Xpand!2, a multitimbral synthesis plug-in that functions as an all-in-one workstation.

Price: $119/£79 for 49-key, $199/£109 for 61-key
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), Sustain input

Read more here

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 

Komplete Kontrol M32

Berlin-based Native Instruments is one of the most recognised music technology brands in the world. Its immense catalogue of powerful software instruments and armoury of intuitive hardware work in tandem and the affordable Komplete Kontrol M32 MIDI keyboard is no different. For such a modest price, this controller packs a real punch, with 2,000 sounds included and a bundle of 17 NKS instruments and effects, including Monark, Carbon, Reaktor Prism synths, and more.

With 32 small keys, Kontrol M32 is portable, lightweight and versatile, making it highly usable in a variety of environments. You’ll get eight touch-sensitive control knobs and an array of buttons that are pre-mapped to Komplete instruments and also neatly integrate into your DAW. As we said in our review: “If ever we could easily write an answer to the question ’Do you need this?’, it is now. Simple: ask yourself whether you are starting out in music production and if you have a minimal studio. If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then get this keyboard”. Just be mindful of the processing power of your computer before going too crazy with NI plug-ins.

Price $139.99/£89
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), Sustain input

Read our review here

NI Komplete Kontrol A49 

NI Komplete Kontrol A49

If the Komplete Kontrol M32 isn’t quite big enough for you, it might be worth saving a few more bucks and setting sights on the Kontrol A49. As with the M32, you’ll get a software library with Monark, The Gentlemen, Reaktor Prism and more from Maschine Essentials. The A-series Kontrol keyboards have a few more encoders and controls to command your DAW and virtual instruments. The integration with your DAW is pretty good, but if you’re performing with the Native Instruments NKS plug-ins, the A49 gives you a real hands-on experience.

In our review, we said: “You get a controller keyboard that locks into the ever-increasing NKS world of instruments and effects and delivers total control over its best bits. It will even make an attempt at controlling your DAW, but that’s not really what Komplete Kontrol is about; it’s about total hardware and software plug-in integration, breaking down any barriers between the two.”

Price £149/$219
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), TRS pedal input, assignable to sustain

Read our review here.

IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini

IK Multimedia iRig Keys 2 Mini

IK Multimedia’s iRig series is renowned for its effortless integration with iOS and Android devices, and iRig Keys 2 mini upholds this reputation. The extremely portable 25 velocity-sensitive mini key MIDI controller connects directly to mobile devices and gives you a 3.5mm stereo output for realtime monitoring on speakers or headphones. MIDI In/Out (3.5mm) is also included for using it as a keyboard for other MIDI-enabled gear. Above the keybed is a set of programmable function buttons, plus five assignable knobs, one of which is an endless encoder for handling precise data values. The four other knobs can control up to eight parameters with a ‘5-8’ button, giving them a secondary function.

Bundled with the iRig Keys 2 Mini controller is a selection of music-making apps, as well as all the necessary cables. You’ll get SampleTank 4 SE, SampleTank FREE for iPhone and iPad, iGrand Piano FREE for iPhone, iPad and Android and iLectric Piano FREE for Android. The iRig Keys 2 Mini is a superb option if you’re often on-the-go or have a minimal music production setup. For a little extra cash, you can also get the iRig Keys 2, which has an expanded keyboard, pitch and mod wheel, and enhanced connectivity for Mac and PC.

Price $99/£79
Connectivity: Micro USB (MIDI and power), 3.5mm MIDI In/Out, Headphone out, Sustain input

Find out more here

Keith McMillen QuNexus 

Keith McMillen QuNexus

Arguably the quirkiest controller of the bunch is Keith McMillen Instruments’s QuNexus, which is no surprise given the company’s other products like the QuNeo and K-Mix. The QuNexus is certainly unique in its style – you’ll be playing with pads here rather than realistic piano keys, but they’re still pressure- and tilt-sensitive with polyphonic aftertouch. Plus, they’re backlit, making it a  particularly useful controller in a poorly lit environment. Pitch bend is achieved with a pressure-sensitive pad, and there are four function buttons above the Octave Up/Down buttons. Holding the shift button will also give the keypads a secondary function, so you can map these to toggle whichever parameters you like in your DAW.

Where the QuNexus shines, though, is in its durability and ability to connect to everything. It’s designed to survive spills and has no protruding knobs that could shear off in a packed rucksack. It’s bus-powered and can hook up to your computer with a straightforward plug-and-play approach. Alternatively, if you’re looking to control hardware synths and effects, the QuNexus might be the solution. It sports three 3.5mm TRS connections for Gate and CV and can be connected with a 5-pin MIDI DIN with the KMI Expander, though this is sold separately.

Price $192/£180
Connectivity: Micro USB (MIDI and power), CV/Gate In/Out, Pedal input/CV1-2 in (3.5mm)

Find out more here

Alesis V61 

Alesis V61

If you can still get your hands on one, the Alesis V61 is certainly one to consider if you’re coming from a composition background or just hate octave shift buttons. At only £199, the main sell is the 61 velocity-sensitive full-size keys with pitch and mod wheels. You also get eight velocity-sensitive pads backlit by blue LED. These are great for triggering samples during a performance or toggling parameters on and off. There are four additional pots and four buttons for you to custom map, making this primed for studio and stage use. Granted, the pitch and mod wheels are a little on the small side, but if you can get past that then the V61 could be a no-brainer.

To get you started off right, Alesis’ V61 comes with Ableton Live Lite and AIR Music Technology’s Xpand!2 synth, which has already made an appearance on this list with Akai’s MPK Mini MK3. It’s also nice and slim so won’t be taking up too much desk space in your studio. Simply put, if you don’t need tons of buttons and widgets and find yourself prioritising musical performances, the V61 is seriously worth considering.

Price $199/£125
Connectivity: USB (MIDI and power), Sustain input

Find out more here

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