In an older post about the basics of setting up a home studio, we saw that a MIDI (if you’re not sure what that is, you’ll need to look it up first!) keyboard is pretty much essential if you're planning on creating or recording music at home. Whether you're a producer, beat-maker or even just interested in making music without setting up a home studio, it's one of the most valuable tools you can possess in your musical arsenal. In this post, we're going to take a look at some of the best (and most affordable) MIDI keyboards, so that you can invest in a reliable, modern and responsive device that is also relatively light on your pockets.
What Is A MIDI Keyboard?
Rather than being an instrument by itself, the MIDI keyboard acts as a sort of remote control (or ‘control surface’) through which you're able to access and control, in real-time, virtual instruments, samples, soundscapes, and many other things within your DAW. Depending on the price range, they come equipped with things like pads, faders and knobs that allow you to control a variety of options like pitch, arpeggiators and volume straight from the keyboard. The reason MIDI keyboards are so useful is that they not only make playing and recording virtual instruments easier, but also because they provide a one-stop shop for many of your musical needs. Recording parts for a song? Check. Playing around with live looping? Check. DAW control straight from the keyboard? Check. You get the point—there’s a lot of simplification and convenience that these keyboards provide.
5 Budget-Friendly MIDI Keyboards
1. Akai MPK Mini MK3: The stand-out feature of this keyboard is the quality of the drum pads that come included. The Akai MPK is a great choice for anyone who might be looking to specialize in beat-making, or relies on drum pads for important aspects of their music. The MPK comes with Akai's own DAW, MPC Beats, as well as some other expansion packs that overall integrate well with the MK3 and provide a good base to start out from.
2. Arturia Minilab MK2: Apart from great build quality and the slightly larger sized keys than other mini keyboards, the cherry on top for the Minilab is the Analog Lab software that comes with it, not to mention that Ableton Live Lite is included too. This is easily one of the best options in this keyboard and checks all the boxes for a good first MIDI keyboard. The only drawback is that the drum pads are not as good as other keyboards.
3. Nektar Impact LX25+: This is the only keyboard on the list that comes with full-sized keys; so if you're already a keyboard or piano player, the LX25+ might feel best for your hands. As for software, it comes with a Bitwig 8-Track DAW, which comes with preloaded sounds and instruments as well. However, the LX25+ does not integrate very well with Ableton, so keep that in mind.
4. Native Instruments M32: Although this keyboard is slightly more expensive than the others, it is the only one on this list that comes with 32 keys instead of 25. One of the biggest advantages of this keyboard is the software that comes with it: Ableton Live Lite, as well as more than 6000 sounds from Native Instruments that will spice up your sound library. However, a slight drawback is that it doesn't come with drum pads at all, which could be a dealbreaker if you need pads to make beats.
5. Alesis V-Mini: This extreme budget option is also unmatched in terms of portability. With typical features such as pitch bend, modulation and sustain, the V-Mini also comes with 4 drum pads as well as a version of Pro Tools Lite and Xpand!2 virtual instrument software. However, since it is priced so low, the features and software are obviously lacking when compared to the other options on this list.
Investing in a quality MIDI keyboard can have a favourable impact on your ability to make music. Even if you aren't technically proficient at the piano/keyboard, these affordable options can still go a long way in improving your usage of virtual instruments (seriously – do you want to keep using ‘musical typing’ on your computer keyboard??) when working on your tracks. They can often also be helpful for your creativity, since messing around with all the settings that a MIDI keyboard comes with can sometimes lead to new sounds that you might not have discovered otherwise.
Our recommendation for a well-rounded keyboard from the above list would be the Arturia Minilab MK2. The software that comes included (Ableton Live Lite and Analog Lab), build quality and features make it an overall great option for anyone looking for a first MIDI keyboard.