Best Midi Controllers Under $500 (Ultimate Guide)

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Looking for the best midi controllers under $500? Read our ultimate guide to find out the top picks, features, pros and cons, and tips to make the right choice.

 

1. Alesis V161 MIDI Keyboard

VERSATILE AND AFFORDABLE

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2. Novation Launchkey 49

COMPACT AND INTUITIVE

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3. NI Komplete Kontrol S49

PREMIUM AND POWERFUL

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4. Arturia KeyStep 32       

PORTABLE AND CREATIVE

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5. Nektar Panorama T6

FLEXIBLE AND EXPRESSIVE

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6. Arturia KeyLab Essential 61

SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE

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1. Alesis V161 MIDI Keyboard

VERSATILE AND AFFORDABLE

16 velocity-sensitive drum pads.Full-size, responsive, adjustable keys.
Software bundle includes various programs.Compact and durable design.
Picture by Alesis
Picture by Alesis

PROS

  • If you’re on the hunt for a budget-friendly MIDI keyboard, the Alesis V161 deserves your attention. This controller boasting 61 keys comes with a range of standout features that differentiate it from the pack. Below are four key advantages of this keyboard:

    1. It flaunts 16 drum pads that react to velocity, enabling you to trigger sounds, loops, and samples. These pads can also be manipulated to regulate elements such as volume, pan, and effects. The backlit and color-coded design ensures effortless visualization during play.
    2. The keyboard consists of a full-sized layout with semi-weighted keys that feel natural and responsive. Sensitivity settings can be tailored to match your playing style and preference. Additionally, the keyboard comes equipped with pitch bend and modulation wheels, octave buttons, and a sustain pedal input.
    3. The product comes bundled with an impressive software package incorporating Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First, AIR Music Technology plugins, and more. These programs empower you to create, record, and produce music alongside your keyboard. The Alesis VIP software further grants access to thousands of sounds and instruments.
    4. Designed in a sleek and compact manner, the Alesis V161 easily fits into any studio or stage setup. The construction entails a durable and sturdy metal chassis. Moreover, a USB port provides power and functionality, eliminating the need for drivers or external power supply.

    These highlights represent merely a glimpse of what the Alesis V161 MIDI keyboard has to offer. For in-depth information, visit the Alesis website or explore online reviews. You may discover that this keyboard perfectly aligns with your musical aspirations.

CONS

  • The Alesis V161 MIDI Keyboard is a popular choice for musicians and producers seeking software control. However, it has a few drawbacks to consider before purchasing.
  • 1. the keys lack weight, making them feel less like a real piano or keyboard. This may dissatisfy users who prefer a heavier feel for expressive and dynamic playing.
  • 2. the placement of the pitch bend and modulation wheels above the keys is inconvenient. Most MIDI keyboards position these wheels on the left side, allowing for easier access. With the Alesis V161, these wheels may hinder playing or require awkward hand stretching.

2. Novation Launchkey 49

COMPACT AND INTUITIVE

49 velocity-sensitive, synth-action keys.Software bundle includes multiple programs.
16 RGB pads for triggering.8 rotary knobs for MIDI control.
Picture by Novation

PROS

    • If you’re seeking a versatile, affordable, and user-friendly MIDI keyboard controller, the Novation Launchkey 49 is worth considering. This device offers four significant advantages:

      1. It features 49 full-size keys that are velocity-sensitive and synth-action. This ensures a responsive and expressive playing experience, allowing you to effortlessly create melodies, chords, and bass lines.

      2. It comes with a software bundle including Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station, V-Station, and XLN Addictive Keys. With these programs, you can explore various genres and styles, and easily create, record, and produce music.

      3. It boasts 16 RGB pads that can trigger clips, drums, and samples in Ableton Live or any other Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). You can also utilize them to control parameters like volume, pan, and effects. The bright and colorful pads enhance visibility and add an element of fun to your playing experience.

      4. It incorporates eight rotary knobs that can be mapped to any MIDI function in your software. These knobs enable sound tweaking, level adjustment, track mixing, and more. With their smooth and sturdy operation, you’ll experience a satisfying tactile response.

      These are just a few of the advantages of the Novation Launchkey 49. To learn more about this MIDI keyboard controller, visit the official website or read reviews from users online.

CONS

  • The Novation Launchkey 49 is a versatile MIDI keyboard controller with numerous features for music production. Nevertheless, there are a few downsides to consider prior to purchasing.
  • 1. The keys lack weight or semi-weight, resulting in a different feel and response compared to an actual piano keyboard. This may disappoint users accustomed to playing acoustic or digital pianos. Additionally, the keys produce noticeable noise when pressed, which can be bothersome in quiet environments.
  • 2. The included software bundle is limited and outdated. Although it does contain Ableton Live Lite, a stripped-down version of the renowned DAW, it may not cover all music production genres and styles. Additional software or an upgrade to the full version of Ableton Live may be necessary to maximize the keyboard’s potential.

3. NI Komplete Kontrol S49

PREMIUM AND POWERFUL

High-quality Fatar keybed with aftertouch.Seamless integration with software.
Two color screens for display.Comprehensive controls for enhanced performance.
Picture by NI

PROS

  • The NI Komplete Kontrol S49 is a versatile and feature-packed MIDI keyboard controller aimed at music producers and performers. With its wide range of capabilities, it offers several advantages worth considering.

    One significant advantage is its high-quality Fatar keybed, complete with semi-weighted keys and aftertouch. This combination allows for a realistic and expressive playing experience, enhancing musical creativity.

    Additionally, this device seamlessly integrates with Komplete software instruments, effects, and popular DAWs and plugins. The Native Kontrol Standard (NKS) technology ensures smooth compatibility, enabling productivity and ease of use.

    The two high-resolution color screens are another notable feature, providing clear visibility of instrument parameters, presets, and waveforms. Moreover, the Light Guide system offers visual assistance, showcasing key switches, scales, chords, and more.

    Furthermore, the comprehensive set of controls present on the NI Komplete Kontrol S49 adds to its appeal. The device boasts eight touch-sensitive knobs, two touch strips, a four-directional push encoder, and dedicated buttons for transport, performance, and browsing. These controls empower users and enhance their ability to shape their sound effectively.

    In conclusion, the NI Komplete Kontrol S49 is an excellent choice for those seeking to elevate their music production and performance endeavors. Its combination of quality, compatibility, visual aids, and comprehensive controls makes it a standout option in the market.

CONS

  • The NI Komplete Kontrol S49 is a MIDI keyboard controller that seamlessly integrates with the Komplete software suite and other NKS-compatible instruments and effects. It features a high-quality Fatar keybed, two high-resolution color screens, a touch-sensitive strip, and various knobs and buttons for hands-on control. However, there are factors to consider before purchasing it.
  • 1. Its price; at $599, it is over twice the cost of similar MIDI keyboard controllers with comparable features and quality. Cheaper alternatives may be more suitable for those on a tight budget or not in need of full integration with Komplete and NKS.
  • 2. The S49 is limited to 49 keys, potentially insufficient for users seeking to play complex chords, melodies, or arrangements. Upgrading to the S61 or S88 models would provide more keys, but they are even pricier and bulkier options. Alternatively, extending the range with a second MIDI keyboard controller would require more space and cables.

4. Arturia KeyStep 32

PORTABLE AND CREATIVE

32-note slim keyboard with velocity.Polyphonic sequencer and arpeggiator.
Multiple connectivity options, including USB, MIDI.sturdy, sleek, professional design.
Picture by Arturia

PROS

  • The Arturia KeyStep 32 is a highly versatile MIDI controller designed for music production and performance. This compact device boasts a multitude of features that make it an excellent choice for musicians on the go.

    1. It includes a 32-note slim keyboard with velocity and aftertouch capabilities, enabling expressive playing and easy transportability. This keyboard has been expertly designed to meet the demands of professional musicians.

    2. The KeyStep 32 comes equipped with a built-in polyphonic sequencer and arpeggiator. This allows users to effortlessly create intricate patterns and melodies with up to 64 steps and 8 notes per step, providing endless possibilities for composition.

    3. This MIDI controller offers an extensive range of connectivity options. With USB, MIDI, CV/Gate, and Sync compatibility, the KeyStep 32 can easily connect to a wide variety of devices and software including synthesizers, drum machines, DAWs, and modular systems.

    4. The KeyStep 32 has been crafted with a rugged metal chassis, rubberized knobs, and backlit buttons, providing both durability and a professional aesthetic.

    For those seeking a powerful and portable MIDI controller capable of handling diverse tasks and scenarios, the Arturia KeyStep 32 is an outstanding choice. It is available for purchase at the price of $149, which can be found on Arturia’s official website: https://www.arturia.com/products/keystep-32/overview.

CONS

  • The Arturia KeyStep 32 is a MIDI controller that offers numerous features despite its compact size and affordable price. Nevertheless, there are a few drawbacks to consider before purchasing. Firstly, the keys lack velocity sensitivity, meaning the KeyStep 32 doesn’t register the force applied to the keys. Consequently, it consistently sends the same MIDI velocity value for all notes, potentially hampering expression and dynamics when working with different instruments or sounds that respond to velocity. Additionally, the built-in sequencer and arpeggiator are limited to only 8 steps, which can become monotonous and uninteresting over time. To achieve more diverse and intricate sequences and arpeggios, additional variety and complexity may be desired.

5. Nektar Panorama T6

FLEXIBLE AND EXPRESSIVE

Deep integration with popular DAWs.High-quality, expressive semi-weighted keyboard.
8 LED-backlit pads for triggering.Large color display shows parameters.
Picture by Nektar

PROS

  • The Nektar Panorama T6 is a MIDI keyboard controller that offers an array of features and benefits for music producers and performers. Let’s explore four key advantages of this device:

    1. It seamlessly integrates with popular DAWs like Logic Pro, Cubase, Reason, Bitwig, and more. This integration enables you to effortlessly control your DAW’s mixer, instruments, effects, and transport functions directly from the keyboard, eliminating the need for a mouse or separate controller.

    2. It boasts a high-quality semi-weighted keyboard with aftertouch, velocity, and expression sensitivity. This ensures a realistic and expressive playing experience, whether you’re creating piano, synth, or organ sounds.

    3. It is equipped with eight LED-backlit pads that you can use to trigger drums, samples, loops, or chords. Each pad can be assigned different colors and functions, such as mute, solo, record, or clip launch, adding versatility to your performance.

    4. It features a sizable color display that exhibits the selected DAW or instrument mode’s parameters and values. Furthermore, the display facilitates browsing and loading presets, adjusting settings, and accessing menus.

    These pros merely scratch the surface of what the Nektar Panorama T6 delivers. If you seek a multifaceted and robust MIDI keyboard controller, this one is undoubtedly worth your attention.

CONS

  • The Nektar Panorama T6 is a MIDI keyboard controller with extensive compatibility for popular DAWs such as Cubase, Logic, Reason, and Bitwig. Featuring 61 semi-weighted keys, 9 faders, 8 encoders, 12 pads, and a vibrant color display, it offers an immersive music production experience. Nevertheless, there are a couple of drawbacks worth considering prior to purchase.
  • 1. The keys lack full weighting and aftertouch functionality, limiting your ability to fully express and control dynamics compared to other keyboards.
  • 2. While the controller aims for seamless software integration, users have reported issues with compatibility, mapping, feedback, and stability. Potential driver downloads, firmware updates, and careful setup instructions from the Nektar website might be required, and occasional bugs or glitches could hinder workflow efficiency.
 

6. Arturia KeyLab Essential 61

SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE

61 semi-weighted keys with velocity and aftertouchComprehensive software bundle with 6500 sounds.
User-friendly layout with versatile controls.sleek, sturdy, lightweight, portable
Picture by Arturia

PROS

  • The Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 is a MIDI keyboard controller that boasts an array of features and benefits tailored to music producers and performers. Listed below are four noteworthy advantages of this device:

    1. It undoubtedly caters to a realistic and expressive playing experience with its 61 semi-weighted keys equipped with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity. These keys are also backlit, which significantly aids visibility in darker environments.

    2. The comprehensive software bundle that accompanies the KeyLab Essential 61 is nothing short of impressive. Highlighting the Analog Lab V, this package grants users access to over 6500 sounds derived from Arturia’s award-winning V Collection, encompassing an exquisite array of vintage synthesizers and keyboards. Moreover, the keyboard is highly adaptable and can seamlessly control other MIDI-compatible software and hardware.

    3. User-friendliness is paramount in this controller, evident through the meticulously designed layout. The inclusion of eight pads, nine faders, nine rotary knobs, and dedicated transport and navigation buttons makes it effortlessly customizable to individual preferences. Additionally, the keyboard features an LCD screen that conveniently displays current settings and feedback.

    4. The KeyLab Essential 61 combines sleek aesthetics with robust durability. Its metal chassis and wooden side panels exude a sophisticated allure, while its lightweight build and portability render it the ultimate choice for both studio and stage performances. Notably, the keyboard can be powered via USB or an optional power adapter.

    These virtues merely scratch the surface of what the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 offers — a multifaceted and influential MIDI keyboard controller poised to elevate your musical production and performance endeavors.

CONS

  • The Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 MIDI keyboard controller offers a wide range of features and software integration. Despite its advantages, it also comes with some considerations.
  • 1. The keys lack weight or semi-weight, leading to a different feel and response compared to an actual piano or synth. This might discourage users accustomed to pricier keyboards due to their lightweight and plasticky nature.
  • 2. The unconventional placement of the pitch and modulation wheels situated above the keys proves to be inconvenient. Commonly, keyboards have them on the left side, allowing for easier access and usage. Additionally, the KeyLab Essential 61’s small and flimsy wheels lack resistance and smoothness.
 

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