The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboards Under $100

The Highest Rated MIDI Controller Keyboards Under $100

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As retail sites get populated with OEM and unknown brand MIDI controllers, more established manufacturers have started offering budget lines to fill in the need for high quality, full featured MIDI Controllers at prices a hobbyist or beginner can afford.

These days, even affordable MIDI controllers have full features and can fill in the need for backup or touring gear. Others are capable of controlling older hardware synths with 5-pin MIDI. On the upper end of the budget range, some even have assignable controls and pads.

There's an interesting twist in this July 2022 Edition: Arturia's MiniLab MkII took the highest rated spot from Arturia's MicroLab - Arturia is definitely the dominant brand in the sub $100 price range!

The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboards Under $100

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Nektar SE25

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$50
Nektar SE25 25-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • No extra controls

Pros

  • Minimalist design
  • Compact and portable
  • 3 Velocity sensitivity options
  • Fast and responsive synth action keys

The Nektar SE25 is a minimalist MIDI Keyboard controller, with a width of 13.18", nearly as wide as laptops.

This size makes it compatible with conventional laptop bags and backpacks, making it a good portable solution for musicians on the go.

Since it doesn't have extra knobs and buttons, Nektar is able to focus on the keys, resulting in playing feel that is as good as more expensive controllers. You can choose from 3 velocity curves that fit to your playing style.

At 0.88lbs, its also one of the lightest controllers we recommend.

The downside to its minimalist design is the lack of extra controls for parameter tweaking.

If you are looking for a simple, key-focused MIDI controller with a pedigree, then this is for you. On the other hand, if you like this controller but need more keys, check out the Nektar SE49 below.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Synth Mini-keys with 3 velocity curves
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: PB1, PB2 (assignable to Pitchbend, Pan, Transpose), S Buttons (sustain, modulation)
  • Octaves: -4 to +4
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig Studio 8-track
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Connectivity: 1 x USB Type B
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.7 or Later, Windows 7 or later
  • Dimensions:13.18" x 0.82" x 3.93"
  • Weight: 0.88 lbs.

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube John Mike 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Arturia MicroLab

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$79
Arturia MicroLab 25-Key MIDI Controller Keyboard

Cons

  • Limited controls
  • Touch strip is not everyone's cup of tea

Pros

  • Compact and portable
  • Rugged build
  • Compatible with different class compliant devices
  • Touch strips for pitch bend and modulation

Arturia's Microlab is a compact, budget-friendly 25-key controller with some extra controls on the side. These extra controls include two Touch Strips that allow for expressive real time control like pitchbend and modulation. And the strips can also be used for preset browsing.

Compared to its bigger siblings, it doesn't have knobs and the buttons provided are sparse. So those who are looking for knobs, buttons and more tweaking options will have to look elsewhere.

More importantly, it carries all these features while maintaining a small size that doesn't take much space.

Build quality is surprisingly rugged for the price and the included software bundles get you up and running fast.

Compatibility is good, it connects with anything from tablets to other class-compliant devices. Its low power consumption enables it to work even with mobile devices without external power. This, together with its portable profile, makes the MicroLab a great on-the-go option.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Synth action, Mini-keys
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: 2 x Touch Strips (pitchbend, modulation, preset browsing)
  • Octaves: -4 to +4
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig 8-Track, Arturia Analog Lab Lite, UVI Grand Piano Model D
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.10 or later, 64-bit , Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 21.9" x 5.4" x 1.6"
  • Weight: 3 lbs.

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
MusicRadar Jon Musgrave 90/100
MusicTech Dave Gale 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

MidiPlus X2 Mini

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$79
MidiPlus X2 Mini 25-key MIDI Controller Keyboard

Cons

  • Its mini keys require some getting used to
  • Touch strip is not everyone's cup of tea

Pros

  • Expanded controls
  • Pitch Bend and Modulation via Touch Strips
  • Streamlined look
  • Durable metal chassis

Midiplus is a Taiwanese Company specializing in MIDI based Music Gear. The X2 Mini is their 25-key offering in their compact key range.

The X2 mini features 25 velocity sensitive mini keys that are built really well for the price. While it is sized like a toy, it has the playing feel of an instrument, complete with velocity sensitivity.

It has extra controls that include four customizable knobs, and a number of buttons, which give it an important edge over other micro sized controllers like the Korg nanoKEY2. It also has pitch and modulation control via capacitive touch strips, which requires a bit of familiarization to better utilize, especially if you're used to rotary or wheel based controls.

I'm not a fan of the cramped feel of mini size keys, but this is a necessary compromise given the size and control options that the X2 Mini provides.

Surprisingly, it is able to accommodate these extra controls while keeping a streamlined look and compact profile. In addition to using smart computer devices, you can use the X2 Mini to control analog synths via its 5-pin MIDI out.

MidiPlus equipped it with a metal chassis making this one of the more solidly built options in this price range.

Though not as popular as other MIDI controllers on the market today, for the price, the MidiPlus X2 Mini delivers a lot of quality and utility.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Synth Mini-keys
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: Pitch and Modulation control - capacitive touch sensitive strips, 4 customizable knobs; Default setting: T1 (Volume), T2 (Pan), T3 (Expression Controller), T4 (Reverb)
  • Octaves: up/down with transpose
  • Bundled Software: None
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Connectivity: USB Type B
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.7 or Later, Windows 7 or later
  • Dimensions: 16.1" x 2.01 x 5.39
  • Weight: 3.4lbs.

Nektar SE49

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$90
Nektar SE49 49-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Keys are stiffer than usual
  • With 49 keys it takes up a bit more space

Pros

  • 49 full-size keys with tactile feel
  • 4 velocity options
  • Mod and Pitchbend Wheels
  • Streamlined design

The SE49 is the larger 49-key sibling of the 25-key SE25. It features specially designed full-size keys that provide tactile feedback, this time with more notes to play with. This means that it is longer and takes up a bit more space, but it is still reasonably portable.

It has 4 different velocity curves that go from soft to hard. The feel of the keys and the ability to choose its touch response (velocity curve) makes the SE49 easy to setup to match your preferred playing feel. Note that the keys are a bit stiffer than the usual synth keys, this can be good or bad, depending on your preference.

It has a streamlined profile with just a few extra controls on the left side. Speaking of extra, it is equipped with two wheels for real time modulation and pitch bend control.

The Nektar SE49 is a great buy for people who want a MIDI controller with great feel, full size keys and simple controls.

Specifications

  • Keys: 49 Synth-action keys wit 4 velocity curves
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheels, Octave and Transpose Buttons, Volume Fader
  • Octaves: -4 to +4
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig Studio 8-track
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: 1 x USB Type B, 1 x Sustain Pedal Input
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: Windows and Mac OS X 10.10 or later, 64-bit , Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 31.69" x 7.75" x 2.5"
  • Weight: 4.85 lbs.

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Audio Mentor Reuben Chng 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Arturia MiniLab MkII

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 3550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Arturia MiniLab MkII
At publication time this was the Highest Rated MIDI Keyboard Controller Under $100.

Cons

  • Knobs feel cheap
  • Touch strips feel like a compromise
  • Pads are a bit small

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Lots of encoders and pads
  • Synth action keys feel great
  •  

Arturia's entry into the affordable 25-key MIDI controller arena got a facelift in 2016. This MkII has an updated layout and smaller footprint than its predecessor.

Build-wise, the MiniLab MkII feels solid. Even though it's made of plastic, I didn't feel any excess plastic residue and everything feels solid with no internal rattle when I shake it. The keys are finished nicely and the resistance is just right for synth action. There were some keys that were fractions of an inch higher or lower than the others but it's not really a major issue. The knobs felt a bit flimsy to the touch but the potentiometer rotation is smooth and consistent across all knobs. The pads felt a bit small but I rarely use them. Still, if you like making beats on pads, the layout and size might not be the best especially for harder hitters.

Arturia MiniLab MkII Touch Strips
In place of a regular mod and pitch wheel are two touch strips.

What I don't like about the Minilab MkII is the fact that I had to settle with touch strips instead of pitch and mod wheels. I would have preferred even a smaller integration of the two wheels as long as it's mechanical. The strips work fine but I do feel it lacking in precision especially when my left hand's fingers are calloused from guitar playing.

The unit was plug and play and my DAW (Presonus Studio One) instantly recognized it as a new device. Arturia provides a software suite that automatically maps to the encoders and pads. Manual mapping for other software synths and samplers is also easy to do. I already have a software synth by Arturia called "Pigments" and the MIDI Controller works excellently with it. Other software like Native Instruments Kontakt also integrates well with it.

Overall, the Arturia MiniLab MkII is a great, compact MIDI controller and is nearly peerless at this price point. There are some places where Arturia chose to cut costs but everything else looks and feels solid. Even years after its release, the MiniLab MkII is still popular and can be seen gracing the desks of prolific and talented musicians all over the world.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 note velocity-sensitive keys
  • Pads: 8 velocity & pressure sensitive pads with RGB backlighting (2 x Banks)
  • Controls: Pitch Bend and Modulation Touch Strips, Assignable 8 pads & 16 Knobs, Octave Buttons, Shift, System
  • Octaves: Not Specified
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, UVI Grand Piano, Analog Lab Lite
  • Power: USB powered
  • Connectivity: USB, Sustain pedal jack
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility:USB/MIDI class compliant
  • Dimensions: 14" x 8.7" x 2"
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs.

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
MusicRadar Computer Music 90/100
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 93/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Things to Consider when Buying a Cheap MIDI Keyboard

Key Size, Weight & Action

There are several factors to consider when looking for a keyboard controller, and the first one is key size. If you are simply looking for something portable to lay down your ideas, a keyboard controller with smaller keys and build is an ideal choice, thankfully there are quite a variety of them in the entry level market. If you plan to compose for a final project or play live, then you'll probably have to extend your budget to get ones with more features and full-sized keys.

The number and type of keys that you need will also depend on your playstyle, as well as the space in which you're planning to use the controller. If you are used to using two hands, a 37 or 49 key controller will suffice. A 25-key MIDI controller is good enough if you plan on using them for playing or recording lead, bass and drum lines. Additionally, they are more compact and lightweight which makes them portable enough to bring around. Since you are on a budget, most keyboard controllers under a $100 price range come with semi-weighted keys where the keys have less resistance. As long as they have velocity response, they will provide you a more natural performance. If you need more realistic piano style action, then you'll need to consider more expensive 61-key or 88-key controllers.

Software Integration

MIDI mapping can be a tedious task whenever you set up your controller, but technology has made this easier with better compatibility and detection and automatic mapping. Another important point to consider is that some keyboard controllers are designed to integrate better with a specific DAW. Thankfully, these DAW specific controllers are also designed to work with other DAWs, albeit with some configuration work required. Most controllers are designed to let you customize your own MIDI mapping by re-assigning controls at your convenience and preference.

Transport Controls

These buttons are used for triggering essential DAW controls like record, pause and play on your keyboard. Since they transmit MIDI data to your DAW, they give you the same level of control without having to reach for your computer keyboard, touchpad, touchscreen or mouse.

Knobs, Pads and Other Controls

In addition to transport controls, most MIDI keyboards have extra handy controls, such as knobs, modulation and pitch wheels, and sometimes faders. They can be assigned or automatically mapped to give you more options when it comes to mixing or editing parameters in your DAW. An example of this would be assigning a knob to tweak a synth’s filter. This is very handy when it comes to composing or editing real-time for live performances.

Power Supply

Most MIDI keyboard controllers come with USB connectivity, which allows you to connect your controller to a PC, Mac or any other computing device. This is sort of a concern when it comes to draining your device's battery more quickly unless your device is plugged into a power source. It’s more of a concern with iPads, which provide 100mA instead of the common 500mA found in a USB 2.0 slot. In this case, a USB hub or an external power adapter is used to supply power directly to your controller.

USB MIDI vs 5-Pin MIDI

Some MIDI controllers still come with at least one 5-Pin MIDI input and one output. These are useful if you have any vintage equipment that you want to control with a modern MIDI keyboard. Most MIDI keyboards come with USB slots since they are compatible with most devices. As mentioned above, the advantage of USB is that it can draw power from a PC or Mac when connected, compared to 5-Pin MIDI slots where you need a separate power supply for the controller. In some cases, some controllers have both connectors. Unless you are going to control hardware directly, without a computer in the loop, then you won't need a 5-Pin MIDI out.

Cheap MIDI Keyboard Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2018 and the current edition was published on July 26, 2022.

We began by looking at all the sub $100 MIDI controller keyboards available from major US retailers and placed the 17 most promising on our short-list for closer examination. Then we collected relevant reviews, ratings and forum discussions about each one and processed that data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 that you see above - over 17,000 sources were analyzed during this process, an increase of more than 42% over the previous edition. We used the resultant ratings to select the highest rated models to recommend above. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

I use my Arturia MiniLab MKII with sample libraries like NI Miroslav Philharmonik 2, Kontakt, Toontrack Superior Drummer 3, Toontrack EZKeys, and Spitfire Audio. I also use it with virtual instruments like Absynth, Roland ZENOLOGY, and a few other smaller VST instruments.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com photographs of the Nektar SE49, MidiPlus X2 Mini, Nektar SE25 and Arturia MicroLab.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers except for the MiniLab MkII Touch Strips photo which was taken by the author.

Comments

Publication of our June 2021

Publication of our June 2021 Edition resulted in the following keyboard coming off the recommended list above, but you can still see our analysis of it: midiplus AK490.

All of the keyboards above

All of the keyboards above are MIDI capable.

Are you referring to the fact that 5-pin MIDI ports have gone out of fashion?

This is great but I wish you

This is great but I wish you would do a best under $300 article, preferably only with 61 or more keys for those of us who are not just guitar players looking to trigger a few loops and very limited samples or riff, i.e truly "play."