The Best 49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards

49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards

Originally published on February. 17, 2016 and updated on July 7, 2017 by Jason Horton & Denise Azucena.

49 Key controllers hit the sweet spot for many musicians and music producers. They are much more of a playable instrument than their smaller 25-Key siblings, yet still compact enough to be reasonably portable and not take up too much valuable space in a home recording studio. If you're looking for something larger then take a look at our 61-Key or 88-Key MIDI Controller guides.

Contents

What To Consider When Buying A 49 Key MIDI Controller

  • What Do You Want To Control? If you only want to control computer software then all of the options below will do that, although some offer more control options than others. If you want to control external hardware, such as a stand alone synth, then you'll need to get one that explicitly says it will do that - most of the ones that come with a 5-pin MIDI out port do that and we tell you below on each description whether or not it meets that need.

  • Software Integration. Most of the MIDI keyboards we recommend below come with presets or automatic configuration options that make it easy to integrate with most major DAWs - sometimes you have to download some extra files from the manufactures website to do that. I've tried to indicate which major applications each keyboard integrates well with, but if you're unsure then feel free to ask about your particular software and the particular controller you're interested in and I or someone else here will advise you.

  • Transport Controls. These are dedicated buttons to control standard DAW recording controls such as Play, Stop, Rewind, Fast Forward etc. They can be a very handy feature because you can keep your recording workflow going without having to reach for your computer mouse.

  • Motorized Controls. These are seriously cool, but usually only found on larger than 49 key controllers, but the Nektar Panorama P4 below does have this feature.

  • Key Size & Weight. Some 49-key controllers have full sized keys but some don't. Many also don't have piano style full weighted keys with 'synth action' keys being the most popular. If you're a piano player and you need piano style keys then read the specifications carefully.

  • Power Supply. If you need one for portable use with a laptop or tablet then you need one that uses batteries or takes its power from USB, however USB power comes at the cost of draining your device's battery more quickly. You also may have problems getting enough power from the iPad which only provides 100mA instead of the USB 2.0 standard of 500mA. If you have a problem getting enough power from an iPad you'll need to get a powered USB hub or use a power adapter to supply the keyboard directly.

49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards Under $200

Nektar Impact GX49

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Nektar Impact GX49 49-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

The Impact GX49 is a light-weight and compact controller that has Nektar's DAW Integration feature, making it compatible with most major DAWs. With its dedicated set of transport and navigation controls, this controller lets you efficiently produce music without reaching for your computer mouse or keyboard. The class compliant feature allows this controller to connect to any computer system or device.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 note full-sized velocity sensitive keyboard
  • Pads: No
  • Arpeggiator: No
  • Motorized Controls: No
  • Octaves: Up and Down Octave Buttons: 3 Octaves Down, 4 Octaves Up
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig 8-Track included
  • Power: USB Powered
  • Connectivity: 1/4” TS jack foot switch input (MIDI Assignable), USB port, Connects to iPad via Apple Camera Connection Kit (not supplied)
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Class Compliant. Windows, OSX, iOS and Linux (you may need to install a MIDI package such as JACK)
  • Dimensions: 31.63" x 7.75" x 2.75"
  • Weight 4.8 lbs

Both users and experts found the the keys to be responsive and have a rigid feel. In his MusicRadar review, Dan Goldman said the keyboard had "a nicely deep key travel and the well-balanced springy feel facilitates fast accurate playing, both for synth lines and sounds that normally demand a weighted action". Most reviewers gave positive responses for its ease of use since it provided the essential controls they needed in a controller.

This is a great choice for beginners and keyboardists on a budget.

M-Audio Keystation 49 II

83
GEARANK

83 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
M-Audio Keystation 49 MkII

The Keystation 49 II is a simple MIDI controller that provides an easy-to-use and portable setup. It features essential functions such as octave range buttons, pitch and modulation wheels, and transport and directional controls that helps you play or record tracks on your DAW without using a mouse or trackpad. Its light weight and durable construction makes it easy for music makers to bring anywhere.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 full-size velocity-sensitive keys with natural piano feel
  • Pads: No
  • Arpeggiator: No
  • Motorized Controls: No
  • Octaves: Octave Up and Down Buttons
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble, AIR Music Tech Xpand!2
  • Power: USB powered
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Class Compliant
  • Dimensions: 31.9" x 7.7" x 3"
  • Weight 4.6 lb

Many reviewers found this small and compact controller a great tool for sequencing. Most of them mentioned how easy it is to set up and figure out the controls. Some mentioned it is great for traveling since it has a lightweight build.

A few have found the keys to be a bit springy and stiff, some find it not ideal to use for live performances. The keys are still velocity sensitive and responsive which is good for its price.

This is a great choice if you want an inexpensive controller with basic functions that doesn’t take up too much space on your desk.

Roland A-49

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$180
Roland A-49 49 Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

The Roland A-49 has achieved high enough ratings to continue to be recommended by us for a second year in a row - in fact it improved its Gearank score this year.

If you want a 49 key MIDI controller for your iPad then the Roland A-49 is a good choice because it shouldn't need additional USB power to work - Roland say you will only need a Camera Connection Kit (CCK) because it only draws 98 mA.

Its unique feature is the D-BEAM controller which lets you wave your hand above it to send control data.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 with velocity sensitivity.
  • Pads: No.
  • Arpeggiator: No.
  • Motorized Controls: No.
  • Octaves: Up and Down buttons.
  • Bundled Software: Cakewalk SONAR LE - only for Windows.
  • Power: USB powered.
  • Connectivity: USB, 5-Pin MIDI, and 2 x TRS input for an expression and a sustain pedal.
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes.
  • Compatibility: Mac OS X and Windows. Also iOS via CCK.
  • Dimensions: 32.91" x 7.17" x 3.31"
  • Weight 5.56 lbs

Although it only has 2 knobs and 2 switches in addition to the D-BEAM controller, this actually came up as a positive in reviews by those who want a simple, straight forward, keyboard controller without a lot of confusing functions.

In general it received positive reviews from people who appreciate Roland's build quality - particularly with the keys.

This will suit you if you primarily want a simple yet effective MIDI input device, rather than a full featured DAW controller.

Novation Launchkey 49 Mk2

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Novation Launchkey 49

The Launchkey 49 Mk2 is a plug and play controller designed for producing and performing electronic music.

It features faders, knobs, keys and velocity-sensitive RGB pads that give complete control over Ableton's audio and MIDI functions. Apart from its compatibility with Ableton, it automatically maps to other major music making applications & DAWs.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 note velocity sensitive synth style keyboard
  • Pads: 16 full-colour RGB backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
  • Arpeggiator: No.
  • Motorized Controls: No
  • Octaves: Octave Up and Down buttons
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite 9
  • Power: USB and DC powered
  • Connectivity: 1/4” jack socket, USB socket, DC power socket
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Class Compliant. Mac OS X 10.10, 10.9, 10.8, 10.7, Windows 7,8, iOS
  • Dimensions: 30.51" x 10.63" x 3.54"
  • Weight 8.16 lbs

This controller was able to impress a lot of users with its solid and robust faders, knobs and keys. The keys provide enough pressure sensitivity and responsiveness making it great for composing or performing. Many users mentioned that it works very well with Ableton and Novation apps. There were reports that there had been no issues with the controller integrating with their computer system. Its compact and minimal design makes it easy for them to figure out controls effortlessly.

A minor issue some users mentioned were its pads had a lack of sensitivity, though they are still useful when it comes to triggering samples and tracks.

This is a great choice if you want a sturdy keyboard controller that's easy to use.

49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards Under $500

Novation Impulse 49

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Novation Impulse 49

This is another controller which we first recommended in February 2016 and which has increased its Gearank score since then and retained its place as one of the highest rated options currently available.

One aspect I quite like about the Novation Impulse are the transport controls - it has dedicated buttons for play, stop, record, rewind, fast forward and a loop toggle switch.

Another nice feature is that when you put it into arpeggio mode, you use the keyboard as usual but you can also use the pads to turn notes off and on and change the rhythm of the arpeggio.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 full size, square front, semi-weighted with aftertouch.
  • Pads: 16 velocity sensitive with RGB illumination.
  • Arpeggiator: No.
  • Motorized Controls: No.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech.
  • Power: USB or optional separate power supply.
  • Connectivity: USB, 5-pin MIDI out, 1 x TRS input for sustain pedal.
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes.
  • Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.8 or later + Windows 10, 8, and 7.
  • Dimensions: 28.3" x 15.1" x 6.29"
  • Weight 11.02 lbs

Its Automap software makes it easy to set up with Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Sonar, Reason, Pro Tools and a range of other major music applications.

Both customer and expert reviews say this is a very good tool for composing and recording. They consistently talk about how good the pads and keys are.

On the downside a few people report that the faders feel a bit cheap, but I didn't see anyone saying the faders had broken - and a few like that it has 9 instead of the usual 8 faders. There were also a few people who found the Automap software difficult to get used to at first.

Overall it has a lot of features for the price and would happily be used as your main MIDI controller in a home studio.

Alesis VX49

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Alesis VX49 49-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller

The VX49 features a 4.3" full color high-resolution display screen that allows you to directly manage your DAW and virtual instruments plug-ins. It allows you to load up different synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines like a standalone workstation keyboard. This MIDI controller also includes Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) software that integrates with your computer and allows you to filter, select, and preview patches of any stored VST plug-ins.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 velocity and pressure-sensitive keys
  • Pads: 8 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads, multicolor-backlit, 8 assignable button pads, blue-backlit
  • Arpeggiator: Yes
  • Motorized Controls: No
  • Octaves: 10-octave range with Octave Down/Up buttons
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Vacuum Pro, Loom, Hybrid 3, Xpand!2, Velvet, Transfuser, Eighty Eight Ensemble
  • Power: USB or VDC, 500 mA
  • Connectivity: 1 1/4” (6.35 mm) TRS expression pedal input, 1 1/4” (6.35 mm) TS sustain pedal input, 1 5-pin MIDI input, 1 5-pin MIDI output, 1 USB port, 1 power adapter input
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Ableton Live Lite, Vacuum Pro, Loom, Hybrid 3, Xpand!2, Velvet, Transfuser, Eighty Eight Ensemble
  • Dimensions: 37.6” x 12.4” x 5.5”
  • Weight 9.5 lbs.

The VIP software that comes with the controller exceeded reviewers' expectations once they set it up with their DAW. They found it great for organizing patches, VSTs and other effects. A lot of musicians said its keybed was very responsive and felt natural when played. Most reviewers found the knobs, pads and buttons to be very rigid and responsive even though they are made out of plastic.

This is overall a great investment for serious producers or keyboard players that prefer a controller that also acts as a workstation.

Akai Professional MPK249

90
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$400
Akai Professional MPK249

Not only has this retained a place in this list, it is also the highest rated 49 key MIDI controller on the market for the second year running.

Akai Professional are a stand-out leader in MIDI controller keyboards with the smaller MPK225 also retaining its place as one of our recommended MIDI controllers for the second year in a row.

The MPK249 lets you control DAWs with presets for most major software, virtual instruments, effects plugins and other external hardware.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 full size semi-weighted with aftertouch.
  • Pads: 16 which are velocity and pressure sensitive and they light up MPC style (with full RGB) - there are also 4 Pad banks giving you 64 inputs.
  • Octaves: 10 by using Octave Up and Octave Down controls.
  • Arpeggiator: Yes.
  • Motorized Controls: No.
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite DAW, MPC Essentials software sampler, and the Air Hybrid 3 and SONiVOX Twist virtual synths.
  • Power: USB powered and can use an optional power adapter (sold separately).
  • Connectivity: USB and 5-pin MIDI out and MIDI in, 2 x TRS inputs for expression pedal and sustain pedal or footswitch input.
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later + Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP, also iOS compatible via CCK.
  • Dimensions: 29" x 12.25" x 3.38"
  • Weight 12.6 lbs

Owners praise it for how easily it integrates with major DAWs and for the quality and sensitivity of the Pads. They also speak very highly of the MPC features which shouldn't surprise anyone given that it's made by the same company.

Expert reviewers are in complete agreement with most of the customer reviews - they rate the functionality and performance very highly.

People used to complain about the faders, pads and knobs on the previous version, but those who make the comparison are uniform in stating that those are all now top quality in this version.

In fact it's very hard to find negative reviews of any kind. The only complaints I found when reading all the reviews was one person who said he wished the knobs were lit for playing live in the dark, and another who said they wanted a PC configuration editor like the 25-Key Mini MkII has.

Overall, the MPK249 is the most highly regarded 49 Key controller by musicians.

Nektar Panorama P4

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Nektar Panorama P4 49-key MIDI Controller Keyboard

Although the Panorama P4 can be used as a general MIDI controller, it has been specifically designed for use with Cubase, Bitwig Studio, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Apple MainStage, Reaper and Reason.

In particular it has a channel strip control with a 100mm motorized touch sensitive fader above the 2 mod wheels which responds to the volume of the selected track in your DAW - select a different track and the fader will automatically move into the correct position. It also gives you access to EQ, sends and inserts.

Key features:

  • Keys: 49 semi-weighted, velocity sensitive with aftertouch.
  • Pads: 12 which are velocity and pressure sensitive - you can set 7 velocity curves. You can set up to 20 pad maps and you can transpose and octave shift them.
  • Octaves: 10 by using Octave Up and Octave Down controls.
  • Arpeggiator: No.
  • Motorized Controls: Yes.
  • Bundled Software: No.
  • Power: One USB port will power everything except the motorized fader - you need an additional external USB Micro B power supply port to power all features.
  • Connectivity: USB & USB Micro B, 5-pin MIDI out, 2 x TRS inputs for expression pedal and sustain pedal or footswitch input.
  • Control Hardware Directly: Yes
  • Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.6 or later + Windows 10, 8, 7 and Vista.
  • Dimensions: 35.04" x 14.57" x 5.51"
  • Weight 14 lbs

The 3.5” high resolution TFT screen provides a real time view of all the controls and functions you are currently accessing on your DAW.

A thoughtful feature is that it also works as a MIDI interface - you can send MIDI data from your DAW through the P4 to control other MIDI hardware. You can also plug the P4 directly into other MIDI hardware such as synths and control them directly without a computer.

The most often positively cited feature in reviews is the deep level of integration with the major DAWs listed above - customer reviews often use the adjective "amazing"!

On the negative side, users of other DAWs not listed above were generally disappointed that the P4 is not deeply integrated with them - Pro Tools users seemed especially miffed.

Overall, if you have one of the listed DAWs above, then you'll find the Panorama P4 will improve your work flow immensely.

Methodology

We began by updating the Gearank scores of all the 49 key MIDI controllers in our Music Gear Database, then we added new keyboards and collected the data needed to produce Gearank scores for them too. Our selection criteria included only those controllers that were widely available from major online retailers to ensure we only recommend items that you will be readily able to find both online and at any good local music gear stores. During this procedure we collected information from over 2,000 online ratings, discussions and reviews and all those data were processed by the Gearank Algorithm to produce our scores out of 100 for each controller. As always, if there is a controller that you feel we should consider adding to this guide, and it's not already in our database, then please let us know in the comments below. For more information about how we select items for our guides, please see How Gearank Works.

Comments

Thanks for this excellent

Thanks for this excellent comparison summary. Really helpful. If you decide to do an update, a couple of other items that impact my buying considerations are whether the keyboard has a port for an expression pedal, and also the weight of the keyboard for those of us who are looking for portability. Also curious what you think of the m-audio ctrl-49 when it comes out soon.

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your feedback.

I will put it on my to do list to add information about pedal ports and keyboard weights.

All I know about the M-Audio CTRL-49 is what I've read about it and some videos from NAMM - it certainly looks good and packed with features and I'll be looking forward to seeing how well it is received when it finally hits the stores.

It also have VIP on the

It also have VIP on the Ctrl49 that allows you to download VSTs or Presets from VSTs to be able to be used on the board standalone (perfect for musicians that don't want to have to also hook their laptop up during a live set) that means you can play straight off the MIDI controller itself

This is incorrect. You can

This is incorrect. You can control VSTs that are on you computer using VIP on the CTRL49. It does not play the VSTs as a standalone.

Hi, thanks for making this

Hi, thanks for making this comparison review article. I know this is a "best" list according to your own statistics, but I'm very much surprised that the 2 midi controllers I'm comparing to buy one or the other right now are not in your list.

In my research, most "best" list from other sites includes "M-audio Code" and "Novation Launchkey MkII". Launchkey is even number 1 from those other sites too.

I'm very much curious why these 49 key midi controllers aren't in your list. Because if I'm convinced enough, i will buy the "Akai Professional MPK249" as that is very easy to reach right now.

Thank you for asking that

Thank you for asking that question because it made me ask myself the same question about the Novation Launchkey 49 Mk2.

To find the answer I have reprocessed the Gearank scores with fresh data for all 16 of the 49 Key keyboard controllers in our database.

The Novation Launchkey 49 Mk2 has increased it's Gearank score to 86 which means that we can now recommend it.

On the other hand, the M-Audio Code 49 remains one of the lowest rated 49 key controllers, with a current Gearank score of only 76, so it still hasn't earned it's way into a list of controllers we would recommend.

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